Monday, October 19, 2020

Bright Flight

There has always been some of it: folks moving from place to place in the metro region seeking a better education for their children. These "better schools" tended to correlate strongly with distance with taxes and home prices exhibit an equally strong but negative correlation leaving commute time the only limiting factor. 

The pandemic changed all that.

Large numbers are working remotely and like it. Companies' comfort level is on the rise as results show increased productivity alongside reduced costs. Traditional schools are on life support, teachers are remote but inept at distance education, student contact time is low and incessant demands for more money have only grown louder. In DeKalb, parents perhaps were convinced by years of educator messaging that teachers, classrooms and schools are critical to the excellent education they've been told their children deserve and thought they were receiving. Now these same parents who want their children back in those most excellent schools are pushing back against reluctant teachers by regurgitating the Kool-Aid and it isn't a pretty sight as the bartenders have no appetite for the drinks they were serving. 

Many parents are staring at a tax bill where upwards of seventy percent goes to schools that are essentially down for the count. "Hell no-We won't go" is a broken record they cannot tolerate hearing. Teachers aren't coming back. Parents, at least some, will be "migrating" towards education for their child. 

Who are these parents? Who are their children? Will these be those most at-risk, those most negatively impacted by teachers' partial strike or will the be those children whose parents have the means and the priorities to ensure the best for their children? When the best and brightest are driven from traditional public schools why would they ever return?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Pandemic Delusion Syndrome

The pandemic seems to be closely related to some serious disturbances in the farce, with some new and some amplified continuations of previous farcical behaviours. Let's look at a few.

Shocking to some is the rapid development and rollout of the picnic table app, to which TOD would simply say: make sure you pack your own picnic basket. What has some folks aghast is the fact that they've been at it for a decade now and still cannot get an app in place for identifying, tracking and resolving code violations. 

This leads immediately to the city's "enforce on complaint" which is employed whenever someone at the city feels like it. Complain about trucks violating the no-truck zone? Tough luck. Your neighbor keeping his motorized trailer in his driveway? Well there are about 1500 reasons for the city to jump on that. Some have suggested this is a follow the money issue as they have been told that there is not enough money is ticketing trucks. Frankly if Dunwoody were to apply appropriate fines there would be hell to pay with the folks at city hall who work on behalf of local businesses. 

And there are quite a few on our payroll working for business interests. We have a director of economic development and that's not to help out home-based businesses with their SLUP applications. Then there is the manager of business retention. Really. Now what do you suppose they do? After all doesn't "manager" mean there are employees being "managed?" Funny how there is no "manager of neighborhood preservation" or "director of resident satisfaction." Come to think of it, it really is NOT funny. 

Then there is the whole DPD kerfuffle, a raging dumpster fire that has become Dunwoody's version of the eternal flame. We've had police shootings with two "civilians" killed. There have been DWB and civil rights violations some yielding expensive court cases. If that's not enough we face a string of pending cases alleging  sexual harassment and the Top Cop will not answer questions about what he knew, when he knew it and if that wasn't until a lawyer dropped a dime, how he could be so clueless about what was going on under his nose. It is worth noting that he was not the candidate preferred by the Police Task Force and he has now lost support in the community with some calling for his resignation. Here's the punchline: the Top Cop's side hustle is coaching other cops on how to be a police chief every bit as good as he.

That DWB history is coming back to haunt with the BLM movement and SSR confessions all around. But not Dunwoody. Our Top Cop trots out personnel stats showing we have enough Black officers but might be short on Asians--the inconvenient minority. This dismissive approach to SSR hasn't worked well in practice. 

And we move on to the racial/racist underpinnings of the city itself with King John protesting that there was "nothing racial goin' on" yet immediately there were plans made to drive out Hispanics in PIB apartments and the power structure of the city and all its satellite organizations remain lily-white. But no "spoon-feeding" in this town. 

Let's close for now with the non-stop hating laid on the village. What's with that? Why do so many folks, hired guns as well as the seven dwarfs, so hate the village? They are hell bent on eliminating the village overlay with particular animus towards sign ordinances. In their recent "public survey on signs" it was all about the village. What about the similar business-retail at Mt. Vernon and Jett Ferry? Why no questions about signs that might be appropriate there? Or how about the business-retail center at Chamblee Dunwoody near 285? Why is the village singled out for 3000 rental residents (and yes, they will be rental, sooner or later)? Why not preserve a vital, vibrant SUBURBAN shopping and business center that has grown, organically, to serve the needs of the surrounding suburban neighborhoods? The Mayorette claims the village is the commercial center of Dunwoody, a mental turd that stinks up her "shilling for business" claims that high density residential is necessary for the amenities she wants-like perhaps a pandemic petri dish? Maybe she should head south from her office and see the real commercial center or maybe she should just lead the way for our top cop by submitting her resignation so the residents and voters have a chance to get someone who represents their interests.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Why Not? Here's Why...

Someone posed the ponderafication of "why didn't they consider 'instant runoffs'?", with "they" being the folks trying to re-write the city charter. What's an "instant runoff" you ask? Well it is a scheme specifically designed to address the money and time costs of runoff elections while hewing true to the democratic notion that citizens have a right to vote.  The system is quite simple. When you cast your ballot you select your first choice, then your second, then third and so on to n-1, where n is the number of options. When there is no candidate with a majority then the votes for the lowest vote-getter go to the candidate selected by the voter on their ballot. This iterates until a candidate achieves a majority. The winner may not be everyone's top choice but at least it isn't someone that a majority voted against. 

So why didn't the folks trashing the charter go for this? Others have. The largest anti-rationalization is that it is complicated and not everyone will list a secondary or tertiary preference. So? Not voting is a voter's choice, just as valid as any other. Furthermore, taken to the extreme should all the electorate chose not to chose secondary candidates this scheme devolves to the "plurality wins" scheme the charter hackers recommend. 

So that cannot be the real issue, can it? The real issue is as simple as it is obvious: partisan politics.

Democrats and Republics are equally addicted to power and riches that control over government and politics affords them. They enjoy a duopoly they will not easily relinquish and will defend at all costs. Even if it means destruction of "little d" democracy as we're watching with the Charter Commission. 

Instant runoffs are a threat to their power (and money) because it greatly increases the chances for third party candidates to gain office. Suppose an election offers these candidates: a Republican Right Wingnut; a Democratic Left Wingnut; and a third party candidate holding down the middle. With the current vote+runoff scheme few that might otherwise support the centrist will instead feel they must vote for the lesser of the two major party evils lest the greater of the two, in their opinion, win the election. In the current scheme a vote for a third party candidate is either a protest vote or a wasted vote. The plurality scheme further marginalizes third party candidates while increasing power of the incumbent party as any votes siphoned off by a third party candidate are likely to go to the party not currently holding the office. The current scheme limits third party viability, undermining democracy and the plurality scheme only makes it worse. 

And the Democrats and Republicans who appointed the Charter Commission really, really like it that way. 

This is despite the fact that instant runoff is not a guaranteed threat to the duopoly. Suppose the three aforementioned candidates are running for mayor with the Republican getting 40%, the Democrat 35% and the third party 25%. [Yes, the race is technically non-partisan but we all know who is waving what color flag.] With no clear majority the third party candidate is dropped and the votes re-counted with the third party supporters votes going to their second choice. As a result the winner will have a majority and in this example could in fact be the Democrat. Because THAT is the will  of the people. Apparently NOT the will of the Commission. 

Though not guaranteed, instant runoff is a very real threat to the duopoly. Suppose in the same election is held with aforementioned bitter polarization of the main parties and that this acrimony is such that many True Blues and Red Bloods would really prefer another choice than their own party offers, but certainly not the other team's. With instant runoff, voting third party is no-harm no-foul as they can select their party's candidate as the second choice. It would also mean that staunch partisans can vote third party as their second choice denying the opposing party the win should their party not make the runoff. So if the numbers are Republican 40%, Democrat 25% and third party 35% it is possible, perhaps likely, that the third party candidate will take the win in the instant runoff. Is there any Republican or Democrat that wants to see THAT happen? 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

For Whom The School Bell Tolls

The back-to-school bell is about to ring and it isn't clear if that bell is not cracked. In DeKalb many of the hell-no-we-won't-go teachers appear serious about not showing up, though some will seek paycheck protection under the FMLA. The focus has been on the most vocal group, the teachers, but will parents heed the call and send in the kids?

The hybrid approach offers limited schoolhouse time and the rule of "one is remote--all are remote" mitigates almost all of what value there may be to in-the-classroom presence. The limited schedule will not provide the freedom that parents who cannot work from home need to get their jobs done. For parents able to stay at home the crippling limitations of hybrid may cause further disengagement. What will they do? What are their options? And since this is DeKalb, what are their demographics?

In many cases options are already being explored. Edu-Pods are forming. Homeschool is getting a serious look by parents that otherwise would never have considered that option. Virtual academics, beyond the DCSD OJT option, are gaining traction. And there are always private schools with increased demand driving the creation of new schools.

Options are limited by the demographics of the parents. High income, already-remote workers can leverage most if not all of these options. As the collar shifts from white to blue, viable options fall off. This phenomena will vary by geography to the extent that income and flexibility vary. And it will probably track voting characteristics as well.

And the result? Many who can will leave the public school system leaving behind those philosophically wedded to public education and those who simply cannot access other options. The demographic skew will push towards an impoverished school system with little hope of overcoming longstanding, systemic financial, operational and educational failings.

If you thought things at DeKalb County Schools could not get any worse this pandemic may be enlightening.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Assassinating Democracy

Dunwoody's movers and shakers, by way of the Charter Commission, have tracked down democracy, slipped a knife in the back and started twisting. On the one hand they disparage voter turnout while simultaneously extending a term limit for the mayor guaranteed to discourage voter engagement. 

But that is not the mortal wound.

They want to do away with runoffs in contested races. Really! They actually approved that. Why? Because it cost too much money. That's right. They don't think that our vote is worth the cost. It gets better. In a move that would make Goebbels blush they claim that runoffs are anti-democratic because of reduced voter turnout. What it actually does is provide for installing a "winner" who had more voters against them than for them. And this would be in contests where interest is so high that more than two candidates vie for the slot. And they call this "democratic."

That's odious enough to back a buzzard off a gut wagon. 

For those who weren't here or have forgotten, this city was founded by a referendum vote held mid-summer in a presidential election year. This was a brazen voter suppression tactic. Oh, and by the way, it cost more money than having the referendum on the November ballot. 

And the hypocrisy runs deep. Many on this commission were 'playas in the day' with one being a member of the first city council. It is tempting to lob a 'shame on you' their way but shame requires character and being a character doesn't mean you have any.

Instead let's take pragmatism to the extreme. What the folks on this commission know better than most is exactly who this city was intended to serve from the get-go. So do the folks at city hall. So why not just cut to the chase and cut out the citizens and their vote altogether? Why does it have to be such a bloody murder? Why euphemize democracy when we can euthanize? 

Let's have the people this city really serves select the mayor and council. The city manager can pick two for council to represent the overlapping, redundant headcount in the city bureaucracy. The director of economic development picks another two to represent business interests profiteering from our community. And the Developers' Authority can pick the mayor and two more on council since they are the biggest of the big dogs getting fat on city hall largess. 

And think of the money we'd save.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Value Of Virtue Signalling

Academia is a weird, wonderful and entertaining place. Faculty members and administrators turn to the left harder than a NASCAR driver. They are windsocks wagging feverishly in even the slightest winds of political correctness. That they admit to being the smartest folk on the planet only adds to the humor value of their herd mentality and constant demonstrations of "failure to think things through." 

And now none other than the President of Princeton has proclaimed that Princeton is now and always has been systemically and structurally racist. Yes indeed. He went there. A contrary perspective was offered up by a Mathematics professor. Unsurprising as Math seems the last remaining bastion of logic in academia.

But then it got interesting.

While the Princeton President was basking in the glory of self flagellation he seems to have forgotten that he actually said this stuff out loud. And someone heard him. Someone from outside the apparently appropriately named Ivory Tower. The head of the Department of Education heard him loud and clear. And now? The DOE wants their money back. Seems he didn't realize that his wonderfully PC admission of SSR was also an admission that Princeton had also violated Title VI, a direct contradiction of former statements that Princeton was in compliance. And that compliance is a requirement for Federal funds. Funds Princeton has already received. Funds they may well be required to return.

To the tune of $75M.

While we may not know the value of virtue signalling but we are about to find out about the cost.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Virtual Reality

The rhetoric around a return to in-class instruction is heating up in Dekalb. Hyperbolic comments (no risk is worth taking; blood on hands) are being made and hard-line stances (quit before I go back) have been taken. Some of this is emotional, perhaps the result of fear-mongering from some camps and some is political-after all, what isn't these days? In one sense this is a detachment from reality but in another this is all very real. And it suggests a very interesting thought exercise.

Let's take the "hell no, we won't go" teachers' position, take them at their word and see where that takes us. It may just be a better place.

If we accept that virtual learning is the exclusive modality until such a time as there is no risk of anyone, particularly teachers and their loved ones, falling ill due to SARS-CoV2 then what does that really mean? Even with a vaccine that meets the FDA sixty percent efficacy and given the presence of clandestine anti-vaxxers the condition for return-to-school will not be met for the foreseeable future, if ever. And now reports are emerging of a virus mutation that is even more contagious than the previous variant. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that all "learning" will be "virtual" from here on.

There is an issue on which teachers have been somewhat contradictory. In spring there was much concern about the effectiveness of virtual learning, about the difficulty (primarily for the teachers) and confusion around the technology involved. More recently in their push back against returning to the classroom protesting teachers are waving placards touting their skills: "I can teach online just fine." Clearly that needs to be evaluated and fortunately there is a "control" for comparison.

And this is where parents come into play. They've been exposed to classroom teachers pivoting to virtual but Georgia is blessed with several online/virtual academies. These operations were built from the ground up for exactly the modality that classroom teachers are (indirectly and inadvertently) demanding. It should be a straightforward comparison between a classroom teacher who seems to think a bitmoji classroom is critical vs someone who is a "virtual native." 

This brings us to the fun part of the thought experiment: what does the future hold?

For parents and their children it offers flexibility and mobility in the day-to-day and longer-term. Once education is virtual, why stay in DeKalb? The real estate market hasn't crashed, mortgage rates are low and a move to a lower-cost locale would free up cash to cover the cost of proctoring/supervision. If the wage earners are remote workers all one really needs is reliable, high speed internet. There is the issue of special needs students who cannot be remote but by removing a majority of students in-person facilities can be made safe for these students and their teachers and more resources will be available for their needs.

For classroom teachers the situation is a bit bleak. They may prefer "virtual learning" to what they dramatize as "certain death" but what hasn't sunk in is this means they are now remote workers. Begs some questions. Are they remote enough? Could we obtain more bang for fewer bucks with English teachers in Iowa and Math teachers in Massachusetts? Do they even need to be in this country? Many foreigners do quite well in English and are far more conversant in Math than the average U.S. K-12 teacher.

Which leads another consequence of virtual learning. Thinking that all you need to do is video conference or live-stream your normal classroom performance is wrong thinking. This is a major paradigm shift and, as classroom teachers are pointing out, this requires a completely different process. It also offers enormous opportunity. We all know most teachers hover around average and there are, as in any endeavor, some absolutely outstanding performers. With properly designed and managed virtual learning this sage can be on many stages, multiple times with lesser "guides by the sides" ensuring students stay on task, get answers to questions and have moderated discussions with fellow students. 

But even this is just polishing an old apple that is well beyond its use-by date. We have burned through twenty years of the twenty first century and the era of the little red schoolhouse ended decades ago. We are surrounded by technology that listens to us, responds to our queries and commands. We have cars that watch us drive and alert us when we're falling down on the job. Services understand us well enough to individualize services giving what we want, when we want it. They understand enough of us well enough to continually improve their services. Robots have entered the home as elder-care companions and child playmates. Handheld computers recognize us by face and fingerprint. Augmented reality is being used to entertain, inform and guide. 

We are immersed in sophisticated technology. Except in school. We have the capability, right here, right now, to create a system that provides individualized educational experiences that adapt in real time for each student in each subject. Constant adaption means constant evaluation and the end of high-stakes testing. AI analysis across populations drives ongoing improvement of various pedagogical techniques, modalities, and content creation and delivery. Technology makes every moment a teaching moment and eliminates boundaries between subjects and the arbitrary [mis]alignment of grade levels. Each individual learns each thing at their own rate in the manner best suited to that learner. 

If parents choose to pursue these goals, to push for this technological revolution, then thank a teacher-one of those who decided to step aside, making way for a twenty first century system.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Baby It's Cold Outside

At next week's Mayor's Meetup, where she will NOT explain her support for gutting the Village Overlay, Citizens will be treated to Dunwoody's Top Cop and Chairman of the Dick Pic Society.


And the turtles are frightened

But be there or be square. Bring photo ID for proof of residency and your camera-you never know what's going to jump out at you.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Anecdotes And Analogies And Adverbs

The back and forth bickering between teachers, who're getting jiggy with the whole work from home model and parents, who want a return to school because parents may not enjoy the luxury of "pay without presence" has become [en]trenched warfare. 

Parents want their kids F2F in the classroom and are using many of the tried and true arguments of the great importance of socialization among their cohort and the benefits of communal settings for "collaborative" learning. Parents know that their kids learn best when they're in a classroom with a teacher that "cares about them." There is no more hard data supporting these conclusions now than there ever was so it is only the anecdotal mythology that is being repurposed. DeKalb's parents are pointing to other districts with in-person classes with envy and increasing anger. Perhaps they should have made that comparison before they chose to live in DeKalb.

Teachers, spring's heroes and fall's traitors, were initially blindsided and faced a two-front battle. One was the ongoing "we don't get paid enough for this," with this being online, remote work. When confronted with the possibility that they would be required to get their asses back in the classes, teachers attempted a quick pivot to "hell no! we won't go!" Unfortunately, their new position is undermined by their age old, self-supporting arguments. 

What is missing are hard data, raw data. There is a surplus of opinion, narrative and misleading comparisons. You cannot even discuss the evaluation criteria of LMS-es without it devolving into citations of industry-self-promotional awards rather than quantifiable metrics of various systems under consideration. Those unhappy with the selection are equally at fault with nothing more than personal preference gilded with adverbs, anecdotes and vague references to everyone else. 

Teachers want folks to believe that being in a classroom with the same snot-nosed kids they embraced every year prior puts them in greater risk that Father Damien. They simply cannot put together a coherent argument because in the past their rationalizations were accepted without question. No longer. When they make the comparison that they are at far greater risk, because they are around so many others, than, say a Kroger employee, most folks, especially Kroger shoppers, roll their eyes. They try to trot out studies, which must be cherry-picked as there are as many that undermine as support their position. They undermine international comparisons, where F2F schools are in operation, by suggesting these countries have better leadership. Again, by some untold metrics. 

What it really comes down to is there has been a serious disturbance in the farce. Parents may still think their little precious is the greatest gift to mankind, but teachers are no longer willing to go overboard to support this notion or to leverage it to their own ends--give us more money. The pandemic has cured the Lake Wobegon Effect with parents now firmly convinced that their children are NOT going to the best school on the planet, that they are NOT getting the best education if in fact they are getting an education at all. Because they're not going at all. 

Teachers are angry at the notion they are "free daycare," which only makes sense if you never see your property tax bill. Silence from the parents confirms the daycare assertion but teachers' surprise is laughable. Schools have been touted, and repurposed, to address every societal ill except teaching and learning. In the spring the education industry predicted a tsunami of undetected child abuse because it is the teachers who are the [only] responsible adult in many children's lives and they've taken on the role of social worker. So why NOT daycare as well? Learning fell off the To Do list when teachers shifted from "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide by the Side" and prioritized "fun" over knowledge and skills acquisition.

Teachers feel threatened and put upon. They're pissed and they are doing what they always do, at least in DeKalb: threaten to quit. 

Parents are equally if not more angry. Sure, in the past they deluded themselves into various beliefs that public schools were all good. Social skills. Best education anywhere. Athletics. There was some weird common, almost mass delusion, shared by parents and educators, all singing from the same hymnal, all preaching from a common text, speaking in tongues and spouting reflexive responsorial psalms. Hidden behind all this was a "social contract" that schools would always be there, that schools would care for (and about) their children and that they would be able to "have it all"--career and kids. 

Now teachers are rethinking their careers and parents are rethinking progressive philosophies that underpin public schools. Maybe both are heading in the best direction for all of society.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cheese And Crackers For That Whine?

As it turns out it isn't just DeKalb County School teachers.  Teachers across the country are bowing up under pressure to go back to school. They are also pushing back on the onerous burden of learning. Learning how to use technology. How to prepare videos that actually work. Learning that you cannot pretend that Zoom is effectively projecting your in-class "learning is fun and entertaining schtick" on the students' screens and into their parents' sight. Even for rehearsed comedy sketches an audience is required for the taped performance. For improv the audience isn't the important thing, it is the only thing. So teachers feel confused and angry. Oh, yeah, and underpaid. They're mind-boggled at the notion that in-class students will be using the same paradigm as remote students though there is a simple explanation from folks who have been at this a while. Teachers see this as an indication of a strong "Day Care Are Us" component to their role. They are also beginning to learn, at least subconsciously, that video recorded teaching, when done properly, poses an existential threat. Excellent video lessons taught by top notch experts, perhaps the college professors that taught them, would be better, more effective, than the bottom four quintiles of current teachers. Many teachers would be replaced with parapro-s or in the extreme case by some of those pesky parents. 

But teachers are forcing change. Across the country they are retiring or quitting in significant numbers. Significant enough that some school systems are lowering qualification requirements for substitutes (for now) to align with what the community expects and demands from their school systems. And yes, that is day care. 

So. What to do? What about DCSD? Well a here's a few suggestions. Support, even encourage early retirement for teachers. This would be at reduced payout and help restore some financial stability to the retirement program. Allow teachers to quit without penalty. Consider it a CoVid Terror Escape Clause to the contract. Institute a rigorously enforced policy of no more than one non-classroom employee for every five classroom employees where classroom employees are those that actually have responsibilities that require their presence in classroom and their time outside the classroom is in direct support of classroom responsibilities. In the old days, before "educators", these were known as "teachers." Eliminate tenure for new teachers.

These measures would benefit the school system by reigning in operational costs and improving financial stability. Twenty percent G&A overhead should be more than adequate, and if not, perhaps greater turnover should be considered. Over time tenured teachers with no incentive to learn and innovate would be replaced by new, teachable replacements. Many current teachers would benefit by offering their services to the greater business community where their high degree of education, extensive experience and enormous talents would surely be rewarded by pay comparable to other, equally qualified professionals. 

Is that a win-win? Or, a whine-whine?