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Articles, Debate, Education

Privatization of K-12 Education

It helps to have the polarized stands on education articulated before beginning a debate. Chubb and Moe’s controversial book, Politics, Markets and America’s Schools do this best when they write,

“America’s public schools are governed by institutions of direct democratic control, and their organizations should be expected to bear the indelible stamp of those institutions. They should tend to be highly bureaucratic and systematically lacking in the requisites of effective performance. Private schools, on the other hand, operate in a very different institutional setting distinguished by the basic features of markets – decentralization, competition and choice – and their organizations should be expected to bear a very different stamp as a result. They should tend to possess autonomy, clarity of mission, strong leadership, teacher professionalism and team cooperation that public schools want but … are unlikely to have.”

The statement lays the onus of the argument on the structural difference between public and private schools. But in all truth, therein lies the only difference. The structure determines the funds, the decision about the allocation of funds, the accountability relative to the usage of funds, the academic climate created thereby and finally the student achievement whose positive numbers should in turn generate more funds to start the conveyor belt all over again. Note how structures and funds are so intimate!

The problem is that the structure (and the race for funds) is inhabited by people, all with a wide range of interests, ideas, opinions and perspectives about what education stands for and should achieve. This inherent conflict, in a ‘democratic’ setting, creates constraints by the players within a structure. More precisely, it creates (1) administrative constraint, concerned with the authority of central office administrators, (2) personnel constraint, which focuses on union issues over personnel issues and (3) school board influence/constraint, which deals with the school board’s authority.

The multiple bureaucratic levels of involvement are correlated with a depressed academic climate and low student achievement in the public school system. When you throw a highly diverse socio-economic student body and volatile classroom dynamics into the mix, the odds seem to stack up heavily against public schools.

But data suggests we take a step back from all these negative perceptions regarding public schools and take a closer look. A study by Sandra Glass (1993), showed that public and private schools experienced similar constraints – they had to deal with the same state and federal laws, limited funds, the demands of parents, college admission requirements, the same College Board examinations and so forth. Moreover both exhibited a high level of administrative autonomy and a high level of student achievement. In fact the data seems to portray that these public and private schools had a high level of administrative autonomy because of high levels of student achievement. This explains why there are heavier constraints on public urban schools which face low student achievement.

The National Center for Education Statistics conducts regular NAEP surveys of student achievement in American high schools. One such survey (Shankar and Rosenberg, 1991) compared the mathematical proficiency of grade twelve students who had been exposed to various levels of mathematical instruction. Those students who had taken higher-level mathematics courses scored higher than those that had taken only lower-level courses – this irrespective of public or private schooling. In fact, the data showed public school students with a slight edge.

When private schools can control the selection of their students giving them more opportunity to choose the more talented ones with economical and educational support at home, enforce disciplinary standards and create a sense of ‘community’ why is the difference in achievement so marginal? By contrast, public schools must enroll all students, even those from impoverished backgrounds who lack a support structure at home to give them educational direction.

The gap between data and perception can be closed if we jump through the loopholes. Student achievement results in mathematics are based on the levels of mathematics that the students had studied. Therefore, the opportunity to learn at higher levels was more influential rather than a public or private setting. There is no denying that private schools can provide greater challenges and variety to students in curriculum but there is nothing stopping the public schools from doing the same. In fact the best public schools in America provide unique programmatic advantages which reflect a broader range of interests.

None of this means that American schools do not face serious problems, that educational opportunities are equitable in our country or that our schools cannot be improved. Dr. Ken Robinson’s (Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! – YouTube.)talk provides some unique insights on an educational revolution that might be necessary to adapt to the changing pace and tempo of our road ahead. As for now, “We have no reason to be complacent about schools’ performance …. But when schools are doing better than ever before, the best way to encourage continued improvement is not a concerted attack on school governance and organization. A more effective approach would be praise for accomplishment, provision of additional resources to programs whose results justify support, and reforms on the margin to correct programs and curricula shown to be ineffective.” (Richard Rothstein, The Myth of Public School Failure, 1993)


Articles, Debate

Change, Can We?

Change we can

It is difficult to forget the moment of unparalleled joy, of hope, of promise, when it was announced that Barack Hussein Obama was going to be the 44th president of the United States of America. People ran out to the streets vindicated. Despite a looming economic crisis, world over, hope roared. America had stood by its promise to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. History, for once, seemed to do what was right and just.

The euphoria soon dwindled and a sordid reality seemed to come crashing down. The economic crises, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the maladies that state welfare programs entrenched, the flailing infrastructure, the faulty education system and the rise of the ‘rest of the world’ – the common man’s faith in the American dream seemed lost.

Come 2011, Obama could barely keep his head over troubled waters as criticisms of his Presidency poured in from all sides.

His Universal Health Care Bill has been universally panned – the criticism being that he waited for consensus and allowed the rectification of a bill, whose benefits no one claims to have received as yet. Opposition points this as a sign of his passivity, his inclination to appease all parties and a government bid to interfere in and regulate the free market

An added negative is the forecasted $900 billion hole in the federal budget over a period of ten years.  This is read as Obama’s tendency to increase the federal deficit through increased federal spending.

The opposition’s cant is that there is a productive unemployed youth incapable of affording health care/insurance that are being latched onto the health care program of their parents under Obamacare.  This has been labeled as a symptomatic policy that has governed Obama’s presidency that will turn America into ‘a European Socialist State’, ‘an Entitlement State’ and a ‘Welfare State’.  It doesn’t help that the unemployment rate has remained at 8.5% despite growing confidence in the economy.

Coupled with criticism of Obama’s personality – a crafty orator, aloof, disconnected, non-committal, passive and worn out – the past three years in the Oval office have been anything but transformative.

But on the other hand, there are numbers that contest all these allegations from reliable sources. Ever since the implementation of Obama care, the percentage increase in U.S health care spending (2009-2010) has been only 4%; the lowest annual increase in the past 50 years. He cannot be faulted for his military and foreign policy stratagem either. As The New Republic notes, “In 1953, the United States had almost one million troops deployed overseas—325,000 in combat in Korea and more than 600,000 stationed in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. In 1968, it had over one million troops on foreign soil—537,000 in Vietnam and another half million stationed elsewhere. By contrast, in the summer of 2011, at the height of America’s deployments in its two wars, there were about 200,000 troops deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, and another roughly 160,000 troops stationed in Europe and East Asia. Altogether, and including other forces stationed around the world, there were about 500,000 troops deployed overseas. This was lower even than the peacetime deployments of the Cold War. … The comparison is even more striking if one takes into account the growth of the American population. When the United States had one million troops deployed overseas in 1953, the total American population was only 160 million. Today, when there are half a million troops deployed overseas, the American population is 313 million. The country is twice as large, with half as many troops deployed as fifty years ago.” On another plane, the auto bail-out saved thousands of jobs and sale numbers in the American industry have seen a positive turn globally and this government, despite its many grid locks, has managed to fend off being drowned with the Euro crisis.

So the problem definitely isn’t overseas commitments or a Socialist socio-economic transformation. The problem is perhaps, the deeper issue of accountability. Who do we hold responsible, why, for what and to what extent?

With the elections sweeping over the nation and the hope that brought Obama to the Oval office turning malevolent, one wonders what precisely guides the voting public to invest their trust and hope in a single person? Is it a paradoxical social contract in which we all mutually select a single man to articulate our communal needs while we go about fulfilling our individual ones? Or by making every leader an extension of our own failures, do we expect a messianic sacrificial lamb – someone to wash away yesterday? Or is it an unconscious hierarchical instinct, harkening back to the primal food chain; predators on top?

Whatever instinctual process guides our choice of leadership, the disconcerting fact remains that we now understand leadership and change as synonymous. As a rhetorical device, change is evocatively powerful – a mono syllable that easily translates into a chant or a mantra. But it is the process of change, rather the actions that lead to ‘change’ that are more complicated, more conflicted. The larger mass seems to ignore this aspect of change and focus on the mantra instead. In this lies the paradoxical logic that guides the choice of leadership. In fact lately, it is those that coin the best mantra for change according to the times that sway the tides rather than agenda, records, discourse and analysis.

Truthfully speaking, it is a conflicted chaotic reality that determines change. Transition periods don’t occur in the blink of an eye. It isn’t a shout or a slogan and a sudden enlightened new world order. The process of change is tiresome, gruesome, demanding and forces every man, irrespective of the labels that govern his station in life, to rise, to attain a silent heroism through principled pragmatism.

But when chants and cants replace analytical engagement, one wonders what’s next, and who is going to pay for it.


Articles, Profiles

The University of St.Thomas salutes its Doctoral student Kevin S.Gerdes on his promotion to Brigadier General.


Lately the dynamics of Leadership have been reduced to rhetoric and hyperbole. But UST congratulates it’s Doctoral student Kevin S.Gerdes for going against this grain.

He is the embodiment of the faith that Leadership speaks through the actions of the one in the many and a deep belief in the promise of the future.


“A wise commander, who recently retired, Maj. Gen. Jon Trost, told me one time that the greatest responsibility we have as senior leaders is to develop the next generation of leaders,” said Gerdes. “To that end, I am not sure I have fully done my part, but I know this: the two young men who pinned the new rank on my shoulders today are two great leaders of the future who provide Mickey and me with tremendous pride … It’s men like this, and those young soldiers who were deployed with me, that give me and all of us hope for the future.”

On November 19th during a ceremony at Camp Riley, Kevin S.Gerdes of Mahtomedi was pinned with his star by his wife Mickey Gerdes and sons 2nd Lt. Tyson Gerdes and Patrick Gerdes. His promotion to Brigadier General comes after an outstanding 32 years in military service. “Only my Mickey-my high school sweetheart-has received a longer commitment.”

Gerdes began his service as an enlisted soldier, leaving for basic training shortly after graduating from Maynard High School in 1980. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in 1982 through St. John’s University ROTC and has served 29 years of full-time service for the Minnesota National Guard. Now the deputy commander of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division headquartered out of Rosemount, Gerdes serves as the primary advisor to the commanding general and is responsible for the sustainment capability of the division.

“The Guard has provided me with amazing opportunities-with world-class leadership training and experience,” said Gerdes, during the ceremony. “I have had moments of mountaintop emotions from our accomplishments; and days of the deepest, darkest sorrow I have ever felt …
This promotion is truly an honor, but brings with it a new level of responsibility at the highest level in the 34th Infantry Division. I am honored and humbled to be in Maj. Gen. Elicerio’s command group and have already recognized that my leadership learning is continuing under his mentorship.”

During his military career, Gerdes has commanded at the battery, battalion and brigade levels and completed a combat tour in Iraq. Gerdes was deployed to Iraq from November 2004 through January 2006 as the commander of the Rear Operations Center, 1st Batallion, 151st Field Artillery, then based out of Camp Taji, Iraq. His soldiers coordinated support and security operations for a base with over 11,000 Coalition troops, and they provided civil support outreach to local villages. Gerdes also oversaw units attached to a military police battalion in Baghdad that provided training to Iraqi police forces and high-level security and escort capabilities.
Back home, Gerdes has held a number of significant assignments. He was the chief of staff for the St. Paul-based Joint Force Headquarters. Gerdes was also the commander of the 84th Troop Command, out of Roseville.

– Source article from story by Staff Sgt. Eric Jungels

Articles, Debate

Financing the future?

9914820-background-concept-wordcloud-illustration-of-microfinance-glowing-lightThere is a startling similarity – frankly, an alarming one! – between the subprime borrowers and the clients of micro financing institutions functioning across the developing world.

The clients in both situations had and have little to no collateral, there are practically no means of verifying their income, they are the socio-economic segment most vulnerable to external shocks and have little to no understanding of financial services, products and institutions.

Are we ramming into another subprime crisis with our eyes wide shut? Aren’t the poor poor enough? Do they need to be pushed into the same credit whirlpool we’re still reeling from?

To quote Pancho Otero, head of IPM (Micro-Enterprise Policy Institute), “Micro Credit is the most powerful tool that has ever been invented to eradicate poverty. With this strategy well implanted, the poverty of a country will be eradicated.”

Almost a miracle cure to global poverty, wouldn’t you say? But he has a point. With its relatively straight forward strategy, standardized simple operating model and focus on community development through community responsibility, the numbers are overwhelmingly positive. This is no hand out, no sense of degradation from living on the receiving end of charity.

The skeptics among us wonder about the flip side.

Karla Brom, an expert on risk management, corporate governance and an international banking consultant, defines Micro Financing more precisely as “… the provision of financial services and products to the poor and unbanked.” She stresses the ‘unbanked’ and explains the micro financial product range as Loans, Savings, Micro Insurance and Remittances.

Perhaps this isn’t quite the flip side but it is definitely not as exuberant a proclamation about the messianic prowess of Micro Financing. This is mainly because of the many socio cultural hidden costs. There have been reported increases in domestic violence and abuse, farmer suicides because of an inability to repay loans, misuse of loan money, increased gender inequalities, etc. Truthfully, there is no means of quantifying the social ramifications of micro financing institutions.

But the fact remains that Micro Financing is a market based solution to eradicate poverty and has seen a whopping 154% growth in the past decade. The sector is worth billions and has seen widespread success in a diversity of populations and markets.

Pancho Otero stresses that a Micro Finance Institution’s primary goal is to improve the level of income of those who do not have access to working capital. A means for poverty mitigation or irradication. He condemns using micro-credit as bait for other humanitarian objectives like education or health care. Yet, as Karla Brom points out, without humanitarian objectives working simultaneously with Micro Financing Institutions the point of having more income is lost when there are no developmental initiatives for clients to invest in or take advantage of.

Can we take sides? Can we afford to?

Watch the videos and post a thought!

Articles, Education

Which is More Likely When Teachers Know What to Do with Twice Exceptionality? Survive or Thrive?

8927257-head-silhouette-couple-rainbow-communicationBack in 2009, 2e Newsletter reported the launch of a five-year grant project in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. We interviewed project director Karen B. Rogers, Professor of Gifted Studies at the University of St. Thomas, College of Applied Professional Studies, in Minneapolis, who said, “We received notice in September, 2008, that we had been granted funds for a project to identify twice-exceptional students systematically and to program for them.”

The team for this undertaking, called Project 2Excel, was to get nearly half a million dollars over a five-year pe- riod. The aim was to have project team members receive and develop teacher training in twice-exceptional educa- tion and provide support for parents of 2e children. The purpose was to see if these efforts would lead to success for bright children who qualify for placement in gifted pro- grams but who end up struggling because of unidentified learning or attention issues, emotional or behavior disorders, or autism spectrum disorders.

Now, approximately three years into the research project, what has been the outcome? First, the bad news. The project has been de-funded, according to Rogers. The money was awarded under the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. This federal law, passed in 1988, established a program for conducting scientifi- cally-based research to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students. The main focus of the Act is students traditionally underrepresented in gifted programs: the economically disadvantaged, those with limited English proficiency, and the disabled. Each year Congress must fund this program, the only one aimed at benefiting gifted students in the United States. In 2011, Congress eliminated the funding, leaving Project 2Excel to close up shop. Training of the first (and only) cohort of 2e educators will conclude, and a final analysis of all of the teacher and student data collected will be completed.

Now for the good news. Karen Rogers can point to successes for both educators and learners who have been participating in the project.

The 24 educators in Project 2Excel have been participating in yearly in-service sessions and on-line graduate-level coursework. In addition, they’ve received paid writing/planning time. Among these educators are 12 classroom teachers who work directly with the twice- exceptional students placed in their respective homogeneous gifted classrooms. The remaining 12 include special educationists, associate principals, curriculum directors/coaches, and future classroom teachers at the middle school level. Training for participants began with initial introductions to both gifted education and special education. Next came an introductory twice exceptional education course.

With this foundation, the educators were able to conduct careful case studies of individual gifted children in the project with accompanying attention deficit disor- ders, specific learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, or autism spectrum disorders. Either working singly or in teams,  the educators looked both generally and in depth at each form of twice exceptionality, learning to systematically identify a child as 2e and then making educational plans to address the child’s specific cognitive, academic, physical, social, and emotional needs.

Rogers explained that through these case studies project team members were able to develop a toolkit of strategies for each kind of need. This information is avail- able at the project website:

Rogers, who is responsible for analyzing the data gathered during the project, looked at what the effects of their efforts appear to be for educators. She stated that the data gathered through biweekly observations and interviews with participating educators suggests the following:

  • •Increased confidence that the educators can“handle” these children and address their needs appropriately
  • •Increased flexibility in adapting or accommodating the curriculum so that it better addresses the needs of individual children in their gifted classrooms
  • Substantial refocus on individual learners in their classrooms rather than perceptions that one cannot make adjustments for an individual child in the classroom or that what is good for the twice- exceptional learner should be good for all learners
  • Increased use of toolbox strategies on a daily basis as suggested by student behavior and attention
  • Increased use of collaboration with others in the school to address the individual needs of a child, whether that collaboration is with a colleague or a special educationist, school nurse, curriculum leader, or instructional coach
  • Simplified classroom systems for displaying ideas-to-be-learned, student work, student “turn in” arrangements, desk arrangements, as well as for homework and classroom task instructions.

As for students, Rogers looked at what the two years of participating in the project has meant for them both quantitatively and qualitatively. She analyzed achievement measures, self-perception inventories, academic attitude scales, and classroom observations as well as interviews conducted with the learners. The results indicate the following.

  • •In general, students have made moderate gains in their math and language arts achievement. For some individuals, the gains have been substantial.
  • Student attitudes toward tackling difficult work in math and language arts have improved moderately, while their attitudes about the importance of academic learning have improved substantially.
  • The students see themselves as academically competent and as “good” school citizens (meaning that they behave well). However, they continue to recognize that they may have some social difficulties, although they feel more equipped to handle them.
  • The students’ ability to self-advocate has improved substantially. They, as well their teachers, report that the students know what to ask of their teachers when something does not make sense or if they are unsure about what they are to do. For example, the students will ask to be placed in a certain section of a classroom to avoid distractions or to hear the teacher better; they will negotiate with their teachers if they can think of a way to show what they have learned in a “better” way than what the teachers has required; they will ask for something to be given to them in writing or to be able to use assistive technology when important information is presented orally or if handwriting is involved; and they know how to ask for space or quiet time when stimuli get to be too overwhelming for them.

So what is the verdict at this point in the project – do twice-exceptional students thrive with the changes their teachers have instituted or do these learners just continue to survive? Rogers is pleased with the results of what she calls “this remarkable project.” In her words, “The children engaged in Project 2Excel have graduated well beyond the potential doom and gloom described so poignantly by Samantha Abeel in her book My Thirteenth Winter.” (The book Rogers refers to, published in 2003, is a memoir that describes what it was like to be a bright and creative child growing up and struggling through school with a learning disability.) Rogers went on to say, “These children, scheduled to enter middle school this fall, have every reason to believe they will be able to ‘hold it together,’ not suffer from anxiety and tension when things become overwhelming, and be able to communicate with their teachers about how best to get their learning done! I think we can say they are thriving!”

By Linda C. Neumann


Hello world!

8840440We’re in today. Living it, breathing it, buying it, eating it, voting for it!

If this is today though, what was yesterday? Why was yesterday like yesterday? Why not like the day after or the day before?

We are still waiting for someone to define today. Give it shape, hope and a tomorrow.

But then again, why is that someone important? Why do we look to someone to bring that shape to tomorrow, so that we can survive the today?

In Old English laeden was ‘to cause to go with one’ the causative of lioan ‘to travel’. As a noun the word lead first got recorded in c.1300 as the ‘action of leading’ and by the 1560s it meant ‘the front or leading place.’ Very spatially defined – as a journey, as a position.

By 1990, Bass had researched deeper into this journey describing it as a universal phenomenon, “… the focus of group processes, as a matter of personality, as a matter of inducing compliance, as the exercise of influence, as particular behaviors, as a form of persuasion, as a power relation, as an instrument to achieve goals, as an effect of interaction, as a differentiated role, as an initiation of structure, and as many combinations of these definitions.”

This writer is a little partial to the old English definition though.

It seems to ask permission, very convincingly, to accompany someone on a journey, to travel down a road together and hopefully reach a destination. If not, at least we saw something new and have company to tell the tale as someone else, somewhere else, tries another road to another destination.

But this is just a heavy poetic layer on an extremely complicated and conflicted process – one that philosophers, educators, policy makers and leaders themselves are negotiating with. It is the eternal struggle for meaning – a definition today, to guide tomorrow.

The fact that leadership is a universal phenomenon is also inescapable. This “…doesn’t mean it is a unilateral point of view that would exclude debate; on the contrary, it indicates the element that can be the basis for further dialogues between different partners, because all singularities on the periphery have been discarded.” (Reflections on Philosophy and Human Dignity, Pierre Sane, Senegal; © UNESCO 2011, All rights reserved).

For the purposes of this blog, this becomes convenient. It allows this writer to navigate singularities, particularities and look for the universal that binds and forms the foundation for dialogues on leadership across boundaries and enclosures.

The Leader Letter is at the start of a journey today. It hopes it can convince you to come along this road – perhaps the more there are searching the better the vision of the destination. And perhaps, if we’re lucky, a shape, a hope and a tomorrow.