#icanhazpdf Counter to Moocher Business Models

Moocher business models are a dream for many… and while they can be profitable for a while, they are not long term sustainable. Eventually, either customers or vendors, or both see that the emperor has no clothes other than a govt smokescreen and call it for what it is…

Thus, in the world of research, we have an entrenched and legally protected business model that has skimmed off the work of others for decades. In years past, the business model of academic publishing made sense as it provided value… in today’s world of digital distribution, providing no, or very limited value is less and less viable, despite the best efforts of lobbyists to prop up said models as long as possible..

Enter in #icanhazpdf, a way in which the scientific community is putting the screws to the moocher business model, not unlike what happened with napster and related in the world of music. No doubt legal minds are spinning trying anything and everything to put a halt on the practice, but the issue of govt supported mooching has reached a tipping point with many…. Bottom line, its a hearts and minds battle, and I tend to think the publishing worlds overreach has set the stage for a lost battle, even before things enter the courtroom, that is if it even gets that far.



Title 1 Portability Nuance #HR5

Title portability presents some interesting paradoxes. As things currently are (or at least as I understand them), title 1 funds go towards a school that meets overall criteria. If if a school has X % or more of special needs students, English language learners, or reduced federal lunch students they get funding. This seems entirely reasonable, in that student demographic profiles with higher percentages will have higher costs.

On the other hand, if a school has X%-1 students, they do meet the profile and thus do not receive funding. This doesn’t seem quite right, especially in special needs situations where staff / student ratios approach 1:1. In other words, smaller schools who don’t have the benefits of economy of scale are left out in the cold. Granted, one could argue, and with a fair bit of evidence, that economy of scale doesn’t work when it comes to title 1 education. It seems to me that even though historically the economy of scale doesn’t work, we should find out why, rather than to assume its a physical law locked in stone.

However, should Title I go portable, accountability burdens would go insanity^3, thus the push to significantly neuter them. One of the worst case scenarios, is that states would simply cut their contribution relying on Title I to make up the difference along with some slight of hand to obfuscate the remaining accountability. Such would be good for state taxpayers of course, but not so good for the most vulnerable student. From a best case scenario, the combination of local, state, and title I funding with a ton fewer fed strings might open a door to some pretty awesome innovations which could really help the most vulnerable student.

Its not simple…

#HR5 and Societal Values (Common Core reauthorization)

There exists boatloads of opposition to #HR5 on both the progressive side as well as the tea party side. There’s also a significant amount of astroturfing coming from what appears to be folks who have not read the bill. Granted, reading AND comprehending 600+ pages in light of current and forecasted context is not for the faint of heart. That being said, a few overall themes seem to be at play.

1. Folks are unwilling to pay for education on the state and local level, especially as it concerns the least of these. This was one of the big deal issues which led to ESEA Title I and related in the first place. Granted, ESEA has expanded multifold and into a multitude of areas since the 60’s.

2. Some are calling for the abandonment of federal funding. This make sense in that why have a kazillion bureaudolts skimming off the top, if states and local government can make a go of it on their own… but history does not bear this out, nor do most contemporary state budgets. Rather special ed and funding for high poverty schools tends to be a lower priority than funding districts where wealthy campaign donors live.

3. #HR5 makes Title I portable, but in doing so, it also adds a ton of strings to make sure tax payers are getting value for their money. I get that folks want free stuff from the govt… but taxpayers deserve accountability too. Accountability makes private and charter schools cringe… but if they don’t want to pay their own way, it only make sense that  govt should have strings attached.

4. NCLB, RTTP, and Common Core are accountability tools, or at least they create the illusion of such. #HR5 does a bit of a dodgeball thing to keep standardized test mania in place, and at the same time hopes to placate the states rights folks… but the big deal issue is testing with as many common elements as possible remains. Such provides an economy of scale and greater profitability for the testing and related support firms, so its understandable… but test fetishism especially for the lower grades is not good.

Thus, if not #HR5, how do we address these themes?

We need a values check… it might be that society has changed, and what folks advocated back in the 50’s and 60’s needs to be rethought.

Do citizens really value the least of these, and if they do, how are they best served. If society feels they should be left behind as indicated by the priorities of state and local government budgets, then another convo needs to be had, especially in light of the exponential increase in kids with autism.

How valuable is the neighborhood school and tradition. With folks having greater mobility, is there more of a need for the stability a local school provides, or should it be an open market where competition reigns supreme. If so, then what about those who can’t complete, or who might want to, but whose parents have no interest in doing so? What about the charter school that comes into being for 2-3 years and then upchucks… what impact does that have on the local community?

How important is accountability to the taxpayer and what should it look like?. In the 1960’s, most folks did’t want special ed funds to be used for building a football stadium in a wealthy school district. Today, many states are more than happy to increase funding to wealthy school districts, and decrease it to districts with high numbers of special needs kids or high poverty. What about a fly by night charter school that comes into being to get rich, scam the students, and taxpayers, and then declares bankruptcy (in the meantime, making small fortunes for their key people). On the other side, what about the abuses of unions and the strangleholds on policy they held for decades? What about the testing, curricula, and IT firms who make a fortune every time the whims of state, local, or fed govt change?

What happens when accountability crosses the line into impacting the students education itself? It is worth shutting down a schools computer lab for 2 months in order to accomplish testing? Is it worth outfitting schools with single function Ipads or Chromebooks locked down to the extreme in order to compensate for a vendors ineptness when it comes to student testing software. Is it worth giving students test after test after test and teaching to the test, and canned curricula such that students are creating phallic images and profanity on scantron sheets?

In addition to values, we need to look at the goals / purpose of education which I wrote about previously. Only when this foundation is in place, should policy proceed from it. Punting tweaks to a bad system like HR5 does, only perpetuates the madness of the past, it doesn’t fix it.

*I fully expect #HR5 to pass, as there is too much money involved for it to fail, and or be substantially amended. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few days.

Costs of Living, Today and 1958

An old friend posted the following on her facebook page which showed the cost of living in 1958. On the one hand, it seems that things were so much less expensive, on the other, factors like efficiency gains, and inflation make a $ to $ comparison pretty tricky.

1958 Cost of Living
From GetTV facebook page

As a result, I decided to go do some digging, first to spot check some of the 1958 data, and then capture some 2012-2014 data to use as a comparison. Getting back to the $ to $ comparison, I pondered using CPI, but decided to go with household median income as the factor for normalization.  Being  a 10.003 multiplier is a bit higher than CPI 8.06[1958-2013] it makes the increases harder hitting, but being most households require 2 FT incomes today, the harder hitting aspect seems justifiable.

Take a look at the spreadsheet and source data.

Going down the list, a few things stood out.

1. Female median income has shot through the roof,  being over 300% higher than it was in 1958. Granted, gender inequality is still at play, but labor participation rates are much much higher.

2. Real estate has gotten insanely expensive. Elizabeth Warren brought this up as an anti-family thing / loss of reserve capability a ways back in her book “A Fighting Chance“.  While her conclusions are entirely reasonable, its interesting to note that from a real estate rental point of view, the reverse effect, albeit slight, has occurred. Namely, back in 1958, it was a much better deal to buy than to rent as mortgage payments were under half the cost of renting, where as today’s declining rents have made it near equal.

3. Tax rates are much much less than they were back then, and not just the 91% top marginal rate, but pretty overall, folks are paying much much less. Then again, folks were serious about getting rid of WWII debt, and they were serious about investing for the future too. Alas, neither is much of a priority today, unless one is talking about govt spending on programs one likes or doesn’t like depending upon party affiliation.

4.  Per-capita health spending is in crazy land. We went from $134 per-capita in 1958 to nearly $9000 per-capita, and for that huge amount of spending, we get an increase of life span of about ten years.

5. Tuition has gotten crazy, both at the Ivy League as well as the state level. Back in 1958, taxpayers saw technical colleges and universities as a means of investing for the future and most states subsidized tuition 100% or very close to it. In recent years, most states have cut their share of tuition more and more. Higher ed is no longer an investment in the next generation, but more so, an entity to be cash-cowed. We do so at our peril.

6. The costs of food have dropped multifold. Its no wonder that its near impossible to make money in the dairy industry anymore, short of having a boutique offering or massive scale. Similar things could be said for other staples, albeit nothing was hit as hard as milk as far as price deterioration goes.

As far as the the why aspect goes, crony capitalism, global competition, and Baumols curse have all played a role as to where we are today.  Short of some black swan or science fiction type event, we are stuck with Baumol, he isn’t going anywhere fast. Global competition is a hard read, its a pig in a poke as to predicting where it will lead within the 3 big cost issues…. but crony capitalism, that we can do something about, the question is whether there is any will to do so.

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.