Sunday, November 04, 2012

President Obama II

In an analysis of the electoral college vote it looks clear that Obama will win the Presidential election (see here). This is also the view of the Romney camp, who have taking to deceit and deception as the flay around the swing States in the hope of upsetting the trend. While reporters continue to suggest it’s a “knife edge” (they have to sell advertising), the momentum is with the President.

But so what? The challenges to be faced are quite enormous. Aside from the continuing challenges in restoring sanity to New York and New Jersey and the ongoing foreign affairs issues – Iran being the most pressing – what should the President focus on?

The single biggest issue is education. The US education system (K-12) is in peril. Teachers are demoralized, many trustees have lost the plot and the Secretary of State, Arnie Duncan, is an advocate of the global education reform movement (GERM). He sees standardized testing, core curriculum, teacher accountability, more assessment of students for learning and key investments in technology as “the answer”. But what is the question?

The key issue is the demoralization of teachers and the lack of investment in their professional development and education. A great school is about great teaching. Teachers should be driving the agenda and deciding how students will be engaged in their learning and designing appropriate pedagogy, not trustees and certainly not corporations. But teachers are increasingly demonized in US education and are “blamed” for the failure of the system.

The next President, unlike the current one, needs to put teachers at the heart of education.

A second issue that the next President needs to deal with is the broken process known as decision making in Congress. Congress needs an overhaul. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work under the last two Presidents. This may be about the President himself – Romney claims he is genuinely bipartisan (if you agree with him, that is). But the reality is that the processes of Congress are broken – business process re-engineering is needed to fix it.

A third thing that the next President needs to work on is the economy. The world needs America to be a thriving and growing economy. It currently is growing, albeit modestly, and this is good. But the engine of the worlds economy needs to be growing at 2-3% for the world to function as an effective economic engine. To do this Obama needs to push for substantial growth of the energy sector, especially shale gas, and to signal his intention to reduce the regulatory burden on energy suppliers while at the same time supporting measures aimed at environmental protection.

He also needs to signal an end to uncertainty about carbon taxes and carbon policies. There is no compelling evidence that the earth’s climate is changing to an extent that causes significant policy concerns and there is even less evidence and certainty about the role of CO2 in climate. To hinder economic growth on an unproven theory seems, well, silly. The energy spent on this topic would better be spent on budget work – securing fiscal control, reducing spending and refocusing the work of a great many public services.

Finally, the President needs to look at the extent to which health care in the US delivers value to those who need it most. Health care will continue to challenge all developed economies, no matter what the business model for delivery looks like. But the US spends more and gets less than most. A part of the reason for this is the fact that market economies for health services are problematic but the major part of this is the lack of personal responsibility for health taking by US citizens. Health is not a matter of insurance, it is a matter of working personally for wellness.

I don’t envy the winner of Tuesday’s election. I don’t envy any politician. I do think we should pay attention. It seems to me that what happens in the US matters to us all.

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