Friday, June 10, 2016

Spectrum is Dead

I have been reading the minutes of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee's April 4 meeting. In the discussion of the quarterly report on Equitable Access there is a discussion of the change from self-contained to clustered Spectrum at Whittier and Lafayette. The minutes are very clear:
Directors are concerned that we are taking a program that defined and provided services for particular students and putting them in general education classrooms. We have an obligation to provide clarity.
That's a fact. The Board Directors want the staff to articulate what constitutes Spectrum. Again, from the minutes:
Directors asked if schools have identified what services look like to families. Sherri explained that families have been informed.
I notice that Ms Heath did not share with the Directors the description of services provided to the families. What was the information provided to families? Was it "You're out of luck; Spectrum is dead."? The Directors must have pressed further:
Directors asked what resources are we giving teachers. This may be an equity issue. Shauna explained that MTSS, professional develop and have three curriculum specialist offering services to make the transitions.
From this we have, in plain language, the acknowledgement of what we have long suspected: Spectrum is dead, replaced by MTSS. The only problem, of course, is that Spectrum was something real, something that was actually happening, something concrete, something that people could point at and say: "There it is - that's Spectrum." MTSS, on the other hand, is not real, not happening, not concrete, and offers nothing that people can point to and say: "There it is - that's MTSS." There is literally zero evidence of any student getting advanced work as a result of MTSS.

The Advanced Learning policy, 2190, clearly requires services for Advanced Learners other than Highly Capable:
The District identifies and provides appropriate instructional programs and services for students who demonstrate high academic achievement, but who do not meet the definition of Highly Capable. Such students are identified as Advanced Learners.
Programs for Advanced Learners
Advanced Learning instructional programs will include differentiation, content acceleration, and deeper learning opportunities. Delivery mechanisms may include: differentiated instruction, groupings of Advanced Learning students to work together in subjects or on projects, self-contained classrooms, or accelerated pacing.
Does MTSS do this? Does MTSS provide content acceleration? Does it provide deeper learning opportunities? What evidence do we to support this presumption? None.

The policy also sets clear requirements for the superintendent's procedure:
The procedures will describe the programs and services available to students identified as Highly Capable as well as to those identified as Advanced Learners.
But when we look at the Superintendent's procedure, it only says this about the programs for Advanced Learners:
Spectrum is a program designed for students identified as "Advanced Learners," but Highly Capable students are welcome to join. Spectrum is for students who perform well above average for their grade level and may require more advanced work to remain engaged. Spectrum is offered at all middle schools and several elementary schools and classes are either self-contained or students are grouped within classrooms that have multiple Highly Capable and/or Advanced Learners, depending on location.
It does NOT meet the requirements of the policy because it does NOT describe the programs and and services. It says who is in the program and where the program is offered, but it does not describe them. Not at all.

This is a serious oversight. This is what is needed: a clear, enforceable description of Spectrum - however it is delivered.

Healing the Divides in America - Farm jobs for city kids

The divides in American society have become so deep that they need healing.

The divide between urban and rural are so bad that these communities no longer have much sense of connection or compassion for each other. Likewise the divide between the various economic classes. These divisions will always be present, but they have grown to a critical state and need to be reduced.

Here's an idea to solve problems for urban and rural communities while also bringing them together: Farm jobs for city kids.

The idea is to solve four problems at once:
  1. Provide jobs for young, unskilled workers. The unemployment among young people raised in poverty is desperately high. These kids need jobs, but their job skills are poor. Let's connect them with employers who need unskilled labor and help  them develop some good work habits.
  2. Reduce the opportunities for undocumented immigrants. People coming to this country illegally are doing so primarily for work. When the job opportunities dry up, the illegal immigration slows down or even reverses. If the farm labor jobs they take are filled by Americans, fewer people will come.
  3. Create human connections between rural communities and the urban youth they fear.
  4. Get urban youth away from the negative influences in their communities.
This program would require a lot of federal money, but it would also save a lot of federal money. Think of it as something like the Conservation Corps, but with farm work in the private sector instead of forestry work in the public sector. The government would arrange a job for these kids, then, each day, feed them breakfast, pack them a lunch, bus them to the job site, pick them up, feed them dinner, and provide them with housing. Childcare and healthcare would also be provided. The farms would pay them $12/hour, but the federal government would provide half of that money, so the net cost to the farm owner would be a six dollar hourly wage, which is what they are used to paying. Surely they would rather hire an American.

Some proposed rules and practices:
  • Provided housing would be modeled on college dormitories, not Army barracks. Two to four to a room, single sex wings in buildings. Family housing would also be needed.
  • A clearly articulated and reinforced sense of purpose
  • Close supervision. Workers who violate rules can be ejected from the program.
  • No drugs, no drunkenness, no violence, no damage to property
  • Regulations on romance?
  • The farmers could fire workers who didn't work well
  • The workers, not having much in the way of living costs, could save a significant portion of their earnings.
  • Any earnings diverted to education fund would be pre-tax, like 401(k)
  • Vans that take workers to job site would also take them to local stores, laundromat
  • Evening programming to include job skills, life skills, also movies, games
A lot of this reminds me of the experience of being a volunteer on kibbutz.

The challenges are obvious. On one side, maintaining the workers' dignity and liberty. They shouldn't be made to feel like slaves or prisoners. The high rate of pay and savings should help there, but care should be taken. When can they have privacy? Rules need to be minimal with a focus on protecting rights, not curtailing them.

On the other side, a lot of young people living and working together is sure to make for some rowdiness and drama. These kids come from a culture in which criminality is commonplace, but we need to keep criminality out of the program. Nothing would confirm the worst fears that rural people have about these kids than for the kids to act inappropriately.

While the idea of providing these young people with food, housing, healthcare, and an income may sound steep, the federal government might already be doing it through food stamps, Section 8, medicaid, and TANF or SSI. Every job they take, takes a job away from an undocumented immigrant and reduces the costs of immigration enforcement. Moreover, giving these young people good work habits, job skills, and opportunities for education are wise investments in our human capital that will save the government down the road.

The program will need administrators who will run the program, supervise and counsel the workers, arrange the work, and provide the programming. The kitchen staff, childcare workers, and bus drivers will be hired from among the workers.

It would be great if kids came back home to their neighborhoods after twelve weeks in this program with new skills, a new outlook, and about $5,000 in their pockets. That would advertise it better than anything else.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Republican Party is a Cultural Party, not a Political Party

I have long-stated that the Republican Party has become a cultural party rather than a political party. The current focus and function of the Republican Party is to fight a rearguard action for the American monoculture defending it from the inevitable rise of multi-culturalism.

While there can be no doubt that the United States is a multi-cultural society, there is an American culture which exists as a separate identity. We are all familiar with it and carry it as part of ourselves, most of us knowing it as one of the multiple cultures in our multi-cultural makeup. We know the narratives. It is most commonly found unalloyed in the small towns and rural communities that Sarah Palin called "the Real America". It is not, as some have suggested, preserved in a time warp stuck on the 1950's. It is current, but, for those of us who live outside of it, it seems a throwback to the time when it was dominant over the bulk of the country.

Think of a small town in which everyone, or nearly everyone, in town shares the same heritage, language, faith, cuisine, arts, fashion, and set of social norms. These are the elements of a culture, and it is a monoculture because there are few if any other cultures represented.  The people in this monoculture look around and everyone (or nearly everyone) they see does things the same way they do, talks like them, prays like them, dresses like them, eats the foods they eat, listens to the same music as them, watches the same movies as them, and shares their priorities and their sense of right and wrong. They all do things about the same way and have been doing them that way for a long time. They don't see anything wrong with it - no one they know has a problem with it - and they don't understand why anyone would object to their continuing their practices of: prayers before school and civic events, dressing as stereotypes of other cultures as Halloween costumes, tolerating a certain amount of domestic violence, exercising a little bit of overt racism and sexism, tolerating a certain amount of drunkenness, indulging sports heroes in school or the law, and a healthy dose of nepotism.

People living in a monoculture don't question anything about that culture. This is true for all monocultures. They see their culture as a sort of normal or default state and everything else as a variation or deviation from that null state. This is how Italian, Chinese, or Mexican restaurants are perceived as serving "ethnic food" while the foods that Americans prepare and eat at home are not recognized as ethnic food, even though they are also the cuisine of a single culture. These variations are rarely regarded as an improvement except in the least authentic or substantial ways - pizza, sweet and sour chicken, and chimichangas. None of these foods, as eaten in America, resemble anything eaten in their supposed country of origin.

When members of a mono-culture are presented with something from another culture they can regard it as exotic or else it is just "weird". They generally don't like it and will often mock it. They have not, generally, developed the habit of accepting, let alone accommodating, other cultures. That's no wonder. It is not an instinctive habit. The instinctive habit is tribalism. We have within us a strong drive to distinguish between "us" and "them". The usual human response to the "other" is fear and loathing. After all, the way we do it is the right way. That's why we do it that way.

The United States has always had cosmopolitan cities filled with immigrants from around the world, enriching those cities with their heritage and teaching the people of the cities the value of multi-culturalism. It is, in fact, thanks to multi-culturalism that US cities have the strength to drive the most powerful economic engine in the world. It is exactly this multi-culturalism and active immigration that makes America (and perhaps Canada) exceptional.

Until recently the small towns and rural communities did not feel that their way of life was threatened by the multi-culturalism in the cities. They had very little contact with it and they were permitted to continue to go about their business without any interference from the urban centers. The majority of the US population lived in rural areas, not cities. But then things changed.

The balance of the population tipped, and now the majority of Americans live in cities, not rural areas. In addition, the media changed. First it was cable TV, but then the internet blew everything wide open. There are no more local media markets. I ask you: How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they have seen Gagnam Style?

In the 21st century the people living in the small towns and rural communities of the United States started to see cracks in the universality of their culture. Their way of doing things was not always perceived, as it had been, as the best way or the one right way.

Monday, June 6, 2016


I was in a meeting with a client last week and he was saying that he was interested in starting a small business when he retires. We asked what sort of business and he mentioned that a craft brewery would be ideal if there weren't so many of them. A number of his colleagues, with whom I suppose he would establish this business, have careers in fermentation, chemical processing, chemical facilities, and other applicable fields.

I got to thinking about what sort of business he could start and I got this idea: Shaketails.

It starts with two things I notice that are still in the early phases of growth. One is the advent of cocktails in a can. There used to just be wine coolers, but you can now buy a wide variety of pre-mixed cocktails in a can. I also saw the milkshakes with booze available at Boulevard Burger and Brews. I put them together and I get: Shaketails - milkshakes with booze that you can buy pre-mixed.

Shakes can be pre-mixed and kept in a freezer. There's a local burger chain in Seattle called Dick's Drive In that sells their shakes to go. Dick's keeps the pre-made shakes sold to go in a freezer where they are kept colder than the intended serving temperature. They recommend that folks put them in the microwave for thirty seconds before serving.

So here's the idea: pre-mixed milkshakes with alcohol kept in your grocer's freezer (or at the local convenience store). You bring them home and keep them in your freezer. Just pop it in the microwave for thirty seconds before serving.

The first friend with whom I shared this idea said something about the alcohol not freezing. That's not really a problem, though, so long as it remains mixed. We don't need to keep the alcohol cold, we just need to keep the milk and ice cream cold.

The second friend I mentioned it to told me that the cocktails in a can, even those with the brand names of various liqueurs, are actually malt liquor, otherwise they couldn't be sold in the grocery store and could only be sold in the ABC store. I think that not only isn't a problem, but a benefit. Like the cocktails in a can we license the names of the liqueurs but actually use malt liquor.

The third person I told this idea to told me about the shake mixing machine they have at Wawa. Apparently you can buy a shake at the Wawa and put it into a customer-operated mixer before you buy it. I can't find this on the Wawa web site, but it doesn't matter if that's correct. The idea is enough. The idea is to sell Shaketails in bars and restaurants. Shaketails sells the bar a freezer, a mixing machine, and a supply of frozen shakes in the base flavors (without the booze). When a customer orders one, the bartender takes the shake out of the freezer, puts it in the mixer, adds the booze (real booze this time), mixes it, and serves it up. Now every bar and restaurant can serve shakes with alcohol with a minimal investment in space and equipment. They just have to buy the equipment and base shakes from us.

The flavors will be those of familiar sweet, milky cocktails like Mudslide, White Russian, Grasshopper, or Pink Squirrel.

My Political View

I believe that the government, which derives its authority from the governed, serves to perform two functions:

  • To protect our rights, and
  • To provide public resources

The "protect our rights" part includes government functions such as the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, and the military.

The "provide public resources" part includes roads, public transit, schools, libraries, parks, and public health. It also includes safety net programs, social insurance programs, and public hospitals.

If the police saw their job as "protecting citizen's rights" instead of "enforcing the law", the officers would conduct themselves differently, they would be seen differently by the community, and we would not have the sort of policing issues that are making headlines today.

If the federal government saw the military's role as "protecting citizen's rights" it would surely reduce the frequency of their deployment. It could, of course, be expanded to include protecting all people's rights, but that's something that we should only undertake in concert with our international partners, not something we should pursue on our own.

"Providing public resources" is more commonly the area of disagreement because no matter the resource there will be people who don't derive a direct benefit from it and therefore don't support it. Also, while our rights can, at times, be seen as absolute, it is reasonable to set limits on public spending for parks, libraries, and safety net programs and people will have differing opinions of what those limits should be.

Generally speaking, people agree on this view of the duties of government. There are some on the fringes - anarchists at one end and authoritarians at the other - who disagree, but they lack both the numbers and the pragmatism to be taken seriously.

Where people disagree comes down to the decision about where to draw the line - in both the protection of rights and the provision of resources. First asking if the job qualifies as a government responsibility and second on what resources to dedicate to it. That's essentially the narrow range of difference in American politics: how much should the government take on and how much should the government leave to people to resolve for themselves. Personally, I believe that the government that governs least governs best, and I support a minimal government. Of course, what I perceive as minimal is a lot more government than some people support.

I choose to employ a three part test:

  1. It has to serve the common good.
  2. It has to be something that people cannot do for themselves.
  3. It has to be something that cannot be entrusted to private interests.

All three must be true for the government to take on the job.

For example: National Defense. It serves the common good for us to have a national defense. That way we don't get conquered and occupied by a foreign nation that would not defend our rights. The people cannot do it for themselves. Even if everyone were issued weapons, that would not constitute an effective national defense. And it is not something can be entrusted to private industry - just imagine if our foreign enemy outbid us for their services. So national defense passes the test and is an appropriate task for the government.

There are a number of other government activities which likewise which enjoy broad (though not universal) consensus as appropriate: police, Courts, jails, roads,

People will certainly argue what does or does not serve the common good. The invasion of Iraq? The auto industry bailout? The financial bailout? Whatever it is that the Department of Commerce does?

People will argue about what people can or should do for themselves. Do we need OSHA to set regulations for worker safety or can that be negotiated between employers and employees? Do we need the FDA to regulate the wholesomeness of food and the effectiveness of drugs or will the market resolve problems and remove bad actors?

And, finally, there will be differences over what can or cannot be outsourced - should the government hire doctors for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veteran's Administration, or simply act as the paying agent? Should the government operate schools or contract with private entities to teach our children? Should the government have workers on staff to fill pot holes or contract that work out to private companies? Should security in The Green Zone be provided by the US Army or by Blackwater?

Starting this blog today

I'm starting a new blog today because I have a variety of thoughts and ideas that I want to compose and communicate but I don't have a forum in which to do it. These can be thoughts on almost any topic: politics, finance, personal relationships, and my own internal conflicts.

In the near term I hope to write about:

  • A political perspective
  • Modern Portfolio Theory for Individual Investors
  • Purpose-Driven Portfolios
  • Business idea: ShakeTails
  • Scooters and scooter culture
  • Alcohol as entertainment
Of course I will not restrict myself to these topics, but I will try to use this as a tool to articulate these ideas and build on them, a sort of online notebook. It's more of a diary for my own use than a communication to the public, but I'm happy to make it public.

As I use it as a personal notebook, I expect to go back to the posts and edit them a lot, but we'll see how that goes.