Dear Mr. Obama


I have looked over your site change.gov and I see a lot of people asking about how soon you are going to punish George Bush or overturn his policies on education, health, economics, etc. While I might disagree with you on some things, I am hopeful for change. My hope is that we will see change that makes a difference rather than change for change’s sake. So here are a few of my thoughts.
 

Education

Many are asking you to scrap No Child Left Behind as a failed system. I ask that you see it for what it is, a good idea with a bad implementation. Rather than scrap the entire idea of accountability, why not shift the program to ensure accountability is based on individuals not statistics.

One of the issues with the implementation is teachers are aiming for a benchmark rather than for student education. Under the current system, students that are excelling stop progressing when they reach the "benchmark", as many teachers begin to focus almost solely on the students who have not reached the bar. This leads to a situation where the more brilliant students are not reaching their full potential. While some might state "at least the others are not being ‘left behind’", a loss of potential is being left behind.

The first change I suggest would be to benchmark the students at the beginning of the year as well as the end of the year. You then change the focus to how far the students progressed rather than whether or not each passed the end exam. Under the current system, a teacher with a sixth grade classroom where the average student has the equivalence of a third grade education is considered a failure if she can only get them to the beginning of sixth grade, although this would be the equivalent of moving them up two grades. Conversely, the teacher that stopped teaching half her students in December to focus on the least common denominator would be a success, even though she could have taken her more brilliant students farther.

If the focus was on improvement rather than benchmarks, there would be incentives to move all students forward as far as their minds could progress. This would lead our country forward in education to where we could actually compete with other countries. Certainly some students would still end a year below the benchmark, but we could focus on the success of moving them up a few grades in proficiency rather than punishing someone for missing an arbitrary benchmark.

Assistance Programs

Another change necessary is an overhaul of assistance programs. Under the current system, when one gets a job, he replaces the income a dollar for a dollar. If you made $300 in welfare and got a minimum wage job, you assistance completely disappears. There is no improvement in your situation, thus there is no immediate incentive to get a job.

I suggest you set up assistance on a sliding scale. If a person is getting $300 in welfare and gets a full time minimum wage job ($7.25 per hour), you continue to give them half their assistance. This means the person who made $300 last week in assistance now makes $300 from his job and $150 from assistance, or $450 total. The net result for getting a job is a $150 more in the pocket while cutting his assistance to half rather than a zero sum gain. When this person gets a raise, you further cut the assistance, but always at a rate lower than the raise. Incentivize good work and make it more attractive to work than simply sit on welfare.

In the past, we have tried to get peopole off welfare with a stick. Doesn’t a carrot work much better?

In addition to incentivize work, incentivize education. Stop cutting off living assistance when someone gets grants for education. Allow them to continue to live while they better themselves. It is evident from statistics that education is one of the primary factors in one’s economic status. Let’s not force people to choose between education and eating.

Health Care

We are said to be in a health care crisis. Rising costs are eating us alive while care is decreasing. But most of our focus has been on the symptoms and problems and not the solution.

Our real issue is there is a middle man between the patient and the care providers. I know of nobody that buys home owners insurance because they are planning to burn down their house, or car insurance because they want to rear end somebody on the road today, but everyone buys health insurance with the idea of using it. In our viewing health insurance as a bank account, we have placed the insurance company in the middle of every transaction. There are some who envision the government as the underwriter, but this just changes the middle man. While this might help in some areas, it will likely hurt in others.

Rather than replace the insurance company middle man with the government as a middle man, I propose we remove the middle man. The first step would be to find a reasonable way to put day-to-day health care back on the individual and leave catastrophic care to the insurance companies. Insurance is meant to ensure our livelihood in the midst of unforseen downturns, not to dole out cash for all of life’s little bumps. Let’s focus on making insurance insure and removing it from our day to day care.

The first step is to make all medical coverage expenses pre-tax, not just those someone has socked away in an account. Under the current system, only those funds in a FSA or HSA are pre-tax, so the American who has some unforseen routine medical ends up out in the dark if he cannot reach medical bills accounting for 7% of his income.

As another early step, we need to move Americans away from traditional HMOs and PPOs to Health Savings Accounts (or similar) with catastrophic insurance policies. As the average American is poor at saving, there will have to be some guidelines to minimums the account should be funded, but these minimums should not change the monetary output of the average working American, as some of the money currently spent on insuring 100% of the health burden would go into this account.

End Notes

These are just a few ideas I thought I would share for you. If you are seeking real change, these ideas, or a variation thereof, should be a pretty good start. We need to start thinking outside of the box and stop insanely trying different versions of the same thing.

If you feel you are not up to thinking outside the box and focusing on solutions, perhaps I should find a way to run in an upcoming election?

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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