The Blog

News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.


Making New York Work: What Gets in the Way? (A Common Good forum)

On May 7th, 2012, Common Good co-hosted a forum with the Manhattan Institute and the Citizens Budget Commission entitled “Making New York Work: What Gets in the Way?” The event, which focused on the bureaucratic and legal impediments to sensible government in New York City and State, was the first in a series of planned forums exploring the structural challenges facing New York; future events will focus on, among other things, the business climate and education reform.

Common Good founder and chair Philip K. Howard made the opening remarks, calling attention the myriad ways in which sensible government decision-making is thwarted by open-ended mandates, byzantine bureaucratic requirements and the proliferation of overly-specific and inflexible rules. Next came a panel discussion, moderated by Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute, and featuring Howard, Port Authority President Patrick Foye, New York City Human Resources Commissioner Robert Doar, and City Operations Director Elizabeth Weinstein.

Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the debate.  Foye derided the counterintuitive environmental review requirements that massively delay eco-friendly upgrades to the Bayonne Bridge.  Commissioner Doar spoke about the City’s rigid civil service system, which ties managers’ hands by preventing sensible hiring and firing decisions.  Weinstein concluded by describing the astonishing complexity of City government, and the unwieldy and inefficient ways in which it interacts with itself.  Following their talks, the panelists answered questions from the audience, and the evening concluded with a brief reception.

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America the Fixable: The Litigious Mess of Special Education

Education lawyer Chris Borreca argues that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has helped millions of children, but has also bogged down the courts and spawned a whole industry based on paranoia in a new essay featured on America the Fixable.

Borreca suggests that a better system would promote trust and cooperation rather than litigation. "A system of dispute resolution similar to the nonprofit Common Good's health courts proposal, which calls for a system of specialist courts to handle medical malpractice claims, would serve the needs of this population well," Borreca writes. "A threshold requirement of mandatory mediation before a lawsuit may be filed could be added...In other words, a degree of common sense added to the entire system-with an emphasis on services received rather than an unending amount of due process provided for every alleged wrongdoing-would go a long way toward serving the original intent of the law."

Read the rest of Borreca's article here.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.

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Poll: Voters Want Less Education Bureaucracy, More Freedom for Principals

New Nationwide Poll Shows American Voters Want Less Education Bureaucracy––And More Flexibility For Teachers, Principals

New York, NY––April 30, 2012––A new nationwide poll shows that an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters––81%––believes the quality of public education would greatly improve if school system bureaucracy was cut down and teachers and principals were given more flexibility to do their jobs.

Analysis of the survey’s findings shows that 84% of Republicans, 81% of independents and 78% of Democrats want less bureaucracy and more flexibility for teachers and principals. Additionally, 82% of voters polled said that “major changes” are needed in our public education system so America can “successfully compete with other countries.”

The survey was conducted by the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group last week and was sponsored by Common Good, a nonpartisan government reform coalition.

Other findings of the poll:

  • By nearly a 5-to-1 margin (47% to 10%), voters believe giving principals more authority to make decisions would improve, not lower, the quality of schools. Less than a third of respondents polled––32%––think giving principals more authority would not have any effect on school quality.
  • 65% of voters believe lack of classroom discipline is a “big” problem in public schools, while 25% said it is a “small” problem and only 3% said it’s no problem.
  • 78% of the nation’s electorate thinks “fear of being subjected to a long, complicated legal process is causing teachers and principals not to discipline disruptive students.” Of that 78%, 42% said fear of red tape is hindering classroom discipline “most of the time” and 36% said “some of the time.” Only 12% said it is “rarely” happening, and 1% said it never happens.
  • Voters think disputes involving teachers and student discipline should be resolved by committees of teachers and parents who were not involved. A 53% majority of survey respondents chose this method for this type of internal conflict resolution. Trailing that choice was having the school principal decide (23%) these matters, having the local school board decide (13%) and having a court of law decide (5%).
  • On the issue of school budget discretion and allocations to special education programs, more voters than not (48% vs. 43%) agree with the statement: “To achieve the right balance between educational services for special needs students and education services for all students, school principals should have the discretion to set their own budget priorities, even if it means adjusting the amount of money spent on special education programs.”

This data demonstrates that voters across the nation, regardless of party, believe education needs big change,” said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good. “It also indicates that voters want principals and teachers to have more authority and flexibility to run their own schools and classrooms¬¬––free of unwise, often nonsensical, bureaucratic mandates.”

The nationwide survey was conducted April 25-26, 2012 by Clarus Research Group, a polling firm based in Washington, DC. The survey’s sample of 1,000 self-identified registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent. Interviewing was conducted through live telephone calls, using both landline and cell calling. For verification of the results, contact Dr. Ron Faucheux, President of Clarus Research Group, at

Education reform has been the topic for April of an online discussion series, titled America the Fixable, hosted by in partnership with Common Good. The series brings together prominent leaders from both major political parties, as well as other leading experts, to discuss how to fix broken government. The essays contributed by those leaders and experts are also archived at America the Fixable.

For more information or to speak with Philip K. Howard, contact Emma Mittelstadt at 212-576-2700 x250 or

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America the Fixable: Grade Retention and Other Dead-End Educational Policies

The latest entry in "America the Fixable" comes from Kevin Welner, professor of education and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Welner argues that we should pay more attention to what we know works, and what doesn't work, to improve schools. "Education policy, like so many areas of lawmaking, is rife with reform proposals that, while attractive on paper, are supported by little or no evidence," Welner writes. "Some are even proven failures. Yet once a lawmaker becomes fixated on a proposal, it seems that no amount of evidence will dampen that pursuit."

Read the rest of Welner's piece here.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.

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Start Over: New Ideas to Overhaul Government, Regulation, and Litigation

Start Over

Read Philip K. Howard's collection of essays--proposing bold, big ideas to fundamentally reform our governmental and legal systems. Available for download.

Click here to view and download the 20-page Start Over publication.

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America the Fixable: Politics and Education Don’t Mix

P.L. Thomas, professor of education at Furman University, joins our America the Fixable series with an essay on the pitfalls of bureaucracy in American public education. "Bureaucracy bestows authority and a hierarchy on education that allows and perpetuates leadership without expertise or experience," Thomas writes.

"Universal public education needs a new wall, paralleling the wall of separation between church and state: a wall between education and government and corporate America," says Thomas. "Power over funding and broad performance benchmarks can remain vested in political leaders. But granular operational details should be left to educators and local administrators, the people best suited to achieve these goals in their schools and classrooms."

Read the rest of Thomas's essay at The Atlantic.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.

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Providence Journal: Rules without responsibility

The following editorial was published in today's Providence Journal:

The drowning last June of Marie Joseph, 36, in a state-run Fall River pool has elicited the response that such sad events often do -- the imposition of complex changes but not the expectation of greater responsibility. Guidelines for supervision of such public facilities by lifeguards and other staffers have long been clear.

Incredibly, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Swimming Pool, the body of Ms. Joseph, who apparently couldn't swim, was undiscovered for two days after she drowned. The excuse given was that the water was murky.

But if it were that murky, why didn't some staffer notice? Indeed, state officials said the water did not meet state standards and that the pool shouldn't have been opened last year.

So the people who use these public pools will suffer as officials try to show that they're doing something. Officials are suspending the use of all water slides at the state-run pools. Less fun for the low-income folks who tend to be the biggest users of these pools. That is despite Massachusetts Recreation Commissioner Edward Lambert's saying that the slide at the Fall River pool did not appear to be a direct factor in Ms. Joseph's death.

Meanwhile, the depths of 11 of the 24 pools run by the state will be lowered to 5½ feet by June 23, and security cameras installed, The Boston Globe reported.

The remaining 13 will eventually also be transformed if money is found. More lifeguards will be hired and there will be a couple of weeks of additional training. And, of course, a new administrative structure will be created to oversee all this, with the new post of state aquatics director.

The net effect will probably be fewer pools and fewer days of operation, as money and other resources are diverted for these changes -- all aimed at giving the appearance of preventing tragedies that attention and common sense should block in the first place. So fewer people will probably have a chance to enjoy this healthy exercise.

Without a culture that re-emphasizes personal and institutional responsibility, such changes won't measure up to the publicity associated with their creation.

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America the Fixable: The Three Main Obstacles in the Way of Education Reform

Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, joins "America the Fixable" with an article on the three factors that prevent us from making progress in education reform:

  • "Buying reform" is the time-honored practice of sugarcoating tough problems with money.
  • Schools lack for an adequate way to measure teacher performance.
  • Education policy is by its nature change-averse. "[W]e've created an environment in which our schools can't really respond to the demands for improved student performance, or think creatively about productivity-enhancing reforms."

Read the rest of Rotherham's analysis here.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.

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America the Fixable: Why Teachers are Too Isolated

Jeffrey Mirel and Simona Goldin of the School of Education at Michigan University say teachers work best when they work together, sharing ideas and teaching methods. "[T]eachers spend only about 3 percent of their teaching day collaborating with colleagues," write Mirel and Goldin in the latest installment of "America the Fixable." "The majority of American teachers plan, teach, and examine their practice alone. In other countries, such as Finland and Japan, where students outperform those in the U.S. in international tests such as PISA and TIMMS, collaboration among teachers is an essential aspect of instructional improvement."

The authors suggest that a common curriculum and new approach to teacher evaluation would encourage teachers to work together improving their skills. Read the full article here.

"America the Fixable" is an online magazine collaboration between The Atlantic and Common Good. It provides a bipartisan forum for the presentation of bold, new ideas to reform America's governmental and legal system--ideas that need to be part of the 2012 debate.

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Ron Faucheux of Common Good comments on the GSA scandal

A recent public funds abuse scandal has raised questions about accountability and responsibility at the General Services Administration and beyond. Today, Politico hosted a discussion of the scandal’s implications featuring members of Congress, leading political commentators, and scholars. Ron Faucheux of Common Good offered these comments:

When it comes to the management of government, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of malpractice.

Focusing on bureaucratic waste and dysfunction is an opportunity to transcend contentious partisanship. It is something the left and the right should embrace. But, for some reason, neither side has fully engaged this issue.

Liberals believe government should be consequential, an active problem solver. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that they should push for more efficient government? Shouldn't they view wasteful spending and bloated bureaucracy as the enemy of useful programs and essential services?

If conservatives truly want to cut government, shouldn’t they focus on structural reform and better management? Shouldn't they identify waste in specific agencies and call daily press conferences to expose bureaucratic idiocies, one by one?

The GSA scandal is not just about short-term blame. It's a symbol of a much bigger issue. And both sides are missing the boat.

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