The Blackfive National Service Plan

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers march in "...
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The Blackfive blog is one of my favorite military blogs because of how well it balances the “inside baseball” professional military chatter with an examination of larger issues. A superb example of the latter is in “The Obama/Uncle J National Service Plan.”

Despite the light-hearted title and tone, the post offers the basic outlines of a two-year program that would have every American young person giving back to his or her country. A sort of combination of military service, the Peace Corps, and Americorps, the “plan” has inspired us to dig deeper into the national service question. We will be addressing this in later posts, but it really gets our brainstorm clouds firing lightning.

Apart from offering options that appeal to those who object to wearing a uniform, we also like how the plan dovetails with the thinking of Thomas P.M. Barnett, who proposes an activist American foreign policy designed to preserve global stability not merely by force or threat of arms, but through a well-thought-out development focus.

Imagine extending the New GI Bill to cover outstanding participants in the program, making a college education a less daunting choice. Indeed, colleges could offer courses to national service members, and credit for participating in certain types of programs.

Imagine using the program to train medical and dental paraprofessionals for service with the National Health Service, giving that organization an non-commissioned corps of medical workers.

Imagine a professional military augmented by a corps of draftees trained to take on the more mundane aspects of military service, cutting costs but eliminating the need for pay competitive with the private sector for service support troops.

All this can be ours, and we have done it before: FDR’s alphabet soup programs like the WPA and CCC offer models.

All we need to do first is get our fiscal house in order. Any suggestions?

Fixing L.A.’s Schools

Westwood School in Westwood section of Los Ang...
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If you note a growing interest in California in this blog, it is no coincidence. I am a long-term resident of Beijing and China and I feel at home here, but I am under no illusions: at some point I will start dividing my time more or less evenly with my native home and my adopted one. It would be nice to have a home state to come back to.

One of my worries is California’s schools. In the midst of the state’s debt crisis, California’s parents must contend not only with evaporating school budgets, but also in the case of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the problem of teacher competence, as discussed in this article in The Economist.

The problem, though, is not the teachers, but the teacher’s unions, who are fighting a reactionary rear-guard action against the measurement of teacher performance. While granting that test scores are an imperfect measure, The Economist notes:

Is it [test scores] a perfect form of evaluation? Certainly not. Mr Duffy is right to argue that test scores alone are not adequate for judging teacher performance. (We don’t want teachers teaching to the test, after all.) And it should be noted that California’s education system, in particular, is troubled by budget cuts and political infighting that make it difficult to manage and evaluate. But Mr Duffy’s reaction fits with a broader resistance to more formal evaluation methods by teachers unions across the country. And that has coincided with extensive union efforts to defend teachers who are obviously failing our students. If the education-reform debate has come to seem like an attack on teachers, it is in large part because of the unions’ misdirected passion and priorities.

There is no perfect measure of performance for any job. But there is no scope for incompetence, either. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (and the National Education Association) have painted themselves into the uncomfortable corner of defending teachers who cannot teach, and as such do a disservice not only to the children, but to their members who are competent, if not outstanding.

Wake up, unions. Covering for the incompetent is destroying your credibility and your ability to defend your stronger members. Start being an advocate for education, not mediocrity.

Does America Have an MBA Glut?

Statistics question of the day: which does America have more of; unemployed actors, or unemployed MBAs? And is it not far past time that we begin to probe the actual value of graduate degrees in business that are granted by the bottom quintile of B-schools?

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