Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Biblical View of Government

Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.  Ronald Reagan 

Presently in my office there is a 15” stack of articles relating to the COVID-19 crisis.  What I have noted with great interest in the last two months is the significant number of Nobel Laurate or otherwise highly qualified economists who say that our economic future depends on the governmental public health response to the Coronavirus itself:

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell on May 17th

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS / 60 MINUTES: There's only one question that anyone wants an answer to, and that is: when does the economy recover?

JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE: It's a good question. And very difficult to answer because it really does depend, to a large degree, on what happens with the coronavirus. The sooner we get the virus under control, the sooner businesses can reopen. And more important than that, the sooner people will become confident that they can resume certain kinds of activity. Going out, going to restaurants, traveling, flying on planes, those sorts of things. So that's really going to tell us when the economy can recover.

Joseph Stiglitz, Economics Nobel Prize, 2001, April 2020

Roosevelt Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz explains that it is not too late to make different policy choices. To preserve lives and livelihoods and build economic resiliency, he argues, policymakers should focus on four: 

Reducing contagion and containing the pandemic with further support for our health care and social insurance systems, including paid leave;

Funding state and local governments;

Keeping workers in jobs with a paycheck guarantee program that sends money straight to firms to support their workers; and 

Providing broader-based liquidity and debt relief for individuals and households.

Even with all-out efforts by central banks and fiscal authorities to soften the blow, asset markets in advanced economies have cratered, and capital has been pouring out of emerging markets at a breathtaking pace. A deep economic slump and financial crisis are unavoidable. The key questions now are how bad the recession will be and how long it will last.

Until we know how quickly and thoroughly the public-health challenge will be met, it is virtually impossible for economists to predict the endgame of this crisis. At least as great as the scientific uncertainty about the coronavirus is the socioeconomic uncertainty about how people and policymakers will behave in the coming weeks and months.

Loan guarantees and direct cash transfers will stave off bankruptcy and default on debt, but these measures cannot restore the output that is lost when social distancing keeps people from producing goods and services.

Paul Krugman, Economics Nobel Prize, 2008, on May 11, 2020

If this is true, we currently have an unemployment rate around 20 percent, which would be worse than all but the worst two years of the Great Depression. The question now is how quickly we can recover.

If we could get the coronavirus under control, recovery could indeed be very rapid. True, recovery from the 2008 financial crisis took a long time, but this had a lot to do with problems that had accumulated during the housing bubble, notably an unprecedented level of household debt. There don’t seem to be comparable problems now.

But getting the virus under control doesn’t mean “flattening the curve,” which, by the way, we did — we managed to slow the spread of Covid-19 enough that our hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. It means crushing the curve: getting the number of infected Americans way down, then maintaining a high level of testing to quickly spot new cases, combined with contact tracing so that we can quarantine those who may have been exposed.

Paul Shiller, Economics Nobel Prize 2013, on 4/11/2020

Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Shiller warns a pandemic of fear could tip the economy into an undeserved depression.

Shiller, an expert in how our emotions drive financial decisions, finds the sheer volume of chatter surrounding depression risks due to the coronavirus could severely hurt the economy.

“This isn’t the same story as the Great Depression. The Great Depression lasted ten years. They didn’t have an unemployment rate under 12% until the decade was over,” the Yale University professor told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. “It’s a popular narrative. But this is a pandemic. It shouldn’t last ten years. It should be over in one or two years.”

Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke on May 10, 2020

“Many people are suffering now, and the economy won’t recover in only a quarter or two,” Mr. Bernanke said. “But if we’re able to get reasonable control of the virus, the economy will substantially recover, and this downturn should be much shorter than the Great Depression.”

Former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Lawrence Summers on May 5, 2020

When it comes to crafting foreign policy, designing anti-poverty programs or implementing measures to combat climate change, economists have an understandable tendency to feel as though the economic aspects of the debate receive short shrift. The opposite is true when it comes to the pandemic. If anything, the United States is in danger of overemphasizing the impact of the crisis on the economy — and massively underinvesting in the health measures that are ultimately most important.

Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard Economist, on April 7, 2020

With each passing day, the 2008 global financial crisis increasingly looks like a mere dry run for today’s economic catastrophe. The short-term collapse in global output now underway already seems likely to rival or exceed that of any recession in the last 150 years.

Paul Romer, Nobel Laureate, 2018 on 3/23/2020

To protect our way of life, we need to shift within a couple of months to a targeted approach that limits the spread of the virus but still lets most people go back to work and resume their daily activities.

This approach uses two complementary strategies. The first relies on tests to target social distancing more precisely. The second relies on protective equipment that prevents the transmission of the virus. Adopting these strategies will require a massive increase in our capacity for coronavirus testing and a surge in the production of personal protective equipment.

The best economists in the world are saying:  For the economy to recover, the government needs to manage the public health crisis of COVID-19. 

Public health crisis – that means the government is involved.  More than involved, the government must lead.  Government needs to work, and work well.  If we don’t solve the public health crisis, we go into economic depression.  The less well the government works, the more all of us suffer.

Which brings us back to Ronald Reagan.  In COVID-19, is the government really the problem?  Do we want it to be the problem?  Will blaming the government get us out of this mess?

More fundamentally, is the statement “Government will not solve our problems … government is the problem” a Biblical idea? 

A plain reading of scripture says, emphatically, NO.  Ronald Reagan was wrong.

Try to tell Joshua that government is the problem (and let the people starve.)  Tell Daniel the Prophet that government is the problem.  He governed so well that he earned himself a trip to the Lion’s Den.  (See Daniel 6:3).  It was wasn’t his Jewishness that tripped him up, it was his competency. 

Try to tell Moses that government is the problem.  He was the government.  And to not wear himself out he appointed government officials (Ex. 18:25) and he wrote all it all down (Leviticus / Deuteronomy).  The idea that government is the problem would be incomprehensible to him.

For some strange reason, Paul, under the authority of Holy Spirit, felt it was necessary to appeal to the evil Emperor Nero (Acts 25) and witness to provincial government officials along the way (Acts 26).  If Paul thought government was the problem, why did he teach in Romans 13 that we are to obey the governing authorities, and pay their taxes, which gobbled up as much as 60% of all production?

If anyone would have reason to believe that government was the problem, that would certainly be Paul, Peter, and Jesus.  Yet Peter wrote that civil authorities should be obeyed (1 Peter 2), and Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:17).   It would be easy to argue that government was indeed the problem when Jesus, Paul, and Peter were alive, but they didn’t try to tear it down or minimize it.

In fact, if you were looking in the Bible for any places that talk about a minimal government, what would be Judges 17:6:  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The bottom line is that we need government to work, and that is a very biblical idea.  As we analyze our own thinking about how governing officials are dealing with COVID-19, we need to start with the very Biblical idea that government can and should be something good.

Now more than ever.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Wisdom for Our Present Moment

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some -- some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization -- black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
Thank you very much.
Robert Kennedy, April 4th, 1968

Related article

Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Lead Metric for COVID-19

A significant difficulty with managing complex problems is trying to focus on the right things.  Leaders, the old adage goes, focus on right things, and managers / admin types focus on doing things rightly.  With marketing enrollment for Christian schools, I can boil down the whole process to five lead metrics.  And your average Admissions Director would only be in charge of two of these five.  

Most people I know would be thrilled if you could boil their entire job description down to two points.  In the case of beating COVID-19, let's boil it down to one. 

In contrast to a lag metric – which tells you if you are successful -  (e.g. the number of students the first day of school) a lead metric (# of students represented by new families who visited with the Principal) – tells you if you are likely to be successful.  A lag metric measures success at the end, whereas a lead metric is something you measure as you go.  A lead metric predicts success and is something you can work to improve as you go. 

Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal actually came up with a lead metric for our progress in defeating COVID-19, but apparently they do not know about the Four Disciplines of Execution (Covey et. al.), or the power of focusing on the right lead metric.  I write with the hope that someone picks it up. 

The metric they propose is the percent of positive COVID-19 test results for a period of time (probably a day, or maybe every three days.) 

Imagine a grain elevator with 330 million kernels of corn.  In a routine inspection, an employee notices a unique fungus growing on some of the corn.   What’s clear is that the fungus-infected corn is infecting nearby corn, and the only way to stop it is to move the infected corn away from the non-infected corn.  So the now the race is on to save as much of the corn as possible, and everyone gets out their shovels to take out the infected corn.

Immediately the workers start shoveling, and they send their corn through the size sorter, which traps the swollen, fungus-laden kernels, and allows the others to pass.  The size sorter also does a fairly accurate count of which kernels do and do not have the fungus.   Shoveling out the most obviously infected corn, the grain elevator employees are perturbed to learn that 20% of their corn is infected and must be discarded.

It becomes clear that the fungus is rapidly spreading, soon they bring in the pay loaders.  Since the fungus was in the top of the grain silo, they had assumed that the deeper they went, the less likely they would find fungus-infected corn.  To their horror, even though the pay loaders were sending 100 times the amount of corn through the size sorter than  they could do with their shovels, still 20% of their corn was infected.  So clearly the fungus infection was much, much worse than they thought.

Ultimately, at considerable cost, they rented a special high volume auger and sorter, and after two days, they managed to remove all their swollen fungus corn from the good corn.  All 330 million kernels went through "the beast" as they called it, at considerable expense.  To be extra cautious, they moved all the good corn to another silo altogether.

Only with the high speed auger did they notice that the percent of fungus-laden corn going through the sorter actually decreased.  In fact, towards the bottom of the silo, only 2% of the corn was swollen with the fungus. 

With all their corn in a new, well cleaned silo, everyone breathed a sign of relief.  But a few days later, to their chagrin, the fungus was back!  Apparently the fungus could spread microscopically from corn that had the fungus but had not swollen, or at least not very much.  Or small kernels with the fungus also got through the size sorter.  So they couldn't completely eliminate all of the bad corn from the good corn, no matter how many times they ran it through.  

With no time to lose, the elevator now bought that high speed auger and size sorter, and ran all the remaining good corn through "the beast" one more time. This time, to their relief, they found that only 10% of their corn had gone bad.  Even buying the equipment, the process of running all the corn through the process was expensive, just for the massive amount of electricity the process required.  

After this 2nd go-around, the manager of the grain elevator lit a cigar and had one of his legendary “big-thinks.”  As pondered the situation, it occurred to him that one number could tell him whether he was testing his corn too often or two little.  And that number was the percent of the corn that was swollen with fungus every time it went through the sorter. 

Some portion of all his corn had to go through "the beast" every day.  Now, with the right lead metric, he could try different strategies.  Instead of blowing his budget running all the corn through the high speed auger, he ran 1/14th  of it everyday, because the fungus seemed to fully develop from microscopic to ruined in 14 days.  Then he tried cleaning his grain in sections of the elevator, based on the initial percentages of bad corn in that area. 

He realized that to beat the fungus, his goal was to do auger / sorter testing strategy that reduced the percent of corn with the fungus, every time he did in fact test.  The lower the percent, the lower his ongoing costs, and the more grain he saved.

(Note: every good lead metric results in a clear good question, which is this case is:  How can I test the corn most cost effectively to reduce the number of infected kernels every time I test?) 

The corn testing process was unavoidable, because our cigar-loving elevator manager soon learned that the USDA would not be able to come up with any sort of  cure for at least 18 months.  Testing was required, but how much?

Over time, it became widely accepted by grain elevator managers that the amount of testing they needed depended on the percent of infected corn they found.  That was the best they could do financially to minimize their ongoing costs of managing the fungus through the sorting process, as well as saving as much of their corn as possible.  

Rather wasting money on over-testing, or losing too much corn by under-testing, the elevator managers focused on the percent of positive, infected corn they were getting.  If the percentage was increasing, they had to test more to save their corn.  If  the infected percentage was less, they didn’t have to run their corn through the high speed sorter as much. 

Now back to the real COVID-19 world.  As Meyer and Madrigal document, the US and South Korea diagnosed their first case the same day, and both have tested about 1% of their population.  They tested early, we tested later.  In the case of South Korea, which has relaxed the economy-killing social distancing that the US has, about 2% of the tests were positive.  

In the United States, even as we increased our daily testing over a hundred-fold, the positive rates has remained steady at 20%. 

In other words, the more we tested, the more we found.  Our grain silo had to have been pretty contaminated by the time we started testing.  Asymptotic and pre-symptomatic carriers gave the virus to many, many others. South Korea was much more successful in identifying their contagious people early on, and many less people got it.  Their grain silo was much less contaminated. 

The amount of testing we will need to do in America should be determined by the percent of people who test positive.  The higher that percent (New York City = 41%) the more mass testing is needed.  The lower the percent, the less mass testing is needed.  This sort of lead metric would be helpful in determine how much to test over a region, or for a specific time period.

Clearly massive testing is cheaper than bailing out a comatose economy.  But how much testing?  The rate of positive tests for COVID-19 is the correct lead metric to know how much testing we need, on an ongoing basis, to beat this scourge on our nation.  This is a much more elegant and economically friendly way to quarantine the sick, and protect the vulnerable, then massive lock-downs.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Long vs Short Copy, 2019 Version

While sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, I would like to address again the TRUTH about long and short copy on websites. 

While in general I am weary of the topic, what does infuriate me is the people – even professionals - who imply that anyone who believes in long copy is a hopelessly out-of-date Luddite.  And I am saddened by new websites that have gotten this wrong, and made matters much worse.  

So here's what the research says.

First, we all agree is that short sentences, short paragraphs, and shorter words are GOOD. In fact, ideally you are writing at around the 8th grade level on the Flesh Kincaid analysis – you can check this after spelling and grammar proofing in Microsoft Word, under review / check spelling & grammar.  (Note:  This feature is off by default in Word, you have to turn it on - file / options / proofing.)
Second, a reminder from the latest iteration of my slideshow, Words that Influence, at least 75% of the population (Reactives) will want the details. They want to understand, they want to consider, they want clarification, they will analyze, and as we shall see, they want answers to their common objections.  (See Shelle Rose Charvet's research:
A significant problem is that we write marketing copy the way we would prefer it.  I can assure you that Proactives – 20-25% of the general population – are over-represented in our Christian school leadership ranks. They will pull the short copy card eight days out of every week. 
And who are we to argue with our leaders?  Even when they are wrong?
Third, do a simple google search on “long vs short copy on web sites”, and here are the top three results:
In addition, here are some other research-based conclusions. 
What does all this research tell us us about copy length?  (Not opinions mind you, but actual research.)
(1) In general, the more well-known you are, the shorter your copy can be.  For example, in San Diego, Santa Fe Christian is well-known, and you can see how short their copy is:  Following Santa Fe’s example – and some will, I can guarantee – will in fact be a significant mistake for less well known schools in the area.
(2) The less well-known you are, the longer your copy needs to be to overcome objections.  This includes copy from 1600 to 2400 words.  There is some indication in the research that fewer, longer pages are better than more shorter pages. 
Keep in mind that if you do NOT overcome their objections with longer copy, they simply will not contact you.  Why?  Because they do not know you.
(3) Higher priced items need longer copy.  That would be your school.
(4) Longer copy will do better on search engine results.  See web usability guru Jakob Nielsen on this crucial point:
(5) Keep in mind that anyone who asserts that we all need to embrace a short copy world is going against decades of research, wisdom and BETTER RESULTS in direct marketing, sales, fund development, and search engine optimization using long copy.   
Which means:  There had better be a really, really compelling reason to embrace short copy.  Adopting a short copy strategy on your website is far more risky than simply telling your story.
Call me a Luddite, but ….
As I work with clients' and my own website, there will still be long pages.  Yes, short sentences, shorter words, short paragraphs.  But not short copy.  No fluff, but I am not going to be limited by the thought that a web page must be a couple of paragraphs.

And the next time somebody gives me their version of the “short copy” lecture, I am going to send them to this blog.  It will be easier.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why Your Home-Grown Survey is Unlikely to Get You What You Want

Today I am going to explain why your own year-end survey is unlikely to get you what you want - and why frankly you should pay for one of ours

Over 740 PK-2012 schools have taken one of our surveys, many multiple years. That’s 108,000+ respondents to date

Here’s four sound reasons why your own home-grown survey will likely not give you the wisdom you need to improve your school strategically.

Problem #1: What’s a good score? (AKA, No normed data.)

One of the most important findings of doing Christian school surveys over a decade now is how very good they are – how very satisfying they are. 

PK-12 Christian schools are among the most satisfying organizations in the country, really in the world. 

What that means to you is that survey scores that seem good to you are often not that great in comparison to other Christian PK-12 schools.

It’s the worst of all possible worlds: The world of false positives, the world that believes everything is OK, when really it is not.  

Here’s a concrete example of what I mean:

Ask yourself, with 10 being high, is an overall satisfaction average of 7.75 a good score or a bad score? How about a solid 3.9 average score on Principal leadership, where 5 is high? Is that good or bad?

AnswerBoth of these scores are 16th percentile in our normed data. 84% of our schools scored higher than that for both questions.   

Problem #2: “I don’t care so much … “ (AKA, Effectiveness scores should match relative importance.)

On that same 1-5 effectiveness scale, with 5 being high, is an average score of 4.23 out of 5 a good score for (1) Teachers are Christian role models, or (2) Use of technology in instruction? 

Here’s the answer. 4.23 on use of technology in instruction is a great score for Christian Pk-12 schools – 80th percentile. Only 20% of schools will score better on this item. 

However, an average effectiveness of 4.23 out of 5 for teachers as Christian role models is a terrible score, just at the 20th percentile.  About 80% of Christian schools will score better on this program element.

On the home-grown survey, we interpret these scores exactly the sameWe assume they are equally important to parents, and they clearly are not.

Gene Frost, on his take on Good to Great for Christian Schools, makes a big deal of this, and rightly so. That’s why he recommends our survey in his book, because we ask both importance and effectiveness of program elements.

What I just said is that it is virtually impossible, on a home-grown survey, to know if the scores we receive are good or bad. Worse, we typically interpret our scores to be good, when in fact they are just average or worse.  

I call this the Pollyanna Effect – who wants to change anything when we are doing just fine?

The classic instance of the Pollyanna effect was a school in the Northwest, where the accreditation team thought the teachers were outstanding. And said so, in their final report. 

The Administrator did not believe it, and our survey, with its normed data, confirmed her concerns. Imagine how hard change would have been without GraceWorks’ survey! 

That’s why we do surveys for accreditations – it’s hard to argue with the comparison data of 106,000+ Christian school constituents. 

Problem #3: “It Matters to Me - or Not.” (AKA Some issues impact satisfaction more than others.)

Let’s pretend we’re on Jeopardy, and I’ll give you the answers first: Much worse, Somewhat worse, About the same, Somewhat better, and Much better.

Ok, I’ll even give you the questions: 

(1) How do compare the Christian character of students at our school to students in public schools in our area? 

(2) How do you compare the academic quality of our school to public schools in our area?

So I’ve given you the questions with the same answers for both.

Now comes the crucial question. Which of the answers are good and which are bad for each question?

We can all agree that the first three answers - Much worse, Somewhat worse, and About the same - will hurt us in overall satisfaction, and by the numbers, they do.

Certainly “Much better” must help us with overall satisfaction, and by the numbers, it does.

So that leaves “Somewhat better.”  Are respondents who feel Christian character and Academic quality are somewhat better than public schools less satisfied with, and thus less willing to refer to, your school?

From over 700 Christian Schools, the answer is usually yes and no. 

Yes - parents are much less satisfied if Christian character is somewhat better than public schools. 

No - parents are typically no less satisfied if academic quality is somewhat better than Christian schools.  

If you think that’s a big deal, you are right.

TranslationWhen it comes to Christian character at Pk-12 schools, “Somewhat better” is just not good enough. 

Christian character is job #1. In fact, when we go to the trouble of regressing the whole thing, the Christian character question is more predictive of overall satisfaction than any other single question on our survey.

And if you don’t believe that for your school, you can find out for as little as $995 and 7.5 hours of staff time.

You can certainly ask importance and effectiveness on your own surveys, and you should, but you will never be able to determine – outside of factor analysis and regression - how much any particular program aspect impacts overall satisfaction and willingness to refer. 

(It took me three days to figure out a way to do that automatically, and that was after a year in the most research-intensive Ph.D. program in education in the state of Colorado.)

Which brings us to the final problem.

Problem #4: Now what do we do? (AKA How do we prioritize what to “fix” based on the survey?)

Here’s the real beauty of your own home-grown survey. Because of all the problems above, you can interpret it any way you want! 

You can dedicate time and money to various pet projects and someone's gut feeling about what parents want. An ambiguous survey can back you up!

These interpretation dynamics are particularly interesting when we do it as a group, especially with boards. (Just thinking about that process makes my head hurt).

There's only three limits to this do-it-yourself approach: TimeMoney, and Reality.

For my money, I’d rather put my time and energy into projects and problem fixes that for sure, hands-down, no question, will result in your overall program getting better. 

GraceWorks Survey – the Parent Satisfaction and Referral Survey – solves all these problems (and many more.)

We norm everything – everything! We do ask how effective and how important for each of your program elements. 

We do tell you which strengths and weaknesses are helping you and hurting you the most. We do make it clear what you need to work on, in priority order

Plus - a two-page summary report for your board. Splits by divisions if you need it. Custom questions.  Satisfaction / Willingness to refer by demographic.

And, we help you present the results to teachers / parents / boards. By me personally, and I’ve been to this rodeo over 700 times in the last 12 years!

In addition to that, our survey provides all of the following:

(1) Actual leads of potential families, with a contact.

(2) Volunteers willing to help with marketing and fundraising tasks.

(3) Enrollment status of non-returning or not all enrolled families – where else they are going and why.

(4) A research-based answer to “Will they pay” & ”Can they pay” - by income level - for tuition increases.

(5) Barna-like alumni outcomes data.

(6) Promoters - dozens willing to spread the word about your school (with a month by month calendar of how to work with them.)

(7) Detailed comments of why your constituents love your school or not so much, broken out by demographics. 

(Such as, what your 3rd grade parents think, what people making over $150,000 a year think, what your Millennial parents think.)

(8) Parent testimonials - often ready to go with minimal editing. All you need to do is ask permission to use them.

The survey will pay for itself many times over by the students you save – because you know what the real problems are – and new students you gain – through actual leads and later leads working with your newly found Promoters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Towards a Lutheran Theology of Tuition and Financial Aid for Christian Schools

A Biblical Model for
Supporting Association-Model Lutheran Schools
By Dan Krause
President, GraceWorks Ministries
© 2019

No matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I, too, remain; where it goes, I, too, go.                        Martin Luther
For decades, the traditional Lutheran view of the relationship of member churches to sponsoring Pk-12 schools has been to subsidize, often deeply, the tuition costs of congregational members who attend the school.  In many parts of America, it is not uncommon for so-called “member tuition” rates to be a third of what non-members pay.  These discounts irrespective to what these families can afford to pay.

But in fact someone must the pay what it actually costs to educate these precious children.  As we would ask these children to approach all of life according to God’s word, educational leaders of their schools must also evaluate their modus operandi for Christian school funding according to that very same standard, God’s eternal word.   

A Deeper Standard than Appeals to Reason

A truly Biblical standard goes beyond reasonable arguments.  It is certainly instructive to see if subsidized families give a commiserate amount of tax deductible contributions to their local church in lieu of not paying the non-member rate. 

However, whether they do or do not is simply not an adequate basis for a Biblical model of Lutheran school funding, which by definition is grounded on God’s word.  If the standard deduction is high enough that most people will not itemize their church contributions, is that a Biblical reason, grounded in the Word of God, to eliminate member discounts?  (Or for that matter, would it be a Biblically justified argument to eliminate member discounts if the deduction for charitable gifts was eliminated altogether?)

Likewise, we must go beyond business reasoning.  From a business point of view, it seems non-sensical to charge less than it costs to provide a service.  What other services can you think of that do this?  Most would be related to the US government!  So even though it doesn’t make sense (in the long run at least) to charge less than it costs to provide a service, that in itself is not a Biblically justified argument to eliminate member discounts, even in situations where the majority of families are making in excess of $100,000/year in household income.

The same is true of reasonable tuition changes because of demographic changes.  It could be argued that multi-child discounts penalize smaller families, which is most parts of the country, is increasingly the norm.  (This is painfully obvious in Canada, with their family tuition plans, a version of multi-child discounts on steroids.)  Demographics alone is not enough to make a biblically justified decision to eliminate member discounts.

What are the Biblical Standards That Guide Us?

To me, there are four biblical pillars for changing the member discount program of a Lutheran Association School.  We will consider each in turn.

Biblical Pillar #1:  Each According to Their Need

A significant problem with the common association school model of a “membership has its privileges” philosophy is that it is nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Instead, we read Old and New Testament passages such as these:
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 4:25)
The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed.  Through this process the priest will purify you from you since, making you right with the LORD, and you will be forgiven.  If you cannot afford to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine four for a sin offering.  (Leviticus 5:11)
Then one poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amounted to a small fraction of a denarius.  Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more than all the others into the treasury. For they all contributed out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:42-44a
Throughout Acts the Apostles emphasized that that everyone – rich and poor alike - was to receive the full benefits of the Christian church.  In Acts 6:1ff, deacons were appointed to ensure that widows would not be neglected in the daily distribution of food.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, is very direct that there is to be no partiality shown based on economic circumstance:

My brothers, as you hold out your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you lavish attention on the man in fine clothes and say, “Here is a seat of honor,” but say to the poor man “You must stand,” or, “Sit at my feet” (James 2:1-3).
In the Old Testament, the sin offering was required of every Jewish believer, but the poor could satisfy this requirement with a little fine flour, not even requiring oil.  In Jesus’ eyes, even the destitute widow was at least worthy – if not more worthy – to receive all that the church had to offer.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, it is clear that no one is to be denied the benefits of the Kingdom of God (the Church) due to limited finance. 

We like to think that a low member discount would encourage the poor to participate in our Lutheran schools.  But in reality, even the member rate is too high for some of our members, and under charging those who can afford to pay the cost to educate their child(ren) leaves us with limited wherewithal to help those most needy.

To be clear, a Biblical tuition plan would say:  If you qualify – objectively and fairly – we will provide up to 100% of the cost to educate your child.  As a member of our Lutheran Church and Lutheran School Association, we take care of our own.   And that is what the church’s association fees cover:  The cost to educate our own children – as needed up to 100% - and the cost to educate non-member children, generally up to no more than 50% of the cost. 

And to those non-members, it is certainly more within the character of the church in Acts (e.g. 4:32) to say:  “The financial aid that allows your child to attend our Lutheran school comes from the generous giving of members at ______ Lutheran Church.” What we typically say instead is: “You must attend one of association churches at least twice a month – and sign in – to receive the member discount.” 

Dear reader, which do you think is the stronger evangelistic strategy?  

Biblical Pillar #2:  Providing Service Regardless of Income

It’s a fair Biblical question:  Whether on purpose or not, is it morally right to target people by income level?  Note that this is not just a question of whether it is morally right to target the rich, what about targeting the poor?  Or is it Biblical to target at all?   And finally, what are the practical implications of the answer to these important questions?

Here we do not have to hypothetically ask what would Jesus do (WWJD), we can ask what Jesus did do in his own ministry.  First, our Savior clearly did have a target.  Consider passages such as these:
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.  (Matthew 15:24-26)
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will repay it fourfold.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:8,9)
Clearly Jesus had a target:  The lost sheep of Israel.  Zacchaeus was a rich lost sheep of the house of Israel, but Jesus also helped destitute lepers (Matt 11:5) and the Jewish man at the pool of Bethsaida (John 5).  And in feeding the multitude (Matt. 14) he ministered to everyone in-between economically.  In short, if we were to follow the example of Jesus, we would have a ministry target, but we would not target economically.  As a Christian school, it is proper to have a ministry target, but that target would not be defined by income level. 

That is to say, to the best of our ability, following the example of our Lord, our tuition and financial aid model would allow for the widest diversity of families by income level.  Practically speaking, there are four basic ways tuition and financial aid can be handled, represented by the table below.  

In GraceWorks’ experience with hundreds of Christian schools, along with over 650 school surveys, is that the greatest diversity of income comes in schools that charge a reasonable (full cost or more) tuition with ample financial aid (Quadrant A).  This attracts both high income households (who bring a higher initial appreciation of the value of the school) and lower income families (who realize that a great deal of financial aid is available) and everyone in between. 

In contrast, the typical Lutheran Association School model is represented by Quadrant D – lower tuition (member rates) and limited financial aid (can’t afford to provide it.)  This discourages lower income families, who find that member rates are still too high, as well as higher income parents, who rightly wonder if the value of the program is high – and increasingly, whether the school itself has long-term financial viability.
(Clockwise, the 4 Quadrants)

Quadrant A:  High Tuition / Significant Financial Aid - Attracts widest economic diversity
Quadrant B:  High Tuition / Little Financial Aid - Attracts largely higher income
Quadrant C:  Low Tuition / Significant Financial Aid - Inner City model, few higher income
Quadrant D:  Low Tuition / Little Financial Aid - Attracts largely middle class, fewer high or low

An association model that charges adequate (full cost or more) tuition with ample financial aid (typically six figures) has the best chance of attracting economic diversity.  This idea hearkens back to the school model that was prevalent from about 1890 to 1960, when rich and poor alike attended the same schools.  Social historians agree that this was very good for our country.   And it certainly can be now, in your school, for your children.

Biblical Pillar #3: Not Allowing the Poorer to Subsidize the Richer

When we offer a service for less than it costs to provide that service, someone else must pay for it.  A significant problem, both practically and Biblically, is who, exactly, makes up this difference.  In reality, the answer often is – congregational members and teachers.  Let’s take each in turn.     

In contrast to the families that are subsized, Congregational members are often older, lower in household income, and not infrequently, on fixed incomes.  The socio-economic characteristics of givers to a Lutheran association congregation is a knowable question – as are the socio-economic characteristics of the members subsidized at the association school.  

With a little research, it is a knowable question whether the poorer are subsidizing the richer.  If that is the case – and frequently it is - it begs the question:  How can God bless us in this?
Teachers represent another blessing problem. Often teachers struggle to make a livable wage – in contrast to parents who are making incomes that are 3-4 times higher.  (Again, the statistics are knowable.)  A practical consequence of subsidizing richer parents through poorer teachers is that many male teachers – potential healthy male role models for our students – have no choice but to leave teaching in order to adequately provide for their families.

Besides the fact that most of think it is morally wrong for those poorer to subsidize those richer, what is the Biblical case against it?

One of the clearer examples in the old Testament is God’s specific warnings to the people of Israel, who against God’s will, wanted a king to rule over them:
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.  And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:10-18). 
A notable example of exactly what Samuel predicted was Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 14). Amos conveyed God’s harsh judgement on Jeroboam II throughout the book of Amos:

You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.  (Amos 5:11-12)

About three decades after this prophecy, Assyria utterly wiped out the Northern Kingdom in 722BC – the so-called “ten lost tribes.”

We have Jesus’s admonitions as well:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Perhaps Solomon sums up this important issue the best:
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty (Proverbs 22:16). 
Is it possible that our Lutheran schools have come to poverty over this very issue?

Biblical Pillar #4: Joyful Giving

It is clear throughout scripture that our giving is to be done cheerfully and joyfully.  For example:
They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. 2 Cor 8:4
Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God—gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble—all of these in large quantities. Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:  three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?”  Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.  1 Chronicles 29:1-6
If we were to biblically critique the issue of automatic church subsidies and automatic member discounts, we have to ask if the current system facilitates joyful giving.  Too often we hear that that we are compelled to give to our association school, which simply won’t make it without our congregational support.  Yet Paul explicitly tells us NOT to do this:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7.
In fact, thinking through the previous problem of the poorer subsidizing the richer, it is hard to see why anyone should joyfully support this unbiblical situation.  Yet we ask congregational members to do this all the time – as if they are poor Christians if they do not step up and do their duty.

The remedy here is simple – congregational support of association schools goes towards needs-based financial aid for families who truly, objectively, verifiably need it.  We ask families who can afford to pay the cost to educate their child to pay it.   In a full-cost world, it is obvious that we will need six figure amounts of financial aid to help lower income families - who students will be much more likely to graduate college, stay in church, and live as pillars of society.  The case for supporting needs-based financial aid is a very strong cause concept


Considering the four truly Biblical standards of (1) Each according to their need, (2) Service regardless of income, (3) Not Allowing the Poorer to Subsidize the Richer, and (4) Joyful Giving, practical guidelines tuition/ financial aid guidelines for association model schools are as follows:

(1) Automatic discounts are discontinued; needs-based financial aid takes their place
(2) Tuition rates move to the full cost to educate a child
(3) The greatest needs-based financial aid (up to 100% if qualified) goes to association church members
(4) Congregational support of association schools moves to needs-based financial aid
(5) This more Biblical approach is thoroughly presented throughout the congregations and with financial aid recipients, to improve both the evangelistic impact of the school, and the stewardship results of the church.

It is my conclusion that spiritual dynamics are at play however we do financial aid. Some bless us, others curse us. In deciding what is best, I cannot escape Paul’s exhortation:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2)
And to understand God’s will, we must end where we started – with God’s unchanging Word. The Bible is our foundation, whether in teaching students or conducting our financial affairs.