Monday, January 18, 2016

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

“Highly inefficient, if not immoral.” That is a phrase that brings to mind many different kinds of bad behavior and debauchery. From Lamar Odom’s weekend in Vegas to the Ram’s moving to Los Angeles my mind runs wild. My mind does NOT turn to the decisions made by Kansas school board members on behalf of our students. Reasonable minds might differ on what is inefficient, but moral judgments reach a higher level and should not be made lightly.  

A dictionary definition of the word leaves out the emotion, simply stating, “relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior.” In popular usage, the word is emotion and value-laden. Great minds have written broadly on the subject of moral behavior. In practice, it is an emotion-laden term that gets personal fast.

The first draft of this blog, which was written Wednesday morning after the State of the State Speech, was pretty snarky. When the speech forwarded the idea that school board members make immoral decisions it did not sit well with me. My first reaction was a lengthy diatribe that upon further review could be summed up with what my sister used to say to me, “I know you are, but what am I.”

It’s a great way to aggravate your younger brother, but it doesn’t really advance the discussion. Being more mature, when my grandmother had to intervene in these nanny, nanny, boo boo fights, we had to sit down for what she called “devotionals.” For a ten-year-old boy on a farm with horses to ride, creeks to dam, forts to build, and kittens to catch, this was worse punishment than a beating from Adrian Peterson.

So my sister and I would be forced to read and discuss Mathew 5:39 “whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well” or Thessalonians 5:15 “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” At the time, I was seething and didn’t much care for the message, kind of like I was Wednesday morning. But this morning when I was out for a morning run the words came back to me. I will take my grandma's advice and not my 10-year-old self's.

The business of educating Kansas students is too important for pettiness, name-calling, and snark.  Sure it is fun, but it doesn’t advance the cause of education in Kansas. So let’s knock it off. Thanks to the Kansas State Board of Education, we have a new vision for Kansas education. Now we have to decide what we want from our schools, and how we pay for it. Can we focus on that instead of making policy by anecdote and trying to find problems for ready-made solutions? The Kansas State Board did it; can school leaders and the leaders in Topeka do it?

The day of the state of the state speech, an alliance of The United School Administrators, Kansas School Superintendents Association, Kansas National Education Association, and Kansas Association of School Boards issued a statement asking for a partnership with the Governor and Legislature to improve Kansas public education.  <>   Let’s cut the political rhetoric and focus on what Kansas students need from their schools and how to pay for it.

(For an analysis of the 65% idea, please check out Ted Carter's Blog

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Local Leaders or Corporate Conglomos?

Some folks may have heard that there have been some issues with my new truck. Visiting Wyoming over the holiday break, the beast refused to start. Now to be fair, it gets cold in the mountains of Wyoming. Grizzly bear intelligence is under-rated, because sleeping in a warm cave is the best way to deal with a Wyoming winter. But the second best way is to hop in your warm truck and try your rusty ski skills out on the local slopes. 

It is a little bit frustrating to get into your gear, climb into the truck and listen to it constantly crank and not catch. What is infinitely more frustrating is to call roadside assistance early in the morning and have them lose your information once, and not get help to you until 11 hours later.

Besides cold winters and great skiing, Wyoming is known for its sparse population. Naturally, there was no dealership within a 60-mile radius. So when attempts to reach corporate for advice on what to do with their non-functioning product are met with lost calls, runaround, and infinite voicemail loops, one can get frustrated. Three days I spent wrestling with corporate and trying to get satisfaction. In the end, they never called me back to follow up on my month-old truck.

I know, a sad tale of a first-world problem. But there are some good guys in this story. While my experience with the corporate conglomerate was bordering contemptuous, three entities stood out and they had one thing in common. Woody’s Hungry Bear Grocery and Tow Service was the local outfit that came and picked up my truck to transport it to the local dealership in Afton, Wyoming. Both were service-minded, friendly, responsive, and did the job right. When I got home, I went to my local dealership and they dealt with corporate on my behalf to insure that I was reimbursed for the costs that I had incurred. They took the extra step of installing a block heater on the truck at their expense. 

The common denominator, in case you missed it, was local, local, and local. With a few well-publicized exceptions, corporate conglomerates are not well known for service. On the other hand, when the people with whom you are dealing are your friends and neighbors, the equation changes and so does the level of service.

That, friends, is why local control works best. Nothing against our colleagues and friends in the legislature and state department, but the folks back home are in the best position to know the local issues and to make decisions to improve local situations. There is an attitude among some in Topeka that the best way to improve schools is to centralize more power in Topeka. But schools are not manufacturers; education is a service business. It may be more efficient for an auto manufacturer to operate that way, but not more effective. Locals know how to provide the service that is needed at a fair price.