Lowering #WI Property Taxes

Scott Walker says he plans to lower property taxes if elected. This is actually pretty simple to do, by restoring the states percentage of local school funding to historical levels, rather than what has happened over the last decade. Do note that the state under Democratic control was screwing around with the funding of public education well before Scott Walker and crew entered the game.

The framers of WI state constitution wanted the local area to have skin in the game rather than having the state fund 100% of he schools . I think the framers of the constitution were correct in this analysis… but there is a significant difference between the state picking up very close to 50% of the cost which they have historically done vs slowly decreasing the states tab to less than 40%.

There is also the issue of the insanely complex school funding formula. Its an ideal setup for playing accounting games and has lobbyists written all over it. Even the proposal from the dept of public instruction keeps the basic ideology intact. Such is great for politicians seeking cover from public outrage over funding their favorite lobbyist, but is not so good when it comes to the children’s education.

And there in lies a big problem, the state creates laws which require significant local expenditure to make lobbyists happy, and at the same time the state refuses to pay for them. Fix that, and a good chunk of change can be saved. If a law is that important on the state level, than by all means put up your wallet to pay for it… with the caveat that the importance of the law is not determined by lobbyists, but by evidence, both pro and con. Consider that some lobbyists got means testing removed from the SAGE program. Data suggests SAGE provides measurable results in schools with a low socioeconomic demographic in some grade levels, but has little to no effect in high income areas… so what does governement do? Remove means testing!!!

Its a similar deal with vouchers. On the outset, they seem like a good idea, just as open enrollment is. A student should not be hamstrung when it comes to opportunities due to zip code or parents economic status. Granted, when it comes to test scores, the effects of vouchers and open enrollment are a pig in a poke, but test scores are only a snap shot, and as far as I can gather, a pretty poor one at that.

That being said, the voucher thing needs to be done right. If a person can afford to send their kids to a private school, more power to them. If they can’t afford it, I have no problem with the state providing assistance to do so… but when folks are making 300% of the federal poverty level and are still eligible, vouchers are crossing the line from providing opportunity to all, to buying votes, to say nothing of creating unhealthy, and likely unsustainable dependencies for the voucher schools. Perhaps even worse, is voucher eligibility is perpetual, ie qualify once, and you are good to go, even if you are at 1000X FPL. Perpetual vouchers where the means tests are above an area’s median income are “free stuff” from the govt to an extreme, but talk radio never goes there.

Bottom line, there are multitude of opportunities to provide high quality education at significantly less property tax burden, but there has to be a will to put business as usual and ideology aside to do so.

Tuition Caps? #Walker

Governor Walkers campaign is capitalizing on their tuition cap program for the UW system. As a political solution, such can bring about votes, so I can’t blame him… but just like we found out from the Nixon era, price controls rarely work, and the unintended consequences often come back to bite in spades.

Back when I was a freshman, tuition was under $500/semester. Today, such wouldn’t cover a 3 credit class,  much less a 21 credit semester…  so obviously something needs to be done, but tuition explosions, just like many government issues, are often problems of their own making.

Consider the following graph from the UW system factbook.


If you want to not only level tuition, but cut a deal to students, simple raise the priority of funding the UW system to the level it was at just a few years ago back in 2009. This isn’t a Republican thing, or a Democrat thing, both of the dolts over the last 10 years have had a free for all at the expense of the young.

I get that its an easy shell game to dump excess state spending onto the backs of students, being student loans are nearly unlimited, and students wont squak too much, but I think one has to seriously question the morality of doing so.

Granted, the UW system itself is not blameless. Overhead is crazy… for a faculty of 7000, there are an additional 25,000 other full time employees. Students amenities are massive compared to my day, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a will to do away with either.

By the same token, when you cap tuition, the slack has to be taken up elsewhere… and while I’ve been away from the UW for 25+ years, I seriously doubt the slack would be taken up by cancelling gold plated amenities, and/or reducing overhead. Rather my guess is the cost cutting is going to focus on the academic and research side of things…  It won’t affect today’s students that much, being things can coast for a while… but when you already had 10 years of reductions already in the queue, the potential for trouble is likely to be sooner rather than later.

So whats the answer? Cap overhead, cap amenities, restore state level funding (its easy as long as you don’t mind a criminal justice lobbyist crying in their beer [education and criminal justice priorities have reversed over the last 30 years [WI has 2.5x the incarceration rate as MN]], and a high level of education and research can continue with ease at tuition levels at, or even less than today’s rates.

There is no such thing as a left or right

You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down—[up] man’s old—old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course. “- Ronald Reagan, A Time for Choosing 1964

Embarking on the downward course seems to be the one big thing the left and the right agree upon in a bipartisan fashion. The easiest way to ensure the downward path continues, is to present it as the only path, by excluding all others by whatever means necessary.

Consider the following from Donald Allen,  President of the Hamline University Veterans Affairs Organization:

…. why in 2014 are Fox News and HU determined to create a master-method of voter suppression by obstructing “all” candidates running for governor to participate? Is the white-male political construct afraid of what will happen if the mainstream media and Minnesota voter’s see the wide variety of platforms and opinions by all five gubernatorial candidates? In 1998 Jesse Ventura pulled off a major upset. Sending a message to the two-party system that politics as usual will not be tolerated i.e. voting for someone other than a Democrat or Republican could be worth looking into. Sometimes doing something different is a good thing.

MN Gubanatorial Candidates other than the Democrats and Republicans




Common Values?

@LibertyHous and I are on the opposite side of the political spectra, but in a recent blog post, he presented his value set as concerns government. The amazing thing is, despite being on the opposite side politically, the value set is pretty much the same.

Actually, it shouldn’t necessarily be such a surprise. Despite being to the left, I’ve found many tea party types when you dig down a bit are much further to the left than I am. I think we all have bits and pieces where cognitive dissonance reigns, but when we go digging, we might well find that our individual value sets are not all that different.

A few key bits from Hous blog. (Its definitely worth a read,  beyond basic values, he also brings up the national debt, taxes, entitlements, and defense spending,)

In America:

  • No one should starve
  • No one should be denied necessary medical care
  • Orphans and the elderly should be socially secure
  • Everyone should have access to basic shelter.


  • We have to provide medical care for the poor. We are the most productive and prosperous nation ever to grace the planet. History will not judge us kindly if we led babies die because they can’t pay to get into a hospital.
  • No one should starve in America. No elderly people should be stuck buying cat food to eat or not being able to pay a light bill.

Yep, I agree with all of that.

I also agree with him that national debt is a problem, and even some of the solutions proposed, albeit a bit out there are interesting to ponder.

Common Core Weirdness and Echo Chamberism

Near as I can tell common core has to be a liberal and conservative conspiracy based upon their respective echo chambers. Its also much much too high a standard and yet, at the same time a standard which which will result in the dumbing down of society. It fosters critical thinking and it will foster drones who can’t think for themselves. Bill Gates and Lloyd Blackfinn as well as numerous Wall Street types are promoting it as they see the writing on the wall as concerns global competitiveness. Wall Street types are promoting it, as they don’t want to fund another war on poverty, sort of like Johnson’s, but much bigger as such is the only way to fix education. Conservatives are promoting it, as they know it will lead to vouchers and privatization when public schools fail. Liberals are promoting it as they want to brainwash our kids.

Its enough spin and conspiracy theories  to make ones head spin… perhaps the echo chambers are correct, albeit figuring out which one is, or partially is would likely result in even more head spinning. My best guess is there are elements of truth in both camps, and the solution will not be found exclusively in either one.

Nationwide standard?

The idea of a minimum nationwide standard for high school graduation and/or college readiness may not a bad thing.  Why should a kid in OK who moves to CA or MA be 2 years behind in math. Why should college kids have to spend $$$$ for remedial coursework they should have had in high school. Why should an employer have to struggle to find entry level employees who can handle simple math and read well enough to pass a safety exam. A students ability to learn or not learn a given subject is primarily subject to political will, not GPS coordinates so this type of thing should be a relatively easy fix. Alas a minimum standard is also likely to mean the ending of social / seat time promotion, schools as daycares, and grade inflation… Such standards are likely to be fought against tooth and nail. Ie, if a state or school district wants the lowest common denominator type of standard to make their numbers and surrounding property values look good… they will scream about states rights, and/or fed overreach. My counter to this is “what about the students? Granted, there needs to be flexibility for special ed kids such as the current IEP set up.

Local Control?

The idea of local control and varied curricula can be a good thing. Ed pysch is far from totally explored, so it seems entirely reasonable that individual classrooms and teachers should be trying things… even more so, trying things and sharing what works as well as what doesn’t.

One wrench in this is canned curricula… if 80% of classrooms are doing the exact same thing, there is a ton of duplication of effort / massive loss in efficiency. It would seem to be in a states vested interest, if classes are nearly identical that they should leverage the economy of scale… this is one of the cost savings of some common core implementations. Alas, students and teachers are not drones where 1 size fits all works… It may save taxpayers a lot of money in the short haul, but they will pay more, likely much more later when global competitiveness suffers.

Guinea Pigs

Another wrench, and its a huge one, is no one wants their kids to be guinea pigs… Education short of a small number of teachers and principals is exceedingly risk averse. Certainly no one wants to doom a classroom… but when said classroom is not functioning very well for lowest 30% of its students, the status quo should no longer be an option. Again, this is something best dealt with on the local level… where in a given cohort of students won’t end up being sequential guinea pigs so to speak. The proverbial doing the same thing the same way over and over again, and expecting improvement to magically appear should remain in the land of unicorns and honey.

No Easy Answers and Overreach

Overreach is a problem. Higher standards at the high school level (at least for 45 states who had lower standards than common core math) are no doubt needed. The difficulty is that things went too far, not only were standards raised at the high school level, they were also set for all the grades as well… and to add insult to injury, such pretty much drove canned curricula, and 1 size fits all approach ends up permeating the entire system.

From a outsiders view, this would seem to be exceedingly counterproductive… but such is following Finland’s reform path, where it truly did some amazing things. Alas, a generation of students and teachers went through a ton of headaches over 3 decades to get where they are today. Unlike Finland, the US attention span is much shorter… I have serious doubts folks are willing to make a 3 decade commitment,especially so if it imperils a generation to get there.


Math is not Partisan, but People are

Math is truly independent, it is no respecter of political party. Alas, the left and the right selectively omit key parts of the equation to swing their respective constituencies and folks go right along with it. Such is a useful thing to rally ones own troops, but its about the worst possible thing if you really want to solve a given problem… like the deficit.

Yes, Obama increased spending the least of any President since Eisenhower. Yes, he spent less than GW Bush did as well….  but only during Bush’s last fiscal year, and definitely not if you consider the total spending over an 8 year period. Also, being budgetary restraint is not typically associated with the left, I sort of doubt that would have happened, had it not been for the Republican house.

Yes, Mr Ramsey makes a point that insurance companies will need to charge more if they can no longer cut people off, and have to insure folks with pre-existing conditions…. but only by omitting the savings due to increased risk pool size, non-recoverable EMTALA / related charges, and the 80/20 rule.

Yes, Obamacare will reduce premiums and/or the rate of premium increases… but only within the realm of apples to apples comparisons. It is very likely to increase premiums for those who held stop loss policies, and/or policies which excluded or capped spendy conditions / courses of treatments, and or flat rate policies in contrast with policies based upon individual family makeup… which is in all likelyhood, a great number of current low cost policies.

Yes, by choosing EMTALA over preventative care, significantly costs are shifted to Medicaid and Medicare…. but math is politically incorrect. As the population experiences substantially longer life spans via preventative care, the costs of social security benefits will increase, potentially multifold and completely blow through the savings from Medicare and Medicaid.

Yes, trickle down economics, referred to as voodoo economics by Reagan works…. if you are on the upper side of the Laffer curve (70%+ top marginal rates of the 50’s and 60’s) and capital is in short supply. If you are on the lower part of the curve and have excess capital supply, it not only doesn’t work, its exceedingly counterproductive.

Yes, according to a GAO report, Obamacare will raise the national debt 6.2 trillion… over a 75 year period, but only if every cost saving measure currently in Obamacare is repealed in the very near future.

Yes, according to the same GAO report Obamacare will shrink the deficit by 1.5% every year…. but only if every cost savings measure including the SGR in reference to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 are followed. Alas, SGR override  (the doc fix) is probably one of the only things we can count on congress to do every year.

All of that being said… In the old days of politics, it was standard practice to mislead the voters, but one could count on the politicians seeing the big picture. Today, I’m becoming more and more convinced that not only are politicians misleading voters, they themselves are starting to actually believe the sound-bit falsehoods themselves.  Just as you can’t solve the deficit by only cutting, you can’t solve it either by only raising taxes. It will take both… and if politicians intentionally refuse to see the big picture, the only thing sure to happen is that the deficit will increase.

On the Deficit

Yes, the deficit is a big deal…

According to usgovernmentdebt, the US Govt in 2013 takes in 2.7 trillion, and spends 3.7 trillion, so we have a deficit plus other borrowing of 1.2 trillion. The sequester cuts in 2013 work out to be 42 billion as far as cash outlays go.

Alas, folks don’t normally think in large numbers so it never hits home.Lets look at this in a more meaningful fashion, by working in $100 million increments. Kudo’s for open desktop mechanic for the idea.

*            Year 2013                    *
*                                         *
   27,000 income
   37,000 spending
   12,080 new debt + borrowing + interest
    - 420 actual cash reduction via sequestration 

and as an fyi, the national debt in $100 million units is
*                                         *

#### Apparently even usgovernmentdebt is math challenged, as some of the data is actual, some is projected/estimated, some is out of date, and the math doesn’t add up worth a hoot… But the relative magnitudes are the bigger deal for the sake of this discussion.

Thus, we do have a problem, and its definitely not one we should put our head in the sand over.

Its an especially sad deal as it could be solved without too much difficulty, much less human carnage other than within the political/lobbyist domain. It doesn’t take much observation to see insane levels of duplication and/or policies fostering massive inefficiency. On the other hand, such duplication and inefficiency issues are partisan, and should they revolve around golden gooses to to speak, they are untouchable.

Back in my business consulting days, I could walk into a plant, and go wowzers, look at all the money needlessly leaking out the door… but horrors that anyone would stop the leak, that is until the entity was to the point of having to close up shop. The golden goose idol ruled the roost, that is until the last possible minute before going under. Its the same problem with government, its not really a revenue issue, its not really a spending problem either, its a philosophy problem. Until you remove the idol, you won’t change policies / regs which foster wastage. Unless you rip out the regs first, any attempts at budget revision are like trying to dam up a river with a finger. It will flow right around it, and if the current is fast enough, it will rip the finger right off.





3 Problems in Education wrt #DTActionLab

I’ve been thinking about 3 big issues/problems in education, part of one being highly visible, and 2 being near invisible as related to the following tweet and linked article as to how ideas spread. The linked 7 page article primarily deals with issues in the medical field, both historically and contemporarily, but the concepts also seem applicable to education.

Good article for #DTActionLab #VirtualLibrary: “How Do Good Ideas Spread?”in @NewYorker http://goo.gl/tBWkxf 

The 3 issues:

  1. One immediate output of edu is most visible, ie students test scores. Its often what drives politicians, school boards, and parents. As I’ve pounded on in the past, such a measurement can be near useless for a number of factors. How a former student functions in the next stage of life, their career, or future academic course of study are better metrics, but such factors often lean toward the invisible.
  2. The spark of lifelong learning is a challenge to measure immediately and on scale making it quite invisible to other than those directly involved with a given students education.  From a scaling perspective, mass spark could be best demonstrated as to whether future generations rise to challenges or retreat from them. The long haul invisibility of this makes it an even tougher sell than Lister’s methods as described in the linked article.
  3. The equalization of opportunity for all is for the most part not visible… Sure politicians play lip service to it when it comes to test scores vs socio-economic factors, but they enact policies time and time against it. Some on the far right have implied it would be better to just let things go, its not worth the investment in tax money and/or resources if students and/or their community are not willing. Even in the far left idealist realm, short of the hard core folks who not only move into a declining schools neighborhood, and enrolls their kids in said school, few are willing to make a familial sacrifice over this. Just as Lister knew about carbolic acid’s benefits, the surgeons experienced how it burned their hands and thus many refused to adopt it… but there were some early adapters.

Just as the article alluded to as concerns the swaying of behaviors, the please methods and the legislative approaches eventually loose effectiveness.

In a multitude of ways, the please methods have been at the point of diminishing returns for years. Please we need more money for schools, more autonomy for teachers, more this, more that have been exhausted and are running on deaf ears. Certainly today’s economics and wealth stratification issues have not helped the matters, but I could see the running out of steam on this even in the eighties.

The legislative means while not all that effective are likewise running out of steam. Part of this is a cultural shift… teachers unions have a fraction of the power that they had years ago when some of them practically dictated to state legislatures what to do. Not so much in the compensation side per se, but in the operations side…. a lot of legislation has union written all over it. Some good, some with so much over-reach that the anti-union backlash of today almost seems justifiable.

So whats the answer? A credible narrative followed by relationship building over the long haul that will change hearts and minds, will raise visibility, and can make things happen. Repeating the same “please” and “do” stuff over and over and hoping for different results hasn’t worked for decades, I’m not sure why folks would think it would work today. I understand the pressing need to head off the dismantling of public edu, as well as protecting the students.  On the other hand, if the messages being sent are not changing hearts and minds, or worse serving to close them, sending more of the same is unlikely to make any difference, or could even make things worse.


MOOC Datamining and Plurality Video #EDCMOOC

I finally got around to rolling through the Plurality video, a short clip which intermixes a fair bit of Jason Bourne themes with a very low crime and highly secured, surveillance society. Its the proverbial sacrificing liberty for security thing taken to a much wider audience than body scanning folks at airports.

Sight from Sight Systems on Vimeo.


On the outset, I was thinking… ok, cool on the Jason Bourne themes, but not cool at all the DNA surveillance thing. Not cool at all, a society which feels a five sigma approach to justice and everyone is sampled is a good thing. Uber cool on the future doing away with the dog slow polymerase chain reaction being replaced with something way faster as a means of amplifying DNA strands.

I then went into the forums and did some poking about. It turns out the allure of lower crime is pretty high on folks radars, so much so more than a few seemed to be ok with giving up liberty to get there. I guess this isn’t anything unexpected in light of the TSA, Patriot Act, NDAA, stand your ground laws. etc… but its still disturbing. Ultimately though, EDCMOOC is about education, not politics so I had to ponder how the video and education might be connected.

Credentialing is a big deal, consider coursera’s signature track and as of the last weeks announcements that a few courses when combined with a proctored exam may qualify for transferable college credit. The thing is, any security system can be gamed, provided there is enough time and/or finances to do so. Signature track wont be perfect, just as the F2F world isn’t either where one student takes another’s tests, or even a entire course of study for a few bucks.

One possible security scenario is not biological DNA as presented in the above video, but ones digital footprints. Consider the potential of datamining every post for every student within the MOOC universe. Assume that textual, interactive, spatial, and time domain patterns will emerge, that if the tech proves out, might serve as a means of ID and/or even the credentialing students.

Such would provide for a greater sense of security that MOOC land credentials were authentic, perhaps even more so than a lot of weak F2F credentials.

Yet, freedom dissipates. Imagine the chilling effect on risk taking for fear of compromising ones identify, and/or possibly credentials for an entire course of study.

The thing is… how many would sacrifice educational freedom for a little bit of credentialing, especially in a world filled with credential lust?

Constructivism and DI its not an either/or #FOEMOOC

Constructivism is a big deal in education, and if done well, it can work wonders for a much wider sector of a student population than direct instruction. Alas, just like DI can bore students to tears, reach only a limited population, or fail to achieve depth of learning, constructivism done poorly sucks as well, just in a different matter.

Kirschner, Sweller, (Clark 2006) comes down pretty hard on PBL, minimally guided constructivism and related as being drastically inferior to DI. Having personally experienced far too many PBL failures as a student, I tend to gravitate toward his thinking. In poking around MOOC land this week, I see working memory overload, and even a bit of negative learning playing out in a huge way across a vast number of cMOOCs. I see folks getting snowed under left and right… at least with a stage on a sage with a firehose, you at least know where its coming from, and can often modulate the negative effects.

A big problem I’ve found with PBL, is that you often don’t know the negatives, and may not know them until its too late. Getting the foundation knocked out from under you in failed PBL is as impossible to recover from as being 6 weeks behind in a DI course… unless the course is truly 100% async, and you go back to nearly day 1 and restart, provided you still have enough motivation to do so.

On the other hand, I’m taking a Python course via Edx, which is mostly DI, but there is a constructivist component which rolls in and out of the mix from time to time. The homework nasties which drive one to other students to pound things to death is where some amazing learning goes on. I doubt I’ll ever forget that:

when varA=’32’ that (varA>85) evaluates to true

Had it not been for the constructivist aspect of the course, I likely would not have picked up on that, likely even not have caught it after being burned a time or two.

At this point, I tend to think the big deal issue is not that 1 is good, and the other is bad, but more so how one integrates and applies PBL and/or DI to course design is really the key. Its far too easy to pick one and completely ignore the other to one and ones students peril. There is also an issue of how to go forward as concerns the course objectives, and perhaps even more importantly what the individual students objectives are in relationship to them. A mismatch here, especially if its not blatantly obvious, can have some pretty ill effects.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based learning. Educational Psychologist, 41, 75-86.