Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bredesen Administration Reminds Us Of Our Place

Even paranoiacs have enemies.

And while we fight the birthright to regard Nashville as the evil empire, we can’t summon the same attitude toward State of Tennessee government.

As witnesses for the prosecution, we call on the heads of three state departments – Economic and Community Development, Department of Human Services and Department of Education. Each of them is charged with benign neglect toward our city and possession of a Nashville-centric view of the world.

Distressed Logic


Case in point is the absurdity of the designation by state economic development bureaucrats of Nashville as an economically-distressed county. Meanwhile, we are treated as if there are no similar economic challenges here.

More to the point, this preferential treatment gives Nashville a serious advantage when our cities go head-to-head in recruiting and responding to the same business prospects. In point of fact, this simple designation means that Nashville gets twice as much in economic incentives as Memphis, or put another way, it means that Memphis gets about $2,000 from the state in incentives per job while Nashville gets more than $4,000.

Apparently, state officials think that our math skills are so weak that we can’t crack this simple equation -- when it comes to Nashville, there are rules and then there are rules for the rest of us. When this incentive-based program was created, it was actually aimed at helping out the limping economies of Tennessee’s rural counties.

Different Strokes For Different Folks

But when it comes to Nashville, all things are possible, so when the center of the universe experienced a couple of plant closings, Economic and Community Development acted as if Western Civilization hung n the balanced and classified Nashville as economically disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, this double standard exacerbates local government’s overreliance on tax freezes, which results in large part to the lack of a coherent, effective toolkit of economic incentives by state government. Because of this special treatment for Nashville, even more pressure is put on our economic development officials to cough up even more tax freezes.

A University of Memphis economist tells us that the unemployment rate here is likely to rise to 12% before things improve, and it’s worth remembering that a significant number of people aren’t even counted anymore because they don’t even look for work anymore.

Blowing Up The System

Nashville’s not the only place that’s losing jobs. And yet, somehow, it’s the only big city that seems to deserve the concern of state officials. But that theme has been relatively consistent for a Democratic Administration that acts like the homecoming queen that only speaks to us when it’s time for her election.

Strike One.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Department of Human Services cavalierly ended a 45-year program in which our Juvenile Court collected child support payments. While papering their justification with buzzwords like “performance-based,” “collection goals” and “competitive process,” the decision to cut ties with our local court felt most like the extension of the partisan dispute about whether a second Juvenile Court judgeship should be created.

That Certain Smell

While we’ve agreed with Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person on occasion and agreed with Shelby County Commissioners at other times, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the Bredesen Administration is more intent on weakening the Republican incumbent than on strengthening the collection of child support payments.

There’s several things about this one that has a certain odor rising from it. First, if Juvenile Court was such a failure in hitting the benchmarks set by the state, why wasn’t it eliminated from even submitting a proposal?

Second, Maximus, the Virginia-based company, got the five-year contract, although the out-of-state firm lost its contract in five other West Tennessee counties for inefficiency and customer complaints.

The Lowest Of All

Third, state government touted the fact that Maximus was the lowest bid, while we’d be more interested in knowing that they represented the “lowest and best” bid, because some clear judgment is missing if the evaluation was essentially based on price.

Finally, DHS Commissioner Virginia Lodge’s letters and messages about a possible change have the heavy ring of a decision that was already made and then a justification was developed for it. In her op-ed column in The Commercial Appeal this week, she expressed a lot of opinions, but never offered a single statistic to back them up.

For us, because of the importance of child support payments to a significant number of Memphis mothers and because of the imposing impact of a now fractured system, the state owes Memphis more than political platitudes and justifications. DHS officials owe all of us a detailed, rational explanation of why it nuked a program that really didn’t need fixing.

Strike Two.

Failing All Round

Then, there’s the Tennessee Department of Education, which continues to show a special commitment to the Nashville school district that’s never been shown here although students in the capital’s schools are actually outperforming ours.

The actions of DOE reaffirm one thing that we’ve always suspected: there is no longer any question that Nashville schools receive preferential treatment. It’s been answered conclusively by the DOE’s actions in Nashville and its inaction in Memphis. When Memphis City Schools found itself on the state’s high-priority list, the same as Nashville today, there was the unmistakable feeling that DOE couldn’t wait to get out of here.

It was only a few years ago that the Department of Education, given a chance to force transformative change in our district, accepted the so-called and aptly named “Proposal for Expenditures of Additional State Revenues,” largely a list of everybody’s favorite ideas with no thread of academic philosophy underpinning them.

K-K-K

Compare that to Nashville. There, the DOE mobilized into action and focused its considerable influence and resources on turning things around, taking unprecedented action to change the organizational structure of the Nashville district. State officials even appointed three associate superintendents to oversee instruction, along with new leaders for the district’s federal, gifted and special ed programs.

The state replaced 60 principles and assistant principals who were considered ineffective and the curriculum was changed to emphasize literacy and numeracy. Small learning academies were opened at some high schools along with more career and technical programs.

Strike Three. Unfortunately, it’s Memphis that’s out. In the cold.

7 comments:

NEW SOLUTIONS GROUP said...

Underlying the CBAM model (and other psychologically based models) is the assumption that innovations
must fit within individuals' beliefs and perceptions. More specifically, the very notion of acceptance explicit
in the management stage of the CBAM model implies a framework of beliefs and principles into which an
innovation must be integrated. If integration does not occur, the innovation is rejected - in CBAM terms, the
innovation never gets past the personal stage in the minds of those for whom the innovation is intended.
One's existing set of perceptions and beliefs, then, appears central to how one interacts with proposed
changes. Indeed, beliefs and perceptions have been shown to be organized into complex networks called
"paradigms", and it is paradigms that drive behavior.
To date, the majority if not all of the innovations designed to improve education in substantive ways have
not endured. One possible reason for these events is that those innovations simply have not addressed the
dynamics of second order change which is fundamentally ontological in nature.
Paradigms, then, not only dictate what individuals perceive (and what they do not perceive) regarding the
world around them, but shared paradigms form the very fabric of culture dictating what is accepted and not
accepted, what is perceived and not perceived within a society.
Given the importance of paradigms to the functioning of individuals and societies, it is clear from the
psychological model of change why some innovations are doomed to failure from their outset - they simply
do not fit within existing paradigms.
If it were not for the fact that paradigms
can "shift," there would be little or no hope for substantive change within a culture or any given system
within a culture.
Movement to a far from equilibrium state is commonly
precipitated by drastic changes in variables that affect resources (e.g., birth rate). In education such
variables might include a change in funding formulae, vouchers, and abolishment of district.
Movement of a system to a
far from equilibrium state can be quite unpredictable and not necessarily positive. That is, paradigm shifts
generated from spontaneous changes in variables can be quite dangerous. In short, it is important to
remember Tofler's warning that the entire system may reorganize itself in ways that strike us a bizarre.
Fortunately, paradigms may shift in a more controlled and less dangerous fashion. This occurs when
members of a society conclude that their paradigms are no longer useful or effective as tools to interpret
and interact with existing situations. In effect, a second type of paradigm shift occurs when existing
paradigms are judged as "bankrupt" by those who live within them. It is this type of paradigm shift that we
refer to as second order change. It is this type of paradigm shift that is ontological in nature.
Those familiar with the current state
of education are painfully aware that workshops and seminars are
commonly forgotten with five months after their completion.
Perhaps this is because such seminars and workshops are confined to first order change. Not surprisingly,
then, a seminar designed to enhance second order change would have little if any lessening of value for
participants since it would have altered the way participants interact with the world around them.

When we wake up and realize that our system is bankrupt we can begin second order change and become an unstoppable force for Memphis' future. Until that day happens, Nashville will always dominate Memphis and Memphis, which could never have predicted that it would not be the capitol city, will not be able to see that it can't predict that it may become "not a city at all".

Anonymous said...

In response to the comment posted by New Solutions Group: Huh? The writer apparently knows a lot about buzzwords and nothing about practical thought, which means he'd make a good DHS employee. In the eyes of state government, Memphis historically has been the stepchild to Nashville and that doesn't have anything to do with "paradigms". It has more to do with the people we elect to office.

Anonymous said...

New Solutions Group: I am totally lost. For example, " Interact with a proposed change"?? What does that look like?

"paradigms that drive behavior"?
Would love to see an example of this.

Laws, beliefs, values, peers and economic incentives drive behavior with the latter being the strongest influence.

As for first and second order, these are kinetic descriptions reserved for chemical reactions.

NEW SOLUTIONS GROUP said...

Well, you just demonstrated the things you would like to see demonstrated.

As to the first response:
The "historic pathways" that are repeated by the government employees you handily blame for Memphis failure to be what is called for to succeed in the near and far term are riven by the paradigm that the people who you blame think through.

As for poster #2:

That looks like hearing what needs to be done and summarily dismissing it because the dismisser "already and always knows" better or different, than anyone suggesting solutions that have not been thought, heard of, conceived, or, discussed previously, whether true or not. If the dismisser is right, it is merely by coincidence.

Example of paradigms that drive behavior:

If you already know that the earth is flat, you won't be sailing to the edge anytime soon.
If you get beat up or mugged in a bad neighborhood, you probably won't be back. Sometimes they are appropriate to consider and sometimes they have perceived value that is more a limitation of the perception of the ultimate reality like, the earth is actually round.

What drives the formation of Laws, beliefs, values, peers and economic incentives is the paradigm or context that is used to form them. It is the underlying control factor hat remains invisible to the "thinker" that thinks through the filter of perception, the paradigm. Paradigms create blind spots, especially those that are formed by accident or default instead of those that are designed.

First and second order change are terms that are now commonly used in the science called "ontology".
An ontology is a specification of a conceptualization.
A body of formally represented knowledge is based on a conceptualization: the objects, concepts, and other entities that are assumed to exist in some area of interest and the relationships that hold among them (Genesereth & Nilsson, 1987) . A conceptualization is an abstract, simplified view of the world that we wish to represent for some purpose. Every knowledge base, knowledge-based system, or knowledge-level agent is committed to some conceptualization, explicitly or implicitly.
An ontology is an explicit specification of a conceptualization. The term is borrowed from philosophy, where an Ontology is a systematic account of Existence.

If words were "reserved" and had no cross uses, the dictionary would only be one volume and never add words to the languages a dictionary represents.

NEW SOLUTIONS GROUP said...

Oh, and the guy who wrote the article has turned around MANY global corporations from the edge of bankruptcy to sustained profitability and brought many well known global corps into new markets using the technology described.
Go take a look:

http://www.vantogroup.com/display_content.jsp?top=168

NEW SOLUTIONS GROUP said...

OK, you've had a week.


How good of a future do you want?

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