Violence Begets Violence–Time to Repeal the 2nd Amendment

Like most Americans, ever since the massacre at Sandy Hook, the issue of the place of guns in American society has been ever present in my mind.  President Obama declared that we must change, but he has yet to offer concrete changes.  Sen. Feinstein has introduced a bill to outlaw assault weapons prospectively, which would do nothing to get those weapons off our streets.  The NRA says it will propose concrete actions, but has yet to offer any particulars.

While politicians and pundits discuss ways to regulate lethal weapons, at Systems Change Consulting, our purpose is to change systems so that we do not have the same tired conversations again and again, resulting in remaining mired in an unsatisfactory status quo.  It would be nice to think that legislation would be sufficient to  end the violence which guns have wrought on American society.  Yes, we do have more gun related deaths than any country in the world, other than Mexico, with nearly 10,000 homicides committed in the US in the most recent reporting year.

Our Supreme Court has completely distorted this simple amendment which reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Not only is this Amendment an antiquated artifact directly resulting from the Colonial revolution against the British, but the Supreme Court ruled in its 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, that the militia clause has nothing to do with the right of the people to bear arms.  In that case, the Supreme Court found that the District of Columbia’s handgun and trigger lock ban violated the 2nd Amendment.

The Supreme Court then expanded that misguided logic in 2010, in its McDonald v. Chicago decision applying the 2nd Amendment to state and local governments, declaring the City of Chicago’s handgun ban unconstitutional.

With Supreme Court decisions like these, and the never ending onslaught of violence  and death caused by guns, it is time for this nation to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Some may declare that such a proposal is unrealistic.  That may be true, given the strength of the NRA and the inherent difficulties of amending our Constitution, as any amendment must be passed by 2/3 of the members of both Houses of Congress, and then approved by 3/4 of the states.  This is, indeed, challenging.

However, if Sandy Hook is the wake up call that our nation needs to get out of our cycle of violence begetting more violence, then now is probably the best time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.  Even if the amendment is not ultimately ratified, it will put the NRA on the defensive and allow ever stronger gun control legislation to pass and may even cause the Supreme Court to re-think its most recent decisions which make most sensible gun control legislation virtually impossible.

Since amending the Constitution is necessarily a long and difficult process, let me suggest one other piece of legislation that has yet to be raised and should raise no Constitutional concerns.  While the 2nd Amendment arguably allows citizens to own weapons, there is no Constitutional right to manufacture lethal weapons.  So, let’s start by banning the manufacture and importation of assault weapons.  It is too easy to buy these weapons.  You can even do it on-line from Tactical Arms Manufacturer, which brags on its web site that its assault weapons, the same ones used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, are Made in the USA.

So, let’s get serious about stopping the cycle of violence.  Let’s repeal the 2nd Amendment and in the mean time ban the manufacture and importation of assault weapons in the USA.

Or, we could just follow this simple 12 step program.

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For more information e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Educational Accountability–Doing it Right

When it comes to accountability for our children’s education the battle lines are drawn.  On one side are those who believe that annual point in time testing answers all the questions about how much students are learning, and accordingly, how well their schools are performing.  This movement was at its height with the passage of the almost universally reviled No Child Left Behind Act.  Though its harshest measures have been waived by the US Dept. of Education in a majority of states, those waivers continue to insist on using annual point in time testing to measure accountability, though thankfully, other measures, such as graduation rates, are now added to the mix.

On the other side are those who believe that standardized testing is a sham and should never be used to measure either student performance or consequently school performance.  Indeed, some are now calling for a moratorium on such testing.

As usual, both sides have their faults.  Those who favor standardized testing insist that if we do not have a standard way to measure student performance, then we will never really know how to compare students, schools and school districts in terms of how well their doing.  They have a point.  Without standardized testing, for example, we would not have the evidence that our nation’s largest private school voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), performs no better than its public school counterpart (MPS), and arguably worse, since those same standardized tests finally required collection of disability data, demonstrating that MPCP schools discriminate against students with disabilities by barely serving any of them, leaving a disproportionate number of those harder to serve students in MPS. The disability discrimination complaint I filed with the ACLU against the MPCP on this issue is still pending with the US Dept. of Justice.

Those that oppose standardized testing rightly point out that many of the tests are flawed, some racially biased or not suited to English Language Learners (ELLs) or students with disabilities.  They also correctly point out that many aspects of a student’s education cannot be measured by a single test, the most obvious example being behavior.  In addition, they have a good point in saying that blaming an individual teacher for how their students perform on a single test makes no sense when one examines all the other factors that likely affect the students’ performance, such as health, poverty and parental engagement.

So, how do we solve this dilemma?

In the Jamie S. class action settlement, I believe we found the answer.  In that settlement, we required the following:

  • A court appointed Independent Expert approved a high quality reading and math curriculum.  After all, it is simply unfair to measure students’ performance and blame teachers if the students perform poorly, if the tools the teachers are given by the school district are not rigorous and appropriate.
  • Over an 8 year period, starting with elementary schools, and moving up to middle schools, then high schools, all children would be REGULARLY assessed for performance in reading, math and behavior.  The Independent Expert would help build and ultimately approve data systems to monitor these assessments.
  • Any MPS student falling falling behind in reading, math, and/or behavior would receive Early Intervening Services (EIS) to address the student’s problems. While this could include a special education evaluation, that would only happen if EIS failed to resolve the student’s problem and/or there was evidence of a disability.

After 4 years of implementation, this settlement was showing signs of turning MPS around.  Sadly, MPS appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and had the settlement thrown out when the court decertified the class.  After that unfortunate decision, both MPS and the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI) abandoned the settlement.  Ironically, no part of MPS’ legal challenge ever questioned the educational validity of this accountability system.  Thus, education advocates who really care about improving students’ education should push for adoption of an accountability plan on the Jamie S. settlement model without waiting for a class action to force school districts and states to do so.


For more information e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

One Step Back from the Fiscal Cliff

As Democrats and Republicans jockey for political position on the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations, I can’t help but wonder how many of our elected representatives truly care about moving the American economy and the federal budget forward in a sensible manner, and how many others are just measuring the political outcome of whatever deal is made vs. falling off the figurative fiscal cliff.  From my vantage point, most members of Congress are simply calculating political outcomes rather than examining what is truly best for the vast majority of Americans going forward.

One example of how politics seems to override common sense is the debate over whether the age for Medicare eligibility should be raised.  One thing I have learned in conducting effective systems change advocacy for over 27 years is that partisan rancor rarely gets resolved by creating sound policy.  Building consensus amongst those who differ has a much better chance of creating sound fiscal and social policy. Indeed, I started my career doing elder advocacy, including writing a popular handbook, Your REAL Medicare Handbook.

As of the moment, some Republicans have suggested that one way to secure Medicare’s viability in the future is to raise the eligibility age to 67.  Most Democrats have viewed such suggestions as an attack on the social contract of Medicare.

As a strict non-partisan working on effective Systems Change, I invite readers to look at the facts:

  • When Medicare was established by the Social Security Amendments of 1965, men’s life expectancy was approximately 67 years and women’s life expectancy was approximately 73 years.
  • Current estimated life expectancy for men is about 76 years for men, and 81 years for women.
  • In 2011, the oldest baby boomers—Americans born between 1946 and 1964 started turn 65. Today, over 40 million people in the United States are ages 65 and older, but this number is projected to more than double to 89 million by 2050. Although the “oldest old”—those ages 85 and older—represent somewhat over 15 percent of the population ages 65 and older today, their numbers are projected to rise rapidly over the next 40 years. By 2050, the oldest old will number 19 million, over one-fifth of the total population ages 65 and older.
  • By 2025, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be almost 50 million persons over 65 and not in the labor force—about twice the number in 1995.
  • The US Labor Force grew rapidly from the 1950s through the 1970s and has steadily declined since then.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not anticipate a rise in the US Labor force until the 2030s and then only returning to the levels of 2010.

So, even without discussing the problem of controlling health care inflation, it is clear that a shrinking workforce cannot continue to support  the booming Medicare population through Medicare payroll taxes.   It is worth noting that Congress resolved this problem for Social Security by slowly raising the retirement age.  There simply is no sound reason not to duplicate this gradual rise in the Social Security retirement age, in the Medicare eligibility age.  This will avoid any retirees suddenly having retirement and anticipated Medicare coverage change without reasonable time to plan.  I suggest raising the age to 67 over 4 years (i.e., 6 months/year).  Other time tables could certainly be adopted.

While this may appear to be a Republican idea, Democrats can brag that raising the Medicare eligibility age is made possible by Obamacare as those caught in the rising age group will have health insurance available to them under the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, it is worth noting that way back in 1999, the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare concurred with this recommendation, calling for linking the Social Security retirement age with the Medicare eligibility age. Sadly, politics has gotten in the way of sound policy ever since.  It is time for brave politicians to figure out how to declare a win-win for the American people and stop playing win-lose politics with our future.


For more information e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.