Thursday, December 23, 2010

Meeting: Detroit Metropolitan International Airport (Regional Green Initiative 2011)

Meeting: Casey Sobczyk to discuss MMSTC participation in project.

Next Steps, etc.  *Mr. Sobczyk will discuss possibilities-thinking with various Warren Consolidated Schools and MMSTC thought-leaders with the intention of attending a meeting in late January 2011

Monday, October 25, 2010

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious: A 21st Century Gap-Analysis (Fast Forward: The Urgency of the True Emergency)

While the abject failure conversation/debate of our U.S. 20th Century Education Model rages on, a real-world 21st Century Global Competitiveness conundrum emerges. Conclusion: Find the Sweet-Spot!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

MasTech (Windspire Update)


Turbine makers run into turbulence from China on shipments, pricing

   Consuelo McNamara and her son Mark didn’t expect to be caught in the crossfire of U.S.-China trade tensions when they went to work last year for wind turbine manufacturer MasTech in Manistee.
   Clean energy was the industry of the future. Manistee County Commissioners expected MasTech to create 120 jobs by 2011 when they approved a $400,000 grant for the company in 2008.
   Two years later, MasTech employs 15 people, down from 35 a year ago. An escalating battle over China’s trade practices disrupted shipments of rare earth minerals that American clean-energy companies need. The conflict forced MasTech to stop production altogether for 10 weeks this summer.
   “We had all the parts for the wind turbine except the magnets,” said Consuelo McNamara, who was laid off in July. While she continues looking for another job, her benefits from MasTech ran out Sept. 30.
   China controls more than 90% of the planet’s rare earth metals like the neodymium used in each turbine’s magnets.
   The United Steelworkers of America has complained to the World Trade Organization that China has illegally restricted exports of those minerals and offered other illegal subsidies to drive down costs for its own clean-energy industry. The policy is also driving up costs to compete in the U.S. The Obama administration is investigating the union’s petition and is to decide by January whether to join the WTO case.
   “We’re getting some magnets now, but at a hugely inflated price,” said Mas-Tech operations manager John Holcomb. “China certainly has the ability to use these restrictions as a weapon.”

RICK NEASE/Detroit Free Press
2009 photo by NICK TREMMEL/Special to the Free Press
   Joe Martin, an employee at MasTech Wind, assembles an armature plate for a wind turbine.

China’s threats hurt U.S. production

Supplies disrupted, parts prices rise

   China’s threat to limit or stop shipment of rare earth elements is dimming Michigan’s vision of clean-energy job growth, say manufacturers who have experienced supply disruptions and cost increases in recent months.
   “We get slaughtered daily by China sources of capacitors, diodes and switches,” said Lee Wyatt, president of AmpTech, which makes circuit boards for wind turbines and solar panels in Manistee and Beaver Falls, Pa.
   Down the road from Amp-Tech’s Manistee plant, Mas-Tech Manufacturing stopped production of its Windspire turbines for 10 weeks this summer because it could not secure a reliable supply of neodymium magnets.
   “Our volume has fallen from about 100 units a month to 50 units a month,” said John Holcomb, MasTech’s operations manager. “The inability to ship negatively affected demand. Now we’re trying to rebuild that demand.”
   MasTech’s up and running now with 15 people, less than half its year-ago level. Amp-Tech’s employment also has been cut in half to 80 over the last year, Wyatt said.
   Complaint weighed
   The Obama administration is deciding whether to join the United Steelworkers of America’s complaint to the World Trade Organization that China’s subsidies of clean-energy manufacturers and export restrictions on rare-earth minerals violate international trade rules.
   The minerals are obscure elements with tongue-twisting names like neodymium, gadolinium, cerium and praseodymium. They happen to be essential not just to wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries, but to guided missiles, iPhones and aluminum baseball bats.
   China blocked rare-earth mineral shipments to Japan last month after Japan detained the crew of a Chinese fishing trawler in the East China Sea. This past week, the New York Times reported that China halted shipments of 
some of those same materials to the U.S. and Europe, citing unnamed industry sources.
   While Chinese officials deny reports that it banned shipments to any country, Holcomb said he’s now paying $12.70 for each Chinese-sourced magnet, more than double the $5.35 he paid a year ago.
   Free trade advocates argue that there’s no difference between what China is doing to support its fledgling clean-energy industry and what the federal and state governments are doing in the U.S.
   The U.S. Department of Energy has offered billions of dollars of support to wind, solar and battery projects. States, including Michigan, have delivered 
generous tax incentives. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden this past week gave Gov. Jennifer Granholm the Order of the Polar Star for her work to promote clean energy.
   But those in the trenches say American politicians are cheerleading while China is putting points on the scoreboard.
   “It’s a question of scale,” said Martha Duggan, United Solar Ovonic’s vice president for government and regulatory affairs. “The numbers of programs and the amount of dollars the Chinese government is spending far outweighs anything the DOE and the State of Michigan are able to do.”
   Uneven subsidies
   China gave more than $216 billion to subsidize green technology in its economic stimulus package last year, according to the steelworkers union. That’s more than one-quarter of the entire U.S. stimulus 
package, most of which went to bail out banks, automakers and the over-leveraged insurance giant AIG.
   Peter Theut, CEO of Ann Arbor-based consulting firm China Bridge, urges trade officials from both countries to 
seek a compromise. Theut, who has negotiated joint venture agreements for dozens of American companies now competing in China, strongly supports free trade. But even he acknowledges that U.S. support for clean energy does not match China’s.
   “When China designates an industry as a ‘pillar’ of their economic strategy, we will never dominate that industry because they have made it sacrosanct,” Theut said.
   China requires that 70% of a wind farm’s material and parts come from domestic sources. Understandably, large Western manufacturers want to sell in China, too. Consequently, at least four major U.S. manufacturers moved production to China since the beginning of 2009, eliminating more than 580 American jobs, according to the Steelworkers’ complaint.
   Then there’s the labor difference.
   AmpTech’s Wyatt said he can hire someone at $15 an hour, but after adding state and federal taxes, then mandated health care, that employee costs $30 an hour.
   “Over there your competitor is hiring someone who is 14 years old, usually female, whom he pays $4 a day and a bowl of rice,” Wyatt said. “So, yes, I am a conservative businessman who is very much in favor of a tariff or embargo so we can compete on a level basis.”

   John Holcomb, operations manager at Mastech Wind in Manistee, sits in front of a 1.2 kilowatt-per-hour wind turbine for residential use.
NICK TREMMEL/Special to the Free Press

   Jeff Johnson, an employee at Mastech Wind, uses a grinder to remove slag from foundation templates left by a plasma machine in July 2009. Production halted for 10 weeks this summer because of a magnet shortage.

   This is a magnetic bearing housing, which protects a round rare-earth magnet, for use in the Windspire wind turbine.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

CONTRAST: U.S. Education Conversation and Michigan Gubernatorial Understandings (Relevance Factor?)

Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010

Waiting for 'Superman': Education Reform Isn't Easy

In the midst of a panel discussion following the Washington premiere of the education documentary Waiting for "Superman" on Sept. 15, CNN's Roland Martin breathlessly told his followers on Twitter that Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, "says they are going to look at making change to teachers tenure in their contracts. THIS IS HUGE."
Martin isn't the only one caught up in the moment. Today, the enthusiasm among education reformers is palpable. And why not? This seems like an amazing time, with NBC hosting a big education summit across its various networks to kick off the school year, a president seemingly committed to bold reform, and a feature film, Waiting for "Superman," from a major studio — made by none other than the Oscar-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth(See "Fenty's Loss in D.C.: A Blow to Education Reform?")
Although the momentum seems unstoppable, don't pop the champagne or, worse, declare 'mission accomplished' just yet. Waiting for "Superman" is a hard-hitting documentary that lays bare many of America's education problems. But despite all the attention it's bringing to education, there are still more reasons to bet against reform than for it.
For starters, history doesn't offer much cause for optimism. This isn't the first time substantial reforms have seemed imminent. Education history is littered with big promises, national commissions and task forces, summits, and surprisingly little change. Two decades ago, when then-governor Clinton and the first President Bush gathered the nation's governors in Charlottesville, Va., reform seemed unstoppable. Some progress came out of it — it helped with the development of better state education standards — but it did not herald the revolution many were predicting at the time.
One reason for the slow pace of reform is because American public schools are fundamentally conservative — and because Americans are fundamentally conservative about their schools. In other words, the bias is strongly against change rather than for it, which explains why among parents, change is popular in theory but controversial in practice. (Affluent parents, for instance, support higher standards until those measures show that their public schools are not as good as they should be given the high property taxes these families are paying.) Although opposition to reform is often laid exclusively at the feet of the teachers' unions, it is actually a broader issue. (See pictures of a prestigious public boarding school in Washington.)
Of course, the unions obviously have a hand in today's debate, too. Although we like to think of teachers as a breed apart, their special interest groups — the two large national teachers' unions — are basically the same as any other special interest, and the politics just as brutal. In fact, combined, the two national teachers' unions spent more on federal campaign contributions than any other interest group from 1989 to 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that is just the national teachers unions, not the thousands of state and local ones. That adds up to a lot of money to keep various reforms at bay. And to keep various reformers at bay too. In Washington, for example, Politico reported that the American Federation of Teachers spent about $1 million in the run-up to last month's Democratic primary to help defeat Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had ushered in sweeping changes to the city's school district.
All this helps explain why John Wilson, executive director of the biggest teachers' union, the National Education Association, is nonplussed by Waiting for "Superman" and the slew of other education documentaries that have come out in recent months. "I think the films are a blip," he told the Sacramento Bee. "They will come and go, but the union will still be there, our members will still be in these schools." Sure, this may sound a little thuggish, but it's a political reality education reformers had better understand.
In American politics, concentrated special interests can do a lot to slow or thwart reform. Think about policy battles on issues as wide-ranging as energy, guns, tobacco, health care, the environment, or telecommunications and cable television. When it's the general interest pitted against an organized special interest, bet on the latter. (Comment on this story.)
In addition to the cultural and political entrenchment, the process of how funding gets allocated as well as how the various federal, state, and local rules constrain schools leaves surprisingly little room for innovation in education. Coupled with American education's anemic research and development infrastructure, the reality today is that we know a lot more about what does not work than about what does. For example, it's clear from abundant research that paying teachers only on the basis of their degrees and years of experience is not in the best interest of students or teachers. As the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy organization whose board of directors I chaired for several years, put it, "the evidence is conclusive that master's degrees do not make teachers more effective." Such clarity does not mean, however, that the reforms to fix these problems are obvious. The education field still has a lot to learn about how to effectively differentiate salary and incorporate elements like performance into compensation. (Watch TIME's video "Can Michelle Rhee Save Our Schools?")
Consequently, there will be a lot of trial and error along the way. Each failure provides critics with plenty of fodder and complicates the politics that much more. For example, when researchers at Vanderbilt University released a study in September showing no large improvements in student performance from a teacher merit pay pilot program, these findings were widely cited as definitive evidence of the folly of performance-based pay. But it was just one study of one program, hardly the last word. Meanwhile, the political debate about charter schools remains largely focused on the low-performing ones rather than what we can learn from those that are delivering transformative results.
So what's the takeaway? Certainly not that reformers should take their cue from Dante and call it quits. But they should realize the enormous work and time genuine reform will take. Building the capacity to deliver substantially improved education while simultaneously addressing the politics is an incredible two-front effort. Despite its promise and impressive accomplishments to date, the reform community is not yet prepared to do so at scale. Genuinely bold reformers are still more likely to lose elections than win them, and truly aggressive reform activity is still concentrated in relatively few places.
That's a problem because if there is a lesson from the last two years of education activity, it is that nothing happens absent tenacity and intense pressure for reform. Despite the rhetoric about changing teacher tenure, for example, Weingarten is still struggling to find a middle ground that satisfies her members and actually alters the reality in schools. Don't tell Roland Martin, but this past weekend there she was on CBS Sunday Morning, explaining why tenure isn't a problem anyway.
Andrew J. Rotherham, who writes the blog Eduwonk, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. School of Thought, his education column for, appears every Thursday.

Snyder’s plan
It’s time to get finances in order

School funding must stabilize, he says

   Businessman Rick Snyder says it’s time to stop making schools guess at how much money they’ll have each year.
   The Republican candidate for governor would stabilize school funding by cutting costs. He would have teachers pay more for health insurance and replace pensions with traditional 401(k)s for new teachers. He would require competitive bidding in school districts and look at more consolidation and sharing of services.
   “We need to be more cost-efficient,” Snyder said. “I’m not sure we can afford the system we have today.”
   He also would push for school districts to pool all their insurance needs into one pot, in order to get better rates.
   Snyder said he knows it could be tough to force changes to teachers’ benefits without cooperation from unions, in particular the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
   Many Michigan districts have health insurance through the MEA’s insurance arm, and the union has typically fought to keep it that way.
   But, “it’s a subject we need to have on the table,” Snyder said.
   Snyder said he believes his plan can save between 
$743 million and $1.11 billion: $87 million through pension reform; $156 million to $223 million through insurance reform; $200 million to $500 million through more competitive bidding, and $300 million through more consolidation and service sharing.
   Competitive bidding is already happening in many districts, but Snyder said he’d like to see it expanded. That doesn’t necessarily mean privatizing, he said.
   Instead, school districts could bid on contracts from other districts — to provide busing, for example.
   Snyder said he’d also push for consolidating across districts more services such as business functions, payroll or
curriculum planning.
   He said he’d also hold schools accountable for the quality of the education they are producing, while rewarding teachers for their success.
   “Shouldn’t we be able to do an analysis of what are the successful schools, the successful teachers?” Snyder asked.
   He said he wants to use data to find out what successful districts are doing, and how it can be replicated in others. Student test scores would be part of that data, but he said teachers should not be measured by scores alone.
   “Too often, we view measurement systems as a way to penalize people. I happen to see it as a way to reward success,” Snyder said.
   Snyder said he believes successful educators should be rewarded for success with some sort of pay for performance, or merit pay. He is not specific about how this would work, but he said merit pay, often a red flag to the unions, should go to the entire school instead of individual teachers. School-wide merit pay is much more palatable to union officials.
   “These are tough questions that we need to address, in terms of getting them on the table,” Snyder said.
Republican Rick Snyder says he’d push for more consolidation for school districts. “We need to be more cost-efficient,” he said. “I’m not sure we can afford the system we have today.”

CARLOS OSORIO/Associated Press

Bernero’s plan
It’s all about student success

Communities part of the solution, he says

   Students convicted of crimes may need to finish high school to get out of jail if Virg Bernero becomes governor. That’s just one of the ideas he has for improving education for Michigan children, outlined in his plan, Education is Economic Development.
   Making sure those kids have a diploma is not only better for the economy, but it’s also one of the best ways to avoid repeat offenders, Bernero said. A criminal record makes it hard to get a job, and a diploma could put them one step closer to getting hired.
   And Bernero said there are steps that can be taken now to keep those students out of jail — changing suspension policies, for instance. The solution right now is often kicking kids out of school, but that doesn’t solve the problem, it just encourages kids to drop out, Bernero said.
   Education would be better served if all schools used in-school 
suspensions. If in-school suspension doesn’t work, he would then send the student to what he calls right-track academies to turn the kids around.
   “If you do two things, if you discipline in a serious way and do an all-out assault on the dropout rate, that alone would bring a sea change to schools,” Bernero said. “I intend to lead the assault for the dropout rate and an extension of that, I very likely will lead community involvement in the schools.”
   While his plan is filled with his own ideas for fixing schools — including universal preschool and all-day kindergarten — Bernero said he also wants to make the community 
a part of the solution.
   “I want to build a system that allows for creativity and local ingenuity, that empowers the district so we let them know that failure is not an option,” Bernero said.
   His school reform would begin with “getting into these schools and talking to the teachers, doing some interviews, talking to parents, to see what’s going on.”
   Bernero’s interest in addressing education issues is spurred in part by his wife, Teri Bernero, principal of Lewton Elementary School in Lansing. The Democratic candidate also said it’s time to stop pummeling schools with costly, unfunded government 
mandates, such as annual reports on test scores and documentation for how government funding is spent — work that takes time that could better be focused on education.
   Let educators have a say in what’s needed to fix schools because they’re the ones who really know what’s going on inside the classroom, he said.
   He also would expand vocational education and career training. All students do not graduate from college, he said, but all Michigan students need to be able to get a decent job.
   Like his opponent, Rick Snyder, he also wants to fix school funding and, if elected, plans to create a statewide task force to address the issue.
   One area that would help save money, he said, is in consolidating duplicative services throughout each county, such as busing or payroll. Many services could be streamlined and run by county intermediate school districts.
   “Let’s get real about education funding,” Bernero said.
Democrat Virg Bernero says his reform would start with talking to teachers and parents. “I want to build a system that … empowers the district so we let them know that failure is not an option,” he said.

CARLOS OSORIO/Associated Press