Thursday, November 5, 2015

Performance of students in the Inner Cities

Several other bloggers have already commented on the most recent standardized test results out of Detroit, Cleveland, Washington D.C. etc.  Most of those bloggers also noted that the "problem" is rooted in perverse incentives.  That is, the more dire the performance, the more resources are directed to the organizations tasked with solving it.

Any parent or capitalist will quickly point out that the behaviors that are rewarded are the behaviors that are reinforced.

We would not operate this way if educating inner city children was important, if we really cared about them, their future and if we valued peaceful and civil interactions between all parts of society.

A modest proposal

Make all of the arrows point in the same direction.

1.) Make a portion of welfare "entitlements" contingent on:
  • school attendance
  • school grades
  • standardized test score
2.) Initially, put a small percentage of the "entitlements" into the contingent-upon-performance pool.    I propose starting with 2%-2%-2% the first year.

3.) Increase the contingent-upon-performance portion of the "entitlement" every year until benchmarks are achieved.

Most working stiffs think of "Welfare" as paying somebody (often a single mother) to be a professional parent.  The working stiff, the person paying taxes, typically does not get paid if they do not show up to work or if the quality of their work slacks off.  In fact, they face the risk of getting fired.

It works pretty well.  Houses get built.  Concrete gets poured.  Airplanes tend to land at the desired destination.

The true bigots, racists and sexists are the arrogant people who assume that "professional mothers" are less capable than roofers, carpenters, cement workers and airplane pilots.  There job is to feed and clothe their children, to get them to school and to instill values in them.

Critics of this proposal are likely to point out that these mothers do not have the skills and values needed to make this happen.  I agree!  And without motivation they never will "find" those skills and values, nor will their children or grandchildren.

How much signal will be needed?

I worked with a man named Marty.   Marty is a dedicated dad.  He is also very observant and analytical.

One day he told me, with great joy and enthusiasm, that he had minimized the signal needed to get his children to mind.

Like many great discoveries, this solution was motivated by exasperation.

He would tell his kids to mind.  He would tell them many times...with increasing volume.  Finally, his patience would be worn out, he would be on the verge of launching out of his chair.  And his kids would mind.  There he was, heart racing, madder than heck and his kids were little angels.

"They were watching my hands."  He told me.  "I did an experiment.  They became angels when I gripped the ends of the arms on my easy chair because they figured out that meant lift-off was imminent."

And, with a tinkle in his eye he told me, "I still tell them.  I still get louder.  But I don't get mad.  I just grip the ends of the arms on the chair and my kids know I mean business."

So it does not always take a lot of signal.


It is clear from our actions that our society values the economic wellbeing of the mandarins and apparatchiks more than the inhabitants of what is rapidly becoming a zoo.

Jesus would weep.


  1. It's already a zoo... And money, e.g. your proposal WOULD be about the only thing that would change it...

  2. It's already a zoo... And money, e.g. your proposal WOULD be about the only thing that would change it...

  3. Jesus wept once. Not for the death of Lazarus, but for the unbelief of the people. I think he is already weeping. And one day soon, he will gather his children into his arms to embrace them.
    But I am an eternal optimist. And a Christian. I guess that's kind of the same thing.