Monthly Archives: August 2019

EDUCATIONAL CHOICE

As I am sure you know, every year, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—federal, state and local—are poured into America’s public school systems. The best estimate we have is a staggering $621 billion! That works out to an average of more than $12,000 per student.

Yet despite this enormous investment, we see consistent underperformance on standardized tests and other performance metrics.

In April 2016, the results of the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) for high schoolers were released.

Here are some of the report’s highlights:

1. Scores on the 2015 reading test for high school seniors showed a five-point drop since 1992 (the earliest year with comparable scores).

2. High school math scores unchanged during the past decade.

3. While 82% of high school seniors graduated on time, the report suggests that only 37% of them are academically prepared for college coursework in reading and math.

4. U.S. News & World Report reported in April on the status of 4th and 8th graders:

“…the latest results reveal a disturbing trend in which the country’s poorest-performing students scored worse in both subject than they did I 2015, while the highest-performing students posted increases, reflecting a growing gap between those at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum.”

Troubling statistics like these are nothing new.

One recent Programme for International Student Assessment survey of 15-year-old students in 34 countries showed that Americans ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. And 25 of the nations surveyed also had higher graduation rates than the United States.

The danger of continuing on this current path of educational decline was eloquently expressed by one of the founders of EdChoice, the noted economist Rose D. Friedman, when she wrote:

“If you end up with a population that doesn’t know how to read, doesn’t know how to write, knows nothing about history, knows nothing about geography, who’s going to conduct the affairs of the country?”

Money is certainly not the problem, because even as the measurable “outputs” of American public education consistently decline, the per-student cost burdens of American public education consistently increase, putting enormous financial strain on already stretched state and local finances.

Why are the costs of a declining public education system continuing to increase?

One reason can be found here: The U.S. Department of Education has reported that since 1950 the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96%. At the same time, the number of public school teachers increased by 252%. And the number of “full-time equivalent” public school employees (meaning administrators and other employees who are not classroom teachers) literally exploded…increasing by a whopping 386%!

Yet the larger problem with American K-12 education relates neither to failures inside the classroom nor massive cost increases outside the classroom.

In fact, the underlying problem with American K-12 education today is our antiquated system of harnessing the funding of education to the administration of education in our public school system.

In 1955, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman first laid out his idea of bringing the benefits of competition and free markets to American education by giving parents control of the public funds designated for their children’s education, so that they can choose the best education for their children.

Contrary to the frequently hysterical assertions of defenders of the educational status quo, Milton Friedman and his wife, the equally distinguished economist Rose D. Friedman, strongly supported America’s historical commitment to using public funds (taxes) to support education.

But the Friedmans parted company with the current system of pubic education when it came to the public administration of schools. Instead of requiring that tax dollars, and students, follow a single path to public schools, the Friedmans believed that the funds earmarked for education and generated by taxes should be directed by parents to the schools of their choice.

“Vouchers” is the word used as shorthand to describe this means of letting parents direct the public funds designated for their children’s education.

Here is how Milton described his idea to supporters of the Friedman Foundation a few years before his death in 2006:

“A far more effective and equitable way for government to finance education is to finance students, not schools. Assign a specified sum of money to each child and let him or her and his or her parents choose the school they believe best, perhaps a government school, perhaps a private school… That would provide real competition for all schools, competition powered by the ultimate beneficiaries of the program, the nation’s children.”

Government monopolies in public funded education—which is what our public school systems are—operate like nearly all other government monopolies…poorly!

When the Friedman Foundation came into being 23 years ago, there were a total of five school choice programs in the United States. Today, despite bitter and unyielding opposition from defenders of the failing educational status quo, 62 school choice programs are on the books in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

A more important statistic is that today approximately 1.5 million American children are making use of a variety of private school choice programs to choose a school that meets their learning needs!

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DOES SOCIAL DEMOCRACY WORK?

Most of the Democratic presidential nominees espouse a plan I call DEM Plan 20. What it is, how will it work, as well as how much it will cost, we’ll try to explain.

DEM Plan 20

Of course, they would never state this plan, clearly because many Americans would recoil from it. However, the plan has been largely accepted in many parts of the world, even if the folks endorsing it don’t exactly realize what the deuce is going on.

So, here’s how it goes:

• Medicare for all! Health care is a human right! That’s what the human right designation does. Free healthcare for undocumented immigrants. Anybody who gets to our soil, the taxpayer picks up his or her medical bill.
• Free college for all, including undocumented immigrants. Anybody who gets here, goes to college free.
• You come here, you get the right to work and you don’t really have any obligation other than pay the taxes.
• Cancel student debt. You’ve got a big student debt, they are going to wipe it out. Public college, universities tuition free.
• Fifty billion dollars for black colleges and universities a year.
• Two hundred billion dollars to $500 billion a year for reparations for slavery.
• Minimum salary, $60,000 for teachers. Fifteen dollars minimum wage and up.
• Universal childcare. So, if you’re a mom or dad, you have kids and you have to work, the government will pay for the babysitter.
• Then there’s open borders. Everyone from anywhere is welcome.
• And the “Green New Deal,” a large reshaping of our whole society. The government will guarantee a job for everyone and income for those who are unwilling to work. Every building in the U.S. would be retrofitted to be energy efficient. High speed rail would replace air travel. And 95 million cows will be eliminated.

It’s an enormous agenda with an enormous price tag, probably $50 trillion dollars. Keep in mind our current debt is $22 trillion, so how we finance all these wonderful free benefits is anyone’s guess.

Social Democracy German Style

Early in July, commentator Bill O’Reilly put on his old reporter’s hat to see how socialism is working out overseas. It’s an interesting story.

“I want to tell you a little bit about the trip. It was both business and social. I flew into Berlin; had some meetings there to find out essentially how the semi-socialist system is working in Western Europe.

“This is the system that most of the Democrats nominees are basing their entire presidential campaign on and I wanted to be fair. I don’t like socialism, but we are living in a very complicated era where people are making fortunes in the high- tech industry, in particular, and I wanted to see how other governments are handling the so-called income and inequality problem.

“Berlin is a liberal town. A lot of people are unemployed by choice. Not a particularly pretty place. World War II wiped it out. I was there when the Berlin Wall came down. I reported that story and that was the last time I was there. It’s bustling. A great place to visit if you’re interested in history.

“There are the remnants of the Nazis. In fact, the bunker where Hitler was killed (he killed himself) is now a parking lot. They actually poured sand in the bunker and paved over it. Interesting!

“After Berlin I took the train down to Munich in southern Germany. Now northern Germany is liberal, Lutheran; southern Germany is Catholic by tradition. Munich is a nice town that could be in America. If you had the language, English, and the old buildings obviously can’t be duplicated here. But outside of the buildings and the language, it could be anywhere U.S.A.”

If you would like to see what may await you if the plan is implemented in America, you might travel to Munich in southern Germany. Most folks live in small houses or apartments, go to work every day, have nice cars and drink alcohol on a regular basis.

But look beneath the surface and you can clearly see the results of the plan—people are dependent on the government in Berlin and there is little upward mobility.

The German economy is vibrant but workers cannot accumulate much money to invest and make their assets grow. That’s because of taxes. Ready?

German workers in Munich pay eight percent of their income in local taxes. Then Berlin comes in for its piece: 12 percent “health” tax for government-run medical care, 19 percent value added tax (VAT) on just about everything you buy, and an income tax that ranges from 14 to 45 percent of your gross wages.

Add it up, and German workers cannot save significant money or improve themselves much economically. Thus, they stay where they are, year after year after year. Today’s children will likely be in the same economic circumstance as their grandparents.

The result is that almost every German is the same materially. There are few ostentatious displays of wealth in Munich. There is not much “inequality” on display either.

The folks accept this plan because it offers security. After you pay your taxes, medical care is free, pensions are guaranteed. Housing is modest and subsidies are provided if you can’t or won’t work. The addicted are supported, but barely. Not much homelessness.

But forget about ever accumulating enough money to buy that chalet in Gstaad or a villa in the Riviera. That is not going to happen in the working precincts. The German government makes it impossible.

That is the vision of the present-day Democratic Party in America. From sea to shining sea, we will all be similar: dependent on Washington for medical care and retirement entitlements; happy to be secure with what we are allowed to keep after the government decides how much to take from us. On paper, “inequality” will be banished forever.

That is the DEM Plan 20 and it does not include gold stars for achievement. Most media and many American citizens, especially young voters, are solidly behind it.

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8 HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL FAMILY COMMUNICATION

Here’s a thoughtful article written by Tim Habbershon in a recent issue of Fidelity Viewpoints.

“Tackle difficult subjects and turn them into effective family discussions.

“When I suggest that families should be able to “talk about anything,” that may seem daunting to some and even outright impossible to others. Consequently, some families avoid certain topics, especially those topics regarding wealth, money, relationships, family fairness, issues of entitlement, and death. If families do feel compelled (or forced) to have these difficult conversations, some families jump into the conversations without skills, then wonder why things crash and burn. But these skills can be acquired

through practice and confidence. Communication is a skills-based sport.

“To get you started, I’ve listed 8 habits of successful family communications:

1. Ask questions

Most conversations are like a tennis match, with opinions volleyed back and forth until someone wins the point. When I went to break a volley of opinions in conversations I facilitate, I will not allow people to give a retort opinion until they ask 3 questions of the person who spoke. It’s good practice because it’s the first step in understanding other people’s perspective.

2. Match tone to desired outcome

Our tone of voice dictates how people will interpret what we are saying, regardless of what we actually say. I will often have someone practice restating a simple question such as ‘Where are you going?’ in 5 or 6 tones (aggressive, empathetic, intrusive, sincere…), so they can hear how the different tones sound. When people have unexpressed feelings that are different from what they are saying, their real sentiments often come through in their tone of voice.

3. Respond vs. react

If the “check engine” light means that something inside a car engine needs to be investigated, our reactions are the same—something is going on inside us that we need to explore. Generally we blame someone else for why we are reacting, and project the reason for our reactivity onto them. Reactions should always lead to reflection; ‘Why did I react? What just happened in me?’ This reflective look inside slows down the process and keeps the reactivity from escalating, getting aggressive, or becoming highly personal.

4. Avoid absolutizing

‘Absolutizing’ is a big word but an easy concept and skill. Simply do not use words or phrases—e.g., always, never, hopeless, forget it, I’m out of here, don’t talk to me—talk in a way that makes the conclusion absolute and cuts off the conversation. Effective communication gives people space for an opinion, leaves room for dialogue, allows for benefit of the doubt, and creates opportunity for engagement.

5. Process out loud

Learning to verbalize what you are thinking and feeling in a way that others can hear is a skill that can be developed. Often people come to me and say something like this: ‘I really want to talk with my kids about my estate plans…but we’re not good at sharing our thoughts out loud…the kids have very different views on wealth…are often confrontational with each other…so I have avoided talking with them at all and just make the decisions secretly myself. But that doesn’t feel good to me, so what do I tell them?’ My response is easy: ‘Your feelings and fears about having the conversation is the real agenda you need to discuss with them,’ so make this statement at the beginning to help frame the discussion.

6. Reprocess bad process

What is bad process? Shouting, hollering, reactivity, put-downs, walking out, shutting down, and anything else that does not foster healthy communication and relationships. Reprocessing bad process is more than saying you’re sorry. It is processing out loud what you were trying to say, and how you feel about the bad process.

7. Cultivate positive attributions

Attributions are the beliefs you hold about other people—and all speech and behavior follow our beliefs. I often have family members list all the attributions they hold about each other. Once we identify any negative attributions, we can work on changing or reframing them in a way that allows us to engage more effectively. Thinking or saying ‘you’re greedy’ is a negative attribution versus ‘help me understand what you might need.’

8. Do not personalize

Like beliefs, we sometimes forget that we can choose to take something personally or not, even if it was meant as a personal attack. If a spouse asks you to pick up your shoes, you actually have a choice: ‘Ok, they are my shoes, and I pick them up.’ But, even this small request can be personalized simply by weaving a story that says your spouse is a nag. Now, what if it’s really true? Your spouse is relentless, doesn’t appreciate you, or doesn’t help you very often. You can still choose to NOT personalize and to (1) pick up your shoes and (2) have a nonreactive conversation about how you feel and what you would like to change in the relationship.

“As with any hobby or sport, learning to communicate will take commitment and dedication to ensure progression. But by applying these guiding principles, your family communications—whether the discussion is about estate planning or health issues—become not only an opportunity to resolve concerns affecting multiple generations but, most importantly, an opportunity to inspire a collective investment in the most important asset of all: your family.”

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CURRENT EVENTS – SUMMER, 2019 – CONTINUED

We continue our review of current events and begin with:

Mass Shootings Demand Action

Since the year 2000, 475 innocent people have been killed and hundreds more wounded.

We can’t avoid it any longer. It should be illegal for private citizens to own an AK-47 or other military style weapons.

Enough is enough!

NBA Major Player Moves and Big Changes

All the excitement in the NBA actually started in June when Magic Johnson and his elite PR image shocked everyone by resigning as President of Laker Basketball Operations. In the process, he harshly criticized the GM and everyone else he left behind.

It was very unlike Magic. It wasn’t smart, it wasn’t cool, and it was very unprofessional. You think it had some influence on Kwali Leonard and others who came to visit but didn’t stay?

Golden State Warriors (GSW) Break Up The Old Gang

After playing in the last five NBA finals (unprecedented), GSW had some major changes:

• MVP Kevin Durant left to join the Brooklyn Nets on a four-year contract and brought Kyrie Irving with him. (Hmm, wonder why?)
• Andre Iguodala goes to Memphis. Jordan Bell to Minnesota and backup point guard Shaun Livingston is released.
• D’Angelo Russell (a Laker that got away) comes in on a four-year contract.

DeMarcus Cousins, after an injury-plagued year, goes to the Lakers to join Anthony Davis, who came to Lakerland on a trade, primarily arranged by LeBron James.

After paying a courtesy call at the Lakers, Kawli Leonard joins the Clippers with his buddy Paul George. Two others the Lakers passed on; Trevor Ariza went to Sacramento Kings and Julius Randle is now a New York Knick.

Russell Westover, 1-on-1 superstar, has opted to rejoin his 1-on-1 buddy James Harden in Oklahoma City. Both brilliant players whose teams never got far in the playoffs.

Prediction in the West Coast Conference: the Lakers will be No. 1, Clippers 2 and GSW 3.

Now a couple of observations:

A.  Jerry West, outstanding Lakers GM, became a consultant for GSW and helped put their winning team together. He’s now with the Clippers. With all the turmoil in Lakerland, why didn’t they bring him back?
B. There’s a new trend emerging when superstars Kevin Durant and Kwali Leonard changed teams, they bring a buddy with them.
C. Load Management is the new “in” word among several teams with aging superstars. Last year, Kwali Leonard only played in 60 games with the Toronto Raptors.

New Laker coach Frank Vogel has indicated he will implement the concept with Davis, James and Cousins. Wonder how the season ticket holders will embrace this concept. Maybe they’re telling us the 82 games regular season schedule is a little too long.

Apparently, Busing Is Still A Controversy

In the first Democratic debate, Kamala Harris badgered good ole boy Joe Biden about his somewhat shifting view on busing 50 years ago.

For some, bussing was a lifeline, a policy that profoundly changed their future by creating more opportunity. Others have called it counterproductive, heavy-handed and an unfortunate mistake.

R. Darrell Meadows grew up in Oklahoma City. Mr. Meadows, who is of Hispanic heritage, said he was bused from a predominantly white, working-class neighborhood to attend integrated schools across town, and that he is now “keenly aware of the ways my experience of busing irrevocably and positively shaped my perspective on the world by facilitating a greater diversity of childhood friendships.”

Joe Weinmunson grew up in rural Louisiana in an area where a busing decree was enforced in the 1980s. Mr. Weinmunson, who is white, wrote that busing “was one of the best things that could have happened for me.”

Mr. Weinmunson attended Natchitoches Central High School. “I was a white city boy who moved to the country to help care for my aging grandparents and their land. My school did nothing to dispel the worst concepts of poor, rural whites: insular, conservative, friendly enough as long as you were one of them.”

One year later, he was glad when he started to attend more integrated schools. “I spent far more time on the school bus than I ever wanted to, but the people and experiences I was exposed to were worth the dreary rides.”

Frederick Alcorn, a 70-year-old veteran, wrote that he went to Overbrook High School in Philadelphia from 1963 to 1966. The experience “did very little to advance the intention of integration,” wrote Mr. Alcorn, who is African-American. “The curriculum was Eurocentric and patriotic to an unexplained history of enslavement and conquest.”

Students self-segregated outside of the classroom, except for sports,” he added. They were also academically tracked to different floors of the schools “which quietly promoted degrees of classism among black students.” The teachers were primarily white, and those students who were not considered college-bound candidates didn’t get much attention.

Across the country, many Americans have argued that busing students to integrate schools was a failure, but research shows that integration measures like busing, when fully implemented, proved an effective tool in closing the achievement gap and building understanding across lines of race and class.

Medicare Report

The 2019 Medicare Trustees Report says:

A. Medicare will be insolvent in seven years
B. $48.5 billion in improper payments in the last fiscal year

Curbing that would help the march to insolvency.

It’s been an interesting summer; and with Congress on vacation, there shouldn’t be too much more to come.

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