Snow Storms and Shit Storms

Well, I made it back from a few days Inside the Beltway. But just barely. I managed to be on the last flight yesterday afternoon that left Reagan National for Cleveland — and that happened as a snow storm started to make its way through the DC area.

The good citizens of the nation’s capital were on high alert and in full panic mode. Even before the first snowflake managed to touch terra firma, the federal government announced it was calling it a day some two hours early, triggering just about every other business to close early as well.Woot.

If the Founding Fathers had established the capital in, let’s say Cleveland, it would today be a Tea Party wet dream. The federal government would be closed for about three months a year. Oops. I digress.

Anyway, the forecast of snow sure got people moving in a hurry. Wonder if we’ll see the same kind of action in coming weeks and months on the main points that Prez O outlined in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: education, jobs, innovation and government reform.

Here’s from a NYT article:

“We need to out-innovate, outeducate and outbuild the rest of the world,” he said. “We have to make America the best place on earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper.”

OK. Now that Date Night is history — and no, I never heard from Kirsten Gillibrand or Steny Hoyer — let’s see if members of Congress and the administration are still riding as Howard Fineman calls it the “Love Train.” An excerpt:

It wasn’t Kumbaya, it was more. We have finally witnessed it: a “Love Train” Moment in the capital.

The president almost made John Boehner cry by praising him as a working class hero. That was to be expected. But in his tour-de-force of good fellowship Tuesday night, Barack Obama went further.

For an hour or so, he shrewdly (and in his own interest) ended the anger of our politics, even though he had been a full-throated participant in some of its mayhem minutes in the last two years.

Instead, when he was done delivering his feel-good, oh-so-sensible and sotto voce State of the Union address, I expected the sound system in the House to begin blasting the O’Jays’ classic–and to see the members dancing in a conga line in the aisles, Coors Light in hand.

Well, while the conga line was forming in Congress, there are still millions of Americans standing in unemployment lines. Clearly, creating jobs is now job one for the administration and Congress — and for the business community that is the engine of job growth, not government.

But in the long run we are facing an economic and political shit storm unless we figure out ways to improve education in this country at all levels.

Here’s an interesting perspective in WaPo from George Will, “Getting American students to find the goal posts of success“:

“Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don’t improve.”

– Norman R. Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin

Will: What America needs, says one American parent, is more parents who resemble South Korean parents. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 46, a father of a third-grader and a first-grader, recalls the answer Barack Obama got when he asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, “What is the biggest education challenge you have?” Lee answered: “Parents are too demanding.” They want their children to start learning English in first rather than second grade. Only 25 percent of U.S. elementary schools offer any foreign-language instruction.

Too many American parents, Duncan says, have “cognitive dissonance” concerning primary and secondary schools: They think their children’s schools are fine, and that schools that are not fine are irredeemable. This, Duncan says, is a recipe for “stasis” and “insidious paralysis.” He attempts to impart motion by puncturing complacency and picturing the payoff from excellence.

He notes that 75 percent of young Americans would be unable to enlist in the military for reasons physical (usually obesity), moral (criminal records) or academic (no high school diploma). A quarter of all ninth-graders will not graduate in four years. Among the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, only four (Mexico, Spain, Turkey and New Zealand) have dropout rates higher than America’s, whose 15-year-olds ranked 23rd in math and 25th in science in 2006. Canadians that age were more than a school year ahead of their American counterparts; Koreans and Finns were up to two years ahead. Within America, the achievement gaps separating white students from blacks and Hispanics portend (according to a McKinsey & Co. study) “the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”

We need to invest in education — and in teachers — with the urgency of federal employees and others Inside the Beltway fretting over a snow storm.

Otherwise, we’re facing a shit storm in our efforts to create millions of quality jobs, compete with other nations in what is a global economy, and maintain our economic prosperity.

Just sayin’.

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