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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hero in a Classroom

Jeff Bliss was clandestinely taped as he responded to his history teacher telling him to "stop bitching" about a testing anomaly.  The video went viral.

In the following follow-up video apparently created by students, Jeff Bliss reveals himself as what Joseph Campbell might call one of the thousands of faces of the hero.

 There is a nobility in his words and a humility of heart that separates this student from those who suffer in silence.  Like Jeff, Americans must demand an immediate dissolution of the Federal Department of Education.  It has become a festering shit-hole of bad educational policy and educational totalitarianist doctrine.

The NCLB and RTTT laws need to be repealed to correct the plight of the public schools.  No amount of local correction can save public schools poisoned by over a decade of Bush/Obama ghetto-ization strategies.

Bliss is just telling us what educators already know, we need radical change - top down.  Eliminate the Department of Education, it's a failed bureaucracy.


Sunday, April 07, 2013

STEM as Propaganda

There's a great article in School Matters that revisits the phony rhetoric that surrounds the STEM and Race to the Top educational programs.

Gerald Bracey's work still shines; "Another recent article by In These Times entitled Study Demolishes the Myth That U.S. Workers Lack Skills further puts the lie to the notion that U.S. workers are lacking in the education or skills department. The piece, which discusses a paper by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Professor Marc Levine, contains powerful quotes like: "There are still three unemployed people for every possible job opening."
The article proper enumerates the points of Levine’s report, only the headings of which are reproduced here.
  • False: The skills of the workforce somehow dropped sharply between 2007 and 2009.
  • False: There is a vast pool of high-skilled jobs waiting to be filled.
  • False: Employers are trying in vain to attract skilled workers.
  • False: Understaffed employers must make do with the skilled workers they have.
  • False: New high-skill jobs have been created.
  • False: Workers with advanced degrees are more highly sought-after.
  • False: The American job market will increasingly demand higher-skilled workers.
Globalization has allowed the ownership class to increasingly pit workers against each other in ways the Robber Barons could have only dreamed of. When workers compete, their boses win! A major part of the impetus behind corporate education reform is the same momentum that's created a job market were workers are increasingly expected to work harder and harder for less and less, while being required to have ever more education and training (at their own expense, of course). Nearly all of Silicon Valley's plutocratic elites' whining about a skills shortage is part and parcel a cry to drive down wages and squeeze ever more profit out of workers who are expected to "lean in.""

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Odious Student Debt

The Guardian Media Group has launched a student debt network.

Why?

"Recent figures paint a dramatic picture: According to the Federal Reserve, student debt in the US is approaching $1tn – a number disputed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which says that milestone has already been reached.
Join our source network, and you'll help us tell a more nuanced and personal story of debt. We want to hear about the choices and sacrifices and complex situations that you've been facing. What are you sacrificing in order to pay down your debt? Is it a career? A location? What financial services companies are targeting you – and with what offers?
We want to know how it affects you in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. What do you worry about most? Which lending companies are most predatory? We're curious what decisions you've made, and what decisions you will or won't even approach because you're in debt."
A meme that is traversing Facebook comes from this image;


IMO, Chomsky is scratching the surface of how distorted the system is making the society.  The results of the Guardian network studies will be an interesting read.

by Frank Krasicki

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tax Bullets at 26%

The Newtown Massacre has left me with a profound grief that I cannot shake.  The wrong committed is unspeakably wrong.

The aftermath of this horrific act is to once again to step into a self-fulfilling dance of waiting for the next inevitable tragedy to occur.  The system is gamed to endlessly and futilely debate what constitutes an automatic weapon, who the weapons should be sold to, the sanity of Americans, and so on.  Politicians and lobbyists will abuse this discussion for fame and profit until it  disappears under yet another political crisis du jour.

Rather than debate let me propose something that assumes there will be no political response to the mass murder of civilians.  Let me propose a twenty-six percent tax on each and every bullet sold and/or transferred in this country

Twenty-six is, of course the body count.  It's a good number to start with.  The tax will pay for the NRA's call for federal funding of better mental health and police protection schemes.  After all, the American public shouldn't be picking up the tab for the gun carnage in this country.  Cigarettes are taxed this way.  Gambling also is taxed this way.

Such a tax will help balance budgets, fund education, and the by-product will be to economically constrain the consumption of ammunition to reasonably affordable stores.  The fourth amendment stays intact.

Secondly let me suggest a mandatory insurance requirement for gun owners that covers potential victims of mass carnage.  The more guns and ammo stockpiled by a citizen the higher the insurance that will statistically determine the damage the loss of such weapons or the loss of sanity of an owner might cause. We do this with smokers, autos, and lots of dangerous activities.  The public can no longer foot the bill for the gun-toting community.  They need to assume responsibility for their desire to arm themselves beyond all reasonable cause.

So, by all means, debate until the politicians have no integrity left, until the NRA racketeers compromise our democracy, and until the next massacre is a church, a mall, a public gathering, a hospital, an office, a sporting event, a city street - debate away, debate until the body count finally gets our attention.

But in the meantime, apply market forces to the ammunition spigot.  It's the sanest way to begin to address the problem and all the phony, expensive gun lobby solutions that none of us should be expected to subsidize.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

My Endorsement: Romney, McMahon, Courtney, Eastwood, not Hurlbert

This is my traditional election year endorsement slate.  I believe romney and McMahon will lose but they are the superior candidates and I think Courtney and Eastwood will win because they are the superior candidates.

It would be easy to endorse Obama based on the mindless cheerleading and utterly disgusting negative campaign that has been waged against Romney and the Republicans in general. Obama is a failed presidency and a fraudulent Democratic administration.  His policies are a joke, he has granted himself a licence to kill indiscriminately using drone aircraft, and he has not kept a single promise he's made aside from cynical, bait and switch substitutions that sound like change but are worse than anything George Bush could have come up with.

Obama's education policies - largely extortion schemes that humble states into passing the most heinous education laws enacted since  maybe the Stalin regime deserve to be flushed everywhere with malice.

We will be stuck with this again for another four years, I'm not optimistic we will have an opportunity to undue the damage this administration has done for a century.

I like Linda McMahon.  She reminds me of the last great Connecticut Senator we elected, Lowell Weicker.  Murphy has offered zero ideas about policy worth discussing - another career hack who will be bought off by special interests to our shame.

Joe Courtney is the real deal.  Rock solid Democrat who still acts like one.  I can't vote often enough for this guy.

Susan Eastwood, like Courtney is the real deal as well.  Shwe is running a tough race against a career schmoozer who floats downstream and stands for nothing.  Wasting a vote on Guglielmo is like littering the Capital Building with garbage.

Bryan Hurlbert has been slacking, IMO.  He needs to wake up and start representing his district far more forcefully.  If there's a choice, I'll take it to send him a wake-up call.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

When Teacher Unions Fail Teachers

I had the opportunity to come across a copy of the Connecticut Education Association's newsletter that endorses Barack Obama rather than Romney.  It was a piece called "The Choice is Clear".  And in that endorsement it contained a comparison chart of the two candidates that was surreal.

The reasons to endorse Obama included numerous assertions that Obama's commitment to NCLB and RTTT were desirable!  In one category after another the union was endorsing Obama because he he was faithfully sticking to education policies that were not only bad for students and society (neither of which the CEA has ever cared about more than their own self-interest) but bad for teachers as well.

The endorsement was an exercise in self-immolation that characterizes the multi-polar disease that afflicts public education today.

I recently had dinner with a teacher who was very impressed by Diane Ravitch's blog. Ravitch, a former government administrator responsible for advocating for the rancid education policies she has come to now loath (and profit from loathing), has become a proxy union hero.  She says, the things that many politically sleepy teachers believe and wish SOMEONE/ANYONE would say for them. Teachers are far too busy during the school year to be effective teaching AND be effective politically.

The teachers unions who should be the voice of teacher concerns, rarely are.  The unions, run more by politically connected political operatives and lawyers than educators, are partially and significantly responsible for the public education meltdown that all public school teachers decry.They sell teacher votes like marketing firms sell phone lists to phone spammers.  And a perfect example of this wholesale selling is the Obama endorsement in their newsletter.  It is biased for the benefit of the union apparatchik and not teachers, education, or the public schools.

Ravitch's blog recently published a letter of resignation from a teacher that tidily summarized many real teacher concerns:

"Let me cut to the chase: I quit. -snip- I quit. I quit. I quit!Why?Because…
I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.
I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.
I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever. I’ve seen successful PLC development. It doesn’t look like this.
I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next. I’m far enough behind in my own work.
I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.
I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode. Misery loves company, but I will not be that company.
I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important. I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the EXPLORE test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices.
I totally object and refuse to have my performance as an educator rely on “Standard 6.” It is unfair, biased, and does not reflect anything about the teaching practices of proven educators.
I refuse to hear again that it’s more important that I serve as a test administrator than a leader of my peers.
I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners. There are other ways. It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.
I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.
I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation. I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders. And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.
I refuse to watch my district’s leadership tell us about the bad news and horrific changes coming towards us, then watch them shrug incompetently, and then tell us to work harder.
I refuse to listen to our highly regarded superintendent telling us that the charter school movement is at our doorstep (with a soon-to-be-elected governor in full support) and tell us not to worry about it, because we are applying for a grant from Race to the Top. There is no consistency here; there is no leadership here.
I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college.
I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills.
I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them. I haven’t seen real professional development in either district since I got here. The development sessions I have seen are sloppy, shallow, and have no real means of evaluation or accountability.
I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness.Finally, I’m tired of watching parents being tricked into believing that their children are being prepared for the complex world ahead, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures.
I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads in preparation for the EOG tests and the new MSLs—neither of which are consequential to their future needs. As a parent of a high school student in Union County, I’m dismayed at the education that my child receives, as her teachers frantically prepare her for more tests. My toddler will not attend a North Carolina public school. I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.
I quit because I’m tired being part of the problem. It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good. Farewell.
Dr. June Atkinson"

Comparing the union endorsement to this teacher's litany of frustrations is instructive.  The union endorsement praises Obama for inflicting most of the pains this teacher finds offensive and unacceptable.  Can the Teachers Unions become any more divorced from the reality of their constituents?

If the public schools are to survive and thrive then the first order of business for teachers is to become independent voters AND to REFORM THE TEACHERS UNIONS.  The dirty little secret of the public school education crisis is that it is self-inflicted first and foremost by the political indifference of teacher unions and the misrepresentation of teacher interests by these unions.

A recent article in Slate magazine summarizes the differences between Romney and Obama as far less obvious than the current campaign leads us to believe.

In The Progressive Case Against Obama by Matt Stoller, Stoller enumerates the wholesale failure of the Obama administration to serve its constituency.

It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side. Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful. The lack of prosecution of Wall Street executives, the ability of banks to borrow at 0 percent from the Federal Reserve while most of us face credit card rates of 15-30 percent, and the bailouts are all part of the re-creation of the American system of law around Obama’s oligarchy.
The policy continuity with Bush is a stark contrast to what Obama offered as a candidate. Look at the broken promises from the 2008 Democratic platform: a higher minimum wage, a ban on the replacement of striking workers, seven days of paid sick leave, a more diverse media ownership structure, renegotiation of NAFTA, letting bankruptcy judges write down mortgage debt, a ban on illegal wiretaps, an end to national security letters, stopping the war on whistle-blowers, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, restoring habeas corpusand labor protections in the FAA bill. Each of these pledges would have tilted bargaining leverage to debtors, to labor, or to political dissidents. So Obama promised them to distinguish himself from Bush, and then went back on his word because these promises didn’t fit with the larger policy arc of shifting American society toward his vision. For sure, Obama believes he is doing the right thing, that his policies are what’s best for society. He is a conservative technocrat, running a policy architecture to ensure that conservative technocrats like him run the complex machinery of the state and reap private rewards from doing so. Radical political and economic inequality is the result. None of these policy shifts, with the exception of TARP, is that important in and of themselves, but together they add up to declining living standards.
While life has never been fair, the chart above shows that, since World War II, this level of official legal, political and economic inequity for the broad mass of the public is new (though obviously for subgroups, like African-Americans, it was not new). It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.
This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies. We are even seeing, as I showed in an earlier post, a transition of the American economic order toward a petro-state. By some accounts, America will be the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This is just not an America that any of us should want to live in. It is a country whose economic basis is oligarchy, whose political system is authoritarianism, and whose political culture is murderous toward the rest of the world and suicidal in our aggressive lack of attention to climate change.
Many will claim that Obama was stymied by a Republican Congress. But the primary policy framework Obama put in place – the bailouts, took place during the transition and the immediate months after the election, when Obama had enormous leverage over the Bush administration and then a dominant Democratic Party in Congress. In fact, during the transition itself, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered a deal to Barney Frank, to force banks to write down mortgages and stem foreclosures if Barney would speed up the release of TARP money. Paulson demanded, as a condition of the deal, that Obama sign off on it. Barney said fine, but to his surprise, the incoming president vetoed the deal. Yup, you heard that right — the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis. And with Neil Barofsky’s book ”Bailout,” we see why. Tim Geithner said, in private meetings, that the foreclosure mitigation programs were not meant to mitigate foreclosures, but to spread out pain for the banks, the famous “foam the runway” comment. This central lie is key to the entire Obama economic strategy. It is not that Obama was stymied by Congress, or was up against a system, or faced a massive crisis, which led to the shape of the economy we see today. Rather, Obama had a handshake deal to help the middle class offered to him by Paulson, and Obama said no. He was not constrained by anything but his own policy instincts. And the reflation of corporate profits and financial assets and death of the middle class were the predictable results.
The rest of Obama’s policy framework looks very different when you wake up from the dream state pushed by cable news. Obama’s history of personal use of illegal narcotics, combined with his escalation of the war on medical marijuana (despite declining support for the drug war in the Democratic caucus), shows both a personal hypocrisy and destructive cynicism that we should decry in anyone, let alone an important policymaker who helps keep a half a million people in jail for participating in a legitimate economy outlawed by the drug warrior industry. But it makes sense once you realize that his policy architecture coheres with a Romney-like philosophy that there is one set of rules for the little people, and another for the important people. It’s why the administration quietly pushed Chinese investment in American infrastructure, seeks to privatize public education, removed labor protections from the FAA authorization bill, and inserted a provision into the stimulus bill ensuring AIG bonuses would be paid, and then lied about it to avoid blame. Wall Street speculator who rigged markets are simply smart and savvy businessmen, as Obama called Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, whereas the millions who fell prey to their predatory lending schemes are irresponsible borrowers. And it’s why Obama is explicitly targeting entitlements, insurance programs for which Americans paid. Obama wants to preserve these programs for the “most vulnerable,” but that’s still a taking. Did not every American pay into Social Security and Medicare? They did, but as with the foreclosure crisis, property rights (which are essential legal rights) of the rest of us are irrelevant. While Romney is explicit about 47 percent of the country being worthless, Obama just acts as if they are charity cases. In neither case does either candidate treat the mass of the public as fellow citizens.
Teachers should think twice about how they vote this November.  Obama and his education policies are far worse than Bush's.  And working parents and teachers are far worse off than they used to be.  While Romney may be no better, a number of his statements imply some relief from the federal chokehold Obama has placed on public education.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Obamney Fatigue

The first of the presidential debates is over and the battle lines are being drawn by the same special interests whose interests are at stake.  And there is no shortage of Sherlock Holmes-wanna-be "fact-checkers".  The argue about the magic numbers each candidate uses to justify their so-called political positions.

My rant is a bit different.  Let this post be the first reality check on this abysmal excuse for a presidential election.  I'm a lifelong Liberal and a Democrat and I feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land.  Jim Lehrer set out to distinguish the differences between the two candidates in their politics.  The more important question of the difference between the candidates positions and that of reality was never broached.

On a national stage we had two profoundly mediocre candidates discussing education.  Obama, proud as a peacock, waxed poetic about his Race to the Top (RTTT) initiative.  When Romney confronted the president about the red herring of education somehow affecting this country's global competitiveness, Obama claimed that RTTT was closing a "gap".

Not to be outdone Romney praised Arne Duncan for making schools accountable and exposing failing schools.

Lehrer never followed up to ask why holding public education hostage to the federal Department of Education ever made any sense.  Nor was there any discussion as to why so-called core standards were necessary or desirable.

Romney got more right than Obama ever will in advocating for a return of schools to local control  but nothing any politician does from here on out matters.  The Obama administration poisoned that well forever.  You see Race to the Top funding required States to legislate away State control of the public schools to the federal government teat.  And that teat means absolute conformity to the Obama administration's agenda.  If Romney wins it will be his to tinker with.  I have zero faith in either.

RTTT was Obama's double down on a Bush  agenda that supplanted the public school's responsibility to nurture a love of learning within a child with a love of absolute conformity in the most bizarre experiment in social engineering in the free world ever.  Couple this collusive, toxic stew with the desire of philanthropy gone rabid to take control of public education and two national teacher unions whose best interests always take a back seat to their legal adviser's political aspirations and public education has long ago driven off the cliff.

We will never hear the debate that needs to be debated about education.  It is impossible.  The make-believe bullshit between these candidates will drown that out.  But it would be fun to hear such a debate.

Another topic worth giving a reality check is the mythical toughness of both candidates on Wall St excesses.  To hear Obama tell it, he reigned in Wall St and took them out to the wood shed!  I must have missed that historic spanking.  My recollection is that those most responsible for the excess were given government jobs with pensions and expense accounts.  They proceeded to give trillions more out to the offending institutions worldwide.  Nobody went to jail.  The so-called interest was often zero.  So when Obama claims that we're being paid back WITH INTEREST, the interest must be little more than cynical wonder that they got away with it.

And those new regulations.  Guess who wrote them?  Hint: it wasn't a regulator's regulator.  The chances that Romney would be tougher than Obama is unlikely.  They are both classic lapdogs.

Health care is also worth a reality check but I'm feeling ill from all this.

I don't write as much about public education these days.  It's circling the drain.  Too many cycles of the two parties trying to be just like each other has created a surreal Washington group think that has resulted in the worst of all compromises winning.  Our national policies are hopelessly and silently retarded and the inmates in charge argue about the arithmetic of their hallucinations.  This political season is a never-never land of contention.

We will be warned to close this gap and that, that prosperity is a term away, and that vicious personal attacks on each candidate's character will sway the undecideds to victory.  But victory just means more of the same depressing dross we have slogged through for the past twelve years.  It is enough to make a grown man cry.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obama vs Romney on Education, Wrong Question

Despite a lot of special interest Romney bashing on the issues of education at least Romney want s to return local control.  I'll vote for that any day over the convoluted Obama policies.

FireDogLake expose the hypocrisy.

For my money, I'm more interested in Ron Paul's position on education.

Of course, these gents including George Carlin may be the best observers of where we are with education (not for the faint of heart or overly sensitive);




Career Advice for the Future

This is the time of year that commencement addresses flood the internet and so many are good that there simply isn't enough time to see or read them all.

This one by Sheryl Sandberg is outstanding in its entirety but most excellent where speaking to career advice for anyone in or out of work.

"As the world becomes more connected and less hierarchical, traditional career paths are shifting as well. In 2001, after working in the government, I moved out to Silicon Valley to try finding a job. My timing wasn’t really that good. The bubble had crashed, small companies were closing, big companies were laying people off. One woman CEO looked at me and said, we wouldn’t even think about hiring someone like you.
After awhile I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, so I made a spreadsheet. I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows, and compared the companies and the missions and the roles. One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first business unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all. Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage. And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies.
So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spread sheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria. He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, Don’t be an idiot. Excellent career advice. And then he said, Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.
About six and one-half years later, when I was leaving Google, I took that advice to heart. I was offered CEO jobs at a bunch of companies, but I went to Facebook as COO. At the time people said, why are you going to work for a 23-year-old? The traditional metaphor for careers is a ladder, but I no longer think that metaphor holds. It doesn’t make sense in a less hierarchical world. When I was first at Facebook, a woman named Lori Goler, a 1997 graduate of HBS, was working in marketing at eBay and I knew her kind of socially. And she called me and said, ‘I want to talk with you about coming to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you, she said, and telling you all the things I’m good at and all the things I like to do. But I figured that everyone is doing that. So instead I want to know what’s your biggest problem and how can I solve it.’
My jaw hit the floor. I’d hired thousands of people up to that point in my career, but no one had ever said anything like that. I had never said anything like that. Job searches are always about the job searcher, but not in Lori’s case. I said, you’re hired. My biggest problem is recruiting and you can solve it. So Lori changed fields into something she never thought she’d do, went down a level to start in a new field and has since been promoted and runs all of the people operations at Facebook and has done an extraordinary job.
CAREERS ARE NOT A LADDER–THEY’RE A JUNGLE GYM
Lori has a great metaphor for careers. She says they’re not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. As you start your post-HBS career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.
You are entering a different business world than I entered. Mine was just starting to get connected. Yours is hyper-connected. Mine was competitive. Yours is way more competitive. Mine moved quickly, yours moves even more quickly. As traditional structures are breaking down, leadership has to evolve as well. From hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding. You’ve been trained by this great institution not just to be part of these trends but to lead. As you lead in this new world, you will not be able to rely on who you are or the degree you hold.
You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect. You’re going to need talent, skill, and imagination and vision, but more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job. "
Good stuff!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Bell Curve Gone Wrong

A report from National Public Radio informs us that a new study disrupts our understanding and practice involved with the application of Bell curves in many of our endeavors. The report published in Personnel Psychology by Ernest O'Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis draws a number of interesting conclusions that educators should consider in evaluating the performance of students.  All bolded statements are mine to emphasize the conclusion.  The first summary of implications were;


Regarding performance measurement and management, the current zeitgeist is that the median worker should be at the mean level of performance and thus should be placed in the middle of the performance appraisal instrument. If most of those rated are in the lowest category, then the rater, measurement instrument, or both are seen as biased (i.e., affected by severity bias; Cascio & Aguinis, 2011chapter 5). Performance appraisal instruments that place most employees in the lowest category are seen as psychometrically unsound. These basic tenets have spawned decades of research related to performance appraisal that might “improve” the measurement of performance because such measurement would result in normally distributed scores given that a deviation from a normal distribution is supposedly indicative of rater bias (cf. Landy & Farr, 1980Smither & London, 2009a). Our results suggest that the distribution of individual performance is such that most performers are in the lowest category. Based on Study 1, we discovered that nearly two thirds (65.8%) of researchers fall below the mean number of publications. Based on the Emmy-nominated entertainers in Study 2, 83.3% fall below the mean in terms of number of nominations. Based on Study 3, for U.S. representatives, 67.9% fall below the mean in terms of times elected. Based on Study 4, for NBA players, 71.1% are below the mean in terms of points scored. Based on Study 5, for MLB players, 66.3% of performers are below the mean in terms of career errors. Moving from a Gaussian to a Paretian perspective, future research regarding performance measurement would benefit from the development of measurement instruments that, contrary to past efforts, allow for the identification of those top performers who account for the majority of results. Moreover, such improved measurement instruments should not focus on distinguishing between slight performance differences of non-elite workers. Instead, more effort should be placed on creating performance measurement instruments that are able to identify the small cohort of top performers.
 The second;
Productivity difference between the 99.86th percentile and median worker should be 6.0 according to the normal distribution; instead the difference is more than quadruple that (i.e., 25.0). With a normality assumption, productivity among these elite workers is estimated at $33,981 ($11,327 × 3) above the median, but the productivity of these workers is actually $141,588 above the median. We chose Study 1 because of its large overall sample size, but these same patterns of productivity are found across all five studies. In light of our results, the value-added created by new preemployment tests and the dollar value of training programs should be reinterpreted from a Paretian point of view that acknowledges that the differences between workers at the tails and workers at the median are considerably wider than previously thought. These are large and meaningful differences suggesting important implications of shifting from a normal to a Paretian distribution. In the future, utility analysis should be conducted using a Paretian point of view that acknowledges that differences between workers at the tails and workers at the median are considerably wider than previously thought.
Speaking of implications for OB domains, they say,
 With less output from the center of the distribution, more output is found in the tails. Ten percent of productivity comes from the top percentile and 26% of output derives from the top 5% of workers. Consequently, a shift from a normal to a Paretian distribution points to the need to revise leadership theories to address the exchanges and influence of the extreme performers because our results demonstrate that a small set of followers produces the majority of the output. Leadership theories that avoid how best to manage elite workers will likely fail to influence the total productivity of the followers in a meaningful way. Thus, greater attention should be paid to the tremendous impact of the few vital individuals. Despite their small numbers, slight percentage increases in the output of top performers far outweigh moderate increases of the many. New theory is needed to address the identification and motivation of elite performers.
Their interest extends to work teams and that interaction;
 If performance follows a Paretian distribution, then these existing theories are insufficient because they fail to address how the presence of an elite worker influences group productivity. We may expect the group productivity to increase in the presence of an elite worker, but is the increase in group output negated by the loss of individual output of the elite worker being slowed by non-elites? It may also be that elites only develop in interactive, dynamic environments, and the isolation of elite workers or grouping multiple elites together could hamper their abnormal productivity. Once again, the finding of a Paretian distribution of performance requires new theory and research to address the elite nested within the group. Specifically, human performance research should adopt a new view regarding what human performance looks like at the tails. Researchers should address the social networks of superstars within groups in terms of identifying how the superstar emerges, communicates with others, interacts with other groups, and what role non-elites play in the facilitating of overall performance. 
and to the darker implications of superstar based performance;
At a more fundamental level, our understanding of job performance itself needs revisiting. Typically, job performance is conceptualized as consisting of three dimensions: in-role or task behavior, organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), and CWB (Rotundo & Sackett, 2002). CWB (i.e., harmful behaviors targeted at the organization or its members) has always been assumed to have a strong, negative relation with the other two components, but it is unclear if this relationship remains strong, or even negative, among elite performers. For example, the superstars of Study 4 often appeared as supervillains in Study 5. Do the most productive workers also engage in the most destructive behavior? If so, future research should examine if this is due to managers’ fear of reprimanding a superstar, the superstar's sense of entitlement, non-elites covering for the superstar's misbehavior out of hero worship, or some interaction of all three.
Their final conclusion is most interesting, mining the Bell Curve scrapheap of research topics has gotten us nowhere;
...a Paretian distribution of performance may help explain why despite more than a century of research on the antecedents of job performance and the countless theoretical models proposed, explained variance estimates (R2) rarely exceed .50 (Cascio & Aguinis, 2008b). It is possible that research conducted over the past century has not made important improvements in the ability to predict individual performance because prediction techniques rely on means and variances assumed to derive from normal distributions, leading to gross errors in the prediction of performance. As a result, even models including theoretically sound predictors and administered to a large sample will most often fail to account for even half of the variability in workers’ performance. Viewing individual performance from a Paretian perspective and testing theories with techniques that do not require the normality assumptions will allow us to improve our understanding of factors that account for and predict individual performance. Thus, research addressing the prediction of performance should be conducted with techniques that do not require the normality assumption. 
They go on to suggest methodologies that might correct the false assumptions we've taken as gospel.  Furthermore, their analysis disrupts every fiber of our system of rewards and artificially induced  ethical sensibilities;
Our results put the usual conceptions and definitions of fairness and bias, which are based on the norm of normality, into question and lead to some thorny and complicated questions from an ethical standpoint. How can organizations balance their dual goals of improving firm performance and also employee performance and well-being (Aguinis, 2011)? Is it ethical for organizations to allocate most of their resources to an elite group of top performers in order to maximize firm performance? Should separate policies be created for top performers given that they add greater value to the organization than the rest? Our results suggest that practitioners must revisit how to balance the dual goals of improving firm performance and employee performance and well-being as well as determine the proper allocation of resources for both elites and nonelites.
Beyond concepts of ethics and fairness, a Paretian distribution of performance has many practical implications for how business is done. As we described earlier, a Pareto curve demonstrates scale invariance, and thus whether looking at the entire population or just the top percentile, the same distribution shape emerges. For selection, this means that there are real and important differences between the best candidate and the second best candidate. Superstars make or break an organization, and the ability to identify these elite performers will become even more of a necessity as the nature of work changes in the 21st century (Cascio & Aguinis, 2008b). Our results suggest that practitioners should focus on identification and differentiation at the tails of the distribution so as to best identify elites.
Organizations must also rethink employment arrangements with superstars, as they will likely be very different from traditional norms in terms of starting compensation, perquisites, and idiosyncratic employment arrangements. Superstars perform at such a high level that makes them attractive to outside firms, and thus even in a recession these individuals have a high degree of job mobility. In an age of hypercompetitiveness, organizations that cannot retain their top performers will struggle to survive. At present, we know very little about the motivations, traits, and behaviors of elite performers. Our work indicates that superstars exist but does not address the motivations, behaviors, and individual differences of the superstar.
To put these results into context, substitute the concept of 'employee' with 'student'.   Studies such as these represent yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that there is such a thing as a failing school.  what is failing is our sensibility to admit that not everyone can or will perform to normative testing regiments nor will they respond to the empty mantras of higher expectations.

Add to the discussion that, given our existing dysfunctional fetish with high-stakes, high-stress testing in public schools, failing schools are more likely to not fail by motivating their superstar learners rather than the majority of disaffected students.  To compound matters the skimming of the brightest and best of urban public school to private schools virtually ensures and exacerbates the perpetual failing of the very schools we are (presumably) trying to **cough** save.

And for all of the suburban Lake Wobegone schools whose students are ALL exceptional, a rethinking of what exceptional means may be forth-coming sooner than later.  When grades reflect little more than a metric indicating completion of assigned grunt-work, homogenization of perfunctory core curriculum tedio-content, and social standing rather than true learning performance, we distort the educational mission, potentially stunt the learning potential of our brightest and best, and put this nation at risk of becoming institutionally mediocre and irrelevant.

This is called No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and it is a national disgrace.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My first Ted-ED Tutorial

Last night I experimented with TED-Ed's latest tool to create tutorials from YouTube content.

Here's the link.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chomsky's Latest Thoughts on Education

Noam Chomsky has written an article for Truthout in which he describes the current situation eloquently.
"Mass public education is one of the great achievements of American society. It has had many dimensions. One purpose was to prepare independent farmers for life as wage laborers who would tolerate what they regarded as virtual slavery.

The coercive element did not pass without notice. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders call for popular education because they fear that "This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats." But educated the right way: Limit their perspectives and understanding, discourage free and independent thought, and train them for obedience.

The "vile maxim" and its implementation have regularly called forth resistance, which in turn evokes the same fears among the elite. Forty years ago there was deep concern that the population was breaking free of apathy and obedience."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Censoring The Right to Know

Update:  This movie was made available to students and parents to share after bloggers such as myself pointed out...

As usual, the blowback of the unintended consequences of blanket censorship is doing more harm to those it was supposed to protect than good.

In an opinion piece from GoodCulture, we are introduced to a tough film about Bullying called Bully that teens must break the law to see.

"The new documentary Bully takes on the issue of harassment in American high schools, depicting real scenes of school bus torture, schoolyard violence, administrative indifference, and the tragic fallout in explicit detail. Now, the Motion Picture Association of America has made sure that most American high school students won't be able to see the film: It's slapped the doc with an R rating."
The Youtube trailer:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New EO Smith Digital Learning Initiative Committee Blog

This year the EO Smith Board of Education has created a Digital Learning Initiative Committee of which I am the chair.

We've held one meeting and we're announcing a new blog that will complement the committee's interests.

You can access the blog here: http://eosdigitallearning.blogspot.com/

Our documents are made public from Google docs.  We will promote digital learning across the community.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ah, Global Competition

Global competition is often sited as the stimulus for the mind numbing arguments that we NEED standardized education or the sky will fall.

Here's a sample of what that globalized competition looks like:
and here's the backstory:
"And I say to her, you seem kind of young. How old are you? And she says, I'm 13. And I say, 13? That's young. Is it hard to get work at Foxconn when you're-- and she says oh no. And her friends all agree, they don't really check ages. The outside companies do have inspections, but workers told me Foxconn always knows when there's going to be an inspection. So what they do then, they don't even check ages then. They just pull everyone from the affected line, and then they put the oldest workers they have on that line.
You'd think someone would notice this, you know? I'm telling you that I do not speak Mandarin. I do not speak Cantonese. I have only a passing familiarity with Chinese culture, and to call what I have a passing familiarity is an insult to Chinese culture. I don't know [BLEEP] all about Chinese culture. But I do know that in my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met workers who were 14 years old, 13 years old, 12."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mic Check: Occupy the DOE

Here's a web site that announces a national action to opt out of high-stakes, high-stress testing.
 We are requesting to everyone that this remain a PEACEFUL occupation with NON-VIOLENT actions.
Be sure to click the link and read the guidelines carefully.  Given how the Obama administration has perversely botched education policy in this country, the very idea that people are still smart enough to protest is heart-warming.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

FAIL: CT Superintendents Play Intellectual Hookey

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) recently issued a comprehensive set of recommendations in a document called NextED - Transforming Connecticut's Education System.

In examining the documentation, the Superintendent's get the right answer but cheat when it comes to the details.  They haven't done their homework.

What they get right is that children need to learn at their own pace based on their personal intellectual, physical, psychological, and other maturities.  After forty years of empirical educational evidence that this makes perfect sense, the superintendents agree.  Rather than call them "slow" we'll defer to calling it "bureaucratic impairment syndrome". But identifying this self-inflicted, brain-deadening malady cannot excuse the poor scholarship.

You see, these folks are not really advocating anything along the lines of true personal learning, they are sugar-coating the toxic No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) anti-child pograms of the Bush/Obama administration.

In computer programming, we talk about code smell.  That is that the syntax and logic of a computer program is obviously lacking veracity just based on a superficial reading of the code.  NextEd suffers from this precise problem.  You can't get to a better education system based on their assumptions and recommendations.  Their recommendations are an expensive and poorly thought-out prescription for guaranteed continued public education dysfunction.

Where do they  go wrong?

First, they pander to the idea that CT public education "has been successful at providing access to a quality education for 150 years".  If that were true there would be no "education gap" between suburbs and cities and this set of recommendations would not be necessary. 

Second, their agenda reads like NCLB and RTTT, two disgraced, failing, and criminal programs that have been ram-rodded down the throats of State legislatures to marginalize local control of school districts.

The ideas are as stale as the vernacular.  The superintendents want to "raise the bar", "educate all students with high standards", "using direct measures", "strengthen the State Dept of Education", and so on.  This Orwellian slight of tongue is anathema to improving public education.

To get serious about educational reform this country needs to eliminate both the Federal and State Departments of Education.  Preferably they should be tried for child abuse first and embezzlement of taxpayer funds for disingenuous appropriation of said funds.

Secondly, all of the recently passed education legislation that was passed based on NCLB and RTTT need to be repealed entirely.  These laws prevent public schools from performing any kind of useful educational improvement.   As long as education is based on high stress, high stakes testing regiments - nothing of their recommendations, good or bad, is likely to have the desired effect.

And maybe this is the point of such studies - exhaust the funds, write some flowery platitudes, and wait for the predictable fail.

University Math -> the University As a Rogue IRS

A few days ago, Stephanie Reitz reported in the Courant that UConn had funded a study of "recommendations from McKinsey & Co., which it paid $3.9 million last year to suggest ways to cut costs and boost income as the school's state subsidies drop."

Wow.  Four million dollars to find ways to cut costs or increase revenues.  That's a pretty amazing  amount of money to throw at such dare we say *obvious* recommendations.

  • Offer more year round classes!
  • Charge more for parking and busing
  • Eliminate sparsely enrolled majors
  • Consolidating technology
  • Centralized purchasing
  • Increasing ticket prices for popular sports
  • Reviewing sports budgets
  • Offering more online courses
  • More aggressive fund-raising
  • Staff attrition savings
  • Premium dorm room price increases
Really?  This is what we get for four million dollars?

Here are my open source suggestions.  If you think they're worth more than four million dollars then donate a dollar to the first charity you encounter after reading this.

Everyone with a brain knows that the true cost of education is in administration.
  • Eliminate 10% of the administration, topmost first.  Consolidate accordingly. 
Everyone familiar with the free ride program - that is that if a person works at UConn, their children attend tuition free - is a profoundly expensive and discriminatory -cough- "perk".
  • Eliminate the free tuition ride perks, they're discriminatory, expensive and unnecessary
It is not centralized purchasing that needs to be implemented, it is competitive purchasing that needs to be introduced.

  • Open the purchasing up to competitive bidding for quality products - quality need not be compromised, crony-ism needs to be eliminated
Privatize the University maintenance functions.
  •  The keystone kop buffoonery that has become local legend must end.  maintenance workers who drive 15 minutes back and forth to take 15 minute breaks,  the Rube Goldberg repair of dormitory leaks, and other sordid tales is empirical evidence enough to rethink these positions and processes.
Repeat and rinse these recommendations every two years until the budget is balanced. Make education affordable by being serious about offering an accessible, affordable State University program.

The University system has no right to impose its own new taxes in the form of fees, new charges, or other subversive fiscal tactics.  If the State can no longer afford the expense the Universities are incurring  then those bodies need to tighten their budgets not act like an independent agency that is royally entitled to more State tax money no matter how they get it.

CT's private sector citizens have been taking massive cuts in pay and benefits while the public sector employees and institutions yawn as they plan their retirement homes in low tax havens leaving their scorched earth fiscal carnage to those who have already been kicked too often.  It's time for everyone to share the economic realities facing the State and the nation.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Where did this kid go to school?

To Hell with NCLB and Race to the Top, America needs to clone this kid's education.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

WikiLeaks on Chinese Education

A new wikileak exposes a cable from the US delegation in Chengdu, China, where a counsel met with a local representative of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, for a candid one on one. What's most interesting is how poor the Chinese education system is. And what's of most interest in terms of the American system of education that is in such dire straits is that for over a decade American educators have been taking junkets to China to -cough- "study" the Chinese education system. All on the taxpayer dime of course. Nice "work" if you can get it. From ZeroHedge, here's the excerpt of interest;
"Terrible" Education System Is Main Impediment 11. (SBU) However, Lai identified China's "terrible" educational system as presenting a serious impediment toward achieving a shift to a more knowledge-based economy. The current system promotes copying and pasting over creative and independent thought. Lai said that the system rewards students for thinking "within a framework" in order to get the grade. He described the normal process undertaken by students when writing as essentially collecting sentences from various sources without any original thinking. He compared the writing ability of a typical Chinese Phd as paling in comparison to his "unskilled" staff during his decade of work with the IFC in Africa.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):