Friday, March 31, 2006

A Quarter of Schools Behind in AYP

The early numbers on NCLB status for American schoolsdon't look so good.
About half the states increased the number of schools making "adequate yearly progress" in improving student test scores in math and reading in the 2004-05 school year. Overall, 27 percent of the schools failed to show adequate improvement, up one percentage point from the year before.
My theory on the AYP for schools as NCLB ages is that more and more schools will start slipping on AYP (Adequate yearly progress) because early successes were just a bounce, as time goes on it will get harder and harder to get more students proficient.

Critics of the law will say it just proves that you can't teach every child. But really, the inability to make AYP as the law moves forward is more indicative of a failure to change the way we teach kids. For a long time, people, including many teachers, assumed that a certain percentage of kids were essentially "unteachable" and simply resigned themselves to the failure of those kids. But with NCLB, more and more teachers understand that accountability in education means accountability for each and every child.

The problem is that the mindset among senior administrators is that it can't be done and thus, a self-fullfilling prophecy entails and AYP can't be done.

Delay sought in school takeover -

The Maryland General Assembly is preparing to grant the beleagured Baltimore city school system one year to improve performance before the state can take over 11 schools. The delay is championed by Sen. Nathaniel McFadden,
the architect of two emergency measures designed to scuttle the state's plans, worked his colleagues for nearly eight hours straight yesterday, pushing legislation at warp speed through two committees and onto the Senate floor.

As his measure passed its first hurdle, the senator broke down and wept outside the meeting room, partly from relief but more from frustration with those inside who said that Baltimore's schools are squandering money, time and children's futures.

"We're making progress, but we're just not making as much progress as people would like to see," he said, wiping tears from his cheeks. "It's just that it's going to take Baltimore City longer to get where it needs to go."
While I have a great deal of skepticism about McFadden's motives, one cannot but help admire his passion. However, I think the longer these schools continue under the status quo, the more kids are going to be hurt by the schools' ineffectiveness.

I think state Superintendant Nancy Grasmick made a bad timing move, undertaking the effort to take over the schools while the legislature is still in session, but that is not at issue. What is at issue is the continuation, despite the consequences, of not embracing change, of not admitting mistakes were made and trying to correct them. How much progress will be made in a year? How much is expected? What will the schools and the administration do to meet those expectations? What excuses will be offered up, by the schools and McFadden, if the progress is not forthcoming?

All these questions need to be answered and with the speed at which this legislation is moving, you can bet no one is asking these questions. Legislatures are notoriously poor at quick response measures. McFadden should drop this effort and seek to actually fix the schools rather than giving those currently responsible one more pass at a time when these schools have spent nearly a decade underperforming.

Student Protests With No Consequences

All week long, students in Virginia and now in Maryland, protested a House of Representatives bill that would make illegal immigration a felony--at least obstensibly.

While I have no doubts that some students involved in these protests are very well informed on the issue, the interviews I have seen on news programs, the students are simply taking advantage of a quasi-sanctioned walk-out.
But Arlington students said many faculty members were supportive. "On Tuesday [when a similar march took place] one of our vice principals said that he was really proud of us," said Elizabeth Raftery, 18, a senior at Wakefield High School.

And at Montgomery County's Einstein, one student reported that many teachers left their classrooms and clapped to show support.

In a letter to parents yesterday, Arlington School Superintendent Robert G. Smith said that "demonstrations regarding civic issues represent a longstanding tradition in our democratic society," but encouraged students to protest outside school hours. Protests were planned today by students from other Northern Virginia schools.

In Arlington, more than 100 police officers from Arlington, the Pentagon, Fairfax County and the state watched over the march, said Arlington police spokesman Matt Martin, adding that the hour-long protest was peaceful. Afterward, students were ferried back to their schools in buses sent by their districts.(emphasis added)
It is all well and good that students are exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. It is another for them to shirk their duties to do so. Furthermore, the school systems, by providing buses to ferry students back to school are enabling class ditching. I for one would be extremely upset if my tax dollars were being spent in this manner. by enabling the students, the school systems cannot hold students accountable for their actions of ditching class.

I wonder how mnay protests will be occuring on Friday night, or any time this weekend. My guess is none because that would mean giving up personal time, rather than the school's time, to protest something that most students probably don't have a good grasp of, but protest nonetheless because it is a way of getting out of school free.

The local school systems should be assessing unexcused absences at the minimum and suspensions for organizers should be in the works as well. But in some jurisdictions, such consequences for shirking the duties of being a student are not likely to come down--that would be very un-PC of the schools.

Update: CNN is reporting Los Angeles County Schools are starting to enforce the truancy rules.

Collective Bargaining Changes Suggested

For those who are interested in making changes in schools, a key component of the un understanding of school governance is the importance of the collective bargaining between teachers and other employees and the school system. This report issued by the American Enterprise Institute makes many recommendations.

I have not read it all, but it is now on my reading list.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

G.O.P. Risking Hispanic Votes on Immigration - New York Times

The NY Times posts this headlineG.O.P. Risking Hispanic Votes on Immigration in relation to the debate in Congress over immigration reform.

While the GOP needs to be careful, I don't necessarily believe the GOP is explicitly risking Hispanic votes with their stances on immigration reform, even the hard line stance of the House Republicans.

Those Latino immigrants in this country legally have nothing to fear in these legislative proposals. Hispanics here legally are the only ones who can vote, and I can assure you anti-illegal immigration stances are just as hard line in the legal immigrant community as they are in the native population. Legal immigrants are smeared with teh same brush when the topic of illegal immigration comes up. True, legal immigrants have a legitmate concern in the broad brush strokes given to this issue, but that is where their concerns end.

Most legal immigrants have far more normal concerns, issues of education, poverty, energy dominate polls from both parties. Why then does this one issue glavanize the entire community?

Irresponsible labeling of the issue. This issue is not about legal immigration, not about economics or even about social services, it is about doing that which is right and legal. When illegal immigrants poor over our borders, Americans are justifiable incensed at two matters. First, they are angry that the government is unable to stop the illegal immigration. Second, illegal immigration offends the sense of right and wrong of most people.

Americans are not without heart. We understand the plight faced by those who feel the need to come to America illegally. We are not without sympathy of the hardships they face. Many Americans face similar hardships. Rather, Americans believe strongly in the rule of law and that by following the rules, you have a better chance of success than not.

No one on Earth can dispute teh fact that soveriegn nations have the right to dictate the rules by which they will admit immigrants. If the GOP were to refram the issue in those terms, that it is about following the rules, rules that millions of legal immigrants from around the world have followed for decades, the GOP will lose not one single voter on this issue. The GOP is about the rule of law, laws that everyone must play by. On the other hand the Democratic party wants to forgive those who have broken the rules by patting the on the head, a quick, and light, slap on the wrist and a promise to do more. That is not playing by the rules and that is what America wants.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Today, over at Real Clear Politics, fellow Marylander Gregory Kane takes Democrats in the state to task over the issue of rights and responsibilities. Kane focuses on the reinstatement of voting rights for convicted felons, but leads with these statements:
Isn't it time we started talking about the other r-word?

We're all pretty familiar with the first one: rights. We all believe in rights. In fact, America may have a surplus of rights.

Our founding fathers came up with a Bill of Rights. Too bad they didn't give us a Bill of Responsibilities to go along with them.

That's the other r-word: responsibilities. And nowhere is there a better example of our willingness to abrogate responsibility in the name of rights than in the push for felon voting rights.
Generally, I figure, that absent some compelling reason not to, a felon who has served his time, including probation, should be able to petition to have his voting rights reinstated. However, that is not what bothers me most. Kane only glancingly deals with the matter, but I have a concern about the whole issue of rights and responsibilities.

Kane is right, we as Americans have a surfeit of "rights" but a real deficit of "responsibilities." We take for granted the freedoms we have, to such a point that we believe we have more freedoms that we really do. I can't tell you the number of times I have heard Members of Congress refer to rights not actually present in either the Constitution or the statutes, everything from a right to health care and health insurance to a right to an education. Anyone who believes these rights to exist I challenge them to cite me a relevant state or federal law granting such rights.

Yet we never talk about the responsibilities that come along with rights. For a great theoretical discussion of the opposites of the same coin of rights and responsibilities, I commend to you Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (by the way get the book--the movie does not cover such topics). In the book a teacher speaks of rights and responsibilities jointly, one cannot exist without the other. One particulary passage deals with the inalienable rights, that fantastic poetry of Thomas Jefferson, thusly. What right to life does a man drowning in the ocean have? What right to liberty does a man who breaks the law have? Although you can pursue happiness, there is no guarantee you will catch it.

Here Heinlein got it right. The right to liberty (which is what we are really talking about when we talk about most "rights") is coupled closely with a responsibility to take care or exercise a duty. There is a right to free speech, but not to slander. So we can speak our mind, but we must also exercise a responsiblity not to besmirch another's reputation without supporting facts.

America is a land of laws and constitutions. But in a "me-first" society, we rarely think of the impact our actions upon others when we exercise our "rights." That is the responsibility we have. So when you exercise your right to think, try thinking about the responsibilities as well.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Maryland Takes over 11 Failing Baltimore Schools

The Maryland State Board of Education has taken over 11 Baltimore schools in what may be the first action to take over schools under NCLB.

The takeover of these schools is a long time coming. According to the Baltimore Sun, all 11 scores have posted very poor test scores for nearly a decade.

More thoughts on this matter later.

The Consequences of Title IX

Dr. Helenpoints us to a "tragic" story of a young woman who applied to five colleges, was accepted at four and got waitlisted at the fifth. Now unless the waitlist college was her dream college-I offer no sympathy and my response is for the girl to quit whining.

But Dr. Helen brings up another very valid point:
Okay, so the "you go girl!" program is now backfiring--instead of Prince Charming coming to rescue their little Princesses, some mothers such as the author, have just rewritten the script. It now goes like this: "if you are a girl, the world owes you, nothing can stop you and you will be given everything you want--while pushing all others (e.g. boys) out of the way."


If you fall down, you get back up. The world does not owe you and life isn't always fair, especially if feminists are in power.

But now the tides are turning and the very affirmative action rules and regulations that were to be used to promote their little girls (as well as other select groups) are backfiring. Maybe if we selected students based on their actual qualifications, rather than gender or skin color, their daughters would be back in the running. But if you are going to play the affirmative action card, you have to live with the results and play by the rules, and that may mean the very "minority" you are trying to promote may become the very ones who lose out. Watch out what you wish for, it may come back to bite you in the ass.
I have long felt that affirmative action will eventually come back to haunt those who have been advantaged by the programs and efforts to achieve diversity in any location, whether it be the work force or the college campus. Instead of working to improve their own lot, favored groups have resorted to perpetual victimhood and their collective drive to equalize their standing has atrophied.

Now that white men are increasingly becoming a minority on college campuses, it does not surprise me that otherwise qualified young women are no longer getting the prefential treatment they once enjoyed in the admissions process. What surprises me is the knee-jerk reaction that it must be white men who are at fault. What rubbish!!

Panelists: Blogs are changing education

This is not surprising, Panelists: Blogs are changing education, but how much of the change is permanent and how much of it is fad.

Like any classroom technology I would suspect that any change is related to the teacher and not to any systemic shift. True, blogs make certain types of communication easier and a blog can provide great links to additional material, but as a classroom tool, I am skeptical.

Still, an interesting story.

Minority Candidates and Fundraising

The Institute on Money in State Politics has issued a new report looking at the fundraising efforts of minority candidates in state legislative races. From the email announcing the study:
Thirteen percent of state legislators elected in 2003 and 2004 were members of a racial minority, and they typically raised less money than white legislators, a new study by the Institute on Money in State Politics shows.

The study, Money and Diversity: 2004 State Legislative Elections, found that white legislators raised more -- on average -- than minority legislators in 33 of the 42 states where minority candidates were elected to House seats. And white legislators raised more in 26 of 32 states where minority legislators were elected to Senate seats.

The study compares, state by state, the funds raised by white and minority winners in all 50 states. It also examines the fund-raising experiences of winning and losing Latino and Asian Pacific American candidates.
The Institute's Website has a host of studies on campaign finance in the states.

Marriage--A Dying Institution

According to a new study released by the Urban League, the economic status of Blacks compared to Whites reveeals that Black America's economic status is just 56% that of Whites. Although the entire study is not available for free (why?), you can view the Executive Summary here. The report looks at five different areas of societal measures, economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement. In nearly every category, the news was mixed. For example, the number of black owned businesses have jumped, with a ration of 2.5 white owned businesses to one black owned business, and improvement over the previous year's 3 to 1 ration.

One of the driving forces between the disparities is in home ownerhip. This from USA Today:
The sharpest economic disparity between black and whites is in median net worth, according to the report, which compiles data from many government sources, including the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The median net worth for African-American families — half have more, half less — is less than one-tenth of the median for white families. That gap is driven largely by differences in homeownership. More than 70% of white families own their homes, compared with about 50% of blacks, the report says.
So what is the cause? Some people will jump straight to racism, but at least one scholar says that black America should not be so quick to play the race card. Also in USA Today:
Black America's search for answers should begin "right in the mirror," says Ronald Mincy, a professor of social policy and social work practice at Columbia University in New York City and author of the 2006 book Black Males Left Behind.

"A big part of it is us," he says. "This is not to say there isn't racism. I'm not crazy. But we do need to look at these disparities and try to identify what are the sources."

Much of the net worth disparity can be accounted for by the fact that many African-American households are headed by single parents, says Mincy, a visiting fellow at the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research group in Washington.
This report comes to my attention after reading a piece in the Washington Post over the weekend called 'Marriage Is for White People' (Hat Tip: Instapundit) In the Post article, the writer, Joy Jones, notes:
I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I've seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own father, I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a "baby's daddy," when it came my time to mate and marry.

My time never came.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."

That's what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."
This stunning revelation for Jones led her to question what about Black society has changed, particularly when even during slavery, the men and women slaves often engaged in quixotic searches for family members when sold away. Jones noted that
Among African Americans, the desire for marriage seems to have a different trajectory for women and men. My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career.
None of these efforts by African American women are negative in any respect, but Jones' tone in her writing noted that she and her friends were unwilling to compromise their life for any man and the men with whom she is acquainted were similarly unwilling to compromise.

But marriage and relationships are about compromise, about giving and receiving. The sense of entitlement to the perfect marriage without the sweat equity, and the sense is certainly not limited to the black community, that seems to permeate so much of our society may be leading us to a situation where marriage and two parent households are a dwindling minority, because neither party is willing to accept anything less than their own vision of a perfect marriage or perfect life. In a quest to "have it all" both sides are losing everything.

For Americans in general, not just black or white America, marriage is the foundation upon which so much of our society is built. The economic benefits of marriage are undeniable. A wedded couple is more likely to own their own home, have health insurance, lower incidences of crime, and healthy and stable children. This is not to say that single people can't have these things either, but it is a much harder road to travel.

Thus, when the Urban League talks about the State of Black America, what we really need to be talking about is the State of Married America. If both black and white America had the same rates of marriage, we would get a much better picture of the causes of the economic disparities. But until then, we can only speculate.

Money Doesn't Buy an Education

Ever wonder what people get for the per pupil expenditures in public education? Well, if the numbers compiled by Human Events Online are any indication, not much.
The District of Columbia spends far more money per student in its public elementary and secondary schools each year than the tuition costs at many private elementary schools, or even college-preparatory secondary schools. Yet, District 8th-graders ranked dead last in 2005 in national reading and math tests.

D.C.'s public elementary and secondary schools spent a total of $16,334 per student in the 2002-2003 school year, according to a Department of Education study. That compares to the $10,520 tuition at St. John's College High School, a District Catholic school that sends almost all its graduates to four-year colleges.
All the sturm and drang from the teacher unions and Democrats who continue to support a public education system that fails in it most basic function completely ignores the facts. Simply saying, "we need more money" or more this or more that is not going to cut. If one were to simply look at the money spent on educating our children, we should have the most educated, proficient and stunning thinkers on our hands, but we don't. Why? The reasons are many, but it is certainly not for a lack of funds.

While there are always going to be discussion about whether the per pupil expenditures are an accurate depiction of how much money is actually spent in a state's education system on student achievment or whether the proficiency rating is fair or not, I would not be surprised if there is too much of a difference. The simple fact of the matter is that we, as a nation, spend half a TRILLION dollars on public education, every year on the federal, state, and local levels, and yet
[n]ot one U.S. state can boast that a majority of the 8th-graders in its public schools last year had achieved grade-level proficiency or better in either reading or math.
As I have advocated before, we as parents and as taxpayer need to start demanding more from our public officials and our public schools.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jenny D.: Thought Experiment

For quite some time, Jenny D has posted a number of questions and comments regarding what should be done with Ed Schools and the future of the teaching profession. In yet another post on the subject, Jenny poses the following:
There have been some comments suggesting Ed Schools are pointless. Okay. Suppose you eliminate them today. How would that improve schools?
I have argued that teachers and the teachers's unions could do a number of things to improve the profession, such as a type of self-policing and treating Ed Schools more like professional schools in law and medicine because of the trust given to teachers over the formative years of our children, a theme picked up by some of the commenters to Jenny's post.

However, as the Ed Wonks point out, making the change to a post-baccalaureate Ed School would present the challenge of how to replace the teachers currently lost in the high turnover rate. I admit the interim period between the current method and the implementation of a grad level course of study would present a hiring challenge, but would eventually be overcome for several reasons, including better pay for professional teachers with the post-grad study (almost a must given that post grad study is usually brutally expensive).

Getting back to Jenny's original question, what would I do to improve schools in the absence of Ed Schools? Mandatory apprenticeship--paid of course, for anyone who wants to teach. I know the Ed Wonks have advocated this as well as others, but let me lay out my vision and my experiences and analogies.

First, let me dispense with actual professional level analogies and look at things from a different perspective. If you look at someone such as a carpenter, we don't expect a first year carpenter to be able to build a masterpiece, carved table. A simple table, sure, but not one that could be considered a work of art. Carpenters spend years developing skills that can turn wooden furniture from the strictly utilitarian into works of art. A carpetner can learn those skills on their own, but only after much trial and error, often at great expense. However, an apprenticeship with a master furniture maker could develop those skills much faster, cheaper and with fewer negative outcomes in the learning process.

Similarly, we cannot expect first year teachers to become master teachers overnight or even in one or two years. But an apprenticeship, under the tutelage of a master teacher, would develop those skills of the young teacher faster and without all the heartache and headaches that currently accompany the learning curve.

I want to be clear, I am not talking about a mentorship as it is currently structured. A first year teacher should not be in a classroom by themselves, at all. It is not that they lack teh knowledge or the passion to teach, they simply lack the skills developed with time. A much more direct, day-to-day supervision is necessary.

Thus, before a teacher can become licensed (and I still believe a strict licensure requirement, with a really demanding, gate-keeper test, is necessary), they would need to server a number of years as a "teaching apprentice" with ever growing responsibilities leading up to taking the teaching license test. Likewise, a master teacher needs to be licensed as a master teacher as well, it cannot simply be a matter of time served.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

California Patriot Online - Unethical Treatment of Humans

Liberals can't even agree on free speech among themselves. The California Patriot, the conservative newspaper of the University of California Berkeley, documents a run-in between PETA and black students. Any summary I give just cannot do the incident justice.

My only comment is that both sides need to remember that freedom of speech is designed to protect that speech which we find offensive. Neither side did well presenting their position, and on a campus that celebrates its role in "freedom of speech," it is simply indicative of how littel freedom of speech is now cherished.

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin

More on Duckworth/Cegalis Disaster in the Making

Shakespeare's Sister gets angry about National Dems undermining a pretty popular local candidate.

The more I read on this race in Illinois, the more I wonder if such actions are symptomatic of the entire national Democratic cause. Wihtout doing any research, I wonder how many times the DCCC and the DSCC have undercut competition in the Democratic primary by supporting a candidate that either is too green, but fits the national Democrats' profile of the "ideal candidate," or lacks the base of support on the local level.

Cegalis held Henry Hyde to just 56% of the vote in 2004. Would her chances not be greater now that Hyde has stepped aside, among independents and swing voters in a non-presidential election year? In nearly every political operative's book, yes. But the Dems wanted someone who could beef up their appearance on defense and security issues, never mind that Tammy Duckworth made a bigger issue of education, health care, and energy matters in her campaign. Iraq is listed on her website, but she offers nothing new on the Democratic side of the debate, i.e., we need to leave sooner rather than later, the entry into Iraq was a mistake (despite admitting that the Iraqi people feel better off now than they did under Hussein) and that we just can't pack up and leave now. Duckworth offers no other plan, no options to consider, simply the straight Democratic line.

This is not to say that Cegalis offered any different ideas either. But she had something Duckworth did not, a base of support, and a base that almost won the primary for her.

With friends like these, Democratic candidates nationwide need to guard against Republican attacks which are sure to come and can be expected, but Democratic candidates need to guard against their DC supporters undermining their position in the eyes of the locals.

Maryland--No Longer the Free State

Are Maryland Democrats really so pompous as to believe that they can pass even the most asinine legislation, in an election year, that creates a nanny state? Last month, I brought you what I thought was one of the dumbest bills working its way through the Maryland legislature requiring everyone on a boat, no matter what, to be wearing a life vest at all times. Apparently, the Maryland General Assembly has found a way to sink to new lows of "Nanny State-ism." Currently under consideration in the Maryland Senate is a bill that would require all little league baseball and softball players to wear state approved face masks and eye-guards!!!

According to the Balimore Sun,
"We're telling 8- and 9-year-olds that when a ball is coming at you 50, 60, 65 miles per hour, if you get out of the way, great. If not, and it takes your eye out, that's the way it goes," said Sen. James Brochin, Democrat of Baltimore County.

And so it went for nearly an hour, a debate in which seasoned senators spoke out like ordinary mothers and fathers and grandparents.

Under the proposed law, the state's Health and Mental Hygiene Department would dictate the types of safety equipment that youth baseball leagues throughout Maryland would have to use in play.

Though the specific safety gear is up for discussion, high on the priority list are face masks for batters and protective goggles for fielders.
The reason for the bill is arguably that such protective gear would cut down on injuries to young athletes. Admittedly a noble cause, but in doing so do we take the fun out of the game? If a kid gets hurt in a game, most often the injury is minor, it heals and the child learns a lesson, he or she may even carry the bruise around with pride.

I played soccer as a kid and would get some pretty nasty scrapes on my legs, including some really bad ones on my upper thighs from slide tackling. I would show these off with pride. I know, it is stupid when I look back on it, but it was part of the game. Injuries happen and modern safety equipment has helped prevent some injuries and certainly lessen the impact of many others, you cannot legislate out risk.

If parents want to protect their child a little more, fine, make face masks and eye guards available, some will buy them. But to make it mandatory just tells parents that the state knows better than they how to protect their children and if need be the state will protect kids from their parents.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Carnival of the Clueless--Special Instapundit Riff Ediction

The Rightwing Nuthouse is coming to you with the CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS #37: THE "WHAT WOULD AN ARMY OF DAVIDS DO?" EDITION

Lots of good stuff, check it out.

Fla. to Link Teacher Pay To Students' Test Scores

The State of Florida is moving ahead with a plan to link teacher pay with student successes, namely test scores. Under the plan, as described by the Washingotn Post, teachers would be eligible for a 5% bonus, which for a teacher making roughly $40,000, would come to about $2,000. After Uncle Sam takes his chunk, that bonus will be about $1500--not much of an incentive. But it is a start.

I know that many blogs run by teachers may read this and quickly make the same statement made in the story,
"Standardized tests don't measure everything in a child's life in school," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, which is appealing the new pay policy to a state administrative judge. "We should take a look at the total education and not just what they can put on a bubble sheet."
. However, later in the article, comes these paragraphs:
Although only the top 10 percent in each field will receive the 5 percent salary supplement, all public-school teachers in Florida will be affected by the new pay policy because their annual evaluations will rely "primarily" on "improved achievement by students," according to the new rules, a criterion that is expected to be often measured with standardized tests.

"I know it adds pressures, but what profession doesn't add pressure for performance?" Winn asked.
Indeed. I have said before, and been chastised in the comments, for suggesting that in order for teachers to be paid like professionals, they need to act like professionals. Thus, in order for good teachers to be paid what they are actually worth in society, the teaching profession is going to have to suck it up and realize that a market economy for their services will do a lot better for the pay and performance than any negotiated contract the unions can come up with.

There are some legitimate concerns about how to structure pay and bonuses so that there are financial incentives for good teachers to continue to perform and be rewarded for their effort. However, the socialist regime currently in place in modern teaching contracts obviously is not working to produce a crop of truly excellent teachers paid like excellent teachers should be.

Will this system work? It might, if everyone puts a good faith effort into the plan. However, even if it doesn't work as hoped, it provides something even more useful, a real program that can be evalusated, comprehensively. We cannot find new successes without a few failures, so at least there is movement forward.

However, it is important to note that some advocates of more market based approaches, such as Edison Project's Chris Whittle, believe that bonuses and merit pay need to be substantial in order to really operate as incentives. A 5% bonus for 10 percent of the teachers is not going to cut it. But as I said, better something than nothing.

At Least One Democrat is Worried About 2006

Earlier today, in a post about GOP voter malaise, I argued
Are Democrats more motivated this year? As a national party, absolutely, but can that national motivation translate to action on the local level? In recent elections, Democrats have not demonstrated a great skill at the precinct level ground operation. Thus, while the Dems have the motivation, they may once again fall victim to the GOP's ground operation--just like they did in 2004. Then where will the Dems be?
It looks like a Democratic blogger, Chris Bowers over at MyDD,
has come to a similar assessment.

Looking at the Democratic primary in Illinois 6th Congressional District, Bowers notes that Tammy Duckworth, the national Democratic establishment candidate, barely eeked out a win in what everyone thought was going to be a walkover.
Last night, however, something happened that made me extremely worried about our electoral prospects nationwide in 2006. Nearly the full-force of the Democratic and progressive electoral apparatus "succeeded" in only helping Duckworth win 44% of the vote in the Democratic primary. This wasn't the blow out I was told it was going to be. This wasn't the blowout I imagined it would be considering the establishment support Duckworth had. It wasn't even close to a blowout. It looks like the final margin will be somewhere around 1,000-1,100 votes. IT was very close, and it was a real nailbiter.

This makes me very worried about 2006. The same people and the same organizations who supported Duckworth remain in charge of winning elections of nearly every Democrat nationwide in 2006. If they produce anemic results like this in IL-06, what results can we expect across the country in November? Believe me, whatever group of rag-tag GOTV activists [Chritine] Cegalis had in this election, using their theocon grassroots, the Republican machine will more than match that nationwide in 2006.
Cegalis was a local candidate with roots in the district and despite the power of the national organizations, she was able to come within shouting distance of upsetting Duckworth, if calling it an upset is accurate.

Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war veteran, is one of many of the Veteran Democrats running in this election. I have argued that the fad of recruiting veterans will come back to haunt the Democrats this year. When it comes to competing in lean Republican District like Illinois's 6th (currently represented by the retiring Henry Hyde), Cegalis, with a ground operation already in place, would have been better competition against GOP candidate Peter Roskam. With the help of the national Democrats, what ever that might be, Cegalis had a shot of winning. But if Bowers is worried about the get out the vote operations of the national Democats, he should be worried.

Hat Tip Election Projection

New U.S. Soccer Leaders Sees Return of Women's Pro League

The Washington Post is reporting that new U.S. Soccer Federation chief Sunil Gulati sees a return of a professional women's soccer league.

I love soccer, I grew up playing soccer and I believe it to be a sport worthy of being called the world's game. For decades American women have been at the forefront of this sport world-wide and the American men are making strides every year and the 2006 World Cup in Germany this summer will hopefully be a good year for the U.S.

I think with smart planning, the game will take off here, much more than people realize. Young women love the sport, where women of any size can play. With a built in audience and smart marketing, this is a league that can make serious money.

When the WUSA went under, only the WNBA, which is structurally an offshoot of the NBA remained the only professional women's league in the country. I would like to see more full-time professional women's leagues in operation and it is time for the WUSA to comeback.

Some say the WUSA was rushed too soon after the triumph of the 1999 Women's World Cup. That may be, but I also believe that so much pressure was put on the superstars of women's soccer, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, and many others, that the league did a better job of promoting those women, and not enough of a job promoting the sport and the league.

As Gulati said, organizers have hopefully learned their lesson and will have a solid foundation in place.

GOP Faces Voter Malaise?

Charlie Cook points to the GOP's Problem in 2006--voter malaise.
Historically, when parties have suffered unusually large losses in midterm elections, it has been when their voters were either complacent or disillusioned, and the other party was either hungry or angry. That turns tight races into tough losses and races that shouldn't be particularly close into nail-biters.

Keep in mind that in presidential elections, roughly half of the voting-age population participates. In midterm elections, it is roughly a third. But the drop-off in participation is hardly uniform. Voter turnout among independents is far lower in midterm elections than in presidential years, and as a result, the election is determined pretty much by partisans, and which party does a better job of getting its base out. Some of this is mechanical, and indeed Republicans have in recent years done a better job than Democrats with the mechanics. But even great mechanics and organizational efforts are limited in their effectiveness when a party's base is not motivated.
I have to admit, that this particular assessment by Cook, who is stunningly good at this sort of stuff, is right on the mark.

In a few places, the Republican base may be motivated, but it is because of state and local races that are important. For example, the GOP in MD is motivated both by the possible re-election of Gov. Bob Ehrlich, but aslo the Senate race featuring Michael Steele. Likewise, other states, like Pennsylvania and Illinois feather gubernatorial races that hold a great deal of promise. Thus, I don't necessarily agree fully with Cook's assessment.

On a national level, GOP voter apathy may be present, but we are not talking about a national election. We are talking about Congressional elections which, despite hopes by partisans on both sides, is rarely solely about national issues. Cook mentions some recent gaffs by the Bush administration, the Harriett Miers nomination, the ports deal, and the ongoing war in Iraq. But when people go to the polls in Congressioanl elections, these national issues do not play as much as role as many people, including experts, think. Congressional elections, despite their national impact, are still relatively local elections. Thus, congressional elections, despite hopes and strategies by the Democrats to make this a referendum on the Bush presidency, are rarely true referendums.

Are Democrats more motivated this year? As a national party, absolutely, but can that national motivation translate to action on the local level? In recent elections, Democrats have not demonstrated a great skill at the precinct level ground operation. Thus, while the Dems have the motivation, they may once again fall victim to the GOP's ground operation--just like they did in 2004. Then where will the Dems be?

Hat Tip: Real Clear Polictics

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A New focus for the GOP is Needed

Via RealClearPolitics

Yesterday on Real Clear Politics was a piece called Dem Focus on Unmarried Voters Ducks Their Problem. The lead reads like this
Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election even though they met the party's goal of turning out more of their targeted voters.

Now they have decided to target a new demographic group. But, that group is made up of mostly the same people they have focused on over the years during which they lost their grip on the nation's political power.

Their new target: unmarried people, especially single women.
The story goes on to relate how the Democratic party is spending too much time talking to the same groups over and over again in the vain hope of picking up voters. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the Democratic party must surely be the most insane group of people on the planet.

Today, in the Washington Post, Democratic pollster Mark Penn, notes that the swing voter still rules the roost on election day. When it comes to pitching to swing voters, the GOP is still the king. In 2002 and 2004 the issue was security and the GOP could capitalize on those concerns. In 2006, the Democrats may have a real shot at this issue, but if the GOP was smart it would turn a corner and start talking about domestic policy. Issues involving morality, abortion, gay marriage, gay adoption, and the next civil rights issue, polygamy are going to play well. Not that morality is the only issue.

Education, or more accurately the continued decline of public education, and the incestuous relationship between the Democratic party and the teacher's unions, whom more and more people are blaming for the current state of education, can do wonders for the GOP. Even though the No Child Left Behind Act has been poorly implemented, at least people are talking about the issue in terms dictated by the GOP, accountibility and results. By pointing to the failed concepts of past Democratic administrations on education, and the near lock step adherence to public education by Democratic leaders, despite growing cries for alternatives, is a winning issue.

Finally, the economy is looking quite positive. Hispanic business ownership is on the rise, wholesale inflation has dropped by its biggest percentage in three years, record numbers of people are working, and my personal favorite, income tax refunds are getting bigger, all of these are positives for the Bush Administration that can be capitalized on by the GOP in November. By focusing so much on the war in Iraq, this economic goods news is being buried in an avalanche of war news.

If the Bush Administration can change its tune, the Democrats will be signing to the political equivalent of Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live. All the rehtoric being foisted upon already saturated targeted ears will get lost in the catchy tune of your lot in life is a bit better than it was five years ago. Perhaps it is not morning in America again, but the sunrise is tainting the night skies.

Drowning in a Sea of Hypocrisy

Although I am sure that a number of people will be writing on this story about "helicopter parents," so far I have not seen anything that points out the inherent hypocrisy in this story.

The lead in the Washington Post article reads:
They are needy, overanxious and sometimes plain pesky -- and schools at every level are trying to find ways to deal with them.

No, not students. Parents -- specifically parents of today's "millennial generation" who, many educators are discovering, can't let their kids go.
and continues thusly
To handle the modern breed of micromanaging parent, educators are devising programs to help them separate from their kids -- and they are taking a harder line on especially intrusive parents.

At seminars, such as one in Phoenix last year titled "Managing Millennial Parents," they swap strategies on how to handle the "hovercrafts" or "helicopter parents," so dubbed because of a propensity to swoop in at the slightest crisis.


Teachers and principals in the early grades began noticing changes in parents in the 1990s. Parents began spending more time in classrooms. Then they began calling teachers frequently. Then came e-mails, text messages -- sometimes both at once. Today schools are trying to figure out how to take back a measure of control.

Some parents who once had unlimited access to classrooms or school hallways are being kicked out, principals say. Teachers are refusing to meet with parents they consider abusive, some say. A number of private schools have added language in their enrollment contracts and handbooks warning that a student can be asked to leave as a result of a parent's behavior. Some have tossed out children because their parents became too difficult to work with.
I should note that no teacher or administrator should have to deal with an verbally abusive parent, but refusing to meet with such parents is not going to resolve the parent's issue. Simply have the meeting with several people present, including, if possible a lawyer. (Note: nothing smooths out abusive people than having an opposing lawyer present--it is amazing how well-mannered people get.)

Next, I will readily admit that some parents go too far in trying to protect their kids. I will also admit that when my daughters start school, I will probably be a terror to teachers and principals, because I will demand accountibility, mutual respect, and responsiveness. I expect no less of my elected representatives and I demand no less of those whose salaries are paid with my tax money.

However, having said that, I want my girls to be savvy, indepedent women in their own right. It is bad enough that in 7 or 8 years I will be completely uncool and be relegated to serve only as their bank and taxi service, but I don't need to be needlessly involving myself in their every little mistake nor protesting the grades the earn.

Yet, when I read stories about how schools are having difficulty getting parents engaged in their child's education, I wonder, what could the schools be doing to make that happen or not happen. After reading some of the comments in this story by educators, I get a glimmer of understanding.

Schools want parents involved, but only to the extent that schools are willing to permit!! Anything beyond the "come to our parent/teacher conferences, show up at school events, make sure you kid does their homework, and sign you kid's report card" apparently becomes a burden upon the schools. It is an extension of the "nanny state" mentality, that the school system knows better than parents what is best for their kids and parents should just let the schools manage everything, except when it comes time for the limited parental involvement. The situations described in this story are most likely on the extreme side, but you cannot help but notice the hypocrisy dripping off the edges of this story like so much educratese molasses.

So what is really the source of the parental involvement. The story seems to indicate that it is function of the "symbolic value of children" that drives parents to be overly involved in their child's life. However, I wonder how much of it stems from the distrust that many American parents now have of our schools.

Distrust of the public school system in general seems to be driving this aspect of helicopter parental behavior. For decades we have been hearing that our schools are in decline, that they no longer effectively educate our children. Has that mentality (and I am a big purveyor of that position) finally taken root to the extent that parents now fight tooth and nail to make sure their kids get a decent education?

By the same token, the school system draws the line in the wrong place. When helicopter parents swoop in, how many schools will cave under the relentless pressure of out of bounds parents? How many principals and teachers will say, "you have a point about little Johnny and Jane, but your kids are the ones who did poorly on the test, or can't behave in class, or didn't do their homework. Their marks are a reflection of your child's effort and you lack of effort to police their activity." The answer, I fear is not nearly enough. the result, coddled kids who can't think for themselves, or live with the consequences of their actions, without parental intervention.

Whoa!! Quite a rant. I will leave it there for now.

Previous Blog Reviews

The Ed Wonks on (Jan. 31, 2006)

Diane Weir on Education on (Jan. 23, 2006)

The Lonely Centrist on (Jan. 10, 2006)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Risking a Ticket by Teaching

Yet another problem facing teachers in D.C.--parking.

This seems like such an easy fix and I wonder why the school administration, both at the school level and the district-wide administration can't make this happen?

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Debate Worth Watching

The EduWonk has a brilliant idea, let John Stossel and Randi Weingarten debate the issues presented in Stossel's 20/20 piece on

I for one would dispense with an entire day of vacation to see such a debate live.

The Most Unreported Story I Know

If, in the words of Michelle Malkin, you visit no other site today, go visit this one and just peruse through the document summaries. The link is to the Foriegn Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center which has posted dozens of documents regarding the link between Al-Queda and Iraq. Also, check out this document, a translation of Al Qaida's by-laws.

What is shocking to me is how little this is being covered in the media? Generally, I don't subscribe to the mass conspiracy of the mainstream media, but when a whole industry is ignoring these documents, it does make me wonder why?

Michelle has links to dozens of bloggers working their way through the documents.

We now return to our reguarly scheduled programming.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

�06 elections test political physics

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman makes note of a particular factor working against Democrats in 2006:
One measure of political instability: the number of Republicans holding seats that vote Democratic for president and vice versa. When big political waves hit, that is precisely where much of the action is. In the two prior presidential elections, Bush (the father) or Reagan had won 30 of the 34 seats Democratic incumbents lost in ’94. Similarly, two-thirds of the Republican incumbents who lost in ’82 were running in districts presidential Democrats had won just previously.

Today, though, there are fewer mismatched seats than at any point in recent history. Going into 1994, 53 Democrats held seats won by Bush in 1992. Today just 18 Republicans hold seats won by Kerry. So, while forces in the political environment push strongly in a Democratic direction, they are acting on a relatively stable structure: Hence the test.
Thus, because there is less ticket splitting on the national and Congressional level, there is less likely to be a massive change in party control.

This is not to say that if the GOP doesn't get its head out, that the Democrats can't win the House back, but with recent efforts on the part of Congressional Republicans to stake out a position different than the President, they may be insulating themselves (to the extent possible) against charges of being a Bush "yes man."

Of course, time will tell if Mellman's theory is right. Mellman's piece is pretty good this week, go check it out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stossel Responds to the Critics--Again

Via Real Clear Politics

John Stossel responds to the protetors angered over his "Stupid in America" story that appeared many weeks ago. Since doing Stupid in America, Stossel has authored a number of pieces on education that can be found here.

Among the many arguments and refutations in this article was this particular gem!!!
And I was especially surprised by one history lesson they taught me: "Public schools are what distinguish democracies from every other system in the world," and a country without strong public schools "lends itself to authoritarian thinking."

Fascinating. I guess the Communists all went to private school. And I guess having a unionized government monopoly running most of our schools, and forcing students to attend those schools regardless of whether they or their parents approve of what's taught there, will make sure that the government can never indoctrinate our children -- and neither can labor unions.
If you are looking for good arguments to refute the most commonly cited reasons that anti-choice advocates spout, Stossel's essay is a good starting point.

Illinois College Newspaper Editor Fired is reporting that Acton H. Gorton was fired for failing to discuss the publication of the cartoons depicting Mohammed in the University of Illinois' school newspaper. Obstensibly,
[t]he Illini Media Co. board of directors, which comprises students and faculty, voted unanimously to fire the editor after a review "found that Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material," according to a statement.
I have a question about these policies. Is it not the editor's job to make decisions about publishing material? What if the inflammatory material had been about a racial incident on campus and Gorton decided to publish the statements made by the participants? What if the inflammatory material had been about a different subject? Would Gorton have been fired for failing to adhere to policies?

I find it unlikely that Gorton's ouster was because he failed to consult. Rather, I believe the Board of Directors chickened out because of the controversy. If I ran a newspaper (and I am probably too conservative to do so), then I would want editors like Mr. Gorton on staff. I don't want writers and editors to shy away from controversy. After all, they have a Constitutionally protected freedom of the press and I don't want press censored for the timid and faint of heart, I want to know what is going on in the world--even if it is ugly. The cartoons were newsworthy and deserved to be published.

If Muslims take offense, well that is just too bad. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is designed to protect the controversial, not the sterilized.

Education Carnivals--Go visit

The Carnival of Homeschooling is being hosted this week by The Common Room.

The Ed Wonks host this week's Carnival of Education.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Autonomy (or lack thereof) of Principals

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Outlook Section contained a piece entitledWhy Is Your School On This List?, a series of statements by a number of Washington area school principals explaining why their school is on the needs improvement list as required by NCLB.

Admittedly, at first, all I saw was excuses, mostly because I don't handle excuses well because I see them as a mechanism for dodging responsibility. All of the usual suspects were there, "NCLB is too inflexible" (all evidence to the contrary), "we need more money," "I have too many (poor, special ed, minority) students in my schoo." The litany seemed to go on and on. On the surface, I did not see one school leader stand up and say, "We are on the list because I didn't do enough. It was my responsibility to make sure these kids are taught their lessons and I failed." I have always admired people who own up to their mistakes. But I didn't see any of that and thus, initially, I was angry at these principals.

But on a second reading I began to wonder about a few structural issues. All the people interviewed are principals and thus would, at least in my world view, be given the responsibility and the power to make adjustments in resources to address those areas needing help. After all, the term principal impliedly contains the concept of policy making authority. But then I remembered, schools are run like rational organizations. School principals, at least it appears, are nothing more than automatons for the district administration (the micromanagers) and playthings for the unions, whose contracts tend to tie principals hands too much.

And so I began to ask myself these questions (not necessarily in this order):
  1. What is the role and purpose of a principal?
  2. What is the scope of the power of a principal in general?
  3. What are the limitations on that power?
  4. How did those limitations arise?
  5. What can school boards and legislators do to give more power and control to the principals?
  6. What can parents and citizens do to give principals more power to address school-level concerns?
I, of course, realize that many times my calls to treat the education system more like a business and less like a bureaucracy have gone largely unheard because people are afraid of such a concept. However, when we deal with businesses, particularly when dealing with chain stores, we know there is a store manager. There is one person in the facility who has within their power the ability to make good on our concerns. Only in the biggest of cases does that store manager not have the autonomy, and the accountability, to address problems.

But from what I read in this Post article principals appear to lack all authority to effect change at their schools. We intuitively hold principals accountable for the test results, otherwise we would not be asking principals why. So the question is this, if principals are held publicly accountable, how much autonomy do they have to address problems?

If the answer is not enough autonomy, then we need to give the autonomy and right damn now. If the principal does not, or cannot, have the power to effect changes, let us ditch them, retain their salary and put that money to better use. If a principal (a title which implies a certain policy-making authority) lacks the ability to effect change, they are a waste of time, space, money, and oxygen.

In reading a number of blogs by teachers, I am constantly amazed at the descriptions fo the ineptitude of principals, vice principals and other administrators. I know people like to complain about their job, their bosses, etc, but how much do these people really stand in the way of a good education system? How much of the inflexibility and intolerance apparently shown by administrators is a result of the administrator's incompetence and how much is a result of outside forces, like state law, regulations, union contracts and the like?

Anyone with answers, please let me know.

Watchdog's tax status, politics are questioned

The Hill News is reporting that activities undertaken by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) are being scrutinized by the IRS.
CREW’s activity could draw scrutiny from the IRS, which late last month issued new guidance on political activity by 501(c)3 tax-exempt groups. CREW is such a group, which means donations to it are tax-deductible.

After finding that nearly 60 tax-exempt organizations engaged in some level of prohibited political activity during the 2004 election cycle, the agency reaffirmed its policy that “all Section 501(c)3 organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition) to any candidate for elective political office.”

The agency has announced: “With the 2006 campaign season approaching, the IRS is launching enhanced education and enforcement efforts, based on the findings and analysis of the 2004 election cycle.”

The IRS did not release the names of the organizations it found had engaged in political activity.

Groups that violate the policy are subject to hefty financial penalties or revocation of their tax status, several tax experts said. Republican Party officials say they are weighing a tax complaint against CREW for engaging in partisan activity.
CREW has gained a name for itself by filing a number of complaints, reported at more than 20, against Republican Lawmakers. CREW's Chief, Melanie Sloan, is a former aide to Democratic lawmakers John Conyers (MI) and Chuck Schumer (NY). Other prominent Democratic operatives serve in key positions within the organization.

It is important to note that despite their seemingly naked partisanship in terms of outcomes, just because the GOP has been CREW's target does not necessarily make them a partisan organziation--but it surely doesn't look good.

Blue State Extinction?

Via Real Clear Politics

In an op-ed yesterday, appearing in the USA Today, Phillip Longmannoted
What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.

This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics. It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.
If we assume for a moment that most children learn their politics from their parents, such a trend does not bode well for the Democrats in America. To say that liberal Democrats are a dying breed is not just rhetoric, it appears to be a fact.

Longerman continues in a similar vein
This correlation between secularism, individualism and low fertility portends a vast change in modern societies. In the USA, for example, nearly 20% of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having children. The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and '70s, will leave no genetic legacy. Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of people who did raise children.
I currently have two daughters. I certainly would like a son (most fathers do, despite what we say about just wanting a healthy baby), but right now the jury is out in my family on having another child, particularly since my wife has endured a two pregnancies, niether of which was particularly kind, and a couple of traumatic miscarriages. I wonder where we fit into this equation. My wife is certainly more liberal than I and we do have a mixed household politically.

At any rate, Longerman makes a great case for why conservative, some would say patriarchal, but I don't think that is necessarily the case, society is on the rise. But in America, blue states are becoming extinct, literally.
This dynamic helps explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism. Among states that voted for President Bush in 2004, the average fertility rate is more than 11% higher than the rate of states for Sen. John Kerry.
While religious fundamentalism may present some problems, I don't fear social conservatism in America. Social Conservatism believes in a moral line, there are somethings that are right and wrong. Morality is not a ethical variable.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bin Laden's niece to star in reality show

This is how we will win the war against Bin Laden, make reality stars of his entire family--guaranteed that no one will care about him or his family ever again. had this piece including a photo that has undoubtedly led the Taliban to call for her death and is decidedly un-Muslim.

Photo Courtesy of

Hmm! Just so we are sure, here is another photo from the same GQ photo spread as the above photo:

Professors of Pretense

Last week, George Will added insult to injury for the Professors of Pretense, the law professors challenging the Solomon Amendment.

I wonder how many of these professors teach constitutional law? I vividly remember my Con Law professor saying that when it comes to the spending power, Congress can add pretty much any strings it wants to the money, including requiring recipients to do something. This is afterall how the drinking age got raised to 21 and how the speed limit was pegged at 55 for a while, Congress condititioned the receipt of federal highway money on the states taking those actions.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who, during last December's oral argument, blandly said of the schools' desire to discriminate against the military, "You are perfectly free to do that, if you don't take the money." On Monday Roberts's shredding of the law schools' arguments included a tartness that betrayed impatience with law professors who cannot understand pertinent distinctions.

More From the Baltimore Schools Battleground

The Baltimore Sun reports on school closings in the west side of the city. If this mess doesn't get cleaned up and soon, the fallout could affect Mayor Martin O'Malley's bid for governor this year.

Two Campaign Funds, Mischief Likely

This is an interesting issue for campaign finance lawyers--what to do with state elected officials who have a state campaign fund, but are running for federal office. While mischief is not necessarily likely, it does present a potential problem. From the Roll Call report (subscription required):
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) and state Sen. Paula Hollinger (D), candidates in the Free State’s two most competitive and expensive Congressional races this year, have hundreds of thousands of dollars squirreled away in their state campaign accounts.

Although the overwhelming majority of financial activity since they became Congressional candidates has involved their newer, federal campaign accounts, their state funds are still open and active — raising questions about whether campaign money could be commingled, in violation of federal and state election laws.
An excellent question, but one that could work both ways, what if a Representative is running for Governor or something similar?

Although this story is focused on two Maryland candidates, it is a question that has application across the country. Many current state officials often run for federal office and the campaign rules can vary widely. I tend to think this is relatively easy to track, any half-way competent auditor should be able to spot spending in accounts.

One of my favorite campaign finance reformers, Larry Noble get his two cents in:
"It’s a potential problem, and what it requires is very separate accounting and very separate enforcement, which doesn’t always happen," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

Federal and Maryland election officials said that state expenditures such as the ones Steele and Hollinger made can be kosher, depending on what they were used for and when they were parceled out.

"The reality is, the way the reporting is done, you don’t always know what the expenditure is," Noble said.
Let's assume for a moment that both candidates have made sure their state and federal reporting are according to the rules (and there is no indication that it has not been), then it seems to me the problem is with the reporting regulations, but Noble seems to imply both shady attemps by the candidates to evade the rules and a failure of the rules themselves.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why Redistricting Reform Will Fail, pt. 2

In my last post on this subject, I discussed the concept of retrogression and how that judicial and legal interpretation will bring about the downfall of Rep. John Tanner's bill which would create independent redistricting commissions (IRCs) in the states to tackle the task of drawing the lines for Congressional districts after each census. This segment will deal with the legal claim of vote dilution.

Vote dilution is often described as the diminuation of the voting power of a bloc of voters, specifically minority voters. Unlike retrogression, vote dilution is not the reduction of a minority group within one district, but rather the spreading of minority voters across several districts. But this argument flies in the logical face of the fundamental basis of district, the one person, one vote doctrine. Not only that, the doctrine itself is inherently racist and particularly untenable given the subjective nature of districing. Finally, if an IRC model is to work effectively, maintaining the claim of vote dilution will only serve to undermine the purpose of the IRC.

Since the 1960's and the annunciation of the one person, one vote doctrine handed down by the Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr and its progeny, congressional and state legislative districts are expected to be as equal in terms of the number of people as practicable. In Congressional districts, strict numerical equality is all but a requirement, where only a slight deviation, usually deviations between districts that can be counted on two hands, is permitted. The standard makes no mention of outside criteria, such as the number of Republicans vs. Democrats, the number of citizens vs. aliens (legal or otherwise), the number of eligible voters vs. those not eligible to vote (i.e. children). No, the standard refers to numerical equality, but strict numerical equality in population is not necessarily one person, one vote since there is, within any given district, a certain, significant percentage of people who have no right to vote.

But aside from the convenient fiction that is modern redistricting, the legal standard of one person, one vote assigns an empirical value to each person's vote, one. The claim of vote dilution distorts this empirical value by trying to accomplish three mathematically impossible propositions, each of which is impossible in the real world.

Using very basic math, we can understand that x, which is the vote of a person, equals 1. Also in math, we can understand that x, a variable, can have one of three characteristics:
  1. X can be less than 1,
  2. X can equal 1, or
  3. X can be greater than 1
In mathematics it is impossible for X to be less than one AND equal to one at the same time. Similarly, X CANNOT be less than one, greater than one AND equal to one at the same time. The value of X can be only one of the three above propositions.

But when plaintiffs bring a vote dilution claim, they are arguing that X, the power of a citizen's vote is, at teh same time, less than and greater than the legal standard of one. When a plaintiff argues that a district has diluted their vote, they are implicitly saying, my vote has been made less than one. However, we can obviously see that the plaintiff's vote is not counted any differently than it was before the new district, their vote still counts as one.

However, vote dilution isn't really about one person's vote, but about many people's vote. Under a vote dilution claim, plaintiffs argue that because of their status as a minority, their individual vote is MORE valuable than one else's vote. Thus, the vote of minorities is greater than one.

In other words, a vote dilution claim argues that some votes are more valuable than others, so that they are deserving of an additional protection, that of not having their votes diluted by drawing lines that break up a voting bloc of racial minorities. At teh same time, the claim implicitly argues that the vote of a group of minorities is weaker than everyone elses and therefore must be aggregated together so that they can have an impact on the outcome of an election.

The arguement, in addition to being a logical fallacy, carries an inherent and almost explict tone of racism. Along with majority minority districts and retrogression, a vote dilution claim has ONLY been brought by a racial minority, i.e. blacks, hispanics or asians (although I know of no case involving vote dilution of an asian population). A minority of white voters, in urban New York, for example, are not likely to succeed on a claim of vote dilution if their numbers are spread across a number of districts. So a paternalistic law was passed to "protect" the power of minorities to "elect a candidate of their choice." The claim says that without the protection of the state, your one vote is not worth the same as other voters. So in order to give more power to you, we will, arbitrarily, give more weight to your vote, but only in certain circumstances. We will also prevent the government from breaking up your voting bloc.

But the vote dilution claim also forces minority voters into an electoral ghetto, one in which they cannot escape because the legal system will not allow a voting bloc to be broken down in any way. Either it is retrogression or vote dilution, or both. The electoral ghetto assumes that all members of a racial minority vote in the same way, an assumption we know to be false. Fully 40% of hispanics (and large in some communities like Cubans, voted Republican in 2004. A growing segment of black voters are also voting Republican, 11% in 2004, up from 9% in 2000. Thus, the claim of vote dilution, which is based on the idea of a cohesive voting bloc of minority voters, assumes a faulty presumption, that racial minorities vote as a bloc.

Returning to the dilemma faced by an Independent Redistricting Commission, if the IRC makes a line drawing choice, entirely logical upon its face and in keeping with the procedural mandates it must operate under, any dilution of a minority bloc runs the risk of invalidating the map. For example, if State B has one large city that cannot be accomodated in one congressional district, the IRC must decide how to divide the city. Assume a river, a natural boundary that can be respected for districting purposes, runs through the center of the city. The population on each side of the city happens to be roughly equal. So the IRC says everyone on the north side of the river is put into District 1 and everyone on the south side of the river into district 2. But a large black community straddles the river on the east side of the city, by dividing the city in the way it did, the IRC runs the risk of having the plan invalidated.

Once again, the dictates of a Voting Rights Act interpretation will eviscerate the power of the IRC to draw lines to find strict numerical equality. Tanner's bill, while noble in cause, and probably practical (assuming it survives constitutional challenge) cannot operate in an atmosphere where inane VRA challenges, like vote dilution, can void the effort of the IRC. Tanner and redistricting refomers would be far better off insulating IRCs from these pressures, perhaps by banning the vote dilution claim altogether.

Next Time: Recommendations for Improvement.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Presidential Race Field Set? More or Less

Is the 2008 presidential race already down to 7 or 8 real candidates, even in early 2006? Stu Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call seems to think so:
If I’m right that the fundamentals of a presidential race have made it more difficult for long shots to pull off surprise victories, then we already have a pretty good idea who the 2008 White House nominees will be.

The GOP will nominate Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) or George Allen (Va.) or Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The Democrats will nominate Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Evan Bayh (Ind.), former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner or former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.). That’s it. The odds are very, very good that two of those seven hopefuls will be on the ballot for president in November 2008. One or two others may be in the No. 2 slot.


Even though the next president will come from a group of six or seven people we can now identify, that is no reason to ignore other hopefuls at this point. As a sitting governor, Huckabee surely deserves the opportunity to make his case to the public, and a surprisingly strong effort could credential him as someone’s vice presidential running mate.

Moreover, long shots in one election cycle can become top-tier contenders four years later, as Reagan found out.

But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that long shots have an increasingly miniscule chance of winning a presidential nomination — no matter how much we journalists and political junkies hold onto the romantic notion of a deadlocked convention or a dark horse nipping one of the favorites at the wire.

Why Redistricting Reform Will Fail, pt. 1

Last week, the issue of redistricting was on the minds of the Washington elite and election law practitioners across the country as the Supreme Court heard arguments, in an unusual two hour session, in the Texas mid-decade redistricting case. The plaintiffs argument in the case was that the only reason the unusual redistricting was done was for purely political reasons. As a result of the Texas case and the 2004 Vieth case which dealt with partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, a renewed interest in the methodology of drawing district lines has become fashionable in certain circles. Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) has introduced in the House of Representatives, the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act (H.R. 2642). It will be an utter and abject failure because it fails to legislatively retract what has become the greatest intellectual fraud in voting rights litigation, the claim of vote dilution and retrogression under the Voting Right Act.

This article has gotten quite long and thus will come in three parts. This first part deals mainly with retrogression. The second part will deal with vote dilution. Finally, in a third and final part, I will argue that redistricting reform is possible, but not without a major rebuttal of the VRA as it is currently interpreted.

Tanner's bill, which includes a provision that would require states to create an bipartisan, independent redistricting commission modeled on the Arizona model created in by constitutional amendment in 2000 for the drawing of congressional districts. The commission would be composed of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats named by the majority and minority leaders of each state's legislatures who then name a chairman who would act as a tie-breaker. Each member of the commission cannot be an officer holder, a staff member or officer in a political party and cannot run for office in the districts the commission will draw--thus they have to wait 10 years to run for office.

All of this structure is well and good, but it fails to account for challenges under the Voting Right Act. In 2002, the first plan put forward by Arizona's redistricting commission failed Justice Department review because the plan reduced by a couple of percentage points the number of Hispanics in a couple of districts. (See, for example, Rhonda Barnes' article in the Arizona State Law Journal, Redistricting in Arizona Under the Proposition 106 Provisions: Retrogression, Representation and Regret, (35 Ariz. St. L.J. 575 (2003) for more details). Essentially, the "retorgression" or reduction in the number of Hispanic voters in a couple of districts invalidated an otherwise legitimate and accepted plan.

The Voting Rights Act has done much to improve access to voting for minorities in this country, and the basic premise of the law remains sound and should be renewed next year. However, the problem with the VRA as it has been interpreted to include remedies for retrogression and vote dilution. Retrogression describes the result of reducing the number or percentage of minority voters in a district, particularly a majority minority district, exactly what happened in Arizona.

The logical fallacy of retrogression is that once a decision is made to create a majority minority district, you can't go back without running a legal gauntlet, the presumption of which is against the state. If a state, trying to comply with the dictates of the Voting Rights Act as currently interpreted, creates a majority minority district, it cannot undo the district, but under the doctrine of retrogression must continue, at a minimum, to maintain that district, even if it means drawing tortured district lines (which is what we are trying to avoid) in order to maintain the district as a majority minority district.

For example, state A has a population large enough for five U.S. representatives. The state is 45% white, 20% black, 30% Hispanic, and 5% other races. In order to satisfy the dictates of the Voting Rights Act, state A in 2000 created a majority black district, where 55% of the district is black and a majority Hispanic district, where 58% of the district is Hispanic. As a result of these district lines, the state's House delegation is made up of two white, one black, one Latino, and one Asian representatives. The black and Latino representatives serve in the black and Hispanic districts respectively.

In 2010, in response to the Tanner bill, State A creates an independent redistricting commission (IRC). The commission begins its work and follows the rules and regulations laid out by Congress and the Election Assistance Commission. Demographic and labor forces have dispersed the population of state A in various ways. An influx of Asians has entered the state and a large percentage of blacks have moved out. The population in State A today is 40% white, 15% black, 35% Hispanic, and 10% Asian. Using the criteria laid out in the Tanner bill, the independent commission submits a plan which contains five compact districts, two of which are majority white, one is majority Hispanic and the remaining two have no racial majority at all. Political scientists in the state believe three of the districts to be highly competitive, a fourth moderately competitive, and the fifth to be safely Democratic in nature. The IRC sends the plan to the legislature, which, very happy with the result of the IRC's work, adopts the plan on the first vote. Everyone is happy, right?

Not so fast, because of the reduction of the black population and the dispersal of that population group within the state, the black majority minority district no longer exists. The dispersal of the Hispanic population is such that while the Hispanic majority minority district still exists, only now with 52% Hispanic population. No elections have been held, but in the now requisite lawsuit, a federal district court rules that the state cannot reduce the percentage of Hispanic voters in the Hispanic district and cannot eliminate the black majority minority district. The court invalidates the plan and orders the sate and the IRC to come up with a new plan.

In order to satisfy the concerns of the VRA, a state is all but compelled to create majority minority districts when possible. While I disagree with the necessity, that is a policy decision left to the legislature. But the drawback is, once done, the state is chained to that idea, they cannot easily escape the bonds that such a policy decision creates.

The doctrine of retrogression prevents states from addressing both internal and external population shifts, that is people moving within the state and people moving in and out of the state. If the purpose of districting is to ensure, as close as possible, numeric equality between districts, then the states must be free to address those issues with the presumption of validity. Independent redistricting commissions must have the presumption of validity in their plans, if the process is properly followed, regardless of the outcome. Otherwise, these IRCs will constantly be bombarded with claims that this racial group or that racial group has been slighted because the number of minority voters has gone down.

The stated purpose of the Tanner bill is to insulate the redistricting process from partisan interference to the extent possible. But without freeing the IRCs of the retrogression restrictions imposed upon them, the IRCs will be hamstrung by the decisions of past redistricting efforts and unable to draw lines in a manner required by the Tanner bill, that is compact, contiguous, and within the confines of the VRA.

Next up: Vote Dilution.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Charlie Cook on Candidate Recruitment

Charlie Cook, one of the most respect election analysts around, takes a look at candidate recruitment so far--and finds both parties wanting:
There is little doubt that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois has made recruiting a top priority. Republican incumbents like Reps. John Sweeney of New York and Deborah Pryce of Ohio find themselves facing serious challengers for the first time since they were elected.

But it is also true that Democrats have missed a number of opportunities.


For their part, Republicans have been less successful at getting serious candidates to run against potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Reps. Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Jim Matheson of Utah, Lincoln Davis of Tennessee and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota. Democrats have kept their vulnerable open seats to a minimum. Just one seat is in serious jeopardy, thanks in large part to the boneheaded move of their highly touted candidate, state Sen. Charlie Wilson, in Ohio. Wilson's inability to get 50 valid signatures on his nominating petitions means he now must win his party's nomination as a write-in candidate this May.
Cook's analysis is usually dead on and I can't help but think that the lack of a clear agenda for the Democrats hurts their chances a great deal. Nearly everything is going their way but the Democratic party still can't come to an agreement on what their agenda will be, beyond being against anything the Bush Administration does.

I have long believed the while President Bush is no longer acting like a conservative, even a compassionate conservative, I had thought that the base of the GOP was strongly united on just a few core principals of limited government, personal responsibility, lower taxes and business is good for the economy. The Democratic party cannot seem to unite on a core philosophy--which is leading to their downfall. As Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Daily News:
That belief system is still clearly a work in progress. As reporters Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington recounted, Reid and Nancy Pelosi, his House counterpart, met with Dem governors who appealed for help in crafting a message that emphasized "just two or three core ideas." Sources told the paper Reid offered six ideas, and so did Pelosi - though they weren't the same six. Uh-oh.


The disarray is a sign of the chickens coming home to roost. For years, Democrats have been more of a collection of disparate interest groups than people united around a political philosophy. Attempts to identify core beliefs inevitably end up either offending some of the interest groups or being so wacky that swing voters run in the other direction. This inability of Dems to broaden their base explains why Republicans have won seven of the last 10 presidential elections.
Despite some moderate successes at recruiting this year, the Democratic bench is getting a little thin. State legislatures and city government have always been a place were future congressional candidates are born and bred, but if Cook is right, a Democratic party without a core philosophy and a roster of minor leaguers ready for the majors, the GOP is going to be running things for a long time to come.

Speaking as a Republican, that is a bad idea. We need opposition to fuel innovation and ideas. I don't like Democratic politics, but a bad choice is better than no choice.

Hat tip: Real Clear Politics for a lot of the links