Sunday, May 31, 2015

American Exceptionalism Is Real ... Let's Keep It That Way ... It's Our Unique Constitutional System of Governance

In his May 29 post, Keenan described the System of Profound Knowledge in 'Deming Can Teach You Everything You Need To Know . . . .' 

That post prompted me to reflect on why all Americans, young and old alike, should take the time and make the effort to study the history and know better the underlying reasons why American Exceptionalism is both real and unique. So here goes.

Magna Carta: Eight Centuries of Liberty does a superb job of describing our unique American system of governance, and our civic responsibilities as 'owners' of the greatest nation the world has ever known. So with that in mind, let's consider relevant portions of this highly educational, informative and thought provoking essay:

"Eight hundred years ago next month, on a reedy stretch of riverbank in southern England, the most important bargain in the history of the human race was struck. . . . As Lord Denning, the most celebrated modern British jurist put it, Magna Carta was “the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

It was at Runnymede, on June 15, 1215, that the idea of the law standing above the government first took contractual form. King John accepted that he would no longer get to make the rules up as he went along. From that acceptance flowed, ultimately, all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials. . . .

The bishops and barons who had brought King John to the negotiating table understood that rights required an enforcement mechanism. The potency of a charter is not in its parchment but in the authority of its interpretation. The constitution of the U.S.S.R., to pluck an example more or less at random, promised all sorts of entitlements: free speech, free worship, free association. But as Soviet citizens learned, paper rights are worthless in the absence of mechanisms to hold rulers to account.

Magna Carta instituted a form of conciliar rule that was to develop directly into the Parliament that meets at Westminster today. As the great Victorian historian William Stubbs put it, “the whole constitutional history of England is little more than a commentary on Magna Carta.”

And not just England. Indeed, not even England in particular. Magna Carta has always been a bigger deal in the U.S. . . . .

The early settlers arrived while these rows were at their height and carried the mania for Magna Carta to their new homes. As early as 1637, Maryland sought permission to incorporate Magna Carta into its basic law, and the first edition of the Great Charter was published on American soil in 1687 by William Penn, who explained that it was what made Englishmen unique: “In France, and other nations, the mere will of the Prince is Law, his word takes off any man’s head, imposeth taxes, or seizes any man’s estate, when, how and as often as he lists; But in England, each man hath a fixed Fundamental Right born with him, as to freedom of his person and property in his estate, which he cannot be deprived of, but either by his consent, or some crime, for which the law has imposed such a penalty or forfeiture.”

There was a divergence between English and American conceptions of Magna Carta. In the Old World, it was thought of, above all, as a guarantor of parliamentary supremacy; in the New World, it was already coming to be seen as something that stood above both Crown and Parliament. This difference was to have vast consequences in the 1770s.

The American Revolution is now remembered on both sides of the Atlantic as a national conflict—as, indeed, a “War of Independence.” But no one at the time thought of it that way—not, at any rate, until the French became involved in 1778. Loyalists and patriots alike saw it as a civil war within a single polity, a war that divided opinion every bit as much in Great Britain as in the colonies.

The American Revolutionaries weren’t rejecting their identity as Englishmen; they were asserting it. As they saw it, George III was violating the “ancient constitution” . . . . It was therefore not just their right but their duty to resist, in the words of the delegates to the first Continental Congress in 1774, “as Englishmen our ancestors in like cases have usually done.”

Nowhere, at this stage, do we find the slightest hint that the patriots were fighting for universal rights. On the contrary, they were very clear that they were fighting for the privileges bestowed on them by Magna Carta. The concept of “no taxation without representation” was not an abstract principle. It could be found, rather, in Article 12 of the Great Charter: “No scutage or aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm.” . . .
The rights we now take for granted—freedom of speech, religion, assembly and so on—are not the natural condition of an advanced society. They were developed overwhelmingly in the language in which you are reading these words.

When we call them universal rights, we are being polite. Suppose World War II or the Cold War had ended differently: There would have been nothing universal about them then. If they are universal rights today, it is because of a series of military victories by the English-speaking peoples. . . .

Think of the world as it stood in 1939. Constitutional liberty was more or less confined to the Anglosphere. Everywhere else, authoritarianism was on the rise. Our system, uniquely, elevated the individual over the state, the rules over the rulers. . . .

The very success of Magna Carta makes it hard for us, 800 years on, to see how utterly revolutionary it must have appeared at the time. Magna Carta did not create democracy . . . .

What Magna Carta initiated, rather, was constitutional government—or, as the terse inscription on the American Bar Association’s stone puts it, “freedom under law.”

It takes a real act of imagination to see how transformative this concept must have been. The law was no longer just an expression of the will of the biggest guy in the tribe. Above the king brooded something more powerful yet—something you couldn’t see or hear or touch or taste but that bound the sovereign as surely as it bound the poorest wretch in the kingdom. That something was what Magna Carta called “the law of the land.”

This phrase is commonplace in our language. But think of what it represents. The law is not determined by the people in government, nor yet by clergymen presuming to interpret a holy book. Rather, it is immanent in the land itself, the common inheritance of the people living there.

The idea of the law coming up from the people, rather than down from the government, is a peculiar feature of the Anglosphere. Common law is an anomaly, a beautiful, miraculous anomaly. In the rest of the world, laws are written down from first principles and then applied to specific disputes, but the common law grows like a coral, case by case, each judgment serving as the starting point for the next dispute. In consequence, it is an ally of freedom rather than an instrument of state control. It implicitly assumes residual rights.

And indeed, Magna Carta conceives rights in negative terms, as guarantees against state coercion. No one can put you in prison or seize your property or mistreat you other than by due process. This essentially negative conception of freedom is worth clinging to in an age that likes to redefine rights as entitlements—the right to affordable health care, the right to be forgotten and so on.

It is worth stressing, too, that Magna Carta conceived freedom and property as two expressions of the same principle. The whole document can be read as a lengthy promise that the goods of a free citizen will not be arbitrarily confiscated by someone higher up the social scale. Even the clauses that seem most remote from modern experience generally turn out, in reality, to be about security of ownership. . . .

Liberty and property: how naturally those words tripped, as a unitary concept, from the tongues of America’s Founders. These were men who had been shaped in the English tradition, and they saw parliamentary government not as an expression of majority rule but as a guarantor of individual freedom. How different was the Continental tradition, born 13 years later with the French Revolution, which saw elected assemblies as the embodiment of what Rousseau called the “general will” of the people.

In that difference, we may perhaps discern explanation of why the Anglosphere resisted the chronic bouts of authoritarianism to which most other Western countries were prone. We who speak this language have always seen the defense of freedom as the duty of our representatives and so, by implication, of those who elect them. Liberty and democracy, in our tradition, are not balanced against each other; they are yoked together. . . .

Most other countries have fallen for, or at least fallen to, dictators. Many, during the 20th century, had popular communist parties or fascist parties or both. The Anglosphere, unusually, retained a consensus behind liberal capitalism.

This is not because of any special property in our geography or our genes but because of our constitutional arrangements. Those constitutional arrangements can take root anywhere. They explain why Bermuda is not Haiti, why Hong Kong is not China, why Israel is not Syria.

They work because, starting with Magna Carta, they have made the defense of freedom everyone’s responsibility. Americans, like Britons, have inherited their freedoms from past generations and should not look to any external agent for their perpetuation. The defense of liberty is your job and mine. It is up to us to keep intact the freedoms we inherited from our parents and to pass them on securely to our children."

Summing Up

American Exceptionalism is real. Each generation has a duty to past and future generations to preserve and protect the idea that We the People are in charge and not those we elect to serve us.

The Federalist Papers, of which there are 85, were published between 1787 and 1788. Every American should become generally familiar with them and take the time to read at least #10 and #51, respectively. Of course, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution should be read and understood as well.

We the People of each generation continue to make the American road as we go. We always have and we always will. Our freedom to do as we so choose is restricted only by our obligation to not infringe on the equal freedom of others.

It's our duty as free American citizens to deliver to future generations a system of self governance that is equal to that which was given to us.

So let's get busy doing just that.

It's how the system works.

Thanks. Bob.

Common Sense 'Walk and Chew Gum' Advice for This Year's Graduating Class ... Providing for the Needs of Your 'Older Self' is Equally Important to Experiencing the Pleasures of Today

18th century French philosopher Voltaire observed that common sense is not so common.

And Walter Mischel's 'Marshmallow Test' conducted at Stanford in the 1960s revealed that all too often we don't practice self control and follow the common sense approach of treating the needs of our future self as the responsibility of our present self.

With that in mind, let's look at some extremely valuable and timely advice for this year's college graduates. -- and all other young people about to enter the 'real world' of adulthood.

A Financial Checklist for 20-Somethings is subtitled 'Getting started on retirement saving and repaying high-cost debt can pay huge dividends in the long run for new college graduates:'

"You have graduated from college and landed a job. Planning for retirement may seem like a distant concern, and paying off your debts may feel like a monumental task. But now is the time to make some crucial financial moves that could pay off handsomely in years to come.

“You need to have time work in your favor,” says Annamaria Lusardi, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in personal finance. “The trick is really to start early.”

Many young adults miss the opportunity. Less than one-fifth of workers age 21 to 24 participated in an employer-based retirement plan in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available.... Among workers age 25 to 34, the participation rate was just over 38%. By contrast, for workers 55 to 64, the rate was over 55%. . . .

In many cases, the most beneficial move is to enroll in your employer’s retirement plan, to take advantage of any savings incentives. . . .

Then consider tackling any high-interest debt. . . .

Once you have checked off those items, you can consider whether it is possible to boost your savings and learn about simple, smart ways to invest the money. . . .

Time is money

Earning power is often limited in your 20s. You may not have enough knowledge or experience to command a large salary.

But you do have an asset your elders covet: time.

Make the most of it, even if you save only small amounts at the outset. . . . The pile may grow slowly at first, but the pace will accelerate as you continue to save and the numbers get larger.

That compounding effect gives you an advantage over people who postpone saving. . . .

Free money

The best place to start saving for retirement is often the 401(k) plan offered by an employer.

There are a number of benefits to the plans, which are known as defined-contribution plans, including the ability to defer paying taxes on contributions and investment gains if you leave the money alone until retirement.

Many employers also offer an incentive to participate in a 401(k) plan, in the form of a matching contribution. Some financial advisers refer to the match as free money, and you should do what you can to take it. . . .

Try to contribute whatever it takes to get the maximum match. . . .

To be sure, some employers have a 401(k) plan but don’t offer to match employee contributions. But it can still be worth putting money into the plan, because of the tax deferral and because the money comes straight out of your paycheck, which makes saving easy, financial advisers say.

Pay your debts

Once you get free money from your employer, make sure you aren’t throwing your own money away on interest charges.

If you have taken on substantial student debt to get through college or run up a large credit-card bill while getting settled, consider tackling that next.

Paying off any high-interest debt should be a higher priority than putting additional money in your 401(k), because the costs add up quickly . . . .

For example, it will take more than 22 years to pay off $10,000 of debt on a credit card that charges 18% annual interest, if the card requires a minimum monthly payment of 3% of the outstanding balance and you always pay that minimum . . . . You would also pay $9,799 in interest over that period.

Also take a hard look at your student loans . . . . debt that costs you more than 5% a year in interest should be a priority. . . .

The next step

Once you have paid off your debt, you can turn your attention back to saving. . . .

Investing 101

Whatever type of retirement plan or account you choose, you also have to decide how to invest the money. . . .

But don’t sweat too much over whether you should be 60% in stocks or 80% in stocks when you are in your 20s—or higher or lower, for that matter. Pick something you are comfortable with and stick to it.

“When you’re starting out, asset accumulation is more important than asset allocation . . . .

Still, some issues could arise that are worth keeping an eye out for. If you don’t actively choose how to invest the money in your account, some plans will put it not into a target-date fund but a money-market fund, an ultraconservative fund that may be more suitable for someone in retirement who needs the cash soon.

When choosing a fund, it is worth looking closely for those that charge lower annual fees, 0.5% of assets or less, which in many cases are passive index funds. Higher fees can significantly reduce your returns over time. . . .

Try to focus on the long-term benefits of saving. Billy Weiss, 24, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse in 2013 and got his first full-time job last June, at a North Dakota nonprofit. He plans to start contributing to his employer’s Roth 401(k) in July, the next enrollment period, and expects to invest in a target-date fund.

“Having a real job and making money allows you to indulge in grown-up purchases and the freedom to enjoy life in a way you couldn’t as a poor college student, but the catch is to not be impulsive or overspend or buy things you don’t need,” he says.

“My goal is to suck it up and be really diligent about saving money now,” Mr. Weiss adds, “and over time hopefully that amounts to something good.”

Summing Up

Billy Weiss is wise beyond his years.

While it's true that we're only young once, it's equally true that we're only old once.

Upon entering the work force, taking the time and making the effort to take good care of both our younger and older selves is a great plan.

And once that's become our plan, immediately getting into the doing isn't that hard either.

As amateur philosopher and the shortest ever NBA dunk champion Spud Webb once said, "f you can dream it, you can do it."

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Yesterday's Unemployment Report Signals a Continuing Slow Growth and High Underemployment Economy Ahead

Yesterday morning's unemployment report was another weak one, which we commented on at the time in 'Is a Solid Economic Recovery Underway? . . .'

But the political spin machine was out in full force later in the day and the weakness was 'explained away' as a temporary interruption of a solid economic recovery which is very much on track. Unfortunately, that's simply not true.

The politicians and many similarly minded pundits want us to believe that the first quarter's weakness was simply a result of bad weather, the West Coast dock strike and a strong U. S. dollar. That's all true, of course, but that's not the whole story --- not even close.

In fact, it's not even the critical part of the story of what looks like future slow growth and underemployment for a long time to come. Government policies can't solve our problems with growth and underemployment, but they can keep them from being properly addressed by private sector initiatives. And that's just what they are doing.

The Economy Will Rebound, but Prosperity Won't delivers the bad news about the less-than-rosy outlook for a healthy American economy:

"Rearview mirrors exist for a reason: to help us see what’s sneaking up on us from behind. The quarterly economic report is a rearview mirror. The latest one, released on Friday, shows that the economy contracted at an annual pace of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015. Activity has picked up since then, so the tendency is strong to dismiss what is in the mirror, along these lines:
  • Economists expected the first-quarter decline, so no one is shocked.
  • Statistical quirks might be in play, so conditions may have been stronger in the first quarter than the data indicate.
  • The weather has improved since the first quarter, the port strike on the West Coast has ended and second-quarter data rule out an impending recession, so full speed ahead!
There is some truth to all of that. The problem is that “full speed” in today’s economy is too slow to generate broad prosperity. Given the dismal first quarter, the economy is set to grow at an annual rate of 2 percent to 3 percent for the year, its pace through much of the recovery that began in mid-2009. . . . 

The overarching cause of the economy’s inability to achieve and sustain robust growth is the continued failure to employ everyone who wants and needs a job.

There has been a lot of justifiable high-fiving about the steady fall in the unemployment rate, to 5.4 percent recently. But joblessness is still higher than it was before the last recession began at the end of 2007. Unemployment is still above the pre-recession levels in Washington, D.C. and 36 states, including California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Despite steady if lackluster economic growth, job prospects are still rocky even for recent college graduates. The average unemployment rate in the past year for college grads ages 21 to 24 was 7.2 percent, compared to 5.5 percent in the pre-recession year of 2007. Their underemployment rate, which includes those who do not have full-time hours, is 14.9 percent, compared to 9.6 percent in 2007.

The situation is even worse for recent high school graduates. The average unemployment rate for high school grads ages 17 to 21 is now 19.5 percent, compared to 15.9 percent in 2007; underemployment is 37 percent, compared to 26.8 percent in 2007.

The economy is in much better shape than it was a few years ago. But it is still ailing. Healthy growth requires healthy employment with rising wages. . . .

The economy will rebound in the second quarter. But it is not yet on its way to full employment, which is the only way to broad prosperity."

Summing Up
We are in the middle of a long term economic mess.

Debts are too high, underemployment is too high, unproductive government spending is too high, and the costs of educating our youngsters are too high.
Personal savings and investment are too low, good jobs are too few, productive private sector investment is too low, and the quality of our educational efforts and outputs are too low.

Each of the above is simply stated and easily seen.

None of the above is easily solved.

Simple and easy must never be confused for each other, and that's why today things don't look so good for future generations of Americans.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

A Quick Financial Literacy Quiz

By Keenan Mann

Below is a three question financial literacy quiz.  Have a go at it and then see the answers at the end.

1. Suppose you had $100 in a savings account and the interest rate was 2% per year. After five years, how much do you think you would have in the account if you left the money to grow?
A. More than $102
B. Exactly $102
C. Less than $102

2. Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account was 1% per year and inflation was 2% per year. After one year, how much would you be able to buy with the money in this account?
A. More than today
B. Exactly the same
C. Less than today

3. Please tell me whether this statement is true or false: “Buying a single company’s stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.”
♦ True
♦ False

Before I show you the answers, I'd like to point out a few facts about the quiz that were uncovered in a study done by Olivia S. Mitchell of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Annamaria Lusardi of the George Washington University School of Business:

  • In a survey of Americans over the age of 50, only half could answer the first two of the above questions correctly. Only one-third got all three right.
  • Forty-four percent of Americans with a college degree answered all three questions correctly. The figure was 31% for people with some college and 64% for Americans with postgraduate education.
  • “Even well-educated people are not necessarily savvy about money,” the professors write.
  • In the U.S. and other countries, men are much more likely to get all three correct answers. The figure is 38% for men vs. 23% for women in this country.
  • Another striking finding, also consistent across countries, is that men are more confident about their financial knowledge than they should be: even when they were wrong, they reported being ‘very confident’ about their answers. In contrast, women generally answer fewer of the financial knowledge questions correctly, on average, but they are more likely to admit when they do not know how to answer our questions. 

Here are the answers:


So, how did you do?  Too easy?  Good.

Perhaps we can try are harder one some time soon.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Is a Solid Economic Recovery Underway? ... Not Really ... The 'New Normal' Sucks

Housing starts are up modestly over last year. Compared to the peak several years ago, however, they are still about 50% lower.

Interest rates are at essentially zero and yet no substantial private sector investment is forthcoming.

Oil prices have dropped 50% in the past several months, but still the consumer is cautious about spending this purported 'windfall.'

And now we learn that the U.S. economy didn't grow at all in the first calendar quarter of 2015. It actually shrank by 0.7%, according to this morning's revised GDP report. See U.S. economy shrinks by 0.7% in first quarter. {And, yes, my fellow amateur grammarians, the correct spelling is shrank and not shrunk, despite the commonly used 'Honey, I shrunk the kids misspelling.'}

And by the way, our economy probably won't grow by 3% in the second calendar quarter either. For the first six months, it looks like more of the same --- very slow growth. What else is new?

So shrink, shrank and shrunk all apply to U.S. economic growth lately and for several more months to come. It ain't good, however we choose to spell it, and whichever tense we choose to use.

Here's my 'crystal ball' economic take on all this. The U.S. economy is getting better, albeit ever so slowly. But it definitely has a very long way to go before anything resembling what we used to call normal returns. In fact, we may be entering a new and lower version of normal where our sights will have to be reset at a much lower level than historically.

Debt levels are huge, government is taking over more of the economy and global competition is real. However, our fractured and ineffective politicians don't seem to be focused on any of that. Instead we're concerned about immigration, climate change, free college, public sector pensions, the official unemployment rate (which understates our ongoing economic woes), when the Fed will raise interest rates and other such matters.

Emphasizing private sector growth leading to the solid economic growth we need apparently isn't even on the nation's radar screen.

The median household is still worse off now than before the recession has the troubling but realistic view of the U.S. economy's non-recovering economic recovery:
"The good news: household income is starting to show some movement.

The bad news: most families are still worse off than they were before the Great Recession.

That’s according to the latest data from Sentier Research, which derives the results from government figures. They found that median annual household income rose 0.6% in April to $54,578. That’s 3% higher than the same month of 2014, and 6.2% higher than Aug. 2011.

However, median income is still 2.9% worse than before the onset of the recession in Dec. 2007.
“Our time series charts clearly illustrate that although the economic recovery officially began in June 2009, the recovery in household income did not begin to emerge until after August 2011,” said Gordon Green of Sentier Research in a statement.

The income is presented before tax but adjusted for inflation.

The data fits with the upward trend in measures of consumer confidence, but also with surveys that still show unease about the broader economy.

A separate Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday showed there was just a 3 percentage point rise, from 62% in 2013 to 65% in 2014, in the number of adults who consider their families to be doing “okay” or living “comfortably.” There was an 8 percentage point gain, from 21% to 29%, in those who expected their income to be higher in a year.

That survey also found that retirement was just a dream for many households — 38% said they either won’t retire or plan to keep working as long as possible."

Summing Up

Facts are facts, whether we like to hear about them or not.

And believe it or not, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Janet Yellen, Bruce Rauner, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and even the Pope can't change what is.  They can and do, however, help us to avoid reality by not discussing it openly these days.

When will things improve? Well, they are improving.

But when will they return to what we commonly refer to as normal? That's not likely to happen for a long time, and perhaps for a very long time at that.

Sooner or later we'll relearn the simple truth that rowing our own boat is easier and even more fun that depending on the government gurus to row it for us or tell us how to row it for ourselves.

Until then, they'll continue to talk a good game, but they won't even be talking about the real game.

Politics sucks. Sadly, that's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

Deming Can Teach You Everything You Need To Know To Properly Consider Cleveland's Police Problems, Public School Failures, and Any Other Problem You Can Think Of

By Keenan Mann

Two days ago, the City of Cleveland agreed with the Department of Justice to undergo  police department reforms. An article in read in part;

"The scope of the settlement, known as a consent decree, is sweeping.  A 105-page document will serve as a blueprint for overhauling policies that federal lawyers say promoted excessive force. It also demands more accountability and transparency from officers and their supervisors when justifying the use of force.

Perhaps most ambitiously, it aims to mend a frayed relationship between police and the community. Citizens would have a larger role and louder voice through a 13-member advisory committee established to recommend improvements. The city also agreed to revise its search-and-seizure guidelines and develop a "bias-free" policing strategy, committing to change in areas that, although not originally on the Justice Department's list, advanced to the forefront during a series of community meetings..."

This is good news right?  Perhaps, but I'll come back to that later.

In yesterday's post, I talked about John Kotter's eight steps to leading change and their application to the failing Education system.  After some conversation and reflection, I've concluded that W. Edwards Deming teachings are probably a more appropriate point of view from which to consider that or any other problem needing attention.

Deming (1900-1993) was a world renowned statistician and management consultant who, in the early 1950s, played a pivotal role in helping Japan's manufacturing industry recover from it's dismantling in WWII.  His training of hundreds of Japanese engineers, managers, and scholars led to a quality revolution in Japan that put them a few decades ahead of the rest of the world. 

There are are countless volumes written on Deming's work, but the focus herein is on his System of Profound Knowledge, which is broken into four parts.  Dr. Barbara Berry summarized each very well below:

1.  Appreciation of a system.  A system is complex. It is made up of interrelated components of people and processes with a clearly defined, shared destination or goal. Everyone must share a distinct understanding and commitment to the aim or purpose of the system. 

Appreciation of a system depends on quality leaders’ understanding the interconnectedness and interdependence the interconnectedness must be clearly defined and documented for successful flow or continuous improvement of the process. 

Optimization of a system can occur when all interconnecting components are orchestrated to achieve the organization’s goal. The people, free of fear and competition within the system can band together for optimization of the system. In a quality system, everybody gains.  The traditional “management by objectives” philosophy fails to orchestrate the components, leaving each one to do a job separate from the other components and often causing them to work against the successes of others. No one component may seek its own reward without destroying the balance of the system. Each component is obligated to contribute its best to the system as a whole. In all negotiations the results must be win/win. 

Competitiveness within the system leads to loss for the system. Each component works interdependently with the other components.

2.  The Psychology of Change.  The system self-organizes around its Identity. That includes its vision, purpose, guiding principles, values, history, theory of success and shared aspirations. A clearly designed, shared identity allows the organization to self-organize in alignment with the identity desired by leadership. All systems are complex adaptive systems which adapt around their identity. The identity may be designed by leadership or it may occur without design, more by accident. If it is allowed to occur accidentally it will lack clear, shared direction. Thus empowerments will not be fully successful. 

A new style of leadership is required in Complex adapting organizations. This style is one in which the leader serves their people with vision and guidance to see the interconnectedness of the whole system. The leaders must first gain and communicate a shared identity and then be able to allow the organization ownership of that identity. The leader serves the people with clear vision and guidance to empower them. To be empowered is to share ownership in the identity. 

Often resistance to change is strong because everyone feels devalued. Resistance is diminished when everyone shares in the identity and understands the benefits of change. By adapting and developing new skills people feel their value increase, they have ownership in the change. 

People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, desire to learn, creativity and joy in accomplishment, and a need for freedom and belonging. Early experiences may diminish self-esteem, but successful accomplishments serve to improve it. Giving people a certain degree of control over their work fulfills the need for freedom and provides opportunity for taking joy in work. Teamwork and loyalty to the work place satisfies the need to belong. 

Industrial style thinking has lead to management styles of command and control. The industrial age influenced the workplace and schools to encourage individual completeness, absolute authority, and one-right answer thinking. A change in philosophy requires unlearning industrial thinking evident in departmentalization, scarcity of knowledge and information competitiveness.

3.  Knowledge About Variation.  No two things are exactly alike, not people, not processes. Variation is a natural, inevitable part of life. 

The goal of quality or continuous improvement is to reduce the range of variation over time, in addition to adjusting the process level to the desired level. 

Almost all variation within a process is due to chance causes, inherent in the design of the process. Management controls the design of the process. People within the system are limited by that design. 

Dr. Deming went to great lengths to illustrate this in his red bead experiment in which he demonstrated that despite coercive demands and the best efforts of the workers or supervisors, variation is still present in the number of undesirable red beads scooped up by the worker. 

Limits within which the natural or common variation of a process falls can be determined from data collected from the process. When all data points fall within these limits, the process is said to be in control and stable. Once these limits (control limits) are established, one can set about to reduce the distance between the limits. Using a control chart allows one to easily observe when the process is outside the limits, thus indicating special cause variation within the process. 

Problems arise when management reacts to common cause or chance variation as if it were special cause variation. This can be illustrated by the reaction to point-to-point variation in a process. That is, one point shows improvement and no one questions the goodness of the process. The next point might get worse and everyone asks why, when it is really common cause variation. Pressure is applied to operators who have no control over the variation resulting from the design of the process. The emphasis is placed on point-to-point variation rather than working to decrease all variation and improve the average. 

Tampering can also be an issue. This happens when operators make adjustments to processes that are showing only common cause variation, i.e., all points fall within the control limits and there are no patterns indicating special cause variation. By doing this they will actually increase the amount of variation in the process. 

Knowledge gained from this study of process variation must be integrated into continuous improvement efforts through the use of the continuous improvement cycle. Sometimes called the Shewhart Cycle, continuous improvement consists of (1) planning and studying data to predict a solution, (2) implementing changes while (3) carefully checking resulting effects on the system, when the desired results occur, (4) take action to fully implement the changes. The cycle stages are: Plan-Do-Check-Act.

4.  The Theory of Knowledge.  As stated here, implies that system improvement depends on continuous study of the organization. Improvement is learning and developing new knowledge about the system. The learning process requires several steps: 1) forming a theory, 2) making predictions based on past experiences, 3) testing the theory, 4) checking the results. Building knowledge through systematic analysis of short-term/longterm results and revision and extension to the theory provides the learning process. This can be related to the Shewhart Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act. 

Knowledge is developed from the application of theory. The theory provides a window from which to view the situation and gives meaning to experience. Prediction based in theory provides a foundation for planning a course of action. The formation of a theory is based on past experiences. It can be adjusted based on analysis of results of any actions applied. This cycle provides knowledge that can be applied for continuous improvement, thus a continuous improvement process is established. 

Deming cautions that we do not mistake information for knowledge. Information without application

of the cycle of theory-prediction-action-analysis-adjustment does not create learning or knowledge and does not improve the process. 

Tampering with the system: actions applied to individual components without the guidance of profound knowledge works against the system even when best efforts are made. In this scenario, decisions are usually made in a reactionary manner which leads to other reactionary behavior which serves as a misbalancing force on the system. 

Organizations which are caught in a reactionary cycle are incapable of operating on a theory of knowledge because reactionary cycle behavior usually excludes the use of the theory-knowledge cycle; a reactionary cycle is short-term and usually occurs without opportunity to check the effect of that action on other components of the system.

So is the Cleveland's deal with the DOJ to reform its police department a good thing?

I could have this all wrong, but to me it looks like the powers that be in Cleveland and at the DOJ have no appreciation of a system.  The 105 page document sounds like a bunch of reactions to common cause variations and, as such, amounts to little more than tampering with that system.

Now if they really wanted to make the Cleveland police better, they'd have to make Cleveland better, which would include Cleveland schools, Cleveland teachers, Cleveland teachers unions, Cleveland police unions, Cleveland parents, Cleveland City Government, etc.

And to accomplish that, they'd all have to take the difficult (psychological) leap that to optimize the results for Cleveland as a whole, they might have to make sacrifices.  Departmentalized competing interests most certainly confer benefits to the winning departments in other words, but the system is, more than likely, worse off.

Problems have solutions for sure.  But it's what we don't know, not what we know that is the key to making progress towards those solutions.  Learning what we don't know is as easy as the picture above illustrates.  All we need to get started is a question.

So here's another question:  Are the City of Cleveland and the DOJ willing to learn and act according to their new knowledge or is what they think they already know enough?

I have my theory.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Turnaround Fallacy

By Keenan Mann

About 15 years ago, give or take, I read a book called Leading Change, by John Kotter.  I've not laid eyes on the book since, but I still remember the eight step process for leading organizational change that the author outlined. Below is my straight-from-memory listing of the steps along with a brief explanation of each:

Step 1:  Establish a sense of urgency.  In essence if you're going to get people to change, you're going to have to convince them of the urgent need to do so.

Step 2:  Establish a guiding coalition.  This is a core group of people who will serve as stewards for the change process.

Step 3:  Create a vision.  This describes waht the future state will look like.

Step 4:  Communicate the vision.  The people in the organization need to know what the proposed future state looks like so they can sort out their places in it and help drive the process.

Step 5:  Get some short term wins.  This is an acknowledgment that it will take time to get to the new end state, but that there will be signs along the way that progress is being made.

Step 6:  Consolidate the gains and get more wins.  Momentum is key here.  Once you start winning you'll keep winning if you have the right attitude and approach.

Step 7:  Empower and broaden the base.  Get more people involved in the change process to take advantage of the power of leverage.

Step 8:  Change the culture.  This is the result, no the aim, therefore it is the last of the eight steps when considered properly.

I recalled the book as a result of reading and thinking about an article below titled, "The Turnaround Fallacy".  It was written a few years ago by Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute.  The full text is below:

"For as long as there have been struggling schools in America’s cities, there have been efforts to turn them around. The lure of dramatic improvement runs through Morgan Freeman’s big-screen portrayal of bat-wielding principal Joe Clark, philanthropic initiatives like the Gates Foundation’s “small schools” project, and No Child Left Behind (NCLB)’s restructuring mandate. The Obama administration hopes to extend this thread even further, making school turnarounds a top priority.

But overall, school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations. Quite simply, turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems.
Fortunately, findings from two generations of school improvement efforts, lessons from similar work in other industries, and a budding practice among reform-minded superintendents are pointing to a promising alternative. When conscientiously applied strategies fail to drastically improve America’s lowest-performing schools, we need to close them.

Done right, not only will this strategy help the students assigned to these failing schools, it will also have a cascading effect on other policies and practices, ultimately helping to bring about healthy systems of urban public schools.

A Body at Rest Stays at Rest
Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways.

Examples abound: In the first year of California’s Academic Performance Index, the state targeted its lowest-performing 20 percent of schools for intervention. After three years, only 11 percent of the elementary schools in this category (109 of 968) were able to make “exemplary progress.” Only 1 of the 394 middle and high schools in this category reached this mark. Just one-quarter of the schools were even able to accomplish a lesser goal: meeting schoolwide and subgroup growth targets each year.
In 2008, 52 Ohio schools were forced to restructure because of persistent failure. Even after several years of significant attention, fewer than one in three had been able to reach established academic goals, and less than half showed any student performance gains. The Columbus Dispatch concluded, “Few of them have improved significantly even after years of effort and millions in tax dollars.”
These state anecdotes align with national data on schools undergoing NCLB-mandated restructuring, the law’s most serious intervention, which follows five or more years of failing to meet minimum achievement targets. Of the schools required to restructure in 2004–05, only 19 percent were able to exit improvement status two years later.

A 2008 Center on Education Policy (CEP) study investigated the results of restructuring in five states. In California, Maryland, and Ohio, only 14, 12, and 9 percent of schools in restructuring, respectively, made adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by NCLB the following year. And we must consider carefully whether merely making AYP should constitute success at all: in California, for example, a school can meet its performance target if slightly more than one-third of its students reach proficiency in English language arts and math. Though the CEP study found that improvement rates in Michigan and Georgia were considerably higher, Michigan changed its accountability system during this period, and both states set their AYP bars especially low.

Though alarming, the poor record for school turnarounds in recent years should come as no surprise. A study published in 2005 by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) on state takeovers of schools and districts noted that the takeovers “have yet to produce dramatic consistent increases in student performance,” and that the impact on learning “falls short of expectations.”

Reflecting on the wide array of efforts to improve failing schools, one set of analysts concluded, “Turnaround efforts have for the most part resulted in only marginal improvements…. Promising practices have failed to work at scale when imported to troubled schools.”

Like Finding the Cure for Cancer
The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”
An EdSource study that sought to compare California’s low-performing schools that failed to make progress to its low-performing schools that did improve came to a confounding conclusion: clear differences avoided detection. Comparing the two groups, the authors noted, “These were schools in the same cities and districts, often serving children from the same backgrounds. Some of them also adopted the same curriculum programs, had teachers with similar backgrounds, and had similar opportunities for professional development.”

Maryland’s veteran state superintendent of schools, Nancy Grasmick, agrees: “Very little research exists on how to bring about real sea change in schools…. Clearly, there’s no infallible strategy or even sequence of them.” Responding to the growing number of failing Baltimore schools requiring state-approved improvement plans, she said, “No one has the answer. It’s like finding the cure for cancer.”
Researchers have openly lamented the lack of reliable information pointing to or explaining successful improvement efforts, describing the literature as “sparse” and “scarce.” Those attempting to help others fix broken schools have typically resorted to identifying activities in improved schools, such as bolstering leadership and collecting data.

However, this case-study style of analysis is deeply flawed. As the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has noted, studies “that look back at factors that may have contributed to [a] school’s success” are “particularly weak in determining causal validity for several reasons, including the fact that there is no way to be confident that the features common to successful turnaround schools are not also common to schools that fail.”

Researchers have noted that the Department of Education has signaled its own ignorance about what to do about the nation’s very worst schools. One study reported, “The NCLB law does not specify any additional actions for schools that remain in the implementation phase of restructuring for more than one year, and [the Department] has offered little guidance on what to do about persistently struggling schools.” Indeed, the IES publication, “Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools” practice guide, purportedly a resource for states and districts, concedes, “All recommendations had to rely on low levels of evidence,” because it could not identify any rigorous studies finding that “specific turnaround practices produce significantly better academic outcomes.”

Still in Its Infancy?
The prevailing view is that we must keep looking for turnaround solutions. Observers have written, “Turnaround at scale is still in its infancy,” and “In education, turnarounds have been tried rarely” (see “The Big U-Turn,” features, Winter 2009). But, in fact, the number and scope of fix-it efforts have been extensive to say the least.

Long before NCLB required interventions in the lowest-performing schools, states had undertaken significant activity. In 1989 New Jersey took over Jersey City Public Schools; in 1995 it took over Newark Public Schools. In 1993 California took control of the Compton Unified School District. In 1995 Ohio took over the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Between 1993 and 1997 states required the reconstitution of failing schools in Denver, Chicago, New York City, and Houston. In 2000 Alabama took over a number of schools across the state, and Maryland seized control of three schools in Baltimore.

Since NCLB, interventions in struggling schools have only grown in number and intensity. In the 2006–07 school year, more than 750 schools in “corrective action,” the NCLB phase preceding restructuring, implemented a new research-based curriculum, more than 700 used an outside expert to advise the school, nearly 400 restructured the internal organization of the school, and more than 200 extended the school day or year. Importantly, more than 300 replaced staff members or the principal, among the toughest traditional interventions possible.

Occasionally a program will report encouraging success rates. The University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program asserts that about half of its targeted schools have either made AYP or reduced math and reading failure rates by at least 5 percent. Though this might be better than would otherwise be expected, the threshold for success is remarkably low. It is also unknown whether such progress can be sustained. This matter is particularly important, given that some point to charter management organizations Green Dot and Mastery as turnaround success stories even though each has a very short turnaround résumé, in both numbers of schools and years of experience.

Many schools that reach NCLB’s restructuring phase, rather than implementing one of the law’s stated interventions (close and reopen as a charter school, replace staff, turn the school over to the state, or contract with an outside entity), choose the “other” option, under which they have considerable flexibility to design an improvement strategy of their own (see “Easy Way Out,” forum, Winter 2007). 

Some call this a “loophole” for avoiding tough action.
Yet even under the maligned “other” option, states and districts have tried an astonishing array of improvement strategies, including different types of school-level needs assessments, surveys of school staff, conferences, professional development, turnaround specialists, school improvement committees, training sessions, principal mentors, teacher coaches, leadership facilitators, instructional trainers, subject-matter experts, audits, summer residential academies, student tutoring, research-based reform models, reconfigured grade spans, alternative governance models, new curricula, improved use of data, and turning over operation of some schools to outside organizations.

It’s simply impossible to make the case that turnaround efforts haven’t been tried or given a chance to work.

A Better Mousetrap?
Despite this evidence, some continue to advocate for improved turnaround efforts. Nancy Grasmick supports recognizing turnarounds as a unique discipline. Frederick Hess and Thomas Gift have argued for developing school restructuring leaders; Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel have recommended that states and districts “fuel the pipeline” of untraditional turnaround specialists. NewSchools Venture Fund, the Education Commission of the States, and the research firm Mass Insight have offered related turnaround strategies.

And the Obama administration too has bought into the notion that turnarounds are the key to improving urban districts. Education secretary Arne Duncan has said that if the nation could turn around 1,000 schools annually for five years, “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children.” In the administration’s 2009 stimulus legislation, $3 billion in new funds were appropriated for School Improvement Grants, which aid schools in NCLB improvement status. The administration requested an additional $1.5 billion for this program in the 2010 budget. This is all on top of the numerous streams of existing federal funds that can be—and have been—used to turn around failing schools.

The dissonance is deafening. The history of urban education tells us emphatically that turnarounds are not a reliable strategy for improving our very worst schools. So why does there remain a stubborn insistence on preserving fix-it efforts?

The most common, but also the most deeply flawed, justification is that there are high-performing schools in American cities. That is, some fix-it proponents point to unarguably successful urban schools and then infer that scalable turnaround strategies are within reach. In fact, it has become fashionable among turnaround advocates to repeat philosopher Immanuel Kant’s adage that “the actual proves the possible.”

But as a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study noted, “Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success…. Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges.”
In fact, America’s most-famous superior urban schools are virtually always new starts rather than schools that were previously underperforming. Probably the most convincing argument for the fundamental difference between start-ups and turnarounds comes from those actually running high-performing high-poverty urban schools (see sidebar). Groups like KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) and Achievement First open new schools; as a rule they don’t reform failing schools. KIPP’s lone foray into turnarounds closed after only two years, and the organization abandoned further turnaround initiatives. Said KIPP’s spokesman, “Our core competency is starting and running new schools.”

Start Schools from Scratch
Ask those who know how to run high-performing, high-poverty schools why they start fresh, and they’ll give strikingly similar answers—and make the case against turnarounds.
A study done for NewSchools Venture Fund found that the operators of school networks believed that “changing the culture of existing schools to facilitate learning was difficult to impossible.” One compared turnarounds to putting “old wine in new bottles.”

Tom Torkelson, CEO of the high-performing IDEA network agrees: “I don’t do turnarounds because a turnaround usually means operating within a school system that couldn’t stomach the radical steps we’d take to get the school back on track. We fix what’s wrong with schools by changing the practices of the adults, and I believe there are few examples where this is currently possible without meddling from teacher unions, the school board, or the central office.”

Chris Barbic, founder and CEO of the stellar YES Prep network, says that “starting new schools and having control over hiring, length of day, student recruitment, and more gives us a pure opportunity to prove that low-income kids can achieve at the same levels as their more affluent peers. If we fail, we have only ourselves to blame, and that motivates us to bring our A-game every single day.”
KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg says simply, “The best way we can look a child in the eye and say with confidence what kind of school and environment we will provide is by starting that school and environment from scratch.”

A 2006 NewSchools Venture Fund study confirmed a widespread aversion to takeover-and-turnaround strategies among successful school operators. Only 4 of 36 organizations interviewed expressed interest in restructuring existing schools. Remarkably, rather than trusting successful school operators’ track records and informed opinion that start-ups are the way to go, Secretary Duncan urged them to get into the turnaround business during a speech at the 2009 National Charter Schools Conference.
The findings above deserve repeating: Fix-it efforts at the worst schools have consistently failed to generate significant improvement. Our knowledge base about improving failing schools is still staggeringly small. And exceptional urban schools are nearly always start-ups or consistently excellent schools, not drastically improved once-failing schools.  So when considering turnaround efforts we should stop repeating, “The actual proves the possible” and bear in mind a different Kant adage: “Ought implies can.”

If we are going to tell states and districts that they must fix all of their failing schools, or if we are to consider it a moral obligation to radically improve such schools, we should be certain that this endeavor is possible. But there is no reason to believe it is.

Turnarounds Elsewhere
Education leaders seem to believe that, outside of the world of schools, persistent failures are easily fixed. Far from it. The limited success of turnarounds is a common theme in other fields. Writing in Public Money & Management, researchers familiar with the true private-sector track record offered a word of caution: “There is a risk that politicians, government officials, and others, newly enamored of the language of failure and turnaround and inadequately informed of the empirical evidence and practical experience in the for-profit sector…will have unrealistic expectations of the transformative power of the turnaround process.”

Hess and Gift reviewed the success rates of Total Quality Management (TQM) and Business Process Reengineering (BPR), the two most common approaches to organizational reform in the private sector. The literature suggests that both have failed to generate the desired results two-thirds of the time or more. They concluded, “The hope that we can systematically turn around all troubled schools—or even a majority of them—is at odds with much of what we know from similar efforts in the private sector.”
Many have noted that flexibility and dynamism are part of the genetic code of private business, so we should expect these organizations to be more receptive to the massive changes required by a turnaround process than institutions set in what Hess calls the “political, regulatory, and contractual morass of K–12 schooling.” Accordingly, school turnarounds should be more difficult to achieve. Indeed, a consultant with the Bridgespan Group reported, “Turnarounds in the public education space are far harder than any turnaround I’ve ever seen in the for-profit space.”

Building a Healthy Education Industry
We shouldn’t be surprised then that turnarounds in urban education have largely failed. The surprise and shame is that urban public education, unlike nearly every other industry, profession, and field, has never developed a sensible solution to its continuous failures. After undergoing improvement efforts, a struggling private firm that continues to lose money will close, get taken over, or go bankrupt. Unfit elected officials are voted out of office. The worst lawyers can be disbarred, and the most negligent doctors can lose their licenses. Urban school districts, at long last, need an equivalent.
The beginning of the solution is establishing a clear process for closing schools. The simplest and best way to put this into operation is the charter model. Each school, in conjunction with the state or district, would develop a five-year contract with performance measures. Consistent failure to meet goals in key areas would result in closure. Alternatively, the state could decide that districts only have one option—not five—for schools reaching NCLB-mandated restructuring: closure.

This would have three benefits. First, children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure.

Second, the fear of closure might generate improvement in some low-performing schools. Failure in public education has had fewer consequences (for adults) than in other fields, a fact that might contribute to the persistent struggles of some schools. We should have limited expectations in this regard, however. Even in the private sector, where the consequences for poor performance are significant, some low-performing entities never become successful.

Third, and by far the most important and least appreciated factor, closures make room for replacements, which have a transformative positive impact on the health of a field. When a firm folds due to poor performance, the slack is taken up by the expansion of successful existing firms—meaning that those excelling have the opportunity to do more—or by new firms. New entrants not only fill gaps, they have a tendency to better reflect current market conditions. They are also far likelier to introduce innovations: Google, Facebook, and Twitter were not products of long-standing firms. Certainly not all new starts will excel, not in education, not in any field. But when provided the right characteristics and environment, their potential is vast.

The churn caused by closures isn’t something to be feared; on the contrary, it’s a familiar prerequisite for industry health. Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan’s brilliant 2001 book Creative Destruction catalogued the ubiquity of turnover in thriving industries, including the eventual loss of once-dominant players. Churn generates new ideas, ensures responsiveness, facilitates needed change, and empowers the best to do more.

These principles can be translated easily into urban public education via tools already at our fingertips thanks to chartering: start-ups, replications, and expansions. Chartering has enabled new school starts for nearly 20 years and school replications and expansions for a decade. Chartering has demonstrated clearly that the ingredients of healthy, orderly churn can be brought to bear on public education.
A small number of progressive leaders of major urban school systems are using school closure and replacement to transform their long-broken districts: Under Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City has closed nearly 100 traditional public schools and opened more than 300 new schools. In 2004, Chicago announced the Renaissance 2010 project, which is built around closing chronically failing schools and opening 100 new public schools by the end of the decade.

Numerous other big-city districts are in the process of closing troubled schools, including Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. In Baltimore, under schools CEO Andrés Alonso, reform’s guiding principles include “Closing schools that don’t work for our kids,” “Creating new options that have strong chances of success,” and “Expanding some programs that are already proving effective.”
Equally encouraging, there are indications that these ideas, which once would have been considered heretical, are being embraced by education’s cognoscenti. A group of leading reformers, the Coalition for Student Achievement, published a document in April 2009 that offered ideas for the best use of the federal government’s $100 billion in stimulus funding. They recommended that each state develop a mechanism to “close its lowest performing five percent of schools and replace them with higher-performing, new schools including public charter schools.”

A generation ago, few would have believed that such a fundamental overhaul of urban districts was on the horizon, much less that perennial underperformers New York City, Chicago, and Baltimore would be at the front of the pack with much of the education establishment and reform community in tow. But, consciously or not, these cities have begun internalizing the lessons of healthy industries and the chartering mechanism, which, if vigorously applied to urban schooling, have extraordinary potential. Best of all, these districts and outstanding charter leaders like KIPP Houston (with 15 schools already and dozens more planned) and Green Dot (which opened 5 new schools surrounding one of Los Angeles’s worst high schools) are showing that the formula boils down to four simple but eminently sensible steps: close failing schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, repeat.
Today’s fixation with fix-it efforts is misguided. Turnarounds have consistently shown themselves to be ineffective—truly an unscalable strategy for improving urban districts—and our relentless preoccupation with improving the worst schools actually inhibits the development of a healthy urban public-education industry.

Those hesitant about replacing turnarounds with closures should simply remember that a failed business doesn’t indict capitalism and an unseated incumbent doesn’t indict democracy. Though temporarily painful, both are essential mechanisms for maintaining long-term systemwide quality, responsiveness, and innovation. Closing America’s worst urban schools doesn’t indict public education nor does it suggest a lack of commitment to disadvantaged students. On the contrary, it reflects our insistence on finally taking the steps necessary to build city school systems that work for the boys and girls most in need."

In my interpretation, Mr. Smarick's article offers support for W.E.B DubBois' notion that, "A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect."  The traditional public education system is not designed to protect students.  The charter schools, on the other hand, seem to have student protection in mind.

All that said, my position is that Mr. Kotter would fail miserably at trying to run through his eight steps in the public school system.  I'm guessing he might not get past step 1, but if he did, step 2 would leave him stymied for sure.

And that's a shame.