Some programmes that will help
Having outlined issues connected with racial-equity in Bermuda, Kevin Comeau here presents solutions, in the form of four proposed programmes
The first thing to understand about social programmes is that there is no magic bullet. All important public policies are, by their very nature, dealing with subjects that are insoluble. Poverty, racial inequity, drug addiction, improving education — these problems will always be with us to one degree or another because they involve complex matters that are entwined with the frailties of the human condition. So when we attempt to evaluate the worth of a public policy, the question is not will the implementation of the policy solve the problem? the question is will the implementation of the policy have a reasonable chance of reducing the problem?
The second thing to keep in mind is that Bermuda has a large national debt ($1.4 billion and growing) and therefore the evaluation of suggested programmes must be based on the expected amount of benefit for each dollar expended. In other words, if a programme has a low taxpayer cost and a high social benefit, then it should be put at the top of the list of programmes to consider implementing.
The final thing to keep in mind is that community discussion is paramount. The greater the community input into the development of a programme, the greater the probability of community support, which for most programmes is a critical element of success.
With those three points in mind, I present the following four programmes to help reduce some problems in black community, which are now affecting everyone in Bermuda. These suggested programmes should not be considered solutions to these problems, but rather viable starting points to begin the community discussion of what is needed and what is possible.
The answer is not solely education
Many social commentators and public officials have concluded that if we can improve public education, we can give all Bermudians the opportunity to reach their full potential.
This conclusion is only partially correct.
First of all, even if we improve public education by improving teaching and the curriculum, many Bermudian students, particularly those that come from dysfunctional families, will likely still be unable to reach their full potential. Thats because the number one determinant of a childs education success is the degree to which his parents participate in his education. So unless steps are taken to help all parents, particularly those from dysfunctional families, become better parents, their children will continue to have very limited chances of education success.
Second, the greater the number of kids in a classroom that come from dysfunctional families (in particular, where the parents arent actively involved in their childrens education), the greater the number of kids that will not do their homework, will fall behind the rest of the class and will likely become disruptive, which forces teachers to spend more time at classroom management, leaving less time for teaching. So even if a parent is doing all the right things to help his child succeed, that child will still be inhibited in his progress if there are a significant number of children in his class whose parents are not doing the right things.
In other words, unless we develop and implement programmes to help dysfunctional families become less dysfunctional and non-involved parents to become more involved, not only are their children unlikely to reach their full potential, but it is also unlikely that the other children who attend the same class will reach theirs.
This is a large problem in Bermuda and is a significant reason why Bermuda public schools have fallen behind private schools in academic achievement — the higher the percentage of students from dysfunctional families/non-involved parents attending a school, the greater the chance that the school itself becomes dysfunctional.
So if we want to improve public education for all students, we have to help all parents, particularly those from dysfunctional families, become more involved in their childrens education. Here are several suggested programmes that can help.
1. Combining food and shelter programmes with family education programmes
Bermuda spends tens of millions of dollars each year on social programmes to help the disadvantaged. These programmes are important. They provide the social safety net that allows struggling Bermuda families to pay their rent and put food on the table. But the ugly truth is that many of these families are immersed in generational dysfunction that they dont have the tools to fix. They were born into dysfunction and they will give birth and raise their children in dysfunction because thats the only pool of experience from which they can draw upon to deal with the problems they face.
The Bermuda Government, charities and social agencies have numerous programmes to help these families develop the life-skills needed to turn their lives around, but unfortunately many of these families dont take advantage of these programmes. In many cases they are so immersed in dysfunction and debilitating nihilism that they cant see that these programmes can help them and their children build a better future. In other words, from their perspective, there is no incentive to take these life-skills programmes and so they dont — or if they do, they do so only half-heartedly.
Government can change this. They can go through every single social assistance programme they fund and, wherever possible, restructure it to provide incentives for education and life-skills improvements. And they can do all this while spending only minimally more than they presently do.
For instance, the Bermuda Housing Corporation provides rent subsidies to needy families so that they can pay their rent, and in return we as a society receive the satisfaction that we take care of our needy. But we can obtain a much bigger social return on our money simply by making part of the rent subsidy dependent on the recipients taking any number of life-skills programmes, particularly programmes that teach them how to become more involved in their childrens education from the time the child is born right through to graduation.
For example, instead of paying an unemployed, single-parent mom $1,500 a month in rent subsidy, the Government can pay her only $1,000 but offer to pay another $500 if she enrols in and passes a parenting-skills class that teaches the importance of reading to your child every day, providing him with nourishing, affordable meals and singing songs or telling them stories to help them develop their vocabulary and imagination. (The list of skills is long and varied and can extend right through the teen years.)
Each of these subsidy programmes can meaningfully help people improve their lives provided they are structured properly. The key to the success of these integrated social programmes is to find out what each recipient needs to do to change his or her life around, and then to use a meaningful part of the financial subsidy as an incentive for them to take the steps needed to make that change. The increased costs to Government are minimal while the increased benefits to both the individual and society are unlimited. Consequently, on a cost/benefit basis, this programme ranks high.
2. Improving education by increasing parental involvement
Study after study has consistently shown that the number one factor in determining how well a child will do in school is not income or social status (it doesnt matter if you are black, white, rich or poor). Active parental involvement in a childs education is the most accurate predictor of a students achievement in school — regular attendance, earning higher grades, passing their classes, graduating senior school and going on to obtain a postsecondary education. What can be done to encourage parents to become more involved in their childrens education?
In December 2010, the Bermuda Board of Education unanimously approved a programme to increase parental involvement in childrens education, which involves three parts:
(i) Getting the message out — a marketing programme aided by International Business to tell all parents about the importance of their involvement in their childrens education,
(ii) Providing parents with the tools needed to get more involved — implementing a communication system that advises parents each day what their children learned in school and setting out the homework assignment; and
(iii) A scholarship programme — every public school student would have the opportunity to earn $500 each year for completing their homework more than 90% of the time, an extra $250 for a B average and an extra $500 for achieving an A average (for a maximum payout of $1,000/year). The money would be held in trust, conservatively invested, would only vest if the child completed high school and could only be used to pay for post-secondary education including trade school. (For a complete description of the programmes, see Parental Involvement in Childrens Education at www.bdagoodgov.org.)
Unfortunately, in the 19 months since the Board approved the Scholarship Programme (which would be funded by private donations with no cost to the Bermuda taxpayer) the Ministry of Education has neither given final approval nor even held one meeting to discuss the issue.
3. A programme to reduce the problem of low income, single-parent homes with minimal father input.
The unique and debilitating difficulties children from dysfunctional families face can be substantially reduced by implementing a programme that (i) assists single moms to collect delinquent child-support payments from fathers who contribute neither money nor time toward their childrens upbringing and (ii) encourages these fathers to spend more time with their children. The programme works like this.
Under our present legal system, a mother seeking to obtain child-support payments must go to Court to obtain a judgment ordering the father to make those payments. When the father simply refuses to pay, the mother then must go back to court for a garnishment order that must be served upon the fathers employer ordering that company to deduct support payments from the fathers salary. This may sound like a good system — and sometimes it works — but far too often these fathers simply change jobs, thereby forcing the mom to start all over again. With limited time and finances the mother often has little choice but to give up her quest for child support. The result is a mother who has to work longer hours to pay the rent and put food on the table, thereby leaving even less time for her to properly nurture her child by (i) instilling in him proper moral principles, (ii) providing help and guidance with his education (particularly in the early formative years) and (iii) giving him a sense of belonging that comes from strong family and community involvement.
We can improve this inefficient and ineffective system by implementing a programme under which Government (i) helps single moms obtain the required court order against delinquent fathers and (ii) registers the garnishment order on a computerised national registry that constitutes continuous notice to all Bermuda employers. Under this system the father will no longer be able to avoid payment merely by changing jobs because registration on the national registry will constitute continuous notice to all Bermuda employers, both at the time of registration and in the future.
It works like this. Prior to paying salaries, each company will be required to enter the social security number of all their employees into a computerised national registry system. This may sound like a large task, but it really just requires a one-time input of employees' social security numbers, and thereafter it takes only one computer click to receive a computerised response. Any monies owing under a garnishment order will be deducted from the delinquent father's pay-cheque and remitted to the single mom.
But there is even more that we can do, and it is this second part of the programme that is most important. Once it becomes clear to fathers that they cant escape responsibility for child-support payments, the programme can allow for a negotiated reduction in payments in exchange for the father spending more time with his children. For instance, the original garnishment order can be for an amount equal to, say, 30 percent of the fathers salary, with provision that it be lowered to a lesser amount, say, 20 percent if the father agrees to certain conditions such as (i) spending at least 8 hours a week helping his children with their homework and playing with them at a community centre (like the Sandys 360 Centre or the Aquarium) or coaching their soccer or cricket teams and (ii) taking a parenting course to learn how to best nurture his children and help them with their educational endeavours.
What are the benefits of such a programme? The implementation of this National Garnishment Registration System will (i) increase the income level of single-parent families, (ii) reduce the need for single-parent moms to work a second job, thereby increasing the time mothers can spend nurturing their children and getting more involved in their childrens education, (iii) increase the time fathers spend nurturing their children and getting more involved in their childrens education, (iv) increase parent and child involvement in community activities, and (v) discourage men from fathering children when they are not prepared to provide the necessary financial and emotional support. These five outcomes should not only dramatically reduce the number of at-risk children causing problems in the classroom, but they should also reduce the number of children becoming involved with gangs. Since the programme can be implemented with minimal cost to the Government, on a cost/benefit basis, this programme ranks high.
4. Replacing Bad Teachers with Good.
In the Bermuda public school system we have good teachers, mediocre teachers and bad teachers. With training, some of these mediocre teachers may become good teachers, but no amount of training can convert bad teachers into good.
For the sake of Bermudian children in our public school system, the problem of bad teachers has to be fixed. Studies have shown that if a child has a bad teacher for just one year, it will take that child one and a half years to catch up. And if the child has a bad teacher for a second year, he not only is unlikely to ever catch up, but he is also much more likely to drop out before completing high school and his chances of joining a gang and becoming involved in criminal activities increase substantially.
Bad teaching not only destroys lives, it perpetuates the cycle of poverty and dysfunction that prevents lower to middle class mobility — a key component to social stability, lower crime and more equitable income distribution between the races. In other words, bad teaching prevents all the good things that good public education can achieve.
We can dramatically improve public education if we can simply remove the five worst teachers from every school and replace them with excellent teachers. But there are two large barriers in our way:
1. The Bermuda Union of Teachers is required to protect all teachers, including bad teachers, from termination. Remember, the role of the BUT is not to improve teaching — that is the role of Government. The BUTs role is to protect the jobs of teachers even when those teachers are bad teachers.
2. Because it is critically important that Bermudians all work together to solve their common problems, the Government should do its best to not simply fire Government workers — even bad teachers — but instead help them find other employment, which is difficult in our weakened economy.
So how do we get out of this mess? How do we (i) get rid of bad teachers that are destroying our childrens lives, (ii) replace them with excellent teachers, and (iii) find some other employment for the terminated teachers?
A solution can be found by looking at an unrelated problem — the high cost of operating a business in Bermuda — to find a potential deal for all parties concerned.
Over the last ten years, International Business has seen their average annual employee costs more than double as a result of higher wages, higher pension and healthcare costs and, in particular, higher payroll taxes, which now stand at 14 percent on a maximum salary base of $750,000. When you consider that the annual payroll tax for a top executive is now $105,000 (14 percent of $750,000) and in 1998 it was only $9,000 (12 percent of $75,000) it is little wonder that the 1,167 percent increase in tax has persuaded a number of companies to simply transfer much of their work and their top executives to lower cost jurisdictions, which has meant fewer jobs for Bermudians, lower tax revenue for Government and lower sales for retailers, restaurants, taxi drivers and other local businesses.
So heres how the Government can deal with the problem. They can set up a programme under which companies agree to hire former teachers and in return the Government agrees to give those participating companies a reduction in their payroll tax. The exact amount of the reduction will depend on the number of ex-teachers a company hires and the additional terms of the programme can be negotiated between Government and the business sector, but might look something like the following.
For every teacher hired, a company will be exempt from paying payroll tax for any one other employee (presumably it will choose a top paid executive), effectively allowing the company to pay for all or most of the teachers salary through payroll tax savings. The teacher will be paid at his former teaching wage and will be trained on the job for two years. At the end of two years probation, the company can then decide whether to continue his employment permanently. Under such a structure, ex-teachers who are offered continued employment will have the opportunity to possibly make far more than they ever could as teachers.
Keep in mind that even though someone is a bad teacher doesnt mean he will be bad at his new job in business. Many of these teachers have Masters Degrees and PHDs and may shine at jobs that require a different skillset than classroom management.
Some of these bad teachers may need a nudge out the door. This might be done by announcing that Government will start publishing the assessment scores that teachers receive each year. Lets face it, parents should have the right to know if their children are about to be subjected to a year of bad teaching that may ruin their lives.
By addressing the needs of two key parts of Bermuda society — Education and Business — we can develop policies that can make all Bermudians better off. And remember, every day that Government avoids implementing a programme to get rid of bad teachers is another day that they are choosing to support the interests of bad teachers over the interests of young children whose lives may be destroyed.
Butterfield wins May 24
MAY 24 MARATHON DERBY RESULTS
Tyler Butterfield wins 24 May Half Marathon
Hoey springs Derby surprise
Dominique dominates again
Sherlock and Swan turn back the clock
Summers here ... let the action begin
Cup results demonstrate crickets demise
Butterfield wins May 24
Contest makes clean sweep
Take Our Poll