Time for State Employees to Walk in Others’ Shoes

I sent the e-mail below to the Medicaid Expansion Coordinator and the DPA Director, Sean O’Brien as a follow up to my prior investigation. It has only been a couple of days, but I suppose I really am not expecting much of anything with respect to a substantive response.  Like so much else, we have here a potentially great idea, with simply horrendous implementation.

The communication below and any files transmitted with it
may contain privileged or confidential information. It is
solely for use by the individual for whom it is intended,
even if addressed incorrectly. If you received this e-mail
in error, please notify the sender; do not disclose, copy,
distribute, or take any action in reliance on the contents
of this information; and delete it from your system.

Thank you for your cooperation.
Dear Ms. Martin,

While I have been more than willing to accept what the Chris
Ashenbrenner had to say about the problems with the roll-out of the
Medicaid Expansion, any experience dealing with the claimant side of the
system is immediately explanatory of why there are so many people angry
and frustrated  with that system.

To start with, much of the information received by applicants from DPA
offices, or provided on the ARIES website, is inaccurate or misleading.
When I have tried to bring that to the attention of agency personnel, I
have been blown off, with the result that to my way of thinking,
nothing is ever going to be done to fix it. By way of example, if you
are dumped into ARIES by healthcare.gov, your application does not show
up in ARIES, even AFTER someone has looked at the file and sent you a
demand for verification letter.  If you have an application on file, you
must be able to confirm the status of that application through ARIES.

Anyone who thinks this

That was not the greatest explanation, so let me try again.  
The number you reported prefixed with a T is a temporary 
application number while the application is in processing.   
No access is available at the self-service portal (where 
application was made) while in this temporary status.  
The application has been transferred (electronically) to 
an office for processing.  After the case is processed and 
approved it will be assigned a permanent number starting with 
a 3.  This permanent number can then be used to access features 
provided on the portal. 
is in any way explanatory (or satisfactory) needs to see a mental health
professional. Let's see... it suggests that the application number does
not become an application number until the application is not longer an
application, and suggests, contrary to what the ARIES site says, that
you can see the status of your application based on your application
number...  but of course since the only number you get while your
application is an application is the application number and that
application number is not an application number, it is fairly obviously
that most of what one might have tried to do for an hour trying to use
web tools to determine the status of an application has been totally
wasted.  Moreover, any attempt to speak to someone at the DPA office
results in you being put in a queue to leave a message which is never

As far as the back log is concerned, since it is fairly evident that no
one is doing triage on the applications, and a call to the published
telephone number about emergent issues results only in an e-mail to an
office manager who already is failing to triage applications, it is
pretty clear why applicants are getting steamed. For example, waiting 6
or 7 weeks to THEN tell an applicant he has 1 week to send in dozens of
documents while making it impossible for the applicant to discuss with
anyone the document request is, in a word, bizarre. And YES, that
is exactly what DPA is doing.  Calls to claim workers are not returned.
When they are, no message is left. And no call backs are ever attempted.

Indeed, as relates to FFM referrals, since data will in fact be sparse
because it is all electronic and no documents are accepted, you know
that no application will be accepted without receipt of additional
documentation where there is any evidence of self-employment, and yet
you sit on those applications.  Where gross FFM income is below $19000
you STILL sit on those applications, and eventually ask the applicant to
prove expenses, when it makes no difference what the expanses were if
the gross income was below the target income level (if I have $12000 in
W2 income and and $6000 in gross self employment income, it doesn't make
any difference what my business expenses are, I am still eligible).

And what IS one supposed to do in response to a request that simply
says, "Provide documentation of expenses." What expenses? What kind of
documentation? Questions? Sorry, you may NOT speak to anyone who can
answer them 

As far as published data, it is frankly unbelievable, and while there
may be an explanation for why it seems incredible, the Department does
itself no service by not providing same.  By way of example, consider
this data:

                             "Jan-16"   "Feb-16"  "Mar-16"
"Incoming Work"              "4,352"    "3,672"    "4,501"
"Work Completed              "5,136"    "5,075"    "5,042"
"True Application Backlog"   "2,692"    "1,573"    "2,053"

How can you have an Application Backlog of 1573 in February, complete
541 more applications in March than came in, and then have a resulting
backlog of 480 more than you had in February?

And providers. I have spoken to quite a few over the last several
weeks.  Many are just fed up and are ready to quit accepting Medicaid.
Yes, they have been told to go ahead and treat as Medicaid will
eventually pay (really?), but all the provider has is a voice on a
telephone, and that does not pay the bills if payment is in fact NOT
forthcoming. Thankfully, many will simply hold the bill for 30 days.
And if a provider won't hold the bill, and won;t serve you because
Medicaid can't provide even a claimant number?  Well, you are in a sense
worse off than you were before Expansion, aren't you?

The system simply is not working well for those who need it to work for
them, in no small part because communication is non-existent, and
urgency is treated with casual disregard by the system.  We can do better.


Marc Grober, Esq.
5610 Radcliff Dr.
Anchorage Alaska 99504
email: marc@interak.com
cell:  (907)2272417

Only a Reasonable Experiment

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.56.59 AMI have been stewing over Thomas Frank’s indictment of President Obama in Listen Liberal. He very effectively argues that the President shrank from his authority to pursue his view of a Presidency willing to compromise. And then, in reading a piece by Luigi Zingales it suddenly struck me, “Why not?” Let me explain…

Let’s try a little experiment. The IRS already makes it abundantly clear that

To be deductible, your employees’ pay must be an ordinary and necessary business expense and you must pay or incur it. These and other requirements that apply to all business expenses are explained in chapter 1.

In addition, the pay must meet both of the following tests.

  • Test 1. It must be reasonable.
  • Test 2. It must be for services performed.

The form or method of figuring the pay doesn’t affect its deductibility. For example, bonuses and commissions based on sales or earnings, and paid under an agreement made before the services were performed, are both deductible.

and then goes on to discuss implication where corporations are excessive

If a corporation pays an employee who is also a shareholder a salary that is unreasonably high considering the services actually performed, the excessive part of the salary may be treated as a constructive dividend to the employee-shareholder. The excessive part of the salary wouldn’t be allowed as a salary deduction by the corporation. For more information on corporate distributions to shareholders, see Pub. 542. ” https://www.irs.gov/publications/p535/ch02.html

In essence, though any executive action would be eventually tempered by judicial review, reasonable AND necessary is quite the hurdle if one thinks about it, especially where the burden would appear to be on the tax payer.

So why not imagine, for at least enough moments to savor the possibilities, the circumstances where the Administration places a cap on business employee deductions. Now such a move would NOT stop corporations from paying whatever they chose, but it would prohibit those corporations from dropping those inflated compensation packages from their profits, and more profit means a greater chance of collecting some revenue from corporate tax dodgers. Clink, clink, clink…

So will all these John Galts stalk away from their corporate welfare rolls? Will their corporate masters flee the country?  Not likely, as we have recently seen at least one company, Pfizer, decide that such a response was maybe NOT in their best interests.
So let’s have some fun and argue, for the hell of it, that the Presidency is the most important and toughest job on the planet. That job pays $400K plus perqs worth another $170K.  The CRS suggests that the cost to a federal employer of a pension is about 23% of salary.  So lets posit that we add an additional 25% of $600K to a total cap, bring that to $750K. Period.

If you are not snarfling in your beer, you are soon going to be seeing a much smaller pay packet 😉


Entrepreneurship, Luigi Zingales Luigi Zingales is the Robert C. Mc Cormack Distinguished Service Professor of. “Why We Should Tax and Shame Excessive Corporate Lobbying.” Evonomics, April 13, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://evonomics.com/tax-shame-excessive-corporate-lobbying/.
Frank, Thomas. Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? Macmillan, 2016.

Taxing Alaskans: An Open Letter To Commissioner Hoffbeck

Dear Commissioner,

I sent the material below to a number of Anchorage legislators earlier this week, and Andy Josephson asked me if I would share it with you. My point in sending this to the legislators was that while it seems that one and all in Juneau talk about wanting to hear from the public, the public statements of those asking for input seem to reflect little of what passes for what is discussed on the street. In the meantime, we are bombarded by schemes that most see as dubious at best, and all lacking much in the way of documentation, modeling, etc. If you want to make an impression on concrete learners, you have to come up with some manipulables…

Folk on the street elected our Governor because they had had enough of Parnell. I think they would have elected a gorilla if they had to, meaning no disrespect to Governor Walker. And now, the Governor has another chance to repudiate the policies that Parnell championed, and the people of this State are ready to rally around the Governor, as they rallied round him with respect to Medicaid Expansion.

The fact is that most Alaskan make no net payment for any State or Local service. Period. Moreover, those who do pay a little something are 1%ers, and frankly can afford paying their way. Alaskans can afford MORE than a 15% nominal tax and we insist, across the board, on our willingness to raise taxes on ourselves to maintain the quality of life we enjoy as long as the taxes are not wasted. Let’s get to taxing!

Thanks for reading,

Marc Grober


Dear Legislator,

Please review this Google Doc spreadsheet  . It provides a brief examination of the revenue that a 15% nominal graduated income tax might generate on its own. [the spreadsheet has been embedded below to make it easier for the reader]

As State Income Taxes and Local Realty Taxes are deductible from Federal Tax, the total tax burden on “middle class” Alaskans would rise only a few points. As noted this basic analysis uses SOI brackets for ease of gross computation; actual brackets could be significantly skewed placing a greater burden on those itemizing.

Additionally, however, if we use a State Income Tax as a tool by which we can leverage other taxes we can also look at half a billion gallons of fuel used on the highway annually (about half gasoline and half diesel), and if we impose a $6/gallon tax, and then exempt first 100 gallons per household for 261,000 households we get another half a billion in revenue (yes, prices of shipped goods will rise across the board, which makes it more economical to buy local….) AND then we need to add the tax to private non-commercial airplane fuel

Lastly, removing the booze excise tax and replacing it with a retail tax starting at a dime per mL of actual ethanol, as in a 750 ml bottle of liquor at 100 proof might produce .48 (ABV)* 750 (mL) *$1 (tax) * .1 (multiplier) = $36 for a fifth of booze. Likewise a 750 ml bottle of wine would produce .13*750*$1*.1=$9.75 on a bottle of wine, and even after a modest exemption for a gallon a month, we have added another chunk of change and a real complement to a marijuana tax.

Now, repeal SB21 and dump all industry subsidies, and we are pretty close to being self-sufficient

Let’s put an end to the whine of the middle class welfare queens. Let’s put an end to the silly chatter about economic deportation of seniors, and let’s recognize that the median income in Alaska is over $70K (over $80K in urban Alaska), and Alaskans not only can pay their way, they have repeatedly told the focus group held by far right ideologues that they are WILLING to pay the taxes necessary to maintain their quality of life.

Stop talking about playing with the PFD: that is simply a shell game as any economist will tell you. The PFD – except in the Unorganized Borough, which is another matter altogether – is simply an in lieu transfer; PFD’s, while they provide an interim multiplier effect, also underwrite most of Municipal taxation on resident populations.

Stop talk about tapping reserves, as we all know legislators can’t be trusted in the hen house.

Promote a comprehensive tax regime that will meet Alaska’s real budget requirements.


Berko Panders to DIPs

A few days ago the Anchorage Dispatch News stated that, “the Berkowitz administration recommends using the surplus for a combination of property tax relief and bolstering the city’s savings.” There was no mention of the SAP debacle. There was no mention of the fact that few in Anchorage make any net payment for any State or Local service (as it turns out, the money paid to Alaskan households by the State in the form of the Permanent Fund Dividend typically exceeds the total tax paid by Anchorage households, which was modest to begin with.)

The bottom line is that the people who do make a net payment are those who do not need tax relief.  They are households of 2 or fewer persons residing in homes valued in excess of $350,000 (and to secure a mortgage of that size we are talking a household income of over $150,000/yr.) Yes, there could be some single parents in that crowd, but we are REALLY talking about DINKs (dual income- no kids) — I prefer dual income professionals…

Give us a break, Ethan….


Socializing Return, Privatizing Risk, and Gambling with Truth

A friend recently commented on Curtis Wright’s claim

At heart, I’m a Nietzschean. The world either does contribute to our capacity for being strong, healthy, self-creative human animals, or it doesn’t. Mostly it doesn’t. Mostly we live under one thumb or another, almost always multiple thumbs. Nietzsche’s attitude toward the thumb was honesty. My attitude toward capitalism is, Perhaps it is the best possible economic system, as you say Mr. Capitalist, but can we please stop being dishonest about it? Can we please stop telling all of the anxious lies we tell about how it is the apex of freedom? Can we please at least tell the truth about its human effects and its effects on nature?

As for hope, the philosopher Santayana talked about “animal faith.” Beyond religion, we have the faith of animals who enjoy the incredible privilege of being alive and conscious of the fact. I know that faith, and I try to be loyal to it. So working toward a condition where people know that this Nietzschean joy is their true “vocation” is important. As Fichte put it, You are free, so act like it. Hope is all in the act.

Truth is the bastion of the neo-Platonists, and I think does not serve Wright well here. The focus should not be on a some Golden Form, but on the Aristotelian formulation for happiness; the problem with the system that Wright decries is that it eschews the concept of ‘more for most and none for none’ that is in essence Aristotle’s starting point for his Ethics. Wright’s Capitalism is simply unconcerned about most, save through the Zombie Economics of supply-side macro theory (which views most of as a mice lucky to have the crumbs from the table.)

We are engaged in a “naming” battle; a linguistic version of counting coup which has gotten terribly out of hand. The concept of being able to buy and sell in market was with us long before anyone bandied about the term “capitalism”. What the rational find problematic, and the delusional worship, is the abstraction of the concept of markets until it becomes little more than an unregulated virtual gambling hall. Yes, there are those who argue that all commerce is at it’s core, a gamble, but in modern societies it is against the law to insure someone’s life and then murder them. Yet in the financial world we are not only engaged in just that, we have a significant portion of the population ignorantly celebrating that engagement.

Our laws, as Mr. Grieder and others suggested years ago, work to socialize risks and privatize returns, doubling down on the two inescapable pillars of what I call abstract capitalism: it is entirely unstable, and produces horribly inequitable results. The “libertarians” claim kinship of classical liberalism, but their positions are such a corruption of that philosophy that even neo-liberalism does the like of Locke a disservice (and can be confused with the virtually identical approach from the faux center, the Democratic Leadership Caucus extremism of Hillary et al). Better I think to call them Lotto Liberals, as they endorse little more than gaming.

There are as many societal mechanisms for addressing economic instability as their are societies, from the potlatch of the Tlingit to the financial regulations of the modern state;  some Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.15.01 AMof these mechanisms are more effective than others at the redistribution necessary to maintain a cohesive social network.  Unfortunately, Lotto Liberalism flatly rejects redistribution and puts its faith in the egoistic fallacy that  that one is wholly responsible for one’s own success, which like  a Bizarro counterfeit of Athena leaps from the forehead of its sire, Hubris.


Alright, maybe a pedantic rant equating Zeus with Saint Hubert is a stretch, but so are the myths that seem woven into the fabric of American “exceptionalism”.  We don’t need to surrender hope, but keeping hope alive does not we should wrap ourselves in the Emperor’s clothes. What we need to do is lend a hand, rediscover what E. J. Dionne calls the communitarian spirit, because as that aged sage Red Green puts it, “we are all in this together…”

Angry Birds and Overheated Rhetoric

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.12.24 PMThe AAUW, one of the more  vociferous opponents of the gender pay gap, found that only “a 7 percent difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained” after “accounting for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status”.  They found no more than a 12% gap 10 years on.  In other words, the claims regarding the gender pay gap (which claim a 21% gap) are  vastly over-stated, and are typically based on insupportable arguments that rely on confounded data ([f]or example, women are more likely than men to go into teaching, and this contributes to the pay gap because teachers tend to be paid less than other college graduates. [citing Hegewisch, 2014]).

This conclusion is restated emphatically by Blau and Kahn (2016) who estimate no more than a maximum of a 15% gap across the entire spectrum of employment after adjustment, with most of the remaining gap at the top of the pay continuum!

This is not to say that the gender gap is acceptable.  But what we do need to recognize is that the gender pay gap is nowhere near as bad as alleged (though clearly it is not acceptable), that it is consistently gotten smaller based on current regulations, and that the greatest disparity is in the Board Room, a place far from the immediate concerns of most Americans upset about gender pay issues.

Equal pay for equal work has always been an intriguing idea. Let’s focus on what that really means in a socially and economically just world, and how best to accomplish those ends, and let up just a bit on the rhetoric.



Blau, Francine D., and Lawrence M. Kahn. The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations. SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, January 18, 2016. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://papers.ssrn.com.proxy.library.uaf.edu/abstract=2716597.
Cha, Youngjoo, and Kim A. Weeden. “Overwork and the Slow Convergence in the Gender Gap in Wages.” American Sociological Review (April 8, 2014): 0003122414528936. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://asr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/04/02/0003122414528936.
Hegewisch, Ariane, and Heidi Hartmann. Occupational Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap: A Job Half Done. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, January 2014. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/occupational-segregation-and-the-gender-wage-gap-a-job-half-done?searchterm=Occupational+segregation.
Hill, Catherine. The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Fall 2015). American Association of University Women, n.d. Accessed January 30, 2016. http://www.aauw.org/resource/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/.

Has The Old Man of the Forest Gone FEEble

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.42.28 PMWell, maybe I have, and I should probably explore this further in a blog post, but for now I will share a few thoughts. A recent HuffPo piece (I know; why does anyone read that horrid crap) by some sniveling snot (Matthew Fray who whines at length on his own blog) suggests that his wife left him not because she was irrational over his insistence on leaving his glass on the counter, but because his insistence revealed that he had no respect for his beloved.  Really. This old fart’s response?

Get a grip! This poor whipped kid thinks that he should do what his wife wanted because she wanted it, instead of doing what he wanted. Forget the umpteen thousand other things he did for her. Sorry – I am not going to wash my glass because I drank out of it, and it will sit by the sink where I set it. Maybe, just maybe, his obsessive (ex-)wife should have loosened up just a bit, instead of following him around and turning lights off…. It’s a two way street, and if you want to spend your interpersonal “currency” on where the dishes go, then you have real problems…. this joker is well off shot of his ex. Now let the claims of misogyny roll in

I don’t have to kowtow to someone because they obsess about something. It is always a two way street, and maybe, just maybe, she should understand that “he’s fighting for acknowledgment, respect, validation, and his love” as well, and it’s not about leaving the glass on the counter?

While The Gift of the Magi is in fact one of my favorite O’Henry stories, the practical result of the piece is that the family screwed itself for “love” because they could not effectively communicate. A relationship needs communication more than it needs silent sacrifice.

There! <shudder>I did a Skwire, lol!</shudder> Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, yes, but let’s face it, the possessions sacrificed, as well as the gifts purchased in the story clearly had value, and the couple clearly had very little beyond that.  It is all very good for the 1% to to romanticize about love, but the couple flushed virtually everything they had down the old toilet. Yes, yes, their love is far more precious than feeble trinkets, but that is not the question here. The question here is whether effective interpersonal communication could have brought them to the same juncture without the sacrifice of the family fortune (while unfortunately depriving us of a fine piece of literature).


Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations for “Gift of the Magi”

I understand that the woo crowd are going to scream, “You have missed the whole point you hormonal moron!” But I think not.  I get maudlin over the story just like I am sure Mr. Fray might.  But the lesson is NOT just that love is more valuable than trinkets. The lesson (though clearly NOT the lesson the master was intending to serve up) is that the couple were so self-involved in their obsessions that they failed to communicate at all, causing what amounts to a tragedy (as well as the joyful discovery the author celebrates). Money is certainly not everything, but one does not get on without it. Fairy tales celebrating poverty are just what FEE peddles, so I think you should lay that accusation at someone else’s door.

OK, if you want to think I have gone over to the dark side, you are entitled to your thoughts, but for me, being self-involved over you want, and being self-involved in Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.02.27 AMwhat you think another wants, are two sides of the same bad penny.  You are never going to work things out with “knowing glances”, no matter what Cosmo tells you.

Frankly, Father Oleska (Oleska still teaches a State required cross-cultural education class that promotes deferent communications styles and the inherent value of non-verbal-ness) and the entire non-verbal feminine communication crowd can go chat with themselves in their taciturn stillness for all I care. I am for Horton, who meant what he said and  said what he meant (even if his creator, Theodor Geisel, was attacked for being a misogynist).  The rest of you can go suffer in silence.

Quick! Hands up and count!

While we listened to the Facebook echos of this mornings temblor (which give a brand new meaning to ‘”post” traumatic stress disorder’, some us were laughing about Dermot Cole’s coverage of the exchange between David Teal and Tammy Wilson. I mean after all, why should anyone listen to someone talking about the impact of inflation, let alone a <shudder> Mathematician </shudder>.

But snicker all you want, I dare you to count the number of folk who endorse my plan to impose a California style 14% graduated State income tax, which would, I argue, raise close to $3B (I have a Note detailing this somewhere here on FaceBook, lol)?Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 1.35.13 PM

As I have repeatedly noted (see here and here for you Facebook types), most Alaskans make no net payment for any Local or State Government service (that includes EDUCATION) and can well afford a progressive State income tax with a 15% top rate. And most Alaskans have repeatedly told the right wing demagogues that they don’t have a problem paying more in taxes, as long as they are not getting nothing for something.

Face it. The median family income in Anchorage is some $80K (Alaska wide its some $10K less)! That means that half of our families are bringing in more than that, and some MUCH more than that. The median Alaskan family should be paying some $4K towards their receipt of the services they receive from and through government and our wealthiest families are largely getting a free ride at the expense of the less well of.

Of course, the Chicken Little crowd get front page coverage in the local paper with the claim that everyone who is everyone wants to avoid actually being fiscally responsible. Who are these people?  They are the the people who can buy media coverage, who are speaking up for those who seem to be unwilling to pay for what they get – far be it from be to call them welfare queens, you do your own Maths.

Hey folk!  Pay up or Pack up!

Why the Elephant Appeals to Blind Men

elephantYet another Anchorage Daily News puff piece about Anchorage School District performance produced reader comments prominently featuring the usual suspects on the Distant Right engaged in the obligatory Gnashing of Teeth.  The problem here, as is so often the case, is that folk like David Boyle and Bob Griffin see a piece of the problem, and thereupon assume that they see the whole picture clearly, and therefore can provide a simple and comprehensive solution.  Unfortunately, more often than not, they are just benighted Fellows of the  IBMC (Indostani Blind Men’s Club, see below).

Despite the howling “on the left” the data available appear to make it very clear that Alaska, like most states, was overstating student performance and that new testing regiments are now consistent with the kind of results that were produced by NAEP testing (I have posted before about the Brookings’ discussion of the comparison between typical AYP testing regimes and the NAEP, so will not go into that again save to say that the NAEP is a more comprehensive regime). The result is that we are finally seeing that broadly speaking only a third of our students are really proficient (that is to say, have basic skill mastery) in core subjects.

Yet, as we know, virtually all Alaskan educational institutions identify a letter grade of “C” as representing student mastery (a copy of the Anchorage School District grading system is appended below) and ASD has been increasing graduation (and therefore GPA). There is clearly a gap, and the gap is not a testing artifact nor is it illusory.

Unfortunately, the Fellows of the IBMC want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They are argue that all and sundry have failed, and the only solution is to put education in the hands of parents (who arguably are the real culprits here). Their arguments are the direct result of their (some would claim intentional)  failure to appreciate the complexity of the problems the educational system faces.  They are devotees of the silver bullet, and as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, there is no silver bullet to address out educational woes.

As anyone with a knowledge of high school physics will acknowledge,  just because you can demonstrate that light behaves as a particle,  does not mean that it does not also behave like a wave.  Yes, we have a gap, but if you want to meet the elephant in the room,  you have to become acquainted with something beyond its hind quarters.  Teachers face twice as many students as they could possibly cope with, presenting an educational and socio-economic continuum that we know are critical obstructions to effective instruction. We also face a cadre of parents who dispute the value of education, see education as valuable only through individual ROI (return on investment), and convey their disdain for schools, teachers, and the educated to their children. Of course, we also have inept administrators coupled with a deplorable lack of educational leadership.

I would also argue that we suffer from an appalling number of incompetent teachers, but there are a couple of problems with such a claim: 1) no one can agree on what education is, let alone how it is to be delivered and it is difficult to argue that an educator is not doing their job if you can’t objectively quantify that job, and 2) even if we were to try to seize on some metric, there are so many possibly variable that any rubric would on its face be meaningless (and that of course includes the suggestions that anyone could intelligently employ standardized testing to assess teacher effectiveness).  No, I don’t think that lets teachers off the hook.  Peer review is an excellent start to generating some common language and perception regarding instruction; in other words, teachers need to lead the way, and they clearly are not.

But despite all the problems, it seems that everyone wants to point the finger at someone else! And as noted, since there is ample “fault” to go around, as long as they have their blinders on they feel satisfied that they have the answer. The elephant is the age old foil of the hubris involved.

The villain, once upon a time, was agreed upon to be the student.  Lazy and shiftless, they were sifted and then beaten into an acceptable shape. Hopefully we have a more sophisticate understanding of minors today than hundreds of years ago. But I think it only fair to acknowledge, as I think most teachers will agree, that students today evidence two major educational deficits that are not of their making.  First, they are not developing their ability to memorize.  For decades, educational reformers have argued against “rote” learning,  but in doing so, have also abandoned memorization, a pillar upon which all classical education relied. We have seen the same kind of results in the whole language and Chicago Math debacles, where an interest in increasing the depth and breadth of instruction essentially resulted practically speaking in the abandonment of effective instruction for almost a generation of students

A second culprit is the shadow of intentional forgetting (both in the technical sense and in a broader lay sense). While many students will demonstrate mastery of a skill, within weeks access to that skill will seem to have disappeared. Many curricular programs have sought to address such problems by including cumulative review in instruction, but this becomes a huge uphill battle, and that battle is inevitably lost in May of every year.  Proposed solutions run the gamut from “turn off the gaming station and take away the smart phone” to implementing a parade of tortures for the child on his way to Paradise Island.  Despite all we do, high school Math students spend some 40% of instructional time relearning what they supposedly had mastered the year before, and they do that without ever having an inling of why.

No silver bullets anywhere, but we do have to understand that if we want our children to learn what we have placed before them, they have to be embedded in an environment that supports their learning.  In fact, we are so busy bickering that we have largely lost sight of this.  No, standardized tests and regular probes don’t hurt the student any more than asking them to learn how to use a pencil.  Increasing homework, where the student is doing the work wrong and developing an antipathy for the work, the teacher and education, is not going to be helpful at all. Attacking teachers, haplessly paid to keep their fingers stuck in the dyke, does nothing to address their training, their resources, or the ridiculous demands made of them.

If you want to see  “the trouble with education” quit groping the elephant and take a look in a mirror.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant, (Though all of them were blind) That each by observation, Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to brawl: “God bless me but the Elephant Is very like a wall.”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, “Ho! What have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” quoth he, “The Elephant Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt around the knee, “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; ” ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each of his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Grading System
“A’’ This mark indicates the student has done work in quality and quantity far in excess of the standards set forth for a satisfactory grade in the course.
“B’’ This mark indicates that the student is doing work in quality and quantity above the standards set forth for a passing grade in the course.
“C’’ This mark is a satisfactory passing grade. It indicates that the student is acquiring the necessary information to proceed in the subject. He/she is meeting the standards set for a passing grade in the course.
“D” This mark indicates that the student is not effectively mastering the work assigned but has sufficient understanding of the subject to justify the opinion that more growth will result from advancement than from repetition of the course.
“F’’ Insufficient progress in the subject to merit granting of credit in the course.
“WF ’’ Student has been withdrawn from the course “failing.’’
“J’’ Audit— Principal approval is required. Indicates a student is auditing a course for his/her benefit. This does not count towards credit for graduation and must be approved prior to the 10th day of the course. Students are still required to complete course work.

Anchorage School District 2014–15 High School Program of Studies pg ix


Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.13.55 AMI have a history of getting attached to toasters…. except the last one. It was a white thing that had been “designed” by someone who thought kitchens should be white and should converse with their patrons. We never bonded. And it turned out to be a quitter anyways.

Am I somehow at fault for failing to provide a safe place for it? Did I fail to maintain a supportive and fulfilling environment? Was I simply too demanding? Let me answer by suggesting it was tossed in the bin, upside down, and then covered with coffee grounds and gristle (not to suggest any animosity, but that is what happens to things I have no use for.)

The new toaster (a Breville, from an Australian manufacturer battling with US firm Cuisinart for my attention on my local vendor’s appliance shelving)  sitting as it does on the counter just overlooking the bin, seems unfazed. I suppose I would expect no less from something from Oz.

This morning the toast was just fine.  No conversation expected or exchanged. I think we will get along just fine….