Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Open Letter to Michigan Universities



  • University of Michigan
  • Michigan State University
  • Wayne State University
  • Oakland University
  • Eastern Michigan University
Subject: Improving Educational Opportunities

I have been openly critical about the role of Michigan universities in the overall education process in this state. Particularly, I have criticized the University of Michigan for it's grandstanding efforts which included defying the outcome of Proposal 2 and going to Detroit schools to try to "sell" the students there on the idea of attending UM to boost the percentage of minority students.

My reaction was that if UM (and other universities) were really interested in the academic issues that concern minority students, they would actively work with schools that had large numbers of at-risk students to generate a greater enthusiasm for education with those students. (see 12/26/06 and 12/30/06)

The program at MacArther K-8 University Academy between the City of Southfield and UM-Dearborn is one approach, but competes with existing schools and doesn't address the dysfunctional attitude toward education that has ensnared so many low-income families. Rather than replace exising schools, universities should use their resources (including student interns) to help local schools to:
1. provide non-curriculum information to students and their families concerning the how's and why's of getting from inner-city to inner-circle.
2. critically assess the local schools' approach to gaining the attention and involvement of the parents
3. help local schools develop individualized "game plans" for students with ongoing reinforcement such as campus visits, introduction to various academic disciplines and what those careers are all about, and supplementing the standard curriculum with science or math or social studies "specials"... the "wow factors" that these kids never see and could help light a fire of understanding and enthusiasm under them.
Charter schools may provide very localized and limited help. There is a larger existing problem out there that requires attention and, specifically in southeastern Michigan, your universities have both the resources and the social philosophy to take the practical steps outlined above.

There is no social program or school program that is a "magic bullet", but there are efforts that can make individuals want something their parents don't have and show them how to get it. If they affect even 20% of the students positively, the effort will be more valuable than letting unprepared and unqualified students into a competitive academic situation where they will fail... simply to say the opportunity was given.

Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, pointed out in his book Freakonomics that it really didn't make any difference if a student from a poorly performing school was chosen to go to a better performing school or had to stay at the poorly performing school. Their academic achievements were, by and large, the same. The key variable is that they "wanted" to go to the better school because they believed it would help their education. They already had a positive attitude toward education, so they performed well regardless of the school they attended.

Rather that focusing on "fixes" to admissions, help fix the attitudes of the students and their families toward education. In doing so, you may also "fix" the poorly performing schools. Then you can offer financial assistance and scholarships to qualified low-income and minority students... and no one is going to criticize you for that.

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)