Thursday, March 27, 2014

Railing On About Keystone XL

I don't believe that I can think of any public policy decision in my lifetime that should be easier to make than approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

And yet it has been debated, deferred, delayed and deliberated on by the Obama administration for more than five years.

Let's review a list of just a few of the advantages of building the pipeline.

1. It would create thousands of new jobs.
2. It would provide enhance energy security for the United States.
3. It would promote economic growth.
4. It would ensure a continuing supply of low cost energy to the United States.
5. It would enhance our national security through enhanced energy security
6. It would benefit us from a geopolitical perspective (Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East).
7. It would benefit us environmentally.

The environment?  How could that be? I am sure you have heard that is why President Obama has held up the pipeline.

However, the oil that would flow through that pipeline is already being shipped into the United States from the oil rich sands of Western Canada and to other regions of the country from the Bakken formation in North Dakota. It just is being transported in rail cars rather than through a pipeline.

Consider the growth in oil being transported in the United States by rail carloads over the last few years.

What is troubling about this from an environmental perspective is that only 15% of the 92,000 DOT-111 tank cars in use meet current federal safety standards according to Business Insurance magazine.

The chances of an oil spill occurring through a train derailment also are much higher than having a similar incident with a pipeline.  The Manhattan Institute analyzed years of data and found that incidents involving trains occurred about three times as often as pipeline per billion ton miles shipped per year.

The Manhattan Institute study also found that there are fewer fatalities and injuries for operators and the general public when transporting oil and other hazardous materials via pipeline as compared to rail.  Therefore, it is difficult to see the environmental concerns with the pipeline.

Lac-Magantic, Quebec Oil Train Derailment and Explosion, July, 2013
The reality is that President Obama's indecision on the Keystone XL Pipeline is really a decision for increased oil shipments by rail as well as a decision to ignore North American sources of energy to the detriment of the American economy.  The oil will flow--one way or the other.  It will move by truck or rail if it does not flow by pipleine.  It will also power the economies of  China, Japan or Europe if it is diverted away from the United States.  To believe otherwise is putting one's head firmly in the tar sands of Western Canada.

I am continually amazed at how short-sighted and narrow minded the minds of liberals are.

This seems to be another example of what I wrote about in Seen and Unseen.

Democrats and liberals favor policy solutions based on how they think the world should work in theory. Republicans and conservatives support policies based on how the world really works in practice.

Liberals don't like oil and coal because they think they are dirty and they defile the environment. However, they also like their hair dryers, iPads and electric cars and they all need energy to make them work.  Solar and wind farms can't do the job.  And they are ugly as well if they are in your backyard.

Liberals also generally confine themselves solely to visible effects when they consider issues.  They seem to consider only first-level effects and ignore everything else that might flow from that.   They live in a simple, superficial, single dimension universe. All of their focus is on what they see right in front of them. They ignore the unseen issues.

Therefore, they oppose a pipeline for environmental reasons even though the environment will be at far greater risk when oil is being transported by rail than it would be from the pipeline they oppose.  They also totally ignore all the other positive benefits to their country, the economy and their fellow citizens from that pipeline.

I could rail on but I won't.  There is enough railing going on.  When will President Obama realize it? At some point he needs to start Putin putting the best interests of the United States of America first and forget appeasing the liberal loons who oppose Keystone XL.  How long do we have to wait? Will Putin force him to finally do it?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Public Sector Unions, Politicians and the Public Interest

If you want to see a simple graphical image of the influence of public sector unions, and their significant impact on state and local government spending (and the taxes you pay), cast your eyes (if you can bear to look) on the chart below.

I came across this data in a recent issue of Employee Benefit News which was comparing the hourly cost of various employee benefit programs.

Several observations from the data.

Total compensation for the public sector is 36% higher than in the private sector.

Health insurance costs for the public sector are 87% higher than in the private sector.

Retirement costs for the public sector are 159% higher than in the private sector.

Cash compensation for the public sector is is 23% higher than in the private sector. This runs counter to the argument that we often hear that public sector employee benefits are better than the private sector benefits to compensate for lower salaries and hourly wages.

It is simply not sustainable to have public sector employees receive this much more in wages and benefits than the private sector workers who pay the taxes who foot the bill for these government workers.

We saw an extreme case of what happens when all balance is lost in the case of the city of Detroit.  The public sector can never seem to adjust to circumstances as it needs to.  However, it becomes almost impossible in any local or state government controlled by Democrats who are beholden to public sector unions due to the political contributions they receive from those union dues.

If we are going to restore fiscal sanity in this country the huge disparity between private and public sector benefits programs is going to have to be at the top of the list.  The immense power that the public unions hold will not be easily reversed.  However, it must occur if there is any hope for many city, county and state budgets.

Democrats are in the best position to effect this reform since they control most of the political offices in the big cities and states (Illinois, California, etc) that have the biggest budget problems (that is surely just a coincidence!).

It is important to remember that there is no real legal or economic reason for the very existence of a public sector union in the first place.  In fact, liberal luminaries in the 1930's such as Franklin D.Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia were opposed to public sector unionism for the simple reason that it threatened the broad needs of the citizenry.  That is why it was illegal for most government employees to unionize until well into the 1970's.  

The historical basis for unions in the private sector is based on insuring a balance of power to insure that workers receive a reasonable share of profits and work in safe and sanitary conditions. Governments don't make profits to share. They only levy taxes. In addition, has anyone ever heard of a government worker working in a sweat shop? They also work in a monopoly situation meaning that if they provide poor service, no service or strike there is no corresponding power by the consumer to go elsewhere as there is with a private sector business that is unionized.

In addition, in the private sector, unions are balanced against managers who have a natural incentive to push back on union demands. In the public sector no such tensions exists. More often than not the elected officials on the other side of the bargaining table are incentivized to give in to the unions for their own political survival,  Those politicians often know that they would not have been elected (nor will they be reelected) without that public sector union money flowing into their campaign coffers.

Why did the Democrats change their views about public sector unions? In a word, MONEY.

Beginning in the early 1960's the Democrats decided that the political advantage of having the political and fundraising power of these unions behind them outweighed any concerns about taxpayers and the broader citizenry.

Since the Democrats got us into this mess they are in the best position to get us out of it. Much like it was easier for Nixon to open up relations with China, Reagan to begin nuclear disarmament talks with the Russians or Clinton to sign welfare reform legislation.

However, if the Democrats are unwilling or unable to do initiate the change, the voters may increasingly look to the Republicans to do it.  We have already seen this in Wisconsin, Indiana and some other states.

An interesting test of this idea looks to be coming up in Illinois this Fall where wealthy, former private equity executive Bruce Rauner won the Republican nomination for Governor.

The centerpiece of Rauner's campaign was a vow to take on the "government union bosses".  Labor groups spent heavily against him during the primary and will be going after him with millions more in the Fall.  There is no state in the union where the public sector unions hold more sway than in Illinois.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I don't know how the needed balance will be restored to the system.  All I know is that it will occur.  A system in which the takers end up with more than the makers will eventually fail. We can control the consequences or we can face the chaos when it crumbles. The choice is ours. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Assessing The SAT Changes

I know a little about standardized tests.  Over the years I have taken the PSAT, the SAT, the ACT, the LSAT, a Bar Exam (including the multi-state portion) and the CPA exam.  I can't say it was ever an enjoyable experience but I understand the necessity of standardized examinations.  Some objective method is necessary to put everyone on the same plane to determine the relative capability and preparedness of people from various locations and locales.

It is a bit like the NCAA basketball tournament or the U.S Open golf tournament.  You might think you    are hot stuff in your own world but how do you stack up on the same court or the same course with others that are outside your immediate orbit?

All of this came to mind as I saw that the College Board announced last week that it is introducing a new SAT due in the spring of 2016.  The stated reason for the change in the test's components is to more accurately track what students learn in school and to focus more tightly on a few key concepts.

David Coleman, the President of the College Board, explained it this way.

"It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become far too disconnected from the work of our high schools.  We aim to offer worthy challenge, not artificial obstacles".

Part of the change also clearly relates to concern by the College Board on the growing business in expensive test-prep courses that some say provides an advantage to students from more affluent backgrounds.  They argue that the SAT has outlived its usefulness and it no longer can be relied on to predict future college success (if it ever did).

I thought that was an interesting comment especially considering what I know about the history of the SAT.

The SAT gained real credence beginning in the early 1930's when James B. Conant (interesting tidbit-when I was in the 6th grade in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, I attended James B. Conant Elementary School), the President of Harvard, initiated a new scholarship program for academically gifted boys who did not attend the Eastern boarding schools which were the traditional pipeline to the Ivy League. He wanted to reach out for overlooked talent who did not have the advantages of the well-heeled prepsters.

Conant was looking for those students in places such as Nebraska or Mississippi or Idaho who had the raw ability to compete at Harvard even though they might not have had access to a quality high school education.  He liked the SAT because he thought it measured pure intelligence rather than what was taught (or not taught) in a particular high school.  That is why the SAT originally was the acronym for "Scholastic Aptitude Test".  It later became the Scholastic Assessment Test and it now is marketed simply as the SAT with no indication whether it is testing for aptitude or assessment.

Of course, the only reason the SAT (or any other standardized test) should be given consideration is if it  can assist in separating the wheat from the chaff.  How do I determine which student is better prepared for college and beyond-the "A" student from the Choate School, Chillicothe, Ohio or South Central LA?  Can it reliably predict college success?

The SAT seems to be making the changes in its testing concepts because more and more colleges (and students and parents) question that underlying principle. In fact, the SAT has consistently lost ground compared to the ACT in the college admissions testing space where the ACT now is the more popular test.  I would like to think that all the SAT changes are about getting a better answer to my question above but I can't help but wonder if this chart ( and the money from all those potential test takers) is also a major motivating factor in the College Board's decision.

In doing my research on the SAT issue I also came across what I thought was a most  interesting factoid involving the question of college preparedness.

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that between 1972 and 2009 low-income high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college increased from 23% to 55%.  However, their overall college graduation rate (by age 24) only increased from 7% to 8%.

This tells me that there are many high school students today who are ill-prepared for college but are attending anyway.  A large part of the reason is much greater access to grants, scholarships and student loans.  Especially, student loans.  However, as I have written before, is all of this money being thrown at these kids in their best long-term interest?  See "Student Debt Disaster" and "Degrees in Debt" and "Will History Be Kind To Millennials?"

If the SAT changes will assist in improving the ability of colleges (and students) to better assess the potential of someone to be successful in college it will be a very positive change.  If it is being changed due to the competitive pressures of the ACT and the almighty dollar we should be concerned.  Along these lines I found this comment from Villanova University professor Edward Fierros on the changes to the SAT to be a little troubling where he cites the coming demographic shift in college-age students over the next few years.

"Colleges and universities are mindful of this demographic shift in college-going students, and are expanding and adapting their admissions requirements to accept students that may not have the 'required' SAT or ACT scores,” he says.

This map shows the projected change in high school graduates between 2008-9 and 2019-20.  Most states will be experiencing a decline in high school graduates thereby putting increased pressure on colleges to put people in their seats to pay tuition.

Credit:Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

Is the new SAT test change we can believe in or is it just another example of the dumbing down of America?  I hope for the former but I fear the latter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Millennial Madness

From time to time I speak to groups of young people about the importance of financial planning and investing for their futures.

I spend a good deal of time on the power of compound returns in these talks and I include historical background data so that they can fully understand that power.

For example, I point out that $1,000 invested in the S&P 500 in 1980 would have grown to over $84,000 by 2013.  An investment in small cap stocks would be worth around $150,000 by now.

My point to the young is that time is their greatest asset.  However, in order to take advantage of that time advantage they need to be focused on their future.  They need to believe that the future will be bright and present many new opportunities.

However, as I give my talks I am increasingly finding that many young people don't seem to believe it. They seem to think that the best times are behind them.  They don't seem to think that the future holds the same potential for innovation, invention and investment for wealth creation as we have seen in the past.

I explained to them that they could not be further offbase. History has shown that innovation accelerates over time.  The first innovation in a new area is very hard.  For example, look at how long it took for man to figure out to fly.  However, once the Wright Brothers made the essential breakthrough on powered flight, things evolved very quickly.  For example, could Orville and Wilbur have imagined jet flight within a mere 50 years and a man on the moon within 70 years of their invention?

I have absolutely no doubt that human beings that are free to imagine and innovate will continually astound and amaze us.  However, that will only happen if people have the freedom to achieve.  How much innovation is occurring in Venezuela right now?  Or in North Korea?

Thus, the only doubts that the young in this country should have about the future is the extent that government might interfere with the freedom we have traditionally enjoyed in the private sector and the share of the nation's future wealth the public sector may require to meet its future spending requirements.

It is with this perspective that I wrote the blog post, "Will History Be Kind To Millennials" a little over a year ago.  With my experiences in speaking to young people recently I thought I would let you read it again.  The reality is that the policies of the Obama administration are in direct conflict with the self-interest of the Millennial generation.  However, in two consecutive elections this generational cohort voted against their self-interest. This voting behavior is unprecedented as groups never vote against their self-interest.  It looks like Millennial Madness to me.

Since Obamacare was implemented the madness should be even more apparent to Millennials. The reality is that they have done this to themselves.  Obama would not be in office without them.  Will they ever figure it out?  The clock is ticking.  Time will not be on their side much longer.

Will History Be Kind To Millennials? (originally posted 1/31/13)

When the history of the Obama era is written, I think one of the ironies that historians will focus on will be the level of support that younger voters provided for Obama that will clearly be seen as having been against their self-interest when viewed in the fullness of time.

Voters do not typically vote against their self-interests.  That is why the unions and government workers who believe in big government and big spending typically vote for Democrats.  It is also the reason that small business owners and investors who are concerned about high taxes and government regulations vote for Republicans.  It is why young voters in the Vietnam era voted for Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern and why generations of African-Americans voted for Republicans after the Civil War.

Obama carried two-thirds of voters aged 18-29 in 2008.  He carried this demographic with about 60 percent of the vote in 2012.  When you consider the following it is hard to understand why.

We know the obvious.  Over $4 trillion in national debt has been added in the Obama years.  The President's budgets over the next four years looks to be more of the same.  When Obama leaves office it looks as if these young voters will be inheriting at least $20 trillion in federal debt that they will have to pay for from future taxes.

The overall unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds in December, 2012 was 11.5%.  This is far worse than the 7.8% national rate.  The African-American unemployment rate was 22.1%.  12.2% of young Hispanics were unemployed.  These are all worse than four years ago when President Obama took office.

One of the more troubling graphs I have seen in a long time is this beauty that I found on  This chart shows the growth in federal loans to students from 1995 to 3Q, 2012.  Since President Obama has taken office these loans have increased by over 4-fold in four short years.

Please note that this is not the total of all student loans.  These are only the loans that the federal government has made.  Another $600 billion of loans are owed to private financial institutions.  Of course, a big reason that the federal loans to students have grown so rapidly is that in 2010 the federal government took over the guaranteed college loan program.

What I found even more incredible is that student loans are now the largest financial asset on the federal government's balance sheet as this chart from the Federal Reserve's "Flow of Funds" balance sheet shows.

Of course, the federal government does not have much in financial assets--only about $1.4 trillion--compared to its massive $16 trillion in direct balance sheet liabilities as measured by the current debt limit ceiling.

How good are these "assets" that the federal government is holding?  Take a look at these charts via Zero Hedge that show the percentage of 90+Day Delinquent Loans and the New Delinquent Student Loans from 2003 to 3Q2012.  Delinquencies are climbing even faster than the number of loans.

This is understandable considering the unemployment rate for younger people as well as the fact that so many college graduates (with large student loans) are underemployed.  In fact, a recent study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says that out of 41.7 million working college graduates, 48% of them-more than 20 million people, held jobs in 2010 that required less than a bachelor's degree.  37% of the college graduates were actually performing jobs that required no more than a high school diploma!

What kind of jobs are we talking about?

15% of taxi drivers were college graduates.  In 1970, only 1% of cab drivers were college grads.

25% of retail clerks were college graduates,  Less than 5% of clerks were in 1970.

5% of janitors have college degrees as do 18% of firemen.

You begin to see how those student loans can be difficult to repay with large numbers of young people unemployed and underemployed.

At the same time, President Obama seems to think that the answer to every economic problem we have centers solely around education.  Don't get me wrong, education is critically important.  However, education is an investment.  For that investment to produce a return it has to result in a good paying job.  An underperforming economy will quickly overwhelm a good education.  The last few years have proven that.

President Obama has always seemed to be challenged by economics.  He has spent a lot of time talking about increasing the supply of college students and providing more and more student loans.  However, he has done little in improving our economy and the supply of jobs.  The result is an over supply of college graduates when there is little demand for many of their skills.  This overbalance depresses wages for those that get jobs but it also means that college graduates ultimately take jobs from less-educated workers who then end up on the unemployment line. It is an ugly cycle of underemployment and unemployment.

I don't envy the future of our young people.  They are on the hook for $16 trillion and counting in federal debt.  They are the hook for many more trillions in public sector pension costs for state and local  workers.  They are on the hook for over $1 trillion in student loans that are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  More than 1 in 10 of them is unemployed and 1 in 2 is underemployed.  The poor economy and low interest rates are keeping millions of Baby Boomers in the workforce and blocking their career advancement.  They almost certainly will pay much more into Social Security and Medicare than they will ever get out of it or they will end up caring for Mom and Dad somewhere down the line.

However, almost 2 out of every 3 of them has no one to blame but themselves.  They had a choice to make for their future but were more enthralled with "cool" than with "competent".

It is something I don't understand.  It is something that I don't think history will understand.  For the sake of their own future, I hope the so-called Millennial Generation will soon understand what is happening to them and demand real change.  It is their only real hope to create their own history. If not, they will just pay for ours.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Presidential Prevarications

It seems that to be a good politician one needs to be a master of prevarication.

It is difficult to become President of the United States without some distortions, equivocations, deceptions, fabrications or outright lies along the way.

A BeeLine reader recently sent me this in an email on Famous Presidential Prevarications which I thought was pretty telling.

Famous Presidential Lies 
Written by, To The Point News

·  We were attacked (in the Gulf of Tonkin )

·  I am not a crook

GHW Bush:
·  Read my lips - No New Taxes

·  I did not have sex with that woman... Miss Lewinski

GW Bush:
·  Iraq has weapons of mass destruction

·  I will have the most transparent administration in history.
·  The stimulus will fund shovel-ready jobs.
·  I am focused like a laser on creating jobs.
·  The IRS is not targeting anyone.
·  It was a spontaneous riot about a movie.
·  If I had a son.
·  I will put an end to the type of politics that "breeds division, conflict and cynicism".
·  You didn't build that!
·  I will restore trust in Government.
·  The Cambridge cops acted stupidly.
·  The public will have 5 days to look at every bill that lands on my desk
·  It's not my red line - it is the world's red line.
·  Whistle blowers will be protected in my administration. 
·  We got back every dime we used to rescue the banks and auto companies, with interest.
·  I am not spying on American citizens.
·  Obama Care will be good for America .
·  You can keep your family doctor.
·  Premiums will be lowered by $2500.
·  If you like it, you can keep your current healthcare plan.
·  It's just like shopping at Amazon.
·  I knew nothing about "Fast and Furious" gunrunning to Mexican drug cartels.
·  I knew nothing about IRS targeting conservative groups.
·  I knew nothing about what happened in Benghazi .
·  I have never known my uncle from Kenya who is in the country illegally and that was arrested and told to leave the country over 20 years ago.
·  And, I have never lived with that uncle.  He finally admitted (12-05-2013) that he DID know his uncle and that he DID live with him.

And the biggest one of all:
·  "I, Barrack Hussein Obama, pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America ."

I believe we have a winner!

Speaking of the last item on the list, I found it interesting that President Obama recently stated that he will veto the House bill passed today ("Enforce the Law Act") that is designed to push back against President's Obama unilateral acts intended to selectively enforce and circumvent the law.  We have seen this time and again by President Obama on issues such as immigration, marriage, and welfare rules, not to mention his signature legislative "achievement", Obamacare.  That law itself has been ignored, delayed or deferred over 20 times.

I must say that it takes an extraordinary amount of chutzpah for the President of the United States to state that he will veto a bill that merely seeks to get him to do his job.   If the law were to pass the Senate (highly unlikely with Harry Reid in charge right now but who knows comes January, 2015?) and the President actually vetoed the law we may find ourselves face to face with a real life constitutional crisis.

And all of this brought to us by a former "Professor of Constitutional Law" at the University of Chicago?  That is pretty scary indeed.

Another liberal constitutional professor of law, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, recently related his concerns to the House Judiciary Committee and urged Congress to reign in the power grab from the Executive Branch.  It does seem that there are few liberals left who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law.

“I believe we are now at a constitutional tipping point in our system,” Turley, who teaches law at George Washington University, said. “It’s a dangerous point for our system to be in, and I believe that your response has to begin before this president leaves office. No one in our system goes it alone.”
Turley noted that while he agrees with the president on most of his policies, it still “does not alter the fact that I believe the means he is doing is wrong” and that the continued acceleration of executive power can be “a dangerous change in our system.”
Turley flatly rejected the Obama administration’s reason for using more executive powers, which the president claims is a gridlocked Congress. “It is simply untrue that we’re living in very different or unprecedented times. The framers lived in these times,” Turley said, noting that back then Congress used the Alien and Sedition Act to arrest opponents and Thomas Jefferson referred to his opponents as the “reign of witches.”
“This is not a different political time, and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for extra-constitutional action,” Turley warned.

If you have not looked at the Constitution of the United States in awhile let me remind you of what it says.

Article I, Section 1. (the very first thing mentioned after the preamble)

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. 

What about the President?  His duties are outlined in Article II (that comes after I) and his dealings with Congress are more specifically referred to in Section 3 of that Article.

Article II, Section 3.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States. (my emphasis)

It is pretty simple.

The President can report information to Congress. He may convene and adjourn the legislative bodies. And he can recommend measures that he judges to be necessary and expedient that should be passed into law. That's it.  He has no authority or discretion to write his own laws or ignore laws on the books.

Once a law is passed he must faithfully execute the laws. That is his duty under the Constitution.

Which brings us to ...

Article II, Section 4.

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Is this where we are heading with this President? I certainly hope not. However, who knows when you look at everything else that he has said and done ( or not done) over the last five years.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ron Clark

I had the privilege of meeting Ron Clark and visiting the school he co-founded in Atlanta, Ron Clark Academy, last week.


If you are not familiar with Ron Clark you should be.  He is a man that is making a difference.

Ron gained acclaim as the Disney National Teacher of the Year in 2000 for his work in teaching students in Harlem in New York City.  His engaging and innovative approach to classroom teaching resulted in tremendous academic gains for the inner city students who were considered to have limited potential.

Clark's experience in Harlem was the focus of a 2006 made-for-tv movie, The Ron Clark Story, that starred Matthew Perry in the title role.

He co-founded the Ron Clark Academy in 2007 with Kim Bearden, who was also a Disney Teacher of the Year winner, with the goal of creating a school unlike any other in the world focused on the very best learning environment.  He also wanted the school to be a laboratory for other teachers around the world to be able to come to the Ron Clark Academy to learn their methods and techniques and take them back to their own schools. He currently hosts around 3,000 educators a year this way.

Clark's ultimate goal is no less than to transform education and our world. From what I saw he is off to a great start with the 5th to 8th graders who attend the school.

What strikes you immediately upon entering the Ron Clark Academy is a noticeable energy and optimism that pervades everything.  As I was standing just inside the front door waiting for Ron and Kim, one student after another came right up to me, looked me in the eye, introduced themselves and asked what my name was and where I was from.  These were mostly 5th and 6th graders but their demeanor and confidence probably surpassed 99% of any high school student you might meet.

Lest you think that Clark's private school is skimming the cream of the crop from Atlanta, over 75% of the kids are in single-parent homes and a similar percentage come from households that make less than $34,000 per year.

Clark using a competitive admissions policy but he purposely admits about 1/3 of students in the lower half of their class, 1/3 in the middle and 1/3 near the top.  He does this as he wants to demonstrate that his teaching methods work across the board.

What struck me the most on my visit was the fact that I was observing many of the principles first-hand that I recently wrote about in my blog posts, "Most Likely To Succeed" and "Toil, Training and Talent".

In "Most Likely To Succeed" I cited Malcolm Gladwell's research that showed how important good teaching was to the success of students and how critical it was for a teacher to actively engage and relate with students in the classroom.

I had the opportunity to watch Ron teach a math class to his 5th graders.  It was high energy all the way with Ron often jumping on the desks of students to make a point.  A student in the front row had bongo drums and belted out a bongo beat every time a student got the right answer.  Ron had every student on the edge of their seats in rapt attention as he taught Algebra (yes, Algebra!) to 5th graders.  He sang, he did rhymes, and he did whatever was necessary to relate and engage every student in the classroom.

At the conclusion of the class Ron put a problem on the board and told the students to solve it.  He told them if 3/4 of them got it right he would press the "red button".  He jumped on their desks and walked around looking at their papers to see their answers counting out the correct answers.  I couldn't help but hope we got the 16 right answers to see what happened when he hit that button.

Thankfully, the goal was reached, the button was pushed, the room darkened, sparkling lights and rocking music came on.  The students all jumped up dancing and screaming.  Several came over to us giving us high fives.  It was a sight to behold.

Ron told me that it his philosophy to teach to the smartest kid in the room.  It keeps the smart kids engaged and it also brings the poorer students up to levels that they otherwise would not achieve.  He sincerely believes that kids respond when you believe in them and give them the opportunity to excel. And his record of success confirms it.

In "Toil, Training and Talent",  I wrote about Matthew Syed's book, Bounce, and his argument that "talent" is vastly overrated.  What most people call talent is really just hard work.  It is about toiling and training for long hours. Practice, practice, practice. And believing in yourself.  Of course, to believe in yourself it helps immensely for someone else to first believe in you. Ron Clark believes in his kids.

Ron Clark also believes in hard work, deliberate effort and purposeful practice which are also the cornerstones of Syed's prescription for talent.

I thought it was interesting that the first three core principles and values of the Ron Clark Academy were the following:

1. Teach children to believe in themselves and don't destroy the dream

2. Not every child deserves a cookie (Clark uses incentives to get results. He also does not hand out cookies, grades or rewards unless they are earned.  He is not concerned about short-term hurt feelings but long-term results.

3. Define your expectations and then raise the bar: the more you expect, the better the result will be.

We need more teachers like Ron Clark.