Wednesday, August 31, 2005

USNS Comfort Hospital Ship Heading to New Orleans

Balitmore news station is reporting that the hospital ship USNS Comfort is heading to New Orleans. To my knowledge this famous ship's last domestic deployment was 9/11. Where there is disaster and misery, so goes to the Comfort to provide just that. Update: Defense Department Press release about military assets being assigned to New Orleans area confirms the Comforts deployment.

Update 9/1/05: The Comfort is reportedly expecting a deployment order sometime today, with expected arrival in New Orleans sometime mid-next week. Current deployment orders are not available, but here are the ship's vital stats:

Operating Rooms: 12
Intensive Care Wards: 80
BedsRecovery Beds: 20 Beds
Intermediate Care Beds: 400 Beds
Minimal Care Beds: 500 Beds
Casualty Receiving Stations: 50 Beds
Total Patient Capacity: 1000 Beds
Length Overall: 894 Feet
Beam: 105.9 Feet
Draft Design: 32.9 Feet
Speed: more than 17.5 knots
Total Crew Accommodations: 1,215
Reduced Operating Status Personnel: 58 Navy Medical Personnel and 18 civilian Mariner
Tons of structural steel: 69,360

If the crew "hot racks" meaning the crew shares berthing and bedding space and if some other areas of the ship are cleared, the ship could probably take on a very large number of people--even serve as a transport for the sick and injured to take them to Houston, Pensacola or other locations where the infrastructure is capable of taking such cases.

In any respect, I have always had a great deal of respect for the Comfort, her crew and medical personnel. This is a smart move. The skipper of the ship needs to poor on the speed and get there as fast as he can.

FEMA Info update

FEMA Contact Numbers: 1-800-621-FEMA or TTY 1-800-462-7585.

Evacuees can call the American Red Cross’ information line at 1-866-GET-INFO for information regarding emergency assistance and public safety information and road closures. In addition, Louisiana residents can call the Louisiana State Police at 800-469-4828 to check on roadways that are open and safe for travel in less impacted areas.

For those victims who are not in Louisiana and have online access can apply online for assistance from FEMA. Go here for the starting page for their Individual Assistance Center.

If you are having trouble getting through, FEMA recommends calling the Red Cross at 1-866-438-4636. In addition to the requirements I mentioned earlier FEMA suggests you have this information available as well:

Your application can be taken quickly and is complete. The information you will need includes:

The street address of your damaged property
Your current mailing address and a telephone number where you can be reached in the event you have been forced to relocate
Your Social Security Number
Your household's approximate gross income at the time of the flood or, if you are reporting business damages, the gross income of the business
Information on the type of insurance coverage you have, particularly flood insurance

State Insurance Commissioners Information

Here is information from the state insurance commissioners on their websites.

Louisiana Commissioner has provided a list of LA property insurance company contacts. Here is the state's Hurricane Katrina Infomormation Page. LA Dept. of Insurance can be contact at 1-800-259-5300 or 225-342-5900 in Baton Rouge.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner can be contacted at 601-359-3569. The state has no dedicated Hurricane Katrina page as yet.

The Alabama Department of Insurance can be contacted at 334-269-3550 or at 800-433-3966 (in-state toll free). The state also has a list of insurance company contacts for the disaster. (scroll to the bottom of the page)

More Stuff on FEMA

Here is a quick information link to what FEMA will do. One of their first steps will be to establish a Disaster Recovery Center in or near the impacted areas.

At the DRCs victims will be able to talk to PEOPLE face to face in order to:

Discuss their disaster-related needs
Obtain information about disaster assistance programs
Teleregister for assistance
Update registration information
Learn about measures for rebuilding that can eliminate or reduce the risk of future loss
Learn how to complete the SBA loan application
Request the status of their application for Assistance to Individuals and Households

Announcements regarding the location of DRCs will be released by FEMA. So far none have been posted.

List of Insurance Company Numbers

The American Insurance Association represents property and casualty insurers as a trade association. The AIA has compiled a list of toll-free catastrophy claim reporting numbers.

The Propery Casualty Insurers Association of America has this information about insurance claims as a result of Katrina. I know it is hard to imagine, but as we have seen people will take a devasting event like this one and try to turn a profit by victimizing people. The PCI offers these tips about insurance adjusters:

Independent Adjusters - During a widespread natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, insurance companies want to respond to policyholders as quickly as possible and may hire independent insurance adjusters to supplement their own staff of adjusters. Independent adjusters are professional insurance adjusters who own their own businesses, but represent the insurance companies that contract their services. The independent adjuster will be sent to inspect the policyholders property to assess the damage and report the claim to the insurance company for settlement.
There are three types of adjusters:
· company adjusters who are insurance company employees
· independent adjusters who are independent firms that work for the insurance company
· public adjusters who are hired by the policyholder and for a percentage of the claim settlement, they will handle the claim and negotiate the settlement amount with your insurance company.

Regardless of what type of adjuster you use, make sure that the person is properly licensed. Ask to see identification, check their references and inquire as to how long they have been an adjuster. If you hire a public adjuster, check their qualification, ask about their fees, get a written contract outlining the fees and services. Avoid public adjusters that misrepresent themselves as being part of a government agency or being sent by your insurance company or agent. If you are still unsure, call your state insurance department.

Be on the lookout for scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Applying for FEMA Aid

Here are the handbooks for applying for FEMA Assistance. English Version Spanish Version.

To apply for FEMA Aid: Call 1-800-621-3362. For Hearing impaired ONLY call: 1-800-462-7585.

Have your Social Security Number, description of losses (see Flood Insurance Post), Insurance information (at least your insurance company, policy number if you have it), directions and Telephone number where you can be reached.

FEMA offers the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) which is designed to provide money and services to people in disaster areas that are not covered by insurance. NOTE: the program is not designed to return people to the status quo ante, but to provide some help. Not everyone qualifies.

To Qualify for Housing Needs All of the following must apply:

  • You must have losses in a Presidentially declared disaster area.
  • You must have filed for insurance benefits and the damage to your home is not covered by the insurance.
  • You or a member of your household must be a U.S. Citizen
  • The damaged home is where you usually live and was where you were living at the time of the disaster.
  • You can't live in your home now, can't get to you home as a result of the disaster or need repairs as a result of the disaster.
You can receive assistance for needs other than housing. Basically, the same conditions apply, meaning you MUST HAVE FILED A CLAIM with your insurance company.

If you have a vacation home or a time-share, you are problably not going to be eligible for this kind of FEMA aid.

More to come.

Flood Insurance Information

In response to an appeal on Michelle Malkin's Page, here is some info on filing flood insurance claims.

Here is a link to the FEMA Flood Insurance Claims Handbook .

According to the handbook, take the following steps after a flood. To be honest, in this case, some of these steps are a little rediculous, but don't give your insurance company an excuse to deny your claim.

Step 1. Contact your insurance agent or insurance company to let them know you have a a claim. Here is a list of insurance companies from the FEMA website for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. (If those links don't work, here is the main search page. Don't know your insurance company name, call your mortgage company--they will know. The Handbook says that you should have your policy number available, but I don't know any of my policy numbers, they can look it up by social security number.

Step 2. Separate Your Property. For those people who live in New Orleans, obviously not helpful, but others should start to separate damaged and non-damaged property. THROW NOTHING AWAY UNLESS REQUIRED TO BY LAW. If you have to throw something away, FEMA says to photograph it. The claims adjuster will need to look at the property to determine payout.

Step 3. Make a List of Damgaged Property. This is your personal property along with an esitmate of cost. For many people in affected areas, this is going to be important and difficult. The pre-flood steps say to make a complete list of property with value. Since many people might not have done this, you are going to have to do the best you can. Market prices on items can be helpful.

Step 4. List Areas of Structural Damage to your home. REbuilding is a while away, but if you can, make this assessment.

Filing Your Claim will require a proof of loss within 60 days. FEMA has the power to extend that 60 day deadline. FEMA will notify your insurance company and local news about the extension. Given the severity of this event, an extension is very likely BUT DO NOT RELY ON IT. Get you claim process started now.

There is a lot of information in the Handbook about flood claims. Refer to it and your insurance policy. Here is a summary of flood insurance coverage. Here is the homepage of the National Flood Insurance Program. Got a condo? Go here, it includes information about timeshares as well.

Linked to Michelle Malkin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

National Governors Association Education Choice Report

The National Governors Association has released this report on School Choice options. While the report itself is not long, it does discuss, in general terms, some of the options, ideas and requirements to make a true school choice regime work.

While I admit that I am relatively new to researching the realm of school choice, this is probably the first study by a non-partisan group to present a pretty balanced look at choice options for parents.

The report looks at different strategies for assisting the development of school choice options as well as current challenges. The only challenges that the report identifies are financing challenges. To be sure, addressing issues of funding education is a huge step in the right direction, particularly in light of a recent Fordham Institute report detailing the inequities of funding for charter schools.

Although briefly mentioned, one of the real obstacles to true choice is the current management of schools. Alhtough some states have muliple tracks to the authorization of charter schools, the fact remains that most local and state school boards, captives of local teachers unions, are at best ambivalent about charters and at worst outright hostile to charters. Until such management reforms come to pass to remove this managment issue, charters will continue to face hostility among educrats.

The NGA policy studies carry a great deal of weight in state policy making circles. This report should be read by all who are interested in school choice. In addition to the ideas presented, the report contains many footnotes with great source material to a vast array of articles and studies on school choice options.

FEC Commissioner Toner on Media Misrepresentation

FEC Vice Chairman Toner takes the MSM to task about their misrepresentation of the recent Berman/Doolittle Advisory Opinion.

Vice Chair Toner begins:

The Aug. 24 editorial criticizing the Federal Election Commission's ruling that the McCain-Feingold law does not apply to this fall's ballot initiatives in California did not mention the most important part of this and every other administrative agency action: what Congress provided by statute on the matter.

Commissioner Toner implies, without impolitically saying so, that the real cause of the Berman/Doolittle AO is Congress. If they don't like (and I haven't heard a great deal of complaint from Capitol Hill on the matter) Congress can amend the law, just as I argued earlier.

While Commissioner Toner takes a more diplomatic approach, I will say this more directly. Newspapers need a course in civics and administrative law BEFORE they should be allowed to comment on regulatory outcomes. Regulators often have very little wiggle room when it comes to interpreting and enforcing statutes passed by Congress.

We need to do more to force Congress to make more concrete decisions in the campaign finance realm and other, more important, areas of law.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is Politics the Next Venue for a Speech Code?

Is America in the early stages of developing a political speech code, similar to those now found on hundreds of college campuses across the country? These speech codes, often imposed in violation of basic free speech rights by state universities, obstensibly aimed at preventing harassment, in reality serve to contain speech that is subjectively offensive to one person or a favored group, making the free exchange of ideas difficult, if not disasterous, for those whose speech runs counter to the accepted "norm" of the college campus. In his 1991 book on the changing campus environment, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, Dinesh D'Souza noted:

Universities are a microcosm of society. But they are more than a reflection or mirror; they are a leading indicator...Of all American institutions, perhaps only the military brings people of such different backgrounds into more intimate contact.

From the early 1980's onward, the cultural outlook on college campus swung decidedly to the left. In order to advance what D'Souza called the victim's revolution, speech codes became increasingly common as a means of controlling debate and dissenting views. The venues and content of speech were sanitized, dissenting views regulated, if not de facto banned, and thus was born a new world on campus, one in which any speech viewed subjectively as offensive was verboten. In other words, campus speech codes served as the progenitor of the political speech code now at hand.

Last week, a transcript of a Washington state case dealing with political ads became the subject of a little internet reporting, here and here.

One of the most interesting lines from the decision is this little gem from Judge Richard A. Jones:

Under any notion of rational interpretation the suggestion that an elected official engaged in a "cover up" is an assertion that clearly and unambiguously suggests the official engaged in an act of deceit, deception, fraud or concealment...The notion that this advertisement was desigened to discuss the issues and noted a personal attack on the character strains credulity. Any listener knowing of the citizen's candidacy for attorney general would have only one reasonable interpretation: that is, that the ad was an exhortation to vote against [candidate Deborah] Senn.(emphasis added)

The ad in question was one of a pair that attacked Washington State Attorney General candidate Deborah Senn. The inclusion of the line accusing Senn of a cover-up distinguished this ad from the other, more general issue ad.

Aside from the attack on Senn's character, this would have been a case of no import, but by interpreting an attack on a candidate's character as a type of campaign activity designed to pursuade the voter about a person rather than about an issue, the court said that the ad with the personal attack was subject to regulation by the state.

Admittedly, I am unfamiliar with the Washington State precendent cited in the ruling, but it seems to me we are looking a a different realm of political speech regulation than had been previously contemplated in earlier times.

With the passage of BCRA, the regulation of more types of campaign ads, and the growing calls for more regulation of the media of political speech (namely anonymous blogs), are we as a nation heading toward a world in which political speech is to be the next victim of a speech code?
Consider for a moment that under the old, pre-BCRA Federal Election Campaign Act as interpreted in Buckley vs. Valeo, in order for speech to be regulated political speech, the advertisement in question had to contan the so-called magic words, such as "elect, vote for, vote against," a particular named candidate. Under BCRA, any ads which promote, attack, support or oppose an indentifiable federal candidate are regulated. Thus if you put a picture up on the TV screen and say nasty things about a canddiate, that can be interpreted as a campaign ad and thus subject to regulation.

Thus, despite what I think is a dumb result, Judge Jones is exactly right in his ruling under federal law and I would presume state law. While this may be a correct legal ruling, the underlying question becomes, what about politics has changed so much that we need a speech code, a set of regulations designed to inform the voter as to who paid for the ads?

Politics has always been a bit of a blood sport. At the heart of politics is control over the policy-making and enforcing apparatus of the state. Politics has been the venue of a number of episodes of character assasinations, brutal outings and complete misinterpretations of the indiscreations of youth. Yet, in 2005, reforms like John McCain and other think that our sensitivities are too delicate to allow unfettered debate. In their eyes, we need a speech code, because we dumb common folk are too stupid to understand that when one group charges a candidate allegedly covered up some incident, that we can see through the rhetoric to see an attack ad when presented with it.

The next several election cycles will surely test the growing political speech code. Too much regulation is a bad thing and leads to stagnation, indoctrination and lack of diverse opinions. If you don't believe, go to any college campus with a sign that says "Feminists and Minorities are Destroying Education" and see how long you last.

When In Doubt, Blast the FEC

The New York Post has joined the chorus of major newspapers(Wash. Post and Fred Wertheimer in particular are strident in their opposition) decrying the FEC Advisory opinion that would allow California Congressment Howard Berman and John Doolittle to raise funds to counter a ballot initiative in their homestate that could redistrict them out of a job.

Of course it is very easy for the press and campaign reformers to take a stab at the FEC, since the FEC is an easy scapegoat. But like all complicated questions of public policy, the real culprit lies elsewhere. In this case, the fault and blame should be place squarely at the feet of Sens. McCain and Feingold and Reps. Shays and Meehan--the authors and architects of the train wreck called BCRA.

You see the FEC is guilt only of interpreting a law given to it by Congress. Congress is setting up the regulatory framework of BCRA could have said no candidate for federal office or federal officerholder may raise any soft money for any election regardless of whether that election is a federal election, state or local election or a ballot question. But Congress didn't. They restricted the soft money ban to elecitons in which a federal candidate appears on the ballot. In this case, neither Berman nor Doolittles nor any other federal candidate will appear anywhere on the ballot. Thus it is not an election for the purposes of BCRA--which is exactly the opinion given by the FEC.

In short, the FEC followed the law as it was written. If Shays and Company along with the Reform community want to argue something different, they need a different law. To change the law, Congress needs to amend it by making the tough choices and running the risk of political and constitutional obstacles.

FEC Asks for Shays Rehearing

The FEC announced that it is petitioning for an en banc review by the entire Court of Appeals for the DC circuit of the Shays v. FEC case which invalidated a fair number of regulations, including those involving electioneering communications and others.

the mainstream media is already on the case:

Washington Post
L.A. Times
Boston Globe
S.F. Chronicle

Talk About Your Community Perks!!

Check out this latest .effort by housing developers to bring more people to its developments.

Cambridge Homes, based in Libertyville, wants to build a school for about 1,000 pupils in kindergarten through 8th grade in its new subdivision near Pingree Grove in the northern part of the county.

The developer said the public school is part of a quality-of-life package that home buyers want, and future residents said it's an undeniable draw.

If this is for real, I wonder what the outcome will be. Apparently the school board is opposed to the idea saying, oddly enough:

Susie Kopacz, vice president of the school board, believes the charter school would cause the district to take money from other campuses.

"The community should know it's a wonderful proposal and the school district would never turn down a good proposal if it was to benefit everyone," she said. "When it cuts deeper into our financial woes, it's not a wise decision."

This is coming from a school district that is some $140 million in debt, so the financial impacts are real. But wait, if the school is designed to server 1000 new K-8 students, wouldn't the district have to build a school for all those kids? Yes, but in this story, the school district is getting the school for FREE--the developer is footing the bill for the $18 million dollar facility.

So the real problem is the fact that this school will be a charter school, something that does not sit well with educrats and teachers unions.

That could create disparities within school districts where charter schools are built in wealthier subdivisions, said Denise Cardinal, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, a Washington-based union that represents 2.7 million education workers.

"That's one of the things we object to in charter schools, is charter schools that drain taxpayer dollars from [other] publicly funded schools," Cardinal said.

Hmm! Here is the funny thing, this is likely to be a pretty wealthy school district. If the school board built the school, that fact would not change in the least. The chances are that this school will probably be superior to other schools because it is new, whether it is a charter or not. Finally, regardless of whether it is a traditional public school or a charter school, two facts remain.

First, there may be as many as 1000 new kids that will need a school--whether it is charter or not. Second, the parents and adults in this upscale community will no doubt be paying significant taxes to support both the education of their kids and the education of other kids.

In trying to find a downside here, I am at a loss.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Electioneering Communictions Proposed Regulations

The Federal Election Commission has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to change the regulations regarding electioneering communications.

The Commission is considering a couple of different alternatives, but the only viable alternative is one that eliminiates all communications that promote, attack, support, or oppose (PASO--the FEC's acronym--not mine) a federal candidate.

Under BCRA, Congress defined an elecitoneering communication as any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication which refers to a clearly indentified federal candidate withing 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election and is targeted to the relevant electorate. See 2 USC 434(f)(3)(A).

One of the concerns of the FEC in this rulemaking are whether or not to apply these electioneering communication rules to 501(c)(3) organizations--charities. The FEC wonders whether applying the rules woudl be confusing to charities and impact their ability to perform their charitable missions. The FEC goes through a very long argument about this matter because their original regulations, according to a court decision did not cover these issues enough.

Here is an opportunity for the FEC to say, "we have enough regulation of speech, we don't need to make more." According to the NPRM, "The Commission is also considering exempting from the "electioneering communication" definition all communcations that do not PASO a federal candidate. This is the right course of action. The whole purpose of campaign finance regulation is to prevent the corruption or appearance of corruption of candidates and the electoral process. Any communication that is designed to impact the election of a federal candidate falls within the contemplation of the rules, any communcation that does not intend impact election does not fall into the purview of the FEC. End of story.

The plain language of the statute creates all the exemption necessary--the media exemption, exemptions for debates and their promotion and exemption for other regulated activities such as independent or coordinated expenditures. In short, what other exemptions are necessary? All this concern about charitable communications that might be subjectively interpreted as a PASO detracts from the real point, that all of these communications are protected speech. The fewer regulations the better.

I am planning on submitting comments to the FEC on this one, so more on the subject later.

National Governor's Association on School Choice

The National Governors Association has released this report designed to help states expand quality school choice programs. I have not gotten through the whole report yet, but this from the Executive Summary:

States have identified approximately 20,000 schools that did not meet expectations for adequate yearly progress and more than 11,000 schools that failed to meet adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years. Increasingly, policy leaders are concluding that providing quality education options can raise student achievement and improve existing schools.

Later on in teh summary:

Between 1993 and 2003, the percentage of students in grades 1-12 choosing to attend a public school other than their assigned public school increased from 11 percent to 15 percent, while the percentage attending assigned public schools decreased from 80 percent to 74 percent. The percentage of students attending private schools also increased during this period. This increase, however, was smaller than the increase in the percentage of students attending a public school other than their assigned public school.

As an aside, what about the data on home schoolers?

What I find interesting is the decrease in students attending assigned public schools, six percent is a big number among the universe of students in America. When, if ever, will public school administrators wake up and smell the coffee, Americans are increasingly frustrated with the ability of public schools to provide the necessary education for their kids.

More on the report when I finish reading it.

Firing Up on Kos

Hat Tip to Allison at Skepticseye

It seems that Fired Up! has submitted an advisory opinion request to the FEC asking for a ruling on whether a blog is entitled to the media exemption. Given that the AOR was prepared by Bob Bauer's shop at Perkins Coie, Fired Up and Perkins Coie have either made a pretty bad tactical error in submitting this AOR or a brilliant strategic move in preparation for litigation.

The one commissioner whose vote they were almost sure to get, that of Commissioner Smith, is no longer there. Of course, the FEC would still have to have 4 votes to pass the AO, so the five remaining commissioners can still take action. So let us do a quick nose count.

Commissioners Mason and Toner (the remaining Republicans) are likely to take the stance that bloggers should get the media exemption. That's two. Commissioner Thomas is not likely to support Fired Up for a media exemption for bloggers despite their liberal leanings. That leaves Commissioners Weintrab and McDonald. For me Commissioner McDonald is a mystery. I simply don't have enough to make more than an educated guess in favor of regulating the blogs since he tends to favor more regulation than not. Commissioner Weintraub could go either way depending on the effectiveness of the argument. But even with Commissioner Weintraub, Fired Up is one vote shy of its exemption without Commissioner Smith. Thus you end up with a 3-2 vote, one vote shy of the necessary four needed for any Commission action.

So in that respect you have a bad tactical move. But Comissioner Smith had announced his retirement some time ago and this was known to Bauer & Co. By submitting the AOR, Fired Up may be laying the groundwork for an either no action or a rejection of their position. Thus as an aggreived party, they could then sue in District Court seeking a judicial degree that the FEC is unable to provide or at least for the FEC to decide. If that is the intetion, well done to Perkins Coie.

Regardless of what happens, it looks like we will eventually get a decision about bloggers media exemption. As a blogger, I support the exemption, not because I think I am on par with other media outlets, but because I think people have the right to say what they want about candidates--even if they do so anonymously.

Education foundation targets city classrooms

I need to read up a little more on the The Stupski Foundation featured in this article in the Balitomore Sun yesterday.

From my point of view, I like the idea of focusing on systemic changes rather than focusing just classroom achievement. To be sure classroom achievement is the important end result, but changing the way schools are managed yeilds results as well since more resources and focus can be paid to classroom activities by making the management better.

Does anyone have any personal knowledge of this group?

CTA Mortgages HQ building to Fund Inititative Fight

According to the Washington Times, the California Teachers Association has mortgaged their headquarters building in order to fund their campaign against Gov. Schwarzeneggers initiatives regarding education. Earlier this year, the union voted to increase union dues by $60 per year for the next three years. This move is pretty interesting if you look at matters for a different point of view.

One of the ballot initiatives is a paycheck protection act, which "prohibits use of public-employee union dues for political contributions without prior consent of individual union members." This proposition is supported by some 57% of likely voters--which is a solid support number at this stage. When the CTA launched its efforts using dues money for political purposes, a large number of CTA members (for example Darren over at Right on the Left Coast) were pretty upset that their union dues continue to be used to fund a political agenda they oppose.

But this move to mortgage the headquarters building to immediately fund the political effort is sure to send Darren and others into a blind rage. See, by mortgaging the building and getting the money now, the CTA can oppose the governor with a full warchest NOW. The CTA does not have to wait for the increased union dues come in to pay for political operations.

When the loan comes due, the higher dues money (already approved) can be used to pay off the loan--which is not a political expenditure!! Thus the CTA will get full use of the dues money for political purposes, without having to worry about the paycheck protection provisions that would limit their ability to pay down the debts on their political activities.

Given that the CTA is far from a democratic organization, the rank and file surely did not get a vote on this mortgage action. The question in my mind is, was this the plan the whole time? Did CTA get a dues increase and then knowing the probable success of a paycheck protection initiative plan on the mortgage?

A question to ask.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

One Reason for Bad Education, Lack of Hard Data

Why do schools have trouble with educating kids, because they lack the ability to know simple, hard data items. Like this little bit.

Following up on the previous post, here is more news about my local school system. Frederick County Maryland--which is northwest of Washington, DC is a growing county and as such, there has been a lot of work done in preparation for this school year, including the opening of a new elementary school in the southern part of hte country. This article talks about a lot of the transformations over the past year, but this excerpt stood out:

Frederick County's newest school, Centerville Elementary, will welcome about 675 students in full-day kindergarten through fifth grade. According to principal Eileen Tipperman, about half of the school's 60 staff members are classroom teachers.

OK, so we have a new school with 60 staff members, only "about half" of which are classroom teachers. Even accounting for cafeteria, janitorial, library and administrative staff, I am still having a hard time coming to the conclusion that there needs to be one non-teaching staffer for every teacher. And while we are on the subject, why doesn't this new principal have exact numbers of how many teachers are on the staff she supervises? About half would say to me, it could be between 27 and 33, which is an error rate of 10%. What the.....?

When Education Goals Aren't

Since I have a daughter approaching the age of going to school, I have, understandably, become much more invovled and informed with the state of the education system in Maryland. I live in Frederick County Maryland which has a pretty good school system, not great but pretty good.

This year the School Board saw fit to hire a new Superintendent who was put through Q&A by a local reporter. When asked what her goals were for this year, the new Super said:

Continue to build a positive and collaborative relationship with our stakeholders -- parents, families, business community, elected officials

Focus on providing the necessary support and interventions needed to eliminate achievement gaps between subgroups of students

Refine our parent and family involvement initiative, focusing on two-way communication

Implement software that provides students and parents with Internet access to individual student grades

Continue to seek ways to recruit and retain outstanding employees

Continue to build our school system through a systemic leadership development program

Now I am just a middle manager in a software company with a law degree and I have been routinely tasked with setting goals and fulfilling goals. If I turned this kind of a list in to my bosses I would be laughed out of the office if not relieved of my duties.

None of these goals contains any hint of measurement, definitiveness or deadline. Goals need to have some sort of concreteness to them that is lacking in this list. The one goal that seems to deal with performance, related to closing the achievement gap is a federally mandated one and a state mandated one. This Super cannot claim as her goal something she is required to do.

Next, what makes these goals any different than any other wishy-washy goals. Year after year, we hear all kinds of "goals" being offered to the community and parents. But none of these goals actually talk about educating kids. I love this one "Refine our parent and family involvement initiative, focusing on two-way communication." It is both your duty as Super and the duty of all teachers and administrators in the schools sytem to talk to parents. True parents need to be involved, but teachers sometimes need to talk first. Why is this a goal? What about parent communication is so difficult that a school system needs to "refine" an "initiative" that should have been ongoing from day one.

I want a real goal, like "Prepare our elementary age school kids to be ready for pre-algebra clases by teh 5th grade." Or expand our school library holdings by 20% or something that I can put numbers to, analyze and determine if the schools were sucessful or not.

Carnival of Education

The Midway is open at the Education Wonks.

Do Campaign Finance Reformers Think People Are Stupid?

The short answer to the question is yes.

Allison Hayward, someone quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and bloggers, argues in a recent Personal Democracy Forum article that all of the regulations promulgated by the FEC and forced down our throats by the campaign finance reformer groups are quite unnecessary. The Federal Election Commission is considering rules about whether or not bloggers would be considered exempt under the press exemption or not.

As Allison notes:

Political pundits and commentators are a unique species called on to wear several hats in the course of doing their jobs. One individual could be an advisor to several campaigns, private interest groups, and be a regular on-air pundit as well as a pithy source of off-the-record information for beat reporters and editorial writers. This accepted state of affairs (at least inside the Beltway) strikes bloggers as supremely unfair.

In the world of public opinion, many people in America seem content to be driven by the opinion leaders of both sides of the aisle. But when a group of bloggers decides to do something that is becoming apprently more and more un-American, that is think for themselves and opine about it publicly, then such activity must be hammered to a halt by the reformers. The thoughts and opinions of bloggers might be--gasp!!!--biased!. You think!! That is the point of a blogger, to spout of one's opinion free of the yoke of newspaper editors and TV producers.

More from Allison:

Washington attorney Bob Bauer – a Democrat who blogs – says bias and connections shouldn’t matter. After all, it's part of the process. “It is not clear why being paid by an interest matters, except to suggest that the argument that the commentator makes should be disregarded. Why, however, should it be disregarded? It might be an excellent argument, even a persuasive one, but the audience is being asked, in the name of ‘bias’ to dismiss it” says Bauer. “By turning to the question of bias or motivation, critics are seeking to steer away from substance to quick, highly personal or reactive judgments about the speaker."

Bauer (another of my favorite reads) hits the nail on the head here. Rather debating, or dismissing, the quality of a bloggers words or ideas, campaign finance reformers what to label all such work as biased and therefore without merit simply because it is posted on a blog. What is next, a warning label required on teh blog: "Warning: This Blog Contains Liberal Biased Content" or "Warning: Conservative content ahead--proceed with caution."

You see, I think groups like Democracy 21 and its leader Fred Wertheimer treat people like idiots, thinking that we cannot determine for ourselves whether or not someone's ideas or viewpoints are biased. People in positions like Wertheimer treat the average guy like an idiot, incapable of rational, civilized thoughts of their own. I for one think that people reading this blog can make the determination for themselves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Um, Yeah--someone dropped the ball

Yesterday, Prince George's County Maryland schools went back into session. A brand new, state of the art elementary school has a some parents in an uproar, but this story has more than a few culprits to poke fun at.

Here are a couple items that constitute a problem for parents at William Hall Elementary:

But many parents don't think William Hall Elementary is a safe environment for their children. The school sits on Marlboro Pike, which handles heavy, fast-moving traffic and is also home to numerous liquor stores, with one sitting right across the street from the new school.

Okay, now I know county land for schools is often a little scarce, but did anyone involved with the site planning of this school think about the liquor stores across the street. And Oh, yeah, does it strike anyone else as sane to put a ELEMENTARY school next to a busy four lane highway? Which by the way has no crosswalks and parents and kids literally have to thread a dangerous needle to cross teh street.

And this little excerpt:

Verdi Mathis is concerned about the lack of sidewalks on her son's eight-block walk to school. Anita Anderson and other parents are handing out fliers urging parents to fight for bus transportation for all students.

"Yes, they've given us a brand new school to educate our children, but what about the danger you've put our children in?" she said.

[County Executive Jack] Johnson visited the school Monday morning and said he'd like to see more crossing guards and sidewalks near the school.

A couple of htings here. First, yes, the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks is a serious screwup by the county. But why would the county expend money to bus a kid 8 blocks--eight blocks, which is somehting like 3/4 of a mile. Are our kids so lazy (and their parents too) that eight (8) blocks is too far to walk??!!!

Second, the highest ranking government official in the County visits the school and says he would like to see more crossing guards. If I were the executive I wouldn't "like to see," I would make sure ther were there immediately, even if I have to do it myself or shanghai office staff to do it.

In an update today,

A newly painted crosswalk is in place, which was barely visible on Monday, the first day of school. Crews have also begun stringing the necessary wires to install stoplights.

A crosswalk without a stoplight on a busy, four-lane highway is about as effective as a screen door on a submarine. Well, at least corrective action is being taken, but I love this one from the County School CEO(what ever happened to the title of Superintendent?).

"We made, unfortunately, the mistake of not having the personnel in place where they should have been and there's no excuse for that," said acting Prince George's County schools CEO Howard Burnett. "We're going to make sure students have a safe pathway to and from school and make sure that they're safe once they reach the facility."

"We made a mistake" You think!! It doesn't take a genius to look around and see that there are no sidewalks or visible crosswalk (with no stop light either). What idiot visited this school, looked around and said, "Yep, its ready to go" without looking into the surroundings.

More from the school CEO

Burnett came to the school to get a first-hand look at some of the problems. He said he's going to take a look at the community to see where there are no sidewalks and see what needs to be done to ensure student's safety.

Prince George's county Maryland has more than its share of poor peforming schools for a variety of reasons, but it seems to me that if basic things regarding school construction are overlooked, how can this administration be expected to actually educate kids effectively.

Monday, August 22, 2005 is Misrepresenting the FEC

Here is another screed against the FEC with a great number of facts just completely wrong. James Sample, an attorney no less, needs to do a little fact-checking.

Three years ago, in response to widespread public support, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).

First, there was no "widespread support" for this bill. Most Americans could have cared less about this issue. In March 2002, the biggest issue on people's minds was 9/11 and national security concerns. Even in the 2000 elections, John McCain did not get a lot of traction on campaign finance reform as an issue.

Next, Sample starts off fine, but ends with a little misdirection.

Established by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) six commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, with no more than three members to be affiliated with one political party. Nominees of both major parties have often been chosen for their perceived partisan loyalties, rather than for their ability and inclination to enforce the laws passed by Congress. Indeed, one outgoing GOP commissioner, Bradley Smith, routinely advocated the abolition of the very commission of which he was a member, and the repeal of the laws the taxpayers were paying him to administer.

I will agree that many Commissioners have been chosen for their partisan affiliation, but even those Commissioners with whom I disagree have, in my opinion, done as good a job as is possible given they are tasked with enforcing a monstrosity of a law that Congress gives them. But Comissioner Smith's advocation for the dismantling of the FEC in no way affected his ability to act as a Commissioner. Indeed in many ways, his interpretations and efforts come closest to an accurate interpretation of the law as it was written by Congress--including McCain and Co.

The FEC is a Congressional created body designed to be weak, otherwise, why wouldn't the FEC look more like the Federal Communnications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission, with a odd number of Commissioners and a permanent chairperson. The answer, because Congress, the body most regulated by the FEC, did not want the FEC to be too powerful. When commentators like Mr. Sample join the fray in a disingenuous or ill-informed matter, people end up with a skewed view of the FEC and its mission. If we wanted to true campaign finance regulation, a lot of procedural changes would be needed.

Finally, there is this little gem aimed at President Bush:

Pollyanish though it seems, a legitimate opportunity exists to facilitate a respected—and productive—FEC. To make that a reality, President Bush must choose to listen to the true, proven advocates of campaign finance reform. Recently, the principal sponsors of BCRA in the House and the Senate, from both sides of the aisle, urged President Bush to appoint commissioners “who are serious about their duties to enforce campaign finance laws.” That is the radical proposition.

First, president Bush, or even Senator Reid, need not listen to the reformers. One of the perogatives of leadership is the ability to make decisions despite the advice of so-called experts. Second, the names offered by McCain, et al, are mere suggestions. The role of the Senate is to advise and consent. They have provided advice, it doesn't mean the President has to take it. If the Senate doesn't like a nominee, finds them unqualified, then they can reject the nominee--if they dare.

The FEC has a terrible job, one that I am not sure I would wish on my worst enemy (although I would take the job if asked by any president). They must interpret a law that is far from crystalline and any decision they make interpreting the law is guaranteed to irritate someone. Perhaps Mr. Sample would like the job--then he could see how hard it is. Even though I don't like some of the decision Chairman Thomas may sometimes make, I respect the man for the effort he puts into the job--as should we all. Because once again, McCain and the reform community want to make scapegoats out of the victims they created.

Posted on OTB's Traffic Jam

What You Don't Know About Federal Education Spending Will Hurt You

From yesterday's Washington Post comes this article, Equalizing Education Dollars, that reveals some surpising facts behind Title I education spending.

Old Title I hands remember the crisis early in the program's history when the NAACP showed that school districts were diverting Title I funds to buy band uniforms and swimming pools for nicer neighborhoods. The resulting uproar produced rules requiring school districts to spend as much on poor schools as on richer ones before Title I money was added on.

But our new research shows that abuses persist, despite the federal requirements. Now, however, the problems are driven by school districts' accounting practices and by demands from teachers unions -- not from some parents group working the system for band uniforms.

So how do school bureaucrats and labor unions screw up the system:

With labor contracts pushing salary scales that prohibit pay increases for those who take on the more challenging teaching assignments, districts can't lure their better teachers to their low-performing schools, which also tend to be the ones with children from low-income families.

So you can see that unions, despite their rhetoric about providing a quality education for everyone, are actually opposed to any incentive to improve education for poor performing schools and underserved populations--which is the purpose of Title I funds anyway.

While I am not surprised the union efforts distort the picture, here is a little gem I didn't know, which is now the subject of my review of my local school board budgets.

Some districts hide the problem by using a fixed districtwide salary average in place of each teacher's real costs. Thus, a school whose teachers are paid less than the district average is charged more for salaries than its teachers actually earn. The school is charged in the budgeting process with having a certain number of teachers at the average salary; the extra funds go to better paid teachers in other schools.

This kind of salary averaging does more than distort district spending. It can also cause districts to misallocate federal funds by overcharging for teachers paid by Title I. If these teachers earn less than the average teacher salary -- as large numbers of those working in high-poverty schools do -- the district pockets the difference between salaries paid and the district-wide average, which is the amount Title I is charged for each teacher. Thus, despite the Title I language that specifically earmarks the money to help low-income students, the federal funds get mixed into school districts' general funds. A portion of Title I funds intended for students in schools with the highest poverty levels is diverted elsewhere.

Here is where my passions for education and the law converge. Congress is due to reauthorized Title I and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2007. With any new legislation comes a new round of rulemaking by the Department of Education. People should start now to push Congress to adopt a strict, true accounting method of teacher salaries and other expenses when determining Title I funds. Of course, the problem gets to be that the people who most need the funds are those least likely to lobby Congress and the Dept. of Ed.

Given that Congress will likely punt on this issue due to political needs to reauthorize the law, the real meat and potatoes work will be done in the regulations. Here there is some wiggle room. First, all regulations must be posted for public comment. Everyone who is interested should comment, send in your ideas, your questions, concerns anything. By law, administrative agencies like the Department of Education must review all comments and consider said comments when formulating their final regulations. We as concerned parents and citizens can make a difference. Don't just let the unions and school boards have a say!

If Congress is going to be in the business of funding and regulating education, which arguably they should not, then we need to make sure the regulations address the needs of people, not unions or school boards.

Public Education the Next Social Security?

Last week, I posted a question over at Watchblog asking whether or not public education is becoming the Social Security of the 21st Century. For several reasons I believe there to be a very strong correlation.

For decades, we ignored the signs of decay or potential decay in both systems, surmising, incorrectly that there were enough funds to correct any problems. The difficulty in our head-in-the-sand approach is that we as a society have ignored the warning signs.

In the Social Security example, any actuary or demographer worth the paper their degree was written on could figure out in the mid-1960's when life expectancies were increasing that we would face a crisis in Social Security funding. Once can argue at what time the crisis would come, but the warning signs were there, yet we ignored them.

In the school context, we have long believed that if we just spent more money or embraced faddish idea X, that we would find the magic bullet that would suddenly yield a better educated class of children. Yet, we have for at least 20 years ignored the warning signs that merely spending more money on education did not yield the results being sought. Even now, with tentative toe-dipping in the water of school choice, we still ignore the the signs--that the method by which we provide education to our children no longer meets with accepted goals or prepares our children for the world of today.

What further strikes me as troubling is that the fact that one each of these issues, the politicians tasked with finding a solution (whether they should have that task is a different subject altogether), tend to be focused on side issues, such as how much should be diverted into private accounts for Social Security, or what is the proper teacher/student ratio or pay level for teachers. But in all the partisan hew and cry are people at risk. In a society that prides itself on its individualism, has our acceptance, even reliance, on public programs like Social Security and public education doomed us to a two sided, partisan debate on minor issues while at the same time ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room?

Each of these programs, Social Security and public education need significant structural reform, yet we dance around the big issue. For public education, the big issue is school management. Let's face it, one can look at the revolving door in local superintendent's offices to see to the manner in which our schools are managed is haphazard at best and subject to bureaucratic capture at worst, making the latest superintendent to be hired a relative non-entity.

It has taken the better part of a decade to get Democrats to admit a problem exists in Social Security. Will it take a decade or more to convince ardent supporters of public education that our method of providing public schooling is in serious need to a re-think? Will we produce yet another generation of students whose academic and thinking skills are worse than their parents' generation?

For how long will public education be the new third rail of American politics?

Cross-Posted at the OTB Traffic Jam

Affirmative Action and Education Standards

One of the interesting things about blogs and blogging is the plethora of interesing material out there. Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner have a blog (creatively titled The Becker-Posner Blog) which generally features more lengthy posts about a variety of topics of interest to the two gentlemen.

Recently Gary Becker posted an entry called On Affirmative Action.

The heart of the argument is this:

Most affirmative action programs, disguised or openly, use lower standards for African Americans and members of various other minority groups than for white males in determining whether they are promoted to higher level jobs in private business or government, admitted to better universities, and in other situations...It is obvious why affirmative action may hurt members of the majority group who are denied promotions or admission to various colleges, even though their records are better than many minorities accepted. But why is it bad for a country like the United States to do this, and often also for the minority groups gaining these privileges? My belief is that affirmative action is bad for any country that aspires to be a meritocracy, as the United States does, despite past slavery and discrimination that are terrible violations of this aspiration. The case for a meritocracy is that achievements based on merit produces the most dynamic, innovative, and flexible economy and social structure. Encouraging promotion or admission of less qualified applicants because of their race, gender, or other characteristics, clearly violates this principle, and produces a less progressive economy, and a distorted social structure.

Thus, Becker believes affirmative action is destroying America because it creates and perpetuates the very double standard that once existed as discrimination. Affirmative action now creates a lower standard for minorities rather than a higher standard created through more openly discriminatory programs of the past.

I can remember as a younger person hearing that standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT among others were "culturally biased." Today, a similar argument is being made against the NCLB standardized testing regime, although the term culturally biased is not used. The heart of NCLB, in my mind, is to hold schools accountable for teaching kids using ONE standard.

When people claim that testing to one standard is discriminatory in effect against minorities or the poor, what they ask for is an affirmative action style, double standard, i.e. a lower one for those lower on teh socio-economic ladder. Such a double standard inherently keeps such students down on that ladder. The question to ask when "advocates" posit a different standard is this, at what point in time will this double standard be lifted? The answer will always be some sort of wishy-washy statement like, "when the students demonstrate more capability of working at or above grade level" or some other mealy-mouthed horse puckey.

If you want education to be about providing opportunities, you cannot take opportunities away at the outset by making one group of people less beholden to group goals. Separating groups based on current skills and giving them a lesser goal does not aid them, it hinders them, just as affirmative action has hindered many minorities. Just because you can't do it now doesn't mean you won't be able to do it in the future with hard work.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mayberry for Congress Advisory Opinion Approved

Update on the previous post, the Federal Election Commission approved the advisory opinion discussed here without substantive change.

Commissioner Weintraub noted that the result seems incredibly bizzare, but since the law and regs dictate this result, the AO was approved. Nearly all the Commissioners objected to the AO on various grounds, but without a change in the law, there is little to be done.

Bizzare regulatory results should point to a need to revisit law and regulations. The subject matter of this AO is being reconsidered as the FEC today also approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking notice on electioneering communications to be published soon in the Federal Register.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Freedom of the Press--Well Not So Much

Tomorrow the Federal Election Commission will hold their bi-weekly open meeting at which they will consider three advisory opinions. Included on the agenda is this advisory opinion for Andy Mayberry for Congress.

It seems Mr. Mayberry is the owner, editor and publisher of a couple of periodicals in Arkansas, where he is running for Congress. He asked the FEC whether he could continue to report news and continuing running his signed editorial columns that may include support for his candidacy.

After a lengthy discussion of the law regarding public communications and coordinated expenditures, the FEC concluded:

...opinion columns in the Periodicals containing a byline with your name and photograph... would meet the "120 Day public communication" content standard. Conversely, opinion columns in the Periodicals that do not bear a byline with your name or photograph and do no contain any other reference to a clearly identified Federal Candidate or to a political party would not meet this content standard.

Essentially, what the FEC is saying is that because Mayberry owns and controls the publications, he cannot use those facilities to promote his candidacy because doing so would be equivalent to a corporate contribution by the newspaper company. But this opinion raises more questions than it answers for the public at large.

First, on a business strucutre level, what if the publishing company was not incorporated as it is in this case? What if Mayberry owned the publishing company as an unincorporated sole proprietorship or even a partnership. Under current law, any candidate for office may use as much of his personal resources on his candidacy as he chooses. If he owns the publishing company and it is not a corporation, would Mayberry be able to publish his opinion columns? By definition this would not be a corporate contribution.

Further on these lines, the law does not provide a media exemption to any publication that is owned or controlled by a political party, committee or candidate. Traditionally, the control test referred to ownership type matters. Thus a shareholder with 50.1% of the voting stock would have control even through there may be many other owners, but those other owners do not have control. So what if Mayberry were a minority shareholder in a corporation or simply an employee with editorial control? Would he still be prohibited from publishing his columns in support of his candidacy? This advisory opinion seems to implicity make that point.

When first reading this opinoin, I came away with the thought, what if Mayberry just didn't sign his name or used a pseudonym (Publius comes to mind), would his editorials then be permitted? But it would seem that he still couldn't mention his candidacy because they would still mention a clearly identified candidate for Federal office. But that left me with a particularly bitter taste in my mouth.

Here is a gentleman attempting to be elected to Congress prohibited from using his employment to achieve those means. If Mayberry signed his name, people would be clearly able to understand his motivations. But if it is anonymous, then the public assumption would be that the editors/publishers wrote the editorial. To find out who they are, one need only turn the page to the masthead to find out who the editor/publisher is. Thus Mayberry can't put his name on a commentary, but if it is anonymous his name appears somewhere else.

Finally, what makes Mayberry's plan to use his publication to promote his candidacy any different than the New York Times, Washington Post or any other newspaper and magazine in the country who make endorsements for candidates? Mayberry would be endorsing his candidacy, and I might add, being much more upfront about it. But the mainstream media routine promotes, attackes, supports or opposes candidacies all the time. Why are their efforts not considered a corporate contribution and Mayberry's activities are?

This advisory opinion results in a bizzre treatment of a candidate when the activities he is proposing would much more clearly aligned with his interest. But the same activities undertaken by another media organziation, whose motives are not necessarily as clear, receive an exemption.

The disparate treatment makes no sense and this advisory opinion makes no sense.

Parked in the OTB Traffic Jam

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Current School Choice Models Inadequate

Much has been made over the past several years regarding efforts to provide choices to parents for the education of their children within the public school model. Voucher programs, like those in Milwaukee, Ohio and many other states have been touted as a means by which families whose children attend poor performing schools can move their kids to a better school. Charter schools have been hailed as an effort to provide options for parents. However, both models fail one large class of people--the middle class. Once again, when it comes to important societal benefits, the middle class gets screwed.

People accept as axiomatic that wealthy parents have far more options for the education of their children than anyone else. They can afford to send their kids to private schools, leave them in public schools or take other steps. For the wealthy, school choice is a reality born of their financial success and circumstances.

However, for decades, the lower and middle classes had no school choice options. But with the failure of schools in many areas, usually poor and largely minority areas of the country, educational reformers formulated solid ideas to provide a way out for people trapped by economic circumstance in a school system in which there existed little hope for breaking out of the cycle. Thus was born the voucher experiment. Vouchers gave the poor and minorities with children in bad schools the ability to take their kid to any school in the district with the money granted in the voucher. In city after city with poor performing schools, parents snapped up vouchers like the lifeline they were.

In other areas of the country, charter schools began their increase in popularity, providing a public education without the public bureaucracy to stand in their way. In most states, the charter school movement is just taking root. But the problem with charters is that they are granted by the school board in the locality, a school board that is competing against the charter school for enrollment and control. Hardly a mechanism for unbiased, conflict of interest free provision of educational services by the state or county.

While charter schools are generally open to anyone, the schools have sprung up more in areas already providing choices through vouchers, namely poor, largely minority neighborhoods needing options for education. Not to begrudge these efforts as they are very important, the self-selection of these charters means that most middle class suburbs have little option but to attend their neighborhood school. While many of these suburban and exurban schools do a good job educating kids, the fact remains that the middle class populace does not have the options, beyond the occasional limited enrollment magnet schools, accorded to the wealthy and the poor. They have no choices in education.

The middle class fights over neighborhoods with the best schools, but as the neighborhoods get more crowded, school district lines are redrawn to match the enrollment capacity of schools. New schools get built whose quality is hardly assured. The fact is that most Americans have their school decisions made for by a mere accident of their residence.

For this reason, all of the school choice efforts inadequately serve the majority of Americans. To change this fact, we must drastically alter the method in which schools are governed and managed. I have encouraged the consideration of the New Zealand model of school governance, where each school is governed and managed by a board of trustees elected by the parents of children attending that school. However, simple management changes mean nothing if not coupled with a basic market feature--choice.

Even supposing suburban and exurban schools can be directly managed by a board of trustees, there is still a matter of allowing parents to choose the schooling best for their kids as determined by them alone. School management reform must be couple with an absolute right of the parents to choose the right school for their child, regardless of whether that school is public or private, secular or parochial.

Choices in education do not belong only to the very rich and the very poor, but must belong to every parent, regardless of their location and regardless of their socio-economic status.

This post cross-posted at Watchblog and found in the OTB Traffic Jam

The Divide In Education Expectations

Over the Weekend, Washington Post columnist David Broder had this to say about The Divide In Education between parental expectations and teacher expectations on standards set by NCLB. Referring to a column he wrote in June, Broder noted that in a poll conducted for the
Educational Testing Service

Those polled were asked to choose between the view that all students, teachers and schools should be held to the same standard of performance because it is wrong to have lower expectations for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the contrary view that they should not be held to the same standard because we should not expect teachers working with disadvantaged students to have them reach the same level of performance on standardized tests as teachers in more affluent schools.

More than half of the parents favored the single standard, but only one-quarter of the high school teachers agreed.

Broder suggests that this divide is troubling for the Administration since it could lead to more opposition to minimum standards. This weekend, Broder points to two teachers responses to his June piece:

One Pennsylvania educator called the legislation "a wonderful concept, but woefully inadequate when dealing with the realities of public education. Yes, I believe in standards, high standards for my students. I am also realistic enough to know that not all students have the natural ability, the desire or the family structure to succeed at the highest level. While I believe my brightest or hardest-working students can compete with anyone, I also know that I have many students who struggle just to get through life daily. Yet 'educators' expect these students to still excel on a standardized test?"

Another teacher, with 20 years' experience teaching third and fourth grades in Ohio, questioned the notion that parents expect more of the students than teachers do. "I just cannot fathom where or how you obtain data that supports the thesis that parents are more likely than teachers to believe expectations and standards are set too low. I can say that certainly in my suburb of Sylvania, the exact opposite situation exists. Frequently teachers express the opinion that expectations and standards need to be raised, but the parents' complaints would cause the phones to ring off the hook!"

First, standardized tests are designed to ensure that students attain a floor, a minimum performance level. They are not designed to determine if a student can excell or not. Second, why is it so surprising that parents want one standard and believe that the standard is too low. Note that the survey found only about half, which leads me to believe that the issue is split in the minds of parents, leading to an obviously different viewpoint when you move from survey data to anecdotal stories.

Multiple standards are confusing to many people as well as confusing the issue. If there is a single standard, then parents can determine if their kid is meeting the standard in an easy to compare manner. If their child is not meeing the standard, they have the ability to ask why. Is it the school, the curriculum, my child, what? If there are multiple standards, then the parents have no facility for determining whether their child meets the standard.

Additionally, multiple standards provide an out for teachers and schools. It becomes easy for a teacher, a school or a school system to say, "well you kid didn't meet the "standard" for his subgroup, but don't worry about it, his subgroup has a different standard." Then comes the questions of what subgroups and the conversation has devloved into minutiae that does not serve the child's interest in a quality educaiton.

If, as a society, we seriously intend to improve the quality of education for our children, we need to have some method of determining "standard" behavior. I know each child is unique, with their own distinctiveness. In any population, there are always outliers, children who do not meet or drastically exceed the norm, but there is a norm--it is a statistical fact. There is no shame in admitting it, finding it and trying to improve on it. But you have to have a norm or all other measurements are useless.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Government-Funded Schools

Check this op-ed from a Cato Institute Scholar--the title says it all.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Government-Funded Schools

Wash Post Needs History Lesson

The Washington Post needs a little educational hisory lesson. In an editorial from Friday called Needs Improvement the Post takes on the issue of teacher preparation. In what I thought would be a contribution to the idea that Jenny D, Ms. Frizzle, and I have expounded on regarding figuring out what teachers need to learn in school to be effective teachers,

a plethora of think tanks, professional associations and experts of all stripes have recently focused their attention on teachers: who they are, what they studied and how much more effective they could be...The Education Trust, which has studied the extraordinarily weak content of teacher training curriculums, advocates rigorous quality standards that will make the entire teaching "market" more effective by identifying better teachers and allowing them to command higher salaries.

The Post then drops the ball, focusing on things like incentive pay and Teach for America. While there is little doubt that these initiatives have their successes, it does not address the fact that over time, we as a society have done little to discover why some teachers are more effective than others outside of issues of outside incentives, like increased pay or other incentives.

Not bypassing an opportunity to take a little dig at the Bush Administration, the Post drops this little gem into the mix:

Since the president's No Child Left Behind Act -- which mandated the new accountability -- broke the taboo on federal involvement in education.

Here are a few facts:

In 1965 the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act drastically increased the role of the federal govenrment in education. Since that time, the federal government has, according to some conservative estimates, spent nearly $2 trillion dollars on education. But since the ESEA was a cornerstone of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, the Post implies that ESEA is not federal involvement in education.

In 1994, President Clinton and a Democratic Congress passed Goals 2000: Educat America Act, which in addtion to billions of dollars in spending, established a series of bureaucratic offices including National Educaiton Goals Panel, National Education Standards and Improvement Counci,l and National Skill Standards Board among dozens of other agencies designed to increase the federal involvement in education. Of course that was President Clinton, supported by the Post, thus not really federal government involvment.

In fact, the federal government involvement in education, predicated upon the supply of billions of dollars of grants and aid, has a long history predating NCLB. While we can decry and the Post is free to decry, the excessive involvment of the federal govenrment in what is traditionally a state and local concern, let us not mince facts, the federal government is involved and has been for over 40 years.

Hat Tip: Eduwonk

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Frivolous Law Suit by The Wonder Twins

As a kid, I used to watch the Justice League of America which contained all the old-school superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Aquaman (among others). One of the younger superheroes were the Wonder Twins. The girl could become any living creature and the boy would become some form of water, liquid or solid. They would summon their powers with the saying "Wonder Twins: Activate." Well the Wonder Twins of California education have activated. The teacher's union and the school superintendant, a truly strange bedfellows pairing, have filed a bogus suit against Governor Schwazenegger for alledgely failing to provide some $3.1 billion in school funds.

According to Dan Walters of the Sacremento Bee,:

Politics are saturated with gratuitous, disingenuous, symbolic and intellectually dishonest actions. The lawsuit that the California Teachers Association, state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell and others filed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday embraces all of those dubious tendencies.

The suit is about money that the Governor does not control. The Democratic state legislature writes the checks drawing on state funds and they should be the real defendants, but that would not have been politically wise for the CTA.

The real impetus behind this suit is nothing more than trying to undermine the Governor's ballot initiatives this fall. Schwarzenegger has shown no remorse in attempting to make political hamburger by slaughtering sacred cows of politics. One of his first victims has been the education establishment. Whether wise or not, many of the governor's initiatives are based on attacking the foundations of the educracy. He is challenging the fundamental stranglehold that the leadership of teachers' unions (which is not elected by teachers in California) have exerted by hook or by crook in the past. The efforts of the Governator will diminish the power of hte unions in education policy and that of course makes them mad.

The courts are innundated with frivolous lawsuits and this type of lawsuit is the worst offender. Because the people who will be paying for this suit are two classes of people who have been routine abused by their leadership. The union is using, of course, union dues to pay for this suit and those funds are routinely abused. The governor is being sued in his official capacity thus the state will be paying for his defense funded by taxpayer money. In a state where taxes are swallowing people whole, the last thing that needs to be done is for the taxpayer to foot the bill for a silly suit. Ironically enough, teachers are funding both sides of this suit so they get screwed on both sides.

Dan Walters concludes:

Whatever its motives, it's especially disheartening that those who purport to educate young minds should engage in a piece of cynical, intellectually dishonest political theater.

I couldn't have said it better.

Sitting in traffic Outside the Beltway

Friday, August 12, 2005

Clueless and now Couch Camping

This from CNN.

Admittedly there have been times when I have not paid attention to my wife, usually to my great detriment, but I have never actually forgotten her.

My question is: How on earth does a person not notice a key member of the family is missing for SIX (6) hours and two hundred (200+) miles?

Can you say, Couch Camping for this guy?

Key figure in DeLay probe is indicted

This just chafes me. The AP and teh San Jose Mercury News just got this wrong!!

Jack Abramoff has his own problems unrelated to his relationship with DeLay. But the AP and hte Mercury News bury that little fact much later in the story:

DeLay, R-Texas, was not mentioned in any lawsuits involved in the SunCruz deal.

It is a deal involving a cruise line for which Abramoff and a colleague were indicted, DeLay has nothing to do with this issue, nor does the probe into DeLay have anything to do with this deal.

AP Wire | 08/12/2005 | Key figure in DeLay probe is indicted

Teachers Union vs. Wal-Mart

In this match-up, my money is on Wal-Mart.

hat Tip: Joanne Jacobs

Yesterday, Teachers Unions in California and across the country started a campaign calling on consumers to boycott Wal-Mart citing the retailing giant:

for allegedly paying low wages, failing to provide affordable health care, discriminating against women, violating child labor laws and shifting more than $2.5 billion a year in health care and welfare costs for its underpaid and underinsured workers to U.S. taxpayers.

But if you read further in the San Jose Mercury story you will find these little tidbits:

Don Dawson, a math teacher at Silver Creek High School in San Jose, said the Walton Family Foundation -- run by the heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart -- has spent about $250 million in the past six years promoting the school-voucher movement and lobbying for tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools.

Public education advocates staunchly oppose such changes, saying they will drain funds from public schools that, in California, already rank near the bottom in per-pupil funding.

``You don't solve problems in public education by taking money away,'' Dawson said. ``We can't afford to go backward.''

It is comments like these that you find the real impetus behind the animosity of the teacher's unions against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart supports education programs and initiatives that will challenge the stranglehold teachers' unions have on education. Wal-Mart has "$250 million in the past six years promoting the school-voucher movement and lobbying for tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools." Meaning they have spent a quarter of a billion dollars trying to provide parents choices in education, just like the many choices Wal-Mart provides to its customers. Heaven forbid!!

Unions in general object to Wal-Mart because they have proven uniformly unseccessful in organizing Wal-Mart employees. This attack on Wal-Mart is more about the support for charter schools and vouchers, programs that will strip the power away from the unions. So in reality this is just a power play. Union vs. Wal-Mart

This post in the Beltway Traffic Jam


Daniel Solove over at Balkinization links to an interesting study that discusses the 25 cities who vote the most liberal and the most conservative.

One fault with the study I have right off the bat is that the group conducting the study substitutes liberal for Democratic and conservative for Republican, but that is another matter. But as another matter, the group, the Bay Area Center for Voting Research, makes this earthshattering statement:

BACVR researchers found a direct correlation between a city’s political ideology and its racial makeup. “The great political divide in America today is not red vs. blue, north vs. south, costal vs. interior or even rich vs. poor – it is now clearly black vs. white,” said Phil Reiff, a BACVR director.
Now, I don't have a degree in survey research, only years of experience observing elections and here is my response:


Racially polarized voting has a long history in America, reaching back to the Civil War, when Blacks voted overwhelmingly Republican and now vote overwhelmingly Democratic. I guess teh BACVR is just now catching up to the rest of the world in this rather simple understanding.

But I don't think the difference between liberal and conservative voting is simply a matter of population make up, but one of population in general. Each of the cities on the Conservative side are generally smaller cities, where as those voting on the liberal side are generally very large cities, including the largest cities in America. While there are large minority populations in those cities, I think that the fact that the "conservative" cities are smaller means a more homogeneous population, leading to a political mindset shared by the majority of the population.

Bewilderment and the Democrats.

Following the 2004 elecitons, Democrats expressed great dismay at why poor people and others who would otherwise vote Democratic would somehow vote counter to their own economic self-interest. The answer lies in the belief that the poor and minorities support the Democrats solely on economic issues. The truth is that many factors influence a person's voting behavior, including cultural and moral issues.

As Democrats are being held hostage more and more by the liberal left, they have ignored core consituencies, such as the minorities and the poor--assuming they will always vote Democratic. The fact is that many blacks and Latinos are quite conservative culturally--particularly those who are deeply religious. Issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the role of the church cut toward the Republicans.

To be sure, the GOP has much ground to make up, but if the Democrats want to stem the tide, they need to look closely as these survey results.

For Democrats, a Troubling Culture Gap.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Politics - FEC finds misreporting by DeLay committee -

The Sacremento Bee is reporting on the FEC audit of the Americans for a Republican Majority, the leadership PAC of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. While the media is probably going to have a field day with this audit report, it is nothing particularly suprising.

Having now read the audit report by the FEC, many of the misreporting by ARMPAC is nothing particularly new or actually verifiably wrong. PACs often make mistakes when dealing with their finances and reporting them. PACs with a complicate operation structure like ARMPAC make more than most.

There were three issues the FEC Audit staff found. A mistatement of Financial Activity is simply that. Some items were reported incorrectly or not not reported at all. Poor recordkeeping policies and likely a failure to adequately reconcile bank accounts against their FEC reports contributed to this problem. For example, the FEC notes that ARMPAC reported $88,000 in receipts for which there was no deposit. When the PAC received over $3.6 million in the two year cycle, a mistake totaling $88,000 amounts to only 2.4% error.

Reading Audit reports is difficult because the numbers are presented in an aggregate for a two year period. Before jumping off the deep end, the media needs to spend a few minutes understanding what is being reported. This is not to say that DeLay and ARMPAC are not at fault, but the size of hte fault is not all that much.

Melting Pot Meltdown

Multiculturalism, political correctness and the 14th Amendment are killing American society. The segmentation of society caused by multiculturalism and political correctness leads to a competition among groups and against the state for equality, despite the fact that most have equality—as Americans.

Multiculturalism, the concept of celebrating ones heritage, provides outstanding benefits for society. The American melting pot, by its very nature, is multicultural. As our society has grown from the birth of our nation, we have assimilated and incorporated various traits of our mixed cultural heritage. Yet, in an attempt to pander to various groups, to recognize their contributions, we have been forced, under the guise of multiculturalism, to expand our acknowledgement into outright celebration. I have no doubt that blacks have contributed mightily to our nation, but instead of celebrating their contributions regularly, we now do so once a year, for an entire month. Ditto for women and I would imagine soon for Hispanics. Will we soon have an Asian American History month?

Multiculturalism, when taken to an extreme, forces the celebration of individual and group differences to the extent that we have forgotten to celebrate our “Americanness.” The once great melting pot of American society has been replaced by a series of stereotyped “enclaves” made up of various races, ethnicities and nationalities who have become hyphenated Americans. While we still have citizens of states, like New Yorkers or Californians or Floridians, but we now also have African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans and whatever-Americans.

The Political Correctness movement has exacerbated the problems by insisting that we acknowledge, even exalt the differences we have as Americans. When we no longer think of ourselves as Americans first, but some sort of subset, we see first the differences rather than those things that make the United States the greatest nation on Earth. Seeing only differences and acknowledging only the differences between groups leads to the next step in group dynamics—competition for dominance.

Enter the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment is designed to guarantee each person equal protection of the laws. Intially, the 14th Amendment ensured that procedurally, each person was treated the same, despite race, socioeconomic status or origin, everyone was the same in the eyes of the law. However, by expanding the meaning of equal protection to include substantive rights such a right to education as opposed to procedural right like right to confront your accuser in court, we have created a competition among groups struggling for recognition of their differences. Instead of struggling for equality or dominiance in the political arena, groups use the 14th Amendment and the courts as a way to shortcut the long slog through the political processes.

A key example is the gay marriage debate. You ask anyone who knows well any gay couple and ask them if that couple should be allowed to wed, you will get a generally positive reaction. But carried to its logical extension for the entire group, you arrive at a different place. Generally, people are just now beginning to accept homosexuality as a subset of America. Overtime, there will come acceptance of gay marriage as a concept, just like interracial marriage was once prohibited. But by seeking immediate relief through the courts and the 14th Amendment, the multicultural, PC crazed insistence on equality now has led to a rending of society over an issue, which in the long run, is generally meaningless.

Our society has proved adaptable to changing circumstances. But multiculturalism and political correctness inevitably leads to immediate, destructive confrontation and forced change. On the other hand, if we allow groups to evolve slowly and steadily through the natural process, the changes sought by the groups are not viewed in such a jarring matter. Allow time to pass, educate people and allow that education to take route and ever single minority group out there will eventually achieve parity. Look to the long view, not a court victory with the 14th Amendment, as your victory.

Cross Posted at WatchBlog

Down on the FEC Farm with the NY Times

The use of a farm analogies by a newspaper in one of the largest cities in the world aside (I doubt if the editors of the NY Times have ever been to a real working farm), what makes these jokers any good at deciding who should serve on the FEC?

Before continuing, my head hurts with all the metaphors used by the editors in this piece. I urge the NY Time editors, one or two metaphors per editorial. No more.

Now to the substance. I don't know about the records of these so-called "professional regulators," but what makes them such likely candidates? I will say this about Illinois campaign finance law--it doesn't look much like federal law. First, the state's regime is based on a full-disclosure model. Sounds good right--but McCain needs to do a little research--there are no limits in Illinois. That's right--no limits on campaign contributions. Sure the candidate has to disclose everything, but they can take as much money from individuals and groups as they can.

Second, professional regulators have never actually run a PAC, campaign or filled out a compliance filing (if they have, they are not professional regulators). See the Skeptic's Eye for her list of qualifications of future commissioners.

by the way, any regulator who gets paid to do their job is a professional regulator--that is the definition of professional--being paid. The current Commissioners are professional regulators. Just being a professional does not guarantee you will do a good job!!

Defoxing the Chicken Coop - New York Times