How Conservatives Can Gain Ground In Education

Teacher/StudentFor the past century Liberals have dominated the discussion in and about education. Historically Liberal politicians have been able to count on educators and teachers unions being among the strongest parts of their base. As Common Core is rolled out we are beginning to see some dissension in the ranks of the educators. I believe that this is the perfect time for conservatives to get their foot in the door and begin to make meaningful changes to bring our educational system into the new millennium and here is how we can do it.

  • Walk before you run. Don’t jump straight to school choice, vouchers or charter schools. Start by talking with teachers about their ideas and how they would like to run their classroom if they had the autonomy. Ask them questions like “Do you care about the kids in your class? If you had the choice to do what you want in your classroom, what would you change?”
  • Emphasize that we want to give them the authority to make the decisions in their classroom. Ask them questions like “Do you like having administrators, many of which have never been in your classroom and aren’t teachers themselves, micro managing everything that you do in your classroom?” If we take the authority to make decisions from the federal level and bring it back to the local level then the teachers will have more autonomy to make the decisions on how they teach in their classroom. The further from the source the decision making gets the more administration and oversight you will need.
  • Talk about the money. In their district how much money is being spent per student? Point out that they are only seeing a fraction of that for them to use in the classroom. Where is all of the rest of it going? What could they do if we are able to put almost all of that money in the classroom to use at their discretion?
  • We are not against unions. When they ask you if you are anti-union or why you want to do away with unions you can say something like “I am not against teachers unions as long as it is giving you the choice whether you want to join or not and they are empowering you to teach the students the way that the students will benefit the most and not forcing you to follow a cookie cutter, on approach fits all mold.” When you break their preconceived notions by telling them that you are not anti-union like they suspect it will make them think twice and they will stop and listen to you.
  • Every student is different so how can one method fit all the students in the class, district, city, state or the country? Are all your students the same? Do they have the same personalities? Do they learn the same way? Of course not. So why should we have a one size fits all curriculum like Common Core that forces you to teach all of the students the same way.
  • We are not against standardized tests, but we need to realize that not all students learn the same or perform well on tests. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein
  • Build a relationship of trust. Once you have built a rapport and established a relationship of trust by talking to the teachers about the things that matter to them we can start to apply these same principles to other aspects of life, such as healthcare. Once that trust is there they will probably begin to ask you about other things.
  • We need to begin laying the groundwork for 2016 now. We can’t gain significant ground in the few months before an election. We need to be laying the groundwork on this for the next few years so that we will have moved the needle of popular opinion enough that when the election comes along this can be a winning issue for conservative candidates.

If we start laying the groundwork now by building relationships of trust we can make this a winning discussion in the 2016 election cycle, but more importantly we can bring our educational system into the new millennium and give the rising generation a renewal of hope for a bright future.

The Basics: Goals, Strategies, Tactics

Ever get lost in a discussion?
Ever end up disagreeing with someone when you thought you were on the same side?
Ever get caught helping someone to achieve something you really didn’t want to help them with?

Sure you have, we all have.

Usually, it’s because we didn’t really start out understanding the basics of the situation we were in. We get into the details and lose the overview.

So let’s start with the basics.

You may be familiar with the goal/strategy/tactic model in business, or in the military. You use the same structure with everything you do, you just haven’t thought about it formally.

Bottom up:

Something you DO is a tactic. Why do you do it?
To accomplish some part of your strategy. Why did you formulate that strategy?
To achieve a goal.

Top down:

Something you WANT is a goal. How do you get it?
Formulate a strategy to achieve that goal. How do you accomplish the strategic objective?
By executing the tactics you defined as part of the strategy.

Same Tactic, Different Strategy, VERY Different Goals

Two people can agree on a tactic, even though they have different strategies, and different ultimate goals.

This is where co-opetition happens, This is where politics makes strange bedfellows.

Leftist and Anarchists work together to create Occupy Wall Street – raising awareness, getting media attention, making “the system” of capitalism out to be the enemy. They shared the same tactics.

Anarchists’ ultimate goal is NO government, the leftists’ goal is top down big central government. They’ll separate at some point, but they worked together quite well. Note that even though they had different GOALS, they actually shared the same STRATEGY in addition to common tactic. The strategy of defeating the right is one they share.

Same Goal, Different Strategy, Different Tactics

Two people can have the same goal, but be executing completely different tactics, and not need to know anything about what the other person is doing.

This is how two people on the same side can work at what may seem to be cross purposes, or, more common, neither know nor care particularly what the other group is doing.

Pro-lifers don’t need to know who Objectvists are. If they took the time to talk they’d realize they agree, but given time constraints, they don’t really need to even be aware of the existence of each other.

If both groups keep executing their tactical plans, they’ll accomplish their strategic objectives, which would be more closely related, and then they’ll reach the goal, which they share.

How is This Insight Helpful?

Awareness of this structure, and the questions that provide the movement and direction (how and why) really will help you understand where you are, where you’re going, who can help you, and who is hurting you.

It can keep you from wasting time on unimportant things.

It can keep you focused.

The Educational Meltdown

This is what I see when I think about higher education in this country today:

Remember the housing meltdown ? Tough to forget isn’t it. The formula for the housing boom and bust was simple. A lot of easy money being lent to buyers who couldn’t afford the money they were borrowing. That money was then spent on homes with the expectation that the price of the home would go up and it could easily be flipped or refinanced at a profit.  Who cares if you couldn’t afford the loan. As long as prices kept on going up, everyone was happy. And prices kept on going up. And as long as pricing kept on going up real estate agents kept on selling homes and finding money for buyers.

Until the easy money stopped.  When easy money stopped, buyers couldn’t sell. They couldn’t refinance.  First sales slowed, then prices started falling and then the housing bubble burst. Housing prices crashed. We know the rest of the story. We are still mired in the consequences.

Can someone please explain to me how what is happening in higher education is any different ?

Its far too easy to borrow money for college.  Did you know that there is more outstanding debt for student loans than there is for Auto Loans or Credit Card loans ? That’s right. The 37million holders of student loans have more debt than the 175million or so credit card owners in this country and more than the all of the debt on cars in this country. While the average student loan debt is about 23k. The median is close to $12,500. And growing. Past 1 TRILLION DOLLARS.

We freak out about the Trillions of dollars in debt our country faces. What about the TRILLION DOLLARs plus in debt college kids are facing ?

The point of the numbers is that getting a student loan is easy. Too easy.

You know who knows that the money is easy better than anyone ? The schools that are taking that student loan money in tuition. Which is exactly why they have no problems raising costs for tuition each and every year.

Why wouldn’t they act in the same manner as real estate agents acted during the housing bubble? Raise prices and easy money will be there to pay your price. Good business, right ? Until its not.

The President has introduced programs that try to reward schools that don’t raise tuition and costs. They won’t work.  Right now there is a never ending supply of buyers. Students who can’t get jobs or who think that by going to college they enhance their chances to get a job. Its the collegiate equivalent of flipping houses. You borrow as much money as you can for the best school you can get into and afford and then you “flip” that education for the great job you are going to get when you graduate.

Except those great jobs aren’t always there. I don’t think any college kid took on tens of thousands of dollars in debt with the expectation they would get a job working for minimum wage against tips.

At some point potential students will realize that they can’t flip their student loans for a job in 4 years. In fact they will realize that college may be the option for fun and entertainment, but not for education. Prices for traditional higher education will skyrocket so high over the next several years that potential students will start to make their way to non accredited institutions.

While colleges and universities are building new buildings for the English , social sciences and business schools, new high end, un-accredited, BRANDED schools are popping up that will offer better educations for far, far less and create better job opportunities.

In the past, as a manager, I wanted the best prepared and qualified employees. I could care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest. Not a piece of paper.

The competition from new forms of education is starting to appear. Particularly in the tech world. Online and physical classrooms are popping up everywhere. They respond to needs in the market. They work with local businesses to tailor the education to corporate needs. In essence assuring those who excel that they will get a job. All for far far less money than traditional schools.

The number of people being prepared for the work world in these educational environments is exploding.

You would think traditional university educators would take notice. Beyond allowing some of their classes to be offered online, they haven’t. They won’t. Its the ultimate Innovators Dilemma. They don’t believe they should change and they won’t. Until its too late. Just as CEOs push for that one more penny per share in EPS, University Presidents care about nothing but getting their endowments and revenues up. If it means saddling an entire generation with obscene amounts of school debt, they could care less. This is how they get their long term contracts and raises.

It’s just a matter o time until we see the same meltdown in traditional college education. Like the real estate industry, prices will rise until the market revolts. Then it will be too late. Students will stop taking out the loans traditional Universities expect them to. And when they do tuition will come down. And when prices come down Universities will have to cut costs beyond what they are able to. They will have so many legacy costs, from tenured professors to construction projects to research they will be saddled with legacy costs and debt in much the same way the newspaper industry was. Which will all lead to a de-levering and a de-stabilization of the University system as we know it.

And it can’t happen fast enough.

IMHO, the biggest problem the economy has is the enormous student debt new college grads and those leaving college find themselves with. In the past leaving college meant getting a job and getting a used car and/or an apartment with some friends. Yes there was student debt, but it wasn’t any where near your car payment. You could still afford the car and the apartment. Now its the exact opposite. Today, the minute you graduate college you face the challenge of debt against a college education whose value is immediately “underwater”

As a result spending habits have changed dramatically. Now when you leave school you move back home. You take public transportation or borrow your parents car. The only thing new you buy is the cheap work outfit you need. Savings ? Forgettaboutit. It’s not happening. Your entire focus is on hitting your monthly nut for school debt , credit card and maybe a car or apartment. The crush of college debt has taken an entire generation of graduates, current and future out of the economy. Which is exactly why the economy hasn’t grown and won’t grow beyond microscopic growth rates we have seen so far.

So until we get the meltdown in college education, don’t expect much improvement in the economy. Who gets elected won’t make a dang bit of difference.

Update: Let me add some clarification here based on some of the comments. I include the Online For Profit Mills that live off of the government delivering student loans as part of traditional education. Phoenix, Strayer, etc, they are not the new generation of Branded Education I am referring to. They are a big part of creating the bubble. i should have gone into more depth here. I will save it for another post.

As far as the purpose of college, I am a huge believer that you go to college to learn how to learn. However, if that gaol is subverted because traditional universities, public and private, charge so much to make that happen, I believe that system will collapse and there will be better alternatives created.

Online video classrooms with lively discussions don’t need a traditional campus to teach kids how to learn. Discussion groups built around Khan Academy like classes don’t require a traditional campus to teach kids how to learn. I’ve seen better discussions and interactions o
n twitter than in some of the traditional classrooms I have visited. The opportunities for online interactive video classrooms is going to grow quickly and will be far more cost effective than traditional universities.

Leave the for profit online schools that create more employment for debt collectors than their students out of the equation and we still have an enormous bubble in Higher Education that is having a horrible impact not just on the economic life of their students, but on the economy as a whole as well.

The Higher Education Industry is very analogous to the Newspaper industry. By the time they realize they need to change their business model it will be too late. Higher Education’s legacy infrastructure, employee costs /structures and debt costs will keep them from being able to re calibrate to a new generation of competitors.

~Salvum fac Republic