Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Tablet as a Replacement for, Not Addition to, a Car Display

Apparently Apple is in talks to do... something in along that line. It has had some niche successes with having auto makers use tablets instead of a proprietary in-car entertainment system. In past years the profit margins for entertainment and navigation systems would have made it difficult to convince auto makers to fully integrate with a third party device, but now... if you pay $2500 for in-car entertainment or navigation, or even $1,500, even if you don't feel like a chump it's difficult to imagine that you've viewed in any other manner by the car dealership.

So why not become, in essence, a large tablet retailer? Have the device fully integrate into the vehicle, seamlessly controlling navigation, entertainment, climate control, and the like? Sure, you have to somehow control for people watching movies while they drive....

A "Bush v. Gore" What If....

Courtesy of Sandra Day O'Connor, Scott Lemiuex shares his memories of a horrible series of Supreme Court decisions.
And, again, it’s not just that justices notably unsympathetic to broad equal protection claims claimed to accept an innovative equal protection argument. Where Bush v. Gore immediately falls apart and becomes a historic disgrace is that the completely lawless remedy left an election count with all of the alleged equal protection defects of the court-ordered recount (and the “mess up” job of the Florida authorities) in place.
Here's a thought experiment: What if, rather than tampering in a poorly conducted state election the Supreme Court had let the result stand. Even in the worst of circumstances the Constitution provides a remedy, specifically that the House of Representatives would elect the President.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.
Had the election come down to that, we might as a nation have taken a hard look at how elections are conducted, inconsistent approaches to taking and tallying votes, and similar flaws and set about fixing them. Instead the Supreme Court allowed the nation to bypass that type of difficult work, and subsequent concerns about election technology, fairness and potential for actual fraud have largely been either ignored or have gained attention based not on the genuine flaws reveled by Florida, but based upon demagoguery about largely imaginary allegations of voter fraud. Rather than having remedies directed at improving elections, legislatures have largely focused on making it difficult for certain classes of voter to reach the polls and vote.

Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. But....

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Logic Behind Control Freaky iPhones

I have sympathy for the argument that Apple has a history of being something of a control freak with its hardware, and that its tendency to want to control what users do is manifest in its iOS devices, the iPhone and iPad. If you're the sort who likes to customize your experience within the OS, you have very few options. If you're the sort who likes to dig deeper into the device to change appearance or function, Apple works hard to prevent that. If your intentions are good, than can be frustrating.

That's not to say that it's not frustrating, also, when your intentions are bad. Although some people jailbreak their iOS devices in order to use them on a network that does not yet support the iPhone, or because they enjoy hacking the device, let's be honest: Most people looking to jailbreak an iPhone or iPod, or complaining bitterly about how Apple restricts their freedom as compared to Android, are primarily interested in installing bootleg apps or making "free" in-app purchases.

As it stands, iOS looks its age. There are pro's and con's to that, the most obvious pro's being that it's easy to use and remains compatible with most older iOS devices. On the other hand... it's somewhat inefficient, the constraints on file organization make it somewhat clumsy, it screams out for new features, some of its functionality is clumsy (adding an event to the calendar, for example), and its quaint adherence to skeuomorphs (e.g., making a calendar look like an old, on-paper desktop calendar) needs to go. (Rumor is that skeuomorphs are on their way out in the next iOS update.)

When you look at the latest version of Android, or when you look at Android's present market share, the question I heard a while back, "Why do developers still tend to develop an iOS app first, instead of starting with Androd," seems fair. I think the answer is this: Because Apple is enough of a control freak to ensure that a majority of iOS device holders will buy their apps, instead of installing "free" bootleg versions. That's an issue I expect to only become more pronounced as Android starts to saturate the market for lower-cost smartphones.

Although I'm not sure that they expected it to happen so quickly, Apple has known for many years (really, all along) that it's only a matter of time before any computer technology becomes commoditized. You can create a premium product and sell it at a premium price, but if the run-of-the-mill product is almost as good as yours that is likely to result in your rapid loss of market share. People seem to forget that while Apple is competing with Samsung (and, indirectly, Google) for the lion's share of the smartphone market, it's competing with Amazon (and Google) to be a dominant vendor of electronic books and media. Google doesn't give away Android in order to give its competitors an advantage in the marketplace - it does so to give its own software product an advantage, and to better position itself to compete in the mobile space for ads, apps and media.

To the extent that Apple can make itself the device maker that is most likely to provide royalties to developers and content owners, and Android doesn't find a way to rein in bootlegging, that aspect of Apple's control freaky nature is likely going to provide it with a significant advantage when negotiating with content providers.

Friday, April 26, 2013

David Stockman, Government Subsidies and the Minimum Wage

As David Stockman makes the rounds to promote his new book, I caught a few of his bon mots on government intervention in the economy. He takes the position that the technological advances we attribute to government programs would have emerged from the private sector, or that their rough equivalent would have emerged, and that the government should not be investing in private companies. I'm not entirely sold on his former point - yes, private industry might have come up with some of the technological advances resulting from projects spearheaded by the government, but there's no guarantee that it would have happened, that the process would have been more efficient, or the outcome better. At a minimum, we can say that those advancements would have taken considerably longer to develop - otherwise there would have been no need for the government-funded research. But sure, there's a cost-benefit equation to apply, reasonable minds can disagree on how much weight to assign to those costs and benefits, and we aren't able to test alternate time lines to see how the world would have turned out had the government not funded the space race, Manhattan project, military and defense R&D....

What I found more interesting... in a facepalm sort of way... was Stockman's position on the minimum wage. Stockman takes the position that the minimum wage is an incredible burden on business, and that there should be no minimum wage. Okay, standard libertarian home-brew thinking. Nothing to see there, right? He's the sort that would happily see somebody work two, three jobs and still not make enough money to support himself (let alone a family) because markets are groovy. And if Stockman left it there I would be willing to quip, "My reasonable mind can disagree with your unreasonable mind."

But Stockman's not that much of a libertarian. Not even close. He proposed that the government subsidize workers who cannot earn enough money to support themselves. I've not tried to delve into Stockman's reasoning - but if he's not going to eliminate much of the remaining 'safety net', it's difficult to imagine workers opting to work for 5 cents per hour (or whatever "the market" dictates) unless the subsidy provided by the taxpayer results in significantly higher remuneration than public assistance. If the subsidy is tied to hours worked, "the market" may well find five cents per hour to be reasonable - the worker will want more hours to get a greater subsidy, and the employer will not have to worry about paying a competitive wage because the government is picking up the bulk of the worker's compensation. And if you don't tie the subsidy to the number of hours worked, or cap the number of hours that will be subsidized, you introduce even more distortion. What such an approach might mean for the work environment or employee motivation, your guess is as good as mind... but my guess is that things would turn pretty ugly.

But more than that, if this is about "the markets", how is increasing the cost of minimum wage-level labor more of a distortion than passing along the bulk of an employee's compensation to the taxpayer? A great deal of the automation that has made lower-wage industries more efficient was created to reduce labor cost. Nations with the lowest labor costs are associated with slums and sweatshops, not innovation. Within the context of our society, why is it better to allow business to pay wages that require their employees to be subsidized by the taxpayer to maintain even a basic standard of living? Is it at all unfair to respond, "If a business cannot survive if it has to pay its employees enough money to support themselves, it's time for that business to innovate or die"?

Stockman would find it appalling if a business required copper to be available at $100 cents per ton in order to compete, with the government responding by picking up the difference between that and market price. So what is it that he sees as different about the cost of labor - which in this context is simply another line on the balance sheet. Why does the company that says, "Materials cost us $100,000 per week and we can't compete unless the taxpayer picks up 80% of our materials cost" undeserving of help, with any government intervention being an unacceptable manipulation of the markets, but when the same company says, "Labor costs us $100,000 per week and we can't compete unless the taxpayer picks up 80% of our labor cost"?

Also, frankly, Stockman's insistence that the minimum wage is harming the economy is not particularly consistent with the facts. The argument reminds me a bit of the person who rails against strong unions, then laments in the next breath that fewer and fewer blue collar jobs no longer pay a middle class salary. Might there be a connection between lower wages and the decline of labor unions? You would think that if the minimum wage destroys jobs, we would see some evidence of that destruction - of a minimum wage hike followed by a rash of business closures and bankruptcies. It's possible to imagine a minimum wage hike so high that it would make labor truly unaffordable for businesses that rely on minimum wage labor, but that's neither something that is going to happen in this country nor the basis of Stockman's argument. Why should we believe Stockman instead of our own lying eyes?

All that said, eliminating the minimum wage remains one of Stockman's better ideas....

Thursday, April 18, 2013

With Bipartisanship Like This, Health Care Doesn't Need Enemies

When you hear about an organization that calls itself the "Bipartisan Policy Center", what's the first question that comes to mind? If I spot you this essay, might it be, "I wonder how they bankroll themselves, whose policy positions they're pushing under the guise of 'bipartisanship'"? No real surprise - when you are willing to offer a big enough paycheck, you can get people from both sides of the aisle to sign on to your clients' positions.

So, then, what's the basic premise of this special interest front group?
What we learned is that, until better care is prioritized over more care, our nation will continue to face a problem with health-care costs. The good news is that, through thoughtful policy, health-care practitioners can be encouraged through rewards to focus far more on what is best for their patients and less on the number of tests and procedures they can order. The even better news is that such a health-care vision can not only produce better care but also cost less.
So... Bill Frist has given up his habit of diagnosing medical conditions from the Senate floor, then insisting that their lives be prolonged indefinitely no matter what the financial cost to the country or emotional cost to their family? Was it the "bipartisanship" that brought him around, or the paycheck, because... You'll please excuse my skepticism that Tom Daschle and Bill Frist couldn't see eye-to-eye on what was good for the nation when they were being paid by the taxpayer to do so, but fell into a warm mutual embrace of their employer's policy position the second they entered the private sector.

Well, they claim that we can pay less and get better healthcare. So how do they, the admitted beneficiaries of the best health care our nation has to offer, far better than the average American can presently hope to obtain, propose to give us this "higher quality and greater efficiency" at a lower cost?
To address these, we seek to promote coordinated and accountable systems of health-care delivery and payment, building on what has proved successful in the private and public sectors. Organized systems of care emphasize the value of care delivered over the volume of care. These systems are often better able to meet patients’ needs and desires and are able to effectively reimburse providers and practitioners for delivering high-quality care.
That sounds like... obfuscation. It would be helpful if they would start by identifying the systems that have "proved successful in the private and public sectors", but... I know, far too much to ask. Besides, if they were to approach that issue honestly they would have to praise the efficiency and popularity of Medicare and the single-payer V.A. system, as well as the fact that every other industrialized nation has managed to offer an overall quality of care comparable to that of the U.S. at a considerably lower cost.

So, if they cannot identify even one of the "coordinated and accountable systems of health-care delivery and payment" they used as their model, perhaps they can help us by giving us examples of that coordination and accountability. You know, of the sort of measures that will result in better care for less money.
  • They propose to "Preserve the promise of traditional Medicare while adding more choices and protections for beneficiaries, including accountable systems of care and a stronger, more competitive Medicare Advantage program." So "keep Medicare but with added buzzwords" - and then magically create a "stronger, more competitive Medicare Advantage program"... does that mean, one that won't require massive subsidies to attract even a single consumer to migrate from standard Medicare? Just asking.

  • They propose to "Strengthen and modernize the traditional Medicare benefit, including adding a catastrophic cap, rationalizing cost-sharing and premiums and expanding access to assistance programs for those with low incomes" - in case you're not paying attention, what they're saying here is that they want to cost-shift from the Medicare program to its beneficiaries. So... their two leading ideas have nothing to do with improved systems or providing better care. Should we hold our breath and expect things to get better?

  • They want to "Reform the tax treatment of health insurance to limit the taxfavored [sic] treatment of overly expensive insurance products" - In other words, if you have really great coverage (like the kind they, personally enjoy) they want to increase the tax burden on your employer so that your employer will offer you lesser coverage. Once again the entire focus is on shifting the cost of care from insurance to the consumer, and has absolutely nothing to do with improving care or efficiency.

  • They propose to "Empower patients by promoting transparency that is meaningful to consumers, families and businesses, and streamline quality reporting" - which, if they have actually studied the issue, they know translates into meaningless twaddle. But heck, it sounds like it came right out of a mission statement generator, so odds are you never thought it was anything but meaningless twaddle. The most charitable reading is that they propose to give consumers more information so that they can make their own decisions about their healthcare instead of deferring to their doctors. Oh, you thought you were going to hear about things that work, things that improve care and lower costs, rather than the usual tired nonsense about how consumers can learn to manage the intricacies of their own medical care? Well, guess again!

  • They're going to "Advance the nation’s understanding of potential cost savings from prevention programs, through support for research and innovation on effective strategies to address costly chronic conditions" - because, you know, telling people, "If you don't smoke, lose weight, eat better, and exercise more, you'll be healthier", has been such a successful strategy to date. Because so many people have yet to hear that sort of hectoring.

  • Back to twaddle, "Offer incentives to states to promote policies that will support a more organized, value-driven health-care delivery and payment system, such as supporting medical liability reform and strengthening their primary-care workforce." In the real world, "medical liability reform" - that is to say, denying victims of malpractice effective redress through the courts" - has not resulted in cost savings. But clearly it's something that their employer's clients want, so there it is! And what does "strengthening the[] primary-care workforce" mean? Clearly it doesn't mean "hiring more primary care physicians", as so far this proposal is about anything but encouraging people to see their doctors when they're sick.

They pat themselves on the back,
All of these policies are designed to improve the quality and value of our nation’s health care. That is where every health-reform effort should start.
Sure, if we pretend that "improve the quality and value of our nation’s health care" is synonymous with "improve the bottom line of the industry groups that fund our organization". Given that none of the proposals as stated has any realistic chance of either improving the quality of care or improving the efficiency of the provision of care, but can be guaranteed to raise both cost and risk for the consumer, it's difficult for me to believe that they're fooling anybody with this other than the guy on the Washington Post's editorial board who approved the essay. I joke - the editorial board and its members push this sort of editorial with some regularity, knowing full well that they're at best pushing a half-truth and at worst pushing something that's good for the bottom line of the insurance, pharmaceutical or hospital industry even if harmful to consumers.
By presenting this report to federal, state and private-sector leaders, we hope to promote a collaborative dialogue and a shared understanding of strategies to put our nation’s health system, as well as its economic outlook, on a sounder, healthier and more sustainable path.
No, really, they don't. All four of the authors had the opportunity to do what was right for the nation when they held elected office, or when they worked in the public sector. Their unified front comes not from a realization of how obtuse and destructive they were when they couldn't agree, but from the fact that they won't keep their jobs if they don't push their employer's agenda. How about a little bit of honesty?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Top Three Reasons Why Lists Are.... Oh, Forget It

Paul Waldman asks an interesting question - a lot of online content comes in the form of lists as a form of link baiting, but lists are also prominently featured in traditional magazines, especially the type that want to inspire an impulse sale at the newsstand or checkout lane. The length of the list seems to be relatively unimportant - people respond to lists, and tend to click links or buy magazines that promise lists:
So what's the lesson here? Lists are magic. Buzzfeed has built its spectacular success on that principle (just look), there are other web sites who have similar success, (see, for example, Cracked, which on the web is something very different and more successful than its print roots as a Mad magazine rip-off), and it's something every magazine and website editor knows. The next time you're at a newsstand, look at the magazine covers, and see how many are using lists to grab your attention. "9 Moves That'll Drive Him Wild." "8 Exercises to Burn Fat And Rip Those Abs." "12 Strategies For Achieving Financial Security." "14 Celebrity Bikini Nightmares." But the question is, why?
Waldman offers a couple of theories:
  1. "Maybe it has to do with the promise of something both finite and complete, distilling the world down to something you can manage and then be done with."

  2. "It could also be the attraction of something easy to read—because it's broken into small pieces, you know it won't require too much work to read, you'll be able to skim it easily, and if you want to read part of it and then stop, you'll be able to."

Waldman questions his theories as being too rational, as he sees the attraction of lists as being more visceral, "making us click on things whose topics we don't even otherwise care about". And Waldman's onto something with the argument that our clicking isn't purely rational. For actual informational content, I can't recall the last link I found that promised a list that lived up to its promise.

But here's the thing: Even when we click on a list out of idle curiosity, something we might not click but for the promise of it's offering the "top three reasons," or "four most important factors", on one thing or another, the clicking is fundamentally rational. We have questions or we have curiosity, and the list promises that somebody else has engaged in curation, separated the wheat from the chaff, and will give us the answers in a quick, easily digested form. You don't click on what might be a long form article or even a short essay about something of marginal interest to you, but if you can get that information by glancing at a list the cost-benefit analysis (time vs. interest) shifts. And if the topic interests you or is important to you, the implied promises of curation and relevance have appeal.

Supermarket magazine stands have been filled with lists for as long as I can remember, and they've presumably failed to live up to that promise for at least as long, given that the same essential lists are offered month after month, year after year. The top three ways to lose weight, the top five ways to find your soul mate, the top three tricks to drive your significant other wild in the sack... The goal is to get you to click or buy without thinking, or if you must think, "It's only $1.99," or "If the article at the other end of the link is junk I've only lost a few seconds of time."

Will it continue to work? The evidence at the newsstand says "yes", and so far the evidence from the content mills suggests that the technique isn't losing its effectiveness online. Alas, the actual cost is that the most meaningful, relevant information is likely to be headlined with a misleading title in order to draw more "eyeballs", and may fail to be noticed in favor of lists that, unfortunately, are often junk.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Actually, It's Not So Easy to Teach Yourself New Tricks....

An afterthought on Thomas Friedman's column,
But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job. (Fortunately, in today’s world, that’s easier and cheaper than ever before.)
Well, quite clearly, college isn't cheaper than ever before. Quite the opposite. Even if, recognizing that your skills have become a bit rusty, you're inclined to go back.

I expect that Friedman is referencing the growing availability of online courses, free and paid, on a wide range of subjects. If you can put together an appropriate collection of such courses, you can approximate what you might learn in certain more expensive, formal educational programs. The first problem with that is curation - you generally won't know if a course is any good or how much you'll learn until you complete the course. The same is true to a degree with college courses, but the college has an incentive to curate the content and to try to ensure that courses are of reasonable quality. Similarly, colleges put together curricula to help students pick "majors" and "minors" and, ideally, take an appropriate set of courses to obtain an appropriate level of knowledge to justify being granted a degree. When you're putting together your own set of courses on the Internet, it can be difficult to know where that process begins and ends. If you are acting out of mere personal interest, sure, it's cheap and easy. If you're trying to teach yourself cutting edge job skills in your spare time, it's not easy and (assuming the material is available online) isn't necessarily cheap.

I have seen interesting programs that promise, somewhat convincingly, to take people from the beginner level to "competent and employable" in a block of time comparable to a college semester. For example, this program to teach Ruby on Rails. I think colleges should do a lot more to create and implement that type of program. But such a program is neither cheap nor easy. Sure, you can quit your job and with some decent guidance and luck in finding good resources, as well as a lot of motivation and sufficient aptitude, achieve reasonable mastery of Ruby on Rails in, say, twelve weeks. But... that's a luxury few people have.

Perhaps Friedman is thinking back to the days when he typed his columns and learned to use a word processor, but if we're serious about "inventing" jobs through a demonstration of skill sets and achievements not broadly shared by a larger pool of job applicants, for most workers I think things are getting harder. Not only are skills of that type increasingly complex, they become obsolete much more quickly than the important skills of the past. Picking the right skills to master, finding the time, finding the resources, and keeping current or moving on to the next thing? Easy? Come on.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

U.S. Schools Have Always Kinda... Sucked

Thomas Friedman has noticed that, based upon international tests, U.S. students lag behind their international peers. I don't want to diminish the importance of education, improved schools, improved pedagogy, universal education and the like. I don't want to assume that the factors that have helped the U.S. succeed in the past, despite problems with public education, will continue into the future. But....
The bad news is that U.S. middle-class students are badly lagging their peers globally. "Many assume that poverty in America is pulling down the overall U.S. scores," the report said, "but when you divide each nation into socioeconomic quarters, you can see that even America’s middle-class students are falling behind not only students of comparable advantage, but also more disadvantaged students in several other countries."
That's not new. That's "same as it ever was".

Part of the problem, at least to me, is obvious: On the whole, our nation does not value education. We give it a great deal of lip service, but at the end of the day we're not willing to open our pocketbooks to better fund public schools, we're more interested in cutting teacher pay, autonomy and benefits than in creating an environment that will attract the best candidates to teaching as a profession, and we get much more excited when Johnny makes it onto a varsity sports team than when he enters the science fair - and while the football team gets equipment, coaches, dedicated facilities, the science fair gets one day with the gym filled with folding tables. We have a range of taunts and epithets to direct at kids who excel academically. If you control for parental focus on academics, as opposed to parental income, you'll find a lot of academic achievers in this country.

Part of the problem, though, may be that there's not actually a problem. At least insofar as the middle class is concerned. We, as a nation, are presently obsessed over early childhood education - how much academic material can we cram into kindergarten and first grade. But kids who go to schools that follow the Waldorf method don't get much exposure to academics before the age of seven, and they do fine. It is reasonable to infer that when kids come from families that value education, that read, they catch up. And while I think it would be better to offer a more rigorous high school education than what we see in a lot of U.S. schools, to allow kids to push themselves without taking A.P. courses or taking classes at the local community college, the kids who aren't pushed into getting top PISA scores go on to college and catch up.

The focus on PISA reminds me of the talk about how not enough students are pursuing STEM degrees, even though the evidence suggests a significant surplus of STEM graduates as compared to job openings. By way of example, my brothers both went out of their way to avoid math in high school, and again in college. Their PISA scores would have been pretty awful. One is now a lawyer (a profession in which it is easy to avoid even the most basic math), and the other is doing very well working for a Fortune 50 company. That should come as no big surprise to Friedman - I doubt that the math requirements of his job often exceed having his word processor tabulate the word count of a draft column.

Something else that's interesting about PISA, particularly given Friedman's emphasis on China, is Professor Yong Zhao's observation that nations with the highest PISA scores tend to have low scores on measures of "perceived entrepreneurial capabilities". That is to say, if you put too much emphasis on having students score well on PISA mathematics, you may do so at the expense of giving them the opportunity to learn the real world skills necessary to drive business success. I'm not advocating that we choose - I would like to find a way to do both - but there's a price to chasing the highest test scores, while the reward may turn out not to be improved business competitiveness. Professor Zhao is also not enamored with the notion of chasing after China's test-driven model of education, a system from which he graduated.

There's another cost to high stakes testing, one that was revealed in the D.C. schools under the Leadership of Michelle Rhee: If you put enough emphasis on testing, you create a huge incentive to cheat. I once followed a link to a Chinese website that sold aids for cheating on exams - and some of the stuff would inspire jealousy even in the James Bond character, Q. Chinese students are reported to have a relatively cavalier attitude toward cheating. Everybody does it, right? But hey - it does inspire a certain form of entrepreneurship....
So what’s the secret of the best-performing schools? It’s that there is no secret. The best schools, the study found, have strong fundamentals and cultures that believe anything is possible with any student: They "work hard to choose strong teachers with good content knowledge and dedication to continuous improvement." They are "data-driven and transparent, not only around learning outcomes, but also around soft skills like completing work on time, resilience, perseverance — and punctuality." And they promote "the active engagement of our parents and families."
Another trip to the mission statement generator? Oddly, no mention of start times, but then the mission statement says nothing about choosing the correct data.

So yes, let's take Friedman's suggestion and "raise the bar". I expect Friedman will be telling us where we will get the money for the type of teachers and schools he envisions in... well, probably not his next column, but we can hope it won't take more than a Friedman Unit or two. While we wait we should consider which bars we should be raising - as we don't want an effort to improve the nation's schools to turn into a trip hazard.

Jobs Will Exist in the Future, But Résumés Might Not....

When I read Friedman's piece on "inventing jobs", I had hoped that he would be speaking to a future in which workers were more entrepreneurial - whether in terms of finding ways to work for themselves, or to position themselves to be more secure or more competitive when seeking or holding jobs. The forces that inspired Friedman's column, essentially the decline of the middle class crossed with the reduced possibility of completing your education before embarking on what we once might have called a career, are real.

But have you actually looked at the job market lately? Have you tried to get a job?

First, for a lot of employers the traditional résumé is something to be scanned and algorithmically processed. If you don't have the right keywords, it's possible that the only person who knows you've applied for the job will be the person who opens your job application and feeds it into the scanner. And if you're submitting your application electronically, you don't even have that.

Second, it's easier than ever for employers to investigate the applicants that they are considering interviewing. People put an alarming amount of personal information on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and most neglect to limit access to at least some of their more embarrassing information. And while that information may disqualify you from a job, we're reaching a point at which your qualification for a job may be even more tightly related to your online profile.

Frankly, employers don't trust résumés. It's easy for employees to exaggerate, even fabricate qualifications. Some people are very good about bluffing their way through interviews. The employer ends up with a suboptimal employee, and a choice between terminating the worker and engaging in another job search or hoping the employee grows into the position. The gamble often works for the dishonest employee - and if it doesn't, they suffer no real harm.

How is that changing? I suspect that over the next ten years, the traditional job posting is going to go the way of the dinosaur. Connections will be more important than ever. But the connections of growing importance aren't going to be the traditional "who you know". Instead, prospective employers will look for prospective employees on sites like LinkedIn, examining their credentials, and then reaching out to their own networks to verify the prospective employee's claims and professed skills. Historically, finding a common connection between yourself and a prospective employee was difficult, at best hit-or-miss. Now an employer can cultivate a select set of references, people who are trusted to give honest recommendations and referrals, and rely upon those people to suggest or verify the qualifications of prospective employees.

Ten, fifteen years from now, I think the typical opening for a "good job" will involve an employer identifying prospects, verifying their credentials, and narrowing their list down to a small number of prospects before the prospective employee even knows that the opportunity exists. Headhunting on steroids.

My advice to anybody in college: Build your professional network on Google Plus and LinkedIn, stop tweeting about your social life and latest snack, and start documenting your actual accomplishments. (If you don't have any yet, start accomplishing - what can you do, right now, that might impress a future employer in your field?) And keep it honest. The more technology-oriented your field, the more you need to get started... yesterday.

You Won't Save Middle Class Jobs with Talk About Teaching Motivation

A few days ago, Thomas Friedman took a kernel of truth and attempted to run much too far with it. At this point there is immense downward pressure on middle class incomes and job security, and in many fields - particularly those likely to offer the best wages - it is more important than ever to maintain an up-to-date skill set if you want to remain employed. I'm all for teaching students at all levels to be more entrepreneurial and about the expectations they are likely to face in a future job market. I question the conceit,
Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever.
Specifically, what middle class jobs are being pulled up? Also, frankly, the correlation between wages and "skill" is far less precise than Friedman assumes. If you have unusual skills that happen to be in demand, you are much more likely to get a job and a decent wage than you are if you have far more developed skills that happen to be in low demand or aren't materially different from the skill set held by the larger applicant pool. Part of the problem with telling workers, "You're responsible for your own career development" is that it's much easier to evolve skills that ultimately become commonplace or obsolete than it is to identify and master new skills on your own time and your own dime that your employer may not presently value but will ultimately prove to have significant value in the marketplace.

Friedman seems excited by the notion that knowledge is becoming unimportant,
I tracked ["education specialist Tony] Wagner down and asked him to elaborate. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.
Frankly, hearing a statement like that from a self-described "education specialist" would leave me looking for a new expert. Let's use a simple example from early elementary school - math facts. It is very difficult to progress in mathematical knowledge and skills without a mastery of basic math facts, because if you can't do simple math problems quickly in your head you will not develop the speed necessary to keep up with the rest of the class as lessons become more complex. Sorry, no, "You can use a calculator instead", is not an answer. First, if you need a calculator for basic math facts it's still going to slow you down. Second, it's a highly unusual person who succeeds in math-dependent fields who cannot do basic math problems in her head, and quickly solve problems that would confound most of the rest of us (we might not even know what information to punch into a calculator or how to order the operations) with pen and paper.

Friedman might object, "But math is different." But it's really not. You're not going to be a good lawyer unless you have a decent understanding of the legal principles you encounter. You're not going to be a good doctor unless you quickly recognize medical conditions and symptoms within your field of practice, and know how to perform a physical examination. Friedman's perspective is probably colored by his profession - few pundits have any meaningful subject matter expertise, so they spend much of their time aggregating information and whittling it down to column length. To some degree you might be able to get away with that as an "education expert" - you're not likely to be called upon for instant answers, and to the extent that your primary focus is on research and publication you're going to be drawing upon a broad variety of sources to produce your next paper. But even in that latter context, you need enough knowledge of your subject matter to know what has come before, as you're not going to successfully publish papers that betray a fundamental ignorance of the research that has been done in the past - and you can't trust Wikipedia to bring you up to speed.

But more than that, if you want to become good at grappling with a particular set of ideas or concepts, you need to actually wrestle with the facts. You can't learn or be taught how to be a good thinker without a framework. There's a reason that traditional education typically begins with a survey course - to provide students with the necessary foundation to understand more complex concepts and ideas. As much fun as it might be to pretend otherwise, "They can look it up on the Internet" isn't a substitute. If you don't learn the basics, you're going to end up in over your head.

There's something of a tension in Friedman's assertion,
My generation had it easy. We got to “find” a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job.
As evidenced by his continued statement,
Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it.
First of all, there's no evidence that jobs are going away. No major employer is casting off its employees in favor of an all-independent contractor workforce. Nor is outsourcing key functions all it's cracked up to be - when Boeing attempted to minimize its in-house expertise and rely on contractors... disaster followed. One of Yahoo!'s recent steps to re-invigorate its corporate culture was to stop employees from working at home. If there's evidence that employers are moving away from the concept of "jobs" and "employees", it's well-hidden.

Second, Friedman's expansion upon his comment reveals what I previously suggested. The issue is much less, "There won't be jobs in the future," and much more, "If employers realize that your skills aren't special your earning capacity will flatten or decline, and if your employer decides that your skills are obsolete you'll probably be shown the door." More than that, while corporations might historically have helped employees update their skills or develop new skills, Friedman sees that cost and burden as being shifted to the employee. I think he's correct, but as with professionally managed pension funds vs. individual retirement accounts I think he's missing something important: the professionals have access to information and resources that allow them, on the whole, to better predict market trends and by scaling up their operations they can take advantage of efficiencies that should allow for better training at a lower cost. When you transform that into, "Every man for himself", no matter how well you try to prepare employees for their "self-managed" future you will see a great number of them flounder or drown.

Friedman continues by speaking of the importance of motivation, more specifically of "intrinsic motivation":
Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.
That observation is, for lack of a better word platitudinous. Of course people who are intrinsically motivated to learn and expand their skills will do so. They always have and they always will. The problem is that the forces Friedman describes are extrinsic - they come from outside the worker. Fear of job loss can be a powerful motivator, but it's extrinsic. The statement only has significance if we can teach intrinsic motivation, but unfortunately that seems to be much more a component of personality than a product of a particular pedagogy.

Which is probably why, when asked how to produce more intrinsically motivated students, Friedman's expert may as well be clicking on a "mission statement generator":
“Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”
To me, that sounds a lot like doubling down on the status quo (although if student work is assessed through the year rather than through high-stakes standardized testing, that would be a positive step)... but with badges. (Pieces of flair?) What's missing? Anything concrete. If I were the type of boss Friedman predicts for our collective futures, and somebody handed that statement to me as a meaningful reform proposal, he would quickly find himself testing his ability to invent his own job.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Problems of Heterosexual Marriage Can't Be Attributed to Things That Haven't Happened

Before going out of town, I apparently opened a browser window to Ross Douthat's latest editorial on gay marriage, one in which he reverts to his traditional form of not coming to a clear conclusion. Instead, he implies that gay marriage is somehow causing problems for heterosexual marriages:
“Proponents of gay marriage can only get what they want,” [David] Frum wrote, “by weakening Americans’ attachment to the traditional family even more than it has already been weakened,” and speeding the “process of social dissolution” that the 1960s and 1970s began....

Yet for an argument that has persuaded so few, the conservative view has actually had decent predictive power. As the cause of gay marriage has pressed forward, the social link between marriage and childbearing has indeed weakened faster than before. As the public’s shift on the issue has accelerated, so has marriage’s overall decline.

Since Frum warned that gay marriage could advance only at traditional wedlock’s expense, the marriage rate has been falling faster, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has been rising faster, and the substitution of cohabitation for marriage has markedly increased. Underlying these trends is a steady shift in values: Americans are less likely to see children as important to marriage and less likely to see marriage as important to childbearing (the generation gap on gay marriage shows up on unwed parenting as well) than even in the very recent past.

Correlations do not, of course, establish causation.
No, they don't. But more to the point, there's no meaningful correlation. If there were, Douthat could point to the more market collapse of heterosexual marriage in states and nations that have legalized gay marriage, or in cities with larger numbers of gay couples.1 He could point to opinion polls showing that states or regions with the highest opposition to gay marriage have the strongest heterosexual marriages. As it stands, he may as well be saying, "I'm not saying that the deterioration of heterosexual marriage is caused by the Earth orbiting around the sun, but you can't deny the correlation."

If you were to look through history, to look at cultures and communities that were troubled by high rates of birth outside of marriage, unstable relationships and the like, you might learn something. Such as, when the people of those communities are given a path into a stable middle class lifestyle, they start to behave in a way Douthat would deem acceptable. Not the way he behaved before his personal rejection of the hook-up culture of his college, but the way he has ostensibly behaved since his revelation. And when you pull the economic carpet out from under a community, the same issues predictably arise. That's a correlation you can believe in. Douthat gives it a nod:
The economy is obviously playing a leading role in the retreat from marriage — the shocks of recession, the stagnation of wages, the bleak prospects of blue-collar men. Culturally, what matters most is the emergence of what the National Marriage Project calls a “capstone” understanding of marriage, which treats wedlock less as a foundation for adulthood and more as a celebration of adult achievement — and which seems to work out far better for our disciplined upper class than for society as a whole.
Our "disciplined upper class", as compared to the undisciplined, perhaps unwashed masses? It's almost as if Douthat wants to slip into the caricature of the manor born, sniffing at the shiftless behaviors of those of lesser birth. As if it's discipline that allows him to live a life of relative leisure, while that shameless hussy of a scullery maid was caught kissing a footman during her half-day off from her 16-hour work shifts, and thus had to be dismissed without a reference. You cannot claim to be disciplined in the face of a recession, and loss of career and income potential, unless you actually feel the effect - and sorry, Ross, "The Princess and the Pea" is a fable, and no matter how sensitive you believe yourself to be, having a pea under your 100 mattresses is not the same thing as sleeping on the floor.

Douthat huffs,
For 10 years, America’s only major public debate about marriage and family has featured one side — judges and journalists, celebrities and now finally politicians — pressing the case that modern marriage has nothing to do with the way human beings reproduce themselves, that the procreative understanding of the institution was founded entirely on prejudice, and that the shift away from a male-female marital ideal is analogous to the end of segregation.
Certainly, that was a decade with not one voice speaking against gay marriage. There was no concerted, multi-million dollar campaign to defeat gay marriage in California. Maggie Gallagher wasn't, in effect, a paid spokesperson for "traditional marriage". Ross Douthat and his anti-gay marriage peers found themselves strangely unable to speak on the subject. Opponents of gay marriage didn't push ballot initiatives across the nation not only to prevent gay marriage, but also to weaken civil union laws and block gay employees from receiving benefits for their partners. And then there's the real world. Look, I'm sorry Ross found himself losing in the marketplace of ideas... no, scratch that, I'm not at all sorry... but there was a contest of ideals. Douthat prefers to pretend that gay marriage supporters were not opposed, but the fact is that his faction fought a bloody fight and despite its best effort is now on the verge of total defeat. Why? Because the anti-gay marriage arguments they present, as exemplified by the columns about which I am writing, were feeble, and the fall-back position of "tradition!" was not found to be compelling. What do we see now? Douthat attempting to rewrite history and caricature the positions of gay marriage advocates. That's the best he can do.

As I recall it, it was not advocates of gay marriage who brought procreation into the discussion. It was culture scolds like Douthat. If you take away procreation from his effort to wall off marriage as a heterosexual institution, what's left of Douthat's already weak argument? I think it's fair to say, also, that some of those bringing procreation into the mix wanted to evoke a visceral reaction against gay marriage - "We can't let them raise children." If Douthat resents that there was push-back against that type of argument that left its proponents looking foolish, even if by stating the painfully obvious truth that nothing about somebody else's gay marriage affects my ability to procreate and raise children within my own marriage (or Douthat's)... oh well.

Douthat continues,
Now that this argument seems on its way to victory, is it really plausible that it has changed how Americans view gay relationships while leaving all other ideas about matrimony untouched?...

A more honest, less triumphalist case for gay marriage would be willing to concede that, yes, there might be some social costs to redefining marriage. It would simply argue that those costs are too diffuse and hard to quantify to outweigh the immediate benefits of recognizing gay couples’ love and commitment.
No, actually that would not be an honest argument. It might reasonably be deemed "Throwing a bone to Ross Douthat", but beyond that it's a position without substance. There might be some social costs to redefining marriage, and there are social costs to not redefining marriage. The former, the costs upon which Douthat would have us place all of our attention, are theoretical. The latter are real, and are substantiated. This is the art of distraction - hand waving. There is no need to perform a weight of theoretical, unarticulated, unsubstantiated "costs" associated with allowing gay marriage and the costs of maintaining the status quo, as one side of the equation is a null set.

Douthat whines,
Such honesty would make social liberals more magnanimous in what looks increasingly like victory, and less likely to hound and harass religious institutions that still want to elevate and defend the older marital ideal.
Honesty? The honesty of "admitting" that, as the future is uncertain, some unanticipated development could somehow detrimentally affect gay marriage? One might say, "There's no harm in throwing somebody like Douthat a bone, in ceding to him that as the future is uncertain something negative could result from gay marriage." Except that Douthat's whinging about "honesty" is itself dishonest - he still can't identify any actual harm that is likely to result from gay marriage. Is this demand for a concession anything more than his asking us to feed his smugness, give him the self-satisfaction of saying, "See? Even supporters of gay marriage admit that bad things can happen."

You know what I wouldn't mind seeing? I wouldn't mind seeing Douthat demonstrate some honesty for once. I would like to see him admit that he has been unable to provide any evidence or support for the notion that gay marraige causes any harm to the institution of marriage. I would like to see him admit that gay marriage could strengthen the institution of marriage, as the option of marriage becomes available to a greater number of committed couples. I would like to see him admit that gay marriage could benefit the children of gay couples who are presently legally barred from marrying. I would like to see him admit that his opposition to gay marriage, whether it is rationalized based upon his religious beliefs, "tradition", or the sort of gut reaction that he had to "chunky Reese Witherspoon", is at heart bigotry. He should relax - the churches that offered a religious defense of slavery, the subjugation of women, Jim Crow, and anti-miscegenation laws are still with us, and many have evolved to the point that it's easy to forget where they once stood. Instead he grouses that when you call bigotry what it is, it makes bigots look bad.2

Douthat continues,
But whether people think they’re on the side of God or of History, magnanimity has rarely been a feature of the culture war.
As Douthat believes himself to be on the side of God, to be supported by history, and to be a champion of the correct side in the culture wars he fights, I guess that's his way of saying, "Don't expect any magnanimity or honesty from me."
1. It's fair to point out that the social trends Douthat laments are more visible in states in which there is broad opposition to gay marriage, and are less visible in states that allow legal gay marriage.

2. Douthat argues that the position that marriage has a strong connection to procreation and the rearing of children has historic truth, and that in the past that as recently as the early 1970's nobody found that argument to be "transparently silly". But here's the thing: You can accept that history of marriage, not dismiss it a silly, and still find it to be wholly irrelevant to the question before us. You can observe that we do not require straight couples to be fertile or to agree to have children before we allow them to marry, and that the institution of marriage has not been weakened by those non-procreative partnerships. You can also point out that the 1971 Minnesota case he mentions came a mere four years after the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down anti-miscegenation laws, which had previously been upheld by state courts who treated the mixing of the races as a very serious matter.

You can observe that, shocking as it may be to Douthat, gay parents are capable of parenting children and many gay parents are presently raising children. Is Douthat prepared to go into the puerile, "But kids need a biological mommy and a biological daddy" argument to distinguish the children of gay couples from those of heterosexual couples who adopt, who use an egg donor, sperm donor or surrogate due to fertility issues, who raise stepchildren, who take in the child of a troubled family member?

Douthat again whnes that it's "almost impossible for liberals to show magnanimity in victory, and accept the continued existence of people and institutions that still take the older view of what marriage is and means." When Douthat demonstrates the honesty I previously invited from him, when he demonstrates an iota of humility about his stance, we can talk about "magnanimity". As it stands, I don't feel any greater need to give Douthat a shoulder to cry on than to give similar comfort to the alumni of Oral Roberts University when it finally abandoned its prohibition of interracial dating. I don't need to "rewrite the past" to make Douthat look bad - he's doing fine, all by himself.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

What's the Alternative to Chained CPI

Matthew Yglesias is upset that the President has raised the possibility of using chained CPI for cost of living adjustments for Social Security:
The risk here now is twofold. Inside the Beltway, Republicans can say "well, look, we disagree about taxes but why don't we just do these entitlement reforms that even the president thinks we should do." Meanwhile, outside the Beltway Republican candidates can run ads castigating Democrats for bankrupting the country so badly that they want to add Social Security cuts to the dastardly Medicare cuts they already implemented. Part of the point of the Senate Democrats' budget was to stake out a position of easily defensible high ground. This seems like the White House wading into a much more exposed piece of territory.
If the leading concern is that the Republicans will take one of President Obama's proposals and run misleading or false attack ads, the President may as well close up shop and go home. That's inevitable.

If the leading concern is that the Republicans will propose a Social Security "fix" that renders the program solvent for the indefinite future, it's been pretty clear that the Democrats and President Obama would cooperate. That's been true for more than four years. Obama's "grand bargain" proposal from a couple of years ago included a Social Security "fix".

The Republicans won't propose to isolate Social Security, patch the program and end their demagoguery about its pending insolvency because they don't want to fix the program and leave it, essentially, as-is. Were they to actually propose such a Reagan-style fix, it would not be the Democrats whose agenda would suffer were it to become law.

I think Yglesias also misapprehends public sentiments about Social Security. That is, while there's not broad excitement or enthusiasm for benefits cuts, the net impact of decades of rhetoric about the program being on the verge of bankruptcy has created a context in which the public (including many Social Security recipients) is willing to accept cuts in order to preserve the program. There is no broad, public confusion about which party wants to preserve Social Security and which would prefer to privatize or end the program and, while the Republicans might create scare ads to try to gin up their base, I don't think many outside of the Republican base would be receptive to the notion that it is the Republicans who want to prevent cuts and save Social Security.

Social Security is supposed to be self-funding. If you want to preserve it as a self-funded program over the long-term, you need to look at its income and expenditures. If you want to complain that the President is looking at the wrong number, please tell us: what number would you prefer that he look at? Sure, you can argue that the President should be asking for a FICA tax increase to cover the projected growth in Social Security expenditures, instead of suggesting a cost of living adjustment that will lower payments over the long-term, but it's pretty obvious why the President isn't offering the Republicans a tax increase in exchange for their agreement with his tax increase for the general fund.

It would be reasonable to argue that there are presently two aspects of Social Security that are putting the most stress on the system, SSD benefits for disabled workers and the effective subsidy given to families where one spouse does not work outside the home or earns significantly less than a higher-earning spouse. If you believe the definitions are too lax, it would be reasonable to argue that Congress should revisit its definitions of what constitutes a disability for the purposes of qualifying for SSD. If you do not, it would be reasonable to argue that a spike in SSD applications and qualifications due to a significant downturn in the economy justifies a subsidy from the general fund, just as SSI payments for disabled persons who don't have enough work credits to qualify for SSD are paid from the general fund.

It would similarly be reasonable to argue that the benefits given to a stay-at-home or lower-wage spouse offer value to society, but would more reasonably be paid for out of the general fund as opposed to from wage-based contributions. Keep the program true to form, as a compulsory savings program, and to the extent that Congress believes it beneficial to society to provide a larger-than-otherwise-available retirement benefit to the lower-earning or non-earning spouse, pass that cost onto society as a whole instead of asking workers who will not receive that subsidy to take a benefits cut in order to subsidize other families. But... I don't hear anybody making that type of argument.

The proposal I hear most often is to remove the cap from FICA taxes, such that the wealthiest in effect experience a pretty massive tax increase. The argument is that if you look at the numbers, that move renders Social Security solvent for the indefinite future. The first problem is that it's a non-starter: nobody who is in a position to effect Social Security reform is backing it. It's not going to happen. The second problem is that you will shift some wealthy and powerful defenders of Social Security from the pro- column, based upon the largely equitable system for collecting and distributing benefits, into the anti- column, based upon your transforming a savings program into what will come to be perceived as a welfare program. You'll mobilize every anti-tax group that is presently agitating over significantly smaller numbers to target Social Security. So if that's your idea of "serious", you're agitating for a proposal that is completely unrealistic and, over the longer run, is apt to bring the roof down on our heads.

Let's recall also that one big factor here is that senior citizens vote. Yglesias is concerned about Republican ads that "Obama cut your Medicare and wants to cut your Social Security" because... senior citizens vote. So why am I to believe that if senior citizens realize that chained CPI is reducing their benefits to an unacceptable level, no politician will notice, and no senior will say, "Hey - let's vote for the politician who's going to fix this boondoggle and implement a more reasonable COLA"? We are presently talking about ten year budget plans but that means we're talking... five Congresses, two, maybe three Presidents... none of which can bind its successor. For a point of comparison, under the present formula if the cost of living adjustment would reduce benefits due to deflation, the COLA applied is zero percent - by design, not by accident. Seniors will notice what is happening.

Seriously, it's easy to say, "The President shouldn't have made that specific proposal, even though it fixes Social Security's books", but what's the alternative? And why should we view as "serious" a President who simply shrugs off the issue because a tough choice is involved or, shocking as it is, because politics are involved?

Who Attends KIPP's Schools, and Why

Elliott Witney, a former leader of a KIPP charter school, claims,
Finally, I want to address your question of whether or not KIPP leaders send their children to KIPP. The answer is yes, absolutely, they do. But KIPP's mission is not educating the children of their leaders, but educating the children of their communities. KIPP's #1 Essential Question is, Are we serving the students that need us? With hundreds of families on waiting lists at KIPP schools across the country, the focus is on making progress toward that goal.
I have a few problems with that statement. First, KIPP uses the term "leader" pretty loosely, and it's not clear if the statement relates to categories of worker who would normally be regarded as teachers, school principals and school administrators. I would like to see Witney give his statement some meaning - break down "leaders" into meaningful categories, and tell us what percentage of them have children and, of those, what percentage of the children actually attend KIPP schools. Please note, I have no problem with KIPP teachers taking the position that I would expect most middle class parents to take - that KIPP schools follow a model and offer an experience that is inferior to that available to their children in their own, local schools - but to the extent that Witney is suggesting that KIPP teachers and administrators believe KIPP to be an appropriate or superior choice for their own children I would like him to substantiate his claim.

Second, doesn't KIPP take the position that children are children? That it's not a question of community or home environment, but what the school can offer any child from any background? If so, why cavil with a statement like, "KIPP's mission is not educating the children of their leaders"? What is different about the children of KIPP leaders? If there are significant differences between the children served by KIPP and the children of KIPP leaders, what are those differences and how do they play out in an educational environment? If there are no significant differences, why make the statement?

Similarly, when Witney speaks of KIPP Schools "educating the children of their communities", how is that relevant? Is he stating that the KIPP model is tailored to a certain type of community, and would be unnecessary or perhaps even harmful in other communities? If so, what are the elements of a community that make the KIPP approach appropriate or desirable, and what are the elements of a community in which KIPP would not bring anything to the table or would be inferior to the presently existing options?

What are the factors that, for a given child or community, translate into what Witney describes as a "need" for KIPP? The thing is, we know the answers, or at least what KIPP and its backers implicitly believe to be the answers , so why is it so difficult for them to state those answers out loud?