Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fractured Fairy Tale

It starts as most do...
Once upon a time, long, loonnggg ago, there was an honest elected official in DeKalb County, Georgia...
Well  you know how that story ends...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Obama Apologizes

Regarding the "unfortunate collateral damage" from a drone strike on a "shall not be called Islamic" terrorist group the President of the United States found himself offering an apology to some non-Islamic folk for a change:
"Look, I was in the War Room where I'd just finished an episode of House of Cards and I was jacked so I picked up the game controller and started playing. I thought it was just a game. I had no way of knowing it was real. I didn't even know about any of this until I saw it on the news. But to be perfectly clear I'm really sorry no one told me earlier. "

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Post : Atlanta 12

This is a response to all the people—from judges to journalists and everyone in between-- jabbering about the Atlanta 12 being responsible for hundreds or thousands of Atlanta's students failing school due to their CRCT answers being changed by adults who should have known better.


If guilty, the Atlanta 12 committed two “crimes”: cowardice and greed. The cowardice was nutured by fears of job loss, poor performance reviews, or loss of reputation; greed was enhanced by a monetary reward system tied to student performance on the CRCTs.  But good people do not succumb to the easy lures of promotion and money. So they are guilty as charged. But to credit these dozen educators with the dismal failures and poor performances of the public school system is neither justified nor sensical.

One test, administered over one to three school days per year, does not determine a child's success. As an indicator of what the child needs academically, it is second-rate at best. That's why you have teachers in a classroom. Otherwise, save us all time and money and put kids at computers. Some of the convicted educators never spent a single day in the classroom of some of the students whose poor education has been labeled their fault—all because they changed CRCT answer sheets.

School years approximate 180 days. Who allowed these children to spend a year or more making little/no forward progress? Who promoted these students to the next grade? What have classroom teachers been told to do with students incapable of doing grade-level work?

The fact that someone changed answers on a 5th grader's CRCT exam does NOT explain why the 5th grader was promoted 4 times (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade) and still can't read. A CRCT scores does not explain why an 8th grader can't multiply or solve a simple math problem. And if a parent or teacher needs a CRCT score to know this about the child, no one is doing the job.

Assume that classroom teachers have college degrees and educational training. The CRCT is given during the last quarter of the school year. Is it really the first time teachers (or parents) realize their children are not performing? If so, why? A good teacher can identify an illiterate student in a time frame between 5 minutes and 5 days. Why are CRCT results then such a big deal?

The argument that a poor showing would signal the need for remediation and help is silly. A teacher and a parent should know those signs because they see them every single day. These kids are not suffering because they were denied help because they did poorly on the CRCT but the cheating covered this up. These kids suffer due to poverty, poor parenting, horrible living conditions, undiagnosed conditions that hamper learning, and a generations-long community attitude that gives education a very low priority.

In the famous story “The Emperor's New Clothes,” an entire village jumps on a bandwagon led by two schemers who make “invisible clothes of such refinement and quality” that their work is never questioned. Commissioned by the emperor, they become rich, sewing things that were not really there. When the emperor parades through town to show off his new wardrobe, villagers “ooh” and “aaah” until one small boy summons the courage to shout, “He's naked. The Emperor is naked.”

Georgia public schools need a hero like that little boy—someone with the courage to shout out loud the real reasons students are failing to reach their potential. The Emperor needs some real clothes.

Monday, April 20, 2015

No Kidding

You've probably heard that Georgia's House of Representatives Majority Leader has resigned his post and his elected office to take an appointment as the administrative law judge of the Georgia Tax Tribunal. Governor Deal made the appointment on Thursday last week. Of course this opening gives the voters of his district the opportunity to elect his replacement. While there have been no formal announcements we in The Other Dunwoody have it on good authority that a surprise candidate will be vying for the slot: our very own Snow White, Nancy Jester.

A soon-to-be former confidant with insider knowledge says something like this has been part of the plan all along and that such an opportunity came sooner rather than later is merely a happy coincidence. Not entirely a surprise as our soon-to-be former County Commissioner had inside information of the upcoming changes in the lower house as it evolved. When asked if this were an office where she would complete an entire term (if elected but we all know she will be) the confidant was circumspect: "Keeping in mind this opportunity arose suddenly who is to say another, higher office might present itself or when that might happen?" "We knew all along that Ms. Jester's political ambitions would not long be satisfied with an office restricted to the County level--it's just not in the cards."

And the timing could not be more fortuitous for the Jesters. Her failure to live up to her campaign obligation of cleaning the House that Boyer Built was harshly exposed when her (and Miz Elaine's) Chief of Staff was bookended between verbal pugilism with an Ethics Board member and a felony indictment related to actions taken in his official capacity. It isn't clear if her preferred Chief of Staff will tag along as she moves onward and upward or whether he will be otherwise occupied. This opportunity also allows her husband, a DeKalb School Board Member, to advance to the rear without the ignominy of appearing to back down in his fight against what he sees as a draconian background check.

Apparently site selection has begun with houses in and near Perry making the short list and Houston Lake homes quickly becoming top contenders. The search for a selling agent is rumored to be underway but for all the interested agents out there the window of opportunity is closing. And this is more than just another stepping stone for an ambitious politician, this is a lifestyle upgrade. Schools could hardly be worse than in DeKalb and given their insider knowledge the Jesters would know more than most. Same for the operations of this dysfunctional county. While some have criticized the move as running away from problems they helped create and that it is unseemly as newcomers to Perry to take this position from natives, supporters point out that the Jesters weren't born and raised in Dunwoody either. They also point out that problems in DeKalb pre-date their entry into the state let alone politics and the fixes they have advocated take significantly more time than circumstances have allowed. They also point out that Miz Jester will bring her Tea Party sensibilities to a larger stage where she can bring her political leadership to a broader audience. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guest Post : Colleges Cannot Afford Their Own Tuition Bills

One of the biggest financial burdens Americans face is college debt. Student loan debt is higher than the national credit card debt (which is kinda ironic because a lot of people try to pay their bills with credit cards). Even more of a rut-roh is the reality that student loan debt cannot be forgiven upon declaring bankruptcy--you are NEVER getting out of this. And this college-debt burden is not restricted to the 99% (or the complement of the 1%). I recently went on a series of (what will probably retrospectively be "good stories") dates with someone who graduated from a highly-ranked, highly-selective college his GRANDFATHER was president of for twenty years; he "only" had $80,000 of debt left five years after earning his four-year degree. And this was a person who literally and figuratively was grandfathered in and provided with what in academia amounts to an "employee discount" on tuition. And let's not even begin to talk about any law or med-school student. Those 3-4 year post-baccalaureate programs NEVER give students scholarships or stipends. You want to know why your doctor charges $150 for a five-minute visit or why your lawyer charges you for every word he utters? It's because they're up to their eyeballs in debt.

Just so we can say we did, let's talk about public colleges and universities. Many--like those in the university system of Georgia--have a history of giving in-state residents essentially free rides; it used to be that if you had a 3.0 GPA and were an in-state student at any public college in Georgia, you were good to go. The HOPE scholarship (running mostly on lottery funds) would cover your bill. Except…the state started going broke. Oops? What did they do to remedy this situation? They raised the minimum GPA requirement. Instead of a 3.0 for a full ride, you needed a 3.2 (or something like that…You get the idea. Less than 10% increase.). Suddenly, there was an uproar. Critics argued that--among other things--this would prevent students from majoring in STEM subjects, which historically are "tougher" than BA classes and subsequently feature lower average GPAs. Others argued that this would "weed out" lower-income students or first-generation college-goers and those who may not have *the* strongest of education backgrounds. Imagine this: you have a 3.55 high school GPA (qualifying you for a full ride), but from a really craptastic public school. I don't care if it's inner city or the setting for Deliverance. Everyone--whether he admits it or not--knows you are going to struggle to keep that up. You lose HOPE, literally and figuratively, you can't stay in college without loans or at all…and you're out.

Now for the private schools. The ones, in particular, that are well-established (interpret at will). First, why do they care about subsidizing student debt--they're going to get paid anyway, right? Well, it actually does comes down to money. And--unlike a lot of public schools--private schools also care a LOT about how they look. They need to--they can't rely on the state governments or taxes for their money. They rely solely on the ability to convince "everyday people" to give them ridiculous amounts of money. So if you advertise zero debt and no loans, the number of applications (and application fees) you receive is going to shoot through the roof. That is a HUGE money maker. Think of the statistics you always hear: 34295 people applied to be in the Harvard class of 2018 with an application fee of $75 (that means you're being paid almost three million dollars just to CONSIDER applications). And the number of applicants increasing drastically means your acceptance rate is going to decrease which makes your school automatically (yet vacuously) "more selective". And that makes you very prestigious. Oh, and then there's the highly politically incorrect (yet highly realistic) truth that private schools spin this as a way they are "diversifying" their student body. No more is this just a school for old money WASPs, Asian kids whose intelligence no one can deny, and the occasional Jew. Now YOU can attend the same schools the presidents did, the schools where the Nobel prize winners work, and you can't afford it WE'LL PAY THE BILL FOR YOU! This is the American dream! This is democracy, fairness, and equality at their best!

But…and there are of course a few exceptions…even the private schools can't afford this.

The first widely-acknowledged school to start a no-loan/no-debt policy is Princeton. They've done this for close to fifteen years. But it's Princeton. Their endowment is almost 20 BILLION DOLLARS. They are not going anywhere anytime soon and they can take the financial hit. Because it started a trend that made them look extra prestigious, of course others felt the need to follow suit. Ivies such as Dartmouth seconded the emotion. Even the top-tier liberal arts colleges (which still have HIGHLY nontrivial endowments) such as Williams ran to join the cool kids' club. Press releases were issued. The deans and presidents were quoted in Forbes and US News and World Report. The schools were praised for their generosity and forward-thinking. But they hit the same road block that the state colleges of Georgia did; namely, they couldn't handle their own tuition bills. THIS is not highly publicized (so, see the references below) but Dartmouth and Williams both had to suspend their no-loan/zero-debt programs--Williams did it after only three years (so, not even seeing the inaugural class to graduation). Their endowments respectively are $3.4 billion and $2.25 billion. And they could not afford this level of generosity.

What about those still playing ball? My date's highly selective college states on their own websites that 40% of their student body receives need-based financial aid packages from the college, with the average aid package valued at $45,000 a year. With 740 kids that's $33.3 million. A YEAR. Over 5% of their endowment and Lord-knows how much of the general operating budget which also pays for tenure-track positions that keep class sizes low and intimate, and fund study abroad opportunities and bring in guest lecturers. This is not looking very sustainable.

But here's the real kicker. The private schools--including the ever-successful Princeton--frequently lack the ONE caveat the public schools insist upon. That is, they do NOT enforce a GPA minimum beyond that which just constitutes "not failing out". That means they offer academic scholarships to highly prestigious institutes of learning that are not merit-based (or, if you want to be really picky, not merit-REwarded). Does that make sense? Yes, you have to work to get in. Yes, it's almost a lottery that decides whether or not you're in the chosen few. But after you get in, you really don't have to do anything to STAY in? In what alternate universe are the academic rules and regulations of the University of Georgia more strict than those of Princeton?

You could argue that problem will fix itself. Not doing well in school and not having connections will eventually kick students in the rear. Doesn't matter where they went. A friend of mine is a highly intelligent, highly lazy Princeton grad. He has no debt, which is good, because he's essentially unemployable; he's got a GPA so low there's no way to spin it positively on his resume (and so when the question comes up in interviews, the answers are always stellar). He almost failed out. He did not get to know any of his professors (and wasn't doing well in their classes), so his letters of rec are vague at best. He was not involved in any clubs or organizations (because he couldn't afford it in the cases of eating houses or because he was too busy going to the parties the eating houses hosted). But, he's got a degree from Princeton.

Why is this such a big deal? There is an unending list of students willing, wanting, and waiting to go to these "elite" schools; is keeping someone who is not earning their intellectual keep worth it? ESPECIALLY when the bill is so high?


Monday, April 13, 2015

Cheap Jeans

Dunwoody is not widely known as a location for thrifty shoppers. Not only is The Mall a pretty expensive place to shop and dine, we made damn sure there would never be a Goodwill store within our borders. So where does one go for reasonably priced knock-about jeans?

Well, this won't be another grumpy rant about how Dunwoody is lacking whatever service or facility is most appealing at the moment, be it biking, balling, skeet or skating. Nope, TOD has found a source for jeans priced below $20 a pair. Not just in daWood but in daVille.

These are not just any jean, these are painter's pants complete with the hammer loops (who paints with a hammer?) and those nifty thigh-holster cellphone pockets. And these are not cheaply made items that fall to pieces after the third wash. No sir. These are work pants. Dickies. Being work pants they are not only durable, they come in "worker sizes" and a "comfort fit," suitable for folks of a certain gravitas. And if you've got the build for it, they are available in shorts. If you don't have such a build, please spare us.

So where da hell in daVille do you get your mitts on these <$20 jewels? Well, they ARE painter's pants. That's right, you can pick these bad boys up at our recently opened Sherwin Williams paint store. Rush on over before they're all gone.

Oh, they sell paint too.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lessons Learned

There has been a lot of handwringing and lipflapping over the APS cheaters, the trial, their conviction and their soon-to-be-announced sentences. Some want to "put this behind us and move forward", educrat code words for "sweep it under the rug." Pre-trial APS and Bev cheerleaders from the political and business communities would like to see tarnished reputations mellow into a soft patina. Some parents are actually happy ignoring the systemic issues and comfort themselves with the notion that "we've caught ALL the cheaters, everything is fine now."

But there is much to be learned from this experience.

Let's start with race and get that out of the way. It appears that well educated, respected black defendants can no longer reliably expect acquittal with an octoroon jury. In this case the jury was otherwise adequately black yet all but one of the defendants was convicted, with those found guilty being convicted on at least the RICO charges, if not additional charges. Nonetheless these defendants, who had turned their noses up to a plea agreement were sincerely stunned when they were found guilty by a "jury of their peers." It was these defendants' judgment that no matter how damning the facts of the case that a "black enough" jury would never convict a black educator. Wrong.

Then there is the "of course they cheated" defense mostly offered by APS and public education apologists attempting to deflect blame towards "high stakes" testing. The implicit "as anyone would" should be noted, because there is perhaps a bit of truth in that.

When one defines "cheating" as "not providing children with the education that taxpayers have purchased" one realizes the system they  built is structured to support such cheating and will likely drive out anyone not aligned with those goals. It is a system that advances students without regard for accomplishment and the educators leverage the transient nature of failing students and mask their activity with grade inflation. This makes the argument that these few convicted APS bad actors stole "opportunity" for access to tutoring or early intervention/remediation by changing test answers ring hollow. From the educators' point of view remediation belongs exclusively in the early years of college and apparently the University System agrees.

That leads us to the another part of these educators' ecosystem that makes cheaters of them all: colleges of education. While universities generally offer remediation to teach "everything you should have learned thru high school" in a few short semesters, colleges of education combine grade inflation (everyone gets an 'A') with watered down content, particularly subject matter content. They aren't pumping out legions of 4.0 wielding graduates because education attracts the best and brightest. Instead it is because that is what sells, and in fact is required, in the education marketplace. Should any college break ranks and award meaningful grades students would flee to colleges that know and play the game. From pre-K to retirement these folks are somehow involved in the little lies we know as grade inflation.

It should come as no surprise that newly minted educators do not join a work place instituted as a meritocracy. They've never encountered one before. In fewer years than it took to get the college degree they will enjoy quasi-tenure and no matter how obvious their incompetence they are immune to dismissal. And teaching is a bit like pornography--you can't define good (or bad) teaching but you sure as hell know it when you see it. And so does everyone in education, including the bad teachers. So it turns out that everything they know they did learn in kindergarten: everybody gets a gold star--which only amplified their shock when the jury did NOT award them the easy A, a gold star or just give them a pass.

So will they, those that remain, cheat? Of course. That's what they've always done, what they are doing and what they will be doing for the foreseeable future. No matter how distant your sight horizon. But would they falsify documents? THEY ALREADY ARE! Every time a grade report is submitted with an inflated grade someone has falsified a state document. Every time they cash a paycheck knowing full well they have not, cannot and will not provide the service for which they are being paid, they commit theft. If a true professional, say a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, did only once what our educators do on a daily basis they would lose their license and very likely go to prison.

Which brings us to the sentencing phase...

Now that they are tried and convicted they await sentencing. Some say jail time is too harsh. That these career educators should not be housed with hardened criminals. That we must temper justice with mercy. There must be a second chance. But are their soon-to-be-colleagues "hardened criminals" or are they simply former students--product of the pre-K to prison pipeline these "educators" have operated for years? Perhaps that is the second chance. The opportunity to educate those students they failed during their careers as unindicted felons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Butterfly Defect

Doctors are often accused of playing God* and should take care when they do, but it is with even greater care that lesser folk should play Doctor.

Flash back about two years...

A teenager, around 15 years old suffers from heart disease, a particular condition that will prove fatal, possibly in short order. These are circumstances that warrant consideration of a transplant. But...Consideration is not the same as "Guaranteed On-Time Delivery." This is not Fedex. This consideration generally considers many factors: overall health of the recipient; psychological and lifestyle evaluations; and assessment of the recipient's likelihood of following the rigorous post-transplant medical regimen. Some considerations are viewed as harsh but they are driven by the reality that need far exceeds supply. These assessments inherently assign value to the lives of individuals and determine who lives and who dies based on relative value. But who would really recommend transplanting a heart, a life, into a 68 year old grandfather while denying life to a 30 year old father of two preschoolers?

But in this case medical considerations did not carry the day as the medical assessment indicated the heart, with its rare gift of life should go to some other recipient than our 15 year old. The medical considerations for denial relied on the psychological and lifestyle evaluations which, since the candidate was black, were met with cries of profiling and racism. The cause was taken up by local media as an attention grabbing cause célèbre -- they spoke of "his journey." Political pressure was added to the pressure of Political Correctness forcing a reversal of the medical decision that resulted in an at-risk black youth being given the second chance he, at the time, so adamantly claimed he would treasure.

And now his journey has ended and ended badly. So badly that had his body rejected the heart, killing him from medical complications it would be far better than the truth he created, the journey he took given his second chance. He is alleged to have done many things, but it is certain that he fled the police in a car that was not his to drive, a chase ending with him hitting a pedestrian before crashing into a an obstacle that ended his own life. And stopped forever the beating of the donor's heart.

He also proved wrong all those who said the Doctors' judgment was in error and did so at great cost and risk of even greater cost. Transplant is a zero sum game and if there is any upside it is that a lost life can provide life for another that might otherwise end as well. The scarcity of transplant organs compounds the inherent tragedy--in cases with multiple recipients a choice must be made and it will be a life and death decision that will inherently value the life of the donor, the life of the recipient and the lives of those who will not receive that transplant. In this case mob rule supplanted domain expertise devaluing a donor's sacrifice that could well have offered a recipient, who may well have died in this recipient's stead, a long productive life.

That was not to be as the wrong decision was made by the wrong people for the wrong reasons and yielded the previously identified expected outcome. And that is the direct damage. The disregard for the consequential, collateral damage is disgusting as an ill advised extended life nearly cost a pedestrian her life and is a alleged to have fired a weapon at another. That as little damage was done (that we know of) is something to be thankful for.  Unless you're the woman he hit with the car or the family of a young mother who died waiting for a heart.

* Old joke. Q: What's the difference between a Doctor and God? A: God knows She's not a Doctor. To bad more people won't say that.