Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

College Education in the US

This topic was discussed on September 30, 2013.
Having spent some time discussing education in general and K-12 education, we plan to turn our attention to post-secondary education in the US.

  • US universities are considered among the world’s finest. Is that position stable or, as some believe, seriously at risk?
    • What should we do about it?
  • Does the post-secondary system serve its students well, or are students’ interests being sacrificed for research, professors’ interests and job security, facilities, sports, administrators?
    • What is the right balance for our universities?
  • Should there be different roles for public vs. private institutions, colleges vs. universities, four-year vs. two-year (or other format) undergraduate programs?
  • Why is a four-year degree getting so expensive? Should something be done to slow the rate of tuition inflation?
    • Should the current mix of financing (family funds, scholarships, work, loans, grants) be changed? Should other sources (Oregon model) be added to the mix?

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A Debt-free College Education (WaPo 8-6-2013)




K-12 Education in the US

This topic was discussed August 19, 2013

Following up on our discussion of August 5, this session will focus in on primary and secondary education.

  • Finland model?  There seemed to be lots of support for elements of the education model in Finland:
    • Higher educational, certification and training standards for teachers
    • Much higher teacher-to-administrative personnel ratio
    • Robust performance reviews from peers [and other sources?] determining pay
    • Higher “societal status” accorded to teachers by their communities
    • Far fewer standardized tests applied to the entire student population

    Can we/should we try to replicate that model in the US?

  • Changing teacher role.  How can we transition toward such a model?
    • End of teacher tenure?
    • Higher standards (how measured?) and pay/retain for performance?(/li>
    • More curriculum flexibility for teachers, relying on their professional judgment as to what to teach and when
  • College prep vs. vocational training.  Should the secondary curriculum be primarily focused on college prep, or should other paths to strong, middle-class employment opportunities (“trade” skills, etc.) also be encouraged? How might we mitigate the perceived stigma that many of these careers are only for those who failed at college prep?

State and Local Entitlements

The bankruptcy of the City of Detroit has focused attention on a problem facing many other US cities, counties and states…the cost of the pension and retiree medical benefits promised to (largely union) employees.

  • How should the Detroit obligations be treated in the bankruptcy? Similarly to such obligations in a company bankruptcy context? Some otherway?
  • Should the Federal government intervene to protect these benefits?
  • Why did this issue arise in the first place, and what changes should be made to avoid it in the future?
    • Was it the ease of trading off current compensation against future benefits for cities, etc. on a budget?
    • Should municipal entities follow corporate employers by converting, over time, from defined benefit (pension and retiree medical) to defined contribution (agree on employer’s contribution; employee takes the risk (upside and downside) on investment returns)?
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