Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For your reading pleassure:

1. FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, notes that a University of Idaho professor, in order to avoid charges of insensitivity, is now asking his students to sign a waiver acknowledging that some of the films he will show contain offensive material. I have signed waivers for dangerous activities, waivers of liability for taking part in a volleyball tournament and other waivers for all sorts of reasons, but an "offensive material" waiver just tells me that we have gone too far on college campuses. From the post:
In a university culture where the avoidance of offense is considered a sacred principle on many campuses, it’s not surprising that Professor Dennis West would hit on a method already commonly used when engaging in nearly any activity that comes with even a minimal amount of risk. It’s sad that showing films to students can now be considered a risky activity, but it’s not surprising. Episodes like the University of New Hampshire’s reaction to a joking flyer, or Gonzaga’s classification of a flyer as hate speech simply because the flyer contained the word “hate,” make it clear that film professors—who sometimes show graphic, violent, or even merely political films—do indeed have something to worry about. This is a sad commentary on today’s academic culture.
FIRE specializes in reporting on issues involving individual rights in colleges and universities. Want to know what a speech code is, FIRE has your answer and more. A vital resource for anyone attending college.

2. Joe Williams at the Chalkboard has his take on a recent NY Times Magazine article on efforts in New York to close the achievement gap. The article is now on my reading list, but Williams also includes links to other viewpoints.
I read the article on a flight from NYC to LA, and perhaps because I had been thinking of AFT Ed's question to me last week, I kept honing in on other issues surrounding the sometimes complicated trade-offs we see with meaningful reform efforts. Specifically, I thought about what happens when we support efforts to create high-achieving schools for our weakest students and those schools end up being so successful that the families of higher-achieving students start to flock there, as the article describes happening at KIPP.
Joe Williams is the author of one of my favorite education books, Cheating Our Kids.

3. In the weeks and months leading up to the election, there was a great deal of concern about the use of electronic voting machines. A number of very smart people took opposite sides of the argument. But one of the clearest, non-legal arguements I have read in a while comes from Erick at RedState.

4. I have often pointed out some of the dichotomies within the Democratic party, but the GOP is not without its own internal squabbles. Liz Mair, who writes at at GOPProgress.com notes that the war within the GOP is between Social Conservatives and moderates within the party. Liz, a pretty vocal moderate, says the Social conservatives cost the GOP the election. But in reality, I think that not sticking to principles costs the GOP the election.

5. With a journalist wife, she and I often clash about how the media is doing with reporting in general and reporting about international affirs specifically. She insists to me that reporters are doing a good job and I note that as a former classmate of Jayson Blair, she may want to reconsider what doing a good job means. (and then I spend a few hours in the dog house). But Rick Moran has a good commentary on what the whole "burning Sunnis" story really means:
The changing nature of journalism in America means that to a large extent, reporters are almost as incurious about the world as their readers. What would it have cost to pick up the phone and call CENTCOM? The PA officers there got back to Curt within a few hours with the info that contradicted the AP story. Better yet, duplicating Curt’s work, how much trouble would it have been to Google up Capt. Jamil Hussein? Would the fact that he appeared as a source for AP so many times over the previous months raised a red flag in any newsroom in America? I doubt it.

I think the difference between journalists today and those of 20 or 30 years ago is that reporters used to have a thirst for knowledge, an “itch” that could never be scratched. They attacked a story, constantly challenging assumptions, digging ever deeper to see if there was anything else there. They did it not necessarily because they were afraid they were wrong but rather because they were afraid they were missing the true essence of the story.

But the shocking incuriousness of the media who left the vetting of this story to AP and allowed it to appear in newspapers across the country proves that times indeed have changed. Publishers and editors used to stand by everything that appeared in their publication. But how can they do that today if they don’t make even the most cursory of efforts to see that what is printed actually happened.
As alwasy, enjoy.

The Daily Top Five

Here are today's picks for good stories and topics for discussion.

1. Edspresso is hoting another in their series of debates on education topic. This week the topic is weighted student funding, a different formula for providing education funding for public schools. When you hear about education expenditures, the information is often presented in either lump sum, i.e. a state spends $4 billion on education or in per pupil expenditures, i.e. $10,000 per student. The problem with such statistics is that they are misleading, particularly the per pupil expenditure, because schools are not funded on a per pupil basis. The debate participants will be going at it all week long.

2. Ever since Bush v. Gore following the 2000 election, there has been a significant spike in election law litigation. Some has to do with significant laws being passed, such as voter ID laws that are challenged as well as spikes related to gerrymandering and campaign fiance laws. But in Alabama, they take it to a new level, if you lose an election, sue because your opponent failed to comply with campaign finance laws. Paul Sherman at the Center for Competitive Politics has the story.

3. From the Carnival of Education comes this post by the Ed Wonks, who describe the expulsion of a student in Oregon who, as he tells it, politely inquired about a fellow student's belief in leprechauns. We have become far too sensitive.

4. In one of my new favorite blogs, Clear Commentary, Phllip Mella gives his take on Victor Davis Hanson's editorial in the Wall Street Journal editorial where Hanson notes that the cause of much of the world problems lies in our lost path of democratic enlightenment. Here is a bit of Mella's work:
As Mr. Hanson further demonstrates, Europe is the source of nearly every civic and cultural ill in modern times. It was, after all, the catalyst of two world wars, both of which were preventable, albeit for different reasons, and it is now the front line in the war of ideas and its attrition rate is alarming, to say the least. There is, in Europe's deprecation of our hallowed traditions, an intellectual apostasy that seems intent upon elevating stupidity to a virtue.
If you are looking for some good writing, Mella provides it.

5. Since next year is my 20th High School reunion, I will probably take to heart Dan Drezners Iron Laws of High School Reunions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wow! John Ridley Tells it Like It Is

John Ridley has this article in Esquire and it is a powerful statement on what Black Americans should do.
So I say this: It's time for ascended blacks to wish niggers good luck. Just as whites may be concerned with the good of all citizens but don't travel their days worrying specifically about the well-being of hill billies from Appalachia, we need to send niggers on their way. We need to start extolling the most virtuous of ourselves. It is time to celebrate the New Black Americans—those who have sealed the Deal, who aren't beholden to liberal indulgence any more than they are to the disdain of the hard Right. It is time to praise blacks who are merely undeniable in their individuality and exemplary in their levels of achievement.
Go read it.

Education Carnivals

The Common Room hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling.

A History Teacher hosts the 95th edition of the Carnival of Education.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Local Public School Marketing

One Washington DC elementary school did something highly unusual for a public school--it had a marketing campaign. In a city where one quarter of all public school children attend charter schools, a significant population of private schools and a thriving Catholic school segment, enrollment in the city's traditional public schools has been declining for years. But Strong John Thomson Elementary experienced a 20% increase in enrollment from last year to this year. As the Washington Post reports:
It helps that Thomson has some assets to boast that most city schools don't: a renovated building completed in January with a gymnasium and two indoor playgrounds, Chinese language classes and a school culture that emphasizes such values as tolerance and personal responsibility.

But Thomson is different in another way. The school's principal and parents formed a marketing committee to aggressively recruit students. The team worked feverishly this spring, sending out fliers to Chinese nonprofit and business organizations, posting glowing messages on e-mail discussion groups and holding several open houses. All the promotion was done in three languages: English, Spanish and Chinese.

"We really made a conscious effort," said Principal Gladys Camp, who saw enrollment grow from 287 students to about 345 this year. "We wanted to make sure that our enrollment didn't drop."
A public school did a little marketing to increase enrollment. Sounds an awful lot like good old fashioned service competition, which is further backed up here:
In the numbers game of student enrollment, where teachers are assigned to schools or cut from them based largely on the number of students, the Thomson team decided to compete for students who might otherwise choose to attend schools outside the traditional system.

In doing so, the school took a page from its charter and private school counterparts, an approach endorsed by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who admits that the competitive landscape has pushed the traditional system to do things differently.

"It's increasingly important for principals to see how they can effectively reach out to other markets," Janey said.
Despite the apparent success of Thomson Elementary, public faith in the DC school system continues to decline, it is expected that traditional public schools will have fewer students than last year, while charter enrollment is expected to grow again.

To be sure, this kind of marketing effort may work well for DC public schools since the city is geographically compact and boasts a pretty decent public transit system to bolster the school transportation system. But DC public schools are starting to wake up to the need to act like they are in an actual educational market. While getting students in the door of traditional schools is a good first step, it is a baby step compared to what needs to be done.

While the marketing effort paid off in getting students in the door, the key will be how well the school manages the actual teaching of students and how those students will do on tests. If the school, despite its marketing effort, fails to deliver education, look for enrollment to drop as students and parents find other options.

Some other work that needs to be done would be to give principals more control over their budgets, more control over the hiring and firing of teachers and more resources to help get parents involved. However, it appears that Thomson Elementary has the first two ingredients to success, a strong and active principal and a good word of mouth in the community. Here's hoping they deliver on their promise.

The Daily Top Five

Here are some good posts and stories worth looking at:

1. Joanne Jacobs points us to a story out of Chicago where students in larger classes are scoring better on tests, giving lie to the propaganda that smaller class sizes is better than bigger classes. I had previously discussed similar ideas regarding classes sizes and teacher quality when dealing with class sizes. Be sure to check out the comments from Quincy.

2. Why didn't JFK make Atlantic Monthly's List of the 100 most influential Americans? Betsy Newmark talks about why. Having spent some time reading The Bystander by Nick Bryant, I tend to believe that JFK might not make the list for other reasons. Kennedy, a liberal icon, failed to grasp the importance of the civil rights movement at a time when some of the most significant civil rights events were happening on his watch. While in foriegn policy Kennedy was influential, I think his domestic policy missteps cost him his position.

3. Remember the Flying Imams who were kicked off a U.S.Air flight a few weeks back. Well Captain Ed has some things that were missed in the original reporting as well as this:
The imams did not intend on conducting a terrorist attack. Instead, they have conducted an attack on American security protocols, first by staging this ridiculous event to heighten their status as victims, and second to expose the kind of activities that airlines view as suspicious. In doing so, they have created an environment where the airlines will second-guess their own security procedures, becoming hypersensitive to political correctness instead of focusing on suspicious behaviors. The imams will have made us all less safe if their act becomes a hit.

Unfortunately, members of Congress seem more intent on pandering to the victimology rather than supporting the airlines for doing their job. Sheila Jackson-Lee and newly-elected Muslim Keith Ellison both took the time to acknowledge how humiliating it had to be for the six men ejected from the flight, rather than how stressful it must have been for the passengers and crew of the US Air flight that the imams used to gain their notoriety. I guess they figure that it's better to be sorry than safe.
I still don't know what the problem is. Any passenger who disrupts the flight operations or safety of an aircraft can be ejected from the aircraft. Airlines are still a private business who can serve or not serve any individual they want. Flying is not a government guaranteed right and if you act badly you should be thrown off the plane as a nuisance.

4. If you think using calculators to teach kids math is stupid, wait until you read about this story about technology and reading skills, courtesy of Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning.

5. I have seen a couple of different posts today on the topic of college admissions as it relates to "Asians." David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy had this post about a young math prodigy who may not get into MIT because one person thinks that the child may not be giving back to the community enough. Bernstein questions some of the criteria that are being used to judge admisssion, including teh child's "Asian" heritage. Joanne Jacobs discusses the large percentage of Asians in the University of California system making them the largest racial group on the state's campuses.

Compassiontate Conservatives Give More--Money, Time and Blood

In a recent book, Who Really Cares, Arthur C. Brooks finally examines through statistics and hard data the now common assumption that liberals care more than conservatives. Brooks' finding--it is just the opposite. Thomas Sowell seeks to offer an explanation.

But first, here is what Sowell says about Brooks' book:
A new book, titled "Who Really Cares" by Arthur C. Brooks examines the actual behavior of liberals and conservatives when it comes to donating their own time, money, or blood for the benefit of others. It is remarkable that beliefs on this subject should have become conventional, if not set in concrete, for decades before anyone bothered to check these beliefs against facts.

What are those facts?

People who identify themselves as conservatives donate money to charity more often than people who identify themselves as liberals. They donate more money and a higher percentage of their incomes.

It is not that conservatives have more money. Liberal families average 6 percent higher incomes than conservative families.
But is not simply about money, I particularly liked this little gem:
Conservatives not only donate more money to charity than liberals do, conservatives volunteer more time as well. More conservatives than liberals also donate blood.

According to Professor Brooks: "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent."
So after these foundational statements, Sowell launches into what he believes is the explanation.
Fundamental differences in ideology go back to fundamental assumptions about human nature. Based on one set of assumptions, it makes perfect sense to be a liberal. Based on a different set of assumptions, it makes perfect sense to be a conservative.

The two visions are not completely symmetrical, however. For at least two centuries, the vision of the left has included a belief that those with that vision are morally superior, more caring and more compassionate.

While both sides argue that their opponents are mistaken, those on the left have declared their opponents to be not merely in error but morally flawed as well. So the idea that liberals are more caring and compassionate goes with the territory, whether or not it fits the facts.

Those on the left proclaimed their moral superiority in the 18th century and they continue to proclaim it in the 21st century. What is remarkable is how long it took for anyone to put that belief to the test -- and how completely it failed that test.(emphasis added)
Sowell looks at one appropriate explanation, but here is another basic philosophical assumption that should not be overlooked--the assumptions about the role of government.

Liberals believe that government should be the provider of charitable services at taxpayer expense. With that mind set, since liberals are paying taxes, they are making their "charitable" contribution to the government to provide services.

Conservatives, on the hand, trust private organizations to do better with funds management and providing charitable services. Thus, they believe that make the contribution directly the a private organization is going to yeild the most good since they mistrust government to undertake such a mission in an efficient manner.

But Sowell hints at but doesn't complete another demographic explanation.
The vision of the left exalts the young especially as idealists while the more conservative vision warns against the narrowness and shallowness of the inexperienced. This study found young liberals to make the least charitable contributions of all, whether in money, time or blood. Idealism in words is not idealism in deeds.
In my talks with college age students, I often come up against this notion, that in their view, untempered by experience, "we should always do good." But while conservatives may want to do that, their experience tends to be tempered by a reality that we can't fix everything bad with simple good itentions and expressions of concern. It takes effort, both fiscal effort and sweat equity to make changes. It is far easier to say than to do.

Reconciling Rangel on the Military

Over the weekend, incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) made this statement on national TV:
I want to make it abundantly clear: if there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment. If a young fella has an option of having a decent career or joining the army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.
Quote from RedState. Many people have commented on Rangel's statement as being anti-military, or at least re-stating the Kerry Democratic line "military members are stupid." But so far I have not seen anyone comment on the inherent conflict of Rangel's recent statement with his support of reinstituing the draft.

According to records and his bio, Rangel served four years in the Army, from 1948 to 1952, attaining the rank of Sergeant, which is not bad for a four year stint. Rangel also served in Korea, where he won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. But keep in mind that Rangel served in the Army at the time of the draft and I don't know if he was drafted or volunteered for the Army, but it is clear that Rangel considers himself a smart man and by his own statement, no smart man would volunteer for military service if it meant war time service.

Now if you follow Rangel's logic, no smart man or woman would join the military if there options for a "decent career" available to him or her. Thus, the only reason that Rangel can see for joining the military are either economic, i.e. there are no other options for a "decent career" or the individual lacks intelligence. While no doubt that a number of people join the military because there are no other viable options for them, more than just a few join for other reasons. Similarly, a lot of people in the military are no Nobel Prize physicists, but the same can be said of any profession.

Rangel has been outspoken about his desire to reinstitute the draft and therefore replace a professional all-volunteer force with a conscripted military whose effectiveness would be diminished by the inclusion of conscripts. How does Rangel personally reconcile these two positions? Rangel is not worried about smart people, but about rich people. If a person as "decent career" opportunities, then in Rangel's mind that means that person is probably white, rich, or at least middle class, and attends better schools than those available to poor, minority kids who can't possibly be smart enough to avoid joining the military. So in a subtle and roundabout way, Rangel is insulting his own constituents, whose lack of decent "career" options means that they have no choice but to join the military even if they are smart like him.

Rangle ignores some basic facts about the military. What the military offers smart men and women it one of the few true meritocracies around. No matter what you background is, a person can join the military and advance from lowly enlisted to the highest ranks. Take for example, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, who entered the Navy as an enlisted man and become the 25th Chief of Naval Operations before taking his own life in 1996.

So Rangel does not believe smart men would willingly join the military. Therefore, in order to get smart men (at least) into the military, we are going to conscript them. That is, compulsory service against the will, and at least according to Rangel, the better sense of such smart individuals. No matter what reason a person has to join the military, it was a voluntary choice. But a conscript has no desire to be in the military, will actively resent being in the military and will place their own personal survival and comfort above those around him. Esprit de corps will be almost impossible to achieve and maintain in such condidtions. Even the smartest person, in a place against their personal wishes, will not act in such a way as to achieve their full potential.

Rangel's efforts at making the military into the next battleground for class warfare will serve no purpose other than to diminish the effectiveness of the greatest fighting force ever to take the field of battle. National security is at stake and that is no place for class warfare.

California Teachers' Unions Sue Over Mailbox Electioneering

The Contra Costa Times is carrying this report (hat tip: Mike Antonucci) about a California case that could have far reaching implications for union sponsored political activity in the workplace.

The legal battle stems from the actions of a couple of school districts in California refusing to allow unions to disseminate political material and endorsements via the schoo provided mailboxes for teachers. Under state law, the schools must allow the unions to distribute messages about contract negotiations and grievances via the teachers' mailboxes, but some unions also use the mailboxes to spread candidate/ballot measure endorsement messages and other political messages. What is really at stake here? This sums it up pretty well:
If union lawyers successfully reshape the reading of the law surrounding teacher mailboxes, the CTA could gain significant political advantage by creating a legal way to influence its 340,000 members where they work.
Laywers for teh school boards question whether such political messages belong in these employer provided mail services and the unions couch it as a free speech concern, arguing that the prohibition is content based discrimination, generally probhibited by free speech clauses.

Make no mistake about it, the ban on political messages in teacher mail boxes is content based discrimination and the schools rightly question whether the use of school provided mail boxes should be used to promote a political agenda. The lower court decision:
In May 2006, Judge Winifred Smith ruled in favor of the union, citing the California Constitution.

"Barring speech simply because it is political is prohibited as a content-based restriction," Smith wrote.

According to Smith, the labor board and school districts have misread the Education Code governing public funds and campaigning. The statute was designed to prevent school districts from using public money on endorsements, Smith argued. If unions produce and distribute partisan fliers on their own time, little to no public money has been spent.

"Here, the 'use' of public funds is nominal, at best," Smith writes. "The mailboxes exist. There is no cost or use of public resources over and above the normal costs of the mailboxes which is incurred by the District on account of SLTA's use of the mailboxes."
Whether you accept Judge Smith's ruling or not, the question remains, should the school board be obligated to allow unions to spread their political message via school mailboxes?

But this case is not simply about a dispute between the California Teachers Association and local school boards, but has much broader implications for the ability of unions to use employer/corproate resources to spread the union's political message.

For example, under FEC rules a corporation may only solicit union members who are hourly employees twice a year. Furthermore, if a corporation uses methods to collect funds from its employees, such as payroll deductions, must also make such methods available to a union that represents a group of employees. Upon written request, those facilities of the corporation must be made available to the union and the union must reimburse the employer for the use of those facilities. See, FEC Campaign Guide for Corporations and Labor Organizations, p. 26. See also, 11 CFR 114.5(b) and 114.5(l).

But the exception to the rule is that if the employer does not have a PAC, under 11 CFR 114.5(k), that employer is not required to provide a mechanism for the union to solicit contributions to the Union PAC.

Other FEC rules permit a corporation or labor union to dessiminate political messages to their respective soliticable classes at any time. See, generally the FEC Guide for Corporations and Labor Unions, Ch. 3. For the corproation, the restricted class is usually management and professional employees like lawyers or accountants, but not employees represented by a union. For a union, the solicitible class is the members of the union. Usually, in a corporation that employs union personnel, the two classes won't mix.

But public employee unions are different in that their employer--i.e. the government, does not have a PAC nor can they, like in California's case, expend public monies for political purposes. Can the use of already provided mailboxes, even though the cost for the use of the boxes by the union is neglible, it is a non-zero amount. Under the aforementioned FEC rules, an employer may not waive reimbursement by the union for the use of corporate resources or else the services would be considered an illegal contribution.

Assuming for a moment that the California appeals court sides with the unions again, ruling that the schools must permit unions to distribute partisan political material via school mailboxes, what if anything should be the limits to that legal obligation? It is just mailbox distribution? What about email? What about the use of school facilities for union sponsored political activity, not simply meetings of union members?

The most likely balance that will be struck by the court is that the school board must allow the union to use the school provided mail boxes, but the union must reimburse the school for boxes' use at some reasonable rate.

Corporations have little to fear. Unions could sue to force private employers to allow the use of corproate resources to disseminate their own political message? But, since private entities are generally exempt from free speech rules, it is unlikely that such a suit would be successful

But when the largest and most rapidly growing union membership is in the public sector unions, could the California decision force taxpayers to subsidize, even minimally, the political activity of unions? This is the broader question that goes beyond the dispute in California.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Top Five

One of the things I thought about over the long Thanksgiving weekend was about my topic selection. I admit that sometimes I have difficulty staying on topic some days and I can be all over teh place in my thinking and writing. The consequence is that not all of my daily writing is particularly effective. There are so many things that are happening that interest me, but really I don't have time to comment on, but do want to draw attention to in my meager way.

To that end, I am going to institute what I, not to imaginatively will call, my Daily Top Five. These will be five posts of some length that I have read that day that I think are worthy of reading, whether because they are well written or deal with a topic that interests me, but I don't have a great deal of insight to offer.

So here is today's Daily Top Five

1. Tammy Bruce points out that the argument that illegals take jobs Americans won't do is a spurious argument at best. As evidence she points to a Georgia poulty plant that is hiring homeless people or those who have been out of work after it stopped hiriing illegals. So apparently if you open jobs up to Americans, they will take the work.

2. Robert Gates, the next Secretary of Defense has a long history of involvment in foreign policy. Michael Barone reviews Gates' memoir and asks the question, will Gates bring his understanding of the rapidly changing definition of American enemies to the Pentagon and can he be an effective SecDef for a lame duck President?

3. What is the link between the very quiet hurricane season and the rash of on-time flights over teh Thanksgiving weekend? Mary Katherine Ham will tell you: Climate change!!

4. In 1907 Congress passed the Tillman act, the first real campaign finance law, which prohibited corporate contributions to candidates for office. Bob Bauer asks three questions:
(1) How does this law measure up against its stated purpose—or any other purpose, unstated but worthy?
(2) Did it have other effects, untended, and how serious were they?
(3) If things did not go well, is there an alternative to salvaging what seems sensible and to discard the rest?
Bauer suggests and I agree that allowing corporations to make contributions, within limits and subject to disclosure, makes sense.

5. Edspresso points us to an op-ed by Cato's Andrew Coulson who argues that at least in Arizona, private schools are better managed financially, have a higher percentage of teachers on staff relative to the total staff and generally pay market rates for employees compared to public schools, which tend to distort the finances of education. While the better financial management is not surprising, Edspresso makes sure to keep the point of Coulson's op-ed in mind and not be distracted by the argument that private schools shortchange teachers:
However, I would point out that there are a number of intangibles to working in private schools that teachers may appreciate, such as being able to teach in a school of one's own faith or sidestep the public school bureaucracy. Besides, any hastiness to criticize private school pay rates could lead to a rather glaring oversight: that Arizona public schoolteachers are actually rather handsomely compensated relative to the overall labor market. (No, I won't go so far as to say teachers are overpaid, but Coulson's findings reflect rather badly on the perception that teachers are paid peanuts.)
I hope you find today's, the first top five, informative and interesting.

Let me know what you think.

Pelosi's Promises and Picks

Much has been made about Nancy Pelosi's picks for key slots, choices that tend to focus more on personal loyalty than even party loyalty. But in the wake of a promise to run the cleanest Congress in decades, one has to wonder about some of her picks.

Bryan Preston at Hot Air has more.

Thanksgiving Hiatus

Perhaps I should have mentioned it before, but to my few loyal readers out there, I decided to take a break from blogging during the Thanksgiving Holiday. While sitting the time out, I have begun working on some ideas to improve both my writing and my topic selection. While I am still developing those ideas, and hope to implement them in the next few weeks, allow me to wish all of you a belated Happy Thanksgiving.

A couple of things I am thankful for:

1. The women in my life, my Wife, and my daughters, Peanut and Houdini (not their real names).

2. My brother and brother in law and all their squad mates, fellow Marines and soldiers, my former shipmates, and everyone who has put on, currently wears, or will wear a military uniform. It takes a special kind of person to put their country first and there is no greater honor in my life.

3. The Founders, whose ideas about freedom, liberty and democracy have led to the greatest nation on Earth and without whom I wouldn't be able to post my modest little thoughts for everyone to read.

4. To all of you who read this blog. I know it may not be much, but I do hope that some of my thoughts lead others to think about some of the things I post about. While I hope I can offer a different perspective on somethings, I do really hope that you like what you read here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More Education Carnivals

Check out the Carnival of Homeschooling #47

Carnival of Education Open

Check it out this week at the Ed Wonks.

Sex Offenders, Residency Laws and Definitional Problems

The Washington Post is carrying a story on a Georgia law that bars sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school,playground, church or school bus stop. Sounds like a pretty good law, right? Well not so fast.

The impact would be that many counties in the state would be completely off limits to sex offenders as a place of residence. While that may not, in and of itself, seem like a bad thing, the definition of sex offender in Georgia is not confined to pedophiles or those convicted of statutory rape. Rather the law includes people
registered for sexual crimes, including men and women convicted of having underage consensual sex while in high school.

[snip]

Among those swept up under its definition of sex offender are a 26-year-old woman who was caught engaging in oral sex when she was in high school, and a mother of five who was convicted of being a party to a crime of statutory rape because, her indictment alleged, she did not do enough to stop her 15-year-old daughter's sexual activity.
So if two high school kids are caught having sex and charged with a sex crime, under this law not only are they not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, chruch or bus stop, apparently they would also be barred from attending their own high school.

While I don't think teenagers should be having sex, teenagers have done so in the past, are doing so right now as you read this, and will continue to have sex in the future. But I strongly object to labeling them a sex offender. And as for the woman who was convicted because she didn't stop her daughter's sexual activity, unless the woman was pimping her daughter out for sex, why is this a crime?

The definitional details of this law and the intent behind it,
"My intent personally is to make it so onerous on those that are convicted of these offenses . . . they will want to move to another state," Georgia House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R), who sponsored the bill, told reporters.
border on the violation of the rights of sex offenders in too extreme a fashion. While I don't want pedophiles living around my daughters any more than the next father, I also understand that there is a limit to what the state can do. Forcing sex predators to register is a step, that while the libertarian in me finds offensive if the criminal has served his/her sentence, the father in me finds reasonably acceptable. However, you cannot define sex offender so broadly and expect to have the law stand up to a challenge.

The Post story talks about the problem of having such exclusionary zones set up around schools and churches, specifically that offenders will register false addresses, forcing the sheriff's office to spend precious man-hours tracking down offenders.
Many police officers, prosecutors and children's advocates also question whether such measures are effective. Most predators are mobile, after all, and by upending their lives, the law may make them more likely to commit other offenses, critics say.

[snip]

In Iowa, which in 2002 became one of the first states to impose residency restrictions, police and prosecutors have united in opposition to the law, saying that it drives offenders underground and that there is "no demonstrated protective effect," according to a statement by the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which represents prosecutors.

"The law was well-intentioned, but we don't see any evidence of a connection between where a person lives and where they might offend," said Corwin R. Ritchie, executive director of the group.

Enforcing the law consumes lots of law enforcement time, he said, and leads some offenders to list interstate rest stops or Wal-Mart parking lots as their addresses.
Thus the problem with definitions in laws. An overly broad sex offender definition has lead to a vast waste of resources, dislocation of the very people the law is intended to monitor and now the butt of a legal joke nationwide. Is this really what Georgia intended?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Oregon Measure 47--Reviewing The Law--Findings

As I had noted yesterday, this year Oregon voters approved Measure 47, which among, other things, imposed limits on contributions to candidates, limited candidate self-funding and prohibits corporate contributions, all matters previously permitted by Oregon law. However, what voters failed to do was approve a measure that laid the groundwork for the full enactment of Measure 47. In a letter from the Secretary of State's office to the sponsors of Measure 47, the state said that Measure 47 would be codified but not enforced.
The plain text of Section (9)(f) requires that the entire measure is to be codified as part of the statutory law of Oregon. That text also specifies that "this Act"-referring singularly to the entire measure-will be ineffective until such time as "the Oregon Constitution is found to allow, or is amended to allow," limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures. Because Measure 46 was not approve by the people, the conditions required by Section (9)(f) for the rest of Measure 47 to become operative will not have been fulfilled on December 7, 2006. Accordingly, the effect of Section (9)(f) is that no part of the measure presently is enforceable. According to the plain, natural, and ordinary meaning of the words of Section (9)(f), all of Measure 47 will remain dormant until such time as "the Oregon Constitution is found to allow, or is amended to allow," limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures.
So this measure will sit on the books likely until the next election when supporters will attempt again to get Measure 46 passed in order to activate Measure 47. One of the benefits to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General coming to this interpretation is that they will probably avoid the need to defend the law until such time as it becomes enforceable law.

Over the course of a number of posts, I would like to take a look at some of the provisions of Measure 47. Although it will be current though unenforced law, Measure 47 is the latest major attempt in a state wide fashion to drastically alter the landscape of campaign finance and if the voters ever approve a descendant of Measure 46, this law will almost certainly be challenged and will almost certainly end upon the Supreme Court docket at some point.

The first section of the law is the Findings section. Without a doubt, this is one of the most extensive "parade of horribles" to be placed into campaign finance law. With twenty-five lettered sections and ten numbered subsections reformers can find all the hits of campaign finance reformers; the findings section takes on the appearance of corruption, the corrupting influence of corporate and unlimited individual contributions, features nasty names like Enron, discusses the "arms race" of campaign finance and the distortion of campaign "war chests" amassed by incumbents, and exalts the ever-present "money buys access and influence at the expense of the little guy" argument. Indeed if you want a quick and dirty list of all the arguments advanced by reformers, one only need look at Measure 47.

Given the outlook of the sponsors of Measure 47, some distortions are to be expected, but there is one matter that immediately leaps out to those who would know better but not the voters.
(m) Even if all other contributions were prohibited or limited, large contributions by candidates to their own campaigns would also have the adverse effects noted above, because it would allow candidates with personal wealth to overwhelm the efforts of other candidates and compel those candidates to become beholden to large contributors and special interests in order to compete. Statewide campaigns in Oregon governed by the federal contribution limits have been dominated by candidate personal wealth. In 1996, for example, the winning candidate for an Oregon seat in the U.S. Senate, Gordon Smith, spent over $2 million of his personal wealth, defeating Tom Bruggere, who spent $1 million of his personal wealth.
While this may seem to be an example of extreme personal spending, this activity would not, could not and will never be regulated by the state of Oregon. Smith and Bruggere were running for federal office and their financial activities are governed by federal law. But placing this "finding" into the law has the desired effect--making people afraid of large personal expenditures on a candidate's own effort to win election.

The writers and supporters of this measure should know better and if they do not, they should be admonished. Such a "finding" is not a distortion or a "framing" mistake, but an outright lie to the voters of Oregon.

But not all is negative about these findings. Personally, I like the idea behind finding (o):
Candidates should not be allowed to carry over campaign funds from one election cycle to another, because the accumulation of such "war chests" distorts and corrupts the election process by deterring other candidates from competing for public office and thereby unfairly entrenching incumbents in future elections. One example: In 2002, incumbent members of the Oregon Legislature entered their races with over $785,000 in funds carried over from previous campaigns. Every incumbent Senator running for re-election won, as did every incumbent member of the House of Representatives, except one who switched parties in 2001. Further, the carried over funds do not necessarily reflect the current views of the contributors on the merits of the candidates in the later race.
Later in the Measure, this activity of carrying over funds is prohibited. I have long thought the carrying over of funds, no matter what level of government we are discussing unfairly burdens the challengers of a sitting lawmaker. By forcing each and every candidate to start at the same place, i.e. zero, you can level the playing field somewhat. There is no way to effectively limit the incumbency advantage, but prohibiting the carry over of campaign funds from one election to the next will go a long way to making elections a little more competitive.

Finally, I want to examine finding (d):
Candidates engage in the money "arms race" due to their accurate perception that expenditures influence the outcome of elections. In contests for the Oregon Senate, the candidate spending the most money won 87% of the races in 2002 and 94% of the races in 2004. The two exceptions in 2002 and the only exception in 2004 were former legislators who still spent an average of $195,000 each. In contests for the Oregon House of Representatives, the candidate spending the most money won 92% of the races in 2002 and 90% of the races in 2004. The five exceptions in 2002, including two incumbents, spent an average of $167,000 each.
In much of the reporting on campaign finance, one of the most common measures of campaign spending is how much money is spent in a given race. We will aggregate together the amount of money raised or spent by all the candidates, the major party candidates or, unfortunately, an improper mix of the two, which ever leads to the most dramatic results.

However, this reporting skews the viewpoint of campaign expenditures rather badly. For example, candidate expenditures cover all sorts of activity that has little to do with voter contact, such as rent for office space, payroll taxes for paid staff, salaries, office equipment rental, etc. But even assuming that you make the case that these expenses are for voter persuasion, the measure of spending by a candidate is a poor measure indeed.

A far better measure would be to examine the amount of money spent per citizen in the district or per voter, or even per vote obtained. Even without looking much beyond the numbers cited in Finding (d), the amount spent per citizen is not all that much. According to the Oregon Legislature's website, each of the state's 60 representatives serves a constituency of about 57,000 citizens. This means that for that average of $167,000, the candidates spent about just $2.92 per citizen. If you assume that voter turnout in the 2006 election is indicative of the turnout in 2002, the average voting population in contested races is an estimate 20,500 voters or so, which is a pretty healthy 36 percent turnout. On that basis, the candidates spent about $8.15 per voter.

For comparison purposes, Darlene Hooley the U.S. Representative from the 5th District of Oregon, according to her pre-general election report, spent $1.57 million on her campaign, an average of $5.79 per voter in her district, that is prior to the final three weeks of campaign spending which won't be known for a couple more weeks.

So what is troubling about finding (d) is not the data the it provides but rather the lack of context for the data it provides. The method of simply providing an average total of expenditures simply fails to show how much is being spent per voter, which is many cases might be less than a trip to the movies per voter.

When viewed through those terms, spending

Monday, November 20, 2006

Oregon Campaign Finance Ballot Measures

The state of Oregon had two campaign finance related measures on the ballot two weeks ago, Measures 46 and 47. Measure 46 is a simple and short ballot initiative, the text of which reads:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the people through the initiative process, or the Legislative Assembly by a three-fourths vote of both Houses, may enact and amend laws to prohibit or limit contributions and exependitures, of any type or description, to influence the outcome of any election.
By contrast, Measure 47 is much longer and more complicated, and includes a large number of provisions and findings along with the now ever present severability clause. Here is the fun part, for many parts of Measure 47 to take effect, Measure 46 had to pass. Measure 46 failed and Measure 47 passed. For me there are a couple of interesting points about these measures and their future.

Where "reform" supporters have been successful in tying money in politics to corruption and thereby winning passage of laws and intiatives, when the issue is couched in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, they will tend to fail. One thing that I think is important to note is that opponents of Measure 46, who were generally the same as the opponents of Measure 47, were able to accurately portray changes in campaign finance law as impacting speech. Whether you subscribe to the theory that campaign contributions are a form of speech or not, successful framing played a significant role in the defeat of Measure 46.

But there also remains some questions about Measure 47. First, I question the wisdom of enacting such complex legislation through the intiative process. Of course, proponents of this measure will argue that the legislature has too much of a conflict to enact such legislation since it goes against their electoral advantage. But to counter such an argument, I offer McCain-Feingold.

Second, I think that measures as complicated as this lend themselves to passage far easier than simple measures like Ballot Measure 46. I have to empirical evidence to back up my hunch that longer ballot measures pass more frequently, but it just seems to me that the more the supporters pack into the bill, the more likely they are going to get more people to support parts of the bill, if not the whole thing. Of course, this is the rationale behind the "one subject rule" but it seems to me that this very long piece of legislation violates that one subject by dealing not simply with contribution limits, but candidate self-funding limits, corporate involvement and other matters within campaign finance. So apparently, the one issue rule is somewhat suspect in this case.

Third, and finally, I am pretty sure that the vast majority of Oregon voters did not read this massive bill, which runs to some 8,200 words, even with the vote by mail the state has in place. What is the point in direct democracy if the voters don't read what is at issue.

Now for the good news and bad news. The good news is that because Measure 46 failed, Measure 47 cannot be enacted. According to this letter from the Secretary of State's office, some language in Measure 47 prohibits the enactment because the necessary precondition of permission to amend the Oregon Constitution is not present for enforcement to take place.

The bad news is that Measure 47 is codified but not enforced until such time as the Constitution is amended. So the battle is moved to take on Measure 46 again in a new form, with the emphasis on changing the language to allow a dormant Measure 47 to become active.

More to come later.

CA Charter Schools Expanding Outreach

This from a press release sent to me:
California’s charter public schools today launched the "My School!" public awareness campaign to mobilize parents statewide to find, support and expand access to charter schools. The campaign aims to double the number of parents statewide who can choose charter schools for their children. The California Charter Schools Association kicked off the campaign with the launch of www.myschool.org, an interactive Web site that includes a map of California to help parents find a charter school near them.

The "My School!" campaign, designed to reach more than 300,000 new parents, will help inform parents about their right to choose the best public school for their child. The campaign will also assist parents, teachers and local community groups in starting new high-quality charter schools and will provide additional support to strengthen existing charter schools.

In a survey of California voters commissioned last year by the Association, 78 percent of the voting public said that giving parents the ability to choose the best public school for their child would help improve the overall public school system.
Having just quickly perused the website, it seems full of pretty good information, including information on how to start a charter school.

However, aside from a Call to Action center, there is little quick information on how to influence school boards, policymakers and chartering authorities. This is a specific problem of many grassroots efforts.

Changing policymakers' minds is not an easy task, particularly when those policymakers are wedded to a particular point of view. Having information on how, when and where policymakers can be influenced is an important part of any grassroots campaign. Such efforts must be clearly outlined and understood.

But aside from that little annoying, but all too common, feature, any effort that increases knowledge about charter schools is always a good thing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Education Spending

Edspresso presents a great piece about education spending by Linda Gorman. The most common solution offered by politicians and teachers unions about education achievement, or rather the lack thereof, is to spend more money. Throwing money at the problem rarely solves anything because money is a band-aid rather than a treatment of the problem's root causes. Gorman discusses a great example of wrong-headed education spending:
In exchange for a "Performance Promise," voters approved a $20 million bond issue for Jefferson County (Colorado) Public Schools to be used on projects that, according to the District’s web site, "have been proven to increase student achievement - smaller classes, classroom coaches, staff development, extended learning and individualized attention."
Gorman goes on to describe the foundations of the bond issue and then turns to what actually does increase student achievement (and it is not money-at least not directly):
Teacher quality, not class size, is what school districts should improve. Especially teacher quality defined in terms of increases in student performance, rather than by years of teacher education or experience. In one large city school district, good teachers have raised student performance by 1½ grade equivalents in a single academic year. (Bad teachers got only ½ of a grade equivalent.) At this performance level, 5 excellent teachers in a row would erase the standard performance level difference between children from high and low-income families: excellence in teaching can overcome less fortunate family circumstances.

Jefferson County Public School officials would say that the Performance Promise addressed teacher quality by funding staff development. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the kind of training endorsed by Schools of Education, public school districts, and teachers’ unions, does anything to improve student achievement. According to the Jefferson County Public Schools web site, staff development courses include such gems as "Making Sense of Algebra, Grades K-2" and "Gender Equity in the Mathematics Classroom 4-8." Given that second graders ought to be mastering their multiplication tables, and that gender studies have never helped anyone master fractions or decimal equivalents, Jeffco money would be better spent on bonuses to teachers with high verbal abilities and deep knowledge of the academic subject they teach. These attributes, not certification, master’s degrees, or continuing education in education, best predict individual teacher productivity. The best predictors of teacher productivity are good communication skills and strong subject matter knowledge.
I must admit, that this is the first time I have seen mention of communication skills as a predictor of teacher productivity, I suppose because I have always assumed that such skills would be a basic cornerstone of teaching. But it does make me wonder, with all of those touchy feely staff development courses, are there any courses on improving communication skills.

Let me give an example from my own profession, law. When a new attorney joins a firm of any size, one of the many things that young attorney must shoehorn into their limited free time is professional development courses. Without exception, those courses focus on, surprise, surprise, communication skills (particularly writing) and subject matter knowledge.

Now I am fairly sure that Gorman choose the two courses noted above for their shock value, but I would not be surprised if the courses were not unusually extreme examples of the somewhat useless professional development teachers must endure. More than one blogging teacher has expressed frustration at the irrelevance of many of the staff development projects.

So if the predictors of teacher quality and productivity are subject matter knowledge and communication skills, why are not the staff development courses required by the school system and paid for by the taxpayers not focused on those two areas? The answer I fear lies with some not particularly solid education research.

This is symptomatic of a much larger issue in education spending, a lack of understanding of what is smart and effective spending and what is not. While the Jefferson County initiative was premised on a good idea, a performance promise for more money to be spent on education, the programs to increase achievement ignored what really works. Again, instead of measuring what is effective, Jefferson County school leaders implemented what was "popular" or "politically correct" or even politically expedient.

Unfortuneately, the voters of Jefferson County can't get a refund on the bond and now face reduced education spending because the performance promise was not kept--again.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mel Martinez v. Michael Steele

Wizbang has a defense of Mel Martinez for RNC Chair.
Michael Steele is certainly the more charismatic of the two men, although Martinez is no slouch. But why would Steele be a preferred choice for the RNC? The same people who argue for new conservative leadership in the House wanted Steele, who is no more a "movement conservative" than Arlen Spector. Steele's campaign for Senate was based on his independence from the President and the Republican Washington establishment - and NOT by being more conservative than Bush. Oh, he did take a hard line on immigration, so perhaps that draws in the single-issue conservatives. But J.C. Watts, he ain't.

snip

Martinez, on the other hand, has been loyal to the party and to the President. Unlike Steele, he can attract Hispanic voters, with whom we had made strong advances until this year, because they are receptive to hearing both sides. He has a far more "compelling story" than media darling Barack Obama - the son of two college professors in Hawaii. Mel's parents risked their lives and abandoned everything they owned to flee Castro's Cuba - just the sort of society Democrats envision for America.

snip

In a rational world, both blacks and Hispanics should support Republicans. Both groups are more conservative on many issues than whites, in fact - including abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty, strong national defense, support for the military, and tax cuts. That's close to the whole nine yards of our agenda! But blacks, because of lingering suspicion and resentment over civil rights bills from the '60s (not, we must concede, always completely unjustified), will not consider Republican candidates in significant numbers. Hispanics will. You have to appeal to the people who will listen to you.(emphasis added)
Fine, I will admit that Michael Steele is not a "movement conservative" but he is more conservative than Arlen Specter. No, Steele is not J.C. Watts nor should he be. But what Steele brings to the table is much stronger than Martinez.

First, and this admittedly is obvious, Steele can bring his entire, day to day focus on helping the RNC. Martinez has a job and if he wants to have an impact on electoral politics outside of Florida, let him run for chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and win back a majority in that body. Only a sitting Senator not up in the next election can have that seat and that is Martinez, since only 28 Senators are eligible.

Second, Steele has run a political party, albeit in Maryland where the GOP is weaker, but the GOP is a minority party in Congress and in many more states than we were six weeks ago. Steele is hungry to expand the party, not simply do what was done in the past. You expand the party, not by being wedded to "movement conservatives" but by appealing to the common conservative instincts present in most Americans, that of smaller government, personal liberty and responsiblity, and fiscal discipline. Michael Steele believes in these ideas and believes that America can do better with these ideas. That is not to say Martinez does not believe in these things, but Martinez is not movement conservative either.

Third, throwing your weight behind a strategy to "appeal to the people who will listen to you" means that you miss opportunities to talk to people who normally would be disposed not to listen to you. A good politician and leader can sway people to follow them, to come to a party with ideas that match their own. Steele can do this, and be more effective I think than Martinez. We must regrow the party, not simply appease a base. Long term success means party building, not simply winning the next election. Talking to everyone is important, even when the audience is hostile, because you may convince just one person and that can mean all the difference in the world.

Having said all this, I don't like to think that picking Steele or Martinez is being done because of their race. I know society is not color-blind, I am not stupid. But so long as we as Americans continue to define our minority leaders by race, we cannot begin to appeal to minorities for they will always look at our efforts with a rightful suspicion that they are being manipulated. Put a good, effective leader, of what ever race in front of them and people will respond, regardless of their race.

Maryland Politics

Although I tried my best to cover the Maryland Senate race, I have found that Maryland Politics in general is about to get a lot more interesting, at least if your are a conservative interested in what is being done in a state with a Veto-Proof Democratically controlled state legislature, with a Democratic governor headed to Annapolis and a GOP in tatters in the state house.

One thing is for sure to happen, a lot of really dumb ideas are about to come out of Annapolis in the next legislative session. First, I am sure that taxes are going to go up. In a state that is already one of the most taxed jurisdictions in the country, this just seems ludicrous. Second, I am sure more nanny-statism is about to come down the pike, just what we need in a state that is already knee deep in nanny statism.

I am hoping that the few remaining Repulicans in the legislature will get their head on straight and start attacking problems and stupidity with ideas.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Barack Obama and Michael Steele Have In Common Besides Race

For the past three months or so, hardly a political newscast goes by the doesn't talk about either the disintegration of the GOP or the emergence of Barack Obama, the young Illinois Senator who seems to be just shy of annointed as a "new black leader." While I have to admire Obama's PR team, I have begun to wonder why such a man has been viewed as the savior of the Democratic party and why he allows it.

Obama has been hailed as a "rock star" for the Democrats but he is still a freshman Senator from Illinois. As Ben Shapiro writes, Obama's main appeal is that he "understands" us. But
[w]ho is Barack Obama? He is a cipher running as a shaman. He has been in the Senate for two years. He has virtually no voting record; he has virtually no articulated positions. Ask his advocates, and they will describe him as "a breath of fresh air" -- but ask them about a single position he holds, and they will stare at you as though you are speaking in tongues. They will tell you, however, that Obama "understands" every position you hold. Clinton ran as "The Man from Hope." Obama runs as "The Man Who Understands ." As Obama puts it in his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," "It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the Golden Rule -- not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes."
Michael Steele is also being viewed by many in the GOP as a "rock star" on the rise, despite his being on the receiving end of a White House sandbagging regarding the RNC Chairmanship. Steele's presence on teh ballot in Maryland and widely acclaimed campaign for the Senate has vaulted him to the top of the pyramid among Conservatives. But there is also a constant focus on Steele's race. Like Obama, Steele is always labled as a "black republican" despite the fact that such things are not uncommon today, see Ken Blackwell and Lynn Swann, among others.

What is significant about both men is not their positions or partisan affiliation, but the fact that every time they are mentioned, they are noted as black. Of course, neither of them had any say in their genetics, but both have failed to put an end to the constant portrayal as black first and politicians second.

At a time when both men are acutely aware of the role of race in our society, neither have taken the time to correct the media. Obama is almost always referred to as the black Senator from Illinois, or a new black Democratic leader. Likewise, Steele cannot duck the black Republican label, nor does it appear as though he as made a signficant effort to do so. These men are among the top leaders in their party, rightly or wrongly, and yet both have allowed their respective parties to put their race first.

For this reason alone, both men do a disservice to America as a whole, by allowing, if not activly perpetuating, the concept that their race matters more then their politics. I don't agree with much of Obama's political positions, at least those that I know of. Similarly, I have much to agree with among Steele's position. But until they make sure the media, their PR teams, their supporters and detractors begin to think of them as a Democrat or a Republican first, they will not be seen as more than a symbol of what their parties are attempting to achieve among black voters.

Race matters in this country because we allow it to matter in a way that is detrimental to our country. When leaders like Obama and Steele allow others to use their race to define them, they allow race to matter and you can't move beyond race until you move beyond the belief that one's genetics define who they are.

Th Ethically Challenged Democratic Leadership

Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi's choice for Majority Leader, Jack Murtha, has as many if not more, ethical shadiness as Tom DeLay. Michelle Malkin has commentary and Abscam video of Jack Murtha trying to make a deal with bribery.

At teh same time, tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff points to between 6 and 8 "seriously corrupt" Democratic Senators. Of course, Democrats may have been hoping that Abramoff would go away or taint only the GOP when the Republicans were in power, but it turns out that Abramoff "helped" the Dems as much as the Republicans.

Cleaning up the "culture of corruption" is going to be hard when the picks for leadership look like they have been corrupted in the same way in which the Dems painted the GOP as corrupt.

DeLay may have broken the law. Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney apparently did or they would not have plead guilty. But it is difficult to be an agent of ethical change when the leaders being appointed are a part of the culture. Murtha is caught on tape dealing for a bribe. Why then is Pelosi backing this guy?

Captain Ed points to the past and notes that the Democrats are not better at ethics, just lucky so far.

Of course, ethical challenges are nothing new in Washington and sometimes the "ethically challenged" paintbrush gets slung about is a sloppy fashion. There is a far cry from taking lots of special interest PAC money (which is completely legal and overly regulated) and discussing the terms under which you will take a bribe. I am generally not in favor of using "ethics" as a partisan tool since, as we can see, it cuts both ways. However, in this case, what was good for the GOP goose must also apply to the Democratic gander.

Carnival of Education Open

Check it out over here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Are Gifted Students Legally Disabled?

America's public schools work a bell curve, and the educational delivery system is one in which the large majority of the population is served, that is the bulge of the curve. The average student gets, usually, an average education. (The implications of this are not really the subjection of this post, but are worthy of discussion). Of course, focusing on the bulge means that students on either end don't get the attention and focus they need. For the average student, we can determine that the modern public education system is at least adequate.

But the true test of a school or school system's merit lies not with the students at the bulge of the curve but in how it deals with the students on either end of the bell curve; those with learning disabilities or other "negative issues" and those students who are academically gifted. To be sure, we as a nation have made significant strides in helping those students who are academically challenged through disability to get an adequate education. But what have we done with those on the upper end of the curve? Far too little I am afraid.

Which brings us to this interesting story via May It Please The Court? and Blawg Review and outlines a real, but largely unrealized problem with public education.

It seems that a 13 year old prodigy and his mother are suing the state to provide tuition payments to UCLA since the single mother can't afford it. The basis of the suit is the fact that California law requires that all students under age 16 attend school with limited exceptions. Furthermore California Education Code Section 56000-56001 holds that
all individuals with exceptional needs have a right to participate in free appropriate public education and special educational instruction and services for these persons are needed in order to ensure the right to an appropriate educational opportunity to meet their unique needs.
Now, reading further along in the code, it is seems apparent that the California Legislature intended for this section to apply to "special needs" kids, those with low-incidence disabilities that may inhibit their ability to learn in a normal classroom environment. This apparent intent served as the basis for the court ruling in the case of Levi v. O'Connell(pdf document).

The court ruled that the state is not required to pay for the tuition of Levi's extraordinarily gifted son at UCLA. Levi claims that under the California Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, she and her son are entitled to have the California Department of Education pay for tuition at UCLA or face violation of the Compulsory Education law. (Opinion at page 5). The legal question turned on whether colleges are considered part of the Public School System which the state must support, meaning pay the bills. The Court found through prior precedent that colleges are not a part of the school system are guaranteed as free to students. (Opinion at 9-10).

While it seems that an appeal will be forthcoming on the question of whether being gifted is a disability, the appeal will almost surely fail, as outlined in the court's opinion that being gifted is not within the definition of disability as outlined by IDEA and California law. So the court challenge is likely to fail, but the question is raised. What is the state's duty with respect to educating gifted and truly extraordinarily gifted students?

For the most part, I believe most public schools can provide some services for most gifted students, just as they provide services for most learning disabiled students. But while services for even the most severly disabled students are provided, what services are provided for exceptionally gifted students. While many gifted students may fall into a category of students requiring an individualized education plan, what if that plan calls for educational services that cannot be provided by the K-12 system, as is the case with this California student. What if the child, in order to have an adequate education, needs upper level mathematics or science instruction? What happens when upper level high school courses don't go far enough? It would seem that collegiate activity is possible and even necessary, but who should foot the bill? College is not free although farsighted colleges may waive fees for "celebrity" students.

Unfortunately, education in America is not without resource limitations and clearly those students at the top of the academic ability bell curve would be the ones to naturally get the short shrift because it may be thought that they can learn the material without much effort by the system. But what does that say about our appreciation for their gifts? Is that not shortchanging their educational experience out of expedience?

I have no answers for these questions, although it is a question that needs answers. Just as not every child will play professional basketball, not every child will win the Nobel Prize. But some kids do each of these things and we should be advancing the education of those exceptionaly children who may one day win the Nobel Prize, just as we provide outlets for exception athletes.

What an Amazing Idea!!

The GOP lost, but they still have teh ability to influence the operations of the House, like taking this idea from Rich Galen (via Instapundit):
Assume the GOP ends up with 203-or so-seats when all the recounts are over. And say all 203 of those Republican Members of the House were to tell Steny Hoyer that they feel his pain over the Pelosi/Murtha thing and they have decided to vote for him for Speaker.

If Hoyer went into the election for Speaker with 203 GOP votes, he would only need to find 15 Democrats who don't like or trust Pelosi (not exactly a stretch) to get to the magic number of 218 - an absolute majority of the 435 Members - and Mrs. Pelosi would be a very important member of the House Appropriations Committee. Period.

Republicans could look the Popular Press squarely in the eye and say: "What higher level of bipartisanship can there be than crossing over the aisle to vote for the other party?"
Of course, it won't happen, but if you are looking for a more moderate Dem to run the House, Hoyer would be a good choice, but his moderation would probably not benefit the GOP in teh long run, but it certainly would be a massive flexing of the minority strength to play a huge part in denying Pelosi the Speaker's Gavel.

Something Fun for Political Junkies

Fantasy Congress is just like Fantasy Football or baseball, but it is all about Congress and legislation. I haven't decided if I am going to do it or not, but it looks like fun.

Monday, November 13, 2006

On the Other, Dems Also Looking to Self-Implode

While I am generally not in favor of doing things simply because of party loyalty, it seems the the Democrats are going to do something particularly stupid when it comes to leadership elections also, so stupidity is a non-partisan trait.

Just days after helping her win the House, Speaker to Be Nancy Pelosi is dumping Rep. Steny Hoyer as her guy for Majority Leader. I think the Influence Peddler has it right:
Let's take a look at the balance sheet. Hoyer has good relations with corporate donors and can raise money. He has legitimacy with the 'Blue Dogs' and the 'New Dems.' He has been a good soldier for Pelosi, and has made it clear in many venues that he has no intention of challenging her for leadership.
Pelosi is backing Rep. John Murtha.

Some people might look at Pelosi's support for Murtha as a reward for headlining an issue that helped the Dems win the majority. But I tend to look at it in terms of completely dimissing a person who worked very hard to help win the majority back, for the entire 12 years in which the Dems were in teh minority. Murtha is a kind of "Johnny come lately" to the leadership scene.

So, in what could be the first, most important step Pelosi can make as Speaker, she is going to ignore the efforts that Hoyer has made on their party's behalf, and at the same time, put into motion the machinery that could be her undoing. A deeat for Hoyer in the leadership races will all but assure that Hoyer, who is certainly more palatable to the country as a whole, will run against her in the next Speaker's challenge, assuming that the Dems keep control of the House.

Repubicans on the Verge of Self-Destruction

Bob Novak has the story of a possible GOP self-destruction when it comes to leadership races.
The depleted House Republican caucus, a minority in the next Congress, convenes at 8 a.m. in the Capitol Friday on the brink of committing an act of supreme irrationality. The House members blame their leadership for tasting the bitter dregs of defeat. Yet, the consensus so far is that, in secret ballot, they will re-elect some or all of those leaders.

In private conversation, Republican members of Congress blame Majority Leader John Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt in no small part for their midterm election debacle. Yet, either Boehner, Blunt or both are expected to be returned to their leadership posts Friday. For good reason, the GOP often is called "the stupid party."
Now, as I have said before, I don't think it is fair to blame John Boehner for the losses last week, but Boehner is a member of the original GOP revolution in 1994 and it is time to pass the torch.

What is troubling though is not that Boehner will run or even win the leadership election, but that some viable candidates for leadership posts aren't stepping up to the plate. Boehner, being challenged by Rep. Mike Pence and Blunt, being challenged by Rep. John Shadegg, both seem favored to win.

Given that some dramatic change is necessary in order for the GOP to reassert its dominance in American political life, keeping both Boehner and Blunt would represent a lack of understanding of what happened on Tuesday. The House Republican apparently think they lost because of the war in Iraq. While the war may have been a compelling reason for the loss, it is not the only reason, and deluding themselves into thinking they lost because of the President will not win victory in 2008.

I don't know if Pence and Shadegg can lead the House GOP out of the wilderness of the minority, but I am sure that Blunt cannot. The problem with Blunt in particular was
demonstrated last Thursday when Blunt went to the Heritage Foundation to campaign for his retention as whip. He delivered a defense of earmarking, echoing the House appropriators' claim that the elimination of earmarks would do "nothing but shift funding decisions from one side of Pennsylvania Ave. to the other."

That is the view that led Republicans to earmark a "bridge to nowhere" and hundreds of other projects in competitive districts, hoping it would save them on Election Day.
I think that the Republican base was disgusted with the spending excesses of the former leadership and selecting a new one will signal a change that may energize the base once again around basic Republican principles, that of a smaller government and conservative ideas.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Amazing Analysis

While there are some parts of this analysis by Martin Knight over at RedState that I disagree with, I think it is brilliantly argued analysis. Furthermore, his recommendations are great!!
The main issue is for us to consider where to go from here on in. I see these major areas in which we have to concentrate on and improve:

[1] We need a return to first principles: Reaganism all the way. And while getting back in touch with our fiscal conservatism, let us not listen to those urging us to commit political suicide by throwing aside social conservatives who, contrary to popular belief are not all religious, or even interested in establishing a "theocracy" in the United States. One can be opposed to gay marriage and not be an adherrent of any religion. One can be pro-life without actually believing in God and one can be opposed to embryonic stem cell research without it being a directive from his Mosque, Church or Synagogue. And besides, why exactly is it considered unacceptable for someone to allow his or her religion inform his choice on who or what to vote for? Note that Democrats for all elected offices around the country since 2002 have loudly proclaimed their belief in God and campaigned in Churches perhaps even more so than Republicans e.g. Harold Ford.

[2] We need better leadership: We need to clean up our image; I hereby nominate Mike Pence/Marsha Blackburn for House Minority Leader, John Shadegg/Marsha Blackburn for House Minority Whip and Bobby Jindal/Jeb Hensarling for House Republican Conference chairman. I also nominate for your consideration Mitch McConnell as Senate Minority Leader (let us just hope his spine does not spaghettize - please Lord no more of this "Senate Collegiality" BS), John Cornyn/Jon Kyl as Whip works for me and John Sununu/Jeff Sessions would serve as Senate Republican Conference Chairman. I concur with the Directors and I enthuthiastically support Michael Steele for RNC Chairman. I doubt there's a better salesman for the GOP than Michael Steele today.

[3] We need better recruitment: This where Redstate.com as a Republican political entity can come in handy. In fact, this is where the entire Dextrosphere can have the influence over our party that the Kossacks and DUers have. We should play a big part in identifying and nominating candidates for races across the country. I believe this website should emulate FreeRepublic in one way and have sub-sites for each state i.e. md.redstate.com, ia.redstate.com, nh.redstate.com, etc. and a nominations sub-site where Redstaters can submit the names of local politicians, Republican activists or just plain good people who they think can run for any race, whether local, state or Federal and win it for the GOP. Our search should start now.

[4] We need a major image overhaul: This is where someone like Michael Steele as Republican National Committee Chairman comes in handy. He ran a magnificent and nearly flawless campaign. Unfortunately he was saddled with a party that has lost its way on the national stage, a President of his party that refuses to stand up for himself, in a year when the GOP forgot how to be a political party and allowed itself to be tainted in the eyes of the American public. And yet Michael Steele was able to garner 45% of the vote in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1 and the President is as close to hated as it could get. If that is not impressive enough, he was delightfully creative and smart enough to wipe the floor with somebody who has been in politics for three times more years than him. We need to connect with African Americans and Hispanics. We need to have somebody who can make us look good and from his campaign Michael Steele understands that and knows to win good will.

[5] We need to remember how to play this game: The Press may have been carrying the Democrats' water and we may have been blindsided by Foley and maybe this was just the mid-term where the President's party suffers. But that doesn't change the fact that we lost to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean and Arthur Sulzberger. Enough said.
One thing that Marint forgets though is the role that the NRCC and NRSC play in electoral politics. In 2008, the Dems have to defend just 12 seats in the Senate and the GOP 21. We must do a better job getting someone to head the NRSC in teh next cycle. NRSC rule prohibit Senator up for an election in the current cycle from sitting as the chair of the NRSC. That leaves Senators who were re-elected or elected in 06 and those up in 2010 as the possibilities. From the class of 2006, here are the options:

Bob Corker (TN)
John Ensign (NV)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
Jon Kyl (AZ)
Trent Lott (MS)
Richard Lugar (IN)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Craig Thomas (WY)

On this list, I would only think about Ensign and Lott and really Lott is the only choice from this list.

Of the Senators up in 2010, the list is:

Bob Bennett (UT)
Kit Bond (MO)
San Brownback (KS)
Jim Bunning (KY)
Richard Burr (NC)
Tom Coburn (OK)
Mike Crapo (ID)
Jim DeMint (SC)
Chuck Grassley (IA)
Judd Gregg (NH)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Mel Martinez (FL)
John McCain (AZ)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Richard Shelby (AL)
Arlen Specter (PA)
John Thune (SD)
David Vitter (LA)
George Voinovich (OH)

Again, not what I would call a super stellar list of options. In this group, I would choose Bond, Martinez, or Vitter. McCain won't do it since he has presidential aspirations and none of the other strike me as solid enough campaigners to get the work done.

In the House, for NRCC chair, Eric Cantor (VA) is my choice with maybe Jeff Flake (AZ) a second choice. Both men are proven fundraisers, are young, charasmatic, solid conservatives who have not been in Congress long and could make a real difference in candidate recruitment, fundraising and tactical decisions.

While we are thinking about legislative leaders, we cannot forget about the electoral leaders either.

Educational Politics Starting Points

In the wake of the election and the opportunity afforded by upcoming legislative sessions, I posted these thoughts earlier, about a very different direction for American education. Many of the ideas that were mentioned have been percolating in my head for weeks, if not months. The item that really started to crystallize my thoughts was this piece by Eugene Hickok, in which he wrote:
A new vision of education in America should embrace the principles on which America is supposed to be based: freedom, equality, opportunity, responsibility and ownership. The status quo lacks freedom, and the fa├žade of equality has allowed an achievement gap to haunt the nation. Millions are denied a real opportunity. Newly minted accountability systems have school administrators gagging and leave too many parents confused, resulting in too many failing to take responsibility for the future of our children.

As for ownership, our public schools have become institutions of government, serving bureaucracies rather than the public. It's as though the system owns us rather than we owning the system.

Imagine what education in America could look like with these new principles in place. With freedom, families could decide how best to educate their children. Equality would be measured in terms of the education children receive and each student's achievement, rather than merely in dollars spent per student. Responsibility would begin at home; parents would have the power to determine whether their children are receiving a quality education. This more robust notion of accountability would enable people to determine how much their investment yields in terms of a child's education.

Gradually, families might begin to take back ownership of their children's education. Ownership is essential, giving a sense of authority that could drive ongoing improvement in education. The relationship of family, child and education is direct and tangible, rather than distorted by the demands of a system.
My ideas, particularly as they relate to matters like an absolute right for parents to choose the school their children will attend (based in part on the New Zealand model) are somewhat radical when compared to current practices. But if we are truly looking to build a school system and educational environment for our children, we have to stop mucking around on the edges and find a way to make real advances.

If the principle behind No Child Left Behind is accountability, why, as Hickok asks, are we attempting to graft a very different form of accountability onto a system that traditionally has had none?

That question really is the foundational point of my argument for some radical ideas in education. I believe that the curricula that have been developed are adequate, sometimes they are watered down, but curricula can be made more stringent in a much easier fashion than altering the operation structure of a school system. By shaking up the foundational assumptions of how schools are built and run, we can shake up the educational bureaucracy.

Of course, those who will be reading my ideas will probably think that I have some utopian view of the politics of education. On the contrary, most of the ideas that I espouse I know will encounter massive resistance from entrenched interests. But the current failures of American schools to serve the poor, the minority and those who are otherwised disadvantaged have not escaped the electorate and certain groups of voters are seeking an accounting and will force one upon us if we are not improving our schools.

For decades, American policy makers have listened to all sorts of people about how to improve education, from the ivory tower academics whose own children attended private school, to the conflicted teachers unions, to demogogues and fear-mongerers. It is time to fall back on basic American principles; "freedom, equality, opportunity, responsibility and ownership." It is these traits that made America great and it is these traits that will make American education great.

What's Next for Michael Steele?

The Washington Times has an article suggesting that in Ken Mehlman's depature, the RNC has the opportunity to have Michael Steele head the national party. In the same article, Steele is mentioned for a Cabinet post, particularly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. If offered Steele should take the RNC position for a number of reasons, but he should remain careful.

First, HUD Secretary is normally a political wasteland and even more so in a lame duck Cabinet with little chance of making an impact in the remaining two years of the Bush Administration with a Democratic Congress. HUD would do little to advance Mr. Steele's stature.

Second, housing is not a Steele issue. Theoretically, Urban Development may play to Steele's interest in opportunities for advancing minority achievement, but not likely. Steele generally has advocated private and personal development and HUD is a large government agency with large government programs. Large government programs are not what Steele has espoused both personally and politically. These are just not Steele's forte and while I am sure he could do a fine job, it is not in keeping with his general interests and values.

Third, Steele has run a state party and thus has experience in running political parties, having been the head of the Maryland Republican Party prior to his election as Lt. Governor. Granted, the GOP took a drubbing in Maryland this year, but that is not Steele's fault nor his responsibility. He ran a strong campaign, with some innovative use of advertising and personal appeals. Such differences in thinking while remaining true to conservative doctrine are exactly what is needed at this time and I think in the lead up to the 2008 election some innovation will be needed.

Fourth, while everyone is focusing on Steele as a black Republican with the possibility of reaching out to minority voters, that is not his only attribute and cannot taint the other attributes he brings to the table. As RNC chair he would have to head a massive fundraising operation in light of the 2008 presidential and congressional races pending. He is proven fundraiser. Steele is an articulate speaker, personable and engaging. As RNC Chair, he would bring a certain amount of personal appeal that Mehlman, despite his skill, lacks. While Mehlman was a good tactician, Steele can hire tactical skill, it takes leadership to run an organziation like the RNC.

Captain Ed agrees:
With all due respect to the White House, both Steele and the Republicans would be better served with Steele at the helm of the RNC. He instantly gives more credibility to Republican outreach efforts to minority communities, a key goal after years of writing them off as lost causes. He brings experience, as he has served as Maryland's Republican chair in the past, and after the midterms, the RNC needs someone with some seasoning from the trenches. He would have a much higher national profile at the RNC than he would stuck in the DC bureaucracy, perhaps even positioning him for a governorship or a Presidential run farther down the road.
. Others are likewise effusive with their praise

There are some potential drawbacks. On a number of social issues, Steele could charitably be called a moderate others may call him a liberal. It is not like Steele supports abortion or gay marriage (in fact he is adamantly opposed to both), but he is not opposed to affirmative action on most scores and there are probably some others as well. A Steele appointment may not be the conservative rallying cry that the GOP needs. One of Captain Ed's commenters noted that Rick Santorum would be a good choice for the GOP.

While I admire Sen. Santorum and his firebrand approach to some issues, what is needed is some practical experience in party operations and Steele has that. I think that Steele is a great choice.