Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Well, Not the Back Pedaling I Thought

But just as predictable. In typical Democrat fashion, instead of taking responsiblity for his own stupidity, John Kerry is calling GOP attacks on his demeaning comments about the military a GOP conspiracy.
Statement of John Kerry Responding to Republican Distortions, Pathetic Tony Snow Diversions and Distractions
Washington – Senator John Kerry issued the following statement in response to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, assorted right wing nut-jobs, and right wing talk show hosts desperately distorting Kerry’s comments about President Bush to divert attention from their disastrous record:

"If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they’re afraid to debate real men. And this time it won’t work because we’re going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq."
Lot of links at Hot Air and the President is set to respond at 5:00pm. MSNBC is reporting the Kerry mispoke himself:
A source close to Kerry tells NBC News that he was trying to make a "tough and honest joke" about Bush and that in the process he omitted two words which changed the intended meaning. Per the source, Kerry meant to say that he can't "overstress the importance of a great education" and that "if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy... You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq." Kerry mistakenly dropped the "getting us" from his initial remarks.

The folks over at 300 First Street, have got to be dancing on their desks. I cna just see the GOP ads coming. Anyone want to be the first ad will be on the air tonight?

The View on Political Giving

This little interesting clip came to me via a client. The women of the View are talking about political giving and whether or not that would affect shopping habits. Their data is sloppy, but the discussion seems to think that 1) voters care about the political giving of the companies they patronize and 2) that the knowledge will impact their shopping behavior.

Not everything is political and the political doesn't affect everything.

What Are We Teaching Kids About Elections?

One week is all that remains, one week until the 2006 general election, one week to ask the question, what are we teaching our kids about elections?

I am a massive, huge, unabashed believer in elections and the American electoral system. Despite all its flaws (and there are more than a few), American republican democracy has produced the greatest nation on earth in less than 250 years. The wisdom of the American electorate, on average, has far out performed any prior governmental system, producing a nation with surprising stability and strength. Since Thomas Jefferson succeeded John Adams for the peaceful transfer of power between political parties, our nation has demonstrated that open election and a free electorate will always triumph, even though it may take a while. American elections work--it is as simple as that.

Yet when one looks at election season, we don't see anything positive. So here are some of the lessons we are teaching through action.
  1. Going after a person's family and personal lives is fine. Although negative ads are a part of campaigning for office and there is nothing wrong with them, attack ads are stooping to a new low. Discussions of people's personal lives and the lives of their family are on display, no longer just records and policy positions. So the lesson for our kids, if you don't like a person's political outlook, it is okay to call them and their supporters racists or perverts. It is okay to tear a person down for a personal failing or something that happened long ago in their past.
  2. If you want to win, acceptable tactics include lies, deceptions, quotations out of context and outright voter suppression. I know that politics is a bloodsport, with issues of power, agenda setting, policy preferences and all the rest involved. I have no problem getting dirty when the discussion deals with candidate records and positions--politics is still a game for adults. The honor in political battle has been lost. Tactics that rely on lies or distortions don't raise the level of debate or encourage activity. The worst offense in my view are attempts by any party to keep eligible voters from the polls. The next worst is pushing those not permitted to vote to do so. Such tactics destroy the integrity of the system. The lesson for our kids is that when it comes to things that are really important like leadership of a nation or a state, it is okay to lie and cheat in order to achieve them.
  3. Assigning the blame onto others is fine. Warning, this is a partisan attack. For the past six years, all we have heard from certain segments of the Democratic party is that the 2000, the 2002 and 2004 elections were stolen by the GOP acting in concert with all kinds of groups in some grand conspiracy to keep power. Evidence of any such conspiracy, if it exists at all, remains circumstantial. But instead of accepting defeat honorably and working hard to convince the voters they are right, Democrats have continually declared that elections were stolen. The lesson, don't take responsibility for your own failures, someone else did this to you and you are within your rights to assign blame on those who won.
  4. Elections are about money, polls and the latest scandal.If an alien were to land on our shores and view the media coverage of elections, they could hardly be blamed for believing that the only things that mattered were how much money the candidates raised, spent or have available, who is leading whom and by how much in the polls, and what is the latest dirt to be unearthed about some candidate or another. That is all that is projected and reported on. The media doesn't do much to look into candidate positions and record, merely parroting talking points issued by campaigns and breathlessly reporting on horse race issues that, in the long run, don't matter. The lesson, politics and elections are not about ideas or leadership, just empty numbers and scandals.
  5. Voters are stupid.Both parties are particularly bad about treating voters as though they lack the intelligence to discern for themselves. While the short attention span theater of the modern media helps perpetuate this, the leading political parties now espouse slogans instead of sentences, tag lines instead of rhetoric and fear instead of logic and persuasion. Every speech is about getting that one great sound bite, leading to oversimplification about ideas and policy. You can't talk about complex issues like health care, Medicare, the war in Iraq, nuclear proliferation in 10 words on CNN. It takes more and the parties don't help by perpetuating soundbite campaigning. The lesson we teach our kids is that the power elite don't want you to think for yourselves because then you may start questioning that power, so just keep your head down and do what the power elite wants you to do.

In a time when education has risen to the top of the domestic agenda, when civics education, or rather the lack of it is deplored by columnists and teachers, everyone seems to forget that our children are still learning about politics and elections from the events around them. The examples and lessons we are teaching our kids through our actions during the elections surely fails to provide a good teaching experience. Our leaders, the people asking for our votes, attach their names to messages that highlight the worst of our humanity, at a time when we seek the best in our country to lead us through troubled times. Those kids who might seek office in the future are learning valuable lessons, just not lessons we want them to learn.

Elections teach all Americans, and right now the lessons do not reflect the best of America, or represent the honor and history of the American republic.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Go visit the heroes/heroines of homeschooling.

John Kerry--Self-Inflicted Wound Produces Political Suicide

For a man who believes he is entitled to a second chance at the Presidency, he is doing a damn fine job of making sure he doesn't get one. Assuming he jumps into the race his Democratic rivals will use this video, the GOP will definitely use this video. He is done.

Michelle Malkin has the video and comments.

Like many of commenters, I am a veteran, former enlisted and hold a law degree. I graduated in the top 10% of my high school class, and was a cum laude graduate of the University of Maryland and Catholic University Law School. I worked hard at school and at serving my country. I know for a fact that in an all-volunteer force, the intelligence and education of most of the enlisted members of the service is high. Many, if not most, of the senior enlisted personnel have bachelor's degrees, some have masters and I know a few who had Ph.D's in various fields. The modern military requires smart people who can study, who can think technically and work together.

When John Kerry gets up there and says something like this, it just chafes to no end.

I expect a great deal of back pedaling from the Kerry camp on this. But if the GOP is smart, they will paint Democrats with the Kerry brush, after all, he was their standard bearer in 2004.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Suppressing the Black Vote

On Saturday, the NY times ran this piece about the importance of black turnout for Democratic hopes of victory next week. The report included this quote:
"This notion that elections are stolen and that elections are rigged is so common in the public sphere that we’re having to go out of our way to counter them this year," said Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist.
so who was the purveyor of "this notion?" None other than the Democratic party itself!! Ever since the 2000 election and the Bush v. Gore case, each time the Democrats have lost an election, there have been charges that the GOP stolen the election and at least some Democrats have gone out of their way to say that the votes of blacks do not count.

The old saw about repeating a lie long enough it becomes the truth is starting to come back to haunt the Democrats.

Let's be honest, voter suppression is a real tactic, but like voter fraud, probably not as widespread as Democrats would have you believe.
The Rev. DeForest B. Soaries, who is black and was appointed by President George W. Bush as the first chairman of the United States Election Assistance Commission, an agency meant to help carry out the Help America Vote Act, said Democrats overestimated the problem of voter suppression in much the same way Republicans overestimated the problem of voter fraud.
Any attempts at voter suppression should be met with swift and harsh punishment, but the Democratic focus on the matter is interesting.

Whenever these stories appear, it sets the stage for the blame game should the Democrats fail to capture one or both chambers of Congress and especially the House. But here is my thought.

In 2002, approximately 75 million Americans voted, much less than the 122 million that voted in 2004. This year, I expect that some 80 million people might vote or thereabouts. But here is the thing, the GOP voter turnout machine is already in high gear, making sure people know to go vote and making sure they know who the GOP candidates are. My household is a split household (my wife is a Democrat--who will vote for Bob Ehrlich for Governor--don't know yet about Michael Steele) and even in Maryland, with a 2 to 1 Democratic registration advantage, my wife has received not one call reminding her to go vote. I on the other hand have received three calls in the past week and I expect to get at least two to four more in the next 8 days, including one in which I will be offered a ride to the polls if I need one.

If the Democrats want to win elections, spend the time getting the voters to the polls, not wringing your hands over the past. Deploying lawyers and poll watchers may avoid egregious acts of suppression, but if you don't counter suppression tactics with mobilization, the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

The Complexity of the NY Times

Last week an ad was running in the TN Senate race that raised a lot of eyebrows, including charges by the left and the media that the ad was "racist" and "worse than the Willie Horton ad." Whether these charges are true or not remain, as always, irrelevant. But what is interesting is the condemnation from the NY Times whose own twisted recollection of their role in creating the rules that led to their problem with the ad.

Last week, the NY Times editorialized:
The ad, resonating with the miscegenation taboos of Old South politics, may or may not be the nadir in the low-blow salvos now assailing the nation. But it takes the statuette for political hypocrisy as G.O.P. leaders insist they were hobbled by campaign law from cutting off what is clearly their own handiwork. “We didn’t have anything to do with creating it,” insisted Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

All Mr. Mehlman’s committee did was finance the ad by way of a supposedly “independent” political shop that serves as a shadow party operation specializing in attack ads on behalf of the Republican candidate, Bob Corker. Mr. Corker eventually criticized the ad as tacky and not part of his campaign, asking that it be killed. But Republican assurances that it was finally off the air after days of damage have proved untrue, according to news reports. The 30-second fiction continued to air like some monstrous G.O.P. orphan.

Strategists from both political parties use the “independent” route of the campaign law for launching sleaze and disclaiming provenance. Voters across the nation are hard-pressed to separate wheat from chaff in the whirlwind of political ads. But one of the few keys they have in figuring out who’s responsible for something particularly egregious is the tag line required at each commercial’s close.
Brad Smith, in his usually pointed manner, points out the law behind the Melman denial, noting that it is accurate and a result of the rather stupid coordination and independent spending rules perpetrated upon the American Voter. Calling the NY Times characterization of Melman's response a "loophole," Smith writes:
Reformers many years ago wrote a law limiting the ability of political parties to contribute directly to, or to coordinate their activity with, candidates. Further, the reform organizations have fought successfully in the Supreme Court to preserve that law against Constitutional challenge - Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee ("Colorado II"), 533 U.S. 431 (2001) - and in Congress against efforts to repeal or raise the coordinated spending limits. However, the Supreme Court has also held that parties have a right to spend unlimited sums of "hard money" if they do so independently of their candidates. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission ("Colorado I"), 518 U.S. 604 (1996). The Court held that this was so because spending funds, once they have been raised in legally limited amounts, does not lead to corruption. Is a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court a "loophole?" Would the Times call New York Times v. Sullivan, allowing newspapers much more leeway to get away with libel than was previously the case, a "loophole?"
Of course, the NY Times will view Sullivan as a vindication of the freedom of the press while conveniently forgetting that the same First Amendment also protects speech.

For decades, the reform community has added complex layer upon layer of regulation in the interest of "protecting" the voter from getting confused. But until 30 years ago, the American voter was quite capable of deciding for themselves about canddiates and politicians. TV and radio ads ran for decades without regulation concerning coordination or independent exenditures and it would be hard to say that the American republic was worse off under that regime. The result of the efforts of the reform community, as aided by the press, is that when something comes up that they don't like, they can slap at it from the sidelines, decry it, ask high ranking campaign operatives like Melman about it and then get offended when the operative cites the law, calling what ever is said a "loophole."

A complex law invites loophole interpretations and exceptions. That is what election lawyers get paid to find. If we didn't have the complex regulations foisted upon us by the reform community, we would have far fewer loopholes.

Questions about Polls

Michael Barone writes a great post about the party identification on polling samples of late.
In 2004, the electorate that went to the polls or voted absentee was, according to the adjusted NEP exit poll, 37 percent Democratic and 37 percent Republican. In party identification, it was the most Republican electorate since George Gallup conducted his first random sample poll in October 1935.

But most recent national polls show Democrats with an advantage in party identification in the vicinity of 5 percent to 12 percent. Party identification usually changes slowly. Historically, voters have switched from candidates of one party to candidates of the other more readily than they have changed their party identification.
There is not currently anything posted on this phenomenon at Pollster.com, but it is an interesting idea.

If the polling sample is relating a higher percentage of self-identified Democrats, what is going on. With reputable pollsters, I have pretty good faith in their ability to draw out a solid sample, so I don't think it is necessarily the methodology, although most reputable pollsters are certainly questioning that methodology. Similarly, I don't think what we are seeing are push polls, at least not in the sense of real push polls. So what is happening?

I think the mood of the electorate is such that fewer people are willing to self-identify to total strangers that they are Republicans. Being a Republican is not generally viewed as a good thing right now and so people are inclined to say they are independent at best or Democrat at worst, even though a person calling on a poll could really care less what your party ID is, only getting throught their call list.

So are people lying? Perhaps, or perhaps the only people responding to polls are Democrats. I am not sure.

What I am sure about in regards to polling is that something smells rotten in the state of polling and I just don't know what to think. In my own state of Maryland, where a very close gubernatorial and senatorial races are taking place, you can get one set of polls from last week that says the candidates are in a dead heat, not a statistical tie, but actually tied 46-46. Then the Washington Post comes out with a poll over the weekend that says the Dems in those races hold a 10 point lead. What is to be believed? Thus, my faith in even the remote accuracy of polls is shaken.

As Barone points out:
Serious pollsters concede that there are some problems with polling. Americans have fewer landline phones than they used to, and the random digit dialing most pollsters use does not include cell-phone numbers. Larger and larger percentages of those called are declining to be interviewed.
Is polling, as a statistical science soon to undergo a transformation? I would think it needs to, in order to keep up with changes in society.

Over a Week

I can't believe it has been over a week since I posted anything, probably my longest break not related to a vacation.

The work blitz is over and you can expect posts to appear with much more frequence now.

For those of you who stopped by during the unintentional hiatus, thanks for your reading loyalty.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sorry for Light Blogging

It is not that I don't have a lot to say, I do judging by the copious notes in my handy-dandy, never go anywhere without it, sprial notebook-o-ideas. But every two years, those of us who work in teh campaign finance disclosure business face our most difficult challenge of October of election year.

Simply swamped with work.

Some reading ideas:

Allison has a couple of interesting stories about an FEC rule change and a CA Attorney General candidate who hasn't practiced law in the state for five years making him ineligible, maybe.

The Lonely Centrist takes on teh LA Times and their incredibly shallow understanding of campaign finance rules and their inability to explain what is a relatively simple concept.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Professionalization of Teachers, Part IV

Sometime back, Jenny D. wrote a piece about a debate in one of her classes and I got involved in the debate on the comments, about processes and teaching. The point that Jenny was trying to make is that one of the hallmarks about the professions of law and medicine is a combined focus on process and on outcomes. While teaching may be judged, rightly or wrongly, primarily on outcomes, Jenny argued that teaching does not have the same process oriented approach to knowledge and skill development and the sharing of that knowledge across the profession.

Much of this lack of process may have as much to do with the way in which teachers are trained as much as it has to do with professional standards. Long ago, I posted these thoughts about the education and training of teachers. I argued that unlike professions such as law and medicine, there is no standardized approach to educating teachers that combines a bachelor's degree with a three or more year program of advanced instruction, a rigorous licensing exam and several years of apprenticeship. While teaching may have some of these attributes, as a profession is does not have all of these hallmarks. I have also spoken about the need for teachers to adopt a self-regulating licensing body similar to state bar and medicial societies. Such a model promotes good practices among professionals since individual bad actors reflect poorly upon the profession as a whole and if the profession disciplines their own, the relative value of the profession increases. Finally, in a third post, I suggested the concept of educational malpractice as a means for enforcing professional standards.

While Jenny is focused, in part I believe on the lack of attention in teaching to the sharing of process and procedures among practitioners, the solution is relatively easy to fix, but harder to implement--a multi-year apprenticeship.

The practice of law follows a multi-year study of law (law school) and a licensing test (bar exam) with a multi-year apprenticeship, where first year lawyers spend time working on small matters, developing skills and learning how the law works in real life, as opposed to a classroom. Medicine has much the same procedure. Teaching on the other hand, as the Ed Wahoo will tell you, throws its first year practitioners into the melee of classroom life, without the same multi-year apprenticeship process.

Many teachers may be assigned a mentor to help them along, but that is not the same thing. Many teacher may have a year or more of student teaching, but again, the purposes behind the student teaching don't, at least as I understand them, meet the same purposes as the legal and medical apprenticeships. Legal and medical apprenticeships begin by teaching small tasks firsts, always under the supervision of an experiences lawyer or doctor. At the conclusion of each assignment or group of assignments, regular assessments by experienced practitioners dissect the work, looking for ways to improve skills and to share knowledge.

It is within this atomosphere, which may last anywhere from 3 to 7 years, where doctors and lawyers learn not only practical skills, but are also inculcated with the profession's customs of a learned profession, that of sharing knowledge and procedures. All this is done within an atmosphere that encourages adherence to a strict code of ethics, realizing that making the process of the profession better leads to better outcomes and a better stature for the profession in the public eye.

To move the teaching profession on par with law and medicine, which in terms of its importance to society they should be equals at minimum, would require a drastic change in the process of educating teachers. The teaching profession must adopt most of these features in order to raise the level of respect for teaching as a profession in the eyes of the public. Thus, the concept of teh change is easy, the implementation hard.

LA Schools Hire Former Admiral as Super!

The inestimable Joanne Jacobs points to recent news in Los Angeles that the school board there had hired Vice Adm. David Brewer (USN, ret.) as superintendant. The lead to this article is great:
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Fryer uses an earthy metaphor to explain why the Los Angeles Unified School District hired a military man as its next superintendent: Walk around in a cow pasture long enough, he says, and you lose the ability to smell it.

Translation: Career educators can become oblivious to the flaws in their schools.
Wihle the LA Times story points out mixed success of former military officers succeeding as supers, it also fairly points out that people with decades of experience in education don't always succeed either.

But education politics are not Pentagon politics, with a President at the top who will issue orders and see admirals and generals scurrying to obey.
Those who have made the transition say there is no reason to believe Brewer can't succeed. But they say he faces a steep learning curve — especially when it comes to the most treacherous part of the job, local politics.

"Not that he hasn't seen politics — he certainly has — but local politics are nastier and much more intense than anything he's experienced at the national level," said Fryer, who won plaudits for his stewardship of the Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., from 1998 to 2005. He now runs the Washington-based National Institute for School Leadership, which trains principals.

Romer has said that, even as a former governor of Colorado and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he was unprepared for the politics in Los Angeles, with their cross-cutting ethnic currents and hidden shoals of personal rivalries. Brewer is stepping into an even more volatile situation, given the confrontation between the school board, which hired him, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is set to claim a share of the board's power.
Still, I believe that Brewer, like many who come to education without the baggage of having spent their careers in education may be just what is needed. For sure, he will have to bear the slings and arrows of the LA Teachers' Union and a bureacracy not know to warm up to new superintendants, but at the same time--, one does not make Vice Admiral (that's three star admiral) without some political skills.

As a former Navy enlisted man, I tend to respect Admirals because they are Admirals. But by the same token, leading large organizations is a particularly rare skill. Note that I said leading, not managing. In my mind, too many superintendants and other school officers spend too much time managing not leading. Managing involves keeping thinks running, greasing the squeaky wheel and trying to get all the pieces of the machinery running. Leading is setting our a vision and then getting everyone working, in their own best way, to achieving that vsision. Sometimes leading means convincing, other times it means ordering.

Good Luck Admiral.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Why I Now Support National Education Standards

For quite some time there has been a quiet debate simmering around in education circles about the need for a set of national education standards to supplant the patchwork of state standards. The Fordham Foundation recently scored a couple of high profile converts in former Secretaries of Education Bill Bennet and Rod Paige. Now, I am no national education leader, just a father concerned about his daughters' education and those of the kids around me. I have thought for months about the issue of whether to support a national standards and the decision to do so has not been without some mental struggle. National standards present some particularly difficult obstacles for me, not the least of which have been legal (as a lawyer, many questions become legal), but also with matters of implementation.

Nevertheless, I am now a supporter of a national standard and I hope that with this post, others will understand why.

Rationale for Prior Opposition to National Standards
Like most people, I understand that historically education has been a matter of state and local concern. Although national politicians will speak about education, almost all of the debate until the late 1990's was based at the state and local level. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the home of Title I, was for me a civil rights and funding issue, not an education issue in the terms of what material is taught, how and when. Thus, along with so many other matters handled exclusively or nearly so on the state level, I simply accepted that education was best handled at those levels. As I learned throught my fraternity, "Merely because a practice is prevalent may be the poorest reason for continuing it." I failed to question the status quo on educational standards.

Second, as a constitutionalist, I also understood the division of labor and responsibilites among governmental levels, between what the federal government ought to be doing and what states ought to be doing. Since I tend to read the Constitution narrowly, there is no postive grant of authority in the Constitution for the federal government to be involved in education. To be certain, there is no prohibition either. Couple all this with my general dislike of Congress using the spending clause to put regulatory strings on the money it gives out for education and my concerns about the federal government getting involved in education become magnified.

Third, I worry about the centralization of administration. Already the federal government manages so much that I think the Framers would be appalled at the size of the federal bureaucratic beast. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us all about the danger of the centralization of administration to a democratic nation. With federal standards, I always worried about whether we were feeding the federal beast too much.

These worries tended to dominate my thinking about a set of federal standards. However, when I took each of these concerns out, turned them over in my head, I found that, if properly developed and implemented, all of my concerns would be overcome.

Why Accept National Standards Now
As I noted before, arriving at a decision to support national standards was not an easy process for me, but there were a few key factors in reaching this decision. Some of these influencers were simply realizations about factual situations and others were the result of thinking long and hard about what would be accomplished by embracing national standards.

First among the reasons for changing my mind was the simple realization of the hypocrisy of my position. For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know that I am a big supporter of choice in education and many times I point out to detractors that remaining wedded to the old public school model simply fails to appreciate the opportunities for improving education available in choice models.

It seemed the height of hypocrisy to argue with one breath that remaining wedded to traditional public schools lacked vision and openmindedness, while at the same time remaining wedded myself to the notion that education was and should always be a state and local matter. Thus, the very charges of lack of critical thinking about school choice I leveled against choice critics were directly applicable to my own thinking.

Second, when thinking about national standards, America, for nearly all intents and purposes, is almost at that point. Long before No Child Left Behind, there was Goals 2000, and other programs that have slowly, through the federal spending power, brought more and more federal regulations to bear on state and local school operation. While NCLB is the latest large expansion of the federal role in education, it was far from the first and probably won't be the last.

Whether we like it or not, whether we intended it or not, the fact of the matter is, we have national standards now. Many of the standards are "voluntary" meaning that a state has the power to reject the standards at the risk of losing their federal money. But for now, it is safe to say that making the jump from the current regime of "voluntary standards" to a mandatory set would not be a big leap at all.

Third, and probably most important, we no longer live in a national society were state education standards are enough. With a society as mobile as ours, having a set of national education standards, properly implemented, can reduce the inequities between states and provide for more mobility among the populace without the worries of wildly differing education standards.

When local and state control of education began, our society was still largely agrarian. Most people were born, lived, raised their own family and died all in the same state, often even the same county. Local schools could tailor programs and education beyond the basics to accomodate local needs. Local control was also closer to the people a school system served, and thus could be more responsive to community needs.

A regime of local control served the nation well, even into the 1940's and 1950's. But with the beginning of the Cold War and the growth of federal involvement in education, came the a new society, one in which education as a national issue took on more import. But at the same time the national interest in education took root, we started to develop a much more mobile society and the old rules no longer applied.

Today, it is not unusual for families with school age children to move 2, 3, or more times while those kids are in elementary or secondary school. In fact, with one daughter approaching school age and a toddler, my wife and I have seriously considered moving to Austin, TX, Charlotte, NC, Orlando, FL, Columbus, OH and less seriously San Francisco, CA, Sydney, Australia and London. Previously such mobility among families with school age children was relegated to military families and a very small minority outside the military. Today, with the fluidity of the job market and the relative ease of moving, it is far more likely that the place where children are born is not going to be the place they will graduate high school.

The impact of this highly mobile society is that education standards based on state and local concerns will begin to shortchange the mobile family. With sometimes wildly disparate standards from one state to the next, it is possible for students to repeat certain material because it is taught at different times in didfferent places or miss certain critical material due to a move.

One national standard, enforced across state boundaries can prevent children from missing or repeating infromation merely because their family moved. Some may decry the impact of our mobile society for all sorts of reasons, but the fact remains that we as a society move a great deal from place to place, and we should not allow schools and schooling to dictate, where, how and why we move.

In addition to ensuring students do not miss information, a national standard can also help parents make comparisons about the quality of schools across state lines. When moving from state to state, it is often difficult to compare schools in one state let alone compare the schools of one state to those of another. A national standard can simplify this comparative process for parents.

Finally, even in a society as mobile as ours, there appears to be a growing consensus about what should be taught in schools. From reading and math skills to history, social sciences, physical sciences, the arts, literature and the like, many people can agree on generalities to be taught. Of course, there will be quibbles over what texts to use and there can and will be some variation, which is good and proper. But one standard can be implemented in many ways thus there is some flexibility.

Concerns About Implementation
My support for a national standard does not come without some reservations. As we all know, the devil is usually in the details, and on this score for me, the details really matter. I can see two concerns for me, one legal and one practical.

From a legal standpoint, I worry about challenges to a national standard on constitutional grounds. There is no explicit power for the Congress to pass a national standard on its own, it must be couched with the provision of federal funds. I have never liked this method of Congressional regulation, but there may not be another avenue. With a national standard imposed, I can envision more lawsuits on this issue. With a Supreme Court less supportive of a broad, expansive reading of Congressional power, I am not sure how successful tying standards to funds will be going foward. A national standard is different than even NCLB, since to make it a truly national standard, there cannot be an opt out method.

I believe, however, that eventually the legal matters will be cleared up. The practical implementation is of greater concern. Alexis de Tocqueville worried about the centralization of laws and administration and its impact on democracy. While a centralization of laws, he felt was a concern, it was not nearly as troubling for him as the centralization of administration. Centralization of administration means that the federal government would be responsible for the law and administering the test/enforcing the standard. In a nation with as many schools as this one has, such a program is not only expensive, but impractical.

A national standard need not and should not mean the end of state and local school administration. States and localities will still have to administer the tests for national standards. Furthermore, just because there is a national standard does not mean that the standard is the ceiling of what needs to be done. Rather, as a floor, a national standard can be added to by the states if they desire.

Having a national standard will actually make administering the standard easier. First, there would not be a need for multiple tests, one state and one national since one test can address both needs. Second, costs will be lowered in relation to testing since the conflict of state and federal laws are resolved in favor of one rule. Third, local school boards and state school administration can focus on matters relating to facilities, services, labor instead of curricula matters and developing tests. Such a shift in focus, one would hope, would lead to a better use of resources.

Preventing a centralization of administration for education should be paramount in the minds of those building a national standard. Having an education bureaucracy too far removed from the people it serves is dnagerous and not having flexibility in administration, which is a hallmark of federal regulation, would in the long run damage schools.

Lastly, local administrative flexibility in how the standard is administered is vastly different than having local administrative flexibility in what the standard is. This may seem like splitting hairs, and to a certain extent I am splitting hairs. But taking the decision over what the standard is away from local administration means that local school boards can better focus on the needs of their students in attaining that standard, rather than spending so much time defining the standard.

While I am now endorsing the idea of a national standard, there are implementation concerns that need to be worked out to appeal further to people like me. i don't want to see a significantly larger federal education bureaucracy, nor the complete disposal of local school administration.

But in a society as mobile as ours, a national standard cannot but help improve school accountibility, and the ability for people to judge school systems against each other, no matter where the school is located. As many people on all sides of the education debate note, we are living in the 21st Century and it is time to take our schools out of the 19th Century. Recognizing the need for a national standard in our very large, but also very small, nation is but one step, but nonetheless a vital step, for advancing our schools into the 21st Century.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lt. Gov. Steele Criticizes NCLB

The Washington Post is reporting that in his latest ad, Lt. Gov. Michale Steele, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, is directly attacking the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind Act.
Maryland Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, who often avoids mentioning his political affiliation in the overwhelmingly Democratic state, took one of his most direct swipes at his party in a new commercial yesterday while continuing to fault Democrats.

In the ad, Steele criticizes Republicans for creating an education policy "that teaches to a test," a reference to President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, and Democrats for putting "bureaucracy ahead of our kids."

"Some Republicans forget folks still climbing that ladder," he says, and Democrats "just raise their taxes."
The story goes on to say that Steele is trying to distance himself from the GOP and even quotes a number of political science professors to that end. However, what the story fails to mention is that Steele has long been a proponent of education, particularly for lower classes and minorities. Steele has long viewed education as the road to success, particularly since his education has allowed him to move beyond his own humble beginnings.

As the campaign heats up to a frenzied pace, Democratic nominee Ben Cardin continues to paint Steele as being in the pocket of the Bush Administration. In any other largely Democratic state, this strategy might work, but Maryland is a little different. The close proximity to DC means that Maryland voters are much more cognizant of even subtle differences in positions and Steele's differences with Bush are not subtle, but substantive. Where the two men agree, you will usually find Steele's position to be long held or based upon personal principal.

On a key issue that Cardin is playing up, the fact that Steele opposed stem cell research, Cardin fails to acknowledge that Steele, a devout Catholic, opposed his own governor, Bob Ehrlich, who signed the bill into law in Maryland. With a large part of Maryland business being bio-tech, Steele's position cost hiim support in that community. Thus Steele is not as easy to pin down as Cardin would hope.

Bureaucratic Inflexibility

While I a generally supportive of NCLB, although implementation and enforcment concerns need to be addressed, I have come across a number of examples where bureaucratic inflexibility seems to undermine the goal of the law. In Califonia for example, comes this story:
Jefferds Huyck stood in a corner of the gymnasium, comfortable in being inconspicuous, as the annual awards ceremony began one Friday last May at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif. He listened as the principal named 16 of Mr. Huyck’s students who had earned honors in a nationwide Latin exam, and he applauded as those protégés gathered near center court to receive their certificates.

Then the principal, Andrew Goldenkranz, said, "And here’s their teacher." Hundreds of students and parents and colleagues rose unbidden in a standing ovation. In that gesture, they were both celebrating and protesting.

As virtually everyone in the audience knew, Mr. Huyck would be leaving Pacific Collegiate, a charter school, after commencement. Despite his doctorate in classics from Harvard, despite his 22 years teaching in high school and college, despite the classroom successes he had so demonstrably achieved with his Latin students in Santa Cruz, he was not considered “highly qualified” by California education officials under their interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Rather than submit to what he considered an expensive, time-consuming indignity, a teacher-certification program geared to beginners that would last two years and cost about $15,000, Mr. Huyck decided to resign and move across town to teach in a private school. And in his exasperation, he was not alone.

Two other teachers with doctorates left Pacific Collegiate this year at least in part because of the credentialing requirement, Mr. Goldenkranz said.
I can understand the need for standards for teachers, but common sense, never a bureaucratic strongpoint to begin with, seems to have been thrown out with no regard for the students, like those of Mr. Huyck.
TO call this situation perverse, to ascribe it to the principle of unintended consequences, is to be, if anything, too reasonable. With the quality of teacher training being widely assailed as undemanding, most recently in a report last month by the Education Schools Project, a nonpartisan group, Pacific Collegiate in 2005 had what certainly looked like the solution. Out of a faculty of 29, 12 already had or were nearing doctoral degrees, primarily related to the subjects they taught.

And if the performance of the school mattered for anything, which unfortunately it does not in the credentialing issue, then Pacific Collegiate could show results. Admitting its 400 students in Grades 7 through 12 by lottery rather than by admissions exam, it recorded an average of 1,982 out of a possible 2,400 on the three-part SAT and sent graduates to Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other elite universities.
Indeed, it would seem that experience and Ph.D.'s don't mean anything to educrats.

The funny thing is, as James Joyner points out, the mere possession of a Ph.D. does not mean the person is qualified to teach anything, a track record of results and a Ph.D. should mean something. Having such teachers waste time and moeny on a course far below their competency level is demeaning, infantile and a waste of valuable resources.
The irony is that the type of person who would not be insulted by such a program is precisely the kind of person we do not want teaching, especially at the high school level.

Unfortunately, the education establishment has been dominated for decades by the teachers’ colleges and their emphasis in pedagogy rather than subject matter expertise. Indeed, one suspects that people on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing have degrees in Education and actually resent people like Huyck and Whittier for proving that people who actually know their subjects are more effective teachers.
NCLB has been widely criticized for its lack of flexibility. While I tend to believe that regular standardized testing and reporting of results is better for all concerned, but at a time when we as a nation are looking to bring more and better qualified teachers into our schools, putting teachers like Mr. Huyck through bureaucratic hoops accomplishes nothing but drive good teachers away. Surely there must be some sort of way to plot out exceptions for experience and results, a path that can be implemented, but not abused.

Then again, that would be using common sense and that is just not possible.

Update: Eduwonk calls a spade a spade:
But this one is squarely on the states. NCLB only requires subject matter expertise and state certification, what certification looks like is left to the states and unfortunately today it's usually, well, what's the word I'm looking for here...oh yeah...archaic.

Update II: The Ed Wonks note:
This is the kind of cluelessness that prevents so many truly qualified people from even considering a career in public education.

Suppressing Speech From the Left

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal today, takes a look at attacks on free speech. After discussing four incidents of the left suppressing speech they disagree with, Noonan writes: Let us be more pointed. Students, stars, media movers, academics:
They are always saying they want debate, but they don't. They want their vision imposed. They want to win. And if the win doesn't come quickly, they'll rush the stage, curse you out, attempt to intimidate.

And they don't always recognize themselves to be bullying. So full of their righteousness are they that they have lost the ability to judge themselves and their manner.

And all this continues to come more from the left than the right in America.


What is most missing from the left in America is an element of grace--of civic grace, democratic grace, the kind that assumes disagreements are part of the fabric, but we can make the fabric hold together. The Democratic Party hasn't had enough of this kind of thing since Bobby Kennedy died. What also seems missing is the courage to ask a question. Conservatives these days are asking themselves very many questions, but I wonder if the left could tolerate asking itself even a few. Such as: Why are we producing so many adherents who defy the old liberal virtues of free and open inquiry, free and open speech? Why are we producing so many bullies? And dim dullard ones, at that.
Betsy also points out:
The left are always willing to assert that conservatives are trying to impose some new sort of limitations on freedoms of speech and press. And then, time and again, we see examples of leftists trying to deny those on the right their moments of dissenting. We see this when leftists groups steal conservative newspapers on campus or they disrupt the speeches of conservatives as if merely allowing a conservative to give a talk on a college campus will pollute the clear-thinking minds of today's youth.
Freedom of speech produces more hypocrisy in this country than most rights put together. A personal story can illustrate my point.

At one point in my military career, for about six months, I was a tour guide at the Pentagon, a very cushy duty assignment to be sure. I once had a woman on my tour who was obviously anti-military. Don't ask me why she was touring the Pentagon. One stop on the tour was the Hall of Heroes, a place dedicated to everyone who has won the Congressional Medal of Honor. This was usually a place for me to answer questions and talk to those on the tour--usually kids. This woman came up to me and in a very accusatory manner, said that this shrine to heroes was nothing but a glorification of war and death. I said that while most of the awards were posthumous, many were awarded for helping to save many lives, those of the buddies. In other words they were self-sacrifices, tragic, heroic self-sacrifices. She responded that she couldn't believe it and that I was lying and nothing but a war-mongering idiot incapable of understanding other people and that war was not a solution.

So I tried a different track. I asked her if she was willing to concede that we each had positions and things that were very valuable to us. She agreed and I asked if she were willing to die for her beliefs and those things she held dear. With some hesitation, she said yes. I asked if she were willing to concede that I was willing to do the same for my beliefs. She agreed. Finally, I asked if she were willing to die for my beliefs. She said no. I responded, to the deligh of several veterans on the tour, "that is teh difference between you and my shipmates and I, we are willing to die so that you can believe what you want."

The point of the story is that if the left holds dear free speech, as they say they do, they must be willing to allow any and all speakers to step up to the microphone. Otherwise their hypocrisy becomes all that remains. I am not saying that the right is always without hypocrisy on this matter, because they are not. However, I believe that the right has a far better understanding of the First Amendment than the left--and it shows.

Update: Sister Toldjah has a lot more examples. Like this one:
And how about Bill Clinton’s lawyers trying to intimidate ABC into not merely ‘correcting’ but pulling ABC’s docudrama Path to 9/11 because ABC didn’t follow the liberal apologist line of “Clinton fought hard against the terrorists, and was obsessed with OBL”? Or the Demofascists in the Senate who issued a veiled threat against ABC to pull their broadcast license if they didn’t pull Path to 9-11?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bush Sticking to his Policies

Michael Abramowitz reports for the Washington Post that Bush is sticking to his policies regarding North Korea and Iraq.
Despite setbacks on North Korea and Iraq, President Bush vowed yesterday to stick with his policies on both crises, praising Chinese condemnation of North Korea's apparent nuclear test and citing progress in helping the fledgling Iraqi government stand on its own.

Even as he rejected calls to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Bush said during a Rose Garden news conference that diplomacy is beginning to unite the world against North Korea's nuclear efforts. He called it hopeful that China is helping North Korea "understand it's not just the United States speaking to them," and he reassured South Korea and Japan that the United States "reserves all options" to protect its allies in the region against threats from the communist state.
Now there will be probably two spins on this and it will depend entirely upon your political outlook as to which will be accepted.

If you are suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, this latest statement of policy will garner cries of "cowboy diplomacy" and "lack of an ability to change."

If you are a Bush supporter, you will see these latests statements as indicative of a President who doesn't govern by polls.

What I see is a President who believes his policies will work. Like Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, Bush is willing to see his policies through, no matter the criticism. Reagan's policy of peace through strength lead to the collapse of hte Soviet Union and victory in the Cold War. Changing policy in mid-stream, second-guessing, can lead to disasterous outcomes and leave your allies in a lurch. South Korea and Japan deserve to know that the United States will not abandon them.

It takes a leader confident in himself to stay the course. Bush's advisors are no doubt giving him advice about alternatives, but this is the right approach--and the only approach guarateed to bring about success.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

School Violence, Mark Foley and the Bush Administration

Already there has been much discussion around the country and around the blogosphere about the President's Summit on School Violence taking place outside of Washington, DC. However, these kinds of stories simply annoy me to no end. The problem with trying to draw a line between school violence, Bush Administration scheduling and other matters is that it illustrates two things:
  1. The no matter what the Bush Administration does, positive or negative about any issue, a too large a population will see conspiracies behind it.
  2. The most people cannot see beyond the nose on their face about issues that affect our children.
First, summits like the school violence summit don't just "appear" on the President's schedule; it takes a while to put together these kinds of events so in all likelihood, this event had been someone's idea for a while, but recent events moved it up in priority.

Second, had the most recent, high-profile school shooting not happened in Amish country and involved the execution style killing of little girls, I doubt most people would even think twice about "another school shooting" including the conspiracy theorists who think anything bad that happens is the work of the Bush Administration trying to manipulate America. Had this event happened in some inner city neighborhood elementary school, the event might have been a one day news story and that is it, even the most liberal media outlets would have let the story die and no one outside of that small community would have cared.

Third, Mark Foley is not likely to be the disaster for the Republican party that most lefties believe it will be. One of the messages coming out of the conservative community and even the moderate community is that most people see the problem as a Mark Foley problem, not a Republican problem. The issue may be highlighting the foibles of the Hastert speakership, but it probably won't be the disaster Dems hope it will be because they have to be careful not to get splattered either. The school violence summit is not a cover-up for Mark Foley nor an issue designed simply to get more votes.

To be sure, school violence is a problem and one that should not be taken lightly. However, looking for connectins between Administration actions and events like these simply perpetuates and exacerbates the divisions in this nation and we simply don't need to pursue further divisions.

Carnival of Education #88

Check it out over at the Ed Wonks.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Diveristy Yields Distrust

At least according to Harvard's Robert Putnam, the author of the famous study Bowling Alone, the more diverse a community is, the more likely the people are to distrust others, leading to less involvement in the community.

From the Financial Times, (hat tip: Memeorandum):
A bleak picture of the corrosive effects of ethnic diversity has been revealed in research by Harvard University's Robert Putnam, one of the world's most influential political scientists.

His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor.
While the study is likely to have a number of caveats about diversity, it is an interesting result. I wonder if much of it has to do with the notion that diversity has been shoved down the throats of so many people that we simply don't trust the concept.

That is not to say that diversity doesn't have its benefits, it just appears to me that there needs to be some substantial common ground between the groups. If one looks at a microcosm of a major university as a sample of the country, you can see some benefits and problems with diversity.

On a large scale, racial, ethnic and even religious minorities tend to stick to themselves throughout the campus. This might not be surprising to many people and it wasn't to me at the University of Maryland, despite the university's mantra of diversity.

However, where color lines tended to break down was in smaller organizations, where some sort of common interest, such as drama, music, or other clubs and societies would and could united diverse groups under one banner. These smaller groups, like my fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, often appealed to people of different backgrounds, because Phi Sigma Pi was an honor fraternity, where, at least at Maryland, you had to have a minimum GPA of 3.3 to even be invited to join. With a limited membership, we were able to build relationships among people who normally would not have associated.

Putnam's new study may find have this finding buried in the report. But common ground among people of vastly different backgrounds cannot happen simply because they live in the same place. There needs to be something more and something substantive.

A Good Question

This question, from the Center Column at Watchblog, Anti-Incumbent Fever or just anti-majority, is one that political strategists on both sides are struggling to answer so that they may capitalize.

For me, it is more anti-incumbent, but not enough to make drastic changes in operating style, no matter which party is in power.

Why the GOP may win big in California

Bill Bradley has this report on the massive GOTV effort in California headed by the Governator.

As one of the commenters said, this could have massive implications for the 2008 presidential race.

Hat Tip: The Instapundit.

A Nation Too Tested

The Washington Post is beginning a series of articles on education testing, starting with this one, all from the viewpoint of the question of whether or not we test our children too much. The story's lead is this:
Along with painting and gluing and coloring and playing, Kisha Lee engages the youngsters in her day-care program in another activity: testing.

Three- and 4-year-olds take spelling tests of such words as "I," "me" and "the," as well as math tests, from which they learn how to fill in a bubble to mark the right answer.

Test preparation for children barely out of diapers is hardly something Lee learned while getting her education degree at the University of Maryland, she said. But it is what she says she must do -- for the kids' sake -- based on her past experience teaching in a Prince George's County elementary school.

"Kids get tested and labeled as soon as they get into kindergarten," said Lee, who runs the state-certified Alternative Preschool Solutions in Accokeek. "They have to pass a standardized test from the second they get in. I saw kindergartners who weren't used to taking a test, and they fell apart, crying, saying they couldn't do it.

"The child who can sit and answer the questions correctly is identified as talented," Lee said. "It hurts me to have to do this, but it hurts the kids if I don't."
I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if enough testing is done and other times I think too much. Some of this may be the result of so much media and school focus on testing and test results. But in the NCLB era, testing is here to stay so it behooves us to take a good long look at testing to see whether or not it is achieving the goals we want.

We must realize that a test is a snap-shot in time measurement. There are benefits to this approach and there are limitations. For example, a typical test cannot account for learning progress over time, only for the most recent material or time frame. Furthermore, the format of testing, whether it is multiple choice, short answer essay, long-format essay, etc. determines to a great extent the type of skills tested. No one style or one test can accurately measure all that is learned and the sooner that the public and politicians understand this, the better it will be for children.

But if we are a nation where are kids are over tested, then instead of whining about it, we need to address the root causes of over-testing. I tend to believe that the root causes are fear and confusion.

Fear is simple. In order to prevent our schools from failing to meet NCLB standards, teachers, administrators and even parents believe that you must routinely drill students in test taking environments, to acclimate them to the rigors of standardized testing. Rather than focusing on content, we have begun to focus on process. Over time, this will be more damaging, in my belief, to students' academic careers for there is only so much improvement you can get by teaching test taking skills or practice tests.

Confusion stems not from the actual testing, but the need for testing so many different standards. Between national standards, state standards, local curricula, tests issued by teachers in the normal course of class room learning, students and their parents are unsure what they are supposed to learn and how to apply it. Given that even teh best students are going to learn first that which is tested, having multiple criteria to meet, sometimes conflicting or at least not complementary, in nature only creates further confusion on the part of students.

Confusion is also present among the bureaucrats and politicians who advocate testing as a means of accountability. As many teachers have routinely pointed out, testing a student involves multiple inputs and the teacher is just one. If the point of the testing is to see what students have learned or not, then the format of the test needs to reflect the desire to measure that activity. If the test is designed to measure school proficiency in teaching, then testing students may not be the best course, or at least not the only course, of action to take.

Like many facets of education, I believe we, as a nation of test taking children, need to take a big step back and think long and hard about what it is all this testing is supposed to measure. Then we can ask whether not our testing regime is designed to accomplish those measurements.

Bob Bauer: Waxes Poetic about ACLU Print Ad

In this combination prose and verse posting, Bob Bauer wonders if a recent ACLU print ad run in Connecticut would be express advocacy or issue advocacy.
The ACLU ran an ad in a paper (The Hartford Courant) pressing Lieberman on the civil liberties issues raised by national security programs and measures, such as detainee treatment and electronic surveillance. The ad questions whether the Senator will pass the test of these votes, and it urges viewers to "tell Joe Lieberman his votes on American values will help determine your vote in November." A spat broke out between the local and national ACLU over whether the ad, apparently run in other locations with other incumbent Members of Congress as their targets, contravened an organizational commitment to nonpartisanship.

A subplot is the legal one in which the question is the legality of this ad, judged by the "express advocacy" standard of federal campaign finance law. Was the ad, run within weeks of the election, illegal corporate spending to influence the election, or merely "grassroots lobbying" conducted under the watchful protection of the First Amendment? In its selection of text, the ACLU invited the question: for the ad does refer to the pending election and to the significance to that election—and its outcome—of the Senator's stance on these particular issues.
Having not seen that ad, I must withold judgment. But Bauer does point to a problem with the FEC regulations that note that if reasonable minds could disagree as to whether a ad was express advocacy or not, it might not be express advocacy. What if the, presumably, reasonable six minds on the Commission split 4-2 on the question and the ACLU gets fined?

Sounds like a very fun lawsuit- doesn't it.

Be sure to read Bauer's ode to the ACLU at the post.

America: The Un-Serious Nation

The Lonely Centrist had this brilliant piece of analysis:
But here is where I think the country is on the "wrong track." According to one poll, one-third of Americans believe that the American government was behind the September 11 attacks. In other poll, forty-two percent of Americans believe gas prics are falling because George Bush is manipulating them. Meanwhile, our political leadership is going nuts of the story of a perverted congressman and his emails to congressional pages, while, as the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger points out, the Stalinist hermit kingdom of North Korean prepares to conduct an underground nuclear test, and Europe throws in the towel on Iran's nuclear agenda, as Iran's political leader tells a mob screaming "Death to America" that nothing will stop Iran from enriching uranium. From the other side of the political spectrum, Peter Beinart of The New Republic points out that it seems to be a common belief on the farther reaches of the political left that President Bush and the Pope were engaged in a calculated conspiracy when the latter made his comments quoting Emperor Manuel II on the deficiencies of violence as a tool of religious conversion, and that this anti-Bush paranoia is preventing our nation from seriously defending freedom of speech.

These beliefs in 9/11 and gas price and papal conspiracies, and the fascination with a congressional sex scandal, are not the signs of a serious nation. If America is on the "wrong track," I think it is probably in our inability to debate issues seriously, or even to figure out which are the serious issues. (Links in original)
Americans, not necessarily America as a whole, are certainly un-serious when we demonstrate our inability to view the personal failings of one Congressman in a rationale light, even if there is a cover-up. Although I am loathe to use the word, the term decadence comes to mind. American's seem enthralled with things that, in the grand worldly scheme, don't seem that important. While Mark Foley and the pages he may have harassed/abused/seduced are tragic figures, the fact that we as a nation seem so engaged in the matter does not speak well of us as a nation. When so many people are so angry at one Administration that they see Rovian plots behind 9/11 (all evidence to the contrary) or Papal quotes, we have left behind the common sense practicality that drove America to become the greatest nation on Earth. I am not ready to say we have lost that stature, but one wonders if we no longer take serious things seriously.

Update: Thomas Sowell questions an unserious media in a similar vein.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reforming Election Administration

My latest post for Watchblog is up, concerning some reforms to the administration of elections. Getting some interesting comments.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Election Administration Reform

I have been reading and thinking about Prof. Spencer Overton's book, Stealing Democracy (see link at left) and what it may take to overcome some of the problems this nation has with voting and elections. To be sure, many of the problems we seem to be "experiencing" are not new, but merely have been highlighted since 2000's Bush v. Gore debacle and subsequent efforts at reform.

But even with laws like Help America Vote Act, we still have many problems, problems that can be solved with a little common sense and some good non-partisan legislation. To that end, there needs to be a two prong approach to changing the way we think about and operate our elections, both federal and state. These legisaltive efforts will require work at both the federal and the state level.

Federal Action
Contrary to popular belief there is no federal right to vote in this country. Election law and constitutional law scholars know this, but not very many average citizens. Sure, most may know about a couple of constitutional amendments about voting, but there is no constitutional grant of a right to vote--only negatives. Such as the 15th Amendment which states the right to vote shall not be abridged on account of race. The 19th Amendment says the right can't be abridged on the basis of sex and the 26th Amendment says that the right to vote for citizens age 18 or older shall not be abridged. Many people think these amendments gave the named groups the right to vote and perhaps they did. But those of us who are 18 year old white men, have no affirmative grant of a right to vote in teh U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, the much balleyhooed Voting Rights Act does not grant anyone the right to vote. Rather, the law prevents states from denying people the right to vote through changes in the state's election laws. There remains no affirmative grant of a voting right in federal law. The reasons could be many, but that is a matter for another time.

Time has come to address this matter. At the very minimum, Congress could enact legislation giving every U.S. Citizen, over age of 18 the right to vote with a few caveats. The Federal Right to Vote Act, would positively grant, consistent with previously mentioned amendments, the right for all U.S. citizens to vote in federal elections and the elections of the state in which they live.

Now before all the cheering begins, I would like to have a few things included in this law that are just as important. First, in order to register to vote, a person would need to prove their citizenship. the right to vote has always been reliant on citizenship. After all, it is citizenship that defines the difference between those who can and who can't vote. Citizenship can be based on birthright, that is if you are born in the United States or to two American citizens overseas, you are a citizen. naturalization is rather easy to prove since documentation is given at the time of the swearing in ceremony. Once a person is registered in one place to vote, they merely would need to show that registration to another state to have that registration transferred.

Second, in conjunction with the proof of citizenship, proof of identity would be needed. Voter ID is a contentious issue and I can understand the arguments for and against the concept. However, when coupled with a federal right to vote, guaranteed by law, I don't believe that requiring voter ID at the time of voting is too high a price to pay. The presentation of one's voting registration card (which obviously would have to be provided by the state, at no cost, since a fee for the voter registration card could be considered a poll tax and therefore violative of the 24th Amendment) would be required before entering the voting booth.

Presentation of ID and proof of citizenship to register to vote seem to be small prices to pay for a federally guaranteed right to vote. When backed up with the Voting Rights Act and the HAVA, a Right to Vote Act would ensure that there are no barriers to voting for American citizens who take some small measure of time to exercise the most important right--that of the sovereign franchise.

State Actions
Actually, what I envision is a combination of state action and the work of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), the people who brought the Uniform Commerical Code and dozens of other uniform state laws, ranging from uniform adoption laws to wage withholding laws, can help bring about a Uniform State Election Administration Law (USEAL) that will eliminate the patchwork of election laws within and between states. Designed to work in conjunction with a federal Right to Vote Act, the USEAL would provide a number of standardized sets of legislative language that would keep election administration in the hands of the states, thus preserving the Constitutional order of elections, but also giving a great deal of commonality across state lines, to ensure the same election laws apply to the entire population.

The rationale for USEAL is that many of the election administration issues facing our country are common to all states. Issues such as ballot design, voting machine technology, recount procedures, early voting, absentee ballots, felon re-enmfranchisement, and other matters are questions that impact all states. A uniform law that governs these matters, with options for states to incorporate differences such as voting technology (optical scan versus touch screen voting, for example) can provide a great deal of consistency.

Some of the features that I envision in USEAL:
  • Standards for ballot design, to avoid the fiasco of Florida's infamous butterfly ballot, and to firmly place ballot design into the state administrative law arena so that changes to ballot design could be subject to notice and comment regulations and testing prior to implementation.
  • Rules for choosing, purchasing, using and security of voting technology, as well as standardized training procedures for poll workers. USEAL should include optional language for different voting machine technologies that states can choose, with some differences to deal with the different technology.
  • Procedures for the administration of absentee ballots for overseas voters, and for those who will not be able to vote on election day, such as rules for early voting, voting by mail, or other method of casting ballots.
  • Clearly delineated procedures and practices for initial counts and recounts, including what standards to use for different technologies, time frames for machine recounts, hand recounts, and certification. Given the debate around such issues, having the NCCUSL research and write on this matter alone will give a certain credibility to how votes are counted in this country.
  • Rules for felon re-enfranchisement. While the law would require the re-enfranchisement of all felons at teh completion of their sentence, some options would be available for enfranchisement of felons at their release from prison, their completion of probation, or while on probation or parole, or upon completion of their entire sentence including prison time and parole. Upon petition to the court a reinstatemtn of their right to vote would be granted and furhter registration procedures can take place.
  • Methods for creation of a non-partisan, professional election administration organization on a statewide level, with responsibilities to include training of poll workers, standards for intrastate administration of elections and other matters that should be administered in a non-partisan fashion to make elecitons as fair as possible.
  • Clearly delineated and easily followed rules for getting initiatives and referenda on the ballot
  • Rules and procedures for challenging voters, candidates and initiatives/referenda and methods for deciding such cases, such that courts can follow a clearly defined standard, providing consistency in judgments.
This is clearly not a complete list, and I have faith that the NCCUSL, a non-partisan group, can fill out the list with necessary topics. But I believe this list covers most of the major contentions currently littering our election administration landscape.

One matter that should not be included is governmental structures. For example, the USEAL should not say how a county council is elected, whether through at-large districts, or by geographic districts or a combination of the two, whether cumulative voting will be used or not, etc. These are matters than can, and should, be decided by the electorate through the normal legislative process. The purpose of USEAL is to provide for how elections should be administered, not the structure of the government.

Elections, as we all know, are the foundations of our democratic republic. Without properly functioning elections, the legitimacy of government can and should be called into question. Yet for a nation that proclaims itself to be an exporter of democracy, we do a very poor job administering our own elections and our legitimacy as a world democracy can rightly be questioned. By incorporating a federal right to vote and uniform state election administration practices, we can adhere to our Constitutional principals, avoid questions of legitimacy and provide for free, fair elections with laws geared to making sure that no voter is denied the right to vote or have their vote counted.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rationing Education

This Washington Post op-ed describes a problem that is all too common and one of the biggest undiscussed problems in education. The dirty little secret of education is that most of the attention right now is focused on those students who are in the middle.
The stakes for schools are enormous. So it isn't surprising that many educators game the system by reaching first for the low-hanging fruit, the students closest to passing. Dubbed the "bubble kids," because their scores put them on the bubble of the passing mark, these students give schools the biggest bang for the buck. In response to this incentive, many schools have rationed out practically all of their resources to these students. Meanwhile, the lowest-performing students, the "hopeless cases," languish. So do their high-performing classmates, who are relegated to the waiting room while the bubble kids are cured.
If you put the intelligence level of all kids in a school on a graph, you will of course end up with a bell curve. Schools in America not only put most of their focus on the kids in the middle of the curve and that is also where the schools do the best job.

But the true measure of a school's effectivness and quality is what it does with the students on either end of of the bell curve. Schools are generally getting better at dealing with kids on the lower end of the bell curve, and rightly so. But the kids on the upper end of the spectrum are often left to struggle for themselves.

A personal anecdote is appropriate here. My brother is the smartest man I know (although I won't admit it to his face). While my sister and I were blessed with good genetics and a pretty good education, my brother got a little lost in the system. Every year in school, he would said through the first half of the school year, making straight A's but then he would get bored, get frustrated at the lack of progress and get into trouble, often just squeaking by on grades at the end of the year. Even our quality high school failed to deal well with someone with his intelligence level. I can't imagine what academic achievements he could have master had he been pushed regularly.

Schools need to focus a little better on all students. But as long as the incentives are based solely passing the most students, we will continue to see focus solely on those on the bubble.

Foley Money Not Good Anymore

Fox News is reporting that lawmakers and other recipients of funds from former Congressman Mark Foley are quickly divesting themselves of the money he gave them.
Some of Foley's GOP colleagues — who cushioned their campaign wallets with political contributions from the congressman — are quietly separating themselves from him by giving away the thousands of dollars he contributed to their campaigns.

"This is an attempt to symbolically distance themselves from what Rep. Foley may or may not have done wrong," said John Samples, a political analyst at the libertarian CATO Institute.

Samples said the return or donation of money is a ritual that follows any scandal.

"When someone gets into some kind of trouble, then the contributions that were ever made are considered tainted," Samples said.
The fact of the matter is that two weeks ago, Foley's money was good and was going to be spent. Now, the very same money is not so good.

While I understand the effort from a PR standpoint, it just seems to me that at a time when a man is being dragged through the mud, his largess is somehow unwelcome. It just seems mean.

Stand by Your Ad--A New Problem

Bard Smith and Center for Competitive Politics point to a problem with McCain-Feingold, which I admittedly had no real opinion on, but could impact an election in Colorado.

Interestingly, Smith ends with a pretty good summation of my view on campaign finance matters:
The idea that government can or ought to shape election speech, and can or ought to equalize the assets and liabilities that different candidates bring to a race, is contrary to the very idea of voter choice in a free electorate. Let the candidates campaign, and let the voters decide.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What Our Fascintation With Foley Says About Us

Dean Barnett has some wonderful thoughts on mark Foley, whom Barnett calls a "tragic figure" and a "disgusting figure." Some of hte best language Barnett uses is this:
WHAT STRIKES ME ABOUT THE Foley scandal is the great human tragedy that it is. At least one life was ruined (Foley’s), and God only knows what kind of effect Foley’s predatory actions had on the youths who were the targets of his “affection.”

I used to be in politics. I ran for office in 1992. One thing struck me about the politicians that I met. An inordinate amount of them seemed to be weird. Weird as in creepy. Disturbingly odd.

Over the years, I think I’ve developed an explanation for this. All of us have an appetite for sin. Part of the human drama and every life’s challenge is to manage those appetites, to control them and vanquish them. It’s something that most of us get much better at with age, which is why our truly hideous deeds are usually confined to our youths.

Politicians are often figures with outsized supplies of vanity and pride. It’s not surprising considering how they give into these sins that they have appetites for other sins that are greater than the normal man’s, and that they also grant those appetites more license than the normal man does.
Normal men and women generally do not crave the limelight like politicians and celebrities. Normal men and women control their appetities far better than those who choose to live a life in the public eye.

While Barnett is particularly right about the appetites of people like Foley, Barnett fails to capture the breathless excitement and craving of details of a disgusting episode that most people crave. While most men and women can control their appetites for the kind of behavior Foley engaged in, what does it say about our appetites that we crave more and more information about the emails and instant messages, their content and other such matters. While we can't imagine doing such things ourselves, or rather we don't admit that we can imagine such activities, we certainly seek to know an awful lot about it when other people engage in such behavior.

While we all have pride and vanity that occaisionally needs to be stroked and stoked, politicians and celebrities (the distinguishing line is getting pretty thin) crave attention, it is a highly addictive drug that makes them think they are invincible, above the fray and above the law. That is the tragedy of Mark Foley. The Foley's victims will also, no doubt, suffer through a greater, almost unimaginable, tragedy of instrusion, first by Foley then by the press.

The rubbernecking of this episode by us, the public, remains a far greater tragedy.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Problem with School Reform Talk

The Outlook Section in the Washington Post today talked about education, specifically about the state of DC schools. Thomas Toch and Sara Mead, of Education Sector and the Quick and the Ed, had the lead article. But one of the sidebars was called "Department of Advice" and included a number of quotes by some very important education thinkers, but there is something missing from almost everyone of the thinkers-see if you can find it.
There should be efforts to very actively recruit middle-class people into neighborhood schools and make sure these really are schools that prepare kids for college. This recruitment has to be done with artistry and couldn't be started without straight talk about education and race. In the District, you've got all this cherry-picking and vouchers that increases segregationacross thesystem. If you're going to have millions of little charter schools, it's very hard to have a coherent educational plan for hte city. The premise ofthat approach is that it's hopeless and you can just pick on the bones.

---Gary Oldfield, professor of educaiton and social policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Putting responsibility and authority together in the same place is essential. I think that means having very strong principals in schools. That means giving them authority but it also means rewarding good work. It means paying them very well and making it a very attractive job.

If you have a growing professional class, anything you can do to persuade those parents to keep their kids in the public schools is going to help everybody. Because those parents can be great advocates. And there's a growing body of evidence that diversity is in fact a very powerful educator of people. So part of the picth to the middle class is to say: At least your kid's going to get a better education.

---Colin Diver, president of Reed College, featured in J. Anthony Lukas's "Common Ground" as a parent of children in the Boston public schools.

A hundred effrots to reform the D.C. school system have foundered on the shoals of bureaucratic lethargy, union contracts and messed-up governance. A dozen "reformist" superintendents have come an dgone. What's worked best to date--albeit not perfectly--is creating alternatives to the system's schools and letting children freely attend them. The District's burgeoning charter-school sector and its scholarship/voucher program attest both to the demand for such alternatives and to the feasibility of providing them. Adrian Fenty should all within his power to accelerate and intensify this promising strategy.

---Chester E. Finn, Jr., senior fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and president, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Two eky things happened in Boston: the city moved from an elected school committee to an appointed one. And Tom Menino as mayor became a real champion of the shcools. His two kids graduated from Boston public schools and he's now got five grandchildren in the public schools. You have to show others that you really believe waht you're talking about.

---Thomas Payzant, superintendent of Boston public schools from 1995-2006

The best was to refomr the D.C. public schools is to focus on the fundamentals of education: excellent teachers, experienced principals, manageable class sizes, a solid curriculum and modern facilities. If htese fundamentals are missing, then no rearrangment of the structure or control of the school system will make a difference. There are no shortcuts in education, no silver bullets, no magical solutions.

---Diane Ravitch, New York University professor and assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

The objective should be small schools of parental choice, each autonomously designed and managed by its teachers and providing a program that is legitimately "college preparatory." In order to do that, the scity must push authority down, with district-wide authority vested in a board made up of facutly members of each school. Visitors from D.C. institutions ofhigher educaitonwould formally inspect each school every year, making their findings available to the media. Admission would be by "blind" lottery, except for siblings of students already enrolled, who would be automatically admitted, if their parents desired it.

---Ted Sizer, founder, the Coaltion of Essential Schools.

Student's work must be central and public, and related to the school's broad mission. ONly schools whose faculty is as excicted as the kids hopefully will be, and whose families and communities presume they are respected partners, can engage the natural curiosity and energies of the young. A good education cannot happen until the young take on the task as their own.

---Deborah Meier, author of "Many Children Left Behind" (Beacon) and founder and director, Central Park East Secondary School, a New York City public high school.

I have never been to a meeting on school reform in the District where students were invited to be part of the conversation. And yet students know what isnot working schools. they will tell me that most adults in their schools do not know them well, and that they are not held accountable formuch. They tell me that many teachers talk at them, reather exploreing learning with them. Students want to be involved in improving their schools and they want to be held accountable. D.C. students are very sophisticated about their own education. Most adults do not give them credit for this.

---Michael Watson, principal of Capital City Public Charter School's upper school, opening next fall.
The missing item: students. Only in the last two quotes do the speakers really speak about the kids in the system. In short, these discussion appear to ignore the First of my Ten Commandments for education.

Talking about the middle-class, about charter vs. traditional public schools, or about any other structural change means nothing because those are discussions about the adults in the system. Schools are about kids, first and foremost.

For far too long, we have attempted to reform schools from either the top down, meaning that politicians try to effect change, or from the middle, in that teachers/principals/lower level administrators attempt to effect change. However, to date, few of these attempts, even if successful, have been replicated on a grand scale. If no reform efforts have included kids, or at least recent graduates of the public schools, then maybe it is time to include them. At worst, we are in no worse a position than when we started.