America’s Teachers

April 12, 2018

America’s teachers have notoriously been underpaid relative to their peer group. The excuses include, (a) Flexibility; (b) Summers off; (c) a profession dominated by women (and we all know that women earn about 80% of what men earn for comparable experience in similar jobs).

If I were a young person approaching college graduation, I might look at starting salary, and projections for advancement over the course of my career.

If I did that, teaching would not likely be on my list of job choices.

According to a study published by US News and World Report looking at the best jobs for 2018 college graduates, there are dozens of opportunities which absolutely blow away starting salaries for teachers, which seem to be in the $38k range.

One random example is an entry level Financial Analyst in the area of investment banking, private banking and the securities industry. The highest paid in the financial analyst profession work in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York City, and San Luis Obispo, California. The Stamford /Bridgeport, CT area also pays well, as does the city of Salem, Oregon.

San Francisco      $141,840
New York City     $133,130
San Luis Obispo, CA  $120,750
Bridgeport (Stamford), CT   $120,520
Salem, Oregon            $120,150

These are median starting salaries for newly minted graduates.  What’s most egregious about this?

On a really good day, financial analysts provide zero economic value-added to our overall economy and society; on a bad day, they can cause catastrophic damage. Financial analysts produce no tangible outputs; they endeavor to discover and exploit financial opportunities to benefit their firm and its clients at the expense of other individuals.

Teachers bring value every day, yet they are generally under-respected and certainly, under-compensated. Teachers are the mechanism by which we build future intellectual capital to benefit future generations in and across the U.S.

Some may argue that this example attempts to pit Capitalism against Socialism:  Nice try on that one!

Pure capitalism relies on the premise that private capital, invested strategically, adds value to the overall economy and society, while providing a fair and reasonable profit to the capitalist(s).

Pure socialism requires a government controlled population of workers to both plan and operate the system; true socialism requires government control of all economic as well as political and public affairs.

By levying fair and reasonable income taxes on excess or suspicious profits, a nation is able to re-invest those taxes into strategic and forward-focused programs and initiatives, such things as: bridges; tunnels; airports; rail rapid transit; healthcare research and innovations; and public education – including teacher quality and teacher compensation.

Teachers need to re-focus their compensation and resource allocation argument toward pure economics.

It strikes me that the message needs to be:  “High quality, well-compensated teachers who are provided with appropriate and needed classroom resources help to shape and create the next generation of high-performance, highly motivated and productive citizens our nation will need to ensure future economic and political success.
There is no substitute for a ready and reliable supply of intellectual capital waiting in the wings to take charge in the coming decades.”

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A half century ago, the Baby Boomer generation entered adulthood with plenty of energy and commitment to help make our world safer and better.  As they set forth to establish families of their own, careers and all of the rest, they faced some unexpected head winds.  The rapidity of technological change combined with growing economic and social divides put extraordinary pressure on these young families, and they became self-absorbed.

The direct socioeconomic impacts of American suburbanization didn’t really begin to take hold until the 1970’s.  The resulting economic and racial segregation shielded the next generation(s) of middle class young people growing up in suburbia, away from their less affluent peers who were left behind in urban neighborhoods. They lost touch with each other, not able to see common ground.

Somehow, things have begun to change for the positive.

Maybe Trump’s legacy will be as the unconscious ‘uniter’ of the people of good will — Americans who reject corruption, self-dealing and bullying — who regardless of hair color, height, weight, economics, gender, race, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, learning and/or mobility differences, and many more… — refuse to participate in the Trump Swamp.

This emerging generation, evidenced by the Parkland students, are showing signs of unity under a new paradigm of The American Dream, where the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are honestly and equitably recognized and applied.

To date, Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the polar opposite of genuine American values.

While it’s still too early to celebrate any victories, I am betting on the young people who have taken an active role in the March For Our Lives movement — and the millions of their supporters (average age 48!) — to continue to energize and inspire the vast majority of U.S. citizens and residents who want to see common sense prevail.

High on the Hogg

April 1, 2018

David Hogg, the Parkland student who has become one of the most vocal leaders in the March For Our Lives movement, has explained their position and their mission,

“I want people to understand, we’re not trying to take your guns, we’re not against the second amendment; we don’t want to repeal the second amendment. We simply want gun legislation in this country that allows law-abiding citizens to still own guns but prevents people with a history of mental illness or a history of a criminal background from owning a firearm. It’s as simple as that.”

I think the last real, sustained and almost universal call to action by America’s youth occurred in the late ’60’s – early ’70’s when large-scale opposition to U.S. military involvement in SE Asia was the focal point.

Sure, there have been many other issues, causes, protests, rallies, etc. in the ensuing years, but I am not aware of anything quite as promising as the current March for our Lives movement.

One of the great outcomes thus far is contained within the Laura Ingraham debacle.

On her broadcast television show, Laura Ingraham personally attacked David Hogg regarding his academics.

Within 2 days after Ingraham attacked him personally, Hogg organized a successful boycott of her advertisers.

Nothing personal, he remarked. We are just following the money. Take away the money, and the show will disappear.

Brilliant!

I am not a Roman Catholic, although I know many who are.

I wasn’t prepared for what Pope Francis had to say, nor how he chose to convey his message.

I am quite pleased to have observed and listened to most of the things Pope Francis subscribes to. No doubt that the Roman Catholic Church in America has lost a great deal of its luster over the past couple of decades for a variety of reasons.

I think if the American R.C. church (and many other religious institutions) can find a way to embrace some of the values this Pope advocates for; our country could come closer to healing.

Related to this observation, the John Boehner thing came as a bit of a surprise, and for a few moments, I was pleased.

Now that some of the background has been exposed, it seems that Boehner has tried very hard to create an environment where civil discussion and debate was at least possible.

It also seems clear that there is a vociferous contingent of ultra-conservative elected officials in D.C. who share a common thread: ‘Take no prisoners: it’s our way or the highway. We don’t negotiate or compromise, ever.’

I guess I knew before the Boehner announcement on 9/25 that there were at least a few elected characters in our Congress who are mean, rigid, callous and intractable.

I just never would have guessed that there were enough of these bigots and curmudgeons to create an environment toxic enough to drive John Boehner back to Ohio, for good.

I guess the Koch Brothers (and some others) are gaining some real traction from their ‘investments’.

Goes to show: You don’t personally need to wear the white hood if you can write enough checks to mobilize an army of fringe fundamentalists who are willing to align with your doctrine.

There are dozens – hundreds – of examples throughout history which support this theory, perhaps the most frightening of which is the rise of Nazism under the leadership of Adolph Hitler.

Perhaps the spirit of Pope Francis will engage and mobilize enough folks who seem to perpetually sit on the sidelines hoping that – magically or mysteriously – the right things will happen.

History tells us that the right things will only happen when people of good will mobilize in a positive way to stop the fringe fundamentalists from taking control of our economy, government and society.

Jessica Bakeman reports on politics and education policy in Capital New York’s Albany bureau. In a recent article focused on MaryEllen Elia, our recently appointed New York State Education Commissioner, Ms. Bakeman reflects on what may be a new strategy to fix the persistent problem of failing schools in pockets around the State.

In essence, Ms. Elia’s plan seems to rely on a “tough love” approach with district leaders and parents from the lowest performing NYS schools: ‘You have 2 years to fix these failing schools, or the state will do it for you’.  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/07/8572658/elia-delivers-tough-message-leaders-struggling-schools

Unlike some observers, I strongly believe that the root cause of failing schools is not directly linked to teachers, administrators or common core.

The primary failure begins when we as a society allow virtually all of our lower-income children to be concentrated into just a few school districts — while continuing to operate dozens of boutique public school districts which serve children from predominantly upper income households.

Extensive research tells us that if we continue to follow this model, it will ensure that the achievement gap will continue to grow.

Whether accomplished through housing choice or school choice: economic, social and cultural integration at the K-12 level has been proven to be the best solution to close the achievement gap.

New York State allows and encourages public school districts to form around — and to exclusively serve — residents of villages, towns, neighborhoods and cities. The impact of this ‘home rule’ approach to public education has created de facto segregation which has produced more egregious and dangerous consequences than the issues debated in the Brown vs. Board of Education case which was decided in 1954 – 60+ years ago!

We can witness how “Separate and Unequal” has become the standard across New York State, very clearly corroborated by NYS Education Department statistics which prove that economic and racial segregation in housing translates directly to school inequality, which results in disparate student outcomes.

There really is no place for personal or private agendas on the part of our appointed and elected officials. Public officials are expected to set a positive example for all people, affirming that our elected leadership is fair, honest and forward thinking.

It may very well be that Commissioner Elia — appointed by the NYS Board of Regents — has been tasked with sweeping the truth under the rug, because she is not talking about the only viable solution, which is to reform NYS Education regulations, many of which date to the late 19th Century.

I can grasp the enlightened self-interest of homeowners in Pittsford, Scarsdale, Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville (or in dozens of other public school districts in NYS which serve students from upper income households) who want to fight for their autonomy to keep ‘those other children’ out of their schools.

These are the very same wealthy and politically active adults who wield undue influence over our elected officials in Albany.

With that said, I’m dubious that any meaningful reform can take place until the specter of political influence is removed from our public education system.

Today (January 14, 2015), JPMorgan Chase announced weaker than expected 4th quarter 2014 earnings.

The reaction in the Market was quick and harsh.

The price of JPM stock slid down minus 3.45% today, wiping out some $7.63 Billion in shareholder value, overnight!

Analysts, prognosticators and pundits weighed in on various aspects of weakness in the franchise and potential management failures.

Meanwhile, seemingly oblivious to our real world, the folks in Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase released a report on declining summer jobs for youth, perhaps as a means to soften or divert attention away from the stock price and management failures?

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/summer-jobs-young-people-decline-150000168.html

Are they kidding?

The folks they cite in this report who are disparately impacted — “low-income youth and young people of color face diminished opportunities to gain work experience and skills, limiting potential for economic advancement” are the very same young people who are most likely to come to the table with blemishes, bruises and with clear and obvious symptoms of “the achievement gap.”

I think the folks at JPMorgan Chase must have abandoned the concept of using available research and institutional knowledge to help impact solutions in local communities to pursue a much higher-level approach which relies on a premise that is based on “research grants” paid to Aspen Institute and Brookings Institution which are intended to help discover hidden nuggets that otherwise might be overlooked.

If you read the footnotes to this particular report (http://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/document/54887-jpmc-summeryouth-aw2.pdf), you will find references to 2 basic sources: (1) The Brookings Institution, and (2) Northeastern University.

While no one could legitimately doubt the likely veracity of these sources, would this approach pass the smell test at any legitimate academic institution?

Seems that when a major institution is stepping up to be recognized as a Thought Leader, they ought to at least use decent quality paint to cover over the façade they are trying to use as their primary lead.

The Wizard of Oz would have it no other way!

No surprise that the Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have gone on the defensive following the publication of Tim Dickinson’s lead story in the September 24 issue of Rolling Stone (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”).

The full text of the original article, the response, and various links to source documents is located here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/koch-industries-responds-to-rolling-stone-and-we-answer-back-20140929

Below is an excerpt from the Koch Industries response related to the original article:
10. North Pole refinery shutdown. Response:

“In February 2014, Flint Hills Resources (FHR) made the difficult decision to shut down its refining operations and convert its North Pole, Alaska refinery to a terminal. While some employees unfortunately were laid off, FHR retained approximately 40 employees at the site and offered to find the other employees roles in other Koch companies. This resulted in several of the former FHR Alaska employees receiving job opportunities at other Koch facilities in the US. Federal, state and local authorities acknowledged the regulatory and competitive issues that drove FHR’s difficult decision. For example, Senator Begich recognized the “competitive challenges” facing FHR in a letter to Alaska Governor Parnell. Senator Begich later noted the issues concerning the environmental contamination that existed long before FHR’s ownership and the appropriate regulatory standards concerning the remediation also needed to be resolved in order to encourage another owner to operate the refinery. The City of North Pole likewise expressed its frustration concerning the competitive and regulatory challenges that drove FHR’s decision.
There is no question that the off-site contamination existed long before FHR bought the refinery in 2004 – contamination that was not disclosed to FHR by the prior owner. No one had done anything about the situation until FHR discovered it and quickly and voluntarily began providing alternative water to the community. During the time since it discovered the issues, FHR has tried to work cooperatively with the state of Alaska and the prior owner to remediate these issues, while ensuring our neighbors were not adversely affected. As part of this process, FHR raised an administrative challenge to the cleanup level set by ADEC personnel. The Commissioner of ADEC agreed with FHR that the agency had not adequately supported the cleanup level and the agency is now studying the matter further. FHR remains committed to doing the right thing, while also ensuring that the prior owner lives up to its contractual obligations to FHR and its obligations to the community.”


No one could effectively deny that the Kochs – and their legal and PR teams – possess great imaginations, and are blessed with amazing creativity. It’s almost as though Lewis Carroll has returned to write more poems for us to ponder!

The news this week included a report from Institutional Investor which tells us that the top 25 Hedge Fund Managers took home a combined $21.2 Billion in 2013, a significant increase over 2012, when earnings totaled just $14.1 Billion, the lowest sum since the 2008 financial crisis.

If I did the math correctly, the average wage of these 25 individuals computes to $407,692.31 per hour, somewhat above our current $7.25 per hour minimum wage.

What is it that Hedge Fund Managers do that makes them the highest paid people in the world?

Do Hedge Fund Managers create economic value?  Do they create jobs?  Do they make products or deliver services which make our world a better place?

Unfortunately, they seem to do none of the above.

Hedge Fund Managers look for opportunities to exploit temporary weaknesses, gaps, flaws or aberrations in the operations of a specific company or in an economic sector overall.

They typically have billions of dollars of resources at their disposal, and by creating and taking well-crafted and strategic financial positions, they have the ability to move markets, generally to their own benefit.

The film “Other People’s Money”, starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck, was released in 1991.  Danny DeVito plays the role of “Larry the Liquidator” providing us a crude but quite accurate roadmap of what Hedge Fund Managers do every day.

In the 19th century, we called this sort of activity “Piracy” and we labeled the perpetrators “Pirates”.

In the 20th century, we called this sort of activity “Organized Crime” and we labeled the perpetrators “Mafia” or “Gangsters”.

Here we are in 2014, clearly well into the 21st century.

Our Hedge Fund Managers are out in the open, creating outcomes which seem to have no potential for positive impact on the U.S. or world economy, and we are giving them not just permission to operate (no regulatory oversight), but also preferential tax treatment on their booty (known as ‘carried interest’).

Hedge Fund Managers typically receive their compensation in 2 ways – an overall management fee equal to 2% of assets under management, and a 20% share of any profits on the assets under management.

It is the tax treatment of that 20% fee — categorized as Carried Interest — which is currently taxed at 20% — versus the 39.6 percent rate which business owners must pay on their earned income — that has created somewhat of a firestorm in Washington.

None of this makes any sense to me:  does it make sense to anyone?

Separate and Unequal

April 27, 2014

 

Westchester County in New York State seems to attract a great deal of attention in the media.

 

Not long ago, we learned from a posting on Zillow that property owners in Westchester County pay more in property taxes than the typical resident of any other major American county. The average property tax bill for a single family home in Westchester County comes to $14,829 a year (vs. the U.S. median of about $2,800).

 

There are a number of reasons why property taxes in Westchester County NY are the highest in the nation, but the primary reason is property taxes levied to support public schools.

In a county with a population of just under a million residents, Westchester County taxpayers are supporting some 47 completely autonomous public school districts!

 

Very recently, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino made headlines because he continues to battle the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over compliance with a consent decree approved in 2009 which requires Westchester County to take an active and affirmative role in desegregating local villages and towns in the county which have miniscule populations of African American and Hispanic residents.

 

Some commentators have applauded Astorino for defying the federal government under the guise that, “(Astorino) is doing his job by protecting the neighborhoods of those who worked very hard to live where they live!”

 

I’m fine with the notion that people ought to be able to live where they want to live.

 

However, because New York State allows and encourages public school districts to form around — and to exclusively serve residents of — villages, towns and cities, the impact of this ‘home rule’ approach to public education has created de facto segregation which has produced more egregious and dangerous consequences than the issues debated in the Brown vs. Board of Education case which was decided in 1954 – 60 years ago!

 

We can clearly witness that “Separate and Unequal” has become the standard in Westchester County.

 

It becomes very clear from reviewing NYS Education Department statistics that economic and racial segregation in housing translates directly to school inequality and results in disparate student outcomes.

 

The Village of Scarsdale is one of the communities identified in the Housing Agreement (consent decree) as racially segregated, and thus a priority area for new units of fair and affordable housing.

 

A report released in late April from US News and World Report reveals that Scarsdale High School was ranked among the very best high schools in Westchester County; in New York State; and across our nation.

 

In Scarsdale, no students at the High School receive subsidized meals, and just 9% of students are Black or Hispanic. About 8% of Scarsdale students have been classified with a disability, and 68% of those students spend 80% or more of their school time in regular classroom settings. Most recent total per-pupil spending across the Scarsdale schools was $27,219, with $17,450 focused on general education students.

 

Meanwhile, just 5 miles south of Scarsdale High School is Mount Vernon High School, where 70% of students receive subsidized meals, and where 95% of students are Black or Hispanic.

 

About 16% of Mount Vernon Students have been classified with a disability, and just 48% of those students spend 80% or more of their school time in regular classroom settings.

 

Most recent total per-pupil spending across the Mount Vernon public schools was $23,560, with just $11,641 centered on general education students.

 

The real test may be in graduation rates.  For the class of 2012, 95% of Scarsdale seniors graduated with Regents diplomas; at Mount Vernon High School, just 52% of seniors graduated with a Regents diploma.

 

The attitudes and actions of public officials should set a positive example for all people, affirming that our elected leadership is fair, honest and forward thinking.

 

There really is no place in our current society for personal private agendas – working against the general public good – on the part of our elected officials.

 

Municipal and school district consolidation seems to be the only rational resolution — why is this solution so difficult to discuss and resolve?

 

I live in Westchester County, NY – the place they say has the highest property tax burden in the U.S.

Our Governor – Andrew Cuomo – also comes from Westchester County — and he has made it his mission to support effective ways to reduce and/or eliminate the government waste which necessitates the high property taxes we pay.

The incredible inefficiency of having 400+ independent government entities operating within Westchester County certainly is a primary culprit for the dubious honor of being named the highest taxed county in the U.S.

The largest portion of property taxes paid is attributable to funding public schools — 41 regular school districts in a county with less than 1 Million in total population.

Each of these districts is ‘self contained’ in that they have their own administration, buildings, and all of the fixed cost infrastructure which gets paid for whether there 275 students served (Pocantico Hills at an average per-pupil cost of $42,000) or 25,000 students (Yonkers at an average per-pupil cost of $19,600).

Contrast this to Montgomery County, Maryland — about the same physical size as Westchester, and with a very diverse population of just under 1 Million, demographically quite similar.

Montgomery County has just one school district which educates all of the 150,000 public school students in the county at an average per-pupil cost of $15,421.

Just about every year, Maryland Public Schools are ranked at the top in the nation. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-schools-insider/post/maryland-schools-ranked-number-one–again/2012/01/11/gIQA7NEqrP_blog.html

While Montgomery County — perhaps due to its ethnic, racial and economic diversity — is not number one in the state, it seems to consistently score in the top 10, and compares very favorably against the composite Westchester score.

It’s really time for the taxpayers in NYS to put aside the political rhetoric and to find a way to reduce overall costs, whether through actual mergers and consolidations, or through consolidation of services which are not directly related to the classroom.

We can do better, and we must!