Chapter 6 of Solutions-based “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform”

Are we ready for 30 million people to go back to using the ER for health care?

by Lonnie Palmer

Republicans are fond of saying that Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act or ACA) is on life support when the reality is that in 2013 health care spending grew at the slowest rate on record since 1960, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which tracks health care spending.

While Obamacare has its flaws, slowing health care spending growth is no small feat. (In fact, it might just fall under the category of a miracle.) Not only that, there are tweaks to the law that will fix Obamacare without sending the 30 million people now projected to be covered by Obamacare in 2017 back to the ER for health care.

And these tweaks would be significantly less expensive and less disruptive to the health insurance and medical care markets than Republicans’ plan to repeal, delay and replace Obamacare. (Beware of any plan with the word delay in its title. The “delay” means the “planners” have no idea what they are going to do.)

The easiest fixes for the ACA involve getting more young healthy people to purchase health insurance on the exchanges and finding more creative ways to deal with those more risky health insurance purchasers with pre-existing conditions including age-related chronic health problems.

The following are four tweaks that would bring solvency and expanded coverage and better cost control to Obamacare:

1. Increase the amount of the penalty paid by the uninsured on their income taxes.

2. Increase the maximum differential (the higher cost paid by older, sicker clients).

3. Create risk pools for sicker enrollees and have the government subsidize the cost of health insurance for theses enrollees and have the government backstop the potential insurance company losses for these high risk enrollees.

4. Allow pre-existing condition enrollees who are rejected by insurance companies and potential enrollees in geographic areas with insufficient health insurance exchange participation by private insurers to enroll in Medicare regardless of their age.

All of these potential solutions or any combination of them would minimize disruptions to our existing health care and health insurance networks and maintain the gains we’ve made in controlling health care costs and extending health insurance coverage to more US citizens.

The Republicans’ present plan to repeal the ACA, delay until they find an answer and then replace the ACA will fill up our hospital emergency rooms and waste money that should be spent on preventive health care.

Not only that: Does anyone think that repealing the ACA, eliminating Medicaid expansion and eliminating or reducing the government subsidies for health insurance will improve student achievement? More poor children living in families without health insurance or not having health insurance themselves will mean more chaos in their lives and more hurdles for them to overcome in school.

Even the best schools can’t overcome all of poverty’s ill effects. Do we really want to expand those ill effects when the global economy requires a better educated workforce. This looks like a penny wise and pound foolish errand the Republicans are about to initiate.

Let’s get the ideology out of our medical care and health insurance decisions and make some practical decisions that help us all. The options are right there in front of us. Why would we go with any other solutions?

About Lonnie Palmer
Lonnie Palmer is the author of the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform.” click here

 

 

 

 

 

Fight like a proud American

…in response to @DLeonhardt’s Democrats had a Knife and the GOP had a Gun

by Lonnie Palmer

The mainstream media are totally flummoxed by Trump and his approach to fake news, truth and communication. The election results prove that his approach is winning and that the media’s standard “two sides to every” misguided attempt at fairness never had a chance in today’s internet communications environment.

What we’ve seen is only the beginning as his spokespeople refuse to comment, stall and encourage the public to wait for the master of the universe to tweet his messages from on high. Orwell would have no trouble recognizing what were all witnessing. To the mainstream media: When you’re in a hole stop digging. Yes, Trump is our President elect and soon will be our President but he is also a liar who is about to steal a lot of our money and endanger our security, our environment, our civil rights and in the end our country. Take off the gloves and fight like a proud American who knows the value of truth and justice.

The chapter on the common core cont’d

The sky is falling, the sky is falling

The Basic Competency Test (BCT) in the mid-1970s was the first of what would become a testing movement that continues today. And, as with today’s standardized state tests, BCT tests elicited panic in teachers who didn’t think the “school groups” could pass the tests.

But the tests were a joke. In fact, I overheard one math teacher say: “Give me two weeks, 2 pounds of bird seed and a grey squirrel with above average dexterity so I can teach him to hold the pencil, and I’ll get him to pass the BCT.”

And, of course, over 95 percent of the “school group” did pass with ease on the first try.

Given the fact that teachers taught their own homegrown less-than-challenging curriculum to “school groups” in New York State at the time it was little wonder the Basic Competency Test was designed with such low standards. Without knowing what was being taught (every teacher had her/his own curriculum), test developers had to allow for a low degree of difficulty.

Meanwhile, the college bound students took Regents exams with a more challenging and structured curriculum and very predictable tests administered in June, August and January.

To buy the entire solutions-based book Why We Failed: 40 Years Ago click here.

Talk about a rebel

With little or no guidance and a groundswell of criticism, English teacher Jim McMahon threw caution to the wind and invested nearly two months of class time preparing for a public presentation of the Broadway play adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which at the time was a hit movie starring Jack Nicholson. The theme of the movie – rebel with a bad attitude in a mental hospital strikes a blow for humanity – didn’t sit well with some of the faculty room crowd, and I myself was doubtful Jim could pull this off with the motley crew assembled in his “school group” English class. Remember, these were students selected because they couldn’t read and write well enough to be considered candidates for college. And they had to take the BCT test at the end of the year.

They also were not drama students and this was a very difficult play for students to perform well.

One particularly sullen, long-haired boy who had been to my office several times would play the lead role of Randle McMurphy. While his personality fit the role, I couldn’t see him being successful with the discipline and teamwork required for the role. (At that time I, like most everyone else in education, was convinced a segment of the school population was not going to succeed for whatever reason.)

A school-wide assembly during the last class period of the day gave Jim’s class a chance to show their stuff to their high school peers with the performance of a single scene from the play as a teaser for the entire play which was to be performed later that evening.

I was backstage in my assistant principal role trying to make sure things ran smoothly. Jim’s students were obviously scared to death of looking stupid in front of their peers but it was also obvious they were well prepared. The audience started out a bit rowdy and more than a bit restless. But within three minutes the student actors had them paying close attention to every word, gesture and sigh. When the scene ended there was a roar of applause and appreciation from the students in the audience and smiles, hugs and slaps on the back for all the cast including “Mr. Sullen.”

I still remember the goose bumps I had when the applause erupted at the end of the scene. But I was still uncertain about how these students would do with the full play and an audience of adults including their parents whose previous contacts with the school came only when their children were in trouble.

Later that night the students put on an outstanding play with a minimum of slip-ups, flubbed lines and recoveries and some truly remarkable and effective student acting performances.

The audience was as appreciative as the students earlier in the day. The teaser performance appeared to have boosted Jim’s students’ confidence and the students in Jim’s class were beaming when they took their bows and still beaming a full week later when I saw them in the cafeteria or in the halls in our school. It was a total success.

Even the weekly spelling test proponents in the faculty room quieted down briefly, grudgingly acknowledging that something meaningful had happened in our school.

Jim left our school at the end of the year and I never saw him again. But his impact on me as an educator was significant.

To read the entire solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” buy it on Amazon for $24.95 in paperback and $9.99 on Kindle. Click here.

A few years later in my role as a high school principal, when I was reading books by Ted Sizer and John Goodlad and materials from the Coalition of Essential Schools, I realized what Jim McMahon’s class performed was technically called an “authentic assessment” of their English skills. An authentic assessment is a real test like an athletic contest or a concert performance by the band as contrasted with the inauthentic fill-in-the-bubble tests made by commercial test-making companies.

As the psychometricians who develop the inauthentic tests will tell you the bubble tests are statistically more reliable – the results can be repeated with different versions of the tests administered to the same test takers. Would Jim’s class have done as well, better, worse with a second play? Who knows?

Evaluating the academic success of individuals who participated in Jim’s play is cumbersome and tricky. Did the student who designed the sets really learn anything of value? Can any of these students read, write or speak better as a result of their work on this play? There are rubrics (complicated scoring systems) for evaluating essays, projects and even acting performances, but they are all approximations and they all involve subjective analysis by the teacher.

Three highly trained teachers evaluating the same acting performance using the same rubric on the same student in the play would come up with three different scores. On the other hand, rubrics and the bubble sheets cannot measure intangibles like student motivation and confidence or how students see themselves as learners and as people.

Characteristics of effective learning

The bubble sheet test proponents frequently miss a key point in the discussion on assessments: The ultimate goal of Jim’s English class is to make his students better readers, writers, listeners and speakers, more confident in their communication skills and hopefully more adept at understanding and dealing effectively with the subtleties of communication.

Jim’s students’ theater performance is a more valid measurement of knowledge and skill gains in these areas than psychometrically reliable substitute skills measured by bubble sheet tests. If you are acting in the role of rebel Randle McMurphy, and the lines you must deliver require you to show anger and sensitivity at the same time, your acting task will be challenging and your audience will know immediately if you have succeeded or failed. How could anyone fit that skill set in a bubble sheet test question? You can’t.

And Jim’s theater performance has the added benefit of providing motivation, structure and purpose to student learning, as anyone who has performed in a play, a band or orchestra concert or for a school sports team in an athletic contest knows.

Have the bubble sheet tests and the endless prep exercises for those tests had a positive impact on student motivation to learn? Not likely. An overemphasis on testing definitely leads to problems. We could easily replace failing instruction in many classrooms with failing, prescriptive and even more boring instruction for the benefit of testing.

Jim’s play had one other characteristic that bubble sheet tests don’t. Jim’s class performed that play in 1978, more than 35 years ago, and his students are now in their early 50s. How many of them still remember that play and their role in its success? No doubt, every one of them.

How many of them were impacted in some positive and meaningful way as learners, as parents and as workers by their experience in that play? My guess, probably more than one and maybe more than a handful. How many of us can remember anything meaningful coming from our preparation for and participation in any of the many bubble sheet tests we encountered in our years in school? Read more.

About Lonnie Palmer
In 1970, Lonnie Palmer graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and planned to continue on to a Ph.D. program but was interrupted by a notice from the U.S. Government – a draft notice. Knowing his low number would preempt plans to continue his education, Palmer took a temporary position teaching high school science — and a reluctant education reformer was born. Read more.

Characteristics of All Effective Learning Experiences

And Jim’s theater performance has the added benefit of providing motivation, structure and purpose to student learning, as anyone who has performed in a play, a band or orchestra concert or for a school sports team in an athletic contest knows.

Have the bubble sheet tests and the endless prep exercises for those tests had a positive impact on student motivation to learn? Not likely. An overemphasis on testing definitely leads to problems. We could easily replace failing instruction in many classrooms with failing, prescriptive and even more boring instruction for the benefit of testing.

Jim’s play had one other characteristic that bubble sheet tests don’t. Jim’s class performed that play in 1978, more than 35 years ago, and his students are now in their early 50s. How many of them still remember that play and their role in its success? No doubt, every one of them.

How many of them were impacted in some positive and meaningful way as learners, as parents and as workers by their experience in that play? My guess, probably more than one and maybe more than a handful. How many of us can remember anything meaningful coming from our preparation for and participation in any of the many bubble sheet tests we encountered in our years in school?

One of the characteristics of all effective learning experiences in our lives – including those learning experiences that occur outside the classroom – is that they are read more.memorable. Many teachers do their best to make classroom instruction memorable. But if teachers limit themselves to traditional lectures and bubble sheet test prep activities as their entire instructional tactical arsenal, their efforts will be forgotten. There are many ways to create memorability: authentic assessments with an audience, academic contests, experimental activities, school/workplace collaborations, etc. Effective learning and teaching requires a combination of those strategies.

“How many of us can remember anything meaningful coming from our preparation for and participation in any of the many bubble sheet tests we encountered in our years in school?”
At the same time, we need reliable, believable, numerical measures of student learning. Without these reliable academic measures, children from poverty would almost certainly experience more inequity than they’re already experiencing in our educational system.   Bubble sheet tests with their reliable essays and simple extended problems that include packaged scoring rubrics provide us with data that can help us make decisions about how to proceed with academic improvement efforts. Without these tests and some common standards that guide the test and curriculum development, we’re guaranteed to have a disjointed system of mostly weak standards and tests across the country. And our race to the top will quickly become a race to the bottom.
Anyone who says we don’t need standardized tests is kidding themselves. The question is: How do we marry those two different measurement systems into something that helps our students learn and increases the odds they’ll develop the “soft” less easily measured but very important skills and values that came from Jim’s class play?
To buy the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” by Lonnie Palmer, click here.

How to Negotiate with Teachers

From the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” by Lonnie Palmer

An excerpt from the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform.” Coming soon on Amazon.


I based my answers to the school boards’ questions on my previous experience in districts with difficult employee contract negotiations where I had to repair damage caused by long-standing contract negotiations.

I was pretty sure all involved feared being viewed as the “losers” in the never-ending negotiations battle. Saving face and pride are the two biggest impediments to settling long-expired contracts.

My answers to their questions emphasized three key points:
1. The school board needed a simple set of negotiation goals for each unsettled contract.
2. The best way to identify compromises we could all live with was with data showing how Mt. Mason compared with the other school districts in the area.
3. The school board members needed to get out of the way so the interim superintendent could settle the contracts.

Mt. Mason was too small to drive the local employee labor market. Bigger districts do that and then only to a limited degree. The best Mt. Mason could do was make certain their settlement reflected or at least moved the district closer to the norms in the region.

G o to http://www.amazon.com and search Lonnie Palmer for the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform.”

New York’s Charter School Movement Built on Legislative Pay Raises

So charter schools work out to be a big money waster for the communities that have them – unintended consequence number one of the NY State charter school law.

From the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform,” coming soon on Amazon.


Within hours of the announcement that the SUNY Charter School Institute had approved New Covenant Charter School for a September 1999 start I was on the phone with anyone who would return my calls: the New York State Governor, Education Commissioner, Comptroller, the school district attorney, etc. explaining the impossibility of this school’s establishment on the approved timetable.

Educator/author Lonnie Palmer was the Superintendent of the Albany City School District when New York State's First Charter School opened.
Educator/author Lonnie Palmer was the Superintendent of the City School District of Albany when New York State’s first Charter School opened in September of 1999.

My conversations were usually brief and concluded when I was told basically to, “Suck it up and make it happen.” Why? “Because Republican Governor George Pataki engineered the charter school approval process as a concession from the state legislators who received a pay raise in return and they are not going back to change it now.”

One conversation stands out in my mind with a fellow named Scott Steffey who was, according to articles in the local newspaper, the Chairman of the SUNY Charter School Institute that had approved the New Covenant Charter School and the timetable for its initiation. When I explained to Mr. Steffey the impossibility of finding $3.2 million in our already approved and very tight budget and effectively completing all the last minute busing and other changes the new charter school would require his response was: “If it hurts you that’s even better.”

The state legislators who voted for the charter school approval process in order to get pay raises did not envision the intention by folks in Scott Steffey’s role to inflict harm on me and indirectly on the 10,000+ students I did my best to serve every day.

Coming soon: the Charter School Return Rate

I’m certain the legislators were thinking of a more gentlemanly type of competition where we all did our best to serve the students in our schools without, by design, hurting any students, parents, taxpayers or employees. Unfortunately the system they unleashed hurt lots of these folks and as it turned out for little gain of any kind. By the way, Mr. Steffey’s impolitic approach with me and others reflected badly on his politician friends and soon cost him his job. He was replaced by a more careful and soft spoken representative who did a much better job of hiding some of the uglier motivations behind the charter school movement.

In July 1999 soon after the approval of the charter school my assistant superintendents and I met with a few members of the New Covenant Charter School Board including their president Aaron Dare. Aaron was a likeable young African American man whose wife was a teacher in one of our elementary schools. He was an active leader in Albany’s largely poor African American Arbor Hill community. Aaron was in the process of starting a real estate development business primarily focused in the Arbor Hill area and he played a leadership role in the city’s active Urban League. He was well over six feet tall nearly 300 pounds and a former high school basketball player at Albany High School.

Aaron’s stepfather, Sam Walton, had left the position I now occupied as superintendent of the Albany City School District a little over one year earlier after numerous public squabbles with the school board. My leadership team and I did our best to explain our concerns about the overly large size and abrupt initiation of the New Covenant Charter School. But Aaron and his board members were adamant, the school would open as planned with the full contingent of students assuming they could successfully recruit these students during the summer.

New Covenant opened its doors in old used trailers on a dusty lot in the Arbor Hill section of Albany on schedule in September 1999 and operated under a contract with Advantage Schools, a private school management company from Boston, MA.

New Covenant had undisclosed financial backing from conservatives who were loyal to the Republican Governor Pataki. As we predicted the busing and other supports were a mess despite our best efforts to reorganize and reschedule everything they needed during the summer. The extremely late and inaccurate student list caused much of the confusion. And our own school district budget was a disaster with a new $3.2 million expense we hadn’t planned for.

A reasonable assumption would be that the Albany City School District could just close one of its elementary schools and create savings to offset this new charter school expense. But which school would we close? The students New Covenant recruited came from all over the city. If we closed the existing Arbor Hill Elementary School which still had over 400 students after New Covenant opened we would need to bus those existing Arbor Hill students all over the city to the vacant slots in the other elementary schools created by New Covenant’s arrival.

Not only would this potential school closure create a second school busing nightmare (we already had one busing nightmare with the new bus routes required to get New Covenant kids to their new school site from all over the city) but the parents of the Arbor Hill students, who had not enrolled their children in New Covenant and who had supported the public schools by staying put would predictably arrive at the next school board meeting armed with pitchforks aimed at me and our school board.

They hadn’t brought this charter school to our doorstep and they certainly didn’t want their kids to pay for it with long bus rides to schools where they would be strangers.

We considered laying off teachers and consolidating classes when the smoke cleared after the list of New Covenant students finally arrived in late August. But the savings would have been tiny compared to the tuition payments we were sending to New Covenant and the last minute chaos of disrupting classes in elementary schools throughout the city to make these few last minute teacher cuts did not justify the cost of the disruption. Besides we would be laying off cheaper, last hired teachers who we had worked hard to recruit to improve the quality of our teaching force. We decided to wait on looking for the potential savings from consolidating classes and eliminating teaching slots in the following year’s budget.

After several years of New Covenant Charter School’s operation we came to understand that even with our best efforts at class consolidation and teacher layoffs in our existing elementary schools and the most efficient bus routing (which added a whole new extra expense our district had not faced before) we could only save about $.25 for every $1.00 in tuition we sent to the charter school.

If you think about it this isn’t hard to understand. With kids going to New Covenant from all over the city none of our elementary schools ever lost enough enrollment to be closed even when we considered neighborhood school boundary changes.

New Covenant had a principal, teachers, custodians, secretaries and school monitors. It required heat and lights. It paid a trailer rental fee. The Albany City School District paid all these bills with our tuition payments.

The city of Albany had in essence added an expensive new elementary school with no clear way to pay for it. The few teachers we laid off or did not hire due to class consolidation in the years after that first year of New Covenant’s existence were all at the beginning of the salary scale and so over time our teaching staff just got older and more expensive per teacher as all the newer and cheaper teaching positions shifted to New Covenant.

So charter schools work out to be a big money waster for the communities that have them – unintended consequence number one of the NY State charter school law.

However, the bigger story at New Covenant was that Advantage Schools had trouble with the school from the start.

The principal, as reported in the newspaper, was an experienced school administrator from Texas. When I met him I was struck by his unwillingness to make eye contact, his volatile mood with an immediate aggressive angry burst about late buses followed with no pause by a syrupy used car salesman pitch for more special education services and his 1.5 inch fingernails that would scare kids to death.

New Covenant’s enrollment claims, which this principal processed for payments, were wildly inflated and based on flawed enrollment and attendance lists. Over 70 students listed in the initial enrollment of 423 turned out to be students who were in the district’s regular public schools daily and had never attended New Covenant and another 30+ students flowed back and forth between our schools and New Covenant during the initial months. According to our careful student attendance research each of the first four bimonthly claims for payment to Advantage Schools from New Covenant was overstated by over $100,000.

Of course we appealed this over-billing to the NY State Education Commissioner and were denied just as we were denied in our appeal to the Commissioner requesting a delay in New Covenant’s implementation schedule due to their late approval date. The political fix was in. The Governor had made certain this school would start in September 1999 and get all the funding (even the funding it didn’t deserve due to inflated enrollment numbers). Political statements can’t wait and this school was a political statement by our Governor.

With Advantage Schools’ problems in Albany it was no surprise to me when Aaron Dare telephoned me in early November to report that his charter school board had decided to switch to a new management company. He said they were interviewing potential management companies now and should have a new partner identified shortly. However, his next request was a surprise. He said, “Make the December check out to Aaron Dare and send it to me directly.”

Now I don’t pretend to be the sharpest knife in the drawer but even I could see that this was a bad idea. I called the Education Commissioner’s office, the Governor’s office, the New York State Comptroller’s office and our own school attorney’s office to say, “This can’t be right. What should I do?” They all had their representatives tell me to do exactly what Aaron had requested. And I did as I was told despite the fact that to this day I regret this error immensely.

We ended up sending out two checks for over $450,000 each, one in December 1999 and a second in February 2000, made out to Aaron Dare personally. Then the rumors started to fly. Aaron had not spent the $900,000 on the charter school he had instead invested this money in a failed real estate venture in Arbor Hill. Reports in the newspaper indicated Aaron had built a new business center in Arbor Hill and he expected to rent this facility to an outside business. But the rental contract evaporated after the construction was completed and the construction bill had to be paid.

Within months the golden boy had become the public goat in a huge political failure for the Governor who had pushed hard to get New Covenant approved. Aaron also was tagged as the goat for a huge financial failure that left the New Covenant Charter School short on funding in its first year of operation. We all expected Aaron Dare to go to jail and for New Covenant to close its doors.

But politicians, especially governors with presidential ambitions, don’t go so quietly into the good night. Strings were pulled and Aaron (temporarily) stayed out of jail after resigning from the charter school board and his leadership role in the Urban League. Local business and community benefactors (probably at Governor Pataki’s urging) rushed in to save New Covenant from financial disaster. The Albany mayor had a running feud with me and several school board members who had disrupted the old ways of pay-to-play in the city.

Rumors were rampant about previous school district contracts tied to kickbacks and campaign contributions and school system jobs awarded on the basis of patronage and nepotism with whoever occupied the superintendent role. It was no surprise when the Mayor stepped in to take over the mortgage payments of the business center “built” by Aaron Dare and used it as a place to house the Albany Police Department.

Aaron Dare went to jail a few years later on charges relating to a different real estate scam. New Covenant limped along with terrible test scores, a series of management companies and repeated financial issues until 2010 when it finally closed its doors for good after its charter was yanked by the SUNY Charter School Committee.

The SUNY Charter School Committee had changed its name during this 11 year period and with a Democrat now in the role of Governor the Committee apparently felt comfortable deciding that New Covenant had been given more than enough time and warnings to improve. New Covenant was ended just as it began on a political note. The local newspaper noticed and reported that during the intervening 11 years the school had moved out of the trailers and into a new home with a $16 million mortgage and that the public (now the City of Albany not the school district) would be stuck paying off the loan over the next couple of decades despite the school’s demise.

I’m certain you can see why my experience in Albany with charter schools left a bad taste in my mouth. So when I took a position as an interim superintendent in Sarandon, NY a medium sized urban district near Syracuse that had been blessed with two charter schools I was more than a little wary.