Friday, March 11, 2011


Friday Fragments

- I’m officially tired of using the wet/dry vac on the basement floor. Anytime this winter would like to go away would be fine with me.

- Governor Walker, in Wisconsin, is managing to get absolutely everything wrong. He apparently got his way on the bill to kill public employee unions, but he has proposed replacing contractual protections for workers with civil service protections. I’m perplexed. He’ll keep the single worst aspect of the status quo -- the inability to get rid of terrible performers -- while effectively lowering pay and scaring everyone to death. The predictable result is the best performers simply leaving, and the state being stuck with underpaid, crabby low performers that nobody else wants. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Wisconsin doesn’t have oil, and it can’t compete with other states based on its sunny, warm climate. It used to have a pretty strong educational system; there was a time when Madison was a draw for people with choices from other states. Giving that up is suicidal. My condolences to the public workforce there, and eventually, to the entire state.

- CYO basketball is finally ending. I’m glad TB participates, but I’d forgotten just how punishingly long basketball season actually is. Sports build fitness in kids and endurance in parents. Luckily, we’ll get a break before baseball season begins.

- The worst part of my job is having to make a difficult and terribly unpopular decision for reasons I can’t disclose. There’s no way around it, but even knowing that, it still sucks.

- Administrative positions have life cycles. Mine has hit the point where I have to start doing more community-relations stuff, and developing my ‘development’ (fundraising) skills. The one undeniable upside to the for-profits was that you never had to fundraise. It’s for a good cause, but for the introverted among us, it does not come naturally. This will be a major step.

- The ipad 2 leaves me just as confused as the original. Okay, they’ve added a camera and taken off a few ounces. As my college girlfriend used to say, big whoop. Add a &^%(#^* KEYBOARD! While you’re at it, a USB port might be nice, so I wouldn’t have to buy a new printer. Until then, it seems fun, but I’d still need a laptop to get anything substantive done.

- Note to any Ed.D.’s out there: there’s a groundbreaking book waiting to be written on how public colleges can best respond to severe budget cuts. Work to be done...

The iPad is not for creating content; it is for consuming content. And doing minor fussing with content.

It is also one of those items that goes in the gigantic mom-bag and is handed over to placate the whiny child. (Including adults who act like children.)

What you need is the MacBook Air.
re: Fundraising

Have a look at George Keller's "Transforming a College". Most of it deals with the dynamics of donors, not granting agencies. I don't know which way that you are trying to go.

My experience is that funds come in two "flavors". Private/foundation dollars can be much more dynamic and have a much more direct impact. But you must establish a relationship to make that happen.

Federal/State grants have a much more clear process involved and will have programs targeted at the specific issues faced in education. But they are a bear to complete and can come with accounting/allocation requirements that sometimes mitigate against the utility of the dollars received.

I'd suggest that there is no one else in your school better placed to know what your school needs than you. Your posts here certainly attest to your ability to understand not only your own institution, but your understanding of education. Goodness, I'm learning from you.
Well, I suppose some of us for whom moving would be a really bad economic choice can still do a decent job. I do have to admit that he has lessened everybody's enthusiasm quite a bit.
Anyone who votes for a Republican and isn't aware that they just want to destroy the American middle class by now is profoundly stupid.

We have a lot of problems. "Too many people working productively in the middle class" is not among them. Walker is not stupid; he's committed.
At the risk of making Walker sound like a Machiavellian genius, which I severely doubt, consider the multiple levels of victory he'll secure with his ass-backwards plan.

--Victory One: He broke the union. Even if it doesn't save a dime, that's a big political victory for him, as we know.

--Victory Two: He can now shift costs so it looks like the state is paying less for services.

I'm dubious that his plan will actually save money, since a lot of that stuff will get transferred to the private sector which is often (shh, don't tell anyone) more expensive and less efficient when it comes to public service work. But when he touts payrolls, they'll look lower. Government "shrinks" but not really, with the tax money funneled away from those parasitic state workers (boo!) and into the hands of rock-ribbed private sector workers (yay!), with a healthy cut set aside for the Captains of Industry who made it all happen (double yay!)

Reagan pioneered this -- expanding government radically and making it more expensive but putting up a facade of shrinkage and cost-savings by privatizing key functions. Government is now -cough- smaller, and all the while, this shift makes a huge profit for The Right People. Everybody wins! Well, everybody important wins!

--Victory Three: He makes the government less and less effective over time by, as you point out, making it less and less attractive to join or remain within. The beauty of this is if you strip government of the ability to work well, then you can announce that its failures are proof that government doesn't work at all, so you can strip more away. As we've seen done before.

I'm still in awe of his "selling public utilities without bids being necessary" aspect of his plan. That's not even conservatism, that's crony capitalism at its most naked and warty. You think that such a negligent and irresponsible move would cause a big stink. (What dumbass conservative would sell massive industries without bidding? Holy crap! Moron! Oh wait, it's not about helping the state, is it...) But no, we're too used to this kind of lunacy now. Ye gods.
If we had anything resembling a decent news media, that would have been on the front page of every newspaper for weeks.

One underdiscussed aspect of this entire business has been how deeply the Corporate Media is . . . corporate. And how little different NPR is.
For extra-special "What the Hell, America" moments, I give you:

The Emergency Managers Bill, about to pass in Michigan.

Check it out:
"According to the law, which has already been approved in the House, the governor will be able to declare 'financial emergency' in towns or school districts and appoint someone to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, and eliminate services.

Under the law whole cities or school districts could be eliminated without any public participation or oversight, and amendments designed to provide minimal safeguards and public involvement were voted down.

An amendment to require Emergency Managers to hold monthly public meetings to let people know how they are governing was rejected by Senate Republicans, along with proposals to cap Emergency Manager compensation and require that those appointed to run school districts have some background in education."

Not really, no. It's not like they haven't been extremely vocal for the past 30 years that this is what they want.

I've said for a while -- it won't be until white, formerly middle class families start occupying the shantytowns that things will change. Which direction, of course, is more interesting. The Teabaggers definitely have a model: "It's the black people's fault, and if we suck up enough to the rich folks, maybe they'll throw us a few scraps."
Punditus: And as long as you aren't an (ex) NPR fundraiser, you can say that sort of thing.

Dean Dad, seriously, I'd like to know how you (or any admin) would answer this question: WHY can't you say why you have to make difficult and terribly unpopular decisions? I think a lot of times, just a bit of transparency would go a long way. Sometimes people hide the "real" reason when practically everybody knows what it actually is, thus reducing their credibility in the process. Sometimes, they hide the real reason when everybody *doesn't* know what it is, but by misdirecting people (or just leaving them befuddled), the result is either suspicion & mistrust, or, you guessed it, loss of credibility.

Sometimes, I think it would actually be better to just be more forthright about why unpopular decisions need to be made.
Walker and his ilk continue to baffle me. How a person can hew to ideology even unto destroying his own state is beyond me. I just don't get the attraction, unless that person is in fact so deeply involved in crony capitalism that he doesn't really see the job of governor as a political responsibility, but an intermediate step toward enriching himself and his cronies, and breaking the power of his opponents to do anything about it, short of direct actions that the state can then call illegal and oppose with (state-sanctioned) violence.

Hm, maybe I understand Walker after all.

I second your lamentation for Wisconsin. It's awful to see a place that used to be a huge draw for academics turning into what will soon be the equivalent of a pariah state within American academe. (Among other public enterprises!)
I appreciate that your argument is balanced enough to acknowledge the challenges and frustrations of working within a system that continues to employ poor performers. However, I disagree that, "Governor Walker, in Wisconsin, is managing to get absolutely everything wrong."

My perception is that while this looks bad in the short term, it's a good start. The next thing that needs to go is teacher tenure, and couple it with adding incentive compensation to entice the best possible talent into the education profession.

It will be interesting to see if the great unwashed, who perpetually complain about a failing public education system have the personal and collective fortitude to support leaders like Walker, who are actually living up to their campaign promises.
Every time a middle class American loses their job, a conservative angel gets its wings.
Chuck, go ahead and promote "incentive compensation to entice the best possible talent into the education profession" if you wish. But if you're thinking of signing bonuses (from a business model) for big names/hot shots, prepare to raise taxes for higher salary pools, then watch the big names walk away once the bonus disappears after a few years.

If, on the other hand, you want to reward teachers whose students always pass the course or always score well on standardized tests, prepare to see the best teachers shy away from working with students who pose the greatest academic and social challenges. Under your system, why would any teacher in his or her right mind want to risk working with a student population whose challenges would not lead to predictably high success rates year after year? Of course, many teachers do so under the current system because they believe those students deserve a chance. If you look at the situation in strictly economic terms, however (the strong suit, supposedly, of those Republicans who don't really "get" education), it's simply rational behavior for good teachers to avoid at-risk populations. Pretty effective way to screw up public schools for good, sounds like.
Steve is right. My cousin teaches kindergarten. She is an excellent teacher. The system recognizes her skill in one major way: by asking her to mentor new teachers and have student teachers in her classroom. That means giving her extra work, essentially. She does it happily, but it comes without extra pay or other resources. Now her state is discussing teacher evaluations based on student performance. If that's the case, she says, why in the world would she endanger her own evaluations by training teachers? Why would anyone want to teach children of challenging backgrounds in such a system?

In addition, researchers trying to devise teaching evaluation systems have yet to design one that consistently and accurately recognizes the best teachers.

Without decent pay, why would the most talented people want to enter the system at all?

Find a way to attract and keep good teachers, and maybe you'd do away with such ed. school topics as the ads and disads of methods of taking attendance (true story - my husband had this covered in one of the classes he needed for teacher certification).
If there is one thing that you will never, ever get a Republican to understand, it's basic economics. These are the folks who think that a $3 trillion a year government should be run like a household, but a $10 million a year business should not.

"Without decent pay, why would the most talented people want to enter the system at all?"

And now we are at the crux of the conservative project for public education.
how public colleges can best respond to severe budget cuts:

I understand and appreciate the blog comments against incentive compensation. I am not advocating signing bonuses, which I think would be against the law as a gift of public funds, but don't know for sure.

I'm not blaming the teachers, or their dedication, but the 800 pound gorilla seems to be that throwing more money at the problem has not helped. Our public schools, nationwide, are failing, and something needs to be done.

The biggest problem I see is teacher tenure, which is a diametrically opposed to the private sector. Pay the teachers better to compete for talent with higher paying private sector jobs, and end tenure so management can keep the high performers, and remove the slackers.
"throwing more money at the problem has not helped."

"Pay the teachers better"

So, throwing more money at the problem hasn't helped, but the solution is to throw more money at the problem? I'm not saying you're wrong -- the "problem" is that women have more career options, so you have to actually pay talented teachers or they'll leave. But I am delighted by the blame-the-teachers faction's insistence that we can't solve the problem with money until we can.
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