Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Daily Top Five: January 31, 2007.

1. Blogging can help education? Maybe and maybe not. I can see a blog being a useful tool for writing and critique in a group atmosphere. However, the student writers would have to be cautioned to treat their blog posts like any other paper they would submit, i.e. properly documented, with standard English spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation. There would also need to be guidelines for comments by fellow students.

Like all technology, there needs to be a fundamental purpose behind the use, a purpose grounded in solid curricula and graded for score.

Another purpose of a blog could be using the blog as a supplementary text, with links relevant new writing on a subject matter.

Of course, for those students lacking a computer, neither application will work.

Hat Tip: Carnival of Education

2. What is the value of a letter of recommendation for a college application. In large part, none and here is why. The Travelin' Man, who reviews college applications for a living, at least in part, writes:
I get asked all the time how many letters of recommendation should accompany the application. People give me a baffled look when I give them my standard answer. I usually tell people that they only need one - but, one good one, which they are not likely to get. I go on to explain that sending me five letters that all say pretty much the same thing - how wonderful the student is - "she plays six varsity sports;" "he is working on curing cystic fibrosis;" "when he farts, it smells like roses!" - are not helpful. I would trade five letters filled with unabashed praise for one clear and concise assessment of a student's strengths AND weaknesses.
While a letter of recommendation's clear purpose is to help the applicant get into a college or get a job or whatever, I think that anyone who is writing one would do well to take the above advice.

As for me, I have been asked to write a few letters of recommendation and I usually accept, provided I know the person well enough to write one. I needn't have known them long, but at least long enough to be conversant in the purpose. Furhtermore, I never, never give the letter to the applicant. I tell the applicant that I cannot in good conscience give a recommendation to an college or potential employer that is not an accurate assessment of the applicant if I can't be fully honest.

Hat Tip: Carnival of Education

3. The 2008 Presidential election is well underway and the field is crowded. But the big controversy is about how the field will be winnowed down. Timothy Ryan has a good op-ed on the subject of primary elections.

4. Someone needs to give Arlen Specter a copy of the Constitution. This from the NY Times:
In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who led the panel for the last two years, joined Democrats who asserted that Mr. Bush cannot simply ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

"I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole decider," Mr. Specter said. "The decider is a joint and shared responsibility."
Um, the Constitution I read gives the President the ultimate authority to decide when and where troops are deployed--it is called being the Commander in Chief. All this talk about non-binding resolutions, benchmarks and the like is just political posturing. If the Senate and House had any real backbone, they would cut funding for the military in Iraq. But then they can't do that and claim that they support the troops.

5. I have long opposed affirmative action for most programs, including education, feeling that by classifying people by race, whether for positive or negative reasons, always leads to the minority race's failure in the long run. Heather MacDonald has a wonderful piece about affirmative action in California's higher education arena. The longish piece reiterates much of what I beleive, giving someone who is unqualified to be in college an affirmative action admission generally dooms them to failure, a failure that is not entirely their fault, but alsothe fault of hte "do-gooders" who think they are morally superior for admitting a minority.

Read the whole thing, please.

Education Problems The Same Worldwide

Edspresso brings us a piece by Jennifer Buckinham about teacher shortages, particularly in math, science and technology. Sounds familiar right, well Buckingham is talking about the problem in her country--Australia.

Chicago Tribune Series on Education Funding

Yesterday, I spotlighted a series of Editorials in the Chicago Tribune on the issue of school funding. I noted yesterday that the editors noted the real problems with school funding, that is the inequities between rich and poor districts, not only in terms of money, but in all that money buys, facilities, teachers, texts and technology.

Today, the Editors continue their series, offering up a more detailed description of the funding problem, but not offering anything particularly new or though-provoking. After discussing the minimum amount of funding per student needed to provide an adequate education, the Tribune throws this out:
Wait a minute. How can we say Illinois comes up short when it spends an average in federal, state and local money of $10,000 per student?

There are two answers:

-Spending varies wildly between school districts, depending on local wealth. That skews the average. Lake County's Rondout School District 72, for example, spends about $14,000 on each student's instruction per year. Steger School District 194, in southern Cook County and northern Will County, spends only $3,800 per student.

-The estimate of $6,405 to provide a minimum education excludes the substantial extra money needed for special education, low income and non-English-speaking students. It costs much more to educate those students, and we have more of them these days in Illinois. Often the schools that have modest local wealth have the greatest number of such students.
Here we have the big obstacle to understanding school funding issues--per pupil spending is just an average. It is a very blunt instrument to describe what is being spent on education and a poor average at that.

While spending by a state could top $10,000 per student, in reality the spending per student in real life could vary by massive amounts, as noted by the Tribune. But how is that per pupil expenditure figure calculated, by dividing all or part of a school's budget by the number of students in the district in question. Simply math to cover an exceedingly complex funding problem.

Here is where the Tribune does a wonderful job because it goes on to discuss all the things that go into increasing the cost of education for some students, whether they are poor, disabled or non-English speakers--all factors that increase spending. Special education in particular soaks up a growing share of education budgets, from 13 percent in 1997 to 20 percent today. This is not an insignificant jump as total education spending in the state has alos increased significantly. But here is something interesting:
School enrollment in Illinois rose 6 percent in the last decade, but the number of special education students shot up 25 percent. More kids are being diagnosed with autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, asthma and developmental delays.
Okay, while I am no doctor, I understand that autism, ADHD and other developmental delays can affect a child's ability to learn, but asthma???!!! Since when is asthma a condition requiring the expenditure of special education dollars. Also, how many of these increased diagnoses are very mild forms of the aforementioned conditions and how much is related to an increased desire to have a child diagnosed with a condition in order to receive more education attention?

But for all the detail provided by the Tribune, I am very disheartened by the lack of any suggestions for change. Despite a promise in their first editorial not to simply call for "more money for education," that seems to be exactly what the editors are doing. True, it appears that the editors are looking to focus the money expenditures in certain ways, but make no mistake, they are asking for more money.

Also absent, so far, is any discussion into whether, or how to alter the manner in which funds are distributed or spent in a given school district.

Link to my original post and to the first Editorial.

Capitol Graffitti Case-Still No Reponse from the Speaker

The Capitol Graffitti case seems to be going nowhere but oblivion and the Speaker's office has yet to issue any statement, hoping the whole matter might just go away. Yesterday's Washington Times had this editorial, culminating in these paragraphs:
In the best-case scenario here, Mrs. Pelosi now has in hand a great example of how not to handle out-of-control protesters, whose right to speak their minds is as involatile as their acts of violence or property damage are felonies and misdemeanors. Viewed properly, this episode gives Mrs. Pelosi some leverage to establish tough ground rules for future incidents -- in which case, the whole episode could be wrapped up as a miscommunication and end there.

Things are not always so simple in the party of Cynthia McKinney, however, which has a history of friction with the Capitol Police and a less-than-ideal record on policing and crime. In a charged political environment like the present, Democrats have a hard enough time fending off their anti-war base's charges of sheepishness and insufficient anti-war ardor without seeming to muzzle protesters. It would be easy enough to imagine them relaxing the rules a bit to avoid that perception.

We don't know who gave the order to let the vandals approach the Capitol, although it was reportedly issued by Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and his deputy. But if this policy comes from the Democratic leadership, it would be quite a shabby thing. At least we know we'll hear about it if that is the case. Lax security would infuriate officers, undoubtedly to the point of creating whistleblowers among them.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi still has not issued a statement about the incident or what her response will be. Between the Speaker's Office and the Senate Majority Leader's office, the Capitol Hill Police are supposed to work with the two chambers to provide physical security for the Capitol complex, but to simply allow "anarchists" to approach the Capitol would have been enough, but to apparently order officers to stand by while these same protesters deface government property is the height of dereliciton of duty.

While it might be true that the anarchists hope to incite an incident which they could capture on video and show as the "oppresive regime" of America, it does not follow that allowing graffitti was necessary to prevent a confrontation. Capitol Police are supposed to be among the best trained cops in America, surely they would be able to effect a few arrests without getting into an all out brawl with protesters.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Daily Top Five: January 30, 2007

1. This is good news for bloggers who use anonymous sources in their reporting. They will be accorded the same rights as traditional media reports, at least according to a Santa Clara County (CA) Judge. The case involved and Apple Computers. The Instapundit says to bloggers though--don't get cocky.

2. The longer I stay in the campaign finance business the more I come to believe that most reporters don't have a clue what they are talking about. This particular article from The Wall Street Journal, a paper I usually respect, just confirms that.
Federal law limits how much money individuals can give to presidential candidates — $2,300 per election. But what about Compuware Inc. founder Peter Karmanos? Last year, he gave $250,000 to presidential aspirant and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Since 2004, 15 other Romney backers have sunk at least $100,000 each into the Republican’s coffers, sometimes with a series of checks issued on a single day.

Because he doesn’t hold federal office, Romney became subject to the federal rules only after he set up a presidential exploratory committee earlier this month. Until then, his team took advantage of a little-noticed gap between federal and state law. While most states limit political donations, about a dozen don’t. Romney’s political team set up fund-raising committees in three of those: Michigan, Iowa and Alabama. During that time, his political action committees raised $7 million.
What this tells me is that Romney took the advice of some very smart lawyers. The article seems to indicate that Romney somehow cheated in the rules. But lets take a quick look at something else. Hilary Clinton ended her Senate bid in New York with a massive bank account, which she just transferred to her presidential committee. That is legal but not that is not discussed as getting around the rules. Romney was just plain smart, taking advantage a gap may be a cry for changing the rules, but not for castigating Romney.

3. I like this post from James Joyner. All too true.

4. The always astute Eugene Volokh has this post about speech restrictions from the right. Both sides of the political spectrum are just as guilty about wanting to restrict various types of speech. When you hear someone talk about wanting to limit speech, think hypocrite, because they are acting hypocritically.

5. Is smaller better for high schools? It seems to be in New York City. Joanne Jacobs has the story.

A Better School Funding Mechanism

The Chicago Tribune has the first in a four part editorial series on the funding of schools and the spending priorities in those schools. Long for an editorial, the Tribune editors have some smart ideas but also some common platitudes about education.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the relative affluence or distress of those communities tells us which Illinois schools need help and which don't. Not so. Our impoverished schools pose enormous challenges. But they're not the only ones. Educators in virtually every school across this state need more support to do the jobs being asked of them.

The way we fund those schools divides us into warrior tribes. The way we fund those schools is ... inadequate.

We're not spending enough dollars. And we're not getting enough for the dollars we spend.

As is, this exchange--dollars invested for performance displayed--doesn't serve our children as well as it should and comfortably could.
True most funding mechanisms are greatly impacted by the relative wealth of a given neighborhood, the wealthier the school's neighborhood, the more and better resources are available. But I believe the country and Illinois are spending enough on education, but the Editors are right, we are not getting a very good return on our investment. The editors seem to be leaning to some form of a weighted student funding, with more financial resources going to students in higher poverty areas. While that may help, very little of this initial editorial talks about the need to reform the manner in which funds are spent. Far too much of a school budget is taken up by a bloated bureaucracy, although I am not sure how much that is in Illinois.

The editors will provide answers to the following questions:
How much revenue is needed to provide every child with an adequate education?

What is the most efficient way to raise money for schools without putting too much burden on the state economy?

How should that money be spent to give every schoolchild a fighting chance to succeed?
The answers should be interesting.

To be sure, a dialog is important and I am glad that the Tribune's editors are beginning one. However, the editors seem somewhat naive about a few things. Late in the editorial comes these words:
There is a corrosive habit of citizens, and their politicians, to weight only what a different funding scheme would mean for their communities.

Illinois needs to outgrow this penchant for school financing that can't look beyond economic self-interest. There are plenty of reasons for Effingham taxpayers to care about Hinsdale school children, for Hinsdale taxpayers to care about Harvey school children, for Harvey taxpayers to care about Effingham students. We've just never acknowledged as a state that the future economic health, workforce and leadership of Illinois depend on better educating all of our children. And yes, all children can learn.
Of course people make most of the decisions based upon self-interest. Self-interest is the determinant for a great many of our decisions. It is the role of leaders, the governor and the state legislature, to convince us to look beyond our self-interest to care about the children in other cities and other counties. The problem is that many voters have a severe distrust about the efforts of the legislature and perhaps rightly so. But unless a concrete plan is explained with real explanations of why income and wealth are going to be redistributed to benefit everyone, no plan, no matter how brilliant will ever succeed at overcoming self-interest. And keep in mind, the American voter is probably the one class of people in the world more capable of voting contrary to their self-interest than any other, but they will not do so just because some politician or some editor says so.

Spending money on education is a noble purpose and one the state must undertake. But it is smart spending that will save the day and if Illinois, or any state for that matter, really wants to make a leap in its education spending, they first need to take a red pen to the school budget plan. Taking a good, long, hard look at the current spending practices in conjunction with other school data can do a great job of saying where money should be spent. Otherwise, the future budgeters are likely to make the same mistakes, and that is not progress.

Duke Rape Case--The Aftermath Cometh

I don't think I have ever posted about the Duke rape case, leaving the topic to much better bloggers. But I have read today three excellent posts on the subject today.

First comes Thomas Sowell over at Real Clear Politics. For Sowell, the greater tragedy, even more than the fate suffered by the accused, is the further damage to institutions whose quick rush to judgment has damaged their personal and collective reputations even more than they had previously thought.
The January 29th issue of The Weekly Standard has a devastating article about the lynch mob atmosphere created, not only by the Duke University faculty and administration, but also by writers for such "respectable" publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post, not to mention a professor of law at the University of Southern California and a former president of Princeton.

We have become a society easily stampeded, even by the unsubstantiated, inconsistent and mutually contradictory statements of a woman with a criminal record.

All it takes is something that invokes the new holy trinity of the intelligentsia -- "race, class and gender." The story of a black woman gang-raped by white men fit the theme so compellingly that much of the media had no time to waste trying to find out if it was true before going ballistic.
So quick were the media and liberal academia on the guilty until proven innocent meme, that I am suprised the Duke Medical Center didn't report a massive rash of whiplash. The so-called professional skeptics of the press and the rational thinkers of academia rushed headlong into a brutal slaying of these young men's character that cannot be repaired with an apology. Not that one is likely to come.

Jim Lindgren, at the Volokh Conspiracy, has two worthy posts on the subject as well. The first is about the media coverage and a hearty commendation to KC Johnson, a blogger who has followed the case with the tenaciousness of a hungry wolf. Lindgren believes Johnson's coverage of the case is worthy of a Pulitzer prize, but alas, bloggers are not eligible, because new media reporters can't be rewarded by old media--it just doesn't work that way.

However, Johnson and Lindgren both praise the work of the Duke Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke. From Johnson:
In fact, compare the Chronicle’s coverage to that of the New York Times on this case, but remove the mastheads from the two papers. I suspect that most people would guess that the Times, with its (until recently) simplistic, one-sided articles and commentary was the college newspaper, and the Chronicle’s work was that of the country's paper of record.

A little later, Lindgren looks at the support for the Duke Men's Lacrosse team from teh school's women's lacrosse team and the abuse the latter received for supporting their fellow classmates. After quoting some of the slimy attacks on their character for supporting their friends, Lindren offers this:
The women of the Duke lacrosse team knew that their friends on the men’s team were innocent because they had talked with them, they knew that the rape story was implausible, one of the men had an airtight alibi, and, of course, the Duke suspects had already been exonerated by the DNA evidence.

Meadow writes about all the people who need to apologize, but I was thinking that some of the courageous people who spoke up for the truth relatively early on should be recognized and honored for their efforts. Every year Duke gives many graduating students prizes for contributions to the community. Every graduating member of the Duke women's lacrosse team (as well as perhaps the chief reporters and editors of the Chronicle) should be given the William J. Griffith University Service Award.(Link in original)
Loyalty is such a precious trait and apparently one in short supply at Duke, that the women's team is unlikely to receive any award for their behavior. However, their admirable stance in the face of ridicule and disparagment of an entire community should not go unnoticed.

The whole episode has so many losers that it is difficult to find anything positive to come out of the affair. But the women's lacrosse team may very well be the only bright spot.

Capitol Graffitti Downplayed by Dems

The response to the anarchist spray painting of the Capitol Steps over the weekend is getting some decidedly mixed reviews. The Hill is reporting that the Democratic leadership seems to think the incident is no big deal:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s legislative branch subcommittee, was less critical of the USCP, and plans to discuss the event at a prearranged meeting tomorrow, said spokesman Jonathan Beeton yesterday.

"I’m not sure that anybody’s too pleased about the way this turned out," Beeton said. However, Wasserman Schultz does not want to question Morse’s "judgment when he was on the ground and she wasn’t. There’s a balance that they have to strike. It’s a very difficult job."

The USCP Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) rejected attempts to downplay the situation.

"The officers of the U.S. Capitol Police are upset that some of this weekend’s demonstrators were able to deface part of the Capitol Complex," Andy Maybo, chairman of the Capitol Police FOP, said in a statement yesterday. "The officers, who did their job both professionally and courageously, were ordered to withdraw by their officials and let the demonstrators have the area where the graffiti was later discovered."
Preventing people from vandalizing the Capitol Building is part of the Capitol Police's job and whether it is difficult or not should not be the question. Someone dropped the ball and needs to be held accountable.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Legislative Branch has sent a letter to Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse seeking an explanation. From the Hill:
"I would like to know if it is in fact true that Capitol Police were given specific guidance regarding the protests, and if so, why were they instructed to allow these acts of vandalism?" wrote Allard. "As ranking member of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, I am requesting an immediate meeting with you to discuss the facts surrounding the defacing of our Nation’s Capitol."

Under U.S. law, it is unlawful to deface the U.S. Capitol, Allard wrote.

"Law enforcement is expected to enforce these statutes," Allard continued. "And I am appalled that the deliberate violation of this law was tolerated."

Allard spokesman Steve Wymer said that Allard wrote the letter because several police officers called his office to voice their concerns about the incident.
So far Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have issued any kind of statement.

The silence is deafening.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Daily Top Five: Jan. 29, 2007

1. The graffitti on the Capitol is a big story in Washington. My thoughts are here. Interestingly, the Hill is also reporting that 9 anti-war protesters have been arrested for an "unlawful assembly."

2. A lot of talk is going on in education circles about the possibility of a set of national standards for education, an idea I have endorsed. However, Brett Pawlowski reminds us all that having standards, a what, is not nearly as important as asking what is the purpose of education. Brett argues that you can't have proper standards without a properly defined goal. An important point.

3. Affirmative action still haunts this country. Despite decades of work trying to unite the races by literally thousands of no-name workers, all it takes is one flaming idiot to set all the work back. Tom Bevan has a link to a screed by Lafe Tolliver who does just that. Why is it that even educated blacks like Tolliver see conspiracies behind any race based case at the Court?

4. Mark Steyn is a genius and it is confirmed by this poll. If demographics drives historical events, the people of Britain need to wake up and read America Alone. RIGHT NOW!!!
David Cameron will respond today by urging everyone living in Britain to show loyalty to its laws and customs and, by initiating an attack on multiculturalism, calling for "proper integration".

The startling poll by Populus for Policy Exchange, the think-tank with close links to the Tory leader, reveals how younger Muslims hold aggressively more extreme views than their parents.

The poll of 1,003 Muslims found that more than a third of 16 to 24-year-olds wanted to live under Islamic law, compared with 17 per cent of the over-55s.

Meanwhile, 31 per cent of young Muslims said that they believed that if a Muslim converted to another religion they should be punished by death, compared with 19 per cent of the over-55s.

The deep divisions between the generations are most starkly illustrated over attitudes to the hijab, with 74 per cent of young people preferring Muslim women to wear them compared with 28 per cent of the over-55s. Thirteen per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds said that they admired organisations such as al-Qaeda, compared with 3 per cent of their parents’ generation.
Scary results to say the least.

5. Marty Lederman has a great post on SCOTUSblog about the Davenport v. WEA case dealing with Washington state's union dues for political purposes case. Lederman sees much more at stake in the campaign finance world than most commentators onthe cas, who typically see a labor law case. While I disagree with some of Lederman's assertions and conclusions, I do think the case is broader than just a labor law case.

Tax Subsidized Politicking

Paul Sherman at the Center for Competitive Politics directs our attention to a "problem" discussed by Dan Gilgoff in the USA Today. Gilgoff contends that the failure of the IRS to enforce the no politicking from the pulpit rule casts such a serious shadow upon the political landscape as to require immediate attention from the already overworked tax man.
The law banning tax-exempt organizations, which include churches, from partisan politics was engineered by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Its detractors, mostly Christian conservatives, have argued that Johnson was seeking retribution against a non-profit group opposed to his re-election.

While there is some truth to that claim — Johnson's language was attached to another, unrelated bill as an amendment with reportedly little or no debate — the law has been upheld by the courts. And even before its passage, the U.S. government had long tailored tax exemptions to charities that confronted problems such as poverty because such groups provided a clear benefit to the public and saved the federal government time and money.

That's why American taxpayers should be concerned about the IRS enforcement vacuum: Tax exemptions for non-profit groups were never intended to offer tax relief to partisan political advocacy.

By failing to enforce the 1954 rule, however, that's exactly what the IRS is doing.
But is it. Paul Sherman notes:
[E]ven if that was the "purpose" behind the law, it's difficult to imagine "reform" advocates rallying behind that principle today; if a pulpit endorsement is an example of illegitimately "subsidized partisan politics," then the direct funding of partisan activity through presidential public financing and "clean elections" statutes must, a fortiori, be illegitimate.

The op-ed gets a little closer when it argues that failure to enforce the law will "offer tax relief to partisan political advocacy." In the abstract, this is a more plausible concern, and it fits with the general principle that funds used for politicking "consist exclusively of dollars that have already been taxed." Gregg D. Polsky, A Tax Lawyer's Perspective on Section 527 Organizations, 28 Cardozo L. Rev. ___ (2007). The editorial cartoon accompanying the article subtly reinforces this argument; the bag held by the preacher is undoubtedly filled with untaxed donations, filthy lucre when applied to partisan advocacy. But this is also where to argument fails, for what is being complained about doesn't really cost money.(Citation and link in original)
Here is where the govnernment and reform advocates get into a little logical trouble.

By necessity, preachers and pastors are paid a stipend by their church, a church that is a tax exempt organization, which I don't think anyone would argue is an improper state of affairs. Therefore the speech, any speech, by a pastor or preacher is by its very nature subsidized by the government. What is the functional difference between whether the preacher makes his endorsement before the pulpit to his parishoners or by appearing on the steps of state house or court house and publicly endorses a candidate via the media? Is not the endorsement by members of the clergy, a practially required right of passage for many candidates, still an endorsement by a member of the clergy, a tax subsidized professional calling? No one would deny the preacher, as a person, his right to talk about candidates. Why then do his First Amendment rights end when he steps into the pulpit, his place of work? Does a doctor, a lawyer or a reporter's First Amendment rights get altered when they engage in their profession? Indeed, Mr. Gilgoff and the preacher are doubly protected? What makes the reporter's speech that much more important than a preacher's?

On another note, politically active, and politically savvy, churches routinely "endorse" a candidate by use of tax subsidized voter guides. These guides, published by the churches, will list a series of issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, or any other number of issues which the church in question considers important and then lists the candidates position on those issues. Only a true dolt would not be able to deduce which candidate the church supports. Because churches are free to discuss issues of the day, i.e. abortion or gay marriage or takings or anything else, what makes that speech different from endorsing a candidate. True, encouraging their parishoners to vote for one candidate over another is clearly "political intervention," but it seems like such a small leap given the reality of today.

Churchgoers vote. That is a simple fact proven time and again by voter studies. In fact, regular attendence at church is a much greater predictor of voting activity than any other social circumstance. The fact that clergy endorse candidates is not all that surprising. But just because a clergy member endorses a candidate doesn't mean that the parishoners will vote for that candidate any more than all readers of an op-ed page will vote for the newspaper's endorsed candidates. In the end, this is much ado about nothing.

Book Review: Blessed Among Nations

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist, wrote a couple of books a few years ago called The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World's Most Prosperous Decade and Globalization and Its Discontents in which he discusses one of the biggest expansions of globalization in modern times and the effects it has upon the world and the world economy. Stiglitz arguments are complicated and quite worthy. Stiglitz focuses on today's globalization effects, making lessons hard to digest.

Eric Rauchway's Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America (Hill & Wang, 2006) however, looks at a prior era of globalization, the first modern age of globalization, the period between the end of the American Civil War and the end of World War I. The lessons Rauchway describes should be required reading for modern American leaders. Rauchway, a professor of History at University of California-Davis, focuses on major subjects in the first modern era of globalization, a time in which the ties between America and the rest of the world strengthened and the work shrank.

Rauchway first looks at the movement of capital and people into and within America. The drive westward, driven in large part by European capital building railroads and native American's moving westward from the pressure of a massive wave of immigration, created a nation with a distinctly different outlook on domestic and foreign policy than most great European powers of the day. America's growth, spurred in large part by European investment and immigration from European nations, created a new great power with a radically different outlook on world problems. Coupled with the uniquely American governmental system with the Senate representing state interests, Rauchway leads us through some very different results of America's growth as compared to European powers.

Rauchway discusses the impact of the massive immigration during the late 19th Century upon the labor movement and welfare policies of the United States as compared to the rest of world. First, unique among great powers of the time, America witnessed immigration from a whole host of nations rather than the smaller number experienced by Eurpoean powers. With immigrants from Northern Europe and Southern Europe arriving at essentially the same time, coupled with movement of peoples from Eastern Eurpope and the rest of the world, America experienced the melting pot in stark terms.

At a time when most European nations were creating and implementing their proto-welfare states, American immigrants, as the working class, did not represent the same politicla force as the working class of other nations. Language and cultural barriers presented obstacles to cohesion as a class. Furthermore, the American govenrmental system, particularly the Senate, prevented the populous eastern states from dominating the welfare and immigration policy debates as the largely underpopulated Western states, with its population of displaced American workers, prevented the growth of welfare policies and forced some changes in immigration policy or at least stalemated some of the options presented with a European flavor.

Even today, many involved in the immigration debate, particularly the Bush administration, still see the immigration debate in teh same terms as the 19th Century West, as a labor issue.

Rauchway's examination of the age of imperialism provides an important glimpse into why America grew up so differently that Eurpoe. While European powers competed on a worldwide stage for the acquisition of territory and resources, and prestige, America did not need to look overseas for such things. With an interior empire to exploit and build, America did not need to spend large segments of its GDP on conquest and administration, leading to an explosion in American wealth. At the same time, European powers invested heavily in the growing American industry further adding to America's relative power in the global arena, a power completely out of line for the age of the nation.

While the descriptions of policy development and growth provide some interesting insight, Rauchway's ending conclusions have the most salience for today. Following World War I, the United STates was the only great power left who had not suffered catastrophic damage to both land and people. But instead of accepting that role and the importance of that role, America retreated within itself. At a time when it would have been possible to export American democracy with powerful results, the United States retreated, if not causing the Great Depression, certainly accelerating its arrival.

Today, the United States is the only superpower left standing. But if the isolationist/welfarist arguments of the Democrats now in power in Congress carry the day, the demise of the rest of the world may very well be assured. Europe already stands on the precipice and abandonment by the United States will surely be the push over the cliff the Continent does not need.

America's uniqueness has often been celebrated, indeed exalted, by American historians and politicians. But the uniqueness of America is as much a product of world influences as our unique historical and political development. At the end of the first age of globalization, America hunkered down inside ourselves. It took a worldwide depression and a second World War for America to once again rise to international promince. At the end of the most recent age of globalization, such a ostrich mentality will serve no one anywhere. Furhtermore, in the coming ideological conflicts, not understanding that any and all policy decisions, even ones obstensibly in domestic policy, have worldwide implications.

America is traditionally poorly prepared for conflict and often takes months, even years to respond adequately. Can we take that chance again?

Sanctioned Graffitti

There will no doubt be more to this story, but according to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Anarchists (yes spelled with a capital A) were permitted to spray paint the Capitol Building while Capitol Police looked on--because the cops were told by superiors not to spark a confrontation.
Anti-war protesters were allowed to spray paint on part of thewest front steps of the United States Capitol building after police wereordered to break their security line by their leadership, two sources toldThe Hill.

According to the sources, police officers were livid when theywere told to fall back by U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Chief Phillip Morse andDeputy Chief Daniel Nichols. "They were the commanders on the scene," one source said,who requested anonymity. "It was disgusting."

After police ceded the stairs, located on the lower west front of the Capitol, the building was locked down, the source added.

A second source who witnessed the incident said that the policehad the crowd stopped at Third Street, but were told to bring the policeline in front of the Capitol.

Approximately 300 protesters were allowed to take the steps and began to spray paint "anarchist symbols" and phrase[s] such as "Our capitol building" and "you can’t stop us" around the area, the source said.
The incident sparks many questions. First, why was the spray painting allowed, it is still vandalism, even if the message is political. For an analogy, you can burn an American flag as free speech, but you can't steal someone else's flag to do it, that is theft and vandalism. Spray painting a public building is vandalism and criminal behavior. So why weren't any arrests made?

Second, who ordered Capitol Hill Police to stand silently by and allow the activity? The Hill seems to indicate Capitol Police Chief Philip Morse, but I am not so sure. According to witness reports from the Right to Life March last week, the Capitol Police were much more stringent in the path and movement of those protestors as compared to the anti-war protesters. One must wonder at the political overtones implicit in the disparate treatment, even if unintended.

Third, we have heard nothing from the Speaker's office or the Majority Leader's office on the incident. Why? Such activity should spark quick protests and demands for heads to roll.

It does not matter who controls Congress, the building belongs to the American people and should be treated with respect.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Daily Top Five: Jan. 26, 2007

1. Philadelphia has a homocide problem. The root cause, according to Mayor John Street: (wait for it) Iraq. Read more at Redstate and here is the link to the original story.

2. So often, big time Supreme Court cases overshadow the individuals involved. Edspresso offers a look into the thoughts of one of the teachers involved in the Washington State teachers union dues cases, a decision on which we are awaiting from the Court.
As I stood shivering in the frigid morning air, my mind scrolled back to all the events that have transpired to bring me to this moment. In particular I remembered a conversation I had with a seasoned veteran teacher at my school who told me that the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn. My reminiscing was brutally interrupted by the cutting wind that was blowing at 5:00 a.m. as I held on tightly to my cup of coffee, hoping to suck out every ounce of heat I could. Here I was standing with a number of teachers on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States, hoping to get a seat to hear oral arguments in a case that had it origins some 14 years ago.
Read the whole thing.

3. When looking for material for this column, Philip Mella never fails to deliver. While I consider the Democratic Congress a potential problem in most areas, their stance on Iraq is a real problem for me. Mella shares my concern and summarizes well:
The first is that never in American wartime history has an opposition party pre-emptively dismissed a president's strategic realignment during combat operations. Besides the Constitutional authority provided by Article II, Congress has always afforded the president the latitude to make course corrections based on evolving circumstances on the ground.

Skeptics should examine America's numerous missteps during WWII in the Pacific. From Guadalcanal to Tarawa, tens of thousands of servicemen were killed due to poor planning, an unpredictable enemy, and belated strategic corrections. The difference is that we all knew who the real enemy was, and a measure of humility and patience led us to rally around the president to provide the support necessary to prevail.

In contrast, Congressional Democrats haven't even allowed President Bush's plan to unfold before they lodged summarily dismissive criticism and sarcastically vilified it with an enthusiasm that was as unnecessary as it was unbecoming.
A fair amount of the bloviating is based on a touchy feely view of the world. But we as a nationa cannot afford to look at the world in any way other than the stark reality we face. Do I want peace in Iraq? Yes, but first we have to kick the crap out of terrorists in Iraq or we will be doing this all over again in 15 years.

4. A black, female, Republican, tenured, professor--there aren't many out there I assure you--has agreed to a settlement in her wrongful termination suit. What may have capped her win:
In announcing the settlement of her case, the Virginia Association of Scholars — one of the groups backing Cobbs — said that information obtained by Cobbs’s lawyer showed that the university’s provost, W. Eric Thomas, replaced Cobbs with a woman with whom he is living.
Did the provost think something like that wasn't going to come out. Settling was a smart idea in this case, because Cobbs probably would have taken the school to the cleaners.

5. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Web presence at this stage may be counterproductive. Anyone remember Ned Lamont?

More on Presidential Public Funding Program

Over the past week, there has been a general discussion in the news media and among campaign finance geeks about the potential demise of the presidential public funding program. Now via Prof. Hasen's Election Law Blog comes this Washington Post Letter to the Editor. William Santoro of Wincheter, MA writes:
The problem with the program is that it is voluntary on both sides of the equation. Those who pay federal income taxes may allocate $3 of their taxes to the election fund (a provision that neither reduces nor increases one's tax liability), and the candidates choose whether they want to accept public financing in return for abiding by certain restrictions.


Some have cried that such a system would violate First Amendment rights. But what about the public's right to free and fair elections?
I will certainly agree with the first paragraph. The system is entirely voluntary. I think it would be an interesting exercise to learn the ideological or partisan breakdown of those who contribute their $3. Also, it would be interesting to know the state where there people come from and whether that state has a public financing program. But I digress.

With a voluntary system on both ends, you ensure a fairly important concept, freedom and liberty. Mr. Santoro goes on later to say that the entire program, both funding and participation by candidates should be mandatory. He then closes with the last paragraph quoted above.

First, and on a large scale, there is no proof that a privately funded campaign is in any way inherently unfree or unfair in such a way as to be rectified with public funding. Of course, some candidates raise more money than others but they do not always win-see Steve Forbes or Ross Perot. Similarly, the actual campaign may be unfair the the actual election is generally not--all conspiracy theories about voting machines notwithstanding.

Second, the First Amendment rights here are quite important as are the sanctity of elections. The courts would have to balance those interests. But the funding and financing of elections does not rise to the same level of constitutional concern. I know that "checking the box" neither increases nor decreases my tax burden. But the use of tax dollars, anyone's tax dollars, to fund political speech I not only disagree with but work vehemently in opposition to simple chills me to the bone.

Third, the act of giving money to candidates engages those who contribute. Even if you give $5 to some local candidate, you are almost assuredly going to vote for that candidate. The contributor is engaged in the political process and is that not what we are seeking? If you "give" by having a mandatory three dollars go to a public fund, how engaged are you? Are you now more likely to go vote? I think not.

Fourth, and finally, the underlying assumption about public financing, on both the left and the right, is that we can elminate the influence of "special interests." This supposition simply cracks me up, but special interest is always a definition based upon one's own leanings. Those on the right view "special interest" as union money, Hollywood money and any other left wing group. Conversely, those on the left think only about "corporate money," the Christian right and gun-toting rednecks. In fact, both sides are correct. Money is the lifeblood of politics--you can't get around it and you can't get rid of it.

The Christian Science Monitor weighed in today on the debate:
A bill introduced last year and slated to be reintroduced in the new Congress would release primary-campaign funds six months earlier, significantly boost spending caps ($150 million for the primaries and $100 million for the general election), and raise the rate at which private donations get matched. And if one candidate opts out of the system and runs against a candidate who agrees to federal spending caps, the FEC would pump extra money into the participant's coffers to close the spending gap, if his or her opponent spends more than 120 percent of the FEC's limits.

It's too late to bring these changes to bear on the 2008 race. But the goal of reducing the influence of "big money" remains an important one. When the bill is reintroduced, Congress should continue to express its reform-minded mood by passing it.
The problem with this "reform" is that it really will do little to suppress campaign funding. Once campaigns are subsidized they will simply become more expensive because candidates won't have to really work beyond a minimal level to raise money and there is no market check on campaign spending. Afterall, if you can get free money, why bother actually working to raise more than the minimum.

The goal should not be "free and fair" elections, but competitive ones. On the presidential level, we are always going to have competitive elections. As long as that remains the case, all will be well.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Daily Top Five: January 25, 2007

1. Michael Steele is going to head up GOPAC. A good move for national exposure, but not so much for a statewide MD race.

2. Jenny D asks what Teachers Unions could do to expand the professionalism of teaching. Jenny and I have long thought about this issue and this post is yet another of Jenny's wonderfully thought provoking ideas.
Eduwonk observes that teachers' unions feel the heat of criticism from many corner. But this image problem (brand problem, according to Eduwonk) can be remedied. He offers several suggestions here at an Education Sector piece he wrote. He suggests unions become more flexible in their advocacy for workplace issues, that they take on more responsibility for aspects of the work of teaching, and that they consider operating charter schools.

I'd like to take that second suggestion farther. I'd like to see unions become more like professional organizations, such as the legal bar or the medical board. I'd like to see the best teachers become the gatekeepers for the profession, setting standards for who can be licensed, telling Ed Schools what skills new professionals need, and taking over the work of vetting new members and recommending licensing afterward.(links in original)
I fully concur with Jenny's vision. If teachers want to be treated like professionals, they need to act like a profession.

The comments to this post are exellent and well worth the read.

3. With the 2008 Presidential race in full swing, the discussion arises once again about the disproportionate impact of smaller states like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina on the nomination process. The NY Times has this piece about moves by big states to move their primaries earlier in the year to get more influence over who is nominated. I for one would like to see Congress step in here and impose a regional primary system, with multiple big and large states in one geographic area of the country having their presidential primaries on the same day. It just seems more efficient and it could happen in the spring or early summer of the year, or even spread them out a lot. But anything but this race to be first.

4. Last year the voters of Michigan approved a ballot measure ending racial preferences in admissions to state universities. La Shawn Barber has an update--the Supreme Court refused to take up the case and now universities and Michigan can no longer consider race in any way when making admission decisions. Finally, one state has come to its senses.

5. Can I use this scholarship to pay down my student loan debt?

Student Newspapers and Quality

The ever watchful FIRE Torch brings the story of the student newspaper at Grambling State University n Louisiana, which was suspended for "quality issues".
The News-Star in Monroe, Louisiana reports that administrators at Grambling State University have shut down production of the school’s student newspaper, The Gramblinite, until the administration can guarantee greater “quality assurance” of the paper.

University Provost Robert Dixon sent a memorandum to the newspaper staff informing them that the newspaper was "suspended for the remainder of the month of January." Dixon later told student editor Darryl Smith that the paper was not suspended per se, but was also not allowed to publish any more issues until university officials could better control the paper’s quality.

Smith said the administration has been critical of the paper’s accuracy in the past, and The Gramblinite staff also recently dealt with an incident where a student journalist plagiarized a large portion of a news story from The News-Star.
So the student newspaper had a plagarism problem, but so has the Washington Post, the New York Times and a few other major dailies across the country. They have also had stories fabricated and other "quality issues." However, the government did not come in and shut them down.

But it is a student newspaper right? Well yes, but that does not justify the state closing them down just because they have poor quality. If the quality of hte newspaper is so bad, then people will stop reading it. That is called market forces and they work real well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Daily Top Five: Jan. 24, 2007

1. has a number of links to reaction from the State of the Union. While I admit that President Bush's speech was not a great SOTU speech, I do think it was his best. I think that Sen. Jim Webb did a OK job, not great, not bad. Some of his language was more appropriate for his novels as opposed to speeches, but it was not bad. However, predictably, liberal bloggers were calling Webb's speech a "pounding." I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Philip Mella has a moderate take down of Webb's speech.

2. Why is the View still on the air? Allahpundit, over at Hot Air has Rosie O'Donnell calling for impeachment, like she is the first to ever think of it. Then Joy Behar exhibits a complete lack of understanding of the Constitution and the separation of powers.

3. James Joyner from Outside the Beltway is covering the Scooter Libby trial. Here is his report on today's testimony. This link points to some of the inane things that go on during a trial, two lawyer stipulating that a particular date falls on a particular day of the week.

4. In most public surveys, health care typically ranks behind only terrorism and the war in Iraq as issue most Americans are concerned about. Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin have a lenghty discussion of the three largest health care issues, all misread by the political leadership:
Three different "crises," then, each of a different weight and character. The crisis of the uninsured, while surely a serious challenge, has often been overstated, especially on the Left, in an effort to promote more radical reforms than are necessary. The crisis of insured middle-class families has been misdiagnosed both by the Right, which sees it purely as a function of economic inefficiency, and by the Left, which sees it as an indictment of free-market medicine. And the crisis of Medicare has been vastly understated by everyone, in an effort to avoid taking the painful measures necessary to prevent catastrophe. In each case, a clearer understanding may help point the way to more reasonable reforms.
Take the time to read the whole thing.

5. John Kerry is not "in."

Presidential Funding and McCain-Feingold

Yesterday, I posted this item on the presidential public financing program that will likely be bypassed by the leading candidates in the 2008 election. Much hand wringing seems to be going on related to the move by Hilary Clinton to start raising funds for the general election now, despite not having won the Democratic primary. One question that seems to be bouncing around is why McCain-Feingold didn't address the issue. One theory is that the law's authors simply overlooked or ignored the precarious position of the presidential funding program.

In reality, the decision not to reform the public funding program for presidential election boiled down to simple legislative politics. Brian Svoboda, an attorney with the law firm PerkinsCoie and former Senate staffer who worked on the bill, posted these comments on the Election Law listserve (reprinted with permission):
In the early 1990s, serious proposals to amend the FECA tended to be offered by Democrats; they tended also to involve expansion of the public financing system. To pass reform legislation after 1994, though, you needed Republican votes. To get those votes, you needed to stay away from public financing. When I was a Senate legislative aide to one of McCain-Feingold's Democratic co-sponsors in 1997, when the bill was being revised toward the form that would become law five years later, it was understood by all that there was no room for anything in the bill that would address public financing. That would have been anathema to the Republicans whose votes were needed for cloture ... and, as I recall, to Senator McCain.

This was the first of two big decisions that placed McCain-Feingold on a collision course with the presidential public financing system. The second, made on the floor in 2001, was to increase the hard money contribution limits without changing the presidential public funding system. Here, too, the calculus was entirely political: how do you help pick up the votes of the Republicans you need for cloture, while creating additional inducements for Senators on both sides of the aisle to vote for the bill? The result was that public funds would provide a diminished -- and, because the new limits were adjusted for inflation, a perpetually diminishing -- share of the resources available for presidential campaigns, and thus a less effective inducement to limit private spending.

I think it's a mistake to view this as an unintended consequence of McCain-Feingold. It was entirely intended, even if its implications were not fully considered. As the bill's proponents would presumably tell you, it was a product of the political conditions that existed in Congress after 1994, and of the parameters that existed back then for passing legislation. One can reasonably argue that McCain-Feingold simply hastened the doom of the public financing system, instead of sealing it. One also can argue about whether an entirely privately funded system was a worthy price to pay for restrictions on party and officeholder soft money activity.
So politics drove the decision not to reform the system.

But let us assume that the political situation was different and reform was included. We are still left with two facts--1) the cost of campaigning has gone up-significantly, since the creation of the program; and 2) fewer Americans are checking the box on their tax forms, leading to fewer resources to be given to candidates. Craig Dunkerly commented on my original post:
There are at least two glaring deficiencies in the current law. One is that the dollar amounts provided to candidates who forgo private special interest donations were not indexed for inflation and are no longer realistic given the current costs of campaigns.

The second is that unlike most successful public financing systems currently operating in 28 states, there is no "matching funds provision." These provisions provide addition matching funds to publicly funded candidates if they are outspent by privately funded candidates or attacked by independent expenditure groups. This helps keep the playing field level.
Mr. Dunkerly is correct, the dollar amounts provided in the public funding program are small but I point to fact number 2 above, we cannot increase the amount given to candidates within the current funding mechanism. So unless additional general treasury funds are added to the check off fund, there will not be enough money to fund a campaign as expensive as a presidential campaign, let alone any congressional or senatorial contests, which is the ultimate goal of public funding proponents.

Mr. Dunkerly also notes that 28 states (and I will accept his count although I am pretty sure it is an overstatement) have a public funding mechanism. But those states, assuming the count is accurate, are not the big states, with the most expensive media markets. New York, California, Florida, Texas and Illinois do not have a public funding program on a statewide scale. Which brings us back to fact 1 from above--the cost of campaigning has outstripped the reach of a public system. Were a public funding system put in place one of two things would happen--the cost of campaigning would continue to skyrocket since there is essentially no market mechanism--that is the difficulty of raising funds for a campaign, to check the costs of the media market. This would of course lead to the demand for greater public funding, continuing the spiral. The second scenario would lead to getting the Federal Communications Commission involved in setting prices for political advertising. Advertising costs on TV and radio are driven by market forces and if the FCC starts altering that, the blow back from the radio and TV community is likely to result in a regulatory war that we would just as soon avoid.

But even assuming the presidential funding system can be effectively reformed, we are left with the question of whether it should be reformed. How a campaign is funded is not the pivotal question in our electoral system, but rather whether or not the candidates we are presented with should be entrusted with the office they seek. A fully funded candidate with a bad message, bad leadership skills and bad policies will not win and will even lose to candidates with less money but more appeal to voters.

In the end, even though money matters in elections, on election day the only thing that matters is the voters and their beliefs and thoughts--not the beliefs and thoughts of the moneymen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is the public financing of presidential campaigns a thing of the past? According to this article in the Washington Post, yes it is.
The public financing system designed to clean up presidential campaigns in the wake of the Watergate scandal may have died on Saturday when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her bid for the White House.

Little noticed amid the announcement rollout was a page on her Web site in which she asked potential contributors to give her campaign checks of up to $4,200. That figure signaled not only that she plans to forgo public funds for primary season but also that, if she becomes the nominee, she will not take public money for the general election.
What is interesting of course is that by asking for $4,200, which will likely be upped by a couple of hundred dollars when the FEC adjusts limits for inflation later this month, Clinton is presuming she will win the nomination, not a foregone conclusion at all.

But the ask does portend a decision to forgo all public funding. Even in the money raising hey day of 2004, both President Bush and Senator Kerry eschewed public funding in the primaries, but did take public funding for the General Election. Clinton seems to be indicating she will do neither.

Of course, public funding is limiting in many respects and choosing not to take public funding means that Clinton will not be limited by arcane rules and rediculously low limits on spending. But unlike the Watergate era, we the public will know who is funding her campaign because Presidential campaigns are required to file monthly reports with the FEC, a feature that came into existence with McCain Feingold.

Speaking of McCain, if he plans to make a real go of it, and wins the nomination, will he too forgo public funding?
Among the presidential candidates, McCain has long championed the importance of campaign finance laws. Yesterday, his spokesman, Danny Diaz, said the senator thinks the current public finance system "is not fulfilling its original goal" and is also contemplating opting out.
What if he decides not to take public funds during the primary season but accept funds for the general election? Will he be painted as a hypocrite (something I have argued a couple of times about)? Will he be able to blast Clinton, should she win the Democratic nod, for not taking public money?

Of course, there remains the philosophical question of whether public funding for political campaigning is a good thing or not. I tend to think not, but there are reasonable arguments on the other side. Nevertheless, 2008 will be expensive, bloody and entertaining on the campaign finance side of things.

Monday, January 22, 2007

It's Is the Return On Investment, Stupid

Yesterday, the Washington Post carried an op-ed by Paul Farhi entitled Five Myths About U.S. Kids Outclassed by the Rest of the World. The Myths are, as presented:

1. U.S. students rate poorly compared with those in the rest of the world.
2. U.S. students are falling behind.
3. U.S. students won't be well prepared for the modern workforce.
4. Bad schooling has undermined America's competitiveness.
5. How we stack up on international tests matters, if only for national pride.
Farhi goes on to present arguments against these myths, and some are compelling. However, for me the issue is not whether or not our students are competing favorably with the rest of the world or not, but whether or not we are getting a favorable return on our tax subsidized investment? The answer to that question is clearly NO.

By any rational standard, the amount of money America pours into the educational money pit should be producing students with outrageously high performance on international tests, or on any test for that matter. While Farhi talks about
Continuous improvement should be our goal, regardless of whether we're No.1 in the test-score Olympics.
when you outspend your competitors, we should be No.1 in the Test-Score Olympics.

If an investment firm worked this way they would at the very least be out of business, if not sued for malfeasance. Yet, year after year, politician after politician after politician and school "leader" after school "leader" will tell you, "we can achieve better results if we just spent more money on X." Usually X won't do anything either other than achieve some political points.

So if one were to look at our national performance in the test-score Olympics, and measure performance against total dollars spent, the U.S. would stack up ever worse than we already do. When between 10 and 15 percent of the federal non-entitlement budget, between 40 and 55 percent of state budgets and unknown percentages of local budgets, this nations spends more than half a trillion dollars a year on education, yet the performance of U.S. students, while improving, should be much better. Our students should be scoring off the charts.

I don't pretend to have a perfect solution, although I think there are many possible solutions to be examined. But as a taxpayer, I do want my forcibly made investment to be spent in such a way as to provide a reasonable return, otherwise, what is the point?

The Daily Top Five: January 22, 2007

1. The Instapundit likes the links on Danny Glover's to all the internet announcements of who is in the Presidential Race for 2008 (man it seems so early). Glover sent this email to the Instapundit:
"One thing is certain from all of the activity: Democrats are winning the race online. Their use of technology is much more innovative, and it's evidence of an Internet-friendly strategy partywide."
Whille that may be true now, don't expect it to stay that way for long. A while back I wrote that when it comes to political technology, the Democrats may invent, but the GOP Perfects. I think that in the next say six months, you will see the GOP put proper resources into their online efforts and to use them to the maximum effective extent possible.

2. The media has been fawning over the announcemnets of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton into the Presidential fray. But given Clinton's frontrunner status, did she screw the pooch with her announcement? Sure, she was able to dominate the news cycle for a day or two in advance of the State of the Union, but was it a wise move. I tend not to think so, given its timing, but Philip Mella has a slightly different take. Obama's announcement, and its methodology, was simply a logical extension of his "rock star" status with the media and his team's effort to keep him in the media limelight without exposing him to gnawing questions about policy and positions. Clinton's announcment smacked more than a little of "me-too-ism" and doing it online doesn't match her track record of campaigning old-school style. Mella writes:
The calculated--read staged--warmth and personalized nature of her announcement belies a trove of historical encounters the nation has in its collective memory, and a few of the prominent traits include iciness, shrillness, and an absolute lack of candor. A kind of 21st century Lady Macbeth, but without the charm.

Juxtapose, for example, Lady Margaret Thatcher with Senator Clinton. In Mrs. Thatcher we had a principled woman whose values were telegraphed with absolute clarity in every move she made, and who brought a sense of forthrightness and candor to the office of prime minister. She was politically astute but most often allowed her instincts to guide her and she did so with grace and a sense of historical purpose.

None of that can be said of Mrs. Clinton who, paradoxically, seems more like the clubby, machine bosses of Chicago's Daley fame, which is to say, the consummate political operative, a master of behind the scenes deals, who present a wholly false public persona. One senses in her speeches and public comments an almost morbid preoccupation with political calculation, that every utterance or gesture is designed to elicit a certain response.
Obama may make Howard Dean's "internet" campaigning look positively low-rent as he embraces an online foundation. Obama has the ability to craft himself in a new light since most of the nation simply doesn't know him. Clinton simply looks out of place with her past and as a front runner, you shouldn't be responding to opponents, you should be making them respond to you.

3. In a guest post at Tammy Bruce's blog, Maynard has this to say:
With respect to hating America, isn't it obvious that this nation is far greater than any other nation? People have come here from all over the world to make better lives for themselves. Where we've influenced other regions, we've made them better than anyone else has done. Look at South Korea versus North Korea, West Germany versus East Germany, Taiwan versus mainland China or Vietnam. How can any sane person look at the big picture of history and conclude that Americans owe the world an apology?

This is not to suggest that America — or anyone else — is above criticism. America may be grand compared to the rest of the world, but we fall short of utopia. Of course we need to work on our flaws! Please, let's just not lose perspective.
America is that last superpower around and of course people will envy our power, but as Maynard points out, just because we have the power doesn't mean we should be ashamed of it.

4. The No Child Left Behind Act is up for renewal this year and the policy chum is already building. Some ideas include scrapping the bill altogether or at least drastically reshaping them. In this article post at Edspresso, Andy Smarick adds more fuel to the debate and I fully endorse his approach.
While I don't have a grand solution that will fix all of our troubled schools, two small changes to NCLB can help bring about the fluid, self-improving school systems we need. First, do away with all "restructuring" options available to failing schools. If a school misses AYP for five years it must be closed (or the district loses its Title I funds).

Second, turn the federal charter schools grant program into an engine of new school creation. Its budget should be expanded significantly and its funds should support the start-up of new schools in areas affected by these forced school closures.

In these new school systems, chronically low-performing schools will be regularly shuttered and replaced by new, highly accountable public schools. Students affected by closures will have the choice of attending a new school or a higher-performing existing school. Every year, the NCLB closure provision and charter contracts will close those schools continuously failing their students. The beefed-up charter schools program will ensure that new schools are always on deck, ready to enter the fray.
The only way to get a school district to change its ways is to withhold money. While Title I is not the biggest part of the education funding pie, it does mean a great deal and schools and states rely on the money. But the closing of schools is only part of the problem. Because upon reopening a school, you may still have much of the same staffing issues, that is teachers of lower quality or lower motivation who look upon their job as a sinecure or entitlement. But at least it is a start.

5. Finally, the Supreme Court will hear the Wisconsin Right to Life case on campaign finance law in April. While some have argued that the case will bring about a new era of "campaign finance deregulation," others are speaking differently. Bob Bauer notes:
WRTL, while it is an important case, by no means presages a major Court confrontation with the campaign finance laws as a whole. The advertising ban before the Court was always one of the more tenuous provisions of the new law.


If the Court limits the range of the 30/60-day spending prohibition, by carving out an exception for "grassroots lobbying," it will not have retreated from its evolving infatuation with the virtues of "deferring" to Congress. The theory of deference, whatever may be said for it, holds that Members are experts in campaign matters, knowledgeable about campaign fundraising and its effect on them as officeholders. This begs the WRTL question: which is about whether the kind of advertising before the Court can be classified as "campaign" spending, and it is not a question that Members can be trusted to answer disinterestedly, posing as "experts."

It is a mistake to assume that the Court might seize on WRTL with some plan to weaken the very foundation of campaign finance regulation. The Court might act simply to define the line between regulation within more established, limited constitutional boundaries, and a new and more expansive version that relocates those boundaries in order to put independent, sometimes influential, political speech under government control.
Randall v. Rorrell, the Vermont Campaign finance case, was likewise thought to be a case in which the Court would move to more deregulation of campaign finance, the that case turned out to be little more than an affimation of McConnell. I don't think WRTL will be any different.

Sorry for the Light Posting

The past couple of days have been a bit of a drag medically in my family. In addition to a raging cold for me, my wife has sprained her ankle and broken a bone in her foot (same leg though) and that means with both of us at less than full capacity, taking care of two very rambunctious children is draining to say the least.

I am on the mend, just a nagging cough and my wife will be hobbling around for a few weeks at minimum.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Daily Top Five: Jan. 17, 2007

1. Bryan Preston and Michelle Malkin are back from their embed in Iraq. Bryan's post at Hot Air should be a must read for everyone. It is a frank assessment of what has been done and the faulty assumption upon which most decisions have been made. The assumptions though are uniquely American and based upon experiences unlike anything in Iraq. Bryan takes a good hard dig at the media:
This one isn’t so much a mistake as just part of the modern world. The media is incurious, generally unethical in its approach to reporting Iraq and far more skeptical of the US military than it is of the insurgents, the militias and even the Iranians. The media hardly ever reports on victories in Iraq because the kinds of things that demonstrate real success just aren’t sexy, and perhaps because at their core they don’t believe in victory. It’s sexy to talk about US troops engaging insurgents on Haifa Street and killing every last one of them, but that’s not a real victory in the terms that govern the Iraq conflict. Street fights and reports about them play into the enemy’s hands, in fact. The media poo-poos events like the re-opening of schools in Iraq because as defined on American terms, re-opening a school doesn’t mean much at all. But in Iraq, the re-opening of a school represents a community in the end state of achieving normalcy. A community that has a functioning school also has a liveable level of security, it has functioning services like power and water and has families that aren’t so worried about local violence that they won’t send their children outside their homes. It means there are probably jobs in the area, and it means that those jobs give families a level of economic security where they can think about their children’s future. Re-opening a school in Iraq means civil society itself has returned to that school’s community. It’s a big deal. But the media doesn’t understand that and doesn’t care to, preferring to focus on combat operations and sectarian killings while it farms its daily reporting duties out to very dubious agents and stringers. (Empahsis in original)
While a lengthy read, it is fabulous in it is analysis.

2. Want some good, original coverage of Congress. Danny Glover (not the actor) has launched I like what I see so far.

3. Freaky weather all around, but here is something funny, if a little tragic. Personally, where I live, I was wearing shorts on Sunday and a heavy coat and gloves today while walking the dog. Go figure.

4. Most people don't know but this year is the 100th Anniversay of the Tilman Act, the first federal law that prohibited corporate contributions to federal candidates. The fellows at the Center for Competitive Politics have a lot to say and lost of links. Brad Smith has more on "Pitchfork" Ben Tilman. Paul Sherman points us to a Washington Post Graphic about corporate contributions. Finally, there is a post with lots of links to CCP work on the area of grassroots communications--a timely topic.

5. I love the idea of charter schools, as any casual reader of this blog can attest. But I also love high school sports as complement to the academic work. But in Indiana and in California, traditional public schools refuse to compete in interscholastic sports with charter schools.
Pacific Collegiate is a member of the seven-school Coastal Athletic League, which includes other small schools such as Georgiana Bruce Kirby and Cypress Charter. But since that league doesn't have swimming and track programs, Pacific Collegiate had to find another league to accept it.

Last year, the school's swimmers and track athletes competed in the SCCAL as a supplemental member, which means that other schools in the league must vote each year to accept it as a member for specific sports.

Last spring, representatives from Harbor, Santa Cruz and Soquel High schools voted to bar Pacific Collegiate, in part because they believe the public charter school has siphoned top students and state funding from traditional public schools.

They expressed concern that the school would use sports as a recruiting tool and argued that students who chose Pacific Collegiate for its academic programs shouldn't expect it to have a full-fledged sports program as well.

Hat Tip: Edspresso.

The Daily Top Five: Jan. 16, 2007

Trying to compose this from my Treo for a change, not sure how this will work. (UPDATE: It didn't work too well).

1. The People's Republic of Montgomery County, MD has approved a new sex ed cirriculum. I am not sure what "sexual variations" will mean in the classroom, but you can be sure of one thing, there will be more controversy.

2. Barack Obama is forming a presidential exploratory committee. I still don't know where Obama stands on many issues, but I will say this, he certainly has a very talented media relations staff.

3. Joanne Jacobs points us to a stroy our of Compton, CA where a school achieved a stunning turnaround in test scores in just 7 years, from the bottom 10 percent to the top 30 percent. The principal's strategy included suspending troublemakers with in school suspension and one on one tutoring. The Ed Wonks have a slightly different take. Brett Pawlowski notes that the principal used some very common business principles in her management, debunking the theory that business principles don't apply in schools.

4. What if the surge works? Most people seem to think that President Bush is wrong on the troop surge, but if it works, President Bush will be viewed as a genius and will have a right to a great, big, fat "Told you so." Not that he would take it, but he would be entitled to one.

5. Here is La Shawn Barber's take on Christianity and illegal immigration. Not what you think unless you are a regular reader.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sunset Over the Key Bridge

Arlington, VA

Record Spending on School Construction To Be Wasted

Yesterday, Maryland Governor Elect Martin O'Malley announced he planned to include a record $400 million for school construction in his budget proposal to the General Assembly,
making good on a costly campaign promise aimed at reducing the number of "temporary learning shacks" that have sprung up on schoolyards in the Washington suburbs and elsewhere in the state.
A "temporary learning shack" should be read as a portable classroom, a common feature at many schools.

From a political perspective, this is a good move for O'Malley as many people in Maryland decry the use of portables for the teaching of their kids. The only reason I can think of is psychological, the portables bring to mind trailer parks and God forbid that image for our kids. I know my own wife finds them ugly and somehow improper, but she grew up in this atmosphere that portables are bad.

I, on the other hand, grew up in Florida, where portables were not only common, they were the product of the high shop classes in most cases, built for students, by students under the watchful eyes of teachers and building inspectors. My middle school was a collection of four permanent buildings with about a dozen classrooms in three buildings, and the cafeteria, library and administrative offices in the other building. The remainder of classrooms were in portables, including gym class when it was raining. This was the norm for us and it made sense.

While the anti-portable crusade makes for good political hay, it is very bad financially. Maryland is home to a number of counties that are not just growing, they are exploding. Schools that would be built with the funds O'Malley promises won't be built for two years at best, in teh meantime, such schools will be obsolete or undersized before the ink is dry on the blueprints.

Portable buildings provide both a cost-effective solution to the ebb and flow of student populations and the flexibility to move as needs dictate. A protable classroom can be built, equipped, and positioned for perhaps five or six thousand dollars each and be constructed in a matter of weeks. A new school building will cost tens of millions of dollars and take the better part of two years to build. This is not to say the schools should not consist of primarily fixed buildings, but there should be room for the addition of portable classrooms as necessary. When the enrollment in a given school swells with the addition of new families to an area, throw a few portables in the school yard and when those students move on, move the portables to a new school.

With a fixed building, the community is left funding a building that is obsolete when finished and then lays largely dormant as the neighborhood ages. The nature of building planning means you are making a guess as to the useful size and life of a building. Maryland is growing (although my guess is that with the spendthrift O'malley and a free spending Nanny-State General Assembly, that could change). The growth demands the construction of new schools, but instead of spending poorly, why not explain the value of a few portables at the schools in the short term saves money in the long.

Of course that would require foresight, for which many people are famously starving for.

The Hypocrisy of Conservatives

It does not take a great leap of cognitive skill to, upon reading this blog, realize that I am a conservative with a strong libertarian bent. So it may come as a big surprise when I take on conservative writers like Dinesh D'Souza. I like D'Souza as a writer and a thinker, I loved his book Letters to a Young Conservative and read his columns on a regular basis. But D'Souza often argues that the left is hypocritical in its views and it often is, but then I read columns like this one.

In dealing with pornography, D'Souza makes the same hackneyed complaints about "modern" pornography versus "acceptable" pornography of years past.
The liberal defense of obscenity and pornography began many decades ago as a defense of great works of literature and of free speech. It began as a defense of books like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. But now some liberal advocates insist that all forms of sexual explicitness are equally deserving of legal protection and that no restriction of obscenity or pornography should be allowed.
So sexually explicit material in a book is fine, but sexually explicit material in a magazine is not? I have not read Flaubert, but I have read the other two novels and I will readily admit much of the pornography available today would make these two books R rated at best. But that doesn't detract from the fact that modern pornography is still deserving of protection.

The fact that the ACLU crusades to keep magazines like Hustler and Screw on the shelves is no reason to decry the effort merely because you don't like the advocate (which D'Souza clearly does not). That does not mean that there are limits to what should be available based on the audience. D'Souza writes:
It is a long way, for instance, from James Joyce to a loathsome character like Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. There would seem to be an obvious distinction between fighting to include James Joyce in a high school library and insisting that the same library maintain its subscription to Hustler. For the ACLU, however, the two causes are part of the same free speech crusade. In a sense, the ACLU considers the campaign for Hustler a more worthy cause because if Hustler is permitted, anything is permitted, and therefore free speech has been more vigorously defended.
While it may be arguable as to whether Ulysses should be on the shelf of a high school library (although I tend to saying yes), having Huster on the magazine rack is clearly inappropriate given the users of a high school library.

Admittedly, there are some types of pornography that clearly cross lines, specifically child porn. But the ban in child porn is not based on some sort of exception to the First Amendment, but rather the ban is the logical result of the prohibition of sexual abuse of children.

But D'Souza reveals the same sort of holier than thou attitude about free speech that many liberals exhibit, only on different subjects. Many convervatives, such as D'Souza, claim that liberals claim free speech protection for their views but then attempt to muzzle speech they don't like (the topic of a chapter in D'Souza's Illberal Education). However, then D'Souza says he doesn't like pornography because it is obscene.

Of course it is obscene, that is what makes it porn. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be protected. Freedom of speech is a difficult ideal to uphold for t means granting the same protection to speech and forms of speech you find loathsome as it does to protecting speech you agree with.

While I still respect D'Souza, my respect has been diminished a little.