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3 Things 7-24-23

Thing One


From the archives of our old blog... 


It's A Bird, It's A Plane...It's The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


There's a classic scene from the original Superman movie released in December of 1978.  In it, Lois Lane is dangling from a helicopter that is precariously perched, some fifty stories high, on the edge of the Daily Planet newspaper building.  After a few moments of struggling, Ms. Lane loses her grip and starts plunging to the ground as the assembled crowd watches helplessly.  I think you know what happens next, but since some things never get old, I've included a clip of that scene at the bottom of this post for your viewing pleasure. Lois Lane's perfectly timed and utterly practical reply to her hero in the video has been etched in my memory ever since I first heard it all those years ago.But, of course, that was just a movie.  In real life, there are no super heroes, although you wouldn't think so from reading the synopsis of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on it's website. I found myself there recently after reading an article that described how a federal appeals court had rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the CFPB. Rather than boring you with having to read it in its entirety, I included just the last paragraph below:



"In July 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB consolidates most Federal consumer financial protection authority in one place. The consumer bureau is focused on one goal: watching out for American consumers in the market for consumer financial products and services."



In other words, Congress is saying via the CFPB, "Easy American consumers, we've got you."  But, knowing what we know about the well over 100 trillion dollars of all-in liabilities that our cumulative Congresses have sanctioned, we should all respond to that reassurance - as Lois did to Superman - with, "Who's got you?"And besides, even Superman, who was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, finally came to understand that even he couldn't save everybody all the time.  In one of the more poignant and meaningful scenes in the movie, upon realizing he had arrived too late to save Lois' life, Superman flew out into space and started circling the earth in a clockwise direction (since the natural rotation of the earth is counterclockwise).  When he was flying fast enough, he actually reversed the rotation of the earth and turned back time.  In doing so he was able to alter the sequence of events that led to Lois' death. The point of it all, to me anyway, was that you don't have to go around saving people if you set them out on the right path to begin with.In the real world context that would mean arming people with practical knowledge about the benefits and perils of financial literacy and illiteracy. And that would mean letting them know, for instance, that for-profit businesses exist to make a profit (which is perfectly fine).  It would mean teaching them about the effect of fees and interest rates on the money they borrow and the services they purchase. And, once they came to understand those very simple concepts, it would mean letting them know that if they freely chose to avail themselves of products and services that came with exorbitant rates and fees, they should not look to the government to save them because, unlike Superman, it couldn't do so without harming someone else.Our politicians really should start to ask themselves whether they would be serving us better by creating faux hero agencies like the CFPB or by helping to create citizens who don't need heroes. Of course, that would require those politicians to consider, in earnest, being something other than self serving, so don't look for that question to get asked any time soon.


Thing Two


Public Schools Need To Welcome Back Kotter


About 23 years ago, give or take, I read a book called Leading Change, by John Kotter.  I've not laid eyes on the book since, but I still remember the eight step process for leading organizational change that the author outlined. Below is my straight-from-memory listing of the steps along with a brief explanation of each:Step 1:  Establish a sense of urgency.  In essence if you're going to get people to change, you're going to have to convince them of the urgent need to do so.Step 2:  Establish a guiding coalition.  This is a core group of people who will serve as fiduciaries for the change process.Step 3:  Create a vision.  This describes what the future state will look like.Step 4:  Communicate the vision.  The people in the organization need to know what the proposed future state looks like so they can sort out their places in it and help drive the process.Step 5:  Get some short term wins.  This is an acknowledgment that it will take time to get to the new end state, but that there will be signs along the way that progress is being made.Step 6:  Consolidate the gains and get more wins.  Momentum is key here.  Once you start winning you'll keep winning if you have the right attitude and approach.Step 7:  Empower and broaden the base.  Get more people involved in the change process to take advantage of the power of leverage.Step 8:  Change the culture.  This is the result, no the aim, therefore it is the last of the eight steps when considered properly.I recalled the book as a result of reading and thinking about an article below titled, "The Turnaround Fallacy".  It was written a few years ago by Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute.  Key parts of the article are below:



"For as long as there have been struggling schools in America’s cities, there have been efforts to turn them around. The lure of dramatic improvement runs through Morgan Freeman’s big-screen portrayal of bat-wielding principal Joe Clark, philanthropic initiatives like the Gates Foundation’s “small schools” project, and No Child Left Behind (NCLB)’s restructuring mandate. The Obama administration hopes to extend this thread even further, making school turnarounds a top priority. But overall, school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations...


...a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study noted, “Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success…. Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges. In fact, America’s most-famous superior urban schools are virtually always new starts rather than schools that were previously underperforming.


...We shouldn’t be surprised then that turnarounds in urban education have largely failed. The surprise and shame is that urban public education, unlike nearly every other industry, profession, and field, has never developed a sensible solution to its continuous failures. After undergoing improvement efforts, a struggling private firm that continues to lose money will close, get taken over, or go bankrupt. Unfit elected officials are voted out of office. The worst lawyers can be disbarred, and the most negligent doctors can lose their licenses. Urban school districts, at long last, need an equivalent...


...The beginning of the solution is establishing a clear process for closing schools. The simplest and best way to put this into operation is the charter model. Each school, in conjunction with the state or district, would develop a five-year contract with performance measures. Consistent failure to meet goals in key areas would result in closure. Alternatively, the state could decide that districts only have one option—not five—for schools reaching NCLB-mandated restructuring: closure. This would have three benefits. First, children would no longer be subjected to schools with long track records of failure and high probabilities of continued failure...

...Those hesitant about replacing turnarounds with closures should simply remember that a failed business doesn’t indict capitalism and an unseated incumbent doesn’t indict democracy. Though temporarily painful, both are essential mechanisms for maintaining long-term systemwide quality, responsiveness, and innovation. Closing America’s worst urban schools doesn’t indict public education nor does it suggest a lack of commitment to disadvantaged students. On the contrary, it reflects our insistence on finally taking the steps necessary to build city school systems that work for the boys and girls most in need."


In my interpretation, Mr. Smarick's article offers support for W.E.B DubBois' notion that, "A system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect."  The traditional public education system is not designed to protect students.  The charter schools, on the other hand, seem to have student protection in mind.


All that said, my position is that Mr. Kotter would fail miserably at trying to run through his eight steps in the public (non-charter) school system. I'm guessing he might not get past step 1, but if he did, step 2 would leave him stymied for sure. That's a shame and it has to change.

Thing Three


Just A Thought


"Be your own hero, it's cheaper than a movie ticket." - Douglas Horton




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