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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

Charles Blow’s Assessment of the 2010 Decade Misses One Point: We No Longer Have PUBLIC Schools

January 3, 2020 Comments off

As the 2010 decade concluded, manny NYTimes columnists, including Charles Blow, wrote op ed essays assessing the changes that took place. Mr. Blow’s essay, titled “The Decade We Changed Our Minds“, highlighted some positive changes that occurred over the past decade, focussing especially on our country’s changed attitudes toward sexual orientation and drug use. In the column, Mr. Blow offers survey data substantiating this change in thinking while noting that the pushback against these trends continues despite the sentiment supporting a wider acceptance.

But as I noted in a comment I posted, there is one other area where America changed its mind: we no longer think of the institutions that educate our children as PUBLIC schools; we think of them as GOVERNMENT schools. Worse, both the Democrats and GOP think that marketplace competition is needed in order to improve the schools because we have long ago accepted that BUSINESS organizations are for more effective and efficient than GOVERNMENT. We believe this so much that as the decade concluded we elected a “shrewd businessman” to run our country.

I hope that the 2020s we find our faith in government restored, for in a democracy government is overseen by elected officials who are accountable to the voters who put them in office. In a privately held business the owner is beholden to no one and in a publicly held enterprise the CEO is beholden to stockholders who, in most cases, want to see increased profits despite the impact that results to the well being of employees and the public. In my idealistic view, I would hope that we change our minds in two ways in the coming decade: we have our faith in government restored and we abandon shareholder primacy in favor of a model that places a higher value on the well-being of humanity than the well-being of shareholders.

Great Analysis of Democratic Candidates by John Merrow— Watch Out for Buttigieg

December 20, 2019 Comments off

John Merrow recently attended a debate in Pittsburgh among seven of the candidates for President,  a debate that occurred at a gathering of teachers in that region. At the debate he took notes on each candidate, notes that provided a relatively comprehensive overview of the candidate’s views on education and resulted in a VERY insightful blog post.

In reading the post I got a clear distinction between “the other moderate Democrats” Klobucher and Buttigieg and learned that he supports Value Added metrics, which immediately eliminated him from my list of prospective candidates. I have been very open to his candidacy given his reasoned and even-tempered approach but was suspicious of him for a couple of reasons: his experience as a McKinsey consultant and his general lack of experience in a major leadership role. His desire to use mathematical models to “measure” teacher performance based on standardized test meshes well with the use of such models to cut spending and raise profits— a McKinsey standard practice

After reading Mr. Merrow’s insightful analysis, I only wish one of the reporters or someone in the audience challenged Joe Biden on the question of whether he supports RTTT and the appointment of a Secretary of Education in the mold of Arne Duncan. That question needs to be posed to each “moderate” or “centrist” Democratic candidate if we ever hope to get out of the test-driven ditch NCLB and RTTT drove us into. Otherwise, the only hope is that either Warren (who has a TFA staffer— a potential flaw given their thinking about RTTT and similar programs) or ESPECIALLY Sanders gets the Democratic party nod.

The GDP and Standardized Tests

December 16, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by David Leonard titled Why You Shouldn’t Believe Those GDP Numbers. In the article Mr. Leonard questioning the validity of the GDP as a metric for the well-being of workers and the quality of our economy. He writes:

Americans are dissatisfied, and have been for years, largely because the economy as most people experience it has not been booming. G.D.P. — or gross domestic product, the economy’s total output — keeps on rising, but it no longer tracks the well-being of most Americans. Instead, an outsize share of economic growth flows to the wealthy. And yet G.D.P. is treated as a totemic measure of the country’s prosperity.

The economy is not the only area that is mis-measured. For years we have decried our “failing public schools” using standardized test scores as the primary metric. Since the advent of “high stakes testing” schools have increased their time and energy to boosting test scores. As a result more and more schools have eliminated the arts in favor of “academics”, which is really test-preparation. The result: public schools whose soulless rote study of “academics” mirrors the menial low wage jobs.

What gets measured gets done… and if the total spending is measured without regard for who is doing the spending, it does more reflect the well-being of all citizens any more than test scores measure the well-being of all students.

Frederick Hess and Chester Finn Defend “True Reform” and Data Driven Instruction Against “Wokeness”

December 6, 2019 Comments off

Frederick Hess and Chester Finn have been vocal supporters of “school reform” for decades so it was no surprise to see them co-authoring an essay in the National Review that views “wokeness” as the enemy of “true reform”. In their laughable opening to the essay, Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn write:

The damage inflicted on our educational institutions by the onrushing tsunami of wokeness is starting to worry even a few prominent progressives. Former president Obama himself recently fretted about young activists who are “as judgmental as possible about other people,” cautioning that they’re “not bringing about change.”

As a hyper-judgmental, hyper-sensitive mindset washes from colleges into our nation’s schools, however, change is indeed being brought about: The wokeness wave is destroying unblemished reputations, driving admirable people from the field, and undermining sorely needed efforts at school improvement.

First, the notion that former President Obama is a “prominent progressive” is absurd We’re talking about the President who had a once in a lifetime opportunity to reverse the emphasis on high stakes testing and the data collection that accompanies it and instead doubled down on it. If Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn cannot accept Mr. Obama as one of their greatest advocates, any conclusions they draw about “true reform” are suspect. Secondly, it is not “wokeness” that is destroying “unblemished reputations” or “driving admirable people from the field” or “undermining sorely needed efforts at school improvement”. It is the very test-centric data-driven movement that Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn advocate!

When tests are the primary metric for measuring “school success”, reputations can be destroyed by cheating on tests or by driving students who do poorly on tests out of schools or by denying access to students based on pre-tests. Cheating scandals destroyed far more reputations than those destroyed by “woke” parents or activists.

And when teaching-to-the-test using pre-scripted lesson plans is the method advocated by data-driven “reformers” it is no surprise that admirable creative and independent thinking teachers are driven from the field.

Finally, nothing undermines efforts at school improvement more than underfunding… and underfunding has occurred for at least a decade in public education.

Mr. Hess’ and Mr. Finn’s gaffes are not limited to the first paragraph. Their essay touts KIPP and TFA as successes and blames the de Blasio administration for creating “a vast, Kafkaesque system” that was actually established by one of the darlings of school reform: former mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Mr. Hess and Mr. Finn conclude their article with a call to arms against a preposterous and imaginary threat to their “reform” movement:

There is now a loud, punitive-minded cohort of “reformers” who honestly believe that data is a tool of white oppression and that leaders who champion academic rigor should be fired as bigots. The many of us who abhor their nihilistic doctrine — and believe that improving our children’s schools is far too serious a cause to be undone by their shenanigans — must stand up and be counted.

Their suggestion linking teaching-to-the-test and gathering meaningless data from the tests to “academic rigor” and moral principal is as absurd as assuming that only those with a “hyper-judgmental, hyper-sensitive mindset” oppose the existing test-an-punish model or “reform”… and as absurd as believing that the Obama administration did not endorse the same model. Sorry gentlemen, school reform has been in play for nearly two decades and the test scores they focus on have not moved an inch. Maybe the “woke” people are onto something even if their logic is questionable.

In China CAI Disrupts Schools. Displaced Human Interaction

December 1, 2019 Comments off

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China is ripe for disruption through CAI because of their test-based admissions to higher education, their many remote and overcrowded schools, and the desire of parents to help their children get into high paying jobs in the future. The question is, what kind of education are children getting when they have limited interaction with other children and teachers. An algorithmic based education designed to prepare students for a single test might be delivered more efficiently by a computer… but it is soulless and devoid of humanity.

Fanfare Over Business Roundtable’s Commitment to Responsible Leadership Undercut by Investors

September 29, 2019 Comments off

This morning’s NYTimes features an article by business writer David Gelles titled “The Week CEOs Got Smacked“, a recounting of the decision of boards of directors to fire some of the leaders from the Business Roundtable who advocated corporate responsibility. I read this article on the heels of watching the Netflix Documentary “American Factory“, a clear-eyed look at the trade-offs necessary if our country hopes to re-enter the manufacturing marketplace given the current political and corporate governance structure. That governance structure is controlled by a small group of plutocrats who explicitly set government policy in China and Russia and have an increasingly large voice in setting government policy in our country. I have long believed that both economic systems are regressing toward a mean where a small group of shareholders of borderless corporations and autocratic governments control the remainder of the global workforce. This perspective makes me want to strengthen democracy in hopes that our elected officials will create a government that will develop regulations that assure corporate responsibility.

China’s de facto form of economic control is best described by the term “command capitalism”, which is defined in a 1998 book by J. L. Porket here,  The current US economy is best described as “state capitalism”, which is defined by Wikipedia here. Neither of these systems has a place for corporate responsibility and neither has a place for democracy.

Porket’s description of “command capitalism, as noted above, was written in 1998— before the advent of Big Data and before China emerged as the economic powerhouse that it is today. One section of Porket’s analysis of the inherent flaws of command capitalism should be re-examined. He suggests that the government cannot exert full control over the economy because “...at least some information received by it is insufficient, incomplete, unreliable, inaccurate and distorted.” With todays trove of data and the ability to synthesize that data to identify consumer tastes and trends, the government may be able to exert near full control over the economy. Moreover, as the American Factory movie illustrated, the lack of opportunities for unskilled labor in the US is compelling our country to accept the wages, hours, and working conditions that exist in China in the name of “efficiency” and profit.

At the same time, our country is increasingly beholden to a faceless group of “shareholders” whose insatiable demand for profits drives corporate and government policy. This section of the Wikipedia definition of “state capitalism” describes my perception of where the US economy stands:

Noam Chomsky, a supporter of libertarian socialism, applies the term ‘state capitalism’ to economies such as that of the United States, where large enterprises that are deemed “too big to fail” receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms’ assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where private production is largely funded by the state at public expense but private owners reap the profits.[11][12][13] This practice is in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.[14]

Chomsky’s description of the economy is captured in the aphorism that in our economic system today “corporate leaders pocket profits while taxpayers cover the costs of risk”. In the movie, Fuyao Glass received $10,000,000 from the taxpayers in Dayton Ohio to bring 800 jobs to the area, which sounds like a large number until that is compared to the 2000 jobs that GM provided… and sounds even worse when views learn that the new jobs pay $14/hour, roughly half of what GM workers received.

American Factory describes the course we are on… one where the need to reward shareholders exceeds the need to retain a civil democracy where the pursuit of happiness is differentiated from the pursuit of money or, as is increasingly the case, the pursuit of survival.

How can we change direction?

On the governance level, we need corporate leaders to stay the course of the direction of the Business Roundtable and, ideally, advocate that all corporations adopt the B-Corp principles that place employee well being in the forefront of their mission.

On the political level, we have to place a higher value on the “pursuit of happiness” and a lower value on the pursuit of material well being. In the framework described by Arthur Brooks at a recent lecture at Dartmouth College, we need to emphasize endogenous goals and deemphasize exogenous goals.

But the ultimate transformation that is necessary to change our thinking is one of spirit. We need to spend more time and energy helping each other and less time trying to “beat out” the competition.

And last, we might want to examine our compulsion to be as efficient as possible. Throughout the movie there was a relentless focus on efficiency— a focus that was in place in the factory where I worked in Work Standards in Dearborn Michigan in 1966. In the concluding scene of the movie, a Chinese engineer was proudly demonstrating how he would improve efficiency in the Fubayo glass factory: he had designed robots to replace the humans. The ultimate standard for efficiency IS a robot: it will do a job with repeated and uncomplaining precision for hours on end without any interference from life outside the factory. Humans cannot compete with robots if efficiency is the standard.

 

 

 

 

The Downside of Adult Supervised Athletics: The Kids Want to Play, the Adults Want to Win

September 26, 2019 Comments off

In the early 1980s I read The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, a book that described how parents’ smothering attention was eliminating “childhood” as those in my generation experienced it. One of the sections of the book described how the emerging trend of adult managed athletic leagues displacing playground sports was eroding one of the important skills children learned on the playground: the art of arbitration. You see when we played pick-up baseball or football and playground basketball there were no officials to monitor us and no adults to tell us how to interpret the rules. We had no umpires or referees. We called our own balls-and-strikes in baseball, made decisions about pass interference on our own in football, and determined if contact in basketball was a charging violation or not in basketball. This meant that in some cases physical brawls broke out among 10-12 year olds, but by the time we reached middle school age the kids I played with all figured out that it was far better to resolve debates by setting our own rules.

A childhood friend who became a work colleague where I worked in Western Maryland for a decade posted an article from the Martinsburg WV Journal announcing that the remainder of the youth football league’s season would be cancelled. Why?

The following statement was released to The Journal in announcing the shutdown: “Attention to all parents/coaches/players in the TCYFL: Unfortunately, it has come to the point that because of the abuse, negativity and utter disrespect shown to our officials from parents, coaches and most recently from our players, the Eastern Panhandle Officials Association (EPOA) President stated today that the association will no longer schedule officials for our league games at any field.

“This means effective immediately all remaining games are canceled. This situation is troubling because of our 20-plus-year relationship with the association, but to be honest, this season has been really bad.

“The TCYFL board has reached out to the EPOA for a meeting hoping to establish severe universal field rules for parents/coaches and players to get us back on the field.”

In response to his post I wrote the following:

I’m sure you remember the pick-up games in Roslyn. Maybe it would be a blessing if we took adults out youth athletics and let the kids figure things out on their own. I fear we lost a lot when adults insisted on “organizing” leagues and taking over the fields where kids played pick-up sports. Kids liked the uniforms, the stadiums, and the attention they got. But I think you share my fond memories of playing football and baseball on the vacant lot across the street from the old football stadium in West Chester where we learned about sportsmanship and learned how to regulate ourselves…. We didn’t have spectators, uniforms, or paid officials. But we DID have a lot of fun!

Sadly, fun is the last thing children have when they play sports under the watchful gaze of parents who are invested in seeing their child succeed it puts undue pressure on them when they could be creating their own versions of football with friends or making up their own hybrid games like tennis-baseball or soccer-football. Playing little league baseball with full baseball regalia under the lights with an umpire dressed in a professional-like uniform gives the game a luster. But playing wiffle ball with three other kids in the backyard where a hit in the rosebush is an automatic double is better.