#332 Special Sense Check re Likelihood of a 5th US Revolution

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. 

Since starting to publish the blog in late 2013, I’ve written a “sense check” about every six months. The purpose of the sense check (the most recent prior sense check, Entry #318) is to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.

With each sense check I’ve become more convinced the US is headed for a 5th revolution. I understand that allowing the author to claim to evaluate content objectivity is like allowing the fox guard the henhouse.

What prompted me to write this “special sense check” was a combination of Trump’s known behavior the last few months, which can most politely be described as out of control, and Trump’s less-known behavior described in the Mueller Report, which can be described as even more out of control.  Given what we now know…and what’s likely to be released in the coming months…a Revenge Revolution seems not only possible, but now firmly in the category of “highly likely.”

If you’re a Trump supporter and still reading this entry, I want you to ask yourself, “If Trump were a Democrat with exactly the same accomplishments, same behavior, same cabinet, etc., would I still be so supportive of Democratic president Trump?”  A tougher question, “What if Hillary Clinton were president and had the same accomplishments, behavior…as Trump?”  If you support the president over party, then we can talk.  If you support party over president, you need to rethink your standards.  And Democrats?  You need to ask yourselves the same questions.    

While Trump’s behavior should be considered bizarre, even for some dictators, what is even more bizarre is the behavior by Republicans in Congress, especially the Senate. Republicans in the Senate have buried any moral standing and abdicated all responsibility for oversight of the Executive Branch. Republicans no longer bother to question, let alone resist actions and behaviors by Trump that are clearly contrary to the Constitution and, by accounts of most prosecutors, likely illegal.

Since the release of the Mueller Report, only one Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, has castigated Trump publicly for his behavior. Lindsey Graham, an alleged friend and supporter of the late John McCain, stated there was no reason for the Senate Judiciary Committee to call Robert Mueller to testify and provide more insight into his report. Yes, Lindsey, be a good lackey and make sure you don’t ask any questions about Trump…because someone might tell you the truth.

Republicans in the House and Senate should be more appropriately recast as Trump’s eunuchs. Starting with Mitch McConnell with Graham following closely, Republicans seem happy to have stood in line as Trump castrated them. Once castrated, the Republican eunuchs…excuse me Senators…allowed and even encouraged Trump to disregard safeguards created by the Founding Fathers. Senators, please read the Constitution and explain it to Trump, who obviously has never read it.

During the week of April 8, 2019, Trump, supported by the hack of an Attorney General confirmed for the job by the Republican eunuchs, accused members of the Justice Department of attempting a coup on his presidency. Trump’s primary talent seems to be as a great manipulator, who long ago convinced his base and now has convinced the Republic eunuchs that he overcame a sinister plot by Republicans inside the Justice Department to keep him out of office.

According to Trump, his election efforts were hurt, not helped, by the Comey press conference chastising Hillary Clinton. His election efforts were hurt, not helped because President Obama was respectful enough not to disclose publicly intercepts between members of the Trump election team and the Russians. According to Trump, he overcame the power of the Justice Department and the FBI. The career officials in Justice and the FBI should be considered the enemy because they attempted a coup to get him removed from office.

Seriously? I mean who actually thinks if the FBI wanted to take Trump out of office, they couldn’t do it? Who actually thinks like this? Sadly, a bunch of Trump supporters who refuse to read anything that’s written objectively, who believe the Barr BS and who only watch the alleged truthsayers on Fox News. Gee, boys and girls, don’t ya’ think one or two FBI agents could take Trump out in a heartbeat? In case you didn’t know it, that’s what some of the agents are trained to do.

But, no, we must cast logic aside. This is Trumpworld. The Great Manipulator, like the Wizard of Oz, claims to be a genius whose proclamations, no matter how far from reality, must be believed. According to Trump, Mueller wasn’t objective in his reporting. Why? Everyone on the Mueller team was a Democrat out to get Trump. (I guess the Donald forgot Mueller has long been a registered Republican.) And, to live in Trumpworld, we must believe the crap that comes from Donald’s tweets and foul mouth. Sadly, the Trump base and the castrated, brainwashed Republican senators do believe him.

If you still don’t believe that the Trump Administration is built around lying and deceit, then listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the scholar from Ouachita Baptist University, who proclaimed that Trump’s tax returns were too complicated to understand and therefore should not be given to Democratic members of Congress…and certainly not released to the public. Forget that even after her admission of lying noted in the Mueller Report she refused to retract her claim about receiving communiques supporting Comey’s firing from “countless members” members of the Justice Department. Sarah Huckabee Sanders — what a great role model for her kids and the religious right. Oh, and Sarah’s daddy, Mike Huckabee, the preacher, former governor of Arkansas and former Republican candidate for president.  He must have taught her well and must be very proud of her lying.

So how does the country extricate itself from this mess? Given the Senate majority consists of mindless castrated puppets pretending to be thinking Republicans, the only way out of this incredible mess seems to be a Revolution. If not a full-blown Revolution, then what? Well, as ugly as it seems and sounds, the revolution, unfortunately, might include at least an attempted assassination of Trump and/or Pence, if either or both still in office, McConnell and possibly Barr. And, no, this revolution is not just a revolt led by Democrats. As I’ve noted from the get go with the blog, the revolution will be driven by a revolt from the working class.

The working stiffs have been screwed by Trump. While some of these people might stay in Trump’s camp because he continues to support their “whiteness,” which therefore makes them superior to “non-white” Americans, at some point money wins out over half-assed ideology. When the inevitable economic downturn occurs, the working stiffs will begin to appreciate just how little Trump has done for them. When they do, then all the other Trump shenanigans that have been ignored — stealing significant amounts of money, money laundering for Russians and who knows what else — will start to grate on the Trumpsters.

And who in this country has the largest cache of firearms and ammunition? It’s not the wealthy and the educated middle class. The largest cache is in the hands of the people who have been and will continue to be negatively affected economically under Trump. To quell the rebellion, let’s assume that Trump calls out the military. Even throw in all the local police. Well, there’s not enough manpower to stop the rebellion. There’ll be too many locations once the rebellion gets started. Plus, some of those who Trump will be asking to help quell the rebellion will be the very people he screwed. Mmm, just wonder how loyal those people will be to the Donald…and how many will be willing to fight family and friends under orders from the Donald?

Like I said, an ugly scenario. Well I’m open to ideas on how to stop what seems to be inevitable train wreck. If you have some ideas, please let me know. Thanks.

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#331 Solution to Diversity? Economics, Not Gov’t Intervention.

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Entry #319 begins a series describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), and how the US should prepare.  Last week’s Entry #330, outlined reasons why diversity will be important to prepare for…and then capitalize on…the coming technology tsunami. The entry also noted that some conventional ways of creating diversity — school busing, for example — are fraught with problems and have significant potential downsides.

Diversity seems best accomplished on its own. Our neighbors, within a stone’s throw or two, include families from at least four countries. Within this group, there are at least five religions. All that in a suburban environment.

How did such diversity occur? With government intervention? With housing subsidies? “No” to both questions. The diversity evolved from economics…and attitude.

Granted our neighborhood is a bit more affluent than most but affluence may result in less, rather than more diversity. In Entry #330, I described observations from a 5-day visit to a well-known retirement community in Florida. When leaving the community, my wife and I both remarked we had seen no blacks, no Hispanics — yes, this was Florida — one Asian, and no one from the Middle East. We also both commented while we had a lovely time visiting our friends, we wouldn’t want to live there.

So what strategy can help stimulate diversity? Throughout the technology tsunami series I’ve stressed education as a key. Education opens the mind to new ideas, both academic and societal. And for the vast majority of people, education also provides a chance to improve economic status.

Education for this discussion consists of four major stages, or chunks:

  1. Primary education — i.e., “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic” — and some social skills
  2. Secondary education — middle school and high school
  3. University or Advanced Technical Training
  4. Continuing education – following initial employment and continuing throughout one’s career

For primary and secondary education, the public has consistently supported taxpayer funding. While some changes to the primary and secondary curriculum might be required for the technology tsunami, the key to preparing for the coming technology tsunami seems to lie in Stage 3 — College, Advanced Technical Training — and Stage 4 — on-going training once in the workforce.

Currently, only a small percentage of the population can afford securing a college degree or advanced technical training certificate without financial assistance. Even with scholarships or reduced tuition, many students need loans. Terms of these loans are often onerous, saddling graduates with years of debt, which in turn reduce their opportunity to save for buying a house and/or to start saving for their children’s education. (For more about the problems with people paying off loans, or thinking they have paid off loans, see 19 04 13 Student Loan Repayment Issues and Problems)

Maybe the solution to the how-to-finance-advanced-education conundrum is easier than we think. Why not take the same approach to financing education that seems to work well for medical coverage in all industrialized countries…other than the US (so far). Allow students to attend a home-state university at little or no charge for a specified period — say five (5) years. Extend the no-charge time period if a student works.

Like universal health care, offer a “private,” additional-cost option. Under this option, students could attend an out-of-state university or private college/university. Tuition and other costs would be set by the institution. The private institution could still offer financial aid to students.

Technical trade schools could have the same option. Attend state-run technical schools at no charge with the option to attend private-technical or trade schools.

Technical/trade schools would need to meet one hurdle not currently required — accreditation.  Accreditation would sharply reduce considerable fraud among private technical/trade schools — Trump University being but one example. The accreditation process would be similar to that used for academic institutions.

And please don’t view subjecting the trade/technical schools to accreditation as government overreach. Educational institutions need some form of regulation. A market-based system will not work because, by the time the student understands the school is not providing adequate education, the student has wasted several years and is saddled with significant debt.

What about people who do not want additional education or who are not mentally capable? We’re not living in Lake Woebegone where all students are above-average.

A portion of the student population will not pursue additional education and a percentage of those will not even graduate from high school. While some low-skill jobs likely will continue to exist, people in those jobs should earn a minimum wage that allows them to live above the poverty line.

Policies to address this lower-education group are separate from policies to prepare the US society for the coming technology tsunami. The goal of the “tsunami series” in this blog is to outline approaches that will increase significantly the percentage of the population that is skilled adequately to thrive in a technology-based economy.

What about the education outlined in Stage 4? Ongoing education seems to be in a black hole where: (i) there is no existing infrastructure supporting such education…and none planned; (ii) no one in state or Federal government seems to be responsible for on-going Abbott Costelloeducation; (iii) there is no coordinated effort by private industry and/or trade groups. Policies for on-going education seem to have evolved from the Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on First?” Just who’s in charge of continuing education?

Logically you’d think private companies would want to maintain an educated workforce. But because of lack of restrictions…or penalties…re relocation, many US companies operate as if they have no responsibility to spend money to provide continuing education to their workforce. When the workforce skills become dated, a company, with little or no penalty, can close shop and move to another location. The new location will be selected based on which state or city is offering the most incentives, including training the new workforce.

Taxpayers at both ends – the location where the company left and the new location – get stiffed while the company management and shareholders benefit. (For more about the impact of how companies can adversely affect a community, and not suffer any consequences, see Entry #86, “Is North Carolina a Stealin’ State?” and Entry #87. There are several other entries as well that address similar issues.)

As far as addressing the issues of ongoing education, that deserves a separate entry, which will be number #332.

Note: within hours of publishing this blog entry, received the 04/14/2019 edition of the Charlotte Observer.  A front-page article discussed whether eliminating certain zoning restrictions — banning single-family zoning, e.g. — would help stimulate diversity.  My short answer is “No.”  Tweaking of zoning regulations for single-families is different than wholesale banning, which is likely to have major negative consequences for attracting higher-income families to remain in the city limits.  Link to article, 19 04 14 CLT Observer re Zoning Changes for Diversity

#330 Is Diversity a Key Component of Preparing for the Technology Tsunami?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Entry #319 begins a series describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), and how the US should prepare.  Part of the preparation is understanding and appreciating other countries and cultures. How do people in other countries/cultures think, behave, and interact with others? Developing this understanding will help prepare the United States for how to respond when other countries attempt to use technology against us in the future.

As technology has evolved from sailing ships to ocean liners to airplanes to communications via satellite, the world has become smaller. Earlier this week, I was reminded how small the world has become with advances in technology. A chain of communications started when I emailed a business colleague, congratulating her on more than 20 years operating a consulting firm.

Her response, which I received the next morning, thanked me for the note…and also indicated she was responding from a hut in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. A couple of back-and-forth emails explained she had access to some solar power and a slow-speed satellite link. The link was fast enough to allow sending a picture of a rather large tarantula meandering on the deck surrounding her hut.

While my business colleague was experiencing diversity in the Amazon rainforest by working with indigenous people, what about experiencing diversity at home – in the city where you live? In your neighborhood? And does experiencing diversity even matter? Well, yes, I think diversity does matter if the US is to develop an effective strategy to capitalize on the coming technology tsunami rather than being overwhelmed by the technology tsunami.

A key component of preparing for the technology tsunami is education…and education for all age cohorts. Part of that education includes learning about and really understanding other cultures. Ideally that understanding is gained on the ground in the local country. Unlike my business colleague, few families, however, can afford to travel worldwide and experience these cultures firsthand. What’s an alternative? A great way to start is trying to understand cultures in your immediate locale. Most urban areas in the US have pockets of different ethnic groups and cultures.

What happens when your locale is not diverse? When everyone in your locale looks and speaks the same? Does the lack of diversity really matter? Homogeneity may be comforting but it runs the risk of stifling creativity. Homogeneity is also a breeding ground for “group think.” Make no mistake, overcoming the threats of technology tsunami will require significant creativity.

Recently my wife and I visited some longtime friends who moved to a well-known retirement community in Florida. Their house is lovely, and in the larger community the grounds well-maintained and almost every shopping need and service is nearby. Our host jokingly referred to the development as a “reservation.” He also noted liking to stay on the reservation and avoiding the real world, which he considered not always pleasant.

Another friend, whom we met for coffee, had lived and worked on the “reservation” but later moved to a nearby location. He noted how virtually every aspect of life in the retirement community was managed, including hiring doctors in the clinics who fit a “Marcus Welby” profile.

During our stay, which included golf, multiple restaurants, shopping and extensive travel by golf cart, neither of us saw any blacks, Hispanics or members of virtually any non-western European ethnic group. Only one member of a golf group that I was in, which included several foursomes, was Asian.

So, back to the question – “Does diversity really matter in preparing for the technology tsunami?” Does living in a sanitized bubble really matter, especially for people who are retired? Do the retirees really care about the coming technology tsunami? And does the rest of society care what retirees think?

My vote – living in a sanitized bubble is not good for society, even for retirees. Most retirees living in the bubble have children and grandchildren. Why Gramps may be technology challenged and/or a curmudgeon, Gramps still has some influence on the grandchildren. And Gramps still votes. And we know Gramps mostly watches Fox News, which seemed to be the channel of choice virtually everywhere we went on the reservation.

The technology tsunami will be a major threat to Gramps children and grandchildren. Without an effective US response, sustained economic growth will become nearly impossible. To create an economy that can capitalize on the technology tsunami…and not be overrun by it…will require a range of thinking from people of different cultures.

If you don’t believe diversity and creativity are linked, take a look at the mix of faculty and students at say the Media Lab at MIT. Then take a close look at the range of highly innovative ideas and products emerging from the lab. Living in a bubble, whether physically or politically, lessens the opportunity for creative thinking.

Diversity can be accomplished a number of different ways. Ideally, diversity evolves on its own without any intervention. For example, in the eight houses in our neighborhood that I pass on the way to get coffee, there are families from at least four countries. And the eight houses include families practicing at least five different religions. An even more diverse population exists in the apartments that I pass closer to the coffee shop. That cultural/religious mix happened on its own.

Forcing such a diverse mix is problematic and smacks of too much government intervention. However we…societal we…can Implement policies that encourage more diversity….and we can also prohibit policies that intentionally discourage diversity.

What about policies that encourage diversity in schools? How should diversity in schools accomplished? A seemingly obvious solution is busing. While busing might make create a diverse classroom, busing has many negatives, including excessive cost and excessive travel time for many students. Another downside of busing not often discussed is the risk that businesses may decide not to locate in a school district where busing is mandated. The longer-term effect of not attracting businesses and staff is a lower tax base and slower economic growth for the school district.

A policy that discourages diversity is charter schools. North Carolina is an example of this strategy, although not necessarily representative of all states with charter schools.

In North Carolina, charter schools: (i) receive taxpayer funding; (ii) select students, although the charter schools claim admission is open to all who “qualify”; (iii) are not subject to the same rules and/or oversight as public schools. Recently, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring all teachers in North Carolina to secure a North Carolina license. Teachers licensed to teach in other states still need to pass the North Carolina test because the test in another state “might not be as rigorous” as in North Carolina. All teachers…oops all teachers except those in charter schools…are subject to the license requirement. Thus, any teacher relocating to North Carolina is effectively incentivized to avoid the hassle of getting a NC teachers license required for a public school and instead, teach at a charter school. In addition to not needing a license, teacher pay at a charter school is not subject to the same guidelines as at a public school.

The continued negative policies of the North Carolina legislature to erode the value of public education is one of the reasons I wrote blog Entries #324 and #325, which outline why banning charter schools is a necessary component of preparing for the technology tsunami. Still, banning charter schools still does not solve the diversity issue. And busing kids to create diversity has too far many negatives.

What’s the solution to more diversity in schools and society? Economics and attitude. More to come.

 

#329 College Admissions Scandal – a Different Perspective

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way for the US to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. How does the college admissions process fit into the discussion of the US preparing for the coming technology tsunami?

The topic seems appropriate for two reasons: (i) as noted in several blog entries, the US needs to increase the percentage of students with either an advanced technical degree or a college degree; (ii) the public discourse about the college admissions process is missing a key component.  That overlooked component allows many students to attend certain higher-end academic institutions.

The rhetoric about the college admissions process ratcheted up in March 2019 with a number of articles published about parents using influence…and/or cash…to help their children get admitted to various colleges/universities. Some of these activities involved cash bribes and a few high-profile parents have been charged by the FBI.

After the FBI charges were made public, many media “talking heads,” pundits, not-so-privileged students and others claimed to be outraged by the activities of the parents. “Such practices are unfair!” “What about the students whose place in the college/university was taken by one of the privileged?” “The admission process needs to be based more on meritocracy!” Some further claimed the admissions process was racist.

Seriously folks? You’ve been living under a rock if you don’t think it’s a long-standing practice for parents to leverage connections and to “bribe” the administration to get children into prestigious schools. For decades, academic institutions have tweaked admissions standards for certain students. If parents were willing to say make a healthy donation to the school or there was a long history of family members attending the school, then students were often admitted under somewhat different standards.

I recall in my high-school days learning that the brother of a classmate that I’d known since the first days of grammar school had been admitted to a rather prestigious college. When I asked how, my classmate laughed and said “Simple, my dad paid for a new building.” Does anyone really think George W. Bush was admitted to Yale, then the Harvard Business School on his own merit? And, hmm, maybe the Donald falls in that same category.  Wonder why he insists his transcripts not be released?

However, what seems to be new in this story about privilege is the academic institution is getting cut out of benefitting from the bribe. Yale, for example, apparently was unaware their long-term soccer coach was on the take and willing to recruit for the team each year a couple of players who would not be admitted to Yale based on academic merit. If the coach only had given Yale part of the take.

What seems more prevalent than cash bribes, although the proactive is not new, is having someone other than the student take the SAT or ACT. What is new in the last decade or so is the parents claiming the student has some type of learning disability, which then allots more time to complete the test. While using “stand-ins” and claiming “learning disability” are unethical, such practices should be fairly easy to stop.

Some who are outraged at a few privileged students skirting the normal admissions process have also claimed that athletes granted scholarships did not skirt the rules because the scholarships were based on merit. Really? Merit for what? Playing basketball? Playing football?

Okay, the individuals might be gifted in a particular sport but how many of these athletes are gifted academically?  5.0%?  10.0% tops.  Last I looked, the primary role of a college or university was academics, not athletics. Colleges and universities are accredited based on academic standards, not the success of the football team or the basketball team.

Let’s see if I get understand how the athlete is admitted based on merit. A student is admitted to say Duke University under a scholarship to play basketball. The first semester the student does not attend class, fails all subjects and is put on academic probation. The terms of the probation state if the student’s GPA doesn’t improve in the second semester, he will be ineligible to play basketball, and might be subject to expulsion.

The student continues to play basketball through the second semester – and Duke hopes the NCAA tournament – but like the first semester fails all classes. The penalty? Even if the student-athlete is expelled, what does he care? His goal was never a college degree. His goal was to get drafted by an NBA team. The Duke coaching staff, the University’s administration and the student knew from day one he was going to be a “one-and-done.” But the student was admitted anyway.

So tell me how the “one-and-done” student-athlete was admitted to Duke based on merit? Merit to help the basketball team but not admitted based on academics. For those claiming such athletes are enrolled based on their merit, while other students are admitted based on privilege and not merit, please stop the hypocrisy.

A final thought, which no one seems to talk about…and to me is a critical component of the discussion. Admitting a limited number of students from very wealthy families is a benefit to all students at the institution. Why?.  Go back to my classmate whose parents donated a building as a trade for her brother’s admittance. Yes, it was a deal for the privileged. But from a broader perspective, for many years students at the college benefited from the cost of a building not being part of their tuition.

A question we should be asking is, “How many students who otherwise could not afford to attend an Ivy League or other top-line school have benefited from the wealthy contributing to the endowment of the college/university?” Maybe the students who are attending such schools only because of a scholarship should ask themselves, “Would I be able to afford to attend without subsidies from the institution’s endowment?” In almost all cases, the answer would be “no.” So for the not-so-privileged students, please swallow your pride and be grateful that someone is subsidizing your education.

Thus, from my perspective, the so-called “admissions scandal” for the privileged has two very different sides. First, no question that illegal bribes are out-of-bounds and should be prosecuted. However, those who claim using a back-door or side-door route to admission is unfair need to be careful about wanting to make the admissions process the same for everyone. Instead, take a deep breath, step back and be thankful for donors who help build buildings and who donate generously to the endowment that is allowing more students to attend a college or university they otherwise could not afford…and allowing the US to prepare more effectively for the on-coming technology tsunami.

#328 Public or For-Profit Educational Institution. Which More Cost Effective for Specialized Training?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. Here’s another aspect of public education that needs more discussion.

Entry # 327 outlined arguments why society would be better off banning for-profit universities, or FPU’s, from charging students for class material that should have been taught as part of their secondary, and in some cases, primary education. Why should students who learn at a different rate, or learn in ways outside the standard teaching method, be penalized and required to “pay twice” for the same classroom material?

But what about course material not taught in public schools? Or course material taught in technical schools? Why burden the taxpayers with such cost? Why not use for-profit universities for such training?

If someone wants to become a licensed cosmetologist, why should the public have to subsidize such training? Same with say someone who wants to become a licensed auto mechanic. Why should the public support such training?

Such an argument is a valid one. At the same time, society needs to consider the role of public education beyond high school. If North Carolina’s Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) is representative, there are numerous classes and training programs aimed at some very narrow occupational fields. In some cases at CPCC, classes are designed specifically for types of companies. Based on a cursory review of CPCC website, students have an opportunity to prepare for licenses, earn certificates, or an Associate degrees in a wide range of occupations. Yet all these classes, including those for the companies, are subsidized by the public.

Some key benefits to having such specialized classes taught using the public education system include:

  1. Control over quality of the course material. There is more oversight over relevancy and quality of course material at accredited universities than at for-profit universities.
  2. Ability to integrate other learning material into the course. For example, courses could include basic class material as well as additional information about how to integrate emerging advanced technology such as artificial intelligence. Having this opportunity to broaden the student’s perspective, would help the student understand how to use emerging technologies.
  3. Using a community college for specialized training is less costly to the student and to the public. Because the infrastructure and administrative overhead are already in place, the incremental cost to add specialized classes is less at a public university than the cost at a standalone for-profit education institution. As a result of using public-education facilities, the student can be trained and begin working with fewer outstanding loans and ideally no loans. The reduced financial burden increases the likelihood the student will quickly migrate to becoming a full-time worker and taxpayer.

Some will ask, “Is subsidizing the cost of specialized training yet another aspect of more socialism? Another harebrained giveaway by liberal Democrats?”

Clearly, or maybe not so clearly, there is a point beyond which the public should not pay for specialized education. Such training should be the responsibility of the individual or the company where the individual is employed.

The beginning of the “no-more-subsidized-training” line will vary by geographic area. Community colleges in urban areas will have a different course mix than community colleges in rural areas. I think most everyone can agree that local communities should make that choice of what courses should be subsidized rather than letting the federal or even state government do so.

“Isn’t subsidizing specialized education a slippery slope? I mean, should the public be subsidizing someone who wants to learn basket weaving or how to make greeting cards? C’mon. What about those situations? We know someone will push for such classes and then claim discrimination if the classes aren’t offered. Why create all the hassle. Let them all go to the for-profit teaching institutions.”

The “slippery slope” argument is often cited…and probably occasionally valid. But always justifying not doing something because of a slippery slope would negate most societal norms and laws we have today. Laws and behavioral norms are based on actions of a “reasonable man” (or woman). In many cases there is no clear line between reasonable and unreasonable. Focusing on how the extremes, or outliers, might be affected is a path to stagnation and not a path to progress and Improvement. For those classes or technical programs that fall outside the norm and could be considered unusual or extreme, then maybe a for-profit university or a collection of private tutors is a better choice for such training.

The default, seems to me, whether for general education content or for specialized content, should be through a public institution. If the public education path cannot work, then consider a for-profit institution. Public institutions afford greater opportunity to control content quality and greater opportunity to control cost for the student…and public.

#327 Do For-Profit Universities Help Prepare for Coming Technology Tsunami – Yes, No?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. Here’s another aspect of public education that needs more discussion.

Do for-profit universities help prepare students for the coming technology tsunami? My view? No. First, let’s define for-profit universities, or FPU`s. These are institutions with a primary purpose of making a profit for investors. In an FPU, education happens to be the product. The product to generate a profit could just as easily be processing waste – e.g., Waste Management Incorporated – or selling coffee – e.g., Starbucks.

While doubtlessly some FPU’s are well-intentioned and focus on educating students, let’s not forget the primary purpose of any for-profit company. Duh, sell a product/service, make a profit and return money to investors.

But you ask, “What about private colleges and universities? Aren’t they in business to make a profit? I mean, Harvard has a huge endowment — maybe $10 billion or something?”

Harvard’s endowment is more like $35-40 billion.

“Alright, lots more endowment than I thought. I’m confused. What’s really the difference between Harvard or MIT and say Trump University? Maybe Trump University is a bad example, but what about say University of Phoenix? It’s for profit and from what I can tell, University of Phoenix does more public good for lower-income people than either Harvard or MIT. University of Phoenix educates a lot of people who otherwise could not attend college. Your argument against for-profit universities sounds elitist.”

Agreed that University of Phoenix seems a lot more affordable than many private education institutions. But such an argument creates a false equivalency. Realistically, 99.9% of the students attending University of Phoenix could not qualify academically to attend the top-end academic institutions in the US. Not being qualified academically does not mean these students are dumb; they lack demonstrated skills in key areas.

Maybe the better question about public good is, “When all the costs are taken into account, is there a less costly and more effective alternative to teach basic skills than such places as University of Phoenix?” Let’s also be honest about education and skills. Not everyone has the same skills or can even acquire the same skills. My crayon jungle drawing from grammar school might have won 2nd place prize at the county fair, but no amount of training is going to make me a successful professional artist.

From a public good perspective, how can we… the proverbial societal “we”…make sure all students have an opportunity to learn basic skills that will enable them to secure and retain a reasonably well-paying job? While everyone in the US is supposed to have access to free public education through high school, a remarkable percentage of students do not complete high school.

As of 2016, the high school drop-out rate was 25% or more in some states. (When reviewing the data by state, reported graduation rates in some states seems highly inflated…or the standards to graduate in those states are exceedingly low.) Lots of reasons for not finishing, including recognizing that not all students learn at the same rate or the same way. In addition, some families have such limited income that children must work to help support the family as soon as possible, even if it means dropping out of high school.

While the reasons may vary for dropping out, should society ask these students to pay to finish their education, especially through for-profit institutions? Asking them to pay a very high price just to finish their high-school education is a disincentive to complete the degree. Plus the cost of attending remedial classes at a for-profit institution creates an excessive financial burden on someone who’s likely to be earning low wages and have little or no savings.

Wouldn’t society be better off to pay for their education? Paying to complete high school would provide those who didn’t finish a better opportunity to secure higher-paying jobs and, with those jobs, pay more taxes for their entire life. Providing an opportunity to complete high school and maybe two years additional education at no cost could likely help reduce crime and the cost of incarceration.

As noted in Entry #326, the estimated cost of incarceration per prisoner per year ranges from roughly $30,000 to $60,000. Based on the analysis described in Entry #326, paying for prisoners to secure a technical degree or college degree while incarcerated resulted in a return on investment to taxpayers of 400-700%, and possibly higher.

“OK, I’ll buy your logic but what’s wrong with using for-profit universities to offer such some education? Besides, the private sector is always more cost-effective than government.”

Why use public education rather than private for-profit institutions?

  1. No additional facilities required to host classes. The remedial, technical and early college classes could be held in the evening and/or weekends using existing high school, junior college or some government buildings. Virtually all of these buildings are used more during the day and have surplus capacity in the evening and on weekends.
  2. Alternative teaching methods in place. Virtually all public school systems have implemented alternative teaching methods, which could be adopted for older students who learn differently.
  3. Public education does not add additional financial burden on the student. University of Phoenix, for example, charges about $1,200 per course. For student needing say ten classes to complete high school (equivalent about one year), the cost using the University of Phoenix rate would be at least $12,000. What may be even more of a problem for these students is the course material for what is usually a semester course – say 3-4 months – is crammed into five (5) weeks. Cramming material into five weeks leaves virtually no time for course material to “sink in.” Think of drinking out of a fire house. If a student does not fully grasp the idea when presented, the student is immediately behind. For institution like Phoenix, this approach can lead to the same person attending yet again…and another tuition payment.
  4. Class content can be tailored to help prepare students to continue their education in community college programs, whether technical training or prep for college.

The question posed in the title of this Entry, “Do for-profit universities help prepare for the coming technology tsunami?” I continue to say, “No, these institutions do not.” As frustrated as we sometimes are with the public education system, the system is designed for the public good…and not to generate a profit and provide (some believe maximize) a return to investors.

The US needs to prepare for the oncoming technology tsunami. One key component of preparation is to increase the number of qualified workers. Much like educating prisoners, providing classes/remedial training to those who have not completed high school is in the public interest by increasing at very low-cost, the pool of skilled workers. A larger pool of skilled workers is essential for the US to maintain production of goods and services and remain competitive worldwide.

What about for-profit institutions designed to train people to become technicians, designers, hairdressers and a host of other occupations? Don’t these for profits offer a benefit to the public? Possibly but maybe a more cost-effective approach is to the scope of public education to include such training. (The question is a bit off-line from the more serious issue of preparing for the technology tsunami. I might offer a few thoughts in one of the next couple of entries.)

 

#326 Changing Prisoners from Tax Users to Tax Payers

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. Here’s another aspect of public education that needs more discussion.

Educating people in prison? Why? “Those people” don’t deserve it. Just another cockamamie socialist idea. Plus, there are lots of people more deserving than criminals.

All those arguments are true until one looks at the picture another way. Ask yourself these questions:

  • As a taxpayer, would you rather have someone else pay taxes or would you rather pay more taxes?
  • Would you rather have less crime or pay more taxes for prisons and law enforcement?
  • If you want more manufacturing jobs in the US, would you like to have a large pool of skilled workers?

Yes, yes, yes! But I still don’t understand why taxpayers should provide a free education to those incarcerated. Just doesn’t seem fair.

OK, some aspects might not seem fair. But how many people want to be incarcerated just to get a free education? Maybe, just maybe we…societal we…should also rethink why getting advanced technical training or a college degree is so expensive. (Let’s save that discussion for another entry.)

Why educate prisoners? Put societal benefits side and take a hard look at the financial side – return on investment, ROI. For taxpayers, it is cheaper over time to provide a college education than to incarcerate most prisoners. Keep reading. You’ll be shocked at the ROI.

What is the incremental cost to educate prisoners with a technical or college degree?

  1. Room and board? No, it’s already being paid for.
  2. Most support costs are already paid
  3. No incremental funds for sports teams, recruiting students, and the like

What remains are incremental costs for: (i) instructors who meet standards of an accredited college or university; (ii) remedial training instructors for those prisoners requiring such training; (iii) coursework material; (iv) classroom hardware, much of which could be used for other activities; (v) other miscellaneous expenses, although likely not significant.

As a gauge for comparing cost, let’s take the cost of tuition only per year at three state universities: (i) Michigan State, $14,460; (ii) NC State, $6,535: (iii) UC-Davis, $14,463. The average in-state tuition for the three is $11,819.

Now, let’s assume that 50% of the tuition is allocated to incremental costs outlined previously, On that basis, someone in prison earning a degree in say five (5) years would cost the taxpayer an additional roughly $30,000. (Annual tuition x 50% x 5)

What’s the ROI for taxpayers? That depends on several factors, including time to be served in prison. Time to be served…and therefore expense to taxpayers for each prisoner…has been increasing. While the average time varies by state, the trend is for longer sentences, with the average sentence having increased roughly five (5) years from 2000 to 2014. (Source) Five years is a reasonable estimate for a prisoner to secure additional technical training or undergraduate degree. Time required could be less since prisoners can likely devote more time to studying.  I mean, how much party time is there in prison?

By earning a degree, a prisoner could earn an early release – say one for one. And why not? Staying in prison after having acquired marketable tech skills or an undergraduate degree is not productive for the prisoner or beneficial to society. Plus, an early release avoids taxpayers footing the bill to house prisoners — national average of $30,000 per year. In some states the cost for housing prisoners exceeds $60,000 per year.

What’s the estimated ROI to taxpayers for an education program? For prisoners in their 20’s and even up to age 30, what’s the ROI for taxpayers…without any recognition of reduced cost of law enforcement, reduced court support costs, safer neighborhoods, etc.? The ROI to taxpayers is 700%. For prisoners say age 35-40, the ROI is 400%.

(I realize there are many variables and one must make numerous assumptions but the results are so striking that the idea seems worth analyzing in more detail. The ROI calculation for this entry is available on an Excel worksheet. (19 03 03 #326 Cost Avoided Educating Prisoners) Feel free to analyze the assumptions and calculations. Keep in mind, as with other entries, the purpose of this blog is to stimulate conversation and more analysis, not create another master’s thesis.)

Will some former prisoners commit crimes and return to prison? Of course. But it is hard to argue that society is worse off with fewer prisoners and lower costs for operating prisons. Plus, there would be more people paying taxes.

Will some people commit crimes just to secure a free education? Yes, but so what? This concern indicates why the US needs to restructure its education system to allow all residents an opportunity to have an affordable advanced education.

While educating prisoners might seem more like socialism to many, look at the problem of incarceration from a different angle:

  1. US has the highest incarceration rate and cost of incarceration of any developed country. Reducing incarceration rates will reduce taxpayer cost…and crime.  Some classes will need to address anger management and why the individual committed the crime(s);
  2. In order to maintain competitiveness worldwide, the US needs more skilled workers. The prison system offers a substantial pool of potential skilled workers. For technical skills, the incremental cost of training prisoners is probably less than training workers from the general populace. Prisoners can also produce products while learning. In my undergrad days, virtually all the furniture in the fraternity house was made by prisoners. The furniture wouldn’t have won any design awards but it was high quality and withstood severe use;
  3. Educating prisoners eliminates the need to build new prisons. By educating prisoners, say 30-35%, and possibly up to 50%, of the existing prisons could be eliminated. The highest cost to taxpayers is not the cost of building the prison facility. The highest cost is compensation for staff to operate the prison. Most of an organization’s overhead cost walks in every day on two feet.
  4. The net cost of educating prisoners is not really a net cost to taxpayers. Educating prisoners is really a net savings to taxpayers. With a properly structured education program, including managing the underlying cause for incarceration, a substantial portion of prisoners could become taxpayers instead of tax users.

Why don’t more members of Congress, especially Republicans, support the idea of educating people in prison? Why do many representatives in legislatures continue to believe putting more people in prison and leaving them uneducated is smart policy?

Beats me. Like many policies from trickle-down economics to denial of climate change, the idea of not supporting education for those incarcerated, especially among Republicans, seems to have no facts to support. Rather the policies seem based more “gut feel” and what plays well with hard-core supporters rather than what’s right for the country.

#325 Charter Schools Destroy the Fabric that Made America Great. Ban Charter Schools. (2of2)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the Author.  Many entries are formatted as conversations. Occasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education.  The first entry about schools described some reasons why I believe charter schools should be banned.

Two key points were: (i) charter schools erode trust in public education, which has been the cornerstone to America’s innovation and economic prosperity. If you want to make America great again, then why destroy the foundation that helped make it great; (ii) additional cost to taxpayers for charter schools. Much of the cost is due to a parallel system of overhead required to support the charter-school system. As noted in the entry, costs for education are not directly linked to the number of students. Major costs continue even if enrollment declines.

A third item referenced, but not addressed in detail, was the effectiveness of charter schools in having students achieve certain performance standards. Based on a number of studies, the efficacy of charter schools is mixed. Students at some charter schools perform better than when in public schools, some about the same and a surprisingly high percentage of students do not perform as well. (There are numerous studies comparing student performance. Results vary widely by locations.)

With such mixed results, why should there be charter schools? Why should taxpayers allow funds to be diverted from public schools to privately run schools where student performance is more often than not no better than public schools? And why divert taxpayer funds to charter schools where oversight of the organization and how taxpayer dollars are spent is less than for funds spent in public schools? Would you let someone manage your 401k whose investment performance was iffy at best and over whom you had little control over investment decisions? If you answered yes…i.e., support lack of accountability of charter schools…then I’ve got a bridge looking for a buyer.

So the question, “Why not take all the time and energy devoted to diverting funds to charter schools and instead, work on improving public schools? We know one reason for charter schools is the obvious effort by the political far right to privatize as many government functions as possible. More importantly, in my view, charter schools are the lazy-man’s solution to educating the populace. Educating people with different skills and different levels of motivation is a difficult task. Charter schools supporters are saying, in effect, “Send students to our schools who meet a certain criteria because we, as charter schools, are for profit, and don’t want anyone to negatively impact our profit.”

Charter schools, however, legitimately appeal to certain parents and/or students. Some reasons cited by parents and/or students for wanting to attend charter schools:

  • Affordable option to private schools
  • Option to enroll outside one’s district
  • Children of all backgrounds eligible
  • Teaching approach innovative
  • Find school to cater to child’s needs
  • Schools managed by organizations or groups of people

Satisfying these and other reasons can be accomplished in the public school system. OK, let’s agree that certain basics need to be in place for all schools – building in good repair, up-to-date textbooks, easy access to the internet; adequate number of teachers and support staff. Within a community all the essentials should be in place for all schools. If not, then the deficiencies need to be addressed…and addressed before any charter schools are discussed or provided additional payments.

Then what are the underlying reasons for the variation in performance scores among the schools? I believe the first reason is lack of commitment within the community for adequate public education for all students. I understand you cannot mandate commitment, much like you can’t lead a horse to water and make it drink. However, as a society we have to provide emotional and financial support for the education of students of the entire community.

Charter schools address some symptoms of what needs to be fixed in the community and the public school system. While charter schools address the symptoms, charter schools are also destroying the very fabric of public education. Charter schools are making the ability of a community to offer effective public education worse, not better. Charter schools are like turning up the sound on your car radio to drown out a bad noise coming from the engine. Duh, turning up the radio does not solve the problem. You’ve got to fix the problem in the engine.

By allowing students to opt out of the public-school system, we…societal we…are actually making the problem worse for students who remain in the public-school system. Many remaining students are likely to have less support at home. As more students leave the public-school system, the performance of remaining students will continue to deteriorate. As a result, then what have charter schools done to help improve the overall education level of society? The answer is nothing.

Here’s a non-school example to illustrate the point. Think of a container of mixed nuts – walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc. If you grab a handful of nuts, usually you end up with most, if not all, the different type of nuts. When you take a bit you get an interesting mix of flavors. Then, someone goes through the container and eats all of a certain type of nut – say cashews. What’s left is a different mix. The next time you grab a handful, all the cashews are missing and the flavor has changed.

Think of your own example – there are many. The point is the character of the container of nuts is different without the cashews, just as the character of the school is different when a certain type of student transfers to a charter school.

The change in the mix of students is not merely a “so what?” We…again societal we…are creating two classes of students and therefore two classes of citizens – those who seem to learn within a structured system and those who are not inspired or motivated by a more structured education system.

Why should we hold back students who want to learn more? That idea seems incredibly stupid. Therefore we need charter schools!!

The idea of throttling back students who want to learn is incredibly stupid. But there is nothing about the public-school system that prevents students from learning more. Public schools can accommodate those students who want to learn more as well as provide a positive and encouraging environment for those student who are not as inspired.

Assuming that all students learn the same way and at the same pace is foolhardy. That kind of thinking is about as foolhardy as assuming all who play golf are capable of shooting par over 18 holes. What is not foolhardy is ensuring that students are reminded constantly of the opportunity to learn…and encouraged constantly to try to learn.

When the discussion turns to how students learn at different rates, I am reminded of my freshman year in college. My first test of any kind was in accounting. After handing in the exam, I was confident of a very good score. The grade? A solid “D”. Oops. Maybe I wasn’t so smart after all.

Sometime between the first and second test, I had an “ah ha” moment and began to understand the principles of accounting. On the next test and on the final, grades were solid “A’s”.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their “ah ha” moment so early in the semester…or even so early in life. Because some “ah ha” moments are later, we need to provide an education environment where everyone is exposed to an opportunity to learn and encouraged to learn.

Charter schools, and magnet schools to an extent, take away from the public schools a substantial portion of the inspiration to learn and the encouragement to learn – not from the students attending the charter schools but from the students not attending. Put someone else’s shoes on your feet. After higher-performing students leave for charter schools, who’s left in your public school to inspire you to learn?

Teachers are facilitators and ideally mentors. What if you’re a student who is more comfortable seeking help from peers before seeking help from teachers? Now, with many student-helpers gone, where do you turn? Or, do you just get discouraged and eventually give up?

The reasons parents and students give for wanting to attend charter schools make perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why society needs to “destroy” the public school system in order to achieve what the students and parents want. The public school system helped make America the innovation and manufacturing marvel of the world for the last 150 years.

If a portion of society wants to spend more taxpayer dollars and have charter schools, why not leverage the dollars and educate even more students? Inspiration for education is not driven by new buildings, good sports teams and the like. Inspiration for education is driven by desire.

Charter schools create a death spiral for public education, which in turn, leads to increased inequities in society and makes it more difficult for people to move up the economic ladder. And, ignore the rubbish that more public education is some kind of socialism. If you want the democracy to survive, you best have an educated public with a wide-spread belief of reasonable economic opportunity.

The community needs to work together to help create a desire for all students to learn, to explore, to try something new…and even to fail. Yes, failing can be a great lesson as long as failing is framed as a learning experience. Not all students learn at the same pace or learn the same way. But all students can learn. We…societal we…have an obligation to encourage students of all ages to learn more and provide those students a fair venue in which to learn.

(Next entry: why not more education in prisons?)

#324 Why Charter Schools Should Be Eliminated: Extra Cost to Taxpayers and More (1of2)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the Author.  Many entries are formatted as conversations. Occasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. A major step toward achieving that goal would be prohibiting publicly funded charter schools…and publicly funded vouchers for private schools.

So what’s the problem with charter schools?  Why insist on publicly run schools? The private sector always accomplishes a task more efficiently and effectively than the public sector. Besides public education is broken and needs to be fixed. More support for public schools sounds like more socialism. Well, supporters of charter schools, if public education is socialism, then what would you call public support of private institutions through tax breaks and lower tax rates…try calling it by its real name, “welfare for the wealthy.”

First, most everyone agrees certain aspects of public education need to be fixed. But maybe what needs to be fixed is not what advocates of more publicly funded charter schools claim needs to be fixed.

Public education per se is not the problem. What makes any school a good educational institution, whether public or private, is not the source of funding, not the school building, not how much money is spent on fancy support materials, not how good the sports team are…and a host of often discussed other “nice-to-have” items. What makes a good educational institution is commitment by all involved – students, faculty, parents and community. Education truly requires a community effort.

Look at schools where students get a great education and you will find a community supporting that educational institution. I agree that families which opt for charter schools may be more committed to education than other families. But why do we…again the proverbial ‘societal we’…allow communities to “evolve” – maybe “dissolve” is more appropriate characterization – to a point where there is a lack of commitment to public education?

Charter schools do not help a community rebuild its commitment to quality education for all students. In fact, charter schools do just the opposite. Charter schools further erode a community’s commitment to quality education for all by diverting mental support and tax-dollar support to privately run schools.

The idea of having a “specialized school” or certain education track is a good one. Both can be accomplished within the public school system. While the term might not be politically correct today, I was part of a group that for four years of high school had all “accelerated classes,” other than physical education.   As far as I know, the “accelerated” classes were based strictly on merit and anyone meeting the academic requirements was eligible.

New York City and other urban areas have long had schools specializing in certain academic fields. These schools have been open to all students in the system who met certain criteria.  Thus, if a community wanted a more-specialized “charter-like” school, there’s no reason why such a school could not be created within the exiting school system – many systems have “magnet” schools that operate within the larger public system.

A key aspect of charter schools not often discussed is the lack of scrutiny. Charter schools receive public funds, yet are not subject to the same oversight as public schools. Why? The answer is simple…but the answer should not be accepted by taxpayers. The lack of scrutiny is by the design of ownership groups of charter schools. The lack of scrutiny allows charter-school owners to avoid many of the rules required of public schools.

The theme of the charter-school owners? Just give us public money but don’t ask how we spend it. Stating the incredibly obvious, charter schools are another version of efforts by the political far right to privatize major portions of the government and with privatization, minimize, if not eliminate public scrutiny.

A second key aspect of charter schools not often discussed is the true cost. Proponents of charter schools may claim the cost for operating a charter school is the same or less than a public school. The “proof” of the same-as or lower-cost claim is that charter schools receive only a certain amount from the state and do not charge tuition. But do charter schools really cost less?

Let’s look at some costs. A very high percentage of the cost of education is fixed, or semi-fixed. Fixed/semi-fixed costs do not vary with changes in volume. As an example, think of your own house. Fixed costs for the house are the mortgage payment, taxes, maintenance, utilities and similar expenses.

Say there are two parents and three children living in the house. Then one child heads off to college. Now there’s an extra bedroom not being used. So does the family just pack up and move to a smaller house?

No, the family stays in the house. And the mortgage payment is the same; the major maintenance expenses are the same; the cost for heat, electricity, water, internet is the just about the same whether five people or four people live in the house. If you were calculating the cost per person to live in the house, the cost per person would be lower for five people compared to four people. While some other costs do vary with the number of people – food, e.g., — the overall cost per person in higher for four people than for five.

The same cost structure applies in education. What are primary fixed costs in education – teachers’ salaries, administrative overhead, building maintenance, utilities, much of the food-service staff and some other items. Thus, if say 20-25% of the students of a public school transfer to a charter school (think of the one child going off to college), most of the expenses for the public school remain the same.

But how are public schools funded? While the formula can vary by state or locale, many public schools are funded based on a payment per student. So if students leave for charter schools, the payment to the public school is reduced because of fewer students. The money follows the students so money that was formerly paid to public school is diverted to a charter school.  While the number of students in the public school has declined, the costs for educating students did not decline as much as the loss of funding to the charter school.

So how is the loss of funding made up? Where does the extra money come from? Two sources: (i) taxpayers, state and/or local, who end up having to increase the amount of funding per student for public schools…and by default also charter schools; (ii) cutbacks of expenses at the school level. Students end up getting short-changed as less money is available to spend for supplies, extracurricular activities, teachers’ aides, and maintenance. As maintenance is deferred over time, the building and infrastructure deteriorate. Eventually repairs and/or building a new facility end up costing even more than the deferred maintenance…another hit to taxpayers.

I did a rough calculation about the increased cost to taxpayers of charter schools. The estimates need to be refined with more analysis. Say 25% of the students transferred from public schools to publicly funded charter schools.  Under this scenario, the cost per student for taxpayers would not go down, as some proponents of charter schools claim; the cost per student would not remain the same as other proponents claim; the cost per student would increase 20-25%.

Where is the added cost coming from? With the creation of charter schools, a parallel overhead cost system is also created. Rather than one “superintendent”, there are now two – one for public schools and one for charter schools. Rather than one principal for a given school, there are now two because a second school was added. Rather than one building, there are now two. In addition, there are more teachers.

How does the public school manage with lower funding? The number of teachers for core topics remains about the same. What the public schools end up eliminating are teachers for what some people label as “non-essential” topics – art, music, Phys Ed…and oh, yes, those nurses and other health-care workers in the school system.

What is the motive behind charter schools? Why support a system that costs taxpayers more when there are no demonstrable benefits? Yes, some charter schools are more successful at increasing graduation rates.  But many…and possibly more…are not.

With these uneven statistics, why not tweak the public school system to provide more specialized schools as many urban areas have for decades? The underlying reasons why charter schools are supported? (Stay tuned. More to come.)

#323 Turning Point and a Really Bad-Hair Week for the Donald

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the Author.  Many entries are formatted as conversations. Occasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

Regular readers know I try to avoid getting hung up on daily/weekly events. The purpose of this blog is to analyze if and how long-term patterns might contribute to a post-2020 revolution in the US, aka the Revenge Revolution. However, events this past week seem to be beyond the usual “Beltway noise.” The week’s events could help change the trajectory of politics in Washington. “C’mon,” you say. “A heady week but not that heady.” I think that heady. Read on.

Key events during the week: (i) Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time lawyer and now convicted felon, proposed delaying his volunteer testimony before the House Oversight Committee. One day after the announced delay, the House Intelligence Committee issued a summons for Cohen to appear; (ii) Roger Stone, long-time associate of Trump’s and known dirty trickster for approaching 50 years, was arrested on a number of charges related to the 2016 presidential campaign. More charges are expected; (iii) Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell caved and agreed to end the government shutdown of more than 35 days; (iv) Rudy Giuliani’s continued to disclose suspicious events previously denied. In addition to Rudy’s babbling, an article in the New York Times indicated one or more members of the Trump campaign met with the Russians at least 100 times before inauguration.

A fifth, less publicized event, was the appearance of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, at a hearing to determine if an additional 10 years should be added to Manafort’ s existing prison sentence. The prosecution charged that Manafort intentionally withheld relevant information about sharing data with the Russians. The judge delayed the decision.

The events, if considered individually are interesting, but not necessarily significant. When combined the events, at least in my view, represent a major shift in power in Washington. The federal government is no longer controlled by the Bully-in-the-Oval-Office as Republicans in the House and Senate cowered. Power in Washington took a turn back toward the people.

As a result of pressure from constituents and some Republican senators, Mitch McConnell came out of hiding and convinced Trump that he should agree to reopen the government. The House and Senate then passed bills and Trump signed…with no guarantee there would be a wall at the southern border. While the agreement to open is limited to three weeks…and despite Trump’s huffing and puffing and threats to blow the house down if he doesn’t get his wall…pressure from constituents likely will prevent another shutdown

How do these events tie together? The key seems to be Republicans in the Senate are starting to show some backbone. Until a few weeks ago, Trump had free reign to do whatever he wanted. He felt immune from impeachment because of a Republican controlled House and Senate. Well, no more and no doubt this week Trump felt the noose tighten around his neck.

Start with Cohen. When testifying Cohen has nothing to lose and everything to gain by telling all. There’s a chance Mueller et al will again recommend a shorter sentence. Based on comments from several members of the committee, as much of Cohen’s testimony as possible will be made public.

Next we have Roger Stone. While defiant after his arrest and claiming loyalty to Trump, Stone may end up behaving like many of Trump associates already indicted as a result of the Muller probe – and flip. When the reality of a likely long prison sentence sets in – and for Stone it effectively could be a life sentence according to several former Federal prosecutors – Stone may drop the “never-tell-on-Trump” boast and decide saving the Donald is less important than trying to save his personal life.

The arrest of Stone leaves but a few people in Trump’s inner-circle not indicted. Steve Bannon may be next on Mueller’s list. Bannon will be quickly discredited by Trump, providing incentive for Bannon to flip – if he hasn’t already. The group remaining to be indicted is all in Trump’s family. Junior and Jared look like shoe-in’s for an indictment. And the odds for Ivana are better than 50:50.

So, who in the family might flip? If you’re a Trump family member, covering up for the Donald is high risk. When all the dust settles, especially after investigations and prosecutions by the Southern District of NY, the State of NY, and the IRS…along with a likely plethora of civil suits by condo owners, contractors, etc…there likely won’t be any money left in the Trump piggy bank.

So, if I’m a family member, let me consider my alternatives. If I refuse to cooperate with Muller, I go to jail and when a get out, I’ll probably get little or no money. Or, I can cooperate with Mueller et al and maybe avoid jail time. Mmm, which one should I choose?

As far as Trump, he’s acting like most bullies. When confronted with a tough opponent, the bluster goes away and the bully caves. And for Trump-the-Bully, his nemesis is not some physical tough guy. His nemesis is an older woman (by a few years) who’s raised five (5) kids. The past few weeks Nancy Pelosi treated Trump the same way she probably treated one of her kids, when a two-year old and throwing a tantrum. She hung tough and the kid folded.

What may be the final mental straw for Trump, however, the adoring, brain-washed base of supporters is shrinking. The 35-day government shutdown started shedding light on how Trump was willing to screw over the working class to save face over a physical wall. Many people now understand a Trump-style wall would do significant harm to the environment and offer little protection against illegal immigration and shipments of illegal drugs. Based on reports I’ve read, 85-90% of the illicit drugs enter the US through monitored ports of entry.

While the information from Mueller probe could…and probably should…lead to impeachment proceedings, Trump also faces another hurdle that seems to trump (pun intended) most presidents seeking re-election – “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The US has experienced an exceptionally long period of economic growth. The growth started under president Obama following efforts through the Federal Reserve to kick-start the economy following the financial crisis at the end of the Bush Administration. While the current economy appears strong based on certain indicators – unemployment rate and some increases in wages, e.g. – there are many soft spots.

The problem facing the Trump Administration is how to counter an economic downturn. Normally, monetary policy is the first step – the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates to stimulate borrowing and investment. This option is almost off the table since interest rates remain near historic lows. Fiscal policy follows with an increase in government spending (and the deficit) for such high-employment projects as road building/repairs. Oops, the deficit is climbing while the economy is strong so this is a limited option. Why is the deficit climbing? Because of the Trump tax cut. (I’ll save a longer discussion on the economy for another entry.)

There is a solution. While the solution is an enigma to current Trump Republicans, I have a feeling that over the next few years many of these Republicans will support the solution. What can be done? Raise taxes and redistribute income through a number of different means. And no, the approach isn’t classic socialism. The approach is called Keynesian economics. If you don’t think it works and is necessary for a stable society, then ask your parents or grandparents to tell family stories about what life was like during the Great Depression. If no one in the family has stories, then there are lots of books and movies. I’m not suggesting we’re headed for another Great Depression but there are few options left for countering a recession. (And, FYI, higher taxes did not slow growth in the 1990’s under president Clinton or in the 1950’s under Eisenhower.)

So, what does the Donald do? In the face of all the problems, he resigns to avoid being indicted. Remember, the Donald is a bully. Bullies cut and run when faced with a difficult situation. Even if he doesn’t resign, he doesn’t seek reelection…maybe because his bone spurs start to act up.

What about the Revenge Revolution? Still going to happen or will these events prevent it? Still going to happen. There’s a group that supported Trump that still feels screwed. First they felt screwed by the establishment and now screwed by Trump. If the Democrats in the House can begin to pass legislation that will help mitigate some of the inequities, real and perceived, then there will be significant pressure on the Senate to support the legislation. Such legislation will help mitigate the intensity of the Revenge Revolution.

The Revenge Revolution will be more cultural, although expect some bloodshed. For reference think of the cultural changes in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. We’re going to see another sea-change in society. Lots of issues to address – managing contributions to climate change, reducing income inequity, improving public education for all ages, implementing universal medical care, and more. To get an idea of the changes ahead, all we have to do is look at the mix of incoming members of the House. That group is more like America’s future and that group is going to force the 5th US revolution and societal changes.