Friday, April 28, 2006

Voting Rights Act Renewal On Schedule

I need to go look at the bill, but I would suspect that my concerns about certain aspects of the bill will not be addressed. For example, I am pretty sure vote dilution and majority-minority districts will continue to be permitted under the new VRA.

California Senate Endorses Walk-Out

Hat Tip: The Ed Wonks

The California State Senate passed a resolution
on Thursday endorsed Monday's boycott of schools, jobs and stores by illegal immigrants and their allies as supporters equated the protest with great social movements in American history.

By a 24-13 vote that split along party lines, the Senate approved a resolution that calls the one-day protest the Great American Boycott 2006 and describes it as an attempt to educate Americans "about the tremendous contribution immigrants make on a daily basis to our society and economy."

"It's one day ... for immigrants to tell the country peacefully, 'We matter ... (we're) not invisible,'" said Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, the resolution's chief author. She said immigrants make up a third of California's labor force and a quarter of its residents.
This is a truly bad move politically and just adds more fuel to the fire of anti-immigrant backlash.

The Ed Wonks discuss the matter in terms for attendance at school, which is compulsory and with the State Senate's resolution, appears to be a situation where the state government has endorsed non-attendance because it is a matter of peaceful non-violent protest.
Having said that, the use of the boycott as a method of non-violent protest by Americans is a time-honored tradition. It is our view that the simple act of not patronizing a business or industry is a valid form of protest that can be highly effective.

However, we are disappointed that our state's senate has chosen to officially endorsed this boycott. But we are even more disappointed that these men and women masquerading-as-lawmakers didn't write anything in their resolution specifically expressing their non-support of those aspects of the boycott that are aimed at schools.

In our eyes, those men and women of the California Senate who voted for this resolution have done our state's children a grave disservice by encouraging them and their parents to break the law.

Even though we've had our disagreements with some of State Superintendent Jack O'Connell's (bio here) public statements, we applaud him for going on the record and stating in no uncertain terms that that this school boycott in not in the best interest of the children.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More on the Education Core Competency

Last week, I wrote a post entitled "Returning to the Core Competency" where I argued that schools have gotten so lost in the myriad details of social programs and social justice that they have lost focus on the one thing we expect schools to do--i.e. educate children.

The post garnered some lenghty comments that I thought I would try to address. Mike wrote:
A lack of will and management backbone is also a problem. Who can review a group, no matter how worthy, asking for school time to present its program, and measuring it against the guiding principle (core business) and say, "I'm sorry. It would cut into instruction time. We just can't do that"? Unfortunately, very few principals.

It can be done. It should be done. It's unlikely to be done on a large scale. Tragic.
I fully agree, it is tragic that we do not do such exercises when we think about education. But the even greater tragedy is that we take the same attitude Mike does and seemingly resign ourselves to the status quo.

Does the course of action I suggest take time and political guts (another thrust of Mike's comments), absolutely!! But that is not the bar to success, merely an obstacle. Afterall, the money being spent on these programs is our tax money!! When Congress suggests appropriating money to build a bridge to nowhere, the whole country goes beserk and the concepts of reigning in government spending takes center stage. Yet aside from entitlement spending (Medicare, Social Security and the like), the single greatest national expenditure is on education, nearly $600 billion dollars a year at the combined state, local and national levels. The spending on educaiton continues to increase and we almost never question what the money is being spent on. Such an attitude is not prudent, leads to corruption and a sense of entitlement among the education bureaucracy that they simply need more money to do all of these jobs.

Returning to the core competency is about aksing ourselves whether spending all that money actually does something to improve the education of our children.

In a different comment, Brad Hoge wrote this:
I've talked to teachers who have students coming to school smelling of urine because there is no responsible parent in their household. I've talked to teachers who have children in their classrooms unable to obtain even the most basic school items because of real poverty. These are not isolated incidents, they are somewhat common to schools in poor areas (inner-city, Appalachia, any poor area the stories are the same).

There has indeed been a drain on the "core constituency" of schools by programs that provide counseling, nutrition, afterschool programs, etc. but we should ask ourselves why before throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The bottom line of what is wrong with education is a lack of community support (at all levels, local, state and federal). Teachers must face increasing challenges with decreasing support because we want to solve our problems by ignoring the true causes of poverty and neglect while insisting on a return to the basics.

Should schools be the place where these inequities are addressed? Absolutely not, but until some other agent of change arises, what else are we to do with children who are truly challenged by their environments? We certainly are NEVER going to solve these problems by ignoring them, no matter how noble our utopian ideals are.
Looking back at what I wrote, I can see where Brad might infer that I think all "social" programs at schools should be scrapped and that my policy suggestion would be "throwing the baby out with the bath water." However, that is certainly not my intention. There may be programs, such as free and reduced breakfasts and certainly lunches, that when provided to students have a direct impact on their ability to learn. For example it is very hard to learn when you are hungry. I also know that often the meals that poor rural and urban students receive at school may be the only decent meals they get. Thus a program such as this one, which is in my book a "social" program would probably pass muster and not be subject to the budgetary axe.

However, having said that I hope, dear readers, that you can understand that programs not directly related to education drain resources away from the core mission of schools.

I am not sure what Brad is referring to when he states that the root cause of problems in education is a lack of support for teachers and schools. The last I looked, financially, schools are doing quite well on paper. The problem is, I believe, in implementation. I once read a quote, I believe in Joe Williams' book Cheating Our Kids, where a bureaucrat in Washington DC once said that schools were in good shape, just look at all the people who work here. This is the kind of mindset that garners a failure to look critically at how we spend money in the education system.

Finally, in a pretty vitriolic attack on all school choice advocates, Wax Banks wrote:
If the 'playing field isn't level,' if people aren't performing up to spec in classes, it is the responsibility of the public school system to help them. That is, after all, its purpose. But many right-leaning critiques of the school system amount to nothing more than '...but the eternal verities! Old values! Back to basics! We wouldn't have to pay special attention to anyone (read, in general: nonwhites) if we could just teach our children better, the old ways. By, for instance, paying special attention to them...' The standard conservative critique of public education holds that we focus on 'peripheral' matters to the detriment of students, but in defining 'core' concerns, commentators invariably demonstrate very common myopia about what exactly belongs in the classroom. Usually it's some vision of the 50's or 60's - a Cold War vision, a pre-structuralist vision, a positivist vision, a Great Man vision, an antitechnological vision. Most frighteningly, it's a viciously antimeritocratic vision from the very beginning, because - for instance - your 'core curriculum' notion is set up primarily to unmake the 'equal opportunity' afforded students in public school. If nothing else our kids should get to start on more or less even ground, in terms of resources and requirements. What exactly bothers you about that notion?
Typical of such screeds, the entire message is garbled with pseudo-intellectual thought about the relevance of a rather simple idea.

First, if the playing field is not level, why is it that the schools must be the agent leveling the field. Why are not other social programs in place to perform such tasks if society believes such tasks are worthwhile? Such matters are done in the schools because it is the one budgetary area in which no one will seriously question the propriety of expending funds to "level the playing field." Second, there is a difference between schools addressing the unlevel playing field in terms of education and an entirely different matter to level the socio-economic playing field. Third, the purpose of an education system is to educate and that education is the school system's effort at social change, providing those on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder an opportunity to move up. The leveling of the playing field is an outcome of education, not the starting point. No two children, no matter their background, start at the same point or level when the begin school. To believe otherwise is simply wrong.

Next, Wax Banks seems to imply that beacuse I criticize the "peripheral" matters in our school system, I am invariably asking for a return to a 1950s or 1960s era of education or some other bygone era and I have some political ax to grind. Finally, my vision is
Most frighteningly, it's a viciously antimeritocratic vision from the very beginning, because - for instance - your 'core curriculum' notion is set up primarily to unmake the 'equal opportunity' afforded students in public school.
I will admit that I have a political ax to grind and I do believe I have never made a secret of it although I may not have been explicit about it as I am now. I do believe the current policies and politics of the public education system is doing more to undermine our nation's children than any single policy in America. I seek to change those policies in favor of a market based/choice model similar to one that works for our university system. There, I am explicit.

But, at the same time, I have no illusions that a better time existed in forty or fifty years ago in terms of education. But a return to basic education, as the core competency of our schools, does not mean that a return to an era that simply did not exist. A return to a core curriculum, one based on liberal arts and sciences, with a focus on core knowledge and skills, will do more to provide "equal opportunity" to everyone than any social program ever could. Such a curriculum provides students with a solid foundation for everything they will do in life, from going to college, entering the job market or raising a family.

We as a nation have been able to put 14 men on the moon, sent probes to the farthest reaches our solar systems, built machine only a few atoms in size, cured devastating diseases and a whole host of scientific and social miracles, yet we still cannot teach every child to read and do math. Why?

I truly believe that a strict focus on the core competency of education and expending resources only on that goal will do more for our children than any fancy curriculum, instructional method or textbook. It will perform better than any multi-degreed teacher and it will serve all children because the schools can constantly assess whether or not our tax dollars are properly spent.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Campaign Treasurer Goes to Argentina

The campaign treasurer for Nancy Detert, a candidate running in the Florida Congressional race to replace Katherine Harris, absconded with $97,000 from Detert's campaign treasury, lost $27,000 in Buenos Aries and can't repay the full amount.
Detert, a Venice Republican, wants to put the $94,000 back into the bank and keep campaigning, but she's already been warned that she should clear it with the board of the Federal Election Commission.

Now, Detert is worried that the money will be tied up for six months while her attorneys and FEC attorneys haggle over campaign finance regulations.

Meanwhile, opponents for the 13th District seat -- who were already outpacing her in fund-raising -- will gain even more ground, she fears.

"This is almost getting impossible," Detert said. "I can lose my election because I got robbed?"

FEC officials say they just aren't sure how to handle the money being paid back to Detert because they've never seen a case like this.

Randy Maddox, who was Detert's campaign treasurer, took $97,000 from the congressional campaign early this month and flew to South America.

The parents of the globetrotting treasurer, in an attempt to do the right thing, want to fix their son's stupidity and make things right by paying the missing $27,000. The problem is that such a sum exceeds the legal limit for a contribution by the couple to the tune of just shy of $23,000.

The FEC says it has never encountered such a situation (perhpas because embezzlers rarely return the money and their parents never step into help) and thus have no way of determining hwo to treat the money. The Skeptic suggests not treating the repayment as a
"contribution." Why would an agent of a thief, returning the stolen property, be considered as having made a “contribution?” The theft wasn’t an “expenditure was it? This shouldn’t be hard. RAD is chocked full of smart analysts. So I don’t get what the problem is. Is this an indication of a vacuum in senior staff? I hope not.
I agree with Allison's assessment of the Reports Analysis Division staff (RAD) and I too worry about the senior leadership, but I don't think that the problem is a lack of senior leadership, but rather a senior leadership so paralyzed by fear of being thought of as partisan that they have lost the capacity to apply common sense.

When the FEC became the partisan whipping post of every "reformer" on the block, the senior leadership became incapable of making a decision without thinking about the backlash. This failure to make a rational decision, one which clearly cries out for a modicum of common sense, doesn't mean there won't be backlash, it will simply come in a different form.

The whole purpose of an independent agency, of which the FEC is one, it insulate the agency and its employees from the vagrancies of partisan politics. While the FEC cannot escape politics all together, the partisanship surrounding their mission has turned common sense issues into problems requiring a 60 day Advisory Opinion process, involving the cost of tens of thousands of tax dollars when any 10 year old kid on the street can make this decision. Add to that the cost to Detert's campaign, which she apparently is now at a disadvantage because she can't get her message out because her campaign money is in a minimum of a sixty day limbo--assuming the FEC takes her advisory opinion request when her lawyers get it submitted.

Of course, she has to pay those lawyers out of campaign funds she doesn't have, just to add a little insult to injury.

John Dewey Run Rampant

I am currently in the middle of reading a book about John Dewey's influence on the modern public school system. Although I have not completed the book, what I have has given an interesting insight into this article that appears in the Washington Post today.
Fairhaven, in a wooded nook of Prince George's County near the Patuxent River, challenges the assumptions of every public and private school that measures success with test scores and prizes academic rigor. It is an educational anomaly in the super-competitive Washington area: The school day here is unscripted.

Seventy-two students ages 5 to 20 run the school with a staff of eight adults. Students follow no curriculum other than curiosity and whim. Sometimes they seek out a class or workshop, but they are not compelled to take English, geometry or any other subject. Often they just hang. For this, their parents pay $6,680 a year per student, less for siblings.

Is Fairhaven even a school? What is a school?

"The question, too, is what is an education?" replied staff member Mark McCaig. "What is an educated individual?"

The answer could lie in the fiction, philosophy and history lining the school's bookshelves. Or in the way children play on a seesaw, swing, stage or computer when no one is telling them what to do. Or in their own words.
John Dewey, who could be considered the font of modern educational thought in many respects believed in a schooling where "dogma" or "bookishness" in public schools because he envisioned schools as agents of social change. Dewey believed in education through experimentation or experience. Thus in his world view, a school like Fairhaven would the ulimate expression of his ideals.

But is it. Despite what many progressives would like to believe about education, we still live in a world where performance matters, and the only way to judge performance is through various measurements. I have long advocated that schools do a better job of measuring their effectiveness, beyond mere testing. And our world, based on long experience, believes in the instrinsic value of quantative and qualitative measures. If a school offers no such measurement device, the world cannot evaluate and education attained by a student. For students of Fairhaven,
[t]here is little way to evaluate Fairhaven except on its own terms. The school is not accredited by any independent organization. The school has awarded 16 diplomas over eight years and has seven diploma candidates. To receive one, students must spend at least three years at the school and be 16 or older. They must also write and defend a thesis on how they have taken responsibility for becoming effective adults. An assembly of students, staff and parents votes on awarding diplomas. No one has ever been rejected.

Three graduates have gone on to four-year colleges: Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Ursinus College in Pennsylvania and the Art Institute of Chicago. Some have gone to community college. Other alumni include a professional skateboarder, a waiter and a librarian.
Thus the only way to judge a Fairhaven education is by subjective analysis. To be sure, some truly driven students could thrive in a self-directed environment, but I imagine those students are few and far between.

This is not to say that I disapprove of Fairhaven. As a strong believer in school choice, I think that Fairhaven has found a market and fulfills that market. The students and their parents must deal with the consequences of their choice, but I would no more deny families their right to choose this school as would deny them their choice of church. But the problem with this style of progressive educational model is that it is based on the whims of children, a notoriously shifting footing for a school to operate.

Experience is a wonderful teacher, but without guided reflection, without guided experience, nothing is learned from experience and no one can learn from the experiences of others. Afterall, you can't keep reinventing the wheel and then expect to build a spaceship.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More Photoblogging:

Frederick Maryland has two truly famous native sons. One is former Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (author of the Dred Scot Decision) the other is Francis Scott Key. The two men used the same office as attorneys, although not at the same time (I believe). Here is a picture of their former law offices in Frederick, now owned by the Etheridge Quinn law firm, although I beleive they rent the office to another attorney. But the offices are directly across the square from Frederick City Hall.

Suing over NCLB Implementation

Hat Tip: Edspresso

Without a doubt, the No Child Left Behind Act has been a seismic shift in the educational landscape. Whether you oppose the law, support the law or think the law is just a good first step, the fact that education and educational accoutibility is being discussed.

Lost among all the hubbub about high stakes testing and "Adequate Yearly Progress" is what happens when schools fail to make AYP over a course of several years. One is options for children who are assigned to failing schools to find alternative schools at the school district's expense, including charter schools, private schools or other public schools. But what happens with school districts fail in that implementation. Well, I don't know, but the Alliance for School Choice and the Coalition for Urban Renewal and Education are suing the Los Angeles Unified School District to find out.
The cornerstone of NCLB is that every child is entitled to attend a quality public school and those in failing schools should not be forced to remain in inadequate schools while improvements are being made. Rather, the law makes clear that it is the right of every child to attend an effective school today.

But in school districts across the nation, that promise remains unfulfilled; and to date, the sanctions to noncompliance – a cut-off of federal education funds – have gone unused.

Along with the legal actions, CURE and the Alliance for School Choice asked U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to take action against the school districts and to impose sanctions for noncompliance. These actions, the first of their kind, will in large measure determine whether NCLB will accomplish its mission of providing high-quality educational opportunities to all schoolchildren or is merely another empty promise.


Regardless of one’s perspective on the specifics of the No Child Left Behind Act, clearly it reflected a good-faith, bipartisan attempt to bring our nation closer to achieving its moral obligations, by holding schools accountable and by providing options for children trapped in failing schools. The two are interconnected: without meaningful parental choice for children in failing schools, there can be no true accountability.

For more than 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education, our nation has struggled to make good on the sacred promise of equal educational opportunities. For many that promise has become a reality; but for millions of others, particularly low-income and disproportionately minority children, that promise remains a cruel illusion.
Under many circumstances, I do not favor the use of the courts to settle issues related to political processes, but in many cases, when the status quo has been entrenched politically, it may be the only avenue left for groups to assert their rights.

The legal process is long, arduous and rarely leads to satisfactory answers in the long haul. One suit inevitably leads to another and the battle is joined for too long. But in the end, when the political process leads to no changes, the legal process is the only thing left.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Photo A Day: April 21, 2006

Frederick, MD, near where I live, sits in a valley that had been subject to regularly flooding. In the 1970's a pretty bad flood spurred the city and county of Frederick to invest in a flood control project, which has become known and the Carroll Creek project. While most of the flood control occurs through underground tunnels, the city did undertake efforts to make the above ground part visually appealing. The final phase is set to open sometime this summer (pictures on that to come). Here is a little bridge over one area of the project.

Protesting the Effective

Last month, I posted about SEED, the nation's only public boarding school in Washington, DC. I think that any school that always makes AYP and send 100% of its students into the world with acceptance letters from colleges is doing something right. But according to Eduwonk such efforts are the subject of a clownish (and I mean literally clownish) protest by a group called Save Our Schools who claim that charter schools (and SEED is one) have done nothing positive to help DC school students.

Um... let's see, unless I am mistaken, according to the DC Public Schools, in 2005, the system completely failed to make AYP among all groups save Asian Americans. Yet, SEED School made AYP and graduated everyone with an offer for college. Hmmm, I don't know about you, but that is doing something for at least some kids, which is better than the DC average.

Farewell to No. 2 Pencil

After four years of blogging, Kim over at No. 2 Pencil has decided to cease blogging on her own site. However, we will still have the benefit of her knowledge and insight as a guest blogger at the The Education Wonks.

Good Luck Kim and thanks for all the memories.

the First Amendment itself discriminates against viewpoints ?

At least that is what Judge Reinhardt of the Ninth Circus, oops sorry, Circuit Court of Appeals said in the recently decided case of Harper v. Poway Unified School Dist.

Prof. Volokh has this to summarizes the case:
Tyler Harper wore an anti-homosexuality T-shirt to school, apparently responding to a pro-gay-rights event put on at the school by the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. On the front, the T-shirt said, "Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned," and on the back, it said "Homosexuality is Shameful." The principal insisted that Harper take off the T-shirt. Harper sued, claiming this violated his First Amendment rights.

Harper's speech is constitutionally unprotected, the Ninth Circuit just ruled today, in an opinion written by Judge Reinhardt and joined by Judge Thomas; Judge Kozinski dissented. According to the majority, "derogatory and injurious remarks directed at students' minority status such as race, religion, and sexual orientation" -- which essentially means expressions of viewpoints that are hostile to certain races, religions, and sexual orientations -- are simply unprotected by the First Amendment in K-12 schools. Such speech, Judge Reinhardt said, violates "the rights of other students" by constituting a "verbal assault[] that may destroy the self-esteem of our most vulnerable teenagers and interfere with their educational development."
In this latest step at political thought control, we have arrived at a point where regulation of viewpoint is now considered appropriate. Harper has an anti-homosexual viewpoint and his viewpoint can be excluded as a "verbal assault" upon the fragile ears and psyche of "vulnerable teenagers." From the text of the t-shirt in question, there may be a message hostile to homosexuals, but no more hostile to those who oppose homosexuality who must endure a policy the embraces that lifestyle--as apparently this school system did.

Among my many thoughts on this case is this? Why is a message, not targeted to any specific person, considered an verbal assault? A t-shirt that said, "Bobby Jones is a faggot" would no doubt be considered a verbal assault. On that ground, the school would be justified, may be not right but justified, in asking the wearer to remove the shirt. If the shirt said, "Kill Bobby Jones" then clearly the school is on much safer footing under Tinker.

More from Prof. Volokh:
The Gay-Straight Alliance has a constitutional right to argue that homosexuality is quite proper, that same-sex marriages should be recognized, that discrimination based on sexual orientation should be banned, and that antigay bigotry is an abomination. But when the other side of this debate "about controversial issues" wants to express its views, which will often have to rest on the theory that homosexuality is wrong, sorry, apparently it's not important to preserve student speech that expresses that view.

"[T]here is an equality of status in the field of ideas," the Supreme Court has said. "Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea." "The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction." And yet according to Judge Reinhardt, the First Amendment itself discriminates against viewpoints that express hostility to minority races, religions, and sexual orientations.

The Supreme Court has indeed recognized that speech in K-12 public schools must be somewhat more restrictable than speech on the street. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) made clear that student speech might be restricted when it's likely to substantially disrupt the educational process. And sometimes speech that's hostile based on race, religion, or sexual orientation -- as well as speech that offends people for a wide variety of other reasons -- might indeed lead to substantial disruption.

But this is at least a facially viewpoint-neutral standard that potentially applies to speech on all perspectives, and doesn't categorically cast out certain student viewpoints from First Amendment protection. While the standard isn't without its problems, it is at least basically consistent with the First Amendment principle of "equality of status in the field of ideas."
The message from Judge Reinhardt is that minorities are deserving of more protection than anyone else, including their speech protections.

The fact that the Ninth Circus came to this conclusion is not all that surprising, since we as a nation have policies that do just that, give more protection to minorities than anyone else. It is called affirmative action, it is called Vote dilution theory, it is called racial gerrymandering. All of these programs and results favor those of a particular race or other minority over others.

Here I go, thinking that the First Amendemnt, which reads, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech..." and which applies to the states as well, means no law restricting the freedom of speech. Where did we go wrong on this. Once again, the protection of freedom of speech is designed to protect that speech which is offensive, not that speech we agree with. Tyler Harper had to accept a school policy that endorsed homosexuality, that does not mean he has to like it and it doesn't mean he has to shut up. He has a right, even arguably, a responsibility to make all sides of the argument heard in the forum of ideas. But according to the Ninth Circus, he doesn't have the same protection because his viewpoint attacks a minority.

I am certain that Harper will appeal for a full rehearing by the Ninth Circus and perhaps the Supreme Court-- as he should.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

One More Photo--For Now

In think one of the funniest things about young kids is watching them learn how to bowl. Here is daughter #1, the Peanut, on her first bowling trip.

Frederick, MD City Hall

A photo of Frederick, MD City Hall. The interesting part of this photo is where it is being taken from, the front stoop of what used to be Francis Scott Key's former law office!

Some Photoblogging

Earlier this year, I attempted to post a picture a day. That proved untenable since I didn't follow through. But I have decided to post a few pictures today.

Here is a photo of daughter #2, nicknamed Pudding. She used to be called Spike, because no matter what we did, we could not get her hair to stay down. But she has outgrown that. In the background is Anastasia--our six year old Sheltie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New Ed Blog

The Alliance for School Choice has launched a new blog, Edspresso. I suggest people check it out. The blog will include debates, including the current one on national education standards. Additionally, the blog will include guest commentary and news. I am enjoying it so far.

Larry Sabato on Political Errors

In a highly entertaining and informative post, Larry Sabato points us to the errors made by both parties in the upcoming elections. Sabato concludes with this:
We could go on, but dear readers, you get the point. Errors aren't just made in baseball, and the errors in baseball and politics can push key games from one team to the other. Only one thing is certain. If we issue an update on this Crystal Ball tally of mistakes in a few months' time, our list will be much, much longer! That is the nature of our rough-and-tumble sport.


The Shrinking Middle Class

Michael Barone, writing about problems with public sector unions in New Jersey, touched on a favorite subject of mine--the myth of the shrinking middle class.
Third, many on the political left complain about the disappearance of the middle class, the alleged tendency of our economy to produce hefty income growth for those at the upper end of the economic scale and relatively little income growth for the large number at the lower end. Interestingly, this tendency toward income inequality is most pronounced in states that have been voting Democratic in presidential elections—especially New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. Income inequality tends to be much less in many states that vote heavily Republican. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California have imported many high-income earners and low-income immigrants and have been exporting many more middle-income earners. This process is accelerated when, as in these four states, high-income earners have been eager to vote for Democrats backed by public-employee unions: The same people who have been complaining about this trend have been causing it.
The middle class in America is larger than anyone would care to admit. For example, if you took a random sample poll nationwide, and asked people to describe their socio-economic status in one term, the most popular response-unsolicited--would be "middle class." I have no scientific proof, but I think my gut feeling on this is pretty solid.

Next, although we can see that in some cases, the rich do get richer, the poor in this country also get richer. Perhaps not at the same growth rate, but they do get richer and the impact is more real. Let us take a person making $100,000 per year and one person makeing $25,000 per year. If each has an income growth of 5 percent, the rich person makes an extra $5,000 per year, the poor an extra $125 per year. But that is not the only impact. The rich person will pay taxes on that $5,000, to the tune of about 35% on the margin or $1750. The poor person will pay no taxes at all on his extra money. So the real growth for the rich person is only a little above 3 percent.

So when you consider tax rates, you actually get a higher percentage increase among the poor. But that is not the whole story of course. Rich income increases tend to be a higher percentage rate than the poor. I will readily admit this fact. So what does it mean. Among the rich increases in income, comes a concurrent increase in spending on consumer goods.

But one thing that most people forget about America--the single most prosperous country in the world. Even the poor among us have homes with electricity, indoor plumbing and cable TV. The poor family in America would live like kings in many of hte world's poorest countries. We have done more to support the poor in this country and perhaps we should. But out of good old-fashioned Christian charity, we suppor the poor in this country beyond belief. Furthermore, in this nation, we are not beholden to any socio-economic caste system--we can break out, we can do better than our ancestors--all this takes is talent and hard work.

So when we hear about the shrinking middle class--all I see and hear is spin.

Freddie Mac Fallout

Given that the Freddie Mac fine, the largest in FEC history at $3.8 million, is based on a sua sponte submission, meaning that the company asked the FEC to look into the matter after its own invetigation, I began to have a few questions.

Having spent a number of years assisting PACs with the FEC and state compliance, I have usually conseled clients to implement policies and procedures designed to avoid problems and keep things clean. In the event that something comes up that feels wrong, I have usually been of hte mindset that it is better to correct the problem on your own rather than calling attention to the issue with the FEC. But sometimes, the problem is so egregious or complicated that such efforts are not feasible.

I did a search in the FEC Enforcement Query system looking for cases with a "sua sponte" submission by a committee, company or organization. The search turned up 48 cases, about half of which resulted in a fine. The lesson with these and now Freddie Mac is that is does not necessarily pay to come forward with your issues, but let the FEC take care of things themselves. With limited investigative resources and rules, that is probably the most prudent action from a risk management perspective. If a company follows the FEC record retention rules to the letter, after a period of time, problems literally go away.

But on another level, with all the focus on the ethics of lobbying and lobbying reform, coupled with an interest among policy makers for limiting political activity as it relates to funding of campaigns, will greater scrutiny be paid to how political fundraisers are produced and operated. When Conress is in session, literally hundreds of fundraisers occur every day. Outside of those run by the campaigns themselves, will small intimate fundraisers--a favorite of the lobbying community, go the way of hte dinosaur? The restaurant and hotel lobby in DC is certainly going to oppose such moves since a significant portion of their business comes from such events. Yet at the same time, it is these kinds of events, if poorly managed, that lead to the greatest risk, as Freddie Mac has learned.

FEC Puts the Smackdown on Freddie Mac

Yesterday the Federal Election Commission levied the biggest fine on record against a company for violations of campaign finance laws. Roll Call (subscription required) reports the Freddie Mac entered into a conciliation agreement whereby the company will pay a $3.8 million fine.

The Washington Post leads their coverage with this paragraph:
Freddie Mac will pay a record $3.8 million fine to settle civil charges that it violated federal election law by using corporate resources to raise $1.7 million at political fundraisers, most of them for Republican members of Congress and many involving House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio).
So in one pargraph we cover the wrongdoing of one company and implicate a leading GOP congressman--who conspicuously has not been charged or even investigated for any wrongdoing.

What is also interesting, at least according the Post is that the FEC investigation was launched at the request of Freddie Mac.

Here is the FEC's Press Release and the conciliation agreement.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling

is now up over there.

Why History Is Important

In 2001 the National Center for Education Statistics published a report that cited dismal performance among American students on a history test. The failure of American students to understand history is troubling to be sure because as has been said, "Those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it." I am always troubled by the inability of American students to understand the basics of any subject matter, but history, aside from perhaps reading and math skills, is the most vital of subject matters because it can help prevent stupid mistakes from happening on both a personal and a national level.

My concern about failing to understand or be educated about history is that eventually, those students who fare poorly now in history are destined to become leaders one day. Even now, when the leadership of our nation, supposedly educated better than today's children, are faced with crises, they cling to the same bad policies as their predecessors. Had they studied history, we would not be making the same mistakes.

Take for example, our policies in Iran. Iran is a bellicose nation, with apparent aims at a nuclear arsenal. Will they build a nuclear bomb? I don't know, and frankly I don't want to find out. So what are we to do? Well, one option be presented as the most prudent course is to talk to Iran (as if this ever helped). The fear is that if we as a nation use force, or the threat of force to prevent Iran's current course, we will take more steps toward war. Perhaps, but the alternative is a policy called appeasement.

Appeasement, for those who have not studied their history, has a near perfect track record--of failure. Let's take a look at the record in the 20th Century. Woodrow Wilson sought to appease critics in the 1910's with regard to America's entry into the World War I, by proclaiming a policy of non-interference. The result--we got into the war anyway.

The British in the 1930's sought appease the the expansion of the Third Reich. The result, the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and oh, yeah, the attempted invasion of Britain. Had it not been for the RAF and the United States, World War II would have lasted a lot longer than it did.

During the 1960's and 1970's the United States called appeasment something else--containment, of the Soviet expansion. It was not until Ronald Reagan decided that he would wage and economic war by building our military capability to the point that the Soviets could not economically keep up that the Cold War was won. But decades of "containment" did nothing to stop the spread of the Soviety Empire. Eventually, their own mistakes and the Reagon build up did.

What other lessons can history tell us? Raw naked power wins. Always has, always will. Don't believe me? Ask the city father of Carthage, of Dresden, of Hiroshima. Ask the men and women of the French coast near the English Channel. Ask the citizens of Iraq or Afghanistan. The exercise of raw, naked power will always carry the day. That is not to say that the exercise of that power does not come at a cost to both the person applying the force that the person against whom the power is applied. But it does win.

I am not advocating the immediate invasion of Iran. We are neither prepared militarily or socially for such a step. But to deny that power has never solved anything is to ignore history.

And thus we return to the subject of history. Never has so much ridden on the shoulders of a generation than now. Ours is a complicated world, one where various factions do not wish to merely defeat us in war, but to remove our nation from the face of the globe. Do we honestly believe that a policy of appeasment, of diplomacy, or of containment of a nuclear Iran is really a viable option? If so, we need to send our national leaders back to history class.

Democrats Plan for Michael Steele--Insults and Race Attacks

A few weeks ago, The Washington Times ran a piece citing a plan by Maryland and national Democratic leaders to knock Maryland Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele down. Citing a poll of 500 black voters, the Washington Times notes that Democrats see
an "emerging black swing" voting bloc in Maryland.

Democratic pollster and consultant Cornell Belcher's survey calls Mr. Steele a "unique threat," and says he and Mr. Ehrlich "have a clear ability to break through the Democratic stronghold among African-American voters in Maryland."

The poll says Democrats cannot afford to wait until the fall "to knock Steele down" and their goal should be to link Mr. Steele to President Bush and national Republicans, turning Mr. Steele "into a typical Republican in the eyes of voters, as opposed to an African-American candidate."
What is interesting is that one of the sharpest critics of this game plan is former Prince Georges County Executive Wayne Curry. Prince Georges is the county with the largest black population outside of Baltimore. Curry, a Democrat, is rumored to be on the short list of possible running mates for Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich, now that Steele is running for the Senate. According to the Wa Times story
Mr. Curry said the Democratic Party has not supported the only black Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate -- Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"When they get a chance to raise up, instead of doing that, they tear down," Mr. Curry said.
Curry, who by the way is black, noted that
Mr. Steele's campaign is "not just about personality. It's about who's going to help you obtain the tools to make your life better."
Yesterday, in Real Clear Politics, Gregory Kane said that Democrats attack Steele at their own peril.
In November of last year the Washington Times ran a story in which several black Maryland Democrats claimed Steele "does not share the same political policies and values as most African-Americans," according to a Nov. 4, 2005 article in the Baltimore Sun.

It was the "Oreo cookie" incident all over again, only more refined. The implication was that Steele, while black on the outside, was still as white as Oreo cookie icing on the inside.

What those black Maryland Democrats meant was that Steele doesn't share the same political policies and values of most black Maryland Democrats, who are out of step with large numbers of black Americans on a variety of issues.

Take vouchers and school choice. Some polls show many blacks are for both, but you'd be hard pressed to find a black Maryland Democrat in public office who feels the same way. There are also many blacks who oppose abortion, as Steele does. Add to those blacks who oppose abortion in all instances, those who don't support publicly-funded abortions or abortions for minors without parental consent and you probably have a majority of blacks.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of Maryland's black Democratic leaders oppose the death penalty doesn't support their contention that Steele is not in accord with their policies and values. As a devout Catholic, Steele is opposed to the death penalty too.
There is a certain amount of fear in the Democratic party that their grip on the state of Maryland is failing. Governor Ehrlich won the state house with a strong get out the vote drive (and a really bad Democratic candidate). But when even the Washington Post thinks the Maryland Democratic legislature has lost its mind and acts stupidly, you know that the Democrats are in trouble.

Steele is the kind of person that people look up to. Like Bob Ehrlich, he came from less than affluent parents. Steele has earned all that he has gotten to this point in his life. He learned the value of hard work, of respect for oneself, one's family and one's community, and of leadership. With more black leaders like Steele, and like Wayne Curry, Maryland may be embarking on a new chapter of its political history.

A Steele victory in November will cetainly be another nail in the coffin of the current Maryland Democratic party. My only issue at this point the the Maryland GOP is that I don't think they focus enough time and energy building a bench. There is not the same effort among the GOP to get more local and state legislative offices filled with Republicans, giving a cadre of current officerholders to move up to more positions of leadership in years to come. But that is another story all together.

TheChallenge of the Brightest

Today, the Washington Post is reporting that graduate schools have their own drop out problem.
U.S. high schools and doctoral programs share a problem: How do they keep their students enrolled long enough to get a degree?

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, doctoral students drop out at an average rate of 50 to 60 percent -- the same rate reported in some urban K-12 systems. (There are about 400,000 students enrolled in doctoral programs.) In some of the humanities, the completion rate is even lower.


At stake, some educators say, is America's tradition of world dominance in doctoral education, which has fueled research and innovation since the first PhDs were awarded in the United States in the 1880s.

Similar warnings have been made before, and some educators shrug off the latest ones. But Debra W. Stewart, council president and former university dean, said the need for a solution has never been so pressing.

With China, India and the European Union investing heavily in graduate education programs -- modeled after the U.S. system -- and with international applications down during this decade, Stewart said it is vital to keep U.S. students in the doctoral pipeline.
In truth, this is something that is not all that surprising. From very early on in our children's educational career, we simply fail to challenge our brightest students enough. Let's face it, American public schools fail three sets of students--the special needs children--those with learning or developmental disabilities, the poor/minority students--those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, and the truly intellectually gifted. Our schools are havens of mediocrity.

While all students should be tended to by the schools, the effort of most of education thought is on the first two groups of students--the special needs and the poor. But if the United States is to compete with the growing influence of Asian and Eurpean intellectual and scientific elite, we must do more to challenge our brightest children, for it is they and the dedicated few who will seek advanced degrees, PhDs and such. The American K-12 school system does little challenge the brightests students. I don't know how many times I have met or talked to students in advanced classes in high school who say they hardly ever study, yet continue to make high grades--only to have their reality destroyed when they reach college and continue on such a high difficulty path. Discouraged, these students muddle through college, get the Bachelor's (because of scholarship or parental payments) and never return.

Yet, I can't help but feel that if the students had been challenged from as early as elementary school, pushed to try harder and harder things, and taught that failure is just as much a great teacher as successes, then we might not be facing the challenges we have in graduate school completion. Of course, a pipeline of gifted students is only part of the graduate school problem--there are economic considerations (i.e. many Ph.D programs are expensive and when a gifted engineer can make solid six figures, why lose money by not working and pay for a Ph.D. program at teh same time), and prestige issues. Simply put, we as a nation do not treat our Ph.D. holders with the same respect as other nations.

The challenge schools systems and colleges face for the education of our brightest students is real. The fact that Ph.D. programs suffer a massive drop our rate is not surprising, but the root cause extends much farther back that undergraduate degrees.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Who Protects the First Amendment

On Sunday, George Will took on the GOP with regard to the 527 rules that recently passed the House. I love the defenses that Will writes about:
David Dreier (R-Calif.) explained, sort of. He said he voted against McCain-Feingold because "dictating who could give how much to whom" violated the First Amendment, but now he favors dictating to 527 contributors because McCain-Feingold is not violating the First Amendment enough: It is not "working as it was intended." That is, it is not sufficiently restricting the money financing political advocacy.
But this quote has to be the dumbest reason:
Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said that restricting 527s would combat "nauseating ugliness, negativity and hyperpartisanship." Oh, so that is what the First Amendment means: Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech unless speech annoys politicians.

Improving the tone of politics, leveling the playing field, fulfilling the intent of McCain-Feingold -- the reasons for expanding the restrictions on political advocacy multiply.
When McCain-Feingold was passed, people in the reform community began wondering, what can we do next? Well, we have seen efforts to control the speech of online writers (like myself), we have seen cries about 527 groups (who are now the target of more regulation) and we have seen cries about corruption and the corrupting influence of contributions by lobbyists and fundraising by lobbyists. The latter is a concern because the House Administration committee is considering a bill that would require lobbyists to disclose not only how much they personally contribute to campaigns but also how much the raise for campaigns.

The theory behind all of the good-government reforms is to make the process "more transparent." In the past, campaign finance regulation was about preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. We have now developed new terminology and meanings for these phrases. Soft money is a bad influence, so we will limit all political giving. Attack ads are bad, so we will limit any effort to mention a federal candidate before an election.

The problem with all of these efforts, just as Will pointed out, is that each step is more about protecting the current political class and less about making politics clean. I will give Will the final words:
The Post, exemplifying the media's hostility to speech rights other than their own, eagerly anticipates the next fiddling. As it crouches behind its media exemption from the restrictions it favors for rival sources of political speech, The Post eggs on the speech regulators and hopes for "future legislation" if money diverted from 527s flows, as surely it will, into other political uses. And so the regulatory regime metastasizes, nibbling away at what McCain-Feingold enthusiasts evidently consider the ultimate "loophole" -- the First Amendment.

Fortunately, the measure the House passed April 5 will not become law this year. Not because Republican senators are too principled to pass it, or because Democrats have a truly principled opposition to it but because Senate Democrats will have 41 votes, enough to block action on it.

The Democrats, who favored McCain-Feingold and now are as cynical as Republicans about defending free speech only when it serves their competitive interests, will someday win control of Congress. Then they can wrap their anti-constitutionalism in the Republicans' April 5 rhetoric. They can say:

"In 2006 you Republicans said that because Democrats have done better than Republicans with 527s, the 527s should be restricted in order to 'level the playing field.' Now we will level the playing field by restoring the 'fairness doctrine' to broadcasting, thereby eliminating conservatives' unfair domination of talk radio."

The 211 Republicans who voted for big-government regulation of speech will have no principled objection.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The One Drop of Blood Rule

Joanne Jacobs reports on an effort that predicts a sharp rise in self-reported Native Americans seeking minority status for things like college admission.

Last September I talked about this very issue in relation to the confirmation of now Chief Justice John Roberts. Quoting a New York Times article, I said
Multiracial students will present the greatest challenge for the country and the courts when it comes to affirmative action. Let us consider an extreme example. A multiracial child is born of parents in South Carolina. The white mother can trace her ancestry to slaveowners in plantation South Carolina. The black father can trace his ancestry to black slaves of the North Carolina tobacco country. The child is applying to colleges and is denied admission to her top choice schools for whatever reason. The child then says, because she is partially black, she is entitled to admission or at least reconsideration for admission under affirmative action. The question is, is she entitled to such treatment because she is 50% black?

What if we as a society say yes, the above mentioned child is entitled to affirmative action consideration? So here is another line question. If the above mentioned child qualifies for affirmative action treatment, where do we draw the line as far as mixed race children go. Does the child need to be 50% minority? 30%? 25%? What about technology that could prove minority genetic make-up despite the fact that the child looks predominantly white, or predominantly asian? Professor Rosen takes up the case:

As America becomes increasingly multiracial, there may be debates over who, precisely, gets to qualify for racial preferences. Akhil Reed Amar, a [professor] at Yale Law School, told me that people might eventually resort to genetic tests to prove their racial heritage. "I can imagine a predominantly white person who has been rejected because of an affirmative-action program saying, 'I should benefit from it because I am of mixed race, and I can prove it with sophisticated DNA analysis showing the percentage of my genes that came from Africa,'" he said. '"The university might respond: 'It's not a genetic test but a social understanding test, and since people don't perceive you as black, you haven't been subject to discrimination.'"

Rosen and Amar then postulate a legislative reaction in a state that says the social understanding test is too speculative, so you have to have a genetic test and anyone with a drop of minority blood would be eligible for affirmative action treatment. As Rosen writes:

"It would recall the shameful history in times of slavery and Jim Crow," [Yale law professor Paul] Schuck told me, "in which one drop of blood was sufficient to render an individual black for the laws of slavery. And it would be extremely distasteful for blacks and whites." Still, Schuck acknowledged, the problem of deciding who is eligible for affirmative action will grow only more urgent in an era of shrinking public resources. "I think as pressure on affirmative-action programs increases," he said, "affirmative-action programs will have to make refined judgments about eligibility."

If one drop of blood was sufficient to make a person a slave in Pre-Civil war America, allowing the same standard for qualification under affirmative action has not leveled the playing field, but made it more combative. The weapons of the combat will be based on which people can afford the most precise genetic tests. How, in a society that values equality of treatment under the law, do we justify such a concept? How, as a society of laws, will the legislatures and the courts deal with such line-drawing?
I honestly thought we were a few years away from this sort of regime, but when the competition to get into top schools is based as much on your ethnic and racial heritage as it is on your academic achievement, the fact that some people are seeking any advantage they can get is not all that surprising.

A Few Brightspots for the Administration

Jane Galt points to three brightspots for the Bush Administration. While I don't agree with her assessment of foriegn aid, since I generally view such aid as wasted because of foreign government graft and corruption, I think she is dead on about trade and education.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Mortgage Sized Debt Load--Without the House

David Walker is not a name that most Americans will know if you live outside the Beltway and most people inside the Beltway wouldn’t know it either. Walker, who can walk the streets in anonymity, is the head of the Government Accountability Office, in short, the country’s chief Accountant. In a briefing last week, according to David Broder, writing in the Washington Post yesterday, Walker noted that the debt load being carried by America is such that the budget deficit amounts to $156,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. For a family of four, that is equivalent to a mortgage on a $630,000 home, but having no home to show for it.

The Treasury Department reported to Congress (but never issued a press release) that the accumulated debt of the United states is $760 billion, or more than twice the officially announced budget deficit of $319 billion. This $760 billion is difference between its income and it liabilities, but purchases made this year. It is equivalent to having your personal mortgage and other debts totaling $319,000 and then buying on credit an additional $421,000 in goods and services. At some point, creditors would stop giving you credit because your ability to pay your debts has greatly outstripped your income. But the federal government doesn’t have a creditor to put the kibosh on extra spending.

The GOP is largely responsible for this financial fiasco and we need to get back to, or rather actually adopt, a budget process that most Americans live by. Don’t borrow more than you can repay and limit your spending better. But cutting the pork of the budget will only go so far. We need to restructure the entire budget process.

Wal-Mart Effect

Yesterday, The Washington Post had a lengthy article on the Wal-Mart Effect, a business phenomenon and the title of a book by Charles Fishman. What is interesting about the article is the relatively non-stance it takes. Even the author,Bob Thompson, who wanted to be skeptical, quickly gets caught up in the frenzy of cheap prices and the tens of thousands of items in stock.

Say what you want about Wal-Mart, it has been single minded in its approach to provide low prices to customers—often to the detriment of it suppliers. At least according to the suppliers. The Wal-Mart Effect is the changes in business practices and in the national economy as a result of the singular focus on low prices. Companies change the way they do business and sometimes it makes the company more profitable and sometimes it moves jobs offshore.

Of course, Wal-Mart is neavily criticized for forcing companies to move manufacturing operations off-shore, in fact, aside from maybe its much criticized employee health benefits, it may be the biggest bone of contention among Wal-Mart critics. But, despite the movement of manufacturing jobs off-shore, unemployment in America has not changed that significantly. What does that tell us, that perhaps the jobs were indeed expendable here in the states. What does it mean for workers overseas—no matter what you say—it is always better wages. Assuming that a Pakistani clothing maker was making $3 per day making goods to be sold at Wal-Mart, that could be a massive improvement if that person was making $3 per week. The flood of jobs in other coutries, at much better wages, tends to have a positive effect on that country’s economy and standard of living. Thus, everyone benefits. Americans get cheaper goods and foreign workers get better wages.

What is telling is a quote at the end of the Post story, quoting Charles Fishman, "Wal-Mart is the ultimate form of democracy—we vote yes each time we buy something." We vote yes to the business model, we vote yes to the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas and we vote yes for Wal-Mart—to the tune of 100 million shoppers every week, to the tune of 95% of Americans every year. Apparently the boys in Bentonville know what they are doing.

Who Speaks for the Troops

Yesterday's Washington Post carried this op-ed by a wounded soldier who closes a what I think is a magnificent article:
The morale of the trigger-pulling class of today's fighting force is strong. Unfortunately, we have not had a microphone or media audience willing to report our comments. Despite this frustration, our military continues to proudly dedicate itself to the mission at hand: a free, democratic and stable Iraq and a more secure America. All citizens have a right to express their views on this important national challenge, and all should be heard. Veterans ask no more, and they deserve no less.

Any current member of the military who wishes to post something to this site about their morale may send their text to me at the above email. I will post all material, edited only for language (please keep it clean).

If the mainstream media does not want to listen, at least you have this modest little forum to speak your mind.

From the Duh!! Department

According to the Washington Post, the housing aid and assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
a hastily improvised $10 billion effort by the federal government has produced vast sums of waste and misspent funds, an array of government audits and outside analysts have concluded.

As the Federal Emergency Management Agency wraps up the initial phase of its temporary housing program -- ending reliance on cruise ships and hotels for people sent fleeing by the Aug. 29 storm -- the toll of false starts and missed opportunities appears likely to top $1 billion and perhaps much more, according to a series of after-action studies and Department of Homeland Security reports, including one due for release today.
Gven that FEMA and DHS did not have any plans, any program involving that much money and apparently that much mismanagement is guaranteed, to the level of absolute certainty, to have significant waste and fraud.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Returning to the Core Competency

A few years ago, Jim Collins wrote a book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, where Collins and his team examined matched pairs of companies and determined why some companies did so much better over time than their counterparts. Collins’ research found that those companies which proved successful had several key matters in common and those features are what made them successful.

I have long advocated for schools to begin thinking like businesses and use clues and cues from the business world to be successful in delivering their service—that of educating our children. Collins’ research seemed to be the best roadmap for success out there since the companies Collins’ examined were established companies, not flash in the pan entities. These ideas have been embraced by at least one school district in Arizona.

One of Collins discoveries was that the companies that succeeded had stripped themselves down to the bare bones mission of the company. Thus they focused solely on the core business, even if that meant shedding profitable side businesses in the quest for a core competency. No matter what anyone can say about the state of American education, we can agree that somewhere in the shuffle, the core competency of the school has been lost.

Part of the educational flotsam and jetsam littering our schools lies in the concept that schools can be or should be agents of social change. Such a mindset has led our schools into doing things they are not suited to carry out, such a providing some kinds of social services in the interests of “social justice.” But these social services, including emotional counseling, after-school programs and other matters not focused on actual education of kids, sucks down limited resources, expending time and money in efforts not designed to educate kids.

I propose a rather radical course of action. Let us begin shedding irrelevant programs. In order to focus on the core competency of our schools, educating children, it is necessary to define that education. Education is the imparting of academic skills and knowledge necessary to allow students to be capable of managing their own lives and provide them with a solid grounding in what used to be called the liberal arts and sciences. Thus, the core curriculum should focus on reading, writing, math, hard sciences, social sciences, history, literature and the arts, and physical education. Anything that is not directly engaged in one of those disciplines should be examined.

What might those programs to be examined be? First to go is any sport that is not self-supporting. Admittedly, many schools should take great pride in their athletic prowess, but how is that prowess manifesting itself in the classroom? Additionally, most students play club sports as well and those outlets certainly are not suffering from a lack of participation. Next, all those social programs designed to “level the playing field” for minority and poor students. (I can feel the screams building). But these programs do not provide help for the students where they need it most—in the classroom!!.

Any program that is being examined for removal from the school’s budget should be examined from the bias of cutting the program. Each program needs to justify not only its existence, but its budget and its pending habits. Oh by the way, elimination of programs also means that many, many bureaucratic jobs can be eliminated, saving millions of dollars a year for an average sized school district.

The savings created by this budget cutting means one thing—more money for the actual classroom. Bu focusing on the core business of schools, that of education, we can actually achieve more. Simply look at those Arizona schools—they did with a 40% plus minority and poor population—surely such successes are worth replication.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Debating the Presidential Financing System

I would like to draw your attention a debate ongoing between Michael Malbin of hte Campaign Finance Institute and Bob Bauer (the link is to Bauer's blog, but he has a link to Malbin's comments) about the Presidential campaign public funding program. You may have heard of it around this time of the year, you are asked on your income tax forms whether you want to contribute $3 dollars to the program. My H&R Block person said it is not added to my tax burden, but I wonder where the money comes from? But that is another matter.

The Presidential campaign funding program is a relic of the Watergate era and was created at pretty much the same time as the Federal Election Commission. Obstensibly, the program allows, as Malbin argues, for underdog canddiates to make a name for themselves they would otherwise be unable to make without the public funding system. Bauer argues that such a rationale is a poor one indeed for maintaining system of spending tax money on candidates who have little chance of winning the primary election, let alone the general election.

The presidential funding program is just over 30 years old. Prior to it's existence, candidates were able to build a national campaign without the matching funds. Canddiates today are capable of building a national campaign without matching funds, why then do we persist.

As Mr. Malbin points out, underdog, or rather underfinanced candidates keep frontrunners honest and provides a testing of ideas and campaign skills. But that is really so much hogwash. Modern presidential canddiates cannot run a campaign like William McKinley did from his front porch. Candidates are tested from the day they decide to run, by their opponents of all stripes, by the press, by their parties and by the electorate. They do not need publicly supported candidates to test them further. Furhtermore, any serious candidate for the Presidency does not appear from the mists, but has had a presence of some sort, whether it be as Governor, Senator, Representative or other position of high influence and policy. Looking back into history, no successful candidate for the Presidency has ever emerged from the shadows without some sort of significant leadership experience.

No the presidential campaign financing program is a money pit. Granted, there are larger money pits in the federal government, but this one is easy to dispense with. More and more candidates are going to opt out of the system because of the rediculous limits imposed on them during the primaries and thus the true contenders will not need the funds. The result, only gadflies and perennial candidates will be taking the public dole, and surely there is a better use of tax dollars.

Business and Education

Last year, I participated in a program in Maryland sponsored by the Maryland Business Roundtable on Education. I thought the program a good idea, since it asked professionals in the area to go into high schools, talk to 9th graders and encrourage them to take on a tough class load as they progress through school. The program showed kids how much it really costs to live in the real world and how their choices as young at 14 or 15 years old can impact their future. Nice program and I was glad to be a part of it.

However, given all the investment in education made by business, I wonder why we have not seen more of an impact. Brett, over at the DeHavilland Blog, compiled a list of recent corporate contributions to education and then wondered why there has been little impact. He offered these possible explanations:
The level of investment isn’t enough to move the needle. Education is a $600 billion juggernaut; putting $2.4 billion into it (0.4% of the total budget, for those of you without a calculator handy) barely makes a ripple.

This investment actually is making a difference – if it weren’t for this investment, we’d actually be in steep decline, and maintaining the status quo with this limited investment is actually an achievement.

The money isn’t being invested strategically. We’re supplementing an existing structure that is not performing, and not taking a seat at the table to redefine desired outcomes and rethinking the ways that we can get there. Using the Titanic as a metaphor (how’s that for leading the reader?), we’re painting the ship as it sinks, not turning the wheel to avoid the icebergs.

We’re wasting a lot of that money through duplicated efforts. There’s no national forum or clearinghouse on business/education partnerships, so we’re all making the same mistakes and not learning from one another’s successes. (This is a personal priority – if anyone wants to talk about changing this, call me.)(changes in format are mine)
Brett then closes with this paragraph:
As I said, I almost hate asking the question – feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth. But the fact is, we’re not moving forward, and the people who dedicate their time and money to education deserve to see results – not just the inevitable anecdotal impact at a school or two, but a meaningful, systemic change that improves the experience and the outcomes of public education.
Here is my thinking, while Business is involved in education and as Brett noted, the involvement is piecemeal and certainly in no way organized, there is a far greater issue than any of the explanations offered by Brett. In reality, education is not nearly the priority business claims it to be. Brett did not compile a full listing of recent activity, but let us assume that the activities he noted comprise 10 percent of the monthly activity done by American Business--that comes to about $24 billion a month and or $288 billion a year (which may be an over estimate). Wal-Mart alone makes more money in a year than that. Thus when compared with the trillions of dollars business makes a year, this is a trivial sum to invest.

But the matter goes far deeper. Everyone complains that big business spends billions of dollars each year on lobbying, but you can bet no real percentage of that lobbying muscle is being applied to education initiatives. Business pays lip service to education, but they won't put their lobbying money where their mouth is. If every science and technology company spent 50% of their lobbying time talking about funding math and science education, you can be sure that real changes would be made.

Finally, there is no incentive for business to really be involved in education. Sure, having a better educated future workforce is a masive plus, but right now business is not encouraged in any way to help with that matter. Here is an idea, for every man-day spent in a classroom actually teaching or helping teachers teach students, business should be able to make a tax deduction of say 3-4 man hours of time. This financial incentive gets businesses moving in the right direction, of investing their time, as well as their money.

My experience was just a few hours spread over several high schools and several day. Imagine if that time was concentrated on 30 kids, once or twice a week for an entire school year. That is a real impact.

Until business makes their "committment" to education a real, demonstrable priority, there is no real need for Brett's clearinghouse of activity or collaborative effort.

Hat Tip: The Carnival of Education

I'mmmm Baaack

Whew, that may be the longest hiatus of blogging I have had outside of a vacation. But while I am not working, I am not on a vacation.

The bad news is that I got laid off from my job as a PAC compliance specialist. The contracts and clients that I serviced were sold to another vendor and my services were no longer desired by my former employer. What sucks is the manner in which the deal was handled. Literally, I left on a Friday and everything was copacetic. I come back on Monday to find that my key card no longer worked and that my network log in had been changed. The funny thing was that I didn't think anything of either obstacle. I tend to leave my key card near the microwave and figured that it just got fried somehow. We were required to change our network passwords every 45 days or so and I figured I just changed the password and forgot it. A few minutes after getting both a new password and a new key card, I was told that I was being let go.

This does put something more of an urgent urgency on finding a new job, which was an on-going search even prior to my departure. So if anyone out there knows of a law firm looking for political law help or education law help, please let me know. (send tips to the email address at the top of the page.)

In the meantime, I have spent a great deal of time working on getting my resume out there and doing the networking thing. It is amazing how much effort that takes when you have a clock on you.

Funny thing about the business deal that resulted in my termination, a number of my (now former) clients are none-too-happy with the deal, the manner in which it was conducted and the impact on me (aren't they sweet). A few are even reviewing whether or not the deal could have gone through without prior notice to them. Since I didn't write or even see their current contracts, I don't know how that will work out.

At any rate, not having posted in a while has gotten me a little frustrated (and not to mention a little backlogged in my thoughts and thinking). So over the next couple of days, I hope to get back on track.

Oh--one bonus of being home a little more in the springtime--lots of beautiful days to spend outside with my family.