Paying off DeVos, Perhaps a Fall Guy?

It’s pretty obvious that DeVos is not qualified, and yet she likely has enough votes for confirmation. Its super crazy, even a good chunk of governors are advocating for her… and yet she is way out of her league with this, it just doesn’t add up.

Yes, I get the Republican’s have a vision where they want to go education wise. And the thing is, I believe many Democrats agree with a good chunk of the vision. Consider the following from the governors letter.

…. will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom.


we look forward to partnering with …. to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her potential in the classroom.

I mean short of some control freak, who would disagree with that?

And yet, I agree there are some pretty big differences too, especially related to accountability measurements, funding allocations, and public vs for-profit control. Alas, with a republican legislature and exec, they aren’t going to nominate someone who isn’t pretty much aligned with that ideology.

The thing is, why DeVos? There are smart Republicans in the education sector,  folks with experience in education, folks with experience how rule making body’s work, folks who know how to lead. Granted, said folks aren’t massive donors which admittedly is pretty important.. but I think its a lot more than that. I think smart Republicans capable of doing a good job with the position, don’t want to touch it with a hundred foot pole.

The reason? It was looking to be a challenging role, which has been made impossible… so if someone is going crater their career, why not let it be a donor. That way, you get them paid off… and it doesn’t matter if no one will ever hire them again. Bottom line, I think this is a replay of what happened to Michael Brown, the FEMA guy under George Bush during Katrina. All the responsibility, limited experience, and hardly any power to do anything about it.

The reason for this is… the ESSA  (replacement to NCLB, and RTTP was passed in a bipartisan fashion in late 2015. Some good bits, some really sucky bits,  but overall, probably as good as could be expected. As such, once it was passed, the dept of edu got rolling on the regulations, ie the details as to how the law would operate, the nuts and bolts through the traditional regulatory process.

Alas, there were a lot of comments during the NPRM process… which for the most part seemed to be of a conservative bent… albeit more than a few comments were not relevant to the proposed rules being they were outside the scope of the ESSA. Bottom line, my guess is a lot of conservative constituents took issue with the ESSA and complained to their legislator about the NPRM.

Thus, when GOP got the majority, they plan to nullify some major sections (teacher preparation and accountability and state plans ) of the ESSA rules using the Congressional Rule Act. If said nullification passes, the rules are eliminated, and new ones cannot be issued by the dept of education. The problem with this, is that the ESSA law remains in force… but the dept of education has no nuts and bolts to make it work.

In other words, the law says do this great big thing… but the regs don’t exist to accomplish it. Even scarier, states have been working on ESSA plans… which now won’t have any federal backup. In other words, this is going to be one nasty screwed up mess… with the only possible fix being a rewrite of the ESSA… which was near impossible to pass in the first place, and writing a new one is probably going to be even harder, especially in a time efficient manner.  Beyond that, there is a lot more edu law than just the ESSA.. so you can’t just rip it out, as other laws require key aspects of it, which may or may not be popular with a GOP congress and senate. I predict a ton of litigation over this…

Since I believe much of today’s government operates under Hanlon’s razor, I don’t think the setup was intentional, as much as it was the GOP crazy on their newly found power and yet totally failing to consider the unintended consequences. Bottom line though, it will take a top notch leader with a ton of educational experience to fix and at least a year if not more to pull off depending upon what crisis come up… and even then, it might not work very well. As such, someone needs to be the fall guy for it… maybe a donor is the best option.

Posted on

State of Washington v. Trump et al — notes

Reference information

Court Archive:

Video Testimony

Some case law, will add more later.

Initial thoughts: This could have been so much easier if:

1. The EA had been vetted conservatively by the DOJ, rather than what looks to be a pov of seeing how far they could push things and not break the constitution.

2. Loose lips sink ships… egads folks, I get you are trying to procedurally wiggle around look back stuff, but when anyone can look things up on twitter, the argument against bad faith falls apart pretty fast.

3. The Feb 1 memorandom The suspension of entry in Section 3(c) does not apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States.  should have been included from the get go rather than toggling back and forth as to whether it does, or whether it does not. Washington’s argument that this is not a national security issue makes sense as if it were a true threat, this keystone cop scenario would not have occurred.

4. 1152a1a vs 212f makes for a mess…. congress should have been explicit in this. Its like they are asking the courts to legislate from the bench. Alas nothing new in this.

Equal protection from other cases wrt TRO

Litigation Documents & Resources Related to Trump Executive Order on Immigration


Posted on

The Wisconsin Civics Test is Dangerous

I’m aghast that WI students have to take and pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school.  Sure,  it sounds like a good idea… but there is a huge problem. First a little background from a fellow who thinks it is a good thing.


“The leadership in the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature has pushed forward a measure (AB 194) that would require high schools in the state to administer a civics test before handing them a diploma. The tests most often proposed are 100 questions long, and are virtually identical to tests taken by immigrants pursuing citizenship.”

He continues…

Education groups are aghast. No, petrified. They’re lobbying against such draconian expectations as though it is dangerous to our education system. Requiring a score of at least 60% of high school graduates  – who are given the freedom to vote, smoke, drive cars, get married, have children, buy homes and perform jobs, often while juggling intense college studies three months later – is considered unreasonable to them.

Its unreasonable to me too, as it’s dangerous to assume that passing said test with a 60% or greater score is going to do much of anything other than eat up time. Most kids get exposed to this stuff in jr high, a decent number will remember it later on, that is if they took it seriously in 8th grade. The rest, well, since its a grad requirement, thy will need to be prepped for it… Which in most cases will equate to memorizing a bunch of canned answers, which are just as likely to be forgotten as anything else.

The problem is the US Citizen test is a mere 10,000ft check to ensure that potential US citizens studied the basics of civics, and for that solitary purpose, its probablly, albeit marginally ok. See for a critique of the test design.

 Using it as a means of cross checking a future voters knowledge of civics is far beyond its scope. Ie, used in this manner, its low expectations on steroids and then some… and yet, there will be some who won’t pass. Who knows, there might even be some politicians who wouldn’t pass.

Perhaps there is some value in this as a first step, but like a lot of things, its more symbolic than something fostering meaningful change. Alas, like a lot of things in today’s govt, maybe symbolism is all we can hope for.

That being said… rather than adding more BS education hoop jumping from on high, why not provide incentives for civic engagement instruction at the classroom level. Maybe this test is part of it, maybe its a field trip to local or state govt, maybe its having a politician spend some time in the classroom. The thing is, one size doesn’t fit all… and the person who knows this best is the teacher in the classroom. Its not the politician, the bureaudolt,  the union, nor even the school board.

Here is the test in a computer generated format for easy results.

Maybe every politician needs to be randomly tested every year or two, and have their lowest score during their previous term published next to their name on the ballot. Fwiw, I got a 98… alas, such happens when you get in a hurry.

Reference material:

Posted on

On the Trustworthiness or Lack Thereof WRT Presidential Candidates

An old friend of mine says he want’s a president he can trust. He raises the issue of Hillary’s emails and Benghazi, and I concede, he does make a point. On the other side of the coin, there is this graphic from Robert Mann, based upon data from politifact.


Who Lies More, A Comparison
Who Lies More, A Comparison

Granted, some would say that politifact is biased against conservative views, being Bachman and Trump are rated so low, and Hilary and Obama are rated high. I think there is some wiggle room to allow for this, as all politicians spin, but the impact of their lies vary’s greatly in severity.

Trumps far out crazy lies are likely for media coverage, as any coverage whether good or bad is a positive for him and supporters see it for what it is, and thus don’t take the crazy seriously. Reagan had some real doozies as well, like trees causing more pollution than automobiles, and that sulfur dioxide emitted from Mount St. Helens was greater than that emitted by cars over a 10-year period… and yet he accomplished  a lot of good, including serious dents in crony capitalism, raising the medicare tax, NFA weapon regulation, and amnesty for 3 million undocumented immigrants.

All of that being said, there is an issue of trustworthiness of the individual, apart from the political spin and campaign press manipulations. Trump’s record of business dealings wreaks of being a seedy used car salesman. Hillary’s recent spin handling the email issues in combination with decades of spin lawyer responses doesn’t present a sense of trust either. Such is what I wish to dig into a bit, with respect to my old buddies thoughts on wanting a president he can trust.

Would you trust a well regarded, typically diligent and well liked employee in your organization who did similar things as Hillary did in regards to confidential communications? For most folks, the answer is yes, whether they are a subordinate, or even a coworker. The reason being, there are systems issues at play that make keeping information confidential, either insanely difficult and/or borderline impossible in light of being able to handle their primary responsibilities. Ie, if you truly want secure communications, you keep them 100% sequestered and distant from day to day communications. You handle them only in a EmSec(TEMPEST) room, despite the obvious difficulties and inefficiencies of doing so.


By the same token, if you have someone who is a jerk^4, it is easy and fairly common practice to discharge them based upon mishandling confidential information, despite the issues that most everyone else does it knowingly or unknowingly. Add in that high powered politicians are for the most part considered above the law (as its too hard and expensive to prosecute with their ability to spin and the high powered lawyers they surround themselves with).

Thus, the old saw about peon’s being subject to laws that the powerful are not is replayed over and over.

In addition, as unequal treatment under the law play’s out over a period of years, increasingly powerful politicians end up feeling they are bulletproof… until finally they go too far, and/or their power wanes. Case in point Rod Blagojevich the former and Dennis Hastert the later. It takes a great deal of blatant unspinnable evidence to put a dent in a politician, and even then, as spin masters with loads of high powered attorneys, convictions are near impossible, consider John Edwards as a recent example.

 The question then becomes… would you trust John Edwards as president. He was not found guilty in a court of law, and yet his behaviors seem far from ethical. I think the same applies today… could Trump or Hillary be convicted of criminal behavior? Probably not. Were their actions ethical, or if not that far, were they even morally acceptable? Would you consider either of them trustworthy, like as in the idealized values put forth in Sunday school?

Yes, I’d like a president I could trust… but I think we are so far beyond that. Trustworthy folks get thrown off nearly all political tickets shortly after they start even at the lowest levels. Its a mess, when deception and spin are what we choose to promote in our leaders irrespective of party.

I’m not sure how we change that.

Posted on

#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.



Posted on

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…

Posted on

#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.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

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.

Posted on