Monday, March 14, 2011

Obsession With Bumper-Sticker Problem Solving

A decade ago a friend, who happens to be a member of the Republican Party and at the time an elected official, joked with me after some of his peers blew off some data-based conclusions and proposals.

“Too many of us Republicans,” he told me, “are obsessed with bumper-sticker problems that lead to simplistic bumper-sticker solutions.”

He went on to clarify that he wasn’t literally referring to bumper stickers. He was using the term in reference to how many people tend to short-hand complicated issues around a simplistic anecdote.

He may have been referring to the apparent anger-fix many seem to get today by demonizing terms such as public sector pensions or collective bargaining, new fence requirements for swimming pools, tenure or EPA standards.

I think that’s what Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks meant when he cautioned lawmakers two weeks ago to budget cut wisely not stupidly and to “never cut without evaluation.” Well worth a read if you missed it.

Washington State Democratic governor’s approach of sitting down with her unions to identify cuts seems to follow that advice, while the Wisconsin Republican governor’s union-busting approach appears to do little to erase his state’s budget deficit.Bringing School Home

Similar cuts to the Environmental Agency seem vindictive and in Brooks’ words “stupid.”

“Teacher tenure” is another bumper sticker currently being used to focus anger and finger-pointing even though the teacher’s union has called for better evaluations and a return to the original purpose of tenure.

I just now got around to reading the results of the 2010 report based on responses by 40,000 of America’s elementary, middle and high school teachers to a blind questionnaire on how best to improve student achievement. Wow, talk about an “evaluation” lawmakers should read.

Imagine that: ask teachers how to improve schools, what a novel concept! As you might expect, it was funded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (hats off to Melinda’s alma mater for just bringing a record 19th ACC Tournament Championship back to Durham, as victors over rival UNC-Chapel Hill 75 to 58 and being positioned as #1 seed for the NCAA tournament.)

The results of the survey also linked above are loaded with graphics to aid non-readers, which unfortunately describes many are who are obsessed with bumper-sticker problems and solutions.

Click on the infographic shown earlier in this blog that illustrates a handful of the results or click here. How’s that for a “bumper-sticker” summary?

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