Monday, March 31, 2014

A Massachusetts School Superintendent Speaks Out Against Testing and Mandates

The URL below leads to a blog piece written by Todd Gazda, superintendent of schools in Ludlow, Mass.  He writes a very passionate piece about standardized testing and mandates coming from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  It's worth your time:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Parents be damned

In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Times, one of the country’s top five newspapers by circulation, weighed in earlier this month on Common Core, the latest reform program for the country’s public schools.  Here’s a sum up of the paper’s arguments:

  • ·      California K – 12 public schools are so bad there are more reasons to enact Common Core than do away with it.  This view is similar to that of Harvard University Education Policy Professor Paul Peterson, who I interviewed last summer when covering Common Core’s implementation in Massachusetts.  He described Common Core as a step up for California schools but said if he were a Bay State parent with kids in Massachusetts’ public schools, he’d be very disappointed in the program.
  • ·      Common Core’s standards were adopted voluntarily, an Orwellian argument.  More than 20 years ago, when Massachusetts reformed its public schools – making them the best in the nation – the effort that it was going to take, along with the money that would be used, was put to a vote in both houses of the state legislature.  It was a highly contentious debate but, as it played out in newspapers and on radio and television stations, it gave parents time to digest the arguments, pro and con, and, at the very least, understand what their children would be facing.  With Common Core, in comparison, we have a vote taken by a subset of state officials, not representatives of the public body at large.  So it’s all in how the word “voluntarily” is defined.  As Common Core advocates see it, it means limited to what most voters would likely consider an obscure set of state officials.  It also shows what Common Core’s supporters think of parents and teachers and anyone responsible for bringing up and teaching the country’s youth (Not a lot!)  Why are Common Core supporters so opposed to democracy and putting their program up for a vote?  Why no discussion?  One should fear the manner in which Common Core is being implemented and what this means for democracy, that little idea we fought a Revolution over more than 200 years ago.  (Hint:  The Continental soldiers weren’t looking for more government in their lives.)
  • ·      High school math standards are coming down – and that’s a good thing, says the Times.  Really?  Apparently this doesn’t strike the editors as odd.  They likely weren’t great math students anyway (which is why they’re in journalism).  They quoted the Mathematical Association of America as saying they’re okay with lowering the country’s math standards.  What this means – if the editors had bothered to think this through – is that the math standards expected for earlier generations, even mine, were far more demanding.  Thus, by lowering Johnny’s math requirements, we’re giving him a confidence boost.  This proves the theory that every kid’s a champion, no matter the performance.  As my neighbor (a mother of two boys) likes to say, “Every kid earns a cupcake.”
  • ·      The editors are under the impression that those against Common Core are only Tea Party Republicans.  Let me clear that up:  I’m not a Tea Party Republican.  In fact, I’m not a Republican.  The only party I ever joined (more than 30 years ago) was the Democrats.  I’ve lived long enough to see that was a mistake.  I’m not registered with any party and haven’t been so for more than 25 years.  What I am – first and foremost – is a concerned parent bringing up, with his wife, two boys, in the 5th and 4th grades, respectively.  I wondered, as I read the editorials in the Times, whether there’s a parent among the editors.  It appears doubtful. 
  • ·      Both editorials in the Times raise questions about the current state of American journalism.  The news business, which is all too ready to search for a scandal in private enterprise or among politicians, refuses to consider the possibility of one in education.  If someone comes along, saying they’ve got a great new way to teach kids, newspaper editors see a saint and readily accept their arguments.  David Coleman, in the vanguard on behalf of Common Core, heads up The College Board, the owner of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, taken by high school students interested in attending college.  The College Board’s test competes with the ACT, which is gaining considerable traction against the SAT.  Common Core gives every appearance of being nothing more than an attempt to start prepping kids for the SAT as early as the 1st grade and is also a means to push against the ACT’s success.  Why this hasn’t been investigated and discussed – as a possible conflict of interest by The College Board or as its attempt to dominate and takeover public education – in mainstream newspapers is a mystery.
  • ·      The standardized testing industry in the United States – if limited to just The College Board, the ACT and the Educational Testing Service – is worth about $2 billion.  Based on my review of their tax documents, that’s about $750 million for The College Board, a little more than $300 million for the ACT and just over $1 billion the Educational Testing Service.  And, of course, that’s before taking into account each state’s standardized tests that someone must be paid to create, write and grade.  Reporters and editors should examine whether Common Core and, essentially, its subsidiary testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is really about propping up the standardized testing industry or, at the very least, The College Board.  Here’s another example of where it appears to be.
  • ·      Who among us was career-ready, as the proponents of Common Core like to say, when we graduated from high school?  Other than the kids who held babysitting jobs, worked as a cashier at the local drug store or another retail outlet, maybe stocked shelves, or the ones who cut lawns – none of whom planned to turn those jobs into careers – I didn’t know anyone who was “career ready” once they finished high school unless, possibly, they attended Rye Tech in Stamford, Connecticut.  Those kids learned how to be plumbers, electricians and carpenters, perhaps other jobs, and, likely, were ready for their careers.  But, of course, Rye Tech students were likely facing an apprenticeship for a few years once they graduated, which would actually make them “career ready.”
  • The world is flat, says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.  That means any job can be done anywhere around the globe so long as that country's political and economic system allows it.  In other words, an accountant in Singapore can complete the tax forms for U.S. citizens.  A South Korean scientist can do what one does in California.  When executives think about opening an office in a distant city or a foreign land, they certainly consider the kind of employee they're likely to hire in that location.  So if Common Core really is bringing down standards -- and by every appearance it seems to be -- then there's every reason to believe that U.S. children will become far less competitive than their peers overseas.  So how is that career readiness argument holding up?  Again, this is a question that needs investigation.  
  • ·      In spite of what some might believe, this isn’t the first time someone’s come along saying they’ve got a curriculum to prepare kids for either college or career.  As the late, great historians Richard Hoftstadter and Charles Beard (hat tip to the fellow DePauw alum) write in their books – Anti-intellectualism in American Life (Knopf, 1963) by Hofstadter and The Rise of American Civilization (Macmillan 1930) by Beard and his wife, Mary – there are plenty of examples of anti-intellectualism in American history.  Common Core is just the latest one.  This new fangled system, if we’re to accept it at face value, isn’t about pushing kids up; it’s about lowering standards.  Common Core’s proponents say it’s about reducing lessons in math and reducing the amount of literature studied in K – 12.  It’s no wonder one of Common Core’s biggest supporters includes a Harvard dropout, Microsoft founder Bill Gates.  His “lack of education hasn’t hurt (him) none,” as Paul Simon sings, and, as the billionaire sees it, it won’t hurt anyone else’s son or daughter either.
  • ·      The single largest issue facing public schools is that it’s a stressed system.  It is required to teach every child, no matter their issues, because it’s supported by tax dollars.  This means schools need to be just as engaged in teaching – for lack of a better term – typical children as well as ones with special needs.
  • ·      When it comes to reforming education, it is surprising what’s off the table for consideration, like lengthening the school day for an hour, maybe more.  Instead, today’s teachers are doing the same thing their predecessors did – cramming as much stuff as they can into a six-hour day, and that’s before we eliminate time spent on music, art, physical education, health, recess and lunch, which means we could be down to about three hours, on average, of real teaching any given day.  If the country’s public schools are failing, especially compared to their peers overseas, then it’s time to undertake the debate about lengthening the school day, even the school year.  Why are we wedded to 180 days?  Well, there’s a union issue to deal with when it comes to many public school teachers and, apparently, no one wants to tackle that challenge.  It’s easier throw out one curriculum so another can be put in its place.
  • ·      Finally, there’s an issue of what kind of student is showing up at college these days.  For that insight, I turned to Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein.  When he joined Emory 20 years ago, they had 350 students majoring in English.  Today, that number’s down to about 150 majors.  I sought out Dr. Bauerlein’s expertise when writing about Common Core for baystateparent last summer and, unfortunately, couldn’t use his quotations due to space limitations.  Here are his views on today’s students and Common Core:  

    • .. the issues I’ve observed.  It’s part of a trend, a 15-year trend.  There are far fewer bookish students than there were.  I mean the ones who do reading on their own.  They’re not interested in grades and career, but they have interesting minds.  They’re 19-year-old freshmen.  They’re reading Nietzsche, looking at Freud.  Dostoyevsky hits them hard.  That kind of student is disappearing. It’s partly the digital age, the decline of books and the spread of cable that’s bringing this around.  It’s not a book-based world anymore.  Common Core doesn’t stop the process.  It doesn’t do anything to maintain books.  Unfortunately, it gives license to bringing newspaper clippings and blogs into the classroom.  It doesn’t compel it.  But it doesn’t stop it.


The College Board’s 2011 Tax Forms:

The Educational Testing Service’s 2011 Tax Forms:

ACT Inc’s 2011 Tax Forms:

Interview with Dr. Bauerlein was conducted in July 2013.

Interview with Dr. Peterson was conducted in July 2013.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tutor Time: One Solution to Solving Math Problems

Tutor Time: One Solution to Solving Math Problems

by Doug Page
Writer's Note:  This article, by yours truly, appears in this month's Bay State Parent. 

Editor’s Note: When a child’s math skills don’t add up, is it time for a tutor? This month, baystateparent asked one father to share his experience finding a specialized math school to help his son.

Way back yonder, when children were but a passing fancy, I had this recurring nightmare: Our kids are born with my history/writer brain instead of their mother’s financial/math brain.

If it was particularly horrifying, the nightmare included a word problem.

“Joe has $5 and wants to buy five apples for his four friends and himself. Each apple costs $1.36. Can Joe buy everyone an apple?”

The nightmare always ended the same way – me running for my life!

As good fortune would have it, the subject challenges only half of our children. Our fifth grade boy finds math much easier than our fourth grader.

So, it’s better than I dreamt.

Still, what to do to help our youngest son?

About 18 months ago, as school was coming to an end, my wife purchased math books for each of our boys. The books were recommended by our school district. The exercises, we were told, would keep the kids’ skills sharp during the summer break.

Our younger son’s teacher warned us that he had some issues with math. But we were confident that by working through the book, all would be fine come September.

Unfortunately, by the time he finished the last lesson, my wife and I were struck with fear that his math skills left a lot to be desired.

To confirm our thinking, I asked our younger son to answer a complex, mathematical problem.

“What’s 10 minus 9?”

His deer-in-the-headlights response told me all I needed to know: He was in trouble.

Now we had a quagmire.

There were two weeks until school started. What to do? Get a tutor? Find a class? It was all very confusing.

Just a short time later, on a Saturday morning while watching our younger boy play baseball, a mom I knew started telling me about her son and his math struggles.

Like us, they had worked with their boy on his math skills during the summer and endured some of the same experiences – tears and emotional outbursts from him while working through the exercises.

So, to improve his skills, she and her husband enrolled him in the Russian School of Mathematics in Newton. My wife and I decided to check it out – and quickly.

I called the principal of the school’s Wellesley location and she agreed to allow our son to “audit” the first class so we could get a sense of his reaction.

As we drove to that first class, there were tears and more tears from our son, who was convinced he was headed for some sort of torture. I tried to calm him, saying it would be fine. Two hours later, when I picked him up, his face was all smiles.

“How was it?” I asked.

“I had fun,” he replied.

With that, I paid the tuition, finalizing his enrollment while simultaneously feeling a huge sense of relief.

I can’t tell you that our son found the class easy, but it has been very helpful. Part of what made the experience so strong was that the class size was very small, all of about seven children. His math skills improved substantially and the lessons put him slightly ahead of his peers.

His teacher covered the concepts of area and perimeter about six weeks to a month ahead of his elementary school teacher, helping our younger boy to look like an old pro to his classmates when the time came to cover the same material – a huge confidence boost for him.

The biggest challenge our younger boy faced, as did my wife, was the homework. It takes about two hours to complete and that means setting aside time, mostly on the weekend, to finish it.  

Like many a family, we’ve traveled on vacation with his math assignments in tow.

The school we chose hands out grades and a written assessment for each kid, giving parents a sense of the child’s performance. But that was not our main concern. Our biggest goal was making sure our boy’s skills were improving. As long as that was happening, we weren’t worried, too much, about the grades.

To keep his math skills up this past summer, we enrolled him in a class at the Russian School that met twice a week for two hours each time. (Of course, he was thrilled – NOT!)

As the fall session approached, we enrolled both boys. For our elder son, the class is more about pushing his skills beyond where they are. Similar to what I saw with our younger son, I’m noticing his fifth grade class at the Russian School is ahead of his elementary school’s math work.

As someone who suffers from, for lack of a better term, a math phobia – likely brought on by my first grade teacher throwing my math book across the classroom – I’ll say the extra help has been a godsend. The program works for our family. 

It is not cheap, and we are fortunate my wife makes the kind of money that allows us to send both of our boys.

The education is tough and demanding. But by having the kids constantly repeat drills, tutoring made our sons more comfortable with the subject. It’s making their lives easier not only in their elementary school but also with daily math facts.

On a recent September morning, while reading aloud from Gregory Boyington’s autobiography about his days as a World War II pilot, I mentioned that he was paid $500 for each Japanese airplane he shot down while flying with the American Volunteer Group over China. Our elder boy asked how many planes he knocked out of the sky.

“Six,” I said.

“He made $3,000,” piped up our younger son.

A smile crossed my face as I thought, “Thank God!”

Education Policy -- Made Secretly

A great story in The Washington Post about how education policy is made in secret.  This particular reporter, Valerie Strauss, is one of the best around.  She's worked on a number of different stories but, lately, has been full time on education.

The URL below is well worth your time.  It'll take you to her story in The Post.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Common Core: The Industrial Tool

The only thing more disappointing than the changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test is the reporting by the news media on the event, including by yours truly. 

There’s more to this story than meets the eye:  It’s not just a simple case of vertical integration – which, with rare exception, most of the news media missed – it also comes with an added twist, coercion.

The SAT gives every impression of losing ground to its only competitor, the ACT test, another barometer for measuring college-level academic performance and part of many college applications.

The most recent numbers, as provided by The New York Times, show ACT test takers edging out SAT test takers by about 2,000 students, 1.666 million compared to 1.664 million.[i]

As The Times shows, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean the SAT is on the decline.  At least 12 states, the paper says, “now require, and pay for, all public high school juniors to take” the ACT.[ii]

If you’re David Coleman, president of The College Board, which writes, publishes and owns the SAT, this isn’t good news.

The College Board should flat out own the market – not have to share half of it with its upstart competitor.

So what do you do to increase market share?

Answer:  You adopt tactics and strategies to dominate the market and shape the industry’s standards, similar to what Starbucks and McDonald’s do so well in their industries.

Coleman, a former McKinsey & Co., consultant, studied the trends The College Board was experiencing, seeing that the SAT was under fire as being a meaningless test and the ACT was gaining ground.

As Coleman likely saw it, if ever there was a turnaround situation, this was it.

It’s very likely, during his consulting career, Coleman discussed vertical integration with his former employer’s clients.

Vertical integration, in case you don’t know, is a business practice that makes sense if it’s cheaper for a company to own their supplier instead of just buying its goods.  It can also be sound judgment to vertically integrate if it provides an advantage over competitors in the marketplace.

To turn around The College Board’s fortunes, Coleman teamed up experts in education with ones from American industry and created a curriculum that could be adopted in the nation’s public school system, grades K – 12.

In other words, long before the current crop of elementary school kids even think about college, they’re prepping for the SAT because they’re exposed to Common Core.

In time, if those five states holding off on adopting Coleman’s new-fangled curriculum continue doing so, he’ll say their students didn’t do well on the SAT because Common Core was missing from their education.

Common Core is the means by which Coleman has assured the fortunes of The College Board.  The fact that it comes at the expense of an outstanding K- 12 education, especially in Massachusetts, is no matter.  He’s served his master.

The only thing to worry about now is when the ACT will wake up, realizing it, too, needs to develop its own K – 12 curriculum.

And the only question the journalism world needs to answer -- including me -- is why no one saw this story sooner.  I offer no excuses.

[i] “Testing, Testing:  More Students are Taking Both the ACT and SAT,” The New York Times, August 2, 2013,

[ii] Ibid.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Common Core & the SAT

The most surprising news about the changes in the Scholastic Aptitude Test is that some leading media outlets failed to link the reforms to the one man working hard to prop up revisions he’s already made to American education.

Neither The New York Times nor Time magazine, in their main stories announcing the reforms to the SAT, mentioned that the changes were coming from Common Core’s leading advocate, David Coleman, who runs the College Board, which owns, produces, writes and publishes the SAT test, taken by nearly 2 million high school students annually.

In other words, the question that remains unanswered is the combined commercial interests of Common Core and the College Board; if they're both linked -- and they give every appearance they will be soon -- what sort of money is at stake?

Common Core, nothing more than an all-out assault to dumb down American education, is Coleman’s baby.  He’s successfully pushed it – or, as he likes to say, it was “voluntarily accepted” – by 45 states, some of which are now pushing back against this latest reform effort.

Coleman is a former McKinsey & Company consultant.  His educational background is impressive, including a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Yale University, and he was a Rhodes Scholar, earning another bachelor’s degree from Oxford, in English Literature, and a master’s in ancient philosophy from Cambridge.[i]

Coleman never spent a day teaching kids.  He may have made appearances here and there in a classroom but he’s never been held accountable, professionally, to make sure (the proverbial) Johnny can read, do math or understand science.

In other words, when it comes to day-to-day instruction and how kids go about learning in a classroom setting, he’s clueless.

For that matter, from what I can gather on the College Board’s website and others discussing his background, he doesn’t appear to be a father.

I’m not going to go off on a tangent that one needs to be a parent to fully understand public school education or what it’s like to teach kids; but as a dad closely involved in his kids’ education, I’m here to say it helps – big time!

Yet Coleman’s gained the ear of the high and mighty interested in education, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the National Governor’s Association as he’s peddled Common Core.

The whole basis of Common Core, from key critics at places like Harvard and Stanford universities, is that it slows math education, putting American kids further behind their peers overseas, and it spends far too much time on “informational texts” rather than literature and, as a result, logical thinking skills are diminished. 

Coleman is all about evidence-based education.  In other words, he wants American kids to consider, when it comes to literature, whether or not an author proved their point.  What evidence did they provide, in other words.

Ask yourself, did Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger, and the many other leading authors in American literature, ever prove a point? 

Of course they didn’t.  They weren’t supposed to!

Their job was to tell a story rich in detail that captivated readers’ imaginations, making them stop and think about their own lives as well as the lives of the characters. 

Since Coleman is such an advocate for evidence-based education, we should wonder why he never proposed so much as a modest test, in some community somewhere, where Common Core could be assessed and compared to another community not using this latest reform effort. 

Probably that’s due to his ego or he feared the worse – his baby would fail.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Ich bin ein Berliner

The tragedy of watching President Kennedy’s inspirational 1963 speech in West Berlin, and hearing his now famous phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” met with cheers from the city’s citizens, is that too many people can’t put his words into historical context. 

What they don’t see is what it took for JFK to earn the crowd’s adoration.  It was coming from a people experienced in living under a totalitarian regime, Hitler and his Nazis, who, very suddenly, found themselves at the epicenter of the next greatest political stand off – the fight between freedom and Soviet-style oppression.

Having received the news about the Berlin Wall in August 1961, President Kennedy could have written off West Berlin, letting it fall into the hands of the Soviets and East Germans.  He could have stated there was no strategic consequence to ceding the city.

But instead of taking the easy way out, President Kennedy made a difficult decision, ordering what would become known as the “Berlin Brigade,” a 1,500 strong contingent of U.S. troops, into West Berlin, demonstrating that the United States wasn’t about to allow the Soviet Union and East Germany to occupy the entire city – at least not without a fight.

By doing so, Kennedy was challenging Moscow to a dare – to find out how serious they were about taking West Berlin, since only days earlier they started building the Berlin Wall.

Today, we’re at the same point with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the issue of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  If ever there were an “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment for President Barack Obama, this is it.

This isn’t the fight the United States and its allies want.  Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula likely come with more problems than we would prefer to solve.

But the issue isn’t Ukraine alone.  It’s what happens next if we don’t stop Putin now.

Are a country’s borders for real?  Or can they simply be shifted back and moved around at will, depending on which army invades?

When does Putin look at a map of the United States, to see where Russian émigrés are living, and do the unthinkable:  Decide his fellow citizens, inhabiting towns like Ashland, Brookline, Newton, Millers Falls and Sharon Massachusetts; Sharon Springs, New York; Mountain View, California, and various suburbs around Chicago, like Northbrook and Wheeling, Illinois, and think they, too, need to be protected.[i]

In fact, according to the source for that information, there are 101 cities and towns in the United States where many Russian immigrants are living.

Do they require the services of the Russian Armed Forces?

President Obama needs to make the hard decision.  He needs to put a contingent of troops on the ground in Ukraine and in the Crimea, showing Putin that he better withdraw his ground forces.

If he does so, he might just get the “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment he so very much wants.

If he cedes so much as an inch of ground to Russia in this latest international standoff, he looks no better than Jimmy Carter or, worse, Neville Chamberlin.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!

 That iconic American, Mark Twain, said it best:  “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

It shows in the comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, justifying his country’s military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula:

“He … insisted that if Russian-speaking citizens in the east of
 Ukraine ask for Russia's help, Russia has the right ‘to take all
 measures to protect the rights of those people.’”[i]

And from Adolf Hitler as his forces entered Austria – without a shot fired – in what’s termed the “Anschluss” (or union) in March 1938:

            “The Reich will not permit Germans to be persecuted any longer
             in this territory because of their membership of our nation or
their loyalty to certain views … I have, therefore, decided to place
the assistance of the Reich at the disposal of the millions of Germans
in Austria … soldiers of the German armed forces have been
marching across the entire border of German Austria … They
will guarantee that the Austrian people will shortly be given the
opportunity to decide their future and their destiny by means
of a genuine plebiscite.”[ii]

Before long, posters were going up, declaring, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!  (One people, one empire, one leader!)

Soon after, Hitler broke up Czechoslovakia, by taking over the Sudetenland, where ethnic Germans lived, and, later that same year, with the acquiescence of Great Britain and France, ended the country’s existence (at least until the war ended).

So here we are, facing the greatest fascist since Hitler, figuring out how to prevent Putin from issuing the next order, which will likely send his troops into combat in the Crimea and on a march toward Kiev.

There’s speculation, by one CNN military analyst, President Obama told Putin he wouldn’t commit American soldiers to resolve this problem.[iii] 

So what’s Putin doing?  Biding his time before making a move that will shock the world even more. 

The tragedy of this situation is that it parallels Germany and the 1930s, a time when a forceful response from Great Britain and France, maybe even the United States, to Hitler’s provocations could likely have averted an even greater calamity, a European war that, all totaled up, killed about 40 million people, maybe more.[iv]

Just like today, no western European nation then had the stomach for military action, even a limited amount, which could stop something worse.

Sure, it’s hard to find a reason Americans and its western European counterparts will fight in the Crimea or in Ukraine but it’s better to initiate a standoff now, when the situation is more favorable to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

In fact, if Putin isn’t forced to withdraw, you can be certain, just as we learned from Hitler, he’ll strike again.  He was emboldened after Obama failed to involve the United States in Syria.  You have to fear what Putin will do next if Obama does nothing now.


The Anschluss happened nearly 20 years after the end of World War I, a time when many people viewed Germany as a defeated warrior.  It was just over 20 years ago today that Soviet leaders learned they lost the Cold War. 

Right now, many look upon Russia and see what their grandparents and great grandparents saw in Germany up until September 1939 – a country that was.

Putin knows this and, like his long ago predecessor, the czar Peter the Great, he’s reestablishing his country’s former dominance. 

In addition, if this latest provocation shows anything, it’s this:  There’s no such thing as a “peace dividend,” when defense budgets can be cut.  With the end of the Cold War, the world’s more dangerous.

What’s next? 

That’s the question that needs to be answered.  The possibilities are endless but Putin could do any of the following:

  • ·      Move against the Baltics.
  • ·      Team up with China (one of the few countries supporting Putin’s actions) – it could send one submarine to make sure the United States and its Asian allies are prevented from keeping the South China Sea open to international fishing.
  • ·      Align with China to prevent Japan from asserting its sovereignty over the Senkaku islands.  Here again, Russia could send a submarine to make a statement.
  • ·      Russia occupies the rest of its former Soviet state, Georgia, also located along the Black Sea.

What can be done?

What’s surprising is that not even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editors saw this one.  They suggested deploying the U.S. Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea, long the dominion of the Russian (and, previously, Soviet) navy. 

An even better idea comes from the playbook of the one president Obama likely admires, Jack Kennedy.

On August 13, 1961, East Germans sealed off the crossing points between East and West Berlin and started building the Berlin Wall.  There was a very good chance they would move into West Berlin, kicking out the United States and its allies from the city. 

Instead of playing a weak hand, President Kennedy and his generals played a strong one.

They created the Berlin Brigade and seven days later, on the 20th, marched 1,500 U.S. troops into West Berlin.[v]  Tensions were high but East Germany and the Soviet Union received the message – the United States would not be thrown out of West Berlin without a fight.

The same play could be used in Ukraine, perhaps in the Crimea, too.  Put U.S. troops, and allied ones on the ground and on patrol, saying very publicly they’re going to make sure the rights of those supporting the Kiev government are protected.

This puts Putin on notice.  If he fires a shot at an American or allied solider, there will be a vigorous military response.  Otherwise, we’re there as a peaceful force.

Journalist Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in his book about the Anschluss, states that Austria was always the world’s rehearsal ground.  Today, it’s in the Crimea and Ukraine.

If the United States and its allies fail to stand up to Putin, where does the stage go next?  How much worse will it be?

These critical questions require answers from President Obama and his foreign policy experts.