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

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