Obama’s Budget Flunks the Marshmallow Test

Obama’s Budget Flunks the Marshmallow Test

People who cannot defer gratification tend to be less successful. That’s also true of countries.


The president’s proposed new budget has three noteworthy characteristics: continuing unfunded entitlements to the middle class, runaway deficits to be repaid in the undefined future, and immense tax increases on the entrepreneurial class. Many commentators have complained about the damage this budget would do to our national prosperity. Less has been said about the effect it will have on something far more important: our national character.

There is a tremendous amount of research on the links among success, character and the ability to sacrifice. It all reaches the same conclusion: People who cannot defer current gratification tend to fail, and sacrifice itself is part of entrepreneurial success.

In one famous study from 1972, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel concocted an ingenious experiment involving young children and a bag of marshmallows. He put a marshmallow on the table and told each child that if he (or she) could wait 15 minutes to eat it, he would get a second one as a reward.

About two-thirds of the kids failed the experiment. Some gave in immediately and gobbled up the marshmallow; videotape shows others in agony, trying to discipline themselves—some even banging their little heads on the table.

But the most interesting results from that study came years later. Researchers followed up on the children to see how their lives were turning out. The kids who didn’t take the marshmallow had average SAT scores 210 points higher than the kids who ate it immediately. They were less likely to drop out of college, made far more money, were less likely to go to jail, and suffered from fewer drug and alcohol problems.

But the evidence goes beyond a finding that people who can defer gratification tend to turn out well in general.

When we hear about successful entrepreneurs, it is always as if they had the Midas touch. A pimply college kid cooks up an Internet company during a boring lecture at Harvard, and before lunch he’s a billionaire. In real life, that’s not how it works. Northwestern University Professor Steven Rogers has shown that the average entrepreneur fails about four times before succeeding.

When asked about their ultimate success, entrepreneurs often talk instead about the importance of their hardships: early failures and bankruptcies, missed Little-League games, endless nights without sleep. They talk about almost losing their home and the strain all this put on their marriage. When I asked the legendary investment company founder Charles Schwab about the success of the $15 billion corporation that bears his name, he told me the story about taking out a second mortgage on his home just to make payroll in the early years.

Why this emphasis on the struggle? Entrepreneurs know that when they sacrifice, they are learning and improving, exactly what they need to do to earn success through their merits. Every sacrifice and deferred gratification makes them wiser and better, showing them that they’re not getting anything free. When success ultimately comes, they wouldn’t trade away the earlier days for anything, even if they felt wretched at the time.

What does all this have to do with public policy? The present administration believes we should be able to get our country fiscally back on track without the vast majority of Americans having to accept less from government. Year after year, no entitlement recipient is asked to give up benefits—even benefits well above a basic safety net.

Bailouts for homeowners, auto companies and financial firms have protected many from the consequences of poor decisions. And even as we run up unprecedented debt, public-sector workers continue to receive pay and benefits that exceed those of their private-sector counterparts.

The expanding welfare state exists, in no small part, to shove marshmallows into our collective mouth. The government expunges sacrifice, smooths the risk out of our economic lives, and protects us from the consequences of our actions. It is aggressively moving us away from the national entrepreneurial ethos, teaching dependency and changing our relationship to the state.

This is not conservative dogma. Look at Greece. It is easy to get lost in the weeds of sovereign-debt ratings and monetary inflexibility, but the fundamental source of that country’s problems is straightforward. Politicians were unwilling for more than a decade to ask citizens for any meaningful sacrifice in public spending, which outstripped revenues. Citizens came to feel entitled to public resources their country had not earned and could not afford. As the country faced collapse, the result has been hopelessness, helplessness and Molotov cocktails.

Is this where we want to go? If not, then we had better recognize that the right path to fiscal consolidation is not to find creative new ways to push debt into the future or vacuum more taxes out of the wealthy. It is to cut spending and reform entitlements right now. It means actual sacrifice—and that is not a bad thing.

Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the new book “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise,” forthcoming in May from Basic Books.


No Need to Panic About Global Warming

No Need to Panic About Global Warming

There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy.


Editor’s Note: The following has been signed by the 16 scientists listed at the end of the article:
A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about “global warming.” Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

In September, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever, a supporter of President Obama in the last election, publicly resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) with a letter that begins: “I did not renew [my membership] because I cannot live with the [APS policy] statement: ‘The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.’ In the APS it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?”

In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the “pollutant” carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Dr. Giaever. And the number of scientific “heretics” is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 “Climategate” email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere’s life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word “incontrovertible” from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question “cui bono?” Or the modern update, “Follow the money.”

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

Princeton physics professor William Happer on why a large number of scientists don’t believe that carbon dioxide is causing global warming.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

If elected officials feel compelled to “do something” about climate, we recommend supporting the excellent scientists who are increasing our understanding of climate with well-designed instruments on satellites, in the oceans and on land, and in the analysis of observational data. The better we understand climate, the better we can cope with its ever-changing nature, which has complicated human life throughout history. However, much of the huge private and government investment in climate is badly in need of critical review.

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of “incontrovertible” evidence.

Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris; J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting; Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University; Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society; Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences; William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton; Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge, U.K.; William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT; James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University; Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences; Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne; Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator; Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service; Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva.

Capitalism and the Right to Rise

Capitalism and the Right to Rise   DECEMBER 19, 2011  WSJ

In freedom lies the risk of failure. But in statism lies the certainty of stagnation.


Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: “The right to rise.”

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn’t seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this. Freedom of speech, for example, means that we put up with a lot of verbal and visual garbage in order to make sure that individuals have the right to say what needs to be said, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. We forgive the sacrifices of free speech because we value its blessings.

But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles of growth and loss, of trial and error, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.

Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedoms through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations. We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see a criminal fraud and we demand more laws. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand “Do something . . . anything.”

As Florida’s governor for eight years, I was asked to “do something” almost every day. Many times I resisted through vetoes but many times I succumbed. And I wasn’t alone. Mayors, county chairs, governors and presidents never think their laws will harm the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Woe to the elected leader who fails to deliver a multipoint plan for economic success, driven by specific government action. “Trust in the dynamism of the market” is not a phrase in today’s political lexicon.

Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

In Washington, D.C., rules are going in the opposite direction. They are exploding in reach and complexity. They are created under a cloud of uncertainty, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy’s resources should be spent.

Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government’s role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.

Mr. Bush, a Republican, was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.


Back to School for the Billionaires


Back to School for the Billionaires

They hoped their cash could transform failing classrooms. They were wrong. NEWSWEEK investigates what their money bought.

Brent Humphreys / Redux

This story was reported and written by Center for Public Integrity.

The richest man in America stepped to the podium and declared war on the nation’s school systems. High schools had become “obsolete” and were “limiting—even ruining—the lives of millions of Americans every year.” The situation had become “almost shameful.” Bill Gates, prep-school grad and college dropout, had come before the National Governors Association seeking converts to his plan to do something about it—a plan he would back with $2 billion of his own cash.

Related: Corporate Titans Who Spent a Fortune on Schools »

Gates’s speech, in February 2005, was a signature moment in what has become a decade-long campaign to improve test scores and graduation rates, waged by a loose alliance of wealthy CEOs who arrived with no particular background in education policy—a fact that has led critics to dismiss them as “the billionaire boys’ club.” Their bets on poor urban schools have been as big as their egos and their bank accounts. Microsoft chairman Gates, computer magnate Michael Dell, investor Eli Broad, and the Walton family of Walmart fame have collectively poured some $4.4 billion into school reform in the past decade through their private foundations.

Has this big money made the big impact that they—as well as teachers, administrators, parents, and students—hoped for? In the first-of-its-kind analysis of the billionaires’ efforts, NEWSWEEK and the Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers on graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts—from New York City to Oakland—which got windfalls from these four top philanthropists.

The results, though mixed, are dispiriting proof that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education. For all the millions spent on reforms, nine of the 10 school districts studied substantially trailed their state’s proficiency and graduation rates—often by 10 points or more. That’s not to say that the urban districts didn’t make gains.

The good news is many did improve and at a rate faster than their states 60 percent of the time—proof that the billionaires made some solid bets. But those spikes up weren’t enough to erase the deep gulf between poor, inner-city schools, where the big givers focused, and their suburban and rural counterparts.

“A lot of things we do don’t work out,” admitted Broad, a product of Detroit public schools and Michigan State who made a fortune in home building and financial services. “But we can take the criticism.”


The bottom line? The billionaires aspired to A-plus impact and came away with B-minus to C-minus results, according to the NEWSWEEK/CPI investigation, which was based on specially commissioned data and internal numbers shared by the philanthropists’ foundations.

Despite the money, graduation rates in Oakland actually fell by 6 percentage points—though less than the rest of California’s schools, which fell by 9 points. In Houston, graduation rates dropped about 6 points, while the remainder of Texas fell only 2. Graduation rates in New York City, on the other hand, while still trailing state averages significantly, improved markedly—up 18 points, compared with the state’s 10-point rise. Washington, D.C.’s graduation rates dropped slightly, while students’ math and reading proficiency generally improved (not being part of a state, its reading and math performance was measured against the district’s independent charter schools). The city’s education achievements, which have helped fuel a national debate over education reform captured in the hit documentary Waiting for Superman, have lately come under investigation amid suspicions of cheating (a charge the city’s recently resigned schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, denies).

Oakland more often than not was improving faster than the rest of California, but still fared poorly at the high-school level, where reading scores trailed the rest of the state’s average by 18 percentage points in 2010. Similarly, Los Angeles over the five years often outpaced the state’s rate of improvement, but its scores lagged, including by 19 points in middle-school reading.

The confidence that marked Gates’s landmark speech to the governors’ association in 2005 has given way to humility. The billionaires have not retreated. But they have retooled, and learned a valuable lesson about their limitations.

“It’s so hard in this country to spread good practice. When we started funding, we hoped it would spread more readily,” acknowledges Vicki Phillips, the director of K–12 education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “What we learned is that the only things that spread well in school are kids’ viruses.”

Gates has abandoned his $2 billion high-school campaign focused largely on shrinking the overall size of schools in favor of a massive new effort to encourage effective teaching. And Broad put a school-principal training initiative on pause—and focuses instead on charter schools, training administrators and improving teacher performance.

Meanwhile, on the ground in the districts these billionaires selected, the excitement of being chosen for philanthropic funding has all too often given way to diminished expectations.

“The foundations are looking for rapid-fire turnaround. That’s not realistic,” said Hae-Sin Thomas, a former principal who helped manage the Gates-backed small-schools effort in Oakland before the Microsoft guru dropped that campaign.

Oakland’s school system was a case study in dysfunction. Eight years ago, the district’s financial woes led to a state takeover.

That made it a magnet for the billionaires. The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation chipped in $6.2 million for its first experiment with broad data-collection methods used to monitor student and school progress. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ponied up some $30 million to help expand on a grassroots effort to shrink the schools. And Broad’s foundation invested $7 million for charter and district schools. “It was a chance to rethink how the district was designed, moving from a concept of a highly bureaucratized school system to a portfolio of schools,” explains Kevin Hall, chief operating officer for Broad’s foundation at the time.

Hopes soared—only to crash back down to earth. The district went through five superintendents in seven years. Enrollment at many schools shrank, and the district is still plagued by a 40 percent high-school dropout rate. In lower grades, better-performing students are fleeing: a third of the kids who are deemed academically proficient by sixth grade are defecting to private, suburban, or charter schools. And at least seven of the 49 new, smaller schools funded by Gates have closed; others are hanging on by a thread.

“There wasn’t a clear and thoughtful long-term plan on how you scale something that everyone needs and sustain it over the long haul,” concedes Tony Smith, the cur-rent school superintendent. “There was a strategy in place to support the creation of schools that would hopefully get to those kinds of ends, but there was no comprehensive shared commitment or framework.” What’s worse, the students who needed the most help, from the “most distressed” families, were often unaware there were better school choices available, he says.

These days, Smith is trying out his own vision of a “full-service community district”—one that tries to address challenges outside the classroom like nutrition and racism. But Gates, Broad, and Dell did leave a legacy for Smith to build on, at least in the lower grades where some schools have seen strong academic growth. The district increased from 11 to 50 the number of schools attaining a score of 700 toward the California achievement target of 800. And between 2008 and 2010, Oakland has outpaced the rest of California in improvement at the elementary- and middle-school levels.

The reform era also left its own financial mess. The officials imported during the salad days left Smith a $25 million deficit, including nearly $6 million in state fines for audit failings.

Smith sees another factor for failure inside a horrific scattering of red dots on a city map he displays on a PowerPoint in his office. Each dot is a student lost to gun violence—a dozen African-American and Latino boys gone since last summer, all slain on the hardscrabble streets of the city across the bay from San Francisco’s famed skyline.

The business titans entered the education arena convinced that America’s schools would benefit greatly from the tools of the boardroom. They sought to boost incentives for improving performance, deploy new technologies, and back innovators willing to shatter old orthodoxies.

They pressed to close schools that were failing, and sought to launch new, smaller ones. They sent principals to boot camp. Battling the long-term worry that the best and brightest passed up the classroom for more lucrative professions, they opened their checkbooks to boost teacher pay.

It was an impressive amount of industry. And in some places, it has worked out—but with unanticipated complications.

One of those places was New York City. Boasting 1 million students spread across 1,700 schools, New York City drew the lion’s share of philanthropy—$270 million from the four billionaires—and saw results. Graduation rates improved from 37 percent in 2002 to 55 percent by 2007 (New York state’s overall graduation rate by the end of that stretch: 71 percent).

The big-money donors benefited from a well-placed ally. New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, a former Clinton White House lawyer, launched his own package of reforms that dovetailed with the billionaires’ goals—reorganizing the power structure and replacing failed schools with smaller, mission-driven ones.

He also installed “CEO”-style principals, and bucked criticism that his laser focus on core math and reading curricula was narrowing the scope of learning.

“From our point of view we were getting good results,” Klein said in an interview. “[The problem] wasn’t about the breadth of the curriculum. It was the failing of the kids.”

The numbers began to move in the right direction. But the tactics bred resentment among some educators and parents. Klein stepped down last year with low approval ratings. The CEO approach took a further hit when his successor—publishing executive Cathie Black, who had no background in education—flamed out after just 100 days on the job.

What’s worse, last year, New York state declared only a quarter of the city’s graduates college-ready, sending officials back to the drawing board. While acknowledging gains in New York, Gates decided to scrap the small-schools project, decreeing that the initiative overall had failed to produce students who were ready for the rigors of college.

“The call in many ways was made prematurely, based on evidence that wasn’t as comprehensive as it should have been,” says James Kemple, author of a study just published by Harvard Education Press that cites real gains from the Klein reforms in New York. “We are now finding the positive effects.”

No reform has won more philanthropic favor than public charter schools. Now numbering 5,000 across the country, charters receive tax dollars to operate with considerable autonomy and innovation. The quality of charter schools varies widely, and some have posted dramatic gains, owing to strategies like longer school days and strong teacher support for students. Drawn by the results of charter networks like KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program seen in the Waiting for Supermandocumentary, the billionaires have poured more than $900 million into charters, including $466 million from the Gates foundation alone.

The Walton Family Foundation hoped that its $8 million investment in Milwaukee charters would produce strong schools and a competitive environment to raise the bar across all the city’s schools. But the charters failed to outperform traditional schools. Reading scores were mostly flat over the past five years citywide. In math, elementary- and middle-school gains were stronger than in the rest of Wisconsin, but high-school proficiency dropped 2 points.

“All good philanthropy is based on testing a hypothesis. If you really peel away, you can uncover each foundation’s hypothesis. Essentially we all have a theory,” said Jim Blew, education-reform director for the Walton Family Foundation. “All the foundations are trying to tackle the same problem. And that problem is very low student achievement, especially in low-income areas.” Blew said the Waltons maintain their theory that charter competition can raise scores across school districts, and still hope that all Milwaukee schools will improve.

Michael Dell’s family foundation, too, placed a big bet on charters, along with its signature work on data and technology systems that help schools track and respond to student needs. Dell, a University of Texas dropout who was in such a hurry to enter the business world he asked to take a high-school equivalency exam at the tender age of 8, has spent heavily on children’s causes through the foundation he launched with his wife in 1999. He started in his native Texas, where his foundation helped insert a high-performing charter school onto a traditional Houston high-school campus.

Lee High School officials were excited at the prospect of copying the strongest elements of the charter. But it turned out the district wasn’t ready to let Lee try charter practices like a longer school day and taking more control over hiring, said Steve Amstutz, Lee’s principal at the time. “The premise that we were going to learn from each other really never occurred,” he explained. “It evolved to just being a lease agreement”—that is, until the charter moved to another location.

The executive director of Michael Dell’s family charity, Janet Mountain, concluded: “Should we ever try it again, we now have knowledge we can bring to the table that will set it up for better success the next time.”

The setbacks had to be a humbling experience for titans accustomed to outsize success.

Broad entered the education-reform arena with riches amassed at two Fortune 500 companies. Thinking his billions might make a difference, as he did in the Los Angeles arts and cultural community, Broad embarked on a yearlong investigation of education. “It was clear to me that if we wanted to have an impact, we could look at what others had done and then what we could do,” he told NEWSWEEK. “There weren’t many positive results that we could identify with. There was always pushback from powerful interests.”

Undaunted, Broad plowed ahead—investing in attempts to upgrade school governance and management, charters, and experiments to pay teachers for their performance instead of their length of time on the job. “We said we were not going to just write checks,” Broad said. “We were going to make investments.”

School boards seemed an especially ripe target. Broad began training efforts to get them away from what he saw as mind-numbing minutiae, like choosing paint colors for buildings or fixing stadium lights. The effort proved frustrating. Board members themselves, as he saw it, were often problematic; too many were well-meaning but not especially savvy parents, micromanagers, or excessively political.

Broad moved on to the front lines: superintendents, principals, and school-district management, ultimately spending $116 million on training people to work in schools and district offices, and another $71 million on central-office reforms and teacher evaluation, preparation, and pay schemes.

“Our role is to take risks that government is not willing to do … People question my motivation,” Broad said. Not least is a growing unease with the prominent role of private foundation money that doesn’t have the accountability constraints of public tax dollars. “The fact that I don’t concern myself about criticism or pushback helps,” Broad said.

He’s had to take some lumps. Several principal-training programs, to the tune of $45 million, were a bang-for-the-buck disappointment; student test scores under most of the principal graduates did not meet his expectations.

He pulled the plug and reevaluated before trying a “more rigorous” approach for the next round of training programs.

Graduates of his Broad Superintendents Academy and the dozens of M.B.A.s he has placed in school-district management, on the other hand, have largely measured up. Even so, superintendents sometimes shake things up only to see their efforts falter in the face of political pressures, Broad said. “Even if some of our original high expectations are not realized, we don’t give up. If we’re going to move America’s students forward, we must continue to be bold and try new approaches.”

—With Laura M. Colarusso

The analysis examined how graduation rates changed between 2002 and 2007—the most recent years for which the data is available from the nationally recognized Editorial Projects in Education Research Center—in 10 districts targeted by the big spending. The study also measured the holy grail of the education-reform movement—standardized test scores in reading and math for kindergarten through 12th grade—and compared the proficiency rates in the urban districts that benefited from billionaire bucks against the average for the rest of the schools in their states over the past five years. (That data was provided by MPR Associates, Inc., a respected education-statistics agency based in Berkeley, Calif.)

No yardstick is a perfect measure. And the billionaires’ gifts are a drop in the bucket when compared with the $600 billion spent annually on America’s schools. But the city-to-state comparison is one of the measures Broad’s own foundation uses in determining his annual award for the most improved school district. For complete data, go to publicintegrity.com.

A Nation of Terrys


A Nation of Terrys

Slacker descendants of the postwar middle class are depleting America’s social capital | Janie B. Cheaney        May 7, 2011

Let’s call him Terry. He’s your cousin, your uncle, or your brother-in-law. He graduated from high school sometime between 1970 and 1990, may have attended a year of college, worked a few jobs (but none for long), married once or twice, fathered a few kids, in or out of wedlock—and failed to establish a forward motion in life. “Terry just can’t seem to get it together,” his mother says from time to time. “Terry’s a loser,” is the judgment of his former friends.

Terry is often a nice guy: friendly and personable, a fixture at family gatherings and occasional sender of Christmas cards. Unless he’s living with you, which he might be because he doesn’t make enough money to pay the rent, much less buy a home. Drugs or alcohol are part of his problem but not, you suspect, the cause of it. And what is that cause? It’s hard to say. For whatever reason, Terry just can’t function as a fully responsible adult.

Teresa also can’t seem to get it together, but she must assume some responsibility for her fatherless children. She wants the best for her kids, of course, but seems unable to provide or even encourage those things, and her children are caught in the same downward spiral. Her only outside involvement is with a loose network of relatives, friends, and non-permanent associations: no commitment to a cause or church, no long-range plans because it’s all she can do to live day to day.

Rootless men and single moms have always existed in American society, but not in such numbers. From my own limited observation, it seems there was a break around 1972 between young adults who married, started careers, and raised families, and their younger siblings who couldn’t stay married, couldn’t hold a job, and couldn’t get ahead. Some Terrys and Teresas eventually establish themselves enough to try to be a positive influence on their grandchildren; some never do.

Social scientist Charles Murray calls this the New Lower Class: pleasant, inoffensive folks who consume more than they produce. One divorced or never-married guy living with his parents is not a problem, but millions of them are. One single mom raising her children on the fly can be absorbed by society, but millions of them can’t. They may break no laws (unless for substance abuse) and break no windows, but by not contributing, they are destroying.

Contributing what? Murray calls it “social capital”—the spirit of volunteerism and association that has always set America apart. Tocqueville remarked on it back in the 1830s, attributing America’s greatness to her “domestic virtue”: family, church, and community. America is the nation where citizens routinely band together in countless small ways to benefit casual acquaintances and even strangers—by cleaning up a park, adopting a highway, volunteering at a homeless shelter.

Social capital is an intangible asset built on connections. By and large, unmarried people do not generate social capital. That leaves more slack for the government to pick up, which encourages more individuals to stand down, thus perpetuating more Terrys—whole families of them, if multiple partners and thoughtless procreation amounts to a “family.”

What’s most disturbing is that this New Lower Class descended from the mid-20th­century middle class, the postwar generation that participated in the greatest surge of prosperity the world has ever known. They stayed married, went to church, joined the PTA—their children and grandchildren do not, or not consistently. Breaking family bonds leads to the severing of countless minor connections, the kind that hold society together and help people regulate themselves.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: the members of the “greatest generation” who didn’t discipline their kids, an enabling welfare state, the willful abdication of personal responsibility, and failing to call sin what it is. The only solution is strong families and strong churches. Families, do not disparage the church; churches, do not neglect the family. God has ordained both for society’s benefit. With fervent prayer and renewed commitment, society can be restored.

George Glider on the strength of capitalism

George Glider on the strength of capitalism

The strength of capitalism, says writer George Gilder, is that success depends on taking others into account | Marvin Olasky

George Gilder jumpstarted Ronald Reagan’s supply side revolution with Wealth and Poverty (1981), which put forward not only a practical but a moral argument for capitalism. Over the past two decades Gilder, born in 1939, has similarly pioneered discussions of new technology. His uniting of a Christian ethos with business success garnered a furious reaction from philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand. Here are edited excerpts of our recent interview.

Ayn Rand, in her last public speech in 1982, just before she died, attacked you furiously. What got her goat? Altruism. She thought I was ascribing altruism to capitalism. Altruism in her theory is the foundation of socialism, and she thought capitalism is supported by egoism or by individual fulfillment above all. She was blinded in part by her atheism. If you read her books, her characters lead sacrificial lives in order to serve others in many instances. But her objectivist philosophy denies the existence of God, and she found my Christian orientation obnoxious. I said businesses succeed by serving others.

Many on the left also equate capitalism with egoism, and for that reason hate it. Capitalists do not get to follow their own dreams, whatever they may be. Academic intellectuals can propagate their ideas whether anyone wants to hear them or not. They can enforce their whims if they join the government—but capitalists cannot succeed without serving others. Profit registers the difference between the value of the output to the customers and the value to the producers. If the capitalist just makes things that he wants, he’s unlikely to triumph. This is offensive to a secular society that believes there can be no ideal greater than personal pleasure and personal fulfillment.

Personal fulfillment is good, financial fulfillment is evil? A lot of people think that capitalism can sometimes be productive, but it also has a moral cost. Profit means that you succumbed to greed. But those who look out for No. 1 are often not investing. They’re buying gold or espousing theories of how to invest in a period of catastrophe or how to benefit from the coming great depression. These guys are really anti-entrepreneurial. Their vision does not lead to bold investment in the face of obstacles. It doesn’t lead to creative enterprise. It leads to a retreat from the marketplace. Capitalists have to operate in economies that are full of predatory governments and vicious people. They have to learn how to prevail over these obstacles—that is what entrepreneurs do.

We need a different definition of investing . . . Investors succeed by giving. This is what the investment process is. You give before you get a return; you are not guaranteed a return. Your success is completely dependent on how other people respond to the product you offer. One of the great delusions of economics is that supply and demand are equally balanced sides of economic transactions. No: What matters in economics is supply. Supply creates its own demand. Demand is like gravity. It exists everywhere: People demand things. But they can only receive products if they offer productive services. Production, innovation, invention, enterprise, service: Those make possible economic growth and advancement.

Why does the left associate self-interest with capitalism rather than socialism? Self-interest is an all-purpose agency. To say it drives capitalism: How does that distinguish capitalism from any other­ system? Self-interest certainly could be said to drive socialism as well, because what a greedy, self-interested person wants is guaranteed returns. He thinks he is entitled. He seeks guarantees from the government. What is more greedy than a public-service union controlling the government and getting 70 percent greater salaries and benefits than comparable private-sector workers because of their political clout? Entrepreneurs don’t have guarantees. They are willing to rise and fall on the basis of what other people think of their work.

But entrepreneurs still have self-interest—didn’t Adam Smith write, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” It is true that you should take care of yourself. It is an important obligation of human life and of Christian life. Ultimately you are clearly dependent on God, but part of that dependence means taking care of yourself, well enough that you can be a worthy proponent and servant of the needs of others. Christians shouldn’t become a burden on the rest of society. I think Christians are not a burden: They are a source of the bounties that the rest of society enjoys.

I’ve seen your connecting of profit and entropy, the term from thermodynamics that can be used more broadly as a measure of disorder, change, innovation . . . Creativity is what matters in economics. It is what makes economies grow. The interest rate is the predictable yield, but profit is the unexpected, variable yield from an investment. In other words, profit is entropy in economics. Paul Romer, the leading advocate of entrepreneurial economics, sees an entrepreneur as a reassembler of chemical elements, or a developer of new combinations of atoms. Other theorists describe the entrepreneur as an opportunity scout. He is looking for opportunities in the material environment, or looking for demand configuration.

Entrepreneurs increase entropy? Entrepreneurs create new things, and whether they succeed or not is dependent on the willingness of other producers to exchange their production for the output of the entrepreneurs. If they produce high-entropy creations, they get a big response. The customers are surprised by the new iPod or whatever it is and are willing to exchange the fruits of their own production for the production of the entrepreneur.

And entrepreneurs can best increase productive entropy when they know what to expect from government policy? In my information theory terms, you need a low-entropy carrier—no surprises in the carrier—to bear high-entropy information. The carrier is the rules, the rules of the road, the laws. If laws are multiplying and changing all the time, that stifles the kind of creative activity that can overcome our U.S. debt predicament.

We grow ourselves out of debt? If you have a positive, pro-enterprise government and a solid, predictable currency—a low-entropy carrier—the value of American assets will increase immensely and greatly reduce the burden of our current debts. The 1970s were just as bad as things are now, and change in policy completely turned it around. It can happen again today. The Tea Party people are the spearhead of that transformation.

They’ve surprised some mainstream journalists . . . Entropy measures the degree of surprisal in a communication: How much is unexpected, surprising? If I give a speech and if everything I say you knew already, no information has been transmitted. It’s a zero entropy communication. Politicians seem so boring because they poll their audiences before they speak, and thus manage to achieve totally boring zero entropy communication: No surprise.

How does your understanding of creativity lead you into the critique of Darwinian materialism that you’ve been doing? The essence of Darwinian thought is that at the beginning is matter, and everything else that happens derives from a random selection among random mutations in material systems. Darwinian theory is just another materialist theory. There are tons of them—Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism (based on the pleasure principle which is basically a materialist concept). All these theories have collapsed in the 21st century. Creation is a fact. The entire universe is oriented to produce creative human beings in the image of their Creator. His presence pervades it. All of the universe is perfectly designed, in some sense, to support human minds.



Hawking’s wager

Hawking’s wager

A bold physicist says science will defeat religion, but we’ve heard that before | Janie B. Cheaney


Here’s the obvious: Stephen Hawking is brilliant, courageous, and an excellent communicator. (I’ve read or attempted several books on quantum physics and his Brief History of Time is the most understandable.) His recent announcement that God is not necessary for the universe to exist, coming a few days before the release of his most recent book, proves he’s a savvy publicist as well.

Though it made news, the announcement should have taken nobody by surprise. Some Christian apologists have regarded the last sentence of Brief History as proof that Hawking left the God hypothesis open: “If we find the answer to [why the universe exists], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.” But that sentence is purely metaphorical, as he uses “God” throughout the book to represent that which we don’t yet know. He’s been working feverishly to close all possible gaps before he dies—which surely won’t be long. When first diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, he was expected to live about 10 years. He’s almost 70 now, an astonishing achievement in itself. Work has been his life and no doubt contributed to his longevity, but his own brief history is running out and he may want to exit with, excuse the expression, a big bang. Namely, his best guess at a unified theory of everything.

An overarching principle linking all forces in the universe has been the holy grail of physics since the dawn of the 20th century. The problem that defies solution is reconciling gravity at the macro level with quantum mechanics at the sub-micro level, a challenge leading to complex theories of multi-universes and multi-dimensions. Without going into detail—which I couldn’t even if I wanted to—some physicists have staked their hopes on “string theory,” an extrapolation of which (“M-theory”) forms the premise of Hawking’s new book.

The Grand Design, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, has received skeptical reviews from scientists who are not convinced. My uneducated guess is that string theory and M theory will prove a dead end, simply because we’re running out of ways to test them. Strings can’t be observed, by any means in the foreseeable future; they can only be conjectured, and calculated, and used as the basis for predictions that may or may not pan out. In the last decades we’ve seen science edging into territory occupied by religion. God can’t be observed either; we know Him by His effects, just as we know the uncertainty principle.

Every report of “scientific evidence” for the nonexistence of God is followed by reams of commentary pro and con, with the pro side confidently asserting that God will soon be disproved if He isn’t already. That’s what Stephen Hawking predicted in an interview with Diane Sawyer last June: “Religion will be defeated by science.” We’ve heard that before, but it seems even less likely now, for the farther we push the frontiers of knowledge, the less we know for certain. Hawking’s personal story gives the declaration a noble ring: a fertile mind in a shriveled body, boldly taking Pascal’s wager. “Science will win because it works.”

Faith also “works,” and a God-shaped hole remains in the heart of humanity that science can’t explain. Accounting for our innate sense of soul or morality by naturalistic causes can only produce theories of what might be the cause. Unbelievers regard this speculation as “proof,” but God can’t be scientifically proven, or disproven. His provenance is outside of science. As Jesus said (John 7:17), “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether [my] teaching is from God.” In other words, one must believe before one can know.

“There is no god!” (Psalm 14:1) is a starting point, not an inevitable conclusion. God exists, or He doesn’t—those are the only two basic presuppositions. The believer and the atheist will find the evidence they’re looking for. But eventually, only one will be judged a “fool.”

European people hurting, not governments

European people hurting, not governments

John Tamny: European people hurting, not governments

By JOHN TAMNY / The economist edits the website RealClearMarkets

We regularly see headlines in the financial press about an ailing European government facing “austerity,” “severe cuts,” and maybe default due to a mismatch between incoming revenue and outgoing liabilities. What’s not explained is why this is so problematic.

In fact, it’s not problematic.

Frederic Bastiat long ago observed that the State is the grand fiction through which wealth is redistributed to others, and with the producers hurting, so is the State’s wealth redistribution machine. We can lament the growth of European welfare states, but shouldn’t the present point be that since, those the people whose labors support governments are getting by with much less, shouldn’t governments similarly shrink?

We keep hearing about the “painful sacrifices” governments must make in the present, but aren’t those alleged sacrifices something governments should endure with a smile since governments only exist at the pleasure of those who pay for them, and their supporters are struggling right now.

And what about the individuals whose labors produce little to no economic value, but who are reliant on the government funding provided by those who are productive? Can they say with a straight face that their benefits should remain intact while their benefactors earn less and, worse, potentially face job loss?

Not commented on enough is just how obnoxious is all the government wailing about a lack of funds. It’s almost childlike in that only a child lacking broader knowledge of the human condition would complain about a reduced allowance in the midst of struggles for the individual bestowing the allowance. In this case it’s the limping people of Europe who provide the means for the monstrous European governments.

So with governments acting in childlike ways it’s time to let those same governments experience the pain of allowance cuts in concert with default if they prove unwilling to more than match the austerity faced by those they annually fleece.

Of course, the supposed problem with governmental defaults is the implications for banks. Having loaded up on government debt with regulatory approval (yet another reminder of the sheer absurdity of more regulation as the path to financial health), many institutions face bankruptcy if governments foist on them payment haircuts.

If so, it’s time we experience a few bank failures so that we as individuals realize that life goes on, and, with it, economic productivity. It’s been more than a century since banks have been the grand source of credit that bailout supporters proclaim, so let’s allow one or many banks to go under for having committed the egregious error of betting the farm on government debt.

The naysayers will wail about “counterparty risk” and a “collapse of the financial system,” but, in truth, we’ll see only the collapse of the entities that erred in assuming that governments don’t default. As for counterparty risk, it applies in all areas of commerce among all businesses, and if a few counterparties are burned, they’ll have learned a valuable, economy-enhancing lesson about spreading one’s risk around.

The banking system itself, far from ruined, will emerge from such a scenario far healthier for having poorly managed institutions swallowed by better managers. And with economy-sapping bailouts off the table, the smaller banks that the Left naively seek through regulatory force will become an un-coerced market reality.

And, while default will by no means shut governments out of the debt markets altogether, the cost of borrowing for governments will surely rise. This on its own will ensure governments that are smaller and happily less consequential, plus the investors who shun government debt altogether will find other, growth-oriented endeavors to allocate capital toward.

Europe today has governments operating solely with resources taken from others and that are unwilling to downsize despite massive deleveraging among the individuals who provide them with funds. Juvenile as it sounds, that’s rude.

Since governments seemingly won’t take the hint, it’s time that the citizenry on which they rely allows them to default. Europe will get better-run banks and smaller government in the process, a bonus for the productive in Europe and reminding governments from whence their funds actually come.


Spark of Innovation

Spark of Innovation: Joe Kiani, Masimo Corp.


Editor’s note: Local business leaders and educators are concerned that there will not be enough students interested in science, math, engineering and technology to support the demand for these skills, and, consequently, the rate and quality of innovation in America will decline. These skills are vital in Orange County, home to a variety of technology companies, from Broadcom to Blizzard Entertainment to Allergan. So, our Editorial Board is showcasing local scientists and engineers, having them explain their work, and maybe get a student thinking about the kind of inventor or engineer he or she could become. Bill Blanning coordinates this feature.

Masimo is an Irvine-based medical-technology company focused on noninvasive medical advances. It employs about 2,500 people and expects 2011 revenue of about $436 million.

What project/research are you working on?

We are constantly working on new and innovative ways to help clinicians improve and automate the standard-of-care. We are developing a sophisticated new algorithm that intelligently aggregates and processes the real-time and historical data of all of our noninvasive measurements (including hemoglobin, methemoglobin, carboxyhemoglobin, PVI, acoustic respiration rate, oxygen saturation, perfusion index, and pulse rate) and how they relate to each other to provide a single numerical indication of a patient’s overall health status. We are calling this new parameter the HALO Index because we believe it will provide an additional safeguard to help protect patients from unrecognized deterioration.

What is your specific role in moving this project/research forward?

I am the engineering visionary leader and initial creator of the overall project. I lead the algorithm, testing and evaluation initiatives that will bring this product to commercial markets.

What would be the most successful outcome of your work, and what impact would it have on how we live?

We expect the impact of the HALO Index to be critically important as clinicians and health care facilities increasingly look for ways to assess, detect, diagnose, and treat patients easier and faster than they can do today. Ultimately, HALO one day may allow clinicians to predict problems before they manifest so clinicians can treat patients before the patient enters the danger zone.

What about this project is important to you personally? What is the very best part of your job – when do you feel the most satisfaction?

HALO is personally important to me because the idea came to me from a conversation I had with my good friend Dr. Jeremy Swan, (late chairman emeritus of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Division of Cardiology and a co-inventor of the Swan-Ganz heart catheter) who said the ability to quickly glance at a patient and see that their condition was either green (good), yellow (cautious), or red (danger) would be of tremendous benefit to all medical care providers. Dr. Swan has passed away, but his dream became my dream. The best part of my job is when I hear that our engineering breakthroughs have saved lives and changed the outcomes of patients for the better. Masimo’s innovations are saving lives and helping to transform the practice of medicine in ways most people thought were impossible.

Why did you choose this career?

I chose medical technology as a career because I wanted to make a contribution to society by helping people live better lives and thrive in good health. Unlike the defense industry, or even the software or semiconductor industries, medical technology engineering has an immediate and direct reward because we can develop solutions that save and improve lives.

Who or what inspired you to study in your field?

My inspiration came from my Dad, who was an electrical engineer, and my Mom, who was a nurse. They planted the seeds of passion for engineering and medical technology in me as a child. Then in college, professor Fred Harris at San Diego State University ignited a fire in me to pursue the most complex engineering challenges and problems because he had such a natural ability to make complex issues easy to understand.

What makes you particularly well-suited to this work?

I have a strong sense of curiosity, a passion for mathematics and a great ability to look beyond what others think is possible to bring impossible solutions to life.

Where did you go to college? What degrees do you have?

San Diego State University: B.S.E.E. and an M.S.E.E. degree.

During high school and college, which courses helped best prepare you for your current position?

In high school, it was math, calculus, and social science. At SDSU, there were a few courses that really armed me with the knowledge and ability to tackle the world’s most challenging medical conundrums. My adaptive signal processing classes with professor Harris opened my mind to what is technically possible and to how engineering algorithms could extract signals out of “in-band noise.” My technical writing class prepared me to effectively communicate processes and ideas in the simplest way, and my anthropology, philosophy and sociology classes gave me a better understanding of people and what matters.

What is the best advice that has helped you further your career? What advice would you give, particularly to the student who may think math, science or engineering is “too hard” for him or her?

Invention is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. I echo that statement and add that you need to find what you are passionate about and work hard at it. Also you need to get the work done first. If you get the work out of the way, then whether you have just 30 minutes or six hours left for play, you will enjoy it much more than if you left your work unfinished and just skipped out to play. Practice makes perfect! Math and science are no harder than learning to walk; it just takes courage and practice. Keep practicing, and math and science will become as easy as putting your right foot in front of your left!





They’re in this together


They’re in this together   October 25, 2011


Teachers can’t educate children alone, but they can help show parents the way. A positive attitude is important both at home and in the classroom.

It was an action so out of sync with the school system’s typical bureaucratic plodding, I had to read the news story a few times to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood what happened.

Los Angeles Unified school Supt. John Deasy had fired a teacher for a public diatribe against Jews.

There was no hearing, no hand-wringing, no consultation with union leaders.

The teacher, a substitute with a day-to-day contract, was terminated after she declared, in an interview that had gone viral on YouTube, that “Zionist Jews … need to be run out of this country.”

Deasy’s action is a sign he takes seriously the notion that attitude influences teaching: If you’ve written off an entire group as “problem” people, you might have a hard time giving your best in the classroom to those people.

Unfortunately, that same kind of prejudice was reflected in emails I received from educators that same week, after my column about the latest district initiative to improve the academic performance of black and Latino students.

  • “Most black parents don’t care about their children.”
  • “The Mexican kids don’t want to learn.”
  • “The Asians are the only ones willing to work.”

The comments were larded with stereotypes. Many were from well-meaning teachers, who seemed trapped in a thicket of racial, economic and cultural issues.

There are cultural differences that skew student achievement, and many of those probably play out in their classes. That’s an uncomfortable conversation, but one we need to have. I’ll get to that in an upcoming column.

What bothered me most was the bottom line of many of those teacher emails: Students succeed, or fail, not because of what happens in class, but because of how good their parents are.

From the message of a “lifelong teacher and administrator [whose] specialty is difficult schools and challenging kids”:

“Why doesn’t anyone want to put the blame where it belongs for poor performance by kids of ANY color? It’s parenting. Period. HORRIBLE parenting that raises kids with … no moral or spiritual values, no manners, no work ethic and a built-in sense of victimization and entitlement.”

And who deserves the credit for those students “who have been able to get good educations and become successful members of society? It’s their families — their parents,” he said.

That’s a teacher suggesting to me that what goes on in class is meaningless.

Deasy isn’t buying the argument that parenting is destiny. Neither is poverty, or race or language fluency.

“I respect that you can have that opinion as a teacher, but maybe you’d better work in some other place, like Beverly Hills,” he said. “We can’t afford that in LAUSD.”

The teachers say their views are born of experience.

“There is no magic bullet to teach mostly minority and poor, unmotivated and unprepared students,” said a former teacher at Jordan High in Watts. “Successful students come from homes where parents provided a rich educational experience.”

Maybe it’s a sign of surrender by teachers fed up, as one retiree said, “with all the ‘scripted’ lessons and overemphasis on testing.” Or a cop-out in an era of increasing teacher accountability.

To me it seems like another example of how low expectations usher in failure. If you don’t believe you can make a difference, how far will you go to reach those kids? If you never see or hear from students’ parents, do you add them to the lost column?

It’s undeniable that parents contribute mightily to their children’s success in school. And it’s unfair to expect a high school teacher, who might have 150 students or more, to undo years of parental neglect and point a failing kid toward Harvard.

Still, it surprised me to hear so many teachers denigrate their own contributions. One of the best lessons I ever received came from my oldest daughter’s first-grade teacher — a homework assignment for parents before the first work sheet ever came home:

Arrange one spot in your home for homework. Equip it with glue, pencils, crayon, scissors. Set up one time of day, every day. And check in with your child to make sure it’s done.

I might not have known that something so basic could be so important. Even now, 20 years later, a college student is doing homework almost every night at our designated spot, the kitchen table.

It’s the routine, the discipline, the expectation that the child will devote a part of the day, outside of school, to education. That structure is foreign to some parents. But teachers can help them overcome that.

Listen to Chris Damore, a Fullerton teacher, who is exasperated with the teacher-bashing and believes that we ought to “hold parents accountable for the lives they brought into this world.”

That means becoming their teachers as well. “I ask three simple things of my parents each year,” Damore said.

“Read with your child every night, make sure they learn their times tables, get homework back to school the next day. I’ve had parents with a fourth-grade education from Mexico fulfill this simple request, and I’ve had parents with college degrees ignore it.”

Last year, 21 of Damore’s 25 third-graders scored “proficient” in math. “Without exception, every one of those had parents who made sure they learned their times tables by December at the latest.” Even if those parents didn’t know 6 times 7 themselves.

Can teachers educate children alone? No.

But they can help show parents the way by spelling out responsibilities, sharing high expectations and not giving any student a pass on account of race or poverty.