Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Key Markers Relating to Organizational Health

Just as an explorer needs markers to find their way, so do organizations.  If you have studied the Lewis and Clark expedition you will know that Clark was able to chart their course extremely accurately considering the instruments he had to work with.  I want to share some markers with respect to organizations and how you can “translate” them into a better understanding of what they indicate about the organization.
We can’t hire you because you are overqualified—this statement has become ubiquitous in many organizations and industry groups.  So what does this really mean?  Possibilities include;
·       We know that we are a “status quo” organization and you would become quickly bored or frustrated by the lack of organizational and personal growth potential. 
·       People want to be part of a winning team and this team is not one. 
·       An organization that espouses this “you are overqualified” statement is in a slow (or fast) decline in performance and competitiveness. 
·       If you are a high powered applicant, be thankful when they tell you that you are overqualified.  That allows you to conclude that their leadership is weak and you wouldn’t want to work there anyway.
If only we could eliminate the unfair competition  or lack of support from . . . –this tells you that they are more interested in confessing that their poor performance is someone else’s fault than in facing the reality of their own performance problems.  You can only use that argument with a straight face after you are sure you have perfected your own performance to its fullest and have no room to improve without removing the impediment you want to complain about.
We’ve been in business for decades and see no need to change our process now—this is a sure indication that this organization is doomed.  There is only one constant in the world and that is change.  You either face it taking it as an opportunity or you are victimized by it.
We are the best so now we can relax—oops!   This reminds me of a story about Mack Trucks back in the first half of the twentieth century.  They had designed a product line that was the current state of the art and considerably ahead of that of any competitor.  They were so confident that they shut down their design function because they thought no one would ever be able to do better than they had done.  They were wrong and squandered their lead causing much pain as they tried to restart development, something they should have kept all along.
We have a nice work environment because we do not allow arguments or disagreements—oh, my goodness, this is political correctness run amok.  Bossidy and Charan in their best selling management book Execution, the discipline of getting things done discuss the need for “robust dialog” if you aspire to creating a “performance” organization.  What they are saying is that you must allow and encourage people to disagree vigorously so that the “truth” needed for good decisions, is exposed.  Organizations that suppress the truth through political correctness and its brother Group Think are doomed to poor performance because their “be nice” ethic suppresses the lifeblood (truth) they need to succeed.

As a successful manager of high performing teams I can say that the first one; we can’t hire you because you are overqualified is the most ridiculous to me.   When I had an opening I looked for the best qualified person I could find, even someone who could compete with me and perhaps beat me out.  You need strong people to perform well and hiring the best gives you the opportunity to grow the organization quickly to the point where even the “overqualified” need to grow with it.  A good definition of the duty of a leader is, “A leader is responsible to provide a work climate in which everyone has a chance to grow and mature as individuals, as members of a group by satisfying their own needs, while working for the success of the organization.”

Too, the truth suppression of political correctness and Group Think guarantee an organization will not be able to perform well.  Kill them both; RIP.  Is the goal to be nice or to perform the mission at an excellent level?  You can’t have both all of the time.  You can be nice much of the time but there are times when you can’t if you want to perform.  I remember stories of Jimmy David the defensive back for the Detroit Lions championship teams of the 1950s.  His teammates told of hating him in practice because he was so hardnosed in his tackling. But they also said they loved him in the games when he made great plays regularly.  If you don’t practice with passion you can’t perform with passion.

Keep these markers in mind when assessing an organization to work for, invest in or buy a product or service from.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No Child Left Behind

Per the L.A. Times
The Obama administration has given 10 states a waiver from the federal law known as No Child Left Behind -- once a bipartisan hope to raise education standards, but now generally regarded as too cumbersome and draconian.
The White House announced the first round of waivers for 10 states Thursday morning. The administration had said that it would grant the waivers because efforts to revise the 10-year-old law have become bogged down in Congress even though members of both political parties agree that the law has problems and is in need of major changes.
“After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility,” President Obama said in a statement released with the announcement.
“Today, we’re giving 10 states the green light to continue making reforms that are best for them. Because if we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”
First, let’s look at the No Child Left Behind act requirements.  Basically, the law required states to show that they had reached 100% proficiency by 2014.  This requirement was for ALL students, including the “Gap” children (minority and poor).  Because the law’s framers wanted to be able to take corrective action along the way they called for annual achievement testing to show that at least a linear projection of the progress to get to the goal in 2014 was met or exceeded.  This annual requirement was termed AYP (Annual Yearly Progress).  The consequences for not meeting the AYP consistently could be many but at the top they meant that the state would take over the school, fire all the staff and start over.  The law did have one gigantic flaw.  It allowed each state to define proficiency for its students, irregardless of how that matched up with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or the standards of our best foreign competitors.  As you would expect that has led many of the states to adopt “weak” definitions of proficiency.   And in fact you can safely say that all states fall far short of the international competition and short of the NAEP requirements.
Now it is true that educators consider the requirements of No Child Left Behind to be draconian and cumbersome as the LA Times article mentions.  Educators are consistent in stubbornly refusing to embrace the changes needed to really solve our education problems.  Of course, they are very comfortable with the status quo in an education system that is run for the benefit of the adults who work there, not the students.  They are expert at “playing” the system to get a continuing, ever-increasing flow of money to support new initiatives which preserve the status quo.  These always fit the “trying to do the wrong thing better” category.  That is, the weakness of our system is not that it isn’t being worked correctly, it is that the system itself can’t work which is why improvements of the scale needed are never achieved on a broad scale.  You have to hand it to our educators for their ability to ignore the facts that all of the countries who beat us in achievement use a different system. 
Sadly it is the one we used to use in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries before John Dewey and the Progressives began to take control of our education establishment. Their approach was dumbed down and much less rigorous in teacher training.  The takeover was complete by the late 1960s when all high school graduates had essentially been exposed to the new system for their entire school career.  Consistent with that time frame SAT scores plummeted.  To fix the problem requires going back to the rigor of curriculum and teacher preparation that existed before.  You will hear from educators that the current teacher training is more than what was required in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It is true that teachers back then were typically trained in Normal schools which gave two to three years of training after high school to prepare teachers.  Today all teachers require at least a bachelors (4 year) degree from an education school to be certified.  There are alternative certification routes but they amount to very small portion of all teachers. 
The problem with the new teacher training is that it takes the majority of students from the bottom third of their high school graduating class and transforms them into all A students.  The ed school diploma (with a few exceptions like U of Virginia and Hillsdale College) is only indicative of “tuition paid and seat time” in the ed school diploma mill.  The main reason our ed system does not change to what works is that their human resource; teachers and administrators are all untrained to do it right.  That is they have virtually no subject knowledge and the administrators tasked to lead do not know how as they have weak ed school training and no role models once at work to learn how to do it well.  Thus, to employ the techniques that work so well for our foreign competitors and their students would require a complete retreading of the current workforce.  Also, the need to set high standards for certification would mean that not all teachers or administrators could or would be able to pass muster.  A daunting task to be sure.  However, the current “reduce standards if they bind” approach does nothing to fix our broken education system.
At times like this, I always hear examples of kids who are brilliant and are products of our education system.  That is true.  They tend to fit into those who have parents, tutors or other support systems to fill the void between what they need and what the schools provide.  It is fortunate that some students learn in spite of the schools.  It does nothing however to provide the training that the majority of kids need in today’s knowledge society to allow them to find decent paying jobs.  Thus, actions like today’s taken by the administration only continue pushing the day the kids are finally served well into the distant future.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do We Need the Department of Education?

I am posting this article from the Hillsdale College Imprimis because it addresses a problem we need to face.  
January 2012
Charles Murray
American Enterprise Institute
Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He received his B.A. in history at Harvard University and his Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has written for numerous newspapers and journals, including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Weekly StandardCommentary, and National Review. His books include Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980What It Means to Be a Libertarian, and Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. His new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, will be published at the end of January.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 28, 2011, at a conference on “Markets, Government, and the Common Good,” sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Center for the Study of Monetary Systems and Free Enterprise.
THE CASE FOR the Department of Education could rest on one or more of three legs: its constitutional appropriateness, the existence of serious problems in education that could be solved only at the federal level, and/or its track record since it came into being. Let us consider these in order.
(1) Is the Department of Education constitutional?
At the time the Constitution was written, education was not even considered a function of local government, let alone the federal government. But the shakiness of the Department of Education’s constitutionality goes beyond that. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates the things over which Congress has the power to legislate. Not only does the list not include education, there is no plausible rationale for squeezing education in under the commerce clause. I’m sure the Supreme Court found a rationale, but it cannot have been plausible.
On a more philosophical level, the framers of America’s limited government had a broad allegiance to what Catholics call the principle of subsidiarity. In the secular world, the principle of subsidiarity means that local government should do only those things that individuals cannot do for themselves, state government should do only those things that local governments cannot do, and the federal government should do only those things that the individual states cannot do. Education is something that individuals acting alone and cooperatively can do, let alone something local or state governments can do.
I should be explicit about my own animus in this regard. I don’t think the Department of Education is constitutionally legitimate, let alone appropriate. I would favor abolishing it even if, on a pragmatic level, it had improved American education. But I am in a small minority on that point, so let’s move on to the pragmatic questions.
(2) Are there serious problems in education that can be solved only at the federal level?
The first major federal spending on education was triggered by the launch of the first space satellite, Sputnik, in the fall of 1957, which created a perception that the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union in science and technology. The legislation was specifically designed to encourage more students to go into math and science, and its motivation is indicated by its title: The National Defense Education Act of 1958. But what really ensnared the federal government in education in the 1960s had its origins elsewhere—in civil rights. The Supreme Court declared segregation of the schools unconstitutional in 1954, but—notwithstanding a few highly publicized episodes such as the integration of Central High School in Little Rock and James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi—the pace of change in the next decade was glacial.
Was it necessary for the federal government to act? There is a strong argument for “yes,” especially in the case of K-12 education. Southern resistance to desegregation proved to be both stubborn and effective in the years following Brown v. Board of Education. Segregation of the schools had been declared unconstitutional, and constitutional rights were being violated on a massive scale. But the question at hand is whether we need a Department of Education now, and we have seen a typical evolution of policy. What could have been justified as a one-time, forceful effort to end violations of constitutional rights, lasting until the constitutional wrongs had been righted, was transmuted into a permanent government establishment. Subsequently, this establishment became more and more deeply involved in American education for purposes that have nothing to do with constitutional rights, but instead with a broader goal of improving education.
The reason this came about is also intimately related to the civil rights movement. Over the same years that school segregation became a national issue, the disparities between black and white educational attainment and test scores came to public attention. When the push for President Johnson’s Great Society programs began in the mid-1960s, it was inevitable that the federal government would attempt to reduce black-white disparities, and it did so in 1965 with the passage of two landmark bills—the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act. The Department of Education didn’t come into being until 1980, but large-scale involvement of the federal government in education dates from 1965.
(3) So what is the federal government’s track record in education?
The most obvious way to look at the track record is the long-term trend data of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Consider, for instance, the results for the math test for students in fourth, eighth and twelfth grades from 1978 through 2004. The good news is that the scores for fourth graders showed significant improvement in both reading and math—although those gains diminished slightly as the children got older. The bad news is that the baseline year of 1978 represents the nadir of the test score decline from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Probably we are today about where we were in math achievement in the 1960s. For reading, the story is even bleaker. The small gains among fourth graders diminish by eighth grade and vanish by the twelfth grade. And once again, the baseline tests in the 1970s represent a nadir.
From 1942 through the 1990s, the state of Iowa administered a consistent and comprehensive test to all of its public school students in grade school, middle school, and high school—making it, to my knowledge, the only state in the union to have good longitudinal data that go back that far. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills offers not a sample, but an entire state population of students. What can we learn from a single state? Not much, if we are mainly interested in the education of minorities—Iowa from 1942 through 1970 was 97 percent white, and even in the 2010 census was 91 percent white. But, paradoxically, that racial homogeneity is also an advantage, because it sidesteps all the complications associated with changing ethnic populations.
Since retention through high school has changed greatly over the last 70 years, I will consider here only the data for ninth graders. What the data show is that when the federal government decided to get involved on a large scale in K-12 education in 1965, Iowa’s education had been improving substantially since the first test was administered in 1942. There is reason to think that the same thing had been happening throughout the country. As I documented in my book, Real Education, collateral data from other sources are not as detailed, nor do they go back to the 1940s, but they tell a consistent story. American education had been improving since World War II. Then, when the federal government began to get involved, it got worse.
I will not try to make the case that federal involvement caused the downturn. The effort that went into programs associated with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 in the early years was not enough to have changed American education, and the more likely causes for the downturn are the spirit of the 1960s—do your own thing—and the rise of progressive education to dominance over American public education. But this much can certainly be said: The overall data on the performance of American K-12 students give no reason to think that federal involvement, which took the form of the Department of Education after 1979, has been an engine of improvement.
What about the education of the disadvantaged, especially minorities? After all, this was arguably the main reason that the federal government began to get involved in education—to reduce the achievement gap separating poor children and rich children, and especially the gap separating poor black children and the rest of the country.
The most famous part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was Title I, initially authorizing more than a billion dollars annually (equivalent to more than $7 billion today) to upgrade the schools attended by children from low-income families. The program has continued to grow ever since, disposing of about $19 billion in 2010 (No Child Left Behind has also been part of Title I).
Supporters of Title I confidently expected to see progress, and so formal evaluation of Title I was built into the legislation from the beginning. Over the years, the evaluations became progressively more ambitious and more methodologically sophisticated. But while the evaluations have improved, the story they tell has not changed. Despite being conducted by people who wished the program well, no evaluation of Title I from the 1970s onward has found credible evidence of a significant positive impact on student achievement. If one steps back from the formal evaluations and looks at the NAEP test score gap between high-poverty schools (the ones that qualify for Title I support) and low-poverty schools, the implications are worse. A study by the Department of Education published in 2001 revealed that the gap grew rather than diminished from 1986—the earliest year such comparisons have been made—through 1999.
That brings us to No Child Left Behind. Have you noticed that no one talks about No Child Left Behind any more? The explanation is that its one-time advocates are no longer willing to defend it. The nearly-flat NAEP trendlines since 2002 make that much-ballyhooed legislative mandate—a mandate to bring all children to proficiency in math and reading by 2014—too embarrassing to mention.
In summary: the long, intrusive, expensive role of the federal government in K-12 education does not have any credible evidence for a positive effect on American education.
* * *
I have chosen to focus on K-12 because everyone agrees that K-12 education leaves much to be desired in this country and that it is reasonable to hold the government’s feet to the fire when there is no evidence that K-12 education has improved. When we turn to post-secondary education, there is much less agreement on first principles.
The bachelor of arts degree as it has evolved over the last half-century has become the work of the devil. It is now a substantively meaningless piece of paper—genuinely meaningless, if you don’t know where the degree was obtained and what courses were taken. It is expensive, too, as documented by the College Board: Public four-year colleges average about $7,000 per year in tuition, not including transportation, housing, and food. Tuition at the average private four-year college is more than $27,000 per year. And yet the B.A. has become the minimum requirement for getting a job interview for millions of jobs, a cost-free way for employers to screen for a certain amount of IQ and perseverance. Employers seldom even bother to check grades or courses, being able to tell enough about a graduate just by knowing the institution that he or she got into as an 18-year-old.
So what happens when a paper credential is essential for securing a job interview, but that credential can be obtained by taking the easiest courses and doing the minimum amount of work? The result is hundreds of thousands of college students who go to college not to get an education, but to get a piece of paper. When the dean of one East Coast college is asked how many students are in his institution, he likes to answer, “Oh, maybe six or seven.” The situation at his college is not unusual. The degradation of American college education is not a matter of a few parents horrified at stories of silly courses, trivial study requirements, and campus binge drinking. It has been documented in detail, affects a large proportion of the students in colleges, and is a disgrace.
The Department of Education, with decades of student loans and scholarships for university education, has not just been complicit in this evolution of the B.A. It has been its enabler. The size of these programs is immense. In 2010, the federal government issued new loans totaling $125 billion. It handed out more than eight million Pell Grants totaling more than $32 billion dollars. Absent this level of intervention, the last three decades would have seen a much healthier evolution of post-secondary education that focused on concrete job credentials and courses of studies not constricted by the traditional model of the four-year residential college. The absence of this artificial subsidy would also have let market forces hold down costs. Defenders of the Department of Education can unquestionably make the case that its policies have increased the number of people going to four-year residential colleges. But I view that as part of the Department of Education’s indictment, not its defense.
* * *
What other case might be made for federal involvement in education? Its contributions to good educational practice? Think of the good things that have happened to education in the last 30 years—the growth of homeschooling and the invention and spread of charter schools. The Department of Education had nothing to do with either development. Both happened because of the initiatives taken by parents who were disgusted with standard public education and took matters into their own hands. To watch the process by which charter schools are created, against the resistance of school boards and administrators, is to watch the best of American traditions in operation. Government has had nothing to do with it, except as a drag on what citizens are trying to do for their children.
Think of the best books on educational practice, such as Howard Gardner’s many innovative writings and E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Curriculum, developed after his landmark book, Cultural Literacy, was published in 1987. None of this came out of the Department of Education. The Department of Education spends about $200 million a year on research intended to improve educational practice. No evidence exists that these expenditures have done any significant good.
As far as I can determine, the Department of Education has no track record of positive accomplishment—nothing in the national numbers on educational achievement, nothing in the improvement of educational outcomes for the disadvantaged, nothing in the advancement of educational practice. It just spends a lot of money. This brings us to the practical question: If the Department of Education disappeared from next year’s budget, would anyone notice? The only reason that anyone would notice is the money. The nation’s public schools have developed a dependence on the federal infusion of funds. As a practical matter, actually doing away with the Department of Education would involve creating block grants so that school district budgets throughout the nation wouldn’t crater.
Sadly, even that isn’t practical. The education lobby will prevent any serious inroads on the Department of Education for the foreseeable future. But the answer to the question posed in the title of this talk—“Do we need the Department of Education?”—is to me unambiguous: No.

Copyright © 2012 Hillsdale College. The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” SUBSCRIPTION FREE UPON REQUEST. ISSN 0277-8432. Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. Patent and Trade Office #1563325.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Too Big to Fail, To Little to Save

CNBC reported this morning that Kodak had been given notice that it wasn’t in compliance with the stock price rules of the New York Stock Exchange.  Kodak is currently selling for less than $1 per share.  This is continuing evidence of a long slide for Kodak as digital technology has replaced its film-centric technology.  Yes, Kodak has participated in digital products but was ill prepared by its focus on film technology to switch horses effectively.  Basically, entities have great difficulty dealing with change.  The only thing that “helps” them do it is competition.  Thus, a former strong company that was part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average years ago is trundling slowly toward oblivion already achieving insignificant status in today’s economy.   Should we be sad?  No, the meritocratic system that is Capitalism weeds out the uncompetitive to make room for the competitive.  Consumers benefit because they have a better technology at their disposal at a much cheaper price point.  More jobs are created in the new technology.
To reference the title of this piece, Too Big to Fail, Too Little to Save, Kodak has withered away to a point where it is too little to save and so the government did not intervene to keep an unproductive entity alive.  If they had done so as they have in other areas recently they would have added to the cost but not the benefit to society as a whole.  Letting uncompetitive entities fail and perhaps rise from the ashes recast for success is a natural and positive development.  Sure, there is short term pain involved but it is far, far less than the total pain and cost to society when government steps in and creates a “walking dead” situation that wanders zombie-like forever, as a net drag on our economy when we can ill afford it.

The biggest failed enterprise being propped up by the government is our education system.  It is less competitive by far than Kodak yet is still consuming huge resources.  It does not educate our children well enough to compete in the global marketplace for high paying jobs.  While there is some domestic competition for education; private and charter schools and even home schooling, the education establishment has been very successful in limiting school choice for the majority of the children nationally.  Thus, with no competition, our century old “Model T” education system continues to be “improved” but the underlying chassis is still the same uncompetitive Model T.  Also, in truth, what domestic competition exists is basically using the same failed education philosophies as used in the mainline schools.  There are exceptions but far too few.  When compared to the more modern and perfected education processes of the countries beating us so badly on international achievement testing our system should have been killed and replaced decades ago.

Treating our education system as too big to fail is damaging our society as a whole.  It does reduce the short term pain for education fiefdom members and suppliers but can’t be justified because it harms our kids and nation far more than the reduced pain to our coddled educators is worth.  Let educators compete by accessing government money only tied to real performance improvement.  This must be results based not activity based.  Educators have shown great mastery of “looking like they are doing positive things” while continuing the same old harmful processes. 

The education emperor has no clothes.  Someone who is as delusional as that deserves to fail and be replaced.  But we should give them a chance to change but it must be on a short leash, i.e. tied to specific and immediate improvement.  It is commonly said by educators that change is hard and takes a long time.  That is not at all true.  If your feet are in the fire you move, you don’t let them roast.
A good example of what is possible is what happened after Pearl Harbor.  A highly bureaucratized military suddenly threw the “book” out the window making greater progress in months than had been made in decades before that.  It became a truly merit-based system overnight.  There was no tolerance for the old ways of patronage and who someone knew.  When survival is at stake positive action happens naturally.  We need to threaten the survival of the current failed education system if we expect positive change.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Teachers Overpaid

Reference - “Study: Teachers Make Too Much Money”  from Education Week. 
In the article Francesca Duffy reports on a Washington meeting this week where Biggs and Richwine (researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation ) reported on their findings that on average teachers make 52% more than workers with equivalent skills make in the private sector considering pay, benefits and job security.  They totally demolished Arne Duncan, Education Secretary’s assertion that teachers are “desperately underpaid.”  I am really surprised that the researchers made it out of town without suffering harm.
The researchers reckon that the overpayment nationwide amounts to $120 Billion a year.  This puts it in the same ballpark as the savings the “super committee” is tasked to find in the federal spending over ten years.  Yes, it is hard to take away something that people are used to getting but in this case it is both unfair and unaffordable.  This is why a focus of the discussion was to promote the idea that states facing budget shortfalls should consider teacher compensation as a viable area for spending cuts. 
While this could be a fruitful area and could start addressing the unfairness to society of the current situation, we know from the states (Wisconsin et al) where even small changes in what teachers pay for healthcare or retirement plan contributions are attempted that it will require a lot guts on the part of state lawmakers with majority public support to make it happen.
Richwine contended that the standard regression method, which compares teachers to workers with equivalent education and finds that teachers are underpaid, is flawed because it doesn't consider "unobservable ability." People going into teaching have lower SAT and GRE scores than people who pursue other fields, he said. Thus, in the case of teachers, "years of education could be an overestimate of cognitive skills." In addition, the education major itself is not as rigorous as other fields of study.  Thus, this adds to the recognition of education outsiders over decades that an education degree is of extremely low value compared to other degree paths.  It is essentially a “seat time” certificate.  For decades those who fail in other college majors switch to education and become “A” students easily and those who can’t get admitted to more rigorous studies start out in education from day one. 
This doesn’t mean that all educators are uneducated but the majority certainly are.  They set the tone for the whole endeavor making any improvement virtually impossible as has been proven over decades.  An example of critiques of the education schools and their graduates is Gary Lyons article in Texas Magazine, Sept. 1979.  Lyons reported that half of the teacher applicants to the Houston Independent School District scored lower in math and a third of them lower in English than the average high school junior and he blamed the state’s sixty-three accredited teacher-training institutions for turning out “teachers who cannot read as well as the average sixteen-year old, write notes free of barbarisms to parents, or handle arithmetic well enough to keep track of the field-trip money.”  He accused the teacher colleges of coddling ignorance and, “backed by hometown legislators,” of turning out “hordes of certified ignoramuses whose incompetence in turn becomes evidence that the teacher colleges and the educators need yet more money and more power.”
Arthur Levine, then president of Columbia Teachers College (when he wrote his reports) in his three part critique of education schools starting with Educating School Leaders in 2005 reinforced Lyons’ criticisms of 26 years earlier.  He pointed out the low SAT and GRE scores but also that administrators as a group had lower SAT and GRE scores than the teachers they were “leading.”  He also bemoaned the lack of rigor as being related to universities, even those with good reputations, using education schools as a low quality diploma mill with lowering standards and admission requirements to support the levels of income needed to fund more important career majors at the universities. 
Back to the new research: They found that when teachers and other workers are compared by cognitive ability, Richwine added, "the wage penalty has essentially disappeared."  Also, their research showed that when teachers left teaching to take private sector jobs their pay declined by 3%.  Of course, the party line of the teachers unions is that teachers are constantly tempted by higher pay in the private sector, which is perhaps true for some teachers but not for the average teacher.
It should be no surprise that the biggest component of the overpaid reality lies with the extremely generous benefits that teachers receive which are not available in the private sector.  Fully funded retirement plans with defined benefit amounts unattainable without taxpayer subsidies because the market return assumptions are unrealistic are typically fully funded by the public.  Also, healthcare costs are extremely low and the retirement healthcare benefits are also very expensive to the public but virtually free for the teachers.
I believe that this “free ride” on the taxpayer’s dime is unsustainable and unproductive.  It contributes to a view of things within education circles that is totally unrealistic.  It results in false sense of entitlement related to believing the conventional wisdoms of educators.  That is, “we are doing a great job and are working incredibly hard.”  Norman Augustine in his “Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?” points out that if American educators adopted a goal to be “average” in the global education panacea they would need to improve a lot.  The reality is that our education system is performing abysmally and the amount we spend on it is not helping at all.  The payback on investment is atrocious.  Worse though is that millions of kids are given “amputated” futures year after year because educators live in a dream world with no sense of reality or responsibility while their enablers the education schools and too many politicians find benefit in continuing the scam.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs

The death of Steve Jobs is on everyone’s mind this week.  The accolades for his leadership and creative genius at Apple are everywhere in the media.  The accolades are appropriate because of the results he turned in over his career.  I think it is very worthwhile to look at the “whole person” who was so successful and learn from it.  

Steve’s reputation was that he was a very smart and driven person.  That was characterized by his extremely high expectations for himself and the organization he led coupled with a passion for excellence.  From what you can piece together from comments now but especially over the years when people were discussing a living and not a dead man paint a picture of a difficult person to have as a boss.   More than one person who worked with him has said he did not suffer fools at all.  He also did not suffer in silence when confronted with what he saw as work that did not meet his standard.  His feedback in such circumstances was swift and biting.  He created a work environment where political correctness had no place.  Perhaps above all he understood the technology and what it could and couldn’t do at the current time or the short term future.  This objective and realistic but stretching view of what was possible led Apple to success after success.
So let’s compare the Job’s approach to management with that employed by our education “leaders.” 

  1. ·         Results - our education system is turning in results as abysmal as Job’s results were positive.
  2. ·         Expectations – educators do not have high expectations of themselves or of their students.
  3. ·         Objectivity – educators continue to use education approaches which are technically wrong in spite of the results they aren’t able to achieve.  This is compared to competitor nations who use technically sound approaches and teach their kids much more effectively as is shown by the international testing.   The approach in our education system is to try to do the wrong thing better when they should stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things.
  4. ·         Work environment – in education political correctness and group think run amok.  This creates a workplace where constructive feedback (that is, you are not getting the right results, shape up or ship out) simply does not occur.  Kids and our increasingly uncompetitive society globally continue to pay the price.
  5. ·         Mental Toughness – Job’s created an environment of mental toughness where robust dialog was encouraged as a way to perfect the quality of the work teams.  The education environment is one of people walking on eggshells because conflict is not allowed and thus creates a bunch of wimps.
  6. ·         Passion – in education passion is not allowed because it might lead to conflicts.  Conflict is required if you want to really perform well.  It results in much better decisions.  Oh, people “say” they are passionate about things but it is all a charade.  If passion for doing the education mission in an excellent way were ever allowed to break through the educations fiefdom’s fortress walls it would have a remarkably positive impact.

Therefore, we must conclude that there are good reasons why Steve Jobs and Apple were successful and equally valid reasons why our education system is a miserable failure compared to the money spent and the quality of the kids who have far more potential than they are given credit for. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Courageous Education Leaders = Oxymoron

The history of American mainstream education for nearly the last five decades has been characterized by lots of changes but no significant improvement in our performance versus the best global competition. In fact they are improving steadily at a pace that even if we improve will leave us further behind year after year. The changes we have pursued have been;
 • Greatly increased costs
 o Admin increases have been huge in both numbers of people and the pay they receive.
 o Advanced ‘education school’ graduate degrees have become ubiquitous. This is because districts have policies in place that give people who get the advanced degree an automatic pay increase. For example; Arthur Levine (former president of Columbia Teachers College) wrote in his 2005 Educating School Leaders that the education doctorate “had no value for any public school administration job.”
 o The ancillary “trappings” that used to be very rare are now “necessary” so that schools are more and more expensive to build and maintain. The husk is beautiful but the core is rotten.
 o Massive amounts of money are spent on “doing the wrong things better” which is much more expensive and only preserves the unacceptable status quo of poor performance. Terms such as best practice, special education, response to intervention, etc. all fit the “do the wrong thing better” approach.

 • States generally set low proficiency standards and the national level NAEP testing which has a more rigorous standard than the states also is set below the global best competition by 2-3 grades and sometimes more.

 • The best performing global competitors use a rigorous, direct instruction process taught by teachers who have robust subject knowledge. Our education philosophy is to use the discovery/constructivist approach championed by Dewey et al about a century ago. Our performance cannot improve significantly unless we discard the dumbed-down constructivist approach and replace it with the direct instruction process. This will require ‘retreading’ teachers in both subject knowledge which is currently weak but also in pedagogy which is currently tailored to the constructivist process that E.D. Hirsch says “hasn’t worked and can’t work” because it is technically flawed.

 • The political climate has increasingly moved toward more state and federal control and less local control over the education process. This added bureaucracy only serves to increase costs and cast the current technically flawed process in concrete so that needed change is extremely difficult.

 • Education entities have essentially transformed themselves into propaganda operations whose main objective is to ‘con’ the public into believing that they are doing as well as can be expected but more money to spend would always help the kids.

 With all of that it is easy to see why educators take the comfortable and easy road of ignoring (masking) their performance in the core mission to educate children to their potential. However, just suppose for the thought of it that some brave district leadership team decided to work on the real issues impeding education performance. It isn’t likely but just suppose it did happen. What process might they use to travel the road to self-respect and satisfaction in tackling a difficult task and succeeding?

 A good first step would be to put out a press release and parent, patron, and staff letter to inform everyone of the truth of the district’s poor performance and also that they were committed to fixing the problems as soon as possible. This could be considered analogous to Cortez’ burning of ships to prevent his men from feeling that retreat to Cuba was an option. Their only option was to go forward or die. That brave district would inform everyone that the ways of operating would be very different than they had been in the past.

The days of milling around trying to avoid making a decision that might cause painful but productive change would be past. The focus would be on implementation of “technically correct” education processes. There is absolutely no need to discuss, experiment or go slow, what needs to be done is well known. The other countries whose kids get much better educations than ours do have proven what works, we only need to implement their good practice.

 A specific outline of actions to take immediately no matter what part of the school year you are in;
 • Immediately start rigorous subject matter training for teachers. Start with elementary teachers who as a group have the most to learn. Concentrate on math and reading first. This training cannot come from education school faculty. They don’t have the knowledge required as is shown by the poor subject knowledge of education school graduates.

 • Immediately discontinue all constructivist curricula. Replace all texts currently in use with more rigorous material. For example, the Singapore math texts are cheap and much better than the commonly used EveryDay Math which does not provide the foundation required for success in middle and high school math studies.

 • Immediately train district leaders to be competent change leaders. Education school training and the leadership role models all work to create maintainers not “change masters” as Rosabeth Kanter called them in her book The Change Masters.

 • Eliminate political correctness and Group Think as they stand in the way of robust dialogue, a primary requirement for performance organizations.

 • Value honesty in identifying problems. Do not allow a “kill the messenger” approach. You must face the bald-faced truth of your performance no matter how uncomfortable if you hope to make real progress.

 • Report often to stakeholders about progress being made.

 • Stop paying more for advanced degrees. If the advanced degree results in better performance then pay more for that performance, if not, do not pay more. This was recommended by Arthur Levine in Educating School Leaders.

 • Use a short-cycle, data driven, prioritized management process.

 Is there just one district out there that has the integrity and honesty to face and fix the problems so that all kids can actually have the opportunity to learn to their potential?