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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

March 23, 2020 Leave a comment

A few days ago, Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Mitroveca wrote and scathing article about President Trump titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Businessmen Should Not be President“. The article could just as easily been titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Government Cannot be Run Like a Business“, a premise that is explicitly raised in the opening paragraphs of the article:

Nations should be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be governed by men or women who have owned a company – preferably a big company.

For generations, this has been the neo-liberal mantra about how nations are organised, who is best qualified to lead and how citizens are expected to play a deferential role at the behest of owners turned presidents or prime ministers.

Donald Trump is the personification of the idea that chief executive officers can slip into the Oval Office from the corner office with ease and acuity, despite the murky means by which they may have achieved their corporate “success”.

The corollary to this CEO to POTUS trajectory is that, once in place, the former businessman will expertly swing a machete to slash the waste, bureaucracy, regulations and duplication that exists in “bloated” governments.

For several years as a public school Superintendent I fell prey to the notions advanced by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler in their seminal book “Reinventing Government”, a book that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore used to guide them doing their terms of office from 1992-2000. And Osbourne and Gaebler were not the only gurus promoting the idea that business principles could be used to govern democratic institutions like school districts and city governments. Tom Peters lionized the business ethos William Donald Schaefer brought to the management of Baltimore city in his book In Search of Excellence and many periodicals for school administrators picked up on that line of thinking. Indeed, several urban districts, including NYC and Seattle, appointed Superintendents with no background whatsoever in public education on the theory that managing a school district was no different from managing a large complicated bureaucracy like a business or a military operation.

Donald Trump embodies everything that is wrong about the notion that a top-down CEO can solve the complicated problems that face a government… and his character flaws only magnify the inherent flaws of “running government like a business”. Mr. Mitroveca mercilessly illustrates the flaws of electing a business-minded individual to President, especially a seamless self-promoter like Donald Trump:

….No one should be surprised that a businessman who lied habitually would lie habitually as president. No one should be surprised that a floundering businessman would flounder as president. Nor should anyone be surprised by the profound, even fatal, human consequences of Trump’s lies and incompetence.

Clearly, Donald Trump is not the first president to have leveraged the vaunted neo-liberal title of “businessman” into president.

Armed with a Harvard Business degree, a stint as an oil executive and coownership of the Texas Rangers baseball club, former Republican President George W Bush, rode first into the Governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas and then into the White House.

Bush’s tenure as president is defined by one calamity after another. Each one was a repudiation of the sophomoric notion that running a business is remotely akin to running a government with complex, nuanced duties and responsibilities at home and abroad.

A cursory glance at his record confirms this. Bush assured himself, Americans and the world that the post 9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be quick, easy, cheap and effective. He was wrong on every count. The exclamation point of his disastrous geopolitical folly was declaring memorably: “Mission accomplished.”

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, breaching levees, obliterating countless communities and killing thousands. Bush, America’s then CEO president, grudgingly returned to Washington from his 29-day vacation on a Texas ranch. Detached and aloof, Bush hovered above the carnage in a helicopter and boasted, with Trump-like, reality-defying bravado, that a top relief official was “doing a heck of a job”. 

And, finally, in 2008, a stunned Bush was reduced toa talking mannequin as the US economy collapsed and teetered towards depression after the sub-prime scam suddenly unravelled.

Mr. Mitroveca concludes his article with this blunt assessment of why it is a bad idea to run our nation like a business:

So, taken together, Trump and Bush have established:

Nations are not companies.

Nations should not be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be not governed by men or women who have devoted their private lives to making money.

This same idea can be universally applied to anyone who sees the profit motive as the best means of achieving efficiency in any level of government.

Our Emerging National Experiment on On-Line Learning

March 13, 2020 Comments off

If we had a functional United States Department of Education, they would be working feverishly to devise some kind of means of measuring the impact of a national experiment we are about to embark on. As most readers of this blog undoubtedly realize, as of today four states have cancelled classes and scores of colleges– including some the “brand name” universities— are cancelling their spring semesters. All of these educational institutions, from Harvard to rural schools in Michigan, are offering on-line instruction in lieu of the traditional on-campus model. The billion dollar question for schools and colleges is this: will having students take course on-line make any difference in what they learn? The answer is that given our crude means of measuring “what students learn” we will never know.

Because our primary metric for measuring learning is the standardized test, and since on-line instruction can be targeted to the kinds of content that is readily measured on those tests, it is entirely possible that children learning on screens at home will do at least as well on these tests as children who were taught at school. Should that be the result, I can imagine advocates of virtual learning will use it as evidence that on-line learning is as good as traditional learning and advocates of efficiency will see it as evidence that we are spending needlessly.

But offering online courses as an alternative has one major self-evident drawback: high speed internet is not universally available or affordable. I live five miles away from Dartmouth College by car but cannot get broadband and my cell phone gets one bar indoors and two bars in my driveway. I have a dsl connection but need to pay a premium price for it, a price that might not be affordable if I were making even $15/hour. Online learning that consists of more than electronic spreadsheets, then, is not available for all children in same way as traditional brick-and-mortar instruction.

But there is another side to this experiment that cannot be overlooked: public schools do far more than educate children to do well on standardized tests. As Business Insider reports, one result of the closure of schools is that millions of children will no longer have access to the free meals served in public schools. For the 11 million children who come from food insecure homes this will compromise their health as surely as being exposed to classmates with Covid-19. Absent any clear protocols from the federal government, states and/or local school districts are left to fend for themselves in developing a means of providing meals for children who will otherwise go hungry. And schools do more than provide nutritious meals. They provide medical assistance, counseling, and psychological support for children that might otherwise be lacking.

Another practical issue for working parents is that public schools provide childcare. If schools close due to weather cancellations, many working parents scramble to get short-term coverage for their children or take personal leave if it is possible for them. If schools are closed for an extended period of time, how will working parents cope? And if parents are working from home who will get the use of the bandwidth?

And finally, schools an colleges employ thousands. If schools close and on-line instruction is offered, some contest teachers will presumably oversee the online instruction in some fashion. But will ALL the teachers be needed? And what will happen to bus drivers? Cafeteria workers? The custodial and maintenance staff? Will their fate be determined on a district-by-district basis or will state or federal guidelines be developed?

We are embarking on a massive experiment in the way we educate children and we are flying blind as we do so. But we may learn some valuable lessons as a result of this experiment. We may begin to appreciate that standardized tests fail to measure what is important about public schools. We may begin to appreciate the expanded mission of public schools. We may begin to appreciate the social benefits children get from interacting with their peers. And we may appreciate the key role public education plays in the local and national economy. And finally, we may appreciate the need to provide for those children who would not receive three meals a day, a warm room, or encouragement if it were not for their local schools.

 

Ontario E-Learning Mandate is Step Backwards for High Schools, Not a Path to Modernity

March 10, 2020 Comments off

This morning as I scrolled through the Education newsfeed on my I-Phone I came across an article in The Conversation by Windsor College education professor Lana Parker describing Ontario’s mandatory e-learning courses for high school students and a bell went off in head. It seems that I accurately recalled that Ontario’s Premier was Doug Ford, a populist conservative who, like our POTUS, is no fan of government and, after reading Ms. Parker’s article that made no mention of Mr. Ford, came upon another Conversation article from October 2019 by Beyhan Farhadi that not only named him but called him out for the plan.

Ms. Fahradi’s article described the idea behind the plan offered by their equivalent of the Commissioner of Education:

Questioned in the legislature about the plan, Lisa Thompson, then the minister of education, asked:

What is wrong with making sure that our students, at minimum, once a year, embrace technology for good?

The fantasy of progress reflected in this statement — that technology can determine educational outcomes — suggests that technology offers simple solutions to complex problems.

In her article, Ms. Fahradi offers research-based rebuttal to the efficacy of on-line instruction as a means of offering equitable opportunities, noting that the students who succeeded in e-learning before the mandate were predominantly high-achieving white students.

Ms. Farrell’s article, though, presents the real reasoning behind mandatory e-courses… and… surprise: it’s not about modernization of education… it’s about money!

E-learning isn’t about modernization. E-learning may instead be a trojan horse for cost-cutting and privatization. Teacher and staff wages make up the bulk of the education budget and the government likely recognises that costs can be cut if fewer teachers are employed to teach students. Ontario has been seeking to do this in two ways.

The first is to increase class sizes. The second is related to the first: it’s to introduce mandatory e-learning as a way of potentially grouping larger cohorts of students in a virtual classroom, centralizing course preparations and reducing the scope of personalized learning. This contradicts the OECD’s recommendation for 21st century learning that curriculum should be shifting from “predetermined and static” to “adaptable and dynamic.”

In addition to cost-cutting, the move to centralized e-learning also reveals that the government may be planning to develop private revenue streams. Canadian courses and curriculum are already being sold internationally. It’s quite possible that the government hopes that there will be a future market for an online curriculum.

Mandatory e-learning will not mean more choice for students and parents. In Ontario, fewer teachers and increased class sizes have already resulted in less course choice. The loss of face-to-face togetherness in a student’s formative years should not be the benchmark for what modernization looks like in schools today.

Five states in our country and two provinces in Canada have mandated at least one course in the name of “modernization” or, in some cases”, equity. E-learning in and of itself does not afford either. As both writers assert e-learning DOES have a place IN the classroom… but it should not BE the classroom. In the end, there is only one reason e-learning is politically popular: it is a cheap, fast and easy solution to a whole series of complicated problems that cost money and take a long time to solve.

The Roots of Racism are Deep and Insidious as Illustrated in the US’s Longstanding Housing Policy

March 1, 2020 1 comment

As noted repeatedly in this blog, the racial and economic segregation and stratification of public schools is a reflection of the housing patterns that, in turn, are the result of our official government policies and practices. A JSTOR Daily article by Mannish Claire, describes how “Better Homes in America—a collaboration between Herbert Hoover and the editor of a conservative women’s magazine—promoted idealized whiteness.” The collaboration between the efficiency minded Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, and Marie Meloney, the editor-in-chief of the women’s magazine The Delineator, resulted in the creation of the Better Homes in America (BHA), an organization that:

encouraged home ownership as a financial, social, and patriotic undertaking, with homemaking and consumerism at its core. BHA presented itself as a traditionalizing force for good, one that would help stabilize the country and raise up the next generation of patriotic citizens.

While Ms. Claire attributes a degree of malevolence to BHA, it struck me that the group reflected the thinking of the time. In our era the notion of a national organization dedicated to encouraging home ownership offering separate awards to homes designed by people of color and/or immigrants would be discredited. But in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” standard was the law of the land, such a system made perfect sense. It is easy to examine the BHA 90 years after the fact and see it as wrongheaded, but it also underscores how deeply seeded our racism is. My grandparents came of age in that time and the houses depicted in the article looked like the homes they owned in suburban Philadelphia and the ethos described by the BHA mirrors the thinking my grandparents had about the importance of industriousness, thrift, and efficiency. Part of me marvels at how much the thinking of my daughters’ generation has come, seemingly much more inclusive in their thinking and much more willing to live in an integrated and multi-cultural world. But another part of me is frustrated with the snails pace of change in government policy, a pace that MY generation has set because we have not been willing to accept policies and mental formations our grandparents and parents instilled in us.

And here’s what is particularly appalling to me: the conservative media insists on perpetuating the myth that immigrants and people of color are unfit for banks to lend money to by buying into the meme that the recent burst of the real estate bubble was THEIR fault because the government forced the banks to loan money to them…. and our President is reinforcing this notion in his rallies. I hope that this blatant display of racist “logic” along with the misogynistic and cruel barbs that are a feature of his rallies leads voters with a conscience to consider whoever is chosen to run against him. If we ever hope to put the Brown v. Board of Education ethos in place we need a change of ethos at the top.

USA Today Article Exposes USDOE’s Flawed Logic on Deregulation

February 28, 2020 Comments off

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As reported recently in this blog, a USA Today investigative team determined that a for profit college with no students or faculty members was fully accredited by ACSIS, an organization that was barred from accrediting colleges by the Obama administration because it had approved several programs that were not able to provide jobs for graduates or support for their students. One of Betsy DeVos’ first actions as Secretary of Education was to restore ACSIS’ status as an accrediting agency. Why?

DeVos has made it one of her priorities to roll back some of the federal regulations around accreditation. Her argument: Fewer regulations could allow colleges to create training programs quickly to fill holes in the workforce. Critics say cutting back the rules would make it easier for shoddy or predatory institutions to take advantage of students. 

In the case of Reagan University the critics were right. And if you guessed that ACSIS accredited Reagan U you have been paying attention!

No Surprise: Chicago Teachers “Game” NWEA Accountability Test

February 25, 2020 Comments off

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The Chicago Tribune article above describes several instances where teachers “gamed” the NWEA tests. The NWEA tests, originally designed as formative assessments to measure individual student growth, were used for different purposes in Chicago:

Students who took more than six hours on the test — which measures growth and in CPS can also factor into high school admissions, school ratings and teacher performance reviews — were nearly seven times as likely as the average student in CPS to show “unusually large gains,” according to Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s report.

It should come as no surprise that the teachers would intervene when a misused test is the basis for their continued employment AND their students’ future. But the tests are cheap, fast and easy!

instagram-Worthy School Lunches Will Soon Disappear

February 10, 2020 Comments off

An op ed article in today’s NYTimes made me sad. Written by Jennifer Gaddis, an expert on school lunch policy, it featured four beautiful school lunches from this year with the caption reading: “Lunch options for students at Guerrero Thompson Elementary School in Austin, Texas. As i began reading the article, which was a plea for parents to buy school lunch for their children in the name of nutrition, I was astonished to think that an expert on school lunch policy missed the news of a few weeks ago regarding the change in Federal nutrition standards. But near the end of the article, my faith in Ms. Gaddis’ expertise was restored:

The Trump administration isn’t much help (in encouraging parents to buy lunches for nutritional purposes). According to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, providing schools with the flexibility to plan menus that appeal to students’ taste preferences is a way to attract more paying customers to the federal program and reduce food waste. Mr. Purdue has pursued this strategy for making school lunch “great again.”

In practice, this has meant enacting policies that loosen restrictions on the amount of sodium, flavored milk and refined grains that can be served in school meals. The department’s own data shows that participation in the national lunch program is higher in cafeterias that serve healthier meals, yet the administration’s latest proposal, released last month, would allow schools to serve more french fries and fewer green vegetables.

And why is this rollback happening if lunch participation figures are on the increase? Because the GOP believes the marketplace should determine what foods should be available to children, not “the government”. Left to their own devices, children will naturally choose fatty, sweet, and salty foods over ones that are nutritious— and presumably the ledgers on the revenue side of the school lunch budgets will increase. Those instagram-worthy school lunches pictured in the article? They will vanish in September 2020 to be replaced by the burgers and fries. MAGA in this case means Make America Greasy Again….