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Systemic Problems Require Systemic Solutions

If I throw nine bones out my back door, and release ten dogs to retrieve a bone, inevitably one dog is going to come back without a bone.

This is a systemic problem. It doesn't matter how well-prepared, responsible, etc. that tenth dog is, he's going to come up short. No individual, not even the nine other dogs, can solve this problem. Solutions require system revisions.

The political right denies systemic problems exist....but all the big ones (unemployment, immigration, healthcare, education, etc.) are systemic, not amenable to individual solutions. Solving them requires a change to the system in which they're embedded.

One example of a systemic solution: Single payer healthcare is roughly half as expensive as the U.S. system and has better outcomes.

At the turn of the century, the World Health Organization did a study ranking health care systems by a variety of measures of outcomes (life expectancy, infant mortality, vaccination rates, patient satisfaction, etc.). The top systems were all single-payer. The U.S. ranked 37th between Slovenia and Costa Rica. McClatchy papers said it was as though the U.S. had the health care of Costa Rica, but paid six times more for the privilege. 

As a bonus, Canadians, who happen to be demographically identical to the U.S, have adopted single payer, and have no bankruptcies caused by medical expenses. The U.S. has about a half million such bankruptcies every year.

Meanwhile, one founding philosopher of the political right, Margaret Thatcher, said "There's no such thing as society, only individuals and families." Roughly equivalent to saying "You have no body, only cells and organs"...in effect, denying societies, and their systemic problems even exist.

In considering problems in education, right-leaning reformers are eager to deny anything but individual schools and teachers are responsible for problems in America's education system.

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The recently deceased Eli Broad funded Michelle Rhee's "Student's First" organization which promoted this idea and several tactics to remedy the problem. The tactics: (union-busting) charter schools, merit pay (because teachers are so motivated by money!), and testing, testing, testing (because measurable "value added" is the target, as every MBA knows).

They even funded a propaganda film--Waiting for Superman--that praised Rhee's draconian tenure as superintendent of Washington D. C. schools, where she fired teachers whose classes didn't test better.

Waiting for Superman touts the schools in Finland as the ones to emulate. The film omits mentioning Finnish teachers are well paid, tenured, and unionized.

Does science validate the charter-merit-pay-test strategy to produce better educational outcomes? Nope.

Test scores vary so widely, even week-to-week, that they don't produce useful information. As an added bonus, after Rhee initiated this practice, teachers started cheating so their classes would score better. 

What does actually correlate with better educational outcomes? Childhood poverty. In Finland, two percent of children are poor. In the U.S. it's 14.4%. 

That too is a systemic problem. Just as we could take the dogs to bone retrieval school, we could double down on testing...but it wouldn't help. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

defunding the police is a start

Denial is a funny thing, denying its practitioners access to what we like to call "reality." Time to wake up. Sleepwalking is not a winning life strategy.

Mark Dempsey