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That Which We Call a Company, By Any Other Name Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, May 1, 2012, 07:40 PM

With all apologies to Shakespeare, just as a rose would smell as sweet if we called it by another name, one would think that it shouldn’t matter what business owners name their companies.  However, as corporate lawyers will attest, sometimes a good deal of thought goes into naming a corporate entity.  For one thing, the very idea of creating an entity like, say, a limited liability company (LLC) is about insulating oneself from legal exposures and, in many cases, shielding one’s identity.  While Donald Trump may like putting his name on everything, celebrities and others interested in keeping a measure of privacy feel differently when it comes to public transactions like purchasing real estate.

 

Look at some of the deed records in virtually any state, and chances are you will see a few odd names.  “Bubble & Squeak, LLC,” for example, is a New York real estate company that rehabs and gentrifies older buildings.  Appropriately enough, it takes its name from a traditional English dish made from fried leftovers of things like potatoes and cabbage.  Other LLCs in New York that have somewhat unexpected names are “Worm in the Big Apple,” “Hot Potato,” “Rabbit Properties,” “Song for My Father,” and “Shabbos Goy LLC” (“shabbos goy” is a Yiddish term for a non-Jew employed by Orthodox Jews to perform chores on the Sabbath, when working is forbidden).  Sometimes, the names chosen spring from either a sense of whimsy or a nod to pop culture.  Cogswell Realty, LLC, for example, takes its name from Cogswell’s Cosmic Cogs, the chief competitor of Spacely Sprockets in the beloved cartoon “The Jetsons.”  And when it came time for Cogswell to set up separate LLCs for some of the properties it owns, it chose names that George Jetson himself could appreciate: “Elroy, L.L.C.,” “Judy, L.L.C.,” and “Astro LLC” (what, nothing named after Jane, his wife?).

 

Look at some of the lesser known publicly-traded companies on some stock exchanges, and you will see more odd names.  For instance, there may be a story behind the name of the holding company for Wyoming’s Buffalo Federal Savings Bank—it’s called Crazy Woman Creek Bancorp, Inc.  You may not want to keep Foley Dog Show Organ and Bull Dog Sauce Company in the same stock portfolio as Big Cat Energy Corporation or Mad Catz Interactive, Inc. (which makes videogame accessories)—dogs and cats don’t mix.  And while you might expect Coda Octopus Group, Inc. to have something to do with underwater technologies, you’d probably be surprised to learn that Snake Eyes, Inc. has nothing to do with gambling and everything to do with golf clubs.

 

Of course, the names that are chosen for a corporate entity can sometimes come back to haunt it.  Remember Enron, which referred to its special purpose entities as “raptors”?  Another company that was burdened with a division overrun by product liability claims decided to create two spinoff entities—one that would emerge fresh and clean and the other that would contend with all the claims and lawsuits.  Guess which one they named “GoodCo” and which they named “CrapCo”?  Another corporation spun off a separate investment vehicle that was risky.  How risky?  It turns out that its name SNP, Inc. stood for “Should Not Participate, Inc.”  And yet another corporation had a shell company with the mysterious-sounding acronym LHIW, Inc.  During litigation involving that entity, it was revealed that LHIW, Inc. stood for “Let’s Hope It Works”—hardly the sort of thing to inspire investor confidence.  When lawsuits come along, a lot of dirty laundry winds up being aired.  Shadow corporate entities and shell companies or projects with names like “death star” or “piranha” tend to leave a bad impression with jurors.

 

And you thought it was tough naming a child.

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One Nation Under God in Need of Prayer ‘For Such a Time as This’ Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Mon, Apr 30, 2012, 11:56 AM

The National Day of Prayer is an annual event passed by joint resolution of Congress in 1952 and signed into law by President Truman.  Of course the tradition of calling for special days set aside for prayer goes back much further, indeed to the American Revolution and to the First Continental Congress in 1775.  The National Day of Prayer is observed on the first Thursday of May each year.  Because our nation continues to navigate through extremely challenging days, the National Day of Prayer Task Force chose “One Nation Under God” as this year’s theme.  It is perhaps something to remember moreover, that this year is a pivotal election year.  The inspiration for the 2012 theme is found in Psalm 33:12, which offers this important reminder: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord...” 

Another verse worth referencing is Nahum 1:7 which states, “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.”  Indeed, the Book of Nahum is interesting, in that, it is actually a warning to Israel about God’s wrath and the destruction of the wicked, and a prophecy about the downfall of the city of Nineveh.  There may be some allusion here to these United States!  But then there are the words “for such a time as this,” taken from the Book of Esther.  It is in Esther we find a message of hope and also of deliverance, and one may at least pray there’s an allusion to us in that Book as well.    

Esther was a beautiful Jewish maiden.  She was orphaned and brought up by her cousin Mordecai, who held office and served Xerxes the king of Persia.  After dethroning his very difficult wife Vashti, the king chose Esther to take her place as queen.  Mordecai and Esther did not reveal their relationship, however, probably because they did not want her Jewish parentage to enter in and become a point of contention or prejudice.  Meanwhile another officer named Haman hated Jews almost pathologically, so much that he actually presumed upon the king’s authority and ordered their persecution throughout the kingdom.  It is upon that occasion that Mordecai approaches Esther and asks her to intervene on their people’s behalf.  At first she does not appreciate her influence, and she does not quite know the limits of her position.  She is cautious at least, even afraid to broach the king on this subject knowing how hot tempered he could be.  She might be viewed as being difficult like Vashti.  She might blow her political capital so to speak, her query dismissed as mere nuisance or worse as a bald imposition. 

Mordecai nevertheless persuades her to find courage and to persevere, by reminding her of the gravity of the situation and of greater purpose beyond her mortal self.  He references the unlikely series of events that brought her to the throne and suggests to Esther that she may have come into her position just “for such a time as this.”  It is a peculiarity of the Book of Esther that the name of God does not once occur in it, but the reality of God is clearly present.  Esther obtains permission from the king to arrange a banquet and to invite Haman.  She petitions the king at the banquet to stop all the outrages being committed against Jews in the kingdom.  When asked by the king who is responsible for the terrible things she describes, she fingers none other than Haman who is there present.  In an amazing turnabout, Haman is hung on the very gallows he had built and prepared for Mordecai.  Talk about poetic justice!  As for the Jews, they “rested from their enemies” and were allowed to take revenge—their desperate situation having turned in an instant “from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day” (Esther 9:22). 

Today these United States of America face a desperate situation economically and politically, and the nation is in dire need of prayer.  The people need Mordecai’s encouragement, in order to weather unemployment and a rapidly approaching debt crisis, taxes and overregulation; they need to be reminded like Esther, of their exalted position in the Republic.  Americans have enemies around the world to be sure.  They also have enemies within and our own share of officers in the government who presume upon the authority of the people and who subvert the written Constitution and intent of the Founders.  It behooves us to remember, however, that turnabouts come quickly.  Exposing evildoers in public can have a dramatic effect as it did with ACORN, and one single election can reverse four years of very bad policy practically in an instant.

________________________Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford.  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican freedom Coalition (RFC) and is currently running for U. S. Congress (TX-District 25 in the Republican Primary.  He is also author of two books, Horse Sense for the New Millennium (2011), and The Nexus of Faith and Freedom (2012).  Both books are available on-line at http://www.wesriddle,net/ and from fine bookstores everywhere.  Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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Man May Work from Sun to Sun — But Woman’s Work is Never Done! Print E-mail
by James Reza    Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 11:24 AM

I almost died laughing when Democrats started distancing themselves on many Sunday morning talk shows from CNN’s Democrat Hit Woman Hilary Rosen’s inflammatory comments on Ann Romney, wife of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.  Even President Obama and many of his henchmen jumped in the fray and tried to distance themselves by stating that Ms. Rosen works for CNN and is not a spokesperson for the White House.  Though trying hard to distance their hides from this unleashed attack dog, Hilary Rose, from CNN, White House visitor logs show that Hilary Rosen visited 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. at least 35 times, while Gen. David Petraeus, head of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current CIA director has been a visitor only nine times.

Here in a nutshell are CNN Hilary Rosen’s comments on Ann Romney:  "What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country, saying, 'Well, you know, my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues, and when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what?  His wife has actually never worked a day in her life!"  What Rosen failed to mention in her unsavory comments is that under Obama’s watch, women have a higher number as being unemployed and many are unable to find work.

Rosen further stated that Ann Romney never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school, and why do we worry about their future.  She added that the Romney’s “just seem old fashioned when it comes to women.”  I guess she meant that rich moms don’t have the same cares for their families than poor or working moms have, which to me is ridiculous!

Days later when bipartisan critics unleashed a barrage of verbal assaults on her comments, Rosen sheepishly apologized to Mrs. Romney.  The spineless liberal hack said, “I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended.  Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.

What I find so disingenuous about most liberal Democrats trying to portray themselves as poor and for the poor is that according to the Center for Responsive Politics, there are 237 millionaires serving in Congress.  Which reflects the fact that the average lawmaker is far wealthier that his or her typical constituent.  Simply stating, one percent of Americans are millionaires, while 44 percent of those serving in Congress can claim as much.  In the Senate’s 25 wealthiest lawmakers, 14 are Democrats and 11 are Republicans.

The richest member of Congress is Rep. Darrell Issa–R – CA ($250 million), followed by four Democrats, Jane Harman–D – CA – ($245 million), Herb Kohl–D – WI ($215 million), Mark Warner–D – VA ($210 million) and John Kerry–D – MA ($209 million). By the way, Mitt Romney’s net worth is estimated at $200 million.  I now wonder if CNN’s Hilary Rosen despises and scorns the supposedly rich wives of those rich Democrats as she did Mrs. Romney who raised 5 sons and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 and has battled breast cancer.

Unlike Ms. Rosen, I have the utmost respect for mothers of all stripes:  rich, poor, middle income, black, white, brown, etc.  Most moms in my view are the central figure of most families.  Growing up poor, I remember my mom having to go work to help my dad with his meager wage.  Yet, she washed our clothes in a No. 8 washtub outside with a scrub board, hung the wash, iron, cook 3 meals, and go buy groceries on foot being that we never owned a car.  Other moms in my poor neighborhood who had husbands that earned a good wage also worked hard raising their kids.  As I stated in my heading, their work was never done.

As for rich moms not having it hard raising their children as poor ones, I wonder what ugly words Ms. Rosen would have written about Rose Kennedy, the wife of Joe Kennedy, an extremely wealthy man and mother of 9 children with two sons, both Democrats, who suffered tragic endings.  Probably unbeknown to Ms. Rosen, Rose Kennedy give birth to a mentally ill girl, her oldest son, Joe was killed in World War II and her two sons, Robert and President John Kennedy were assassinated.  Could Ms. Rosen honestly believe that a rich mother like Rose Kennedy could not related to the hardships a poor mother would have endured if they, like her, had children who underwent similar tragic and heartbreaking events in their family?

Folks, I personally know several wealthy women.  One such wealthy woman never seems to end to amaze me.  Her name is Hope Garcia Lancarte.  Hope, along with her sons, own and operate Joe T. Garcia’s, one of the most successful Mexican restaurants, in Fort Worth. There’s not a day that goes by that Joe T. Garcia’s is not packed in their widespread and famous Mexican eatery.  Diners of all stripes and backgrounds (politicians, movie stars, religious figures, world known musicians) dine there.  What amazes me about Hope is that for years she worked hard in the kitchen cooking meals for her famous restaurant.  Up in years, today I often find Hope busing tables and sweeping the floor.  I once asked her, “Hope, you should retire, enjoy life, travel, and take it easy.”  She said, “James, I love to work. Making money is secondary to me, I love working with my sons and enjoy visiting with my customers.  That James is what I love to do!”

Ms. Rosen could learn a lot from rich women like:  Rose Kennedy, Hope Lancarte and yes, even Mrs. Ann Romney. But, I seriously doubt it!

 

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The Malign Power of Bad Ideas Print E-mail
by Martin Hutchinson    Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 05:43 AM

According to economic historian Angus Maddison, Latin America had six among the world’s 30 richest economies in 1900. Today the continent’s richest country, by purchasing power parity GDP per capita, is Argentina, at No. 55, according to the International Monetary Fund. Yet the continent is not short of natural resources, not overpopulated, and avoided the catastrophic carnage of World Wars I and II. The Mexican author Enrique Krauze’s “Redeemers – Ideas and Power in Latin America” suggests strongly that the continent’s sad decline was due to the power of bad ideas.

Latin America’s economic management during the nineteenth century was mixed, with considerable outbreaks of turbulence, but at the top end it wasn’t bad at all. The continent’s best leaders, like Mexico’s Porfirio Diaz (president, 1876-80, 1884-1911) and Argentina’s Domingo Sarmiento (president 1868-74) and Julio Roca (president 1880-86 and 1898-1904), were equivocal about democracy but whole-hearted in their support for free markets and foreign investment to develop their economies.

The economic results were obvious and highly beneficial. Argentina, from the Maddison tables had in 1870 a GDP per capita of $1,311 in 1990 dollars, 50% above the world average or 63% of the Western European average. By 1900 Argentina’s GDP per capita had increased to $2,756, 213% of the world average and fully 90% of the European average. Little wonder that so many Italians immigrated to Argentina around the turn of the 20th century: Argentina was 54% richer.

Mexico was poorer overall, but showed the same effect. In 1870, Mexico’s GDP per capita was only $674, 23% below the world average, and it had declined by 15% since 1820. By the last year of Diaz’s rule in 1910 it was $1,694, 14% above the world average. Diaz could justifiably claim to have brought the country fully into the industrialized world economy.

The extraordinary progress of Latin America in the nineteenth century was arrested in the twentieth. By 2003, Argentina’s GDP per capita had risen from $2,756 to $7,666, but that had caused a decline from 113% above the world average to only 18% above it. In terms of Western Europe, Argentina had declined from 90% of Western European living standards to 37%. 54% richer than Italy in 1900, Argentina in 2003 was 60% poorer.

Overall, Mexico’s relative decline was less catastrophic, from 18% above the world average in 1910 to only 9% above it in 2003 – reflecting the relatively better government provided by 75 years of “instiutionalized revolution” compared to the chaos that was Argentina. Still, Mexico’s failure to achieve relative progress is more impressive when you remember that the rest of the world suffered through two world wars and the imposition of Communism over a third of the planet, whereas Mexico enjoyed 90 years of peace and close proximity to the world’s richest economy.

The principal cause of the decline was the flood of bad economic ideas inflicted on Latin America by its intellectuals. In the nineteenth century Latin American intellectuals had been relatively benign forces, supporting liberalism or at worst social democracy. In spite of U.S. aggression against Mexico in the 1840s, they also admired the United States, regarding it as an example of the democratic, prosperous free-market country to which they aspired.

This all changed with the Spanish-American War, and the effective U.S. annexation of Cuba and the Philippines. In this respect, William Randolph Hearst and Theodore Roosevelt, propagators of that war, have a lot to answer for. The war brought a pervasive suspicion of U.S. economic and military imperialism; even Diaz in a 1908 interview for Pearson’s magazine said “it is useless to deny a distinct feeling of distrust, a fear of territorial absorption, which interferes with a closer union of the American republics.” With suspicion of the United States came antipathy to the free market, of which the U.S. was thought the principal exemplar.

Krauze gives chapter and verse of how, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, Latin America’s intellectuals indulged in wild fantasies of anti-Americanism, and came up with an amazing variety of destructive alternatives to the free market. Uruguay’s Jose Enrique Rodo (1871-1917) postulated in his 1900 “Ariel” a radical opposition between Latin-American and Anglo-Saxon cultures. Mexico’s Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959), proposed both socialism and fascism as means of liberating Mexico from the capitalist, pro-American “porfirismo” of Diaz, running for president in 1929 on a radical socialist platform. Finally, Peru’s Jose Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930) proposed that Marxism was not sufficiently indigenous for Latin Americans; instead they should return to the Inca economics of communal property. While some subsequent Latin American intellectuals like Manuel Vargas Llosa have renounced Marxism and chosen to support the free market, there are still plenty like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who rejoice in their economic Castroism.

Latin cultures take their intellectuals more seriously than do Anglo-Saxons. The dreary French Stalinist Jean-Paul Sartre, a Monty Python sketch in Britain, is still taken seriously in France. The first effect of this came in Mexico. When Diaz, contrary to his previous indications, ran for re-election in 1910, he was opposed by the wealthy liberal intellectual Francisco Madero.  Diaz, who retained huge rural support from his economic successes, particularly among the “mestizos” of mixed blood, won the election June 26, 1910 by an electoral vote of 196 to 187, after which Madero claimed fraud and on November 20 entered into armed rebellion against the re-elected Diaz, being joined in March 1911 by hard-left guerilla forces under Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata. Owing to his age, Diaz, a highly successful general in his youth, could not command the armed forces personally, so after a succession of minor but widespread rebel victories he resigned on May 25, 1911.

Madero, like the Russian Alexander Kerensky six years later in similar circumstances, proved ineffectual and was assassinated in February 1913, after which the country descended into civil war. Out of that war came the “Institutional Revolution Party,” built on socialism and anti-Americanism, which made Mexico a one-party state from 1929 to 2000. Diaz’s free-market, pro-foreign investment policies were abandoned.

Mexico had sunk by 1940 from 16% above the global average GDP to 6% below it. It then recovered during World War II and thereafter, its relative GDP peaking at 48% above global average GDP in 1981, before the contradictions of PRI rule caused its decline to 10% above the world average in 2003, the last year of Maddison data.

In Argentina, the change came later, with largely free-market governments (albeit some of them military) until 1943.   Thus Argentina, at 113% above of the global average GDP per capita in 1913, had prospered from two world wars to reach 136% above it in 1950, and had indeed crept up in 1900-1950 from 90% to 99% of Western European living standards. Only in the latter half of the century did Argentina’s relative wealth decline, falling fairly steadily to only 18% above world average GDP by 2003.

In country after country, the leftward move of Latin American intellectuals after 1898 was followed by a leftward move in government policies. In some countries, notably Chile (initially forcibly) and Colombia (wholly democratically) there has been something of a reaction, and we can hope that those countries’ improvements in prosperity will provide a beacon for others. Nevertheless, the commodities boom since 2003 has reinforced bad policy in several countries, notably in Argentina but also in Brazil, where the Workers Party now seems entrenched. Only in Venezuela is there some hope that spectacularly bad economic management could lead to a reaction in the near future. But in Venezuela since 1970, economic results have been even worse than elsewhere, with per capita GDP declining in absolute terms by 8% from 1950 to 2003, from 253% above the world average to a mere 7% above it. Since Venezuela still has among the world’s largest oil reserves in the Orinoco tar sands, this is a truly staggering performance.

Could it happen to us? Yes, it could, very easily. The United States saw a relatively brief period of huge economic underperformance under Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt in 1929-38, while Britain saw a rather longer one in 1945-79 after the depredations of the Attlee Labour government. Both these downturns were caused by bad economic ideas, imposed on a bipartisan basis.  Japan since 1990 is something of a counterexample, with bad ideas not prominent although much recent underperformance has been due to excessive Keynesian deficit spending.

The mechanism is however obvious. A strong intellectual current, such as the fervor in 2005-09 over Global Warming, can result in a series of bad policy choices that get implemented by a government caught up in the fervor, with a degree of bipartisan support. Once implemented, those choices are very difficult to reverse. As in Mexico after Diaz the intellectuals and the entire political system are implicated in the bad ideas and foolish policies – thus Diaz has been universally reviled since his departure, in spite of his economic successes.  Intellectual change can take decades, is often fiercely resisted by the intellectuals, and in the meantime secular decline can set in. If the 21st Century turns out markedly less prosperous than the second half of the 20th, this will be the reason.

The solution is to ignore intellectuals. As Keynes said “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” The Anglo-Saxon tradition of distrusting theoretical constructs is nowhere more valuable than here.

(Originally appeared in The Bear's Lair.)

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site www.greatconservatives.com—and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley – 2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, “Great Conservatives” only in a Kindle edition, “Alchemists of Loss” in both Kindle and print editions.

 

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Address to the Texas Association of College Technical Educators Spring Conference Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Wed, Apr 18, 2012, 02:44 PM

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today with a group of educators who, I believe, play such an important role in putting Texans to work. Not only do you provide a vital service to the individual students who leave your institutions with the skills needed to start a career, but you help employers in our state meet the demand for skilled workers. Without the technical and career programs at community colleges, we simply would not be able to meet the workforce needs of those businesses.

 

I want to speak to you today about how important it is that here in Texas we start placing more emphasis on training in the skilled trades—not just at institutions like yours—but at the high school level as well.  I believe that doing so would not undercut the technical education already provided at your colleges.  To the contrary, community colleges should be playing a bigger role in providing training to high school students. And if more young Texans received vocational and technical formation at the secondary level, they would be better prepared to take advantage of more advanced training at the institutions you represent.

 

In the past, manufacturing provided Americans with good-paying jobs that made it possible for our workers to provide for their families and enjoy long-term economic stability.  Sadly, national tax policy and worldwide macroeconomic trends, have hollowed out our country’s manufacturing base over the last decade. Leaders in Austin don’t have the power to address those issues and yet there is something that we can do at the state level to help restore manufacturing in Texas.  That’s because even though the U.S. shed five-and-half-million manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2010 (250,000 of which were in Texas), manufacturing firms across the nation are complaining of a shortage of skilled workers. And doing more to provide a workforce to meet this demand is precisely the area where Texas’ policymakers can make a real difference.

 

The skills shortage has received increased attention with the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post all publishing major stories in the last several months on the challenges faced by many companies looking to hire skilled workers.

 

The annual survey of Manpower Group for 2011 found that the hardest jobs to fill in the United States were for the skilled trades. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a survey by the consulting firm, Deloitte, which found that “83 percent of manufacturers reported a moderate or severe shortage of skilled production workers for hire.”  I hear these same concerns echoed by employers in Texas with whom I visit.

 

These skilled jobs pay a good wage. In Texas, employees in the manufacturing sector earned, on average, $1,200 a week. In Austin, it’s nearly $1,700. And those working to produce computer and electronic products make almost $2,300 a week on average.

 

In light of the demand for skilled workers and the earning potential such jobs provide, you would think we would be doing more to train students at the secondary and post-secondary levels for a career in the skilled trades. Instead, we have steadily deemphasized vocational and technical training, preferring to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach which says that everyone should attend a four-year university.

 

Why not recognize the reality that for many students, a four-year university is not the best path? Less than a third of the students who start out at our state’s public four-year institutions actually graduate in four years.  About half do so in six years. Consider this disturbing statistic from career counselor Marty Nemko:

 

“Among high school students who graduated at the bottom 40 percent of their classes and whose first institutions (they attended after high school) were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.” Plus, I suspect these students—and/or their parents—have amassed a significant sum of college debt.

 

We all learn differently.  Some students don’t enjoy or do well in a classroom environment, but would excel by working with their hands in a skilled trade.  Perhaps they are eager to enter the workforce. It could be that earning income as soon as possible is a much more attractive option than taking on the crushing debt that often goes along with four-plus years of attending college.

 

For lawmakers committed to addressing that demand for skilled workers, one of the most important things we could do here in Texas is to reform our educational system so that we place greater emphasis on technical and vocational training at the secondary and post-secondary school levels.

 

A number of school administrators tell me they are supportive of doing this, but face major impediments which make that objective more difficult to accomplish.  If state performance measurements are driven by how students do on the TAKS test and the new STAAR exams, then schools are pressured to place extraordinary emphasis on “teaching to the test.”  With this latest approach to testing, students will spend even more days of their school year preparing for, and taking, these state-mandated tests.

 

So much of our public education system in Texas is driven these days by this “teaching to the test” mentality from the third grade through high school. Not to mention the money involved in this obsession with testing.  One private company has a state testing contract that reportedly pays it $450 million over a five-year period.  Meanwhile, vocational and technical education gets neglected as time for taking career training electives is replaced by “prep classes” for the state-mandated tests.

 

It is time we challenge the assumption implicit in the “no child left behind” mindset that everyone should be “college ready.”  Too many of our high school students are becoming dropouts or throwaways because they are not given the opportunity for vocational and technical education at the secondary school level. We are setting young people up for failure with this insistence that everyone should go to a university.

 

Moreover, statistical data shows that students involved in career training in high school do better academically as well.  We have the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to a recent Harvard study. The College Board, which produces the SAT exam, estimates that only about 40 percent of all college students complete their four-year degrees. What about the remaining 60 percent of people who might have thrived had they been given opportunities for vocational and technical education in high school? Or encouraged to pursue an industry-certified skills training program at a community college?

 

We should stop promoting the errant notion that a four-year university degree is a guaranteed ticket to the good life. To preach that message is to set well over half of our workforce up for failure. Rather, college should provide an opportunity to get ahead for those who have the desire or need the skills. College should not be a place where area high schools farm out the tasks they are unable to accomplish.

 

As a first step toward preparing our students for real-world expectations and the jobs that are out there, let’s replace the one-size-fits-all TAKS and STAAR tests that we use to evaluate all our students, with two different tests. One test should continue to measure college readiness for those who plan to pursue that route, such as the ACT or SAT. A separate test should measure career readiness.

 

In fact, in many instances, a career readiness test could take the form of an industry-recognized exam that would not only demonstrate that students have mastered essential concepts in their field, but would also provide those students with a tangible certificate that could be presented to employers as proof of their employability.

 

As one example, the non-profit curriculum developer, NCCER (formerly the National Center for Construction Education and Research), provides training programs in fields like welding and pipefitting in which graduates obtain portable, industry-recognized credentials along with a wallet card that an employer can use to verify the level of training a student has received.

 

Secondly, let’s give our high school students the facts about the job market. Young people who have successfully completed a skills training program at the secondary or post-secondary school level have a better opportunity to get a good-paying job than a college graduate with a general degree who, by the way, has on average accumulated more than $25,000 in student debt after graduation.

 

If we are going to move in this direction of rebuilding our pipeline of skilled workers with increased opportunities for vocational education, we have to be creative in how we go about implementing these changes given our finite resources. Equipment is expensive for certain technical training programs, and we have to be resourceful in providing these opportunities to our young people.

 

We need to avoid expensive duplication of services wherever possible. We should do more to empower you and your institutions to partner with school districts in your region.  Your schools already have trained instructors and equipment for skills training.  Some of you may have underutilized capacity that could be made available to local high school students who want to take technical courses.  And we should do more to make sure these courses qualify for dual credit and make it more attractive for school districts to utilize them in that way.  As always, the devil is in the details; and there needs to be an appropriate financing mechanism that is acceptable to both sets of educational institutions.

 

I also want to issue a challenge to you.  As we learned last session, many four-year universities do not want to be held accountable.  They like the current funding model, which allows them to receive state dollars based on their enrollment without regard to what their students are learning or how well they do after graduation.  I believe that community colleges—especially programs providing career and technical education—can lead by example in this area and help bring about reform by advocating an alternative model in which schools are measured by how many of their graduates obtain employment.  Schools that do well could take in more than they currently receive while underperforming schools would receive less.

 

In a bold move, the Chancellor of the Texas State Technical College system has already proposed such an approach. Chancellor Mike Reeser has developed a model that bases the state funding received on “on the job placements and projected earnings of graduates.” As reported by The Texas Tribune, Chancellor Reeser noted, “You won’t find a better example of total accountability because we won’t get paid for a student until we put him in a job.”

 

The time has come to return to an educational model which recognizes the value of career education and encourages the young people of Texas to have such learning opportunities at the high school and post-secondary school levels.  It really is just a matter of common sense. We have accepted for too long this misguided notion that everyone should go to a university.  That flies in the face of reality and human nature. We have different talents and different abilities.  Let’s design a school finance and accountability system which recognizes that and re-establishes local control over education.  We have too many state and federal mandates as it is.  The current system isn’t working. Let’s return the power and control over education to our local communities and schools.

 

Tom Pauken is Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home.

 

 

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