Posts filed under ‘Special Rants’

Adding the Education Delivery System to the Lexicon – Without Dualistic Tendencies

Addressing Education as a Delivery System is not new, but its potential cannot be expressed within the lexicon until we acknowledge it beyond the binary. The current attempts to reinvent the US PreK-12 Education Delivery System generally bundle everything old as bad and introduce a single idea or entity as its sole competitor. To be successful, however, the system must be allowed to exist in fluid form. The schoolhouse walls have been tumbling down for a while with innovative ideas arising from necessity, creativity, or some combination of the two in concert with a vision for truly strategic planning. It is not time to sort the winners or losers; the solution is inclusive.

The tradition public education system has become the straw man against challengers such as private for-profit systems, charter school chains, online programs, and other delivery modalities. Unfortunately, many delivery system innovators have adopted the binary approach – The Good (us) versus The Bad (them) – one of the saddest artifacts of weak management in education. Indeed, almost every argument has become mired in the mud of a rope pulling contest between the best bullies from either side of the fray. This attitude is not going to nurture truly ground-breaking developments. Similarly, this adversarial approach keeps us caught up in the spat among the adults, with the students being barely essential to the dialogue aside from the requisite reference to the children by both sides as their sole concern.

A renewed US PreK-12 Education Delivery System (no “s”, not plural) must be student-centered and universally relevant in order to be sustainable. All information – finance, educational outcomes, teacher effectiveness – must be linked at the most basic level directly to the student. Education can no longer be defined by what happens within the schoolhouse walls. It can be delivered anywhere: at home, in the community, online, or within a central education complex. And the facilitator can be a person, a written source, a transmitter, or an interactive digital or interpersonal experience. The process can be personalized for each student with learning experiences designed for students individually or within optimized cohorts.

I am not usually one for getting hung up on semantics, but this one matters. We need a new approach to the Education Delivery System as a whole. The existing system does not work, and power brokers hanging onto their turf will never build a better system. Everyone has a stake in the solution. The children are the future of our world, but they depend on the education delivery system for effectiveness, health and safety for their survival, and a political economy within which they can become thriving adult citizens. Their villages need to get busy and learn to speak as one.


January 6, 2016 at 10:36 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

Finding America

We are in hard times. Our economy is stagnant and beholden to offshore producers. Our money is in the hands of thugs in starched white shirts. Our Constitution is in the hands of angry men and corrupt judges. Our children are not being served with equity, and we can only promise them less than we inherited on this earth. Now we have to face injustice that does not value the lives of children of color. How can we de-escalate our struggles and find ourselves as Americans again, perhaps for the first time?

We have returned to the land of the zero-sum society. Everything I get must be taken from someone else, and everything you get has been taken from me or mine. The only business at hand is sorting “We The People” into the “Us” or “Them” columns. Then, armed to the teeth with weapons of war and misinformation, we protect ourselves and undermine them with impunity. This is NOT America.

We do not need anyone trying to take back America. It does not belong to just some of us. We need to find America in hard times and make it work for all of us. We have a constitution – giving life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to all of our people. It is not a weapon, it is a covenant.

The flashpoint has been struck with the death of a third person of color at the hands of a white man who got away with it. We have exposed the dark underbelly of racism at the heart of our justice system. And we cannot turn away from it. Apparently we have not fully eradicated the most crucial flaw of our founding fathers…the valuing of a human being at some percentage less than 100 based on the color of his skin.

We are not at rest, and we cannot be at rest until this issue is resolved. However, we can use our humanity to set things right by coming together as people who believe in our common rights of man, or we can allow a conflict to escalate and be decided in a battle of Americans against one another.

The road to finding America lies ahead of us, and we can only come together by setting all else aside for a moment. Turn off Fox News, and that iPhone. Stop worrying about that pension fund. Put down that gun, and tell your lawyer he or she is off duty…because each of us must be stripped bare of who and what we think we are. Only then can we find our places in a fair and just society that is inclusive of all of mankind.

We can take a trip up Maslow’s hierarchy. Are we all warm, and safe, and dry? Have we all been fed? Do we have access to good work, good health, and safe travels? Can we exercise our minds, develop our talents, and take leisure with gusto? And, then, can we achieve the vision to save our world and create the constructs to realize the dreams of others as with our own.

December 4, 2014 at 8:45 AM Leave a comment

There is No Shareholder Value in a Built-to-Flip World

Paradigm shift is just another name for structural change in the marketplace. In the case of the Internet revolution, there have been seismic shifts in two out of four parts of the market at once…promotion and channels of distribution. The product and the price seem not to have been affected as much. Still, the technology upheavals have blown such a smoke-and-mirror show in the faces of the Wall Street pack that they have lost their vision for the future. A renewed interest in shareholder value is our only hope.

Flipping something in the market is fool’s gold. It is not even a zero-sum game, because as long as nothing remains in the long run except the fees paid to the brokers we will all be worse off. It triggers a slow downward spiral that cannot ever pay off in net, and, by the time anyone seems to notice it, the damages have already hit a dangerous level of acceleration.

So go the bubbles on Wall Street. Yet the world markets have been satisfied to ride the wave of a series of rising and falling tech stocks based on fads that hold the attention of the masses at any given time. “Getting” the new paradigm seems to presume that fundamentals no longer matter. Besides, no one under 30 has a prayer of a chance of connecting the words shareholder and value to anything meaningful.

The ugly secret to this game, besides its inherent uselessness, is that the only winners are insiders…not just fee-collectors, but the fund managers who have the clout to cheat and the arrogance not to care. Ironically, they are the keepers of capitalism, an economic game at which they totally suck!

Capitalism may have greed as its motivation, but it is not its own end game. And true capitalists wish to sustain themselves. Captains of industry build businesses that are meant to offer lasting shareholder value. They make real products, have a genuine competitive advantage, and reinvest profits in a research-based pipeline of next generation products to stay viable. They do not invest in 19th century work conditions in third-world countries and sit on their offshore profits while lobbying for yet another round of tax relief.

Yeah…this falls under the heading of Special Rants. I went to business school and worked in finance once upon a time. I got interested in education as a problem-solver. Yet one of the most frustrating aspects of education reform is the ability of tech toolies to continue to manipulate educators like kittens stalking a laser beam with newer and better apps while we continue to ignore our own fundamentals. Flipping through fly-by-night pedagogical tools is not reform.

Systemic change in education is not just possible, it is essential. We have the ability to use technology to eliminate obstacles to broad-based pedagogy and to inform ourselves with real data about finance, student outcomes, and educator effectiveness. Reinventing the business systems behind education can free us from the mythology that keeps educators trapped in myopic visions of success, dysfunctional management, and service to the bureaucracy instead of the mission of educational excellence.

October 25, 2014 at 10:58 AM Leave a comment

Government Shutdown Over ACA…forward to the past?

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?

October 1, 2013 at 10:17 AM Leave a comment

Whatever Happened to Shareholder Value?

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.

August 21, 2013 at 8:23 AM Leave a comment

Amoral Politician’s Dream…Privatizing Education

What could be better for conservatives than creating non-government jobs that drive up government spending through private mismanagement that you can blame on progressives until you can dream up your next flax-spinning scheme? Um…how about investing our nation’s savings in factors of real economic development? No…alchemy makes better campaign rhetoric, and it’s all about getting re-elected in the midterms.

I took a couple of weeks off Twitter only to return the same old…with a new spin. Deregulation of private charters – when the numbers don’t look good; getting rid of the tests – when educators get caught cheating on them; and direct funding of students – only if they go to private schools. This future vision plays right into the hands of an opportunistic and amoral conservative political bloc.

Privatization of government services has emerged again as the perennial antidote to deficit spending. Whenever our nation’s economy seems hopelessly mired in the trough of a business cycle, conservative politicians seem to turn a blind eye to economic development, their alleged forte. They choose, instead, to look for opportunities to appear to create private-sector jobs by churning pre-existing government jobs into their own.

The key to privatization is that it sounds like it might be a good idea. First, you demonize union workers. Then you cite the evils of government spending. Finally, you turn to technological innovation as the new magic pill. Who better to turn this situation around than an entrepreneur from the private sector?

The flaw in the plan? It calls for investing private money that only sustains profit growth through excessive government spending. There is no real end game for investors. It is a short-term fix for the appearance of economic growth. And it has a real economic opportunity cost. If our “job creators” can’t do any better than this, things might just be worse than we thought…and that’s no April Fool.

April 1, 2013 at 9:46 AM Leave a comment

Spend Education Dollars Wisely – Invest Private Equity Funds in Real Economic Capacity

This should be a no-brainer. The $500 billion dollar elementary and secondary education market needs to be fiscally responsible. And our economy needs to expand through investment in real productive assets. Yet private investors are seeking to skim profits off of the poorly administered public education money instead of going for new economic capacity. They misinterpret the difference between a stimulus package steeped in short-term spending on employment and infrastructure improvements in education and long-term profit-planning through economic growth.

Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools: “…Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.”

This excerpt from a Reuters press release yesterday tells us that US “job creators” still don’t get it. They continue to do profit planning based on eating our young. Building a renewed private sector based on extending government spending on PreK-12 education will not make this nation stronger economically. Nor will it make sense to crowd out other investments in productive assets by developing a shadow industry for private investment money in alternative education services.

In the recent past election, the US economy was a key issue. It remains so. However, we continue to see private investment in the very public goods that conservative politicians sought to curb. Cutting healthcare spending and privatizing education were targeted as solutions, but we still need to see evidence that our great economic visionaries can see past their next short sale. The private growth opportunities cannot be healthcare and education. They crowd-out investments for the future.

Healthcare spending already consumes as much of GDP as should ever be reasonable in a stable economy. The $1 trillion investment in college loans to kids is already too high. New private dollars going into public education will continue to dampen the job opportunities for the children once they finish high school and college.

Yes, the brick-and-mortar infrastructure in education is crumbling and needs to be reinforced. And, yes, the children in the classroom should be protected from the feast and famine of economic cycles. However, compensatory money spent in either area must be seen as short-term spending.

In addition, existing private companies that serve this industry need to follow the market from paper to digital media. They must do this to survive – not expand. New players may emerge because they do this better, but the overall industry should not grow faster than the economy in the long run.

$500 billion may be enough to fund public education. We are not sure, but we need to find out what we are buying with our money. However, as long as our financial data system in education lacks transparency, the looters will come.

November 27, 2012 at 8:14 AM Leave a comment

Fact-Checking the Washington Post on Governors Patrick and Romney

Comments below were posted on the Washington Post site to correct the record for Deval Patrick and support the validity of his comments in his speech at the Demoncratic National Convention. The erroneous fact-checking as reported by the Washington Post can be found here. The Washington Post had suggested that Governor Patrick’s claim that he had to pick up the pieces after Governor Romney left crumbling roads and bridges across Massachusetts was debatable because the evidence was subjective?!?

TRUE on Romney’s crumbling bridges and roads in Massachusetts…

During his first year in office, after the Minneapolis bridge collapse in August 2007, Deval Patrick ordered that all bridges in Massachusetts be assessed for safety, and hundreds were found to be in serious need of repair or replacement. Patrick has delivered on a large number of bridge repair/replacement recommendations so far in his administration, and the work continues. On the roads…The Big Dig consumed the vast majority of funds for road repair projects through the many Republican administrations in Massachusetts from 1990-2006. Highways and surface arteries were is severe disrepair. Patrick has restored the roads to far better condition.

In response to a reader comment suggesting that road work was just a timing thing…

The Big Dig was not completely over…the project had been poorly managed, taking years more than planned and cost overruns resulted in about twice the original budget. A daunting punchlist remained with no money, fatalities from falling ceiling tiles, flooding, and use of dry concrete in bridge work. Patrick was the first governor to try to hold contractors accountable.

In response to the same reader suggesting that Martha Coakley was responsible for a settlement…

Martha Coakley and Deval Patrick serve together. Ms Coakley does the legal work as Attorney General. In cases where a contractor screwed up, that firm was given the 1st option of setting things right. Then the suits were filed, if necessary. 

September 6, 2012 at 10:26 AM Leave a comment

A Time for Unity

There has never been a more important Democratic National Convention. As educators, we cannot get hung up on resolving our pet issues this week. Rather, we must support the election of the political leaders we consider most ready to serve us for the next four years. If we are looking for a presidential candidate who will continue to serve all Americans, we must rally around President Obama under a big tent.

Is Barrack Obama your best choice for President as a US citizen and an educator? If so, it is time to set aside your personal agenda and rally around the President in unity. Is it odd that Chelsea Clinton will be interviewing Michelle Rhee, both life-long Democrats? Yes. Will it be awkward to cheer Democratic Party leaders while sitting next to antagonists in the debates over pedagogy, teacher contracts, or accountability? Sure. Do you have unresolved issues with the short list of policy imperatives in the party platform? Of course…No national exigency can be adequately addressed in a campaign designed for voters with short attention spans and infinite needs.

The DNC is not the place for policy debate. It is not about the tactical issues that divide us this week…unions, charters, assessments, evaluations, pedagogy, teachers, parents, funding, etc. We all have our political positions and our pivotal issues, but broad-based solutions for public education can only be negotiated on common ground. That starts with electing leaders who will be most likely to serve all Americans for the next four years.

Here’s hoping for a week that ends with a sustainable big convention pop for the President…not another dreary game of Pop Goes the Weasel in the carnival of education debate. Seriously, the real weasels could win, and that would be a lose-lose for all of us.

September 4, 2012 at 8:50 AM Leave a comment

Response to EducationNext on Ryan Healthcare Plan

In response to Michael Petilli’s post of 8/20/2012 in which he misleads the public on the Ryan healthcare plan…

Rep. Ryan has proposed a budget that raises healthcare spending while reducing benefits to the poor and the elderly. Obama has added benefits and reduced payments to providers, creating a net improvement in the healthcare trust fund, which Ryan’s plan further depletes. I have addressed healthcare spending and the remedy with the aging of the population more fully in my blog as a topic of relevance to retired educators, and I concur with the President’s approach through the ACA. Read more here…

August 28, 2012 at 6:12 PM Leave a comment

Restore Federal Reserve Control Over Money Supply

Banks too big to fail? In need of a bailout? Maybe it’s time to help them out…Let the banks sell the Federal Reserve their ATM networks. Then they can get back to being local banks that serve their customers.

I am a child of a Federal Reserve Bank family. My dad worked there, starting on the night shift in the mail room. There he met my mother, who worked in another department with her sisters, one of whom also met her husband there, a bank examiner. Mom was in the now-defunct Check Collections department, the clearinghouse for checks back in the days of the nation’s money supply being defined by cash and demand deposits, i.e., checking accounts. Dad eventually became manager of the Money Department, where they counted each bank’s money on a regular basis to ensure that they met their reserve requirements.

Back in those days, the Federal Reserve Bank had its hands on the money supply, quite literally. While many of its operating procedures would be considered quaint today,* the notion that the Fed could actually manage the money supply should have been a keeper.

Unfortunately, the new money supply and purchasing power might be better tracked through the ATM networks and the credit card clearinghouses…which reside in the private sector. While ATMs nullified the system of float, the useful delay in money transfers due to the Fed’s handling of checks, they could offer an early warning system for issues in the system.

Call me old fashioned, but the next time a major bank threatens to destabilize  the world economy with its imprudent financial shenanigans, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke should offer them a deal they can’t refuse: their ATM networks or their life. And if that’s not enough to cover their losses, ask them to throw in the credit card clearinghouses as well.

* As a child, I marveled at all the ladies, each with a million dollars on her desk waiting to be counted, and the furnace where they burned old money. As an adult, I wondered if the fleet of Brink’s trucks carried the same payload of money around the block and back to the Fed each day to be recounted under the banner of a different institution…but, of course, that was after my baby sister went to work in the “Trust” Department.

August 8, 2012 at 9:55 AM Leave a comment

The Case for Lowering Student Loan Interest Rates

The frenzied debate on renewal of interest subsidies on student loans has missed a key piece of the puzzle: interest rates on student loans are too high. Banks are making more profit than they could make elsewhere in the market on job-creating corporate and small business lending… And new lenders are jumping into the market without government guarantees or collections support.

Interest rates on student loans are excessive. In order to help students finance their higher educations, the US government should pursue a combined strategy of lowering overall interest rates for college student loans and subsidizing interest costs for some students based on need.

The high interest rates have triggered over-participation in the college lending arena. Availability of funding has created slack for colleges, which have allowed costs to rise excessively. As a result, students have assumed an unprecedented debt burden during the worst economic conditions in almost a century. Something has to give, but the government cannot afford to carry the total weight of the problem.

The DOE has approached the colleges on the issue of cost containment, and students in financial distress are being assisted with modifications to their loan repayment plans. In addition, the US has picked up half the interest rate costs to students for some of these loans. However, there is a deadlock in Congress on the issue of renewal of interest rate subsidies to students on loans in the future. While the debate has focused on how to pay for these subsidies – via spending cuts or deficit spending – the cost of the subsidies themselves could be reduced without greater cost to students. The solution? Cut the overall interest rates on student loans.

There is evidence that returns on student loans are higher than the free market would allow. The first clue is that banks have loaned over $1 trillion to students…more than they have loaned to the entire population of adults via credit cards, the former linchpins of usury. This has occurred in an era of supply-side economics, when government policies gave freedoms to businesses and financiers to support industrial development and job creation. The opportunity cost of job creation, instead of student lending, must have been too high; the money went to student loans…not job creation.

In addition, many student loans taken before 2009 carried a government guarantee and government agencies still assist in the collections effort. Despite elimination of the guarantees, banks remained content with the business, especially as interest rates have continued to drop in all other markets. In fact, there has been new competitive entry into the student loan arena of late from financial institutions that are willing to lend to student WITHOUT government guarantees or agencies assisting with collections. This is a sure sign of excessive profit-taking.

The US government should lower the interest rate it allows banks on college student loans.

June 14, 2012 at 10:17 AM Leave a comment

Bully – The Labor-Management Story…by Koch

Boston, San Jose, and Wisconsin…axe taken to worker rights in ballot issues and legislative actions funded by big PACs. This trifecta has filled the void left by passive-aggressive education leadership. So, where’s the impetus for real management in schools?

This has been a tough week for workers. In Wisconsin, the governor, whose mission was the elimination of collective bargaining, has been vindicated in a failed recall election. In San Jose, a city has voted to take away pension benefits from government workers. And in Massachusetts, the mere threat of a ballot issue has driven the powerful Massachusetts Teachers Association to cede tenure and seniority rights in contract negotiations. The 1%, acting on their own interests, have filled a void left by passive-aggressive leadership in education to cripple labor negotiations across the nation. And we are supposed to believe this is about the children?

PAC money is a dysfunctional feature in a nation whose very being is predicated on democracy, balance of power, and market freedom. Within education, that lopsided force has become the Terminator for teachers – assuming the role of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner for workers who have been presumed guilty and denied due process. And, it is not a coincidence that the PACs have targeted the one group of workers that cannot be outsourced out of existence.

Ironically, laws that seek to silence workers by nullifying the labor-management dialogue will undermine the vitality of leadership as well. A fair debate yields far better insight than can ever be achieved within a single point of view. While I have never been a good union worker, as a leader and an American, I must support the workers and argue that…

  1. There are two sides to every labor-management dispute.
  2. There is hidden agenda behind the smokescreen of every politically charged issue.
  3. The rights of the people must transcend both for any legal or contractual issue to be valid in the US.

Point 1: Seniority, tenure, and pensions are all terms of engagement that should be subject to labor-management negotiation.  A power struggle between the two is functional and needs a balanced solution, not an external blind-side punch.  Consider that…

  • Unions have always gained strength where management has been weak or abusive.
  • History needs to be undone with good-faith negotiation of the workers’ roles, evaluation criteria, career pathways, and incentive-based compensation.
  • Strong, fair leadership engages in regular employee assessment, mutual goal setting, and periodic review.

Instructional leadership and traditional role-modeling have not and cannot effectively take the place of a full repertoire of people-management skills. A power play to force compliance with a failed management strategy is a form of bullying which will perpetuate the problem. That is how we got where we are today. Let’s set aside the blunt instruments and work on developing a more robust model of leadership and motivation. It is far more clever to see and attend to individuals within an organization than to out-maneuver a mob with a sucker punch.

Point 2: The rights of America’s children…good cause, but not really the objective if you consider that…

  • The money behind the union-busting activities comes from advocates for private schools that tend to be segregated, elitist, and faith-based.
  • The advocates are saying, ‘where’s mine?’…asking why we keep focusing on other people’s children who happen to be poor, under-served educationally, and of ethnic minority…ignoring the fact that the role of government is to protect those who lack the resources to participate effectively in the free market. Apparently they like the achievement gap just fine.
  • The elimination of seniority, tenure, and pension benefits collectively is just a trade-off of rights for the young that are being taken away from the old. Real solutions protect both.

The real story is the 1% trying to eliminate entitlements that protect access to the middle-class while protecting unseen entitlements for the extremely wealthy.

Point 3: The American way is to protect the freedom of the young, the old, and the in-betweens of any culture.

Any action by a legislative body, a government agency, or a private entity must stand the test of legality and constitutionality. Accordingly…

  • We must provide free access to high-quality public education for all.
  • We must not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, color, creed, …
  • We must abide by laws protecting rights for employment, retirement security, and contracts. Federal laws supersede state and local rulings on these issues in many cases.

So far, we only have 1% solutions…The rest of us have limited resources today, but those resources will only shrink and our way of life deteriorate if we are satisfied with solutions crafted out of zero-sum concepts.

June 8, 2012 at 7:58 AM Leave a comment

Student Loans and the Myth of Supply-Side Economics

The student loan conundrum leaves a generation of college goers little to no economic end game. As Congress hits an impasse on interest rates and the employment market remains stalled for college students and recent graduates, a hidden culprit may just get away with all the money plus interest. In the meantime, the today’s twenty-something kids may have children paying student loans before they finish paying off their own 20-30 year refinanced college loans. How many times must you say, “Mortgage our children’s futures” before the message sinks in?

Thirty years into the era of supply-side economics, a period during which Wall Street ironically rewarded the divestiture of the supply side of domestic industries, there was too much money and nowhere to invest. Assets were created that blew up as bubbles, erupted when undisclosed risk was realized, or inflated investments in health care and real estate. In addition, there were the banks, no longer financing business investment for future employment and domestic production. Flush with excess cash, they loaned the money to kids to finance their college dreams. Profits followed, even as stock and money markets failed to underwrite the job creation that could have helped those dreams come true.

To make matters worse, at least some of the colleges created a nudge to keep the kids in the debt cycle without their parents’ knowledge. My husband and I learned first-hand how it worked. Each year, as guardians, we received a financial aid report from the college. We had chosen not to have the kids carry more than a modest debt burden…just enough to learn how to handle personal finance responsibly. So, we generally declined the loan portion of the financial aid package each year.

Each term, however, the child’s eligibility for bank loans was kept alive by the college. We would pay what we considered our portion of the college bill each term, assuming no loan. Then the college would reactivate the loan, creating a credit balance on the student account, and send a check to refund our overpayment…to the kid! And privacy laws meant we didn’t need to know about it. How’s that for a sweet deal among a college, a bank, and a newly minted young adult with a prefrontal lobe still in development?!?

Actually, I must credit the student…who did report the transaction and forward the checks back to us. We did not fully understand what was happening at the time (the multiple-click, self-renewing opt-out), but we held ourselves accountable when the unexpected debt showed up after graduation. But I also wonder just how many children kept the cash and had to pay later…cash the banks should have used to encourage sound investments with real adults…if we had had a supply-side investment strategy as job creators. Preying on the children was just too easy.

I have written previously about the convergence of forces to create the demand for college loans, which included some adults falling short on college readiness with the children, others raising prices unnecessarily, and others underwriting at predatory rates. The supply of loans was also part of a wildly flawed scheme. We gave banks and investment advisers our life savings and they gave us excuses and a world financial collapse. No one got richer except those who were extremely wealthy already.

Now Wall Street and their Congressional spokespeople ask us for more supply-side money. We, on the other hand, are asking them to give us back a piece of our money – from the profits they made while SHRINKING THE NATION’S SUPPLY FUNCTION – in the form of merely fair taxation. If, after 30 years, they have not created a supply side in net…why should we be fooled again? At least give back enough tax money to restore what should have become our own investment earnings so we can bail ourselves out…rather than the bankers (again) when the student debt bubble bursts.

PS, wonder how our reliance on these same kids to sustain our Social Security trust fund is going to work out. That next sandwich generation is now going to be a triple-decker paying for their kids, their parents, AND their colleges…while un- or under-employed?

May 27, 2012 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

Teaching in Never Never Land

Why do educators think that a program based on good intentions and an endless stream of New Heroes is sustainable? Like Peter Pan, each generation of New Heroes will never give up, they’ll never get old…and they will gather in large masses and clap until their dream comes back to life.

Every night I close my Twitter window after getting a glimpse of the latest pep rally of educators who are trying to stop the closing of a school, to put off a measure of accountability, or to prevent the end of funding for a good program. Nowhere do you hear anyone suggest, “I know what we should have done to save that school,”…”We should just do it – take the test and move on to teaching,”…or “That program was good enough to become a priority within our general fund.”

As new teachers become yesterday’s new kids on the block and then veterans, we stop noticing them. They fade to gray and must sustain themselves. And anyone who proposes training in a balanced life style during the school year can no longer be part of the solution. Teachers whose students do well on standardized tests are assumed to be cheating, or worse…teaching to the test. The fact that well-educated children rarely sweat the tests is irrelevant.

Skilled general management is similarly suspect. Administrators offer teachers privileged peers as role models in lieu of individual feedback and motivation. Meanwhile, millions of dollars’ worth of executive talent is devoted to grant proposals for nickel and dime awards; because Special Money is better…regular dollars are always over-committed to something that only the school finance dude really understands.

Yet we are surprised when the adults act like children and pirates become the anti-heroes who would bring grown-up values to a vital milieu. We love the story. We also love Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, and even Hook. So why did we all grow up to be Smees?

May 18, 2012 at 7:30 AM Leave a comment

Want to Change STEM to STEAM? BUY ART!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We are in the golden age of turn-of-the-21st-century art. Really. My husband and I are art lovers who spend many hours of our free time each week visiting artists in their open studios, pop-up exhibits, or openings. It can be the most exhilarating experience to find a new artist or piece of work in the unknown zone of urban guerrillas in transition neighborhoods or the warm glow of nurturing artist lofts. The downside? Seeing the un-purchased work still hanging on the wall years later as brilliant artists struggle to keep their studios and their dreams alive.

In the Renaissance, the convergence of math, physics, art, and music brought European society out of the dark. And the philosophers gave us hope and angst. So it is for educators as we realize the need to nurture the minds of our young with STEM studies even as we feed their souls with Art. Uh, is there a problem here? Yes…the artists are still going to starve.

The schools of art are doing their part. The students are expanding their horizons and developing into wonderful artists. The arts community has collaborated to create safe harbors for creation of new art, critiquing one another’s work, and displaying it whenever and wherever possible. Local politicians, cultural councils, and corporations try to support these communities. However, the missing element continues to be the buyers of art among every day citizens.*

Art collecting in the stratosphere is not the real world, yet that is where the publicity lies. In reality, local work from very talented artists is accessible geographically and financially. Some buy one work a year for a lifetime of joy around their dwellings. For others, there is a great work that is the one-time purchase and the centerpiece of their decorating. The biggest part of the market, however, remains the underground network of bartering among the artists themselves while their day jobs sustain them and their families.

Demand stimulation is the theme for our decade. Just wanted to put in my plug for the artists. Please, go to open studios and buy art. You will find something you love, and it will make you very happy.

*(Or the local museums with megabucks expansions, but that is a topic for another day…)

May 14, 2012 at 11:27 AM Leave a comment

Maybe “Bully” Should be Seen with a Parent or Guardian

To be authentic, a movie about bullying may not be able to pass all the hurdles for the access provided by a PG rating. Meanwhile, what parent of middle or high school students isn’t looking for an opportunity to see a film with his or her child? The kids already know what is going on, so seeing it with each other may not be the point. Take your child to see the movie, and then talk about it.

The movie Bully has been rated “R“ by the Motion Picture Association, making it less accessible to the very population that it targets. However, I am not sure that changing the rating is the best solution to the problem. Perhaps part of the point could be that the language that mandates an “R” rating does not belong in school. In fact, reversal of that standard would imply that the abusiveness we wish to protest has become an accepted part of the landscape.

My husband and I looked at each other the first time one of his kids dropped the F-bomb in casual conversation. How should we respond? As Baby Boomers, we grew up in a generation that had challenged authority and the limits of the vernacular. However, peppering everyday conversations with any of George Carlin’s Very Bad Words was not intellectually defensible. Yeah, we may have earned a few language citations of our own among our friends, but controversial language needed to pass the test of approval by everyone within earshot, not just one’s inner circle.

And bad words are not just the profane ones. Any language can be turned into a weapon with intent. Again, we looked in the mirror. Sarcasm and irony are valued highly around the house. And no one was prouder than we were when the kids developed their ruthlessly dry wit. Fortunately, there was a teen improv group through which to diffuse mean jokes across a larger audience. But what are the limits?

Then there’s the notion of competitiveness. Isn’t that when an athletic event or debate makes us stronger by allowing us to totally triumph over worthy adversaries? Or some days just sort us into winners and losers? It gets complicated, especially when supporters gather. Is the home team advantage anything more than outnumbering the other guy?

Empowerment is good; arrogance is bad. But who is the judge when even genuine success can be fleeting? We constantly look for opportunities to bolster ourselves and our friends and families. Our homies need us. They are not a gang, are they?

We do not stand taller when the other guy falls down, but no one knows better than a Bostonian that the other guy’s missed field goal can get you into the Super Bowl…

Kids need help sorting it out. So do we. Read the stories, watch the movies and TV shows, and then listen. The kids may come to the right answers faster than we do.

March 1, 2012 at 9:46 AM Leave a comment

Age Discrimination Is Not Just Illegal – It is Wrong

In America, it is illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, gender, religion,… or AGE! However, the last attribute is the one I have found missing most often from explicit lists in anti-discrimination policies of public school districts. And the rhetoric in the field suggests that this omission is not accidental.  

I’ve had it. The excerpt below came from a New York Magazine article about a principal in an elite public school in the Bronx, but it could have arisen just about anywhere in education…

“She devised a two-part strategy: Those new teachers who couldn’t or wouldn’t teach her way would not get tenure; the older, set-in-their-ways teachers would retire sooner or later, making room for young ones she could train herself (Reidy generally hires new, unmolded teachers, not experienced teachers who have earned tenure elsewhere). *

Not only does it espouse a pedagogical one-way street, it also embodies the age bias that has become an accepted part of the landscape.

As an industry, we have become complacent about laying the blame for problems in education on people who, upon reaching a fairly early middle age, have failed to die…or at least go away quietly. A system of tenure combined with a pension trap may engender stagnation on the job for some; however, the presumption of ineffectiveness based on a demographic attribute is prejudicial and, frankly, ignorant. Further, an incentive system that fails to facilitate frequent self-assessment, goal-setting, and review over the entire course of a career is the real culprit, to the extent that teachers are complicit in disappointing results.

Age bias hurts everyone and should offend everyone, not become a policy initiative. From a legal point of view, the statement cited above offers prima facie evidence of discrimination. In addition, it bolsters a naive approach to leadership that ignores the combined values of diversity and authentic staff development in the vitality of any organization. Preference for young employees overlooks the value added by age and experience. It deprives younger staff of natural mentors. It eliminates institutional memory. And it has no end game for employees. Being young-at-heart has no value – one simply must not get old.

Finally, if age bias is not effectively remedied by the leadership in education, school districts will get exactly what they deserve…an age discrimination case in the courts which forever protects every charlatan who happens to be an older adult along with all those dedicated teachers of a certain age who continue to devote their lives to the education of children despite the insidious prejudice they face every day. And it should, because they all deserve equal protection under the law and the full benefits of the American constitution.


December 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM Leave a comment

Colleges Need to Get Real

From education to finance, American institutions have raised avoidance of accountability to an art form. The blurring of lines among industry players has allowed them to diffuse responsibility for their basic missions. Within education, high schools and colleges are collaborating creatively in dual enrollment programs to lower failure rates. Ultimately, however, they may be conspiring to conceal inadequate college preparation by offering college-lite for an exorbitant price to students who cannot afford it. Their efforts would be better spent getting back to basics on their own turf. 

College (kol-ij) n. a place where students go to finish high school and/or get ready for grad school while accumulating massive amounts of debt. Often found adjacent to prestigious institutions offering access to elite faculty who can only be seen by students pursuing advanced degrees.

There was a time when wealthy young dilettantes who needed a little more time to grow up attended exclusive prep schools that their parents could afford with ease. The goal was success in college once they were ready. Somehow, the American Dream has mutated such that financially strapped, first-generation college students are paying premium prices for four-year prep schools, followed by unemployment and massive debt problems.

Something is wrong in this picture. The first clue is the huge debt burden among young people…many of whom are also jobless. The culprit? No one in particular. Rather, it is a perfect storm of weak public schools, nouveau all-star colleges, and opportunistic financiers. Before we can solve the problem, however, we must unravel the fuzzy roles and accountabilities lost in emerging partnerships, collaborations, and joint ventures. The punch line: colleges need to better serve their undergraduates in the primary mission of higher education, high schools need to ensure that their graduates are truly ready for college, and financial institutions need to share the burden of risk or lower their interest rates.

Let’s begin with the public school system and college readiness. Ten years ago, the nation set the goal of college readiness for all students by high school graduation. Most schools have fallen behind on that goal, according to standardized tests. Nevertheless, as an alternative to testing, many high school principals naively set out to achieve 100% college application rates among graduating seniors as a proxy for readiness. Well-meaning guidance counselors facilitated broad searches for colleges and helped students complete applications; volunteers supported students through their applications for financial aid. For many low-income families, children were going off to college for the first time. Mission accomplished.

Colleges experienced higher application rates and, in many cases, higher acceptance rates among their admitted applicants. Free market economics worked, and colleges raised their tuition and fees in response to this increase in demand.  Administrators were bewildered but pleased to discover that a more expensive college seemed to attract even more applicants. In addition, oversubscribed colleges were strapped for dorm space, asking students to share tight spaces for more money. In the meantime, want ads were full of opportunities for adjunct faculty members. Access to tenure-track teachers became elusive. Students found themselves paying Ivy prices for average schools at best.

Meanwhile, financial institutions expanded college lending operations and actively courted university officials for access to students for underwriting purposes. Interest rates to students rose, and risks for banks declined with government payment guarantees. All agreements were packaged by the schools, and banking relationships were ancillary.

As colleges grew in size, undergraduates found themselves with fewer safety nets. To complicate matters, many students and their families were unaware of the strings attached to financial aid. Need-based scholarships turned into high-interest loans when ill-prepared students failed to meet GPA requirements for retaining those scholarships. Already committed, students chose to sign the loan papers and stay in school. The Dream would remain within reach. Predictably, college drop-out rates soon grew, along with a new underclass of young people faced with a mountain of debt. In the highest-risk populations, college completion rates fell to the single digits.

To address this problem proactively, some very good dual enrollment programs have been developed that offer previews into college course work at little or no cost for high school students. This has become an important part of the community college mission in many localities. However, four-year colleges also have gotten into the act to grease a path to long-term commitment for students who have little chance of success. In addition, many institutions have all but forgotten their attention to excellence in undergraduate education. They offer a rite of passage that holds empty promise for students passing through them, continuing the new tradition of poor preparation for life. As college-lite has become a reality, graduate degrees have become the expectation for many professions.

We are not doing our young people any favors by dealing in false hopes. High school diplomas need to represent genuine college readiness. At the college level, $200,000 is too much, but it must at least buy a real education. And guaranteed student loans need to carry interest consistent with that guarantee.

December 19, 2011 at 3:44 PM 2 comments

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