Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Daily Top Five: February 28, 2007

1. Tony Blankley, himself no stranger to electoral politics, takes a look at the now marathon of presidential campaigning. One thing I have noted that Blankley discusses is the dearth of policy ideas coming out of the campaigns.
In a traditional active primary campaign of, effectively, three to four months -- a new proposal can be launched and well received with little risk of having to endure a long shelf life. But a new idea put forward a year before primary voting risks not only providing more than sufficient time for an opponent's research team to find and publicize the flaws in the idea (and communicate to and activate the interest groups who would be harmed by the proposal), but also runs the risk of becoming stale and, most dangerously, of letting events overtake the proposal.

Thus is lost one of the great advantage of challengers -- that their ideas are fresh, appealing and plausible, but not public long enough to be measured by events and considered judgment -- which is the inevitable plight of incumbents and their party successors.
But I think we as the voting public should dismiss this reasoning a little. While detailed policy proposals are not needed, some general idea of themes of campaigns, of bundles of issues can help define the candidates of both parties a little better. I don't see myself voting for Obama or Clinton, but that doesn't mean that I might not like some of their ideas. Then there is the problem of attack and defense of candidates.
I suspect that the insatiable public maw of freshness-hunger will prove a vast challenge to the wordsmith and media shops of all the campaigns. Do they save their best for last, or use them sooner when they see their candidate slipping in the polls in April, June or September? On the negative side, when do they launch their killer negatives on the front-runner -- in spring, summer, fall or winter? A lethal attack two weeks before the election might well be recovered from if launched five months before the votes are cast.

And yet, can a front-runner such as Clinton, McCain or Giuliani risk slipping to second or third in the public polling, even for a moment, without emptying both barrels of their mud guns? And how in the name of all that's holy does a campaign manage the timing and points for their media buys?
Right now campaigns that will go on this long are going to get sucked into the gutter and they may not be able to recover.

2. John Hawkins has a good comparison of Carl Levin when a Democrat controlled the White House and when a Republican controls the White House. Comparing words spoken by Levin in 1999 when dealing with the situation in the Balkans and dealing with Iraq today, one is struck silent by the reversal. Now I know that people can change their minds about military interventions, but these kinds of reversals make it a little hard to swallow skepticism.

3. Philip Mella discusses the appeasement strategy of the Democrats when it comes to the War on Terror.
Somehow, the lens through which the liberal sensibility perceives the world translates blatant threats into a language of victimology where compassion and understanding are the operative words rather than confrontation. Indeed, the Democrats inhabit a world where evil is a fiction fabricated by Republicans for political gain, which leads them to advance the case for withdrawal from Iraq without regard to events on the ground.
Appeasement is probably the nicest term one could use. I would call it the Ostrich Syndrome, if you bury your head in the sand long enough your problems will go away--you hope. The problem with current Democratic strategy is the it is based upon a flawed assumption, that they came to power because they were anti-war. They are learning the hard way that most Americans, while not cheering the war on, implicitly understand that we just can't cut and run. Now, the Democrats are learning that they are in power despite their anti-war stance. As a result they have no plan, no leadership on the issue and a fair number of questions from the rank and file.

4. James Joyner asks the question, Is War Ever Worth It? In his post, he links to this essay, in which the writer, Hilzoy notes that war, the use of violence to achieve some political means, ultimately alters your destination and you need to be prepared for where that takes you. I think that in our current political context, we are seeing many Democrats, some Republicans and a fair share of voters, who five years ago supported the use of military force now backpedaling, in part because they don't like where we have come. Whether or not the use of force was necessary or justified, we as a nation have traveled down the path, perhaps willingly at first and now reluctantly.

Now our mission is to keep our eyes open and not succumb to the Ostrich Syndrome. The war has produced results we did not anticipate or like, but the results we see are predictable given the nature of war. Perhaps we as a nation have become accustomed to quick victory at low cost.

War is often worth the price in the long run. But short run costs can be steep, although arguably the current cost of teh war on terror is relatively low given the scope of the conflict. Keep in mind that the last people on earth who want to fight a war are the warriors themselves, for it will be their blood shed and their lives lost on the battlefield. Given the morale of our military now, should the question be, is quitting a war ever worth it?

5. This is not the kind of partisanship that is going to help the GOP. Sure Jefferson may be a criminal, but he is still a U.S. Representative and a Democrat. The Democratic caucus determines committee assignments as does the Republican Conference. If Jefferson is that bad, sooner or later he will screw up and then the GOP has real fodder.

The Politics of School Districting

Anne Arundel County Maryland is the site of a third fight between parents and the school district to change the districting lines for two local high schools, the higher performing Arundel High and the lower peforming Meade High. From the article in the Baltimore Sun:
About 43 percent of Meade students passed the state algebra test last spring, and 52 percent of students passed the state English test. The portion of Arundel students who passed those exams were 61 percent and 68 percent, respectively. A third of graduating seniors from Meade go on to a four-year college, compared with 43 percent from Arundel.
The school board is proposing to move 344 students from Arundel to Meade in a move desinged to reduce the crowding at Arundel, which has an enrollment of 300 students above capacity.

The problem is that the districts planned move is being described as racist and an attempt to resegregate the schools.
Arundel High is 31 percent African-American, and Meade High is 55 percent African-American.

School officials have denied that race has played a role in the proposal, maintaining that their goal is to clear space at Arundel High. The school, which is more than 300 students over capacity, would remain crowded even after a new science wing is built if some students aren't moved out, schools planning director Chuck Yocum said.

At a meeting Monday night, more than three dozen Seven Oaks residents lobbied the school board to reject Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell's proposal.

They filed into an auditorium at Meade High School, walking past a mural that said: "There is more that draws us together than drives us apart."

The Meade feeder system, which includes nine elementary schools and two middle schools, is more than half minority. It serves Fort Meade, two public housing complexes and other nearby neighborhoods that are filling up quickly with professional and upper-middle class families who say they bought their homes on the promise that their children would attend Arundel High School in Gambrills.
While Meade has suffered from a negative public image, school officials say that the perception is changing, due in large part to moves by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission which voted to alter nearby Fort Meade's mission.
But the impending base realignment and closure process that could infuse the Fort Meade area with top-level engineers and scientists and create at least 14,000 white-collar jobs has spurred school officials to beef up the academic program at Meade High. Meade has expanded its college preparatory track with more than 20 Advanced Placement courses, the International Baccalaureate program and a pre-engineering program.
Schools ebb and flow in terms of their respectability in most suburban counties and Anne Arundel county is no different. I suspect that due to the crowding problems, this time the redistricting is likely to go through.

Baltimore Moves to Restructure, Close Schools

The cash-strapped and educationally challenged Baltimore City school board voted last night to close seven schools and restructure eight others in a move resulting from state pressure to operate more efficiently, address poor student achievement and save operating funds.

According to the Balitmore Sun, the overwheming approval of the moves, opposed by more than a few parents and community leaders is expected to save some $20 million in the capital budget and some $2 million per year in operating costs. The Baltimore school system suffers from a surplus of space, the schools, prior to the closings, can house 125,000 students but the system has just 85,000 students. Earlier the school board had voted to create a plan to reduce class space by 15 percent. The current crop of closings is part of that move for a system facing $ billion in capital improvements and repairs.

The Baltimore city school system is the worst performing district in the state. With some schools having fewer than 1/3 of the students testing as proficient, pressure from NCLB and from the state to improve the perforance of the schools has lead to a unusual management structure for the eight schools that are being restructured. As I noted yesterday, Towson University, a local university that is part of the University System of Maryland, will manage five elementary/middle schools and two of the three restructured high schools. Johns Hopkins University will manage the other high school. Each school will be governed by a board of directors composed of parents, teachers and community leaders.

Each of the schools will have a governing board and there will be an overall governing board for the seven schools that Towson will manage. Each of the schools will reportedly be run as a quasi-charter school, meaning that the school's budget will be managed independently, although it remains to be seen how that will operate when dealing with union contracts and other factors. One reason complete move to charter status did not occur is Maryland's statewide cap on charter schools (24 statewide) has been reached and the General Assembly has not authorized an increase.

Towson University is already running one school in the city and has provided staffing, funds and equipment and is expected to do the same. As one parent noted in the story:
Deborah Demery, the PTA president at Carter G. Woodson, praised the plan that provides for Towson to run the schools for five years.

"As parents we're committed to this," Demery told the board. "As long as Towson is there, we will be there."
What remains to be seen is how effective these new arrangements will be at incresing the only measure that matters--student achievement.

Related: Baltimore Schools to be Restructured

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Daily Top Five: February 27, 2007

1. Nancy Pelosi is finding it harder to govern than she thought. From
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is discovering the cold truth about governing with a slim majority: It's much easier to promise behavioral change for Congress than to deliver it.

Pelosi vowed that five-day workweeks would be a hallmark of a harder-working Democratic majority. So far, the House has logged only one. Lawmakers plan to clock three days this week.

The speaker has denied Republicans a vote on their proposals during congressional debates -- a tactic she previously declared oppressive and promised to end. Pelosi has opened the floor to a Republican alternative just once.

Pelosi set a high standard for herself when she pledged to make this "the most ethical Congress in history" -- a boast that was the political equivalent of leading with her chin. And some critics have been happy to hit it.

She is drawing fire for putting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who had $90,000 in alleged bribe money in his freezer, on the Homeland Security Committee. And The Washington Post reported during the weekend that she is helping chairmen raise money from donors with business before their committees.
It is always easier to lob bombs than defuse them.

2. One school from the People's Republic of San Francisco is abolishing home work. apparently next on the list is abolishing the ability to think. These kids are doomed to failure in future grades. Hooray for David Ackerman!! Not all homework has been abolished, but still, I think homework, if done even properly, can enhance learning and at the very lest re-inforce skills. It also teaches responsiblity and self-discipline.

3. Speaking of education, Generation Y or millenial kids lead the Pack in the narcisism department.
In the study being released today, researchers warn that a rising ego rush could cause personal and social problems for the Millennial Generation, also called Gen Y. People with an inflated sense of self tend to have less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted.

"That makes me very, very worried," said Jean Twenge, a San Diego State associate professor and lead author of the report. "I'm concerned we are heading to a society where people are going to treat each other badly, either on the street or in relationships."
I have seen young people who are so used to getting their way, they don't understand the concept of compromise, of conciliation and of deferring to others in some situations. The result is that some recent college grads struggle not only with their personal lives, but their careers as well. The authors take care to note that they don't think Gen Y needs massive psychiatric care, but do note it is a problem.

4. Al Gore's Energy use is certainly getting a lot of press, perhaps rightfully so. I find the hypocrisy troubling, but Captain Ed warns us, don't get too sloppy with the righteous paintbrush:
Okay, before we start really throwing the hypocrisy label at The Goracle of Global Warming, we should take care not to hit ourselves with it first. Most CQ readers are free-market thinkers. There's nothing wrong with Gore using that kind of energy if he's willing to pay for it. A mansion would use a lot more energy than a normal single-family dwelling; I'm sure that Bill Gates' electrical bills dwarf what Gore's paying for his Tennessee juice. My objection to his level of consumption would only be that he's driving prices up with his large demand.

That being said, the fact that his energy use increased so dramatically after the release of his documentary makes him look a little ridiculous. After all, he's on the road more now, and energy use should decrease, although his family may not travel with him much. Besides, as we saw at the Oscars last night, Gore wants the rest of us to downsize and conserve rather than just treat energy like any other market -- and Gore is obviously not doing that for himself.
My thoughts are here, I still think it hypocritical.

5. The Duke Rape Case is a complete and utter joke. The defense team still has not seen the prosecutions DNA test results. Mike Nifong has now been held up by two federal circuit courts as a bad example of prosecutorial misconduct.

Maine Public Election Fund Dying?

One of teh state often cited by campaign finance reformers as a model of public financing of campaigns is Maine. However, as reported here, the state's program is having financial difficulties:
It is hard to imagine that when the Legislature adopted the Clean Election law, it envisioned turning the election commission into a collection agency.

And the fact that the fund did not run dry last year appears to be just dumb luck.

Funding for clean elections comes from a system that looks like Rube Goldberg invented it — a very complex machine designed to do a very simple task. Some money comes from the general fund, some from the charity of taxpayers who check off the right box on their income tax forms. Then there are fines, supposedly paid by violators of the Clean Election law.

However, demands on the fund don't just come from candidates who are slow to reimburse it. There are also unpaid loans, by the governor and the Legislature.

According to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, Gov. John Baldacci — and Angus King before him — with the assistance of the Legislature, has made a habit out of raiding the fund to pay for other state expenses.

At one point, according to Maine Citizens, the Clean Election Fund had been raided to the tune of $6.75 million with only $2.4 million returned.

Last year the fund was saved by the skin of its teeth by an infusion of cash from the Legislature of $1.2 million, significantly short of the $4.8 million that Maine Citizens argued should be returned.
So a complicated ufnding mechanism coupled with poor administration still yeilds a fund far too tempting for the rest of government to leave alone. Maine's election fund is far smaller than any that would be required by a federal system and they can't seem to manage it very well.

Congress, which has a penchant for raiding supposedly untouchable line items (the Social Security "trust fund") would have to have a pot of money to the tune of at mininum half a billion dollars (that is if you allot $1 million per congressional race, double that for Senate races and even more for high dollar Senate races), a fund that can be accessed by any candidate who can met what would probably be pretty minimal standards. That nice juicy $500 million pot, on the conservative side, would present too tempting a target for federal appropriators.

The management of a public funding mechanism for the presidential system occupies several dozen lawyers and staffers at the FEC, can you imagine the complexity of the system were it to be applied to all Federal elections?

Advice to the GOP

GOP Pollster Frank Luntz had this op-ed from Sunday's Washington Post. What is startling to me about this post is that while Luntz has polling data on his side, the reality is that voters want something I have long advocated, sensible solutions to real problems. Voters want candidates with ideas and a positive outlook, something that is sorely lacking from the public discourse today. Both sides of the aisle are all anti-all the time. For the Democrats it is anti-war, anti-Bush and anti-Anything Bush stands for. The Republicans, conversely, are bereft of ideas and are acting like a minority party destined to remain a minority because they whine about unfairness like my five year old when I tell her to clean her room. The GOP is anti-anything supported by Nancy Pelosi & Co.

Luntz takes a long time to get to his prescription for the GOP, but finally gets there:
The path to a GOP majority must be paved with solutions to the real problems of real people. Republicans should talk about expanding health savings accounts and educating Americans about the benefits they offer. They should commit to sunsetting government programs every four years unless continuing them can be justified. They should pledge the investment necessary to develop renewable fuels and alternative energy. They should challenge Democrats to tackle the burgeoning tax code and fight for tax simplification on behalf of hardworking taxpayers.

Republicans need a spirited, intellectually based rebuttal to every piece of Democratic legislation and an alternative to every policy -- not a new parliamentary maneuver.
I don't like the Democratic agenda, but at least they are positing ideas. Despite their campaign rhetoric of all war, all the time, the Democrats came to power with a plan. I had chastened the Democrats when they were the minority for not offering alternatives and now I must chastise the GOP to not do the same.

The beauty of being the minority party is that you get to offer alternatives and dare the majority party to ignore them at their peril. Even now, Nancy Pelosi is finding it much more difficult to pass legislation than to propose it. The responsibility for governing may lead to a dearth of ideas, but being in the minority can lead to beautiful idea generation. For that reason, Luntz's advice is important. But the advice is also important on another level.

In 2008, the voters will have an opportunity to vote "for something." While 2006 may have been an aberration in that a large portion of the electorate, Luntz estimates about 16 percent, voted against the GOP instead of for the Democrats, there is an opportunity to steal those voters back. By offering ideas, solutions and a positive outlook, the GOP can win in 2008, both the White House and Congress if they are smart and aggressive in their ideas. From Luntz:
How incredible that the antidote to what ails the Republicans can be found in the words of a famous Democrat. In his tragic run for the presidency in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said, "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?' " The magnificent poetry of that challenge -- to do more and to do better -- is at the core of who we are as a society, what we want for America and for ourselves. Here is the reason why the Republican Party has faded from relevance in the past two years.

Despite its many problems, the United States remains a nation of dreamers. The American psyche is genetically wired to see possibilities. Faith in the future is in our DNA. It's why we historically vote for the more positive, hopeful, upbeat candidates.
While modern political operatives tend to think of voters as a massive group of idiots, I believe that if you take the time to explain your ideas, rather than "brand" or soundbite them out, you can convince Americans try new things.

Like Luntz, my advice to the GOP can be summed up in just a few words: Be positive, ask and lead but don't tell voters how to act. Above all, listen, listen, listen.

Lieberman: Democrat on Everything But Iraq

Much has been made about Joe Liberman's potential abandonment of the Democratic party due to his disagreements with the party over Iraq policy. But as notes:
But a review of the Connecticut senator's voting record since his return to Congress as a self-styled independent suggests another label: Dependable Democrat*.

The asterisk, of course, refers to Iraq. Lieberman has fought Democrats with the pluck of a third-grader in a dodge-ball tournament, advancing the view of him as a rogue ready to bolt the Democrats, where he caucuses, for the Republicans. And in a Politico interview last week, he once again refused to rule out the possibility.

Yet, his newfound freedom hasn't reshaped his voting patterns. He broke with the majority of Democratic senators on only five of 52 votes he's cast in the last two months.
So Lieberman is more reliably Democratic than a couple of his more centrist colleagues, Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Evan Bayh (D-IN), but neither of those men receives the tongue lashings and flamings that Lieberan receives regularly.
The different perceptions underscore how indelible Iraq has become as the base line for determining party loyalty. Lieberman emerged as a decisive vote last month in the minimum-wage debate -- twice giving Democrats a one-vote edge in defeating Republican amendments -- but that party fidelity on domestic issues gets lost in his disobedience on Iraq, where he twice sided with the GOP to block a rebuke of the president.

"There are Democrats in recent years that have been quick to criticize Republicans who apply a litmus test: If you are not with us 100 percent, you are not with us," Lieberman said. "That is what I feel has happened too much within the Democratic Party."

Lieberman "doesn't digress from the party that much," acknowledged Jane Hamsher, the Connecticut-based author of who worked for Lieberman's 2006 opponent, Democrat Ned Lamont. But, she said, it is Iraq that matters.
Not to dismiss the importance of Iraq policy, but why is it that this one issue has become the defining point for being "Democratic Enough." Lieberman could probably have voted against minimum wage, against lobbying reform, and against everything else the Democrats have put forward in the Senate and not been as abused. Lieberman could even become ardently pro-life and receive less grief.

Iraq is important and proves to be incredibly divisive in our nation, but as a litmus test, it is a poor issue. Unlike, say abortion, there are not really two clear sides, but the Democrats have made clear that you either support an end to the war or your are the enemy. Polite disagreements on one policy now creates the hatred and vitriol of sectarian warfare. Will the Senate become such an ideological battleground that any deviation is grounds for attack and dismissal? The current stance of the Democratic party with regard to its Senators on Iraq makes the Charles Sumner caning seem positively civil.

Baltimore School Restructuring

Last year, the state of Maryland attempted to take over nearly a dozen failing schools in Baltimore City, an effort that ended with the schools remaining status quo ante--that is failing miserably. Now, the Baltimore Sun is reporting that many of the same schools considered last year are now going to be restructured due to, you guessed it, inability to actually educate kids.
Sparked by failing test scores at eight academically troubled schools, the city school system is considering proposals to relinquish control of the schools to local universities and other outside partners who could devise strategies for turning them around.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposals tonight. Under one proposal, four elementary/middle schools in Cherry Hill would be operated in partnership with Towson University. A governing board would be established to oversee those four schools plus Morrell Park Elementary/Middle, which is already run by Towson.

In a separate vote, the board is being asked to approve plans to restructure three failing high schools - Frederick Douglass, Patterson and Northwestern - that were targeted by the state for outside takeovers last year. Each would establish its own governing board, and Douglass would operate in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University.

The eight schools would operate similarly to charter schools, public schools that operate independently.

"This is not for the faint of heart," said Jeffrey N. Grotsky, a senior researcher at Towson's College of Education. "This is real reform. Our expectations are quite high."
What is interesting is the while the schools will operate like charter schools, they will receive full public school funding (charters in Baltimore are still engaged in fight over funding despite a court ruling in their favor.) Additionally, the schools will be managed by a committee consisting of parents, teachers, other community leaders, and education activists who have volunteered. The schools will have full autonomy over their budget. The important part is the inclusion of parents in the schools' operation. Outside of charters, this may be the first time in Baltimore public school history where parents have real control over the functioning of the school.

While the schools have control over budget, it is highly unlikely that they will have control over staffing since it is not reported that the schools will be exempt from union staffing rules. The school board will meet tonight (Feb. 27) to vote on the restructuring plans.

Update (2/28/07): The Baltimore City School Board approved the restructuring in a near unanimous vote. More here.

Campaign Technology

Danny Glover has reprinted an article from National Journal that discusses the use of Google AdWords and search engine optimization techniques for campaign purposes. While I am not a big fan of the Googlebomb and other search engine optimiations, I like the idea of using AdWords as a low cost means of spreading a message.

Check it out.

Gore's Inconveniet Truth

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has this to say about Al Gore and his own energy consumption:
Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.
A couple of Huffington Post writers, Dave Johnson and James Boyce call the move a smear machine. But please note that the group that broke the news is not exactly RedState. Of course, that doesn't stop the lefties from claiming Gore is being smeared.

Look, I don't begrudge Gore his big house, I wish I could afford an electric bill that is as big as most people's mortgage payment, but you have to wonder at the hypocrisy of Gore's position. It is not just the private jets or the massive energy bills that Gore racks up, but the insistence that I change my habits regarding energy consumption for a global warming problem I am not convinced actually exists. That is the hypocrisy that bothers me. I think Ed Begley Jr. is a bit of a kook, but at least he is a consistent kook with regard to energy consumption. Gore lacks that consistency of message and action.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Daily Top Five: February 26, 2007

1. Much was made of the use of video segments on candidate websites and I admit that I thought it a fairly good idea. But the wonders of video editing can make the tool a little hazardous. Air Congress has a good example using Hillary Clinton and Michelle Malkin.

2. The Washington Post carried a story today about teenagers multi-tasking, wondering if it damages their ability to think deeper about any given topic. Joanne Jacobs notes:
Some neuroscientists "fear that the penchant for flitting from task to task could have serious consequences on young people’s ability to focus and develop analytical skills." Developing young brains may get stuck in fast ‘n shallow mode, they fear.

There’s no research. For all we know, multitasking builds fast ‘n flexible thinking.
I tend to agree. What I wonder about is whether or not all those stories about "too much homework" takes account for all the distractions adding into the time it takes to do the homework. If you spend 25 minutes of every hour of homework on non-homework tasks, sure it will take you twice as long to do the work. Joanne also points to this post by Tony Woodlief, who writes:
It's not the technology that I'm suggesting might deserve blame, mind you, but the stupid things that our ignorant children, under our incompetent tutelage, choose to do with it. Consider that the average teen in the Pew study reported spending about 18 hours a week in some form of social activity with other teens, either in person or online. Another Pew study found, for example, that the majority of American teens are active on one or more social networking sites. Add to this the reality that nearly half of U.S. high-school seniors work 20 or more hours per week during the school year (very likely with other unskilled people), and the picture becomes clearer: a large portion of high-school seniors spend nearly 40 hours a week interacting primarily with other ignorant individuals. It's almost as if we've made the study of stupidity a full-time job for them.

Then, to remedy this, we stick our kids for six hours a day in front of teachers who largely lack a coherent pedagogy, and many of whom can't meet the very standards we expect them to help our children achieve. And we wonder why children don't have the basic skills to write — or even comprehend — an essay. Clearly, the government isn't spending enough on education, right?
I think Woodlief goes a little far, but he may be on the right track. Now I didn't spend a lot of time with adults as a teenager, but I certainly spent as much time with my head in a book as I did on the soccer field.

3. Ryan Boots at Edspresso rebuts the charge that Charters are a backdoor attack on public education." Leaving aside the fact taht charters are by definition public schools in that they are publicly funded, the battle may be one of semantics.
Opponents of school choice have also set up a very unfair and misleading dichotomy in the school choice debate in which they have the "public" moniker all to themselves. It goes something like this: we (school choice opponents) support public schools, meaning the school choice crowd is clearly against public schools. Yes, I'm well aware that the use of the word refers to the funding of the schools through tax dollars. But consider other interpretations. Private schools can easily be called public institutions in the sense that they're open to anybody who wants to enroll. No, they aren't free of charge, but no school is free, least of all the tax-supported variety. Besides, nearly all private schools routinely do some pretty heavy fundraising to help keep tuition as low as possible, even offering full scholarships to students whose families can't afford the expense. Private schools might not be taxpayer-supported, but that doesn't mean they aren't public in a different sense.
"Public school" advocates are labeled anti-choice by school choice advocates and vice versa. This may seem like a side issue, but remember the Federalist Papers had opponents who wrote "The Anti-Federalist Papers" and look how that turned out.

4. Gov. Tom Vilsak dropped out of the Presidential race, citing money as a leading factor for his early departure. Terry Michael calls "hogwash."

5. Speaking of campaign finance: On Saturday, the Washington Post noted that Democratic campaign committees are offering up the Chairmen of various committees for fundraising. The Post notes
Critics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November -- particularly the practice of giving interest groups access to committee chairmen in exchange for sizable donations -- but Democrats are unapologetic.

"Financial services companies are inclined to give to me because I'm chairman of the committee important to their interests," said Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, who will headline a breakfast Wednesday at a D.C. hotel, for which donations range from $1,000 to $15,000 for the Democratic National Committee. "I'm fundraising to give to others so I can help stay in the majority and do the public policy things I want."

Asked whether banking interests feel obligated to give to Democrats when he asks them for contributions, Frank answered: "Obligated? No. Incentivized? Yes." Frank said, however, that those donating "understand, and others do, too, that there are no guarantees of my doing what they want, or even my being pleasant."

"I'm getting a lot of fundraising invitations," said Robert E. Juliano, a Democratic lobbyist. "It's no different than any other year."
Juliano is right, the GOP did this when they were in control and the Democrats did it before them. It may be "business as usual" but it is also how business is done in Washington and there is nothing illegal or unethical about the practice.

Site Updates

For the more astute visitors, you may have noticed a few changes to the site today. I am trying to get my blogroll, which is hopelessly out of date, caught up to what I actually view and read somewhat regularly. With some of the upgrades to Blogger, the maintenance of the site should be easier (in the old days you had to hand manipulate the html to update your blogroll).

If you didn't notice, ignore this post. Thanks for reading.

Blogs That Make Me Think

Last week, Darren at Right on tthe Left Coast named me a a blog that makes him think. To say I am honored would be an understatement. Keeping the meme going made me think pretty hard. Like Darren said, there are lots of blogs that I read regularly, some daily, some a couple times a week. Most I read for a specific set of information or a take on things going on, some make me think, but here is a list of the top five that make me think, in no particular order.

Clear Commentary by Philip Mella. Mella's blog is a relatively new addition to my regular reading. While his viewpoint is certainly conservative, his writing is insightful and always solid.

The Liberty Papers. Although I have something of a libertarian bent on a number of social policy matters, I am not a libertarian. The Liberty Papers is and contrary to what a lot of "libertarians" write, the blog presents quite a principaled look at issues. Some people will call themselves libertarian, but talk to or read them enough you will find them not as libertarian as they profess, these guys are.

More Soft Money, Hard Law is a challenging title of the blog written largely by Bob Bauer of PerkinsCoie. Bauer, probably the leading Democratic campaign finance lawyer around, writes very thoughtful arguments about campaing finance law. While I don't agree with everything Bauer writes, I never leave his pages without thinking about what I just read.

The Volkh Conspiracy--you don't have to be a lawyer to be challenged to think after reading posts by any of the Conspirators. Topics tend to focus on legal matters, but politics, public policy and even Star Wars make appearences.

Discriminations is a blog that is hard to pin down as either an education blog, which is where is resides in my shortcuts list or a policy blog. But however you characterize it, the blog asks us to think very hard about our preconceptions regarding race and society.

In State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants in Maryland Likely

While you wouldn't notice so much from the press, there is a bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly that would grant in-state college tuition eligibility for illegal immigrants in the state. From Southern Maryland Online (story dated 2/20/07):
Immigrant advocates and high school students went before a House committee Tuesday to describe how illegal immigrants who live in Maryland are unable to go to college here because they are not allowed the lower tuition rates available to in-state students.

Undocumented immigrants are considered nonresidents of the state for tuition purposes because of their inability to establish legal residency.

"We're talking about children," Delegate Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George's County, sponsor of a bill to allow illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. "It's not their fault and you shouldn't punish them. We should try to assimilate them to mainstream society and education is the way to do that."

If enacted the bill would change the requirements needed to obtain in-state-tuition rates. Prospective students would not have to provide a social security number but they would have to show that they attended a public or private high school in Maryland for at least two years and received a high school diploma or its equivalent within the state.

The applicants also have to prove that they are trying to obtain permanent residency status, which is the first step to becoming a legal citizen for foreign born residents.
First, while we may be talking about children, we are talking about children of illegal immigrants or illegal immigrants themselves, i.e. law breakers. Why should we as taxpayers in Maryland provide any financial breaks associated with Maryland citizenship and residency for people in this country illegally? The state already picks up the tab for health care (a not insubstantial sum), elementary and secondary eduction (also not cheap) and a host of other social services for a large illegal immigrant population. We, the taxpayers of Maryland are now going to be asked to subsidize education as a top-flight public university? We will the General Assembly draw the line?

Next, the story notes that students won't need a social security number, which is required of U.S. citizens, regardless of their home state. Foriegn students attending Maryland universities pay out of state tuition rates, and those students would be in the country legally. So for the price of a high school transcript (subsidized by the state) an illegal can get a pricey, high quality college education without all the rigamorole of a citizen (including I might add registering for selective service if they are men).

Tonight, a rally will be held in Annapolis, organized by CASA of Maryland, to push for the tuition bill, among other things. Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown is scheduled to attend.

Jazzmen Tynes, writing in the Towerlight, the student newspaper of Towson University, notes:
[S]everal states offer free-money and low tuition to illegal immigrants. So far, Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas have passed state laws providing in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens who have attended high school in the state for three or more years.
Furthermore, University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan supports the measure. A similar measure was passed by the General Assembly in 2003, but then Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) vetoed the measure along with slashing health care benefits to illegals. At the time and during last year's election, Ehrlich was painted as anti-immigrant, when in fact it might be more appropriate to call him Pro-law.

If this nation is serious about stopping illegal immigration, one way that the federal government could put a stop to these state actions is with money, or rather the withholding of money. Like most state universities, the University System of Maryland gets substantial grants and research contracts from the federal government. The feds could easily say, no more grants or research unless you certify that in-state tuitiion is granted to U.S. Citizens or legal aliens only. But then the federal government would have to show a little backbone on this issue, something they have been loathe to do.

Slow Bleed Strategy Dies a Quick Death

This Washington Post story details the death of John Murtha' "Slow Bleed" strategy. As I have said repeatedly, Democrats lack the backbone to defund the war, the only Constitutional weapon they have in their arsenal. Micromanaging the war also will not fly either.

Oh and that deauthorization thing--yeah kiss that one goodbye too.

Hillary's Words

I love Tammy Bruce, she keeps everything quite real. But there are times when she gets a little gratuitous, like in this post about Hillary Clinton's crass language. Look, people got bent out of shape when Vice President Cheney dropped the f-bomb on the Senate floor, but swearing and politics have a long history together. To me, it is no surprise when people swear in private. Certainly, Clinton needs to treat the people who work around her with far more respect, but the fact that she swears should not be surprising. Nor would it disqualify her from the Presidency. Any presisdent who hasn't sworn from time to time in office would just shock me to no end.

More on Rep. Bachmann's Iraq Partition "Plan"

Hot Air has more on the Michelle Bachman "split Iraq in two" plan I mentioned last week. Is she off her rocker, probably not. But one has to wonder when she makes this announcement. Perhpas a bit paranoid might be more accurate.

Who's At War

Not America according to this photo.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Daily Top Five: February 23, 2007

1. There is lots of talk about the Democratic strategy to end the war, or more accurately, strategies. Charles Krauthammer notes that the paths being considered are no way to win a war. My comments are here.

2. Earlier this week, I posted about Club 2012 in Loudon County, VA. The post generated a lot of traffic for me as well as the follow-up, in which I asked the question of whether the black subculture is at least partly to blame for the achievement gap. LaShawn Barber also has a post, in which she chides not just black Americans, but all Americans--your children, your responsibility.
Groups like Club 2012 should spring up all over the place. Black parents in Loudoun, Virginia, banded together to combat what they saw as a self-perpetuating and self-defeating cycle of underachievement. The group should serve as a model for all parents, and I hope readers send the story link to others.

Groups like Club 2012 work only if parents, not the government, care about how their kids are doing in school and do something about academic issues. Narrowing the academic achievement gap will take more than complaining and demanding money. It will take the hard and sometimes grudging work of parents getting in their kids’ business, charting their progress in school, and asking others for help, not demanding it, if they can’t manage it on their own.

There is nothing wrong with asking people for help, but these days, certain folks don’t understand the difference between asking and demanding. It may shock some of you to read this, but nobody owes you a darn thing.

3. Democratic leadership in the Senate had better be careful about their strategy with regard to the Iraq war. In the end, I don't think Lieberman will switch parties, he simply doesn't agree with much of the Republican domestic policy agenda, in fact he disagrees with most. But with his comments hanging over his head, he will be the most important man in the Senate, perhaps even all of Washington, for sometime to come.

4. What???
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claims to know of a plan, already worked out with a line drawn on the map, for the partition of Iraq in which Iran will control half of the country and set it up as a “a terrorist safe haven zone” and a staging area for attacks around the Middle East and on the United States.
I will be listening to this podcast soon. Chose the CapitolCast.

5. Roger Simon interviews the Governator.
One thing Arnold Schwarzenegger said: He thinks Democrats should stop criticizing Hillary Clinton for refusing to say she made a mistake by voting for the Iraq war.
I think Hillary should say what I advise here:
The next time the question comes up, say "I voted in 2002 based on information available at that time. We know something different know and had I known then what I know now, my vote would have been different. But everyday, everyone makes decisions based on less than perfect information and Senators are no different. Do I have regrets about my vote, yes. But I don't doubt my vote at that time. I can't afford the luxury of doubting every vote I cast."

The New Vulnerability of Hillary Clinton

Peggy Noonan's column today in the Wall Street Journal says that Hillary Clinton is less inevitable after the past week. The feud with Barack Obama and David Geffen notwithstanding, the only think inevitable about Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she was doomed to go down. As front-runner, that is the only place to go.

Certainly Obama has wounded her and rightfully so. But Hillary Clinton's downfall will not come from without, but from within. Some people point to her naked ambition, her slow-boil, slow-to-cool, anger, ability to keep a grudge and other personal attributes as the source of her pending fall. I doubt that the psycho-analysis is needed. The fact of the matter is that most Americans have a view of her and most of that view is not positive, whether for the above stated reasons or for anything else.

This week Hillary Clinton has demonstrated her ability to screw up big time. Her petulant cry to Obama to give back David Geffen's money and the money he raised is but a symptom of the problem. For so long, people have built her up as the nominee apparent that she has not stopped to think and build ideas. She is expecting support because of the mere fact that she is Hillary Clinton. Obama, Edwards and the rest of the field are building a campaign, Clinton thinks she has one.

Another case is point is the apology for the Iraq vote that the left keeps demanding. Now, I don't think she should apologize for any vote she has taken in her brief Senate career. The problem is that she keeps trying to obfuscate the issue by saying that the President mislead her. But that is a bigger lie. She probably had access to more information over a longer period of time than any other freshman Senator, but she keeps dodging the issue. Here is my advice to Hillary Clinton (probably the only advice I would give). The next time the question comes up, say "I voted in 2002 based on information available at that time. We know something different know and had I known then what I know now, my vote would have been different. But everyday, everyone makes decisions based on less than perfect information and Senators are no different. Do I have regrets about my vote, yes. But I don't doubt my vote at that time. I can't afford the luxury of doubting every vote I cast."

Now, of course she won't say that because such a statement requires a confidence in oneself that she lacks, that she may be on the wrong side of something and that scares her and her campaign staff. This, and not anything else, is what makes her vulnerable because her hubris cannot be avoided or mended.

Democratic Lack of Courage and Iraq Options

Most pundits and blogosphere writers on the right side have noted that Democrats lack the courage of their stated convictions, namely that the Democratically controlled Congress could pass binding, as opposed to non-binding, resulutions about the conduct of the war.. The common meme is that to defund the war means that the Democrats would suffer the political consequences should Iraq fall apart and that the GOP would have a mighty weapon in the 2008 elections. But what if the authorization were reversed? That is the new idea being floated on the Senate side, to de-authorize the war. What ever course of action, whether the slow-bleed strategy, defunding or deauthorizing the war, the Democrats will lose in the law and likely in the court of public opinion.

Yesterday, George Will pointed out another reason, a good one at that. Constitutionally, the Democratic "slow bleed" strategy is doomed to failure.
Suppose Democrats write their restrictions on the use of forces into legislation that funds the war. And suppose the president signs the legislation but ignores the restrictions, calling them unconstitutional usurpations of his powers as commander in chief. What could Democrats do? Cross First Street NE and ask the Supreme Court to compel the president to acquiesce in congressional micromanagement of a war? The court probably would refuse to get involved on the grounds that this is a "political question."
The Court would be absolutely right in deferring on the question. The Constitution clearly gives the President the power of Commander in Chief and he, and he alone, has the final decision making authority over what troops to send where. What could happen next?

Well, the House could vote to impeach the President for failing to carry out the laws passed by Congress. But the President, as well as Congress, has just as strong a duty to ensure the Constitutionality of the laws as the Supreme Court. So the House does have the ability to get Articles of Impeachment out, but the Democrats don't have a prayer of getting 67 votes to convict. The Democrats in additon would look like petulant school children before the American people and they could kiss 2008 goodbye, along with their Congressional majority.

Thus, even the "slow bleed strategy" is doomed to failure because Democrats would lack the courage to pursue the strategy to its likely end, a showdown impeachment trial in the Senate.

But what if the war is "de-authorized." That strategy too is fraught with failure potential. Initially, the Senate would have to get past a probably GOP filibuster. Even if the White House asked Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote, the Dems have an even bigger problem--their own majority may be in jeopardy. Sen. Joseph Lieberman has sent signals that a vote to de-authorize the use of military force may lead to his departure from a Democratic party that has been all to ready to throw him under the bus. The there is the veto, which the President is all but sure to do. The Democrats will never be able to muster 67 votes necessary to over ride the veto in the Senate and probably wouldn't come to close to the 2/3 necessary in the House either, even with Republican defections.

What about a different strategy, defund the war in the appropriations battle, a strategy the Democrats are loath to take, but lets persue the hypothetical. Assuming the Democrats move forward with the gutless tactics of defunding the war, they have a real problem--the very same Veto Pen from above. President Bush could and should veto any legislation, namely the Armed Services appropriations bill that would contain any language defunding the war. That appropriations bill contains, along with funds for prosecuting the Iraq war, authorizes the funds to pay the military and civilian employees of the military--a not insignificant voting bloc. But the Armed Services appropriations bill also pays the government contractors that build weapons and supply materials to the military, an industy that reaches into every Congressional district in America. The Democrats no matter what their stance cannot afford to offend such powerful constituencies.

So the Democrats throw a bill that defunds the war and somehow get past a GOP filibuster in the Senate. The President Vetoes' the bill. Now Congress needs a 2/3 majority to override the veto--good luck.

The Democrats are already on the hot seat with this issue. There is a small, but significant portion of the voting pulic that doesn't like the war, but feels we can't abandon the mission now. Any moves by the Democrats to leave the war unfinished will no doubt cost them in 2008. Already moderate Democrats are uncomfortableeven with the slow bleed strategy. As the liberal base keeps pushing this issue with these bad ideas, the Democrats will finally live up to their recent past by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Reform Expertise

There has been a pretty healthy debate over the Ed Wonks regarding this post (which I talked about in the Daily Top Five of Feb. 21.)

On a macro level, the issue is whether or not a person should have to have experience in a given field before offering advice for reforming that field or system. The Ed Wonks think that too many education reformers have never spent any time teaching. I think that you don't have to be a practitioner of a given profession to offer suggestions for improvement.

The idea spills over into many different fields that I discuss. Campaign finance and politics have their reformers, however misguided I might feel them to be. There is legal reform, ethics reform, medical reform and reform of all sorts going on around the world. Do we really think that such reformer have proper expertise? Is expertise requireed or would have a fairly good grasp as a lay person be enought to offer suggestions? What if you are simply a stakeholder in the dispute, in other words, do you have to have a dog in the fight to be worthy of making suggestions for changes?

"A National System of Non-Partisan Redistricting"

Professor Bainbridges posits the idea, although acknowledges that he won't be holding his breath.

I have long felt that the system of politicized gerrymandering has left us with far too few competitive congressional districts and not very much turnover in the People's Chamber. With less than 10% of House seas being truly competitive in any given year and most of those are open seats, the current system needs to be examined. I think that the insertion of a predilection for competitive district drawing could help. I am not particularly enamoured of a national system, but if designed properly, I could keep an open mind abou the matter.

Lieberman and the Democrats

This quote comes from a comment to Ann Althouse's post on this subject:
He's the new Justice Kennedy! The left despises him, but lives or dies by his vote.
That perfectly summarizes the Democrat's feeling on the matter.

100 Mile Per Gallon Car--Coming Soon

The X Prize Foundation, the group that spurred the competition for the Spaceship One enterprise, is preparing to announce the rules for a competition to produce a 100 mile per gallon car. Of course there are probably some prototypes out there already, but the rules for this contest are a little different:
"These cars must be production viable in quantities of 10,000 or more as judged by industry experts. We want to prevent the million-dollar fuel cell car from entering as well as the technically competent but ugly ‘bubble car,’" says [foundation Executive Director Mark] Goodstein.
So this won't be a concept car or a small run of vehicles that only the super rich can afford, the winner must be able to mass produce and mass market the car.

Instead of govenrment regulation mandating certain criteria, the free market of innovation and ideas might provide the real breakthrough. That has always been the case.

Hat Tip: The Instapundit

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Campaign Finance Reform in Wisconsin

Bob Bauer points to a new report issued by the Brennan Center for Justice discussing the campaign finance laws in Wisconsin. Bauer is skeptical of the conclusions in the report, concluding himself:
The Brennan Center leaves no doubt of its conviction that the reforms can be reformed. It does not trouble to reassure readers who doubt that this next round of reforms will succeed any more than the last. If, as the Center states, it is true that "throughout the last century, governments in [the] states often led the way for the rest of country, providing ‘laboratories of democracy’," we should be prepared to confront more directly and more carefully the reasons for their failures.
My experience with Wisconsin goes back a few years, when not long after the state legislature mandated the use of electronic filing for candidates and PACs in the state (a good step forward), the same state legislature failed to provide funding to create the electronic filing system. Talk about bright.

But if the Brennan Center is adamant about "reforming" the Wisconsin system, perhaps they need to look carefully at the expereince of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green at the hands of the Wisconsin State Elections Board. While scandals have plagued the state's recent history, the Center fails to point to what in the law as it currently stands or as they propose would prevent the scandals they point to. If a lawmaker or other official is going to break the current law, what is to prevent them from breaking a future law?

The Brennan Center has published a number of studies of state campaign finance laws, which can be found here.

The Daily Top Five: February 22, 2007

1. I just love this story. It seems that naturalized citizen Eric Odessit decided to counter protest an "art" project that was really an anti-war protest staged in part by Code Pink. The Indepundit has a great post on the matter.

2. Democratic candidates debating in Nevada resulted in big promises, but no plans. Roger Simon, writing at,
When it comes to the issues, there are few real differences between the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for president.

They all want health care for every man, woman and child in America. They all want to improve education in this country. They all want to end the war in Iraq.

So when they march on stage one after another, as they did in front of a labor union forum here, the differences quickly get down to personality, credibility and, of course, what they promise.

It is not enough for candidates to promise us the moon anymore. Now, they must throw in the earth, the sun and the stars, too.
Barack Obama, who skipped the event may have come out the best in the matter. He hasn't promised the sun, the moon or the stars. At least not yet, but according to Thomas Sowell, Obama needs a serious lesson in economics. The problem with the Democratic primary field, and the GOP field for that matter, is that at this stage, the battle is not really relevant because all we have are platitudes designed to garner attetion, no proposals worthy of serious consideration.

3. Joanne Jacobs discusses high school dropouts. Without a doubt, states and school systems under report the drop out problem. The number of drop outs reported simply doesn't match the reality. If a 30% drop out rate in California is even half way accurate, this country has a real problem. Jacobs sites options discussed in the Sacremento Bee article that contains descriptions of a number of proposals for helping cure the problem. But given that students who drop out in high school started on that path in middle school, it would seem taht the most cost effective intervention is in middle schools, not with dozens of fancy projects, but simply helping kids through an emotionally, socially, physically trying time would be the most successful.

4. Ken DeRose gets all Latin on us. But his post about the hatred of Direct Instruction in schools gets right to the heart of the matter. DeRosa, who has been talking about Direct Instruction and Project Follow Through for several weeks now, sums up the hatred of the DI program:
Also included in the experiment was a program designed by a non-educator with no formal education training other than teaching preschoolers. This program was Direct Instruction (DI).
DI was not created by a teacher and therefore has been viewed a verboten amount the Edu-Crowd. But the problem is that DI works, and works better than any other pedogogical system extant.
Clearly, these results were a profound embarrassment to our educators. Not only did a program developed by a non-educator completely and utterly trounce the educators' programs, but often their programs were beaten, and beaten badly, by the control group which received a more traditional education.

The bitterness still exists to this day. The DI program is so hated by educators they have erased it from their collective memory banks. It is a painful reminder of their professional incompetence. It dispels all their unscientific "theories" and unfounded opinions. It shows that they are a sham.
I have seen DI in action a slightly different scenario. In the military, where most of the specialty instruction is presented in a fashion similar to DI, because it works. There is not a great deal of opportunity for a civilian teenager to learn how to maintain the avionics on an Apache helicopter. So the soldier is taught, step by step, each idea and lesson building on the previous work. This method of instruction's success is demonstated by the powerful military we now have.

5. A good one for Grins and Giggles. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, whose presidential campaign has been overshadowed in recent weeks by charismatic rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, today walked into a K-Street beauty salon in Washington, D.C., commandeered the clippers and shaved her head down to the bare skin.

"If Britney Spears can milk a week’s worth of top headlines from this trivial act, so can I," said a visibly-agitated Mrs. Clinton, who, as it turns out, has "magnificent head shape," according to the stylist on duty.

The candidate said she has not ruled out visits to tattoo and piercing parlors, and will do "whatever it takes."

"I’m in, and I’m in to win," she said. "The American voters can now see that I have much a larger cranium than Sen. Obama, and I think they’ll draw their own conclusions."

Hat Tip: Mary Katherine Ham.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Daily Top Five: February 21, 2007

1. A couple of days ago Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, was speaking at an education reform forum and according to the NY Sun, said these things:
Steve Jobs has guts — enough guts to speak his mind about what he thinks is wrong with public education even at the risk of harming his business interests.

In a speech on Friday, the chief executive officer of Apple and Disney honcho declared: "I believe that what's wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way."

The problem with unionization, Mr. Jobs argued, is that it has constrained schools from attracting and retaining the best teachers and from dismissing the less effective ones. This, in turn, deters quality people from seeking to become principals and superintendents. "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good? Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, ‘I can't win,'" Mr. Jobs said. He concluded by saying, "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

There is a price to be paid for this kind of frank analysis and Steve Jobs knows it. "Apple just lost some business in this state, I'm sure," Mr. Jobs said. Of course, Apple sells a large portion of its computers to public school systems. By taking a stance against school unionization, Mr. Jobs may lose some school sales for Apple.
That takes guts. Betsy Newmark had this to say about Jobs and the issue of merit pay:
Of course, the real problem with merit pay is how to determine which teachers are good and which ones aren't. I bet that at any school, you could survey teachers, students, parents, and administrators and come up with a decent consensus on which teachers were good and which ones weren't. But there would be some anomalies. Students might prefer the easy teacher rather than the one who challenged them. Some parents might have the same attitude. Administrators might prefer the teachers who volunteered to take on extra duties without complaint. But, in general I think that people know who is a quality teacher and who isn't. But that isn't quantifiable. How do you base a pay system on such gut feelings?
that survey sounds an awful lot like a 360 Degree Review I talked about here.

2. The Coyote Blog asks an important question in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on a Philip Morris punitive damage award. Is it possible or even judicially prudent to allow a company to face punitive damages for the same crime over and over again? In the Philip Morris case, the Court said, "to permit punishment for injuring a nonparty victim would add a near standardless dimension to the punitive damages equation." But that leaves open the question of punitive damages in successive, non-class action suits.

3. Hugh Hewitt has a great post on how old media can survive in a new media world. The answer--innovate and remember that branding matters.

4. Last week I noted that Sen. Obama has asked the FEC for "permission" to raise funds for the general election, deposit them in an escrow account and then decided, assuming he wins the nomination, whether to take public funding or not. It is a question really of definition, as comments to the AOR by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 point out. I agree that the issue is one of defining terms and it is important, but it seems to me that the complicating factor is the appeal of "free money" that is money that the public funding of presidential campaigns allow. If the public funding was not available, this would not be an issue. Hat Tip: Professor Hasen.

5. I genuinely like the Ed Wonks, one of my favorite education sites. But when they say things like this, I think they are way off base.
Why is it that so many would-be EduReformers (who are so quick to criticise our public schools) would never consider going into a classroom and actually work with children themselves?

We weren't the first one to notice....

Some of us who do serve children on a daily basis continue to be amazed at the horde large number of non-teaching teaching experts that are out there.

Maybe it would do many of 'em some good if these "armchair educators" went down to their local school district, filled-out an application, and, if nothing else, did a little substitute classroom teaching.

We think that this person might find such an experience to be particularly entertaining for us to watch enlightening.
Here was my response:
I will tell you why.

I am a taxpayer, I have a constitutional right and a duty to petition the government (that includes school boards, administrator and teachers) for a redress of my greivances. If that makes me an "armchair" edu-reformer then so be it and I will wear the title with pride.

I also can read data pretty well. The data tells me that our schools have not improved in nearly 40 years, that test scores have remained flat and that there are better methods available to be tried. I see evidence of reluctance to try anything new.

As an attorney, if my clients don't like my services, they are free to find other representation. Public school kids don't have that choice and so it is up to us parents and "armchair edu-reformers" to take up the cause--ca ause too many politicians, teachers and certainly the teachers unions have proven unfit for the task.

The Causes of the Achievement Gap?

Yesterday, I posted these comments about a story from the Washington Post about a group of black parents in Loudon County, VA who banded together to help their sons stick with school. One of the interesting parts of this story is that Loudon County is one of the most affluent counties in the country, with an average household income of over $100,000. Clearly these parents had the resources to help their sons focus on academics. So why does Loundon County have a significant achievement gap?

But the fact that Loundon County, a very wealthy county by just about every measure, still suffers a significant achievement gap among minority students nagged at me personally. This from the Washington Post story:
In affluent Loudoun, known for its strong schools, black students consistently lag behind their white classmates on standardized tests. Last year, 63 percent of black eighth-graders in the county passed the state math test; 62 percent passed in English. White students' pass rate for both subjects was 89 percent. At Eagle Ridge, where 8 percent of students are black, the gaps were similar.
While the black enrollment at Loudon County schools is lower than inner city schools or other counties in Virginia, and Loundon schools are touted among some of the best in the region, they still suffer an achievement gap of better than 20 points. Why?

Education researchers will tell you that socioeconomic status carries a great deal of weight in predicting the educational outcomes. The evidence appears convincing, but Loudon County cannot be considered a poor county by any measure. The families involved in this parents group were financially secure, well educated and often two-parent homes, yet their sons in particular are score 20 points lower than their white counterparts on tests. Is Loudon County just an outlier? Other wealthy counties in the DC Metro region have similar achievement gaps, despite the relative wealth of the county and the generally acknowledged quality of the school systems.

The WaPo article seems to suggest, but fails to explore, that part of the problem is cultural, not economic. When young men of affluent parents view education as for white kids or nerds, then perhaps Bill Cosby is right, the problem is not fully with the schools, but with a black culture that discourages young men from getting an education, a culture in which ignorance is not only accepted, but lauded.

In short, is the achievement gap more a function of socioeconomic conditions or more a function of cultural norms amoung the black community?

Improving Teaching By Using Business Practices

Over at EdPol, Nitin discusses some of the obstacles that teacher merit pay encounters, including perfectionism.
Policymakers want to design the perfect policy. They want to create the perfect merit pay system. If the system being proposed is not perfect, then policymakers revert to doing nothing.
Nitin then goes on to discuss the manner in which businesses deal with this uncertainty or inability to design the perfect pay system. In his post he discusses two concept with which I am very familiar and wholeheartedly endorse.

The first is 360 Degree Feedback. This concept deals with having an employee rated by several different people who maintain different relationships with the employee. In the business world, this often includes the employee's supervisor and subordinates, peers, customers and other individuals who can offer an assessment about all or part of an employee's work. The benefits are enormous, in that while a Supervisor may have more sway, a subordinate can counter what would otherwise be a mediocre evaluation with superior ratings from other individuals.

In the world of education, there are many stakeholders in a teacher evaluation, the school administration (the principal), other teachers both in and out of that teacher's focus, parents, students, support staff, etc. Each of these groups has a unique take on a teacher's performance and taken as a whole, and combined with student test scores, can easily provide an outstanding picture of a teacher's effectiveness. A 360 Degree review, while administratively more complex, is far more accurate a picture.

I don't think that many teachers would disagree that strong interpersonal skills are required to be an effective teacher. But some teachers simply don't get along with the administration for whatever reason, a 360 Degree review can obviate some of those personal preferences by principals by giving teachers who are objectively effective (via test scores) and subjectively effective (via evaluations from other stakeholders) a chance to minimize a principals effect on their evaluation.

The other concept described by Nitin is Kaizen. Kaizen is the concept of continuous improvement, the process of making something better through incremental (sometimes very small) changes. Kaizen as a business philosophy is about continuous daily improvement, whether it be process or product improvements.

The problem with teaching as it is practiced today is that many of the practitioners are working in near total or semi-isolation. Teachers are insulated from their peers, in part due to nature of the work (there can't be a lot of teachers in one room as it is a waste of time and resources), but there is also the matter of a lack of a process for examining process, procedures and outcomes.

As I have said a number of times in this space, teaching could benefit from adopting the model used by other professions, namely the law and medicine. While lawyers and doctors often work independently for much of their practice, there are professional mechanisms in place to provide for kaizen. Whether it be large, formal conferences or smaller informal meetings to discuss operations, processes, inputs and outcomes, the legal and medical professions seek continuous improvement and even the smallest change in procedures are known to have massive impacts on positive outcomes.

The way I see Kaizen in schools is simple. Continuous, practical review of lessons, tests, curricula and other educational processes and products can happen, should happen. We all know that no one is perfect and we need to embrace the idea that someone could have a better way or whose input may suggest a better way. It doesn't have to be big, it could be something as simple as changing the ordering of lessons, improving the language in a test or simply crunching the test results to improve lessons.

Educators and educrats often scoff at the idea that business practices have a place in education. Whether the viewpoint is based on the altruistic nature of the education mission, or in the belief that because you are working with children, business practices seem to have little respect within the education community. But it needn't be that way. There is a reason why American business is so successful as a community--they embrace the ideas that everyone involved in the business, from the owners and managers to the customers, has a valid take on the conduct of business. Businesses also understand that change is constant and embracing change and harnessing change for the better improves their business and their goods/services. If educators would begin to view their service from the viewpoint of a business arrangement, it can only lead to kaizen--incremental change for the better.

Hat Tip: 107th Carnval of Education.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Daily Top Five: February 20, 2007

I have gotten behind due to work issues, but here are today's top five:

1. This is an important decision regarding the rights (rather assumed rights) of Club Gitmo detainees. Here is the WaPost story and here is the decision. I have not read the whole decision yet, but I plan to. As a starting point, I would not grant terrorists or terrorist supporters who are not U.S. Citizens any rights in U.S. civil courts. Period, end of story.

2. This post by Joanne Jacobs is a few days old, but brilliant. It is also garnering a lot of comments about direct instruction. While I don't consider myself a DI expert, the exposure I have had with it tells me intuitively that it works better because knowledge and material is presented in a logical progression with lots of response by students. Of course, DI has it detactors, but if you were to put DI up against all other pedagogical programs, put your money on DI to win and win by a mile. It works for everyone, maybe a different speeds but for everyone.

3. Edspresso brings us the insanity of Arizona school choice opponents. Remember, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The ACLU Foundation of Arizona, People for the American Way and the Arizona Education Association seem bent on betting against school choice in court. Fine, whatever. But they also appear to think foster kids have nothing to lose and would like to play too. ACLU et al can deny it all they want, but their lawsuit would strip a precious educational opportunity from a lot of kids who have enough difficulties in life to begin with. I know they're beholden to other interests, but the odds on foster children are risky enough without their interference.
These people have lost twice in Arizona courts and given the limited focus of this program for foster kids, they seem likely to lose again.

4. Philip Mella fisks E.J. Dionne and Democrats for their viewpoints on the war:
Therefore, the question that must be asked is whether, on balance, our chances to bring stability to Iraq--and thereby security to the region--are enhanced or undermined by the Democrats' plan of establishing a withdrawal date? If not, then we should be pleased that President Bush is not listening to the Democrats, because it's abundantly evident they have nothing to say.
So long as Democrats continue to yap rather than act, they really don't have anything to say.

5. Michael Barone on military intelligence. Having served in the military and having had friends who were intelligence analysts I can tell you that they may be more accurate than weathermen, but military intelligence is far from fully accurate and they will admit it. Barone notes that today, Bush critics don't understand the basic precept:
The critics seem to be assuming that we can somehow obtain intelligence that is 100 percent accurate. But that is not possible in the real world. Intelligence tries to get information that regimes are making great effort to conceal -- evil regimes, in the case of Saddam and the mullahs. Our leaders must make decisions based on incomplete and highly imperfect information. And that information can remain imperfect for a long time. We still don't know what Saddam did with the WMD he once had and never accounted for.
With perfect information, you can make a perfect decision right? Wrong I say. Even with perfect intelligence, decision can be poorly made, poorly executed and poorly reviwed. Human decision making is fraught with faults and foibles. But leaders can't wait for perfect information--they are elected and paid to act on imperfect information, just as President Bush has done for a long time. Barone closes with this:
Again we encounter the idea that intelligence agencies' conclusions should be regarded as Holy Writ, not to be questioned or analyzed critically by high government officials -- that there can be an intelligence product that is 100 percent accurate, and that every intelligence community conclusion must be treated as if it is.

The Bush critics' position is that we must believe without reservation or criticism any intelligence that can be used to argue against military action and that we should never believe any intelligence, however plausible, that can be used to argue for it. That's not very intelligent.

Parental Involvement In VA Schools

The Washington Post is carrying a story about a group of parents who are working to prevent their sons from falling behind in school.
Twelve-year-old Alex Carter is an A student who loves science and reads a book a week. So it surprised his father when he announced last year that he didn't want to enroll in an honors class that his teacher recommended for the following term.

"That class is for the smart people, the nerds," Alex told him. His father replied, "Well, who are you?"

Alex is a junior league football player, an avid golfer and a lifelong suburbanite. He's also one of only a handful of African American students in his seventh-grade class at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn. He dreams of becoming a professional athlete like his dad, Tom, who played cornerback for the Washington Redskins. But as he nears his teenage years in a predominantly white school in Loudoun County, his parents are concerned that he could abandon academic pursuits because he thinks they are better left to his white classmates.

That's why Tom and Renee Carter joined last year with about 15 families, including the parents of nearly every black male sixth-grader, to push their sons to graduate on time in 2012 with options for the future and without lowering their expectations or test scores along the way. They call it Club 2012.

The group holds monthly house meetings, twice-weekly homework sessions, "rap sessions" between fathers and sons, and social or community service activities. The parents speak often with teachers and administrators, many of whom come to parent-organized events.
The group is from DC suburban Loudon County, VA, an affluent suburban county where test scores are typically very hight and minority popoulations very low. But that doesn't stop the achievement gap.
In affluent Loudoun, known for its strong schools, black students consistently lag behind their white classmates on standardized tests. Last year, 63 percent of black eighth-graders in the county passed the state math test; 62 percent passed in English. White students' pass rate for both subjects was 89 percent. At Eagle Ridge, where 8 percent of students are black, the gaps were similar.
The parents of these boys (and they are all boys since black girls tend to view academic achievement is a more positive light) did something that, while not unprecented, is unusual--group buy-in.
But even with their advantages, these parents say they worry about the images of African American men that their sons absorb from popular media. Carter said he started noticing his son and his friends strutting, letting their pants sag and picking up slang. He became troubled when they started doubting their abilities in advanced math and science.

Carpenter said she understands that her son now cares most about his friends and being cool. So she figures if she can get all of the boys to buy into the idea that math is cool, too, then they will help one another succeed.
Thus, but putting the peer pressure to work for them instead of against them, these parents are trying to break teh idea that it is uncool to be smart and educated. I don't know the genesis of the idea for this "club" beyond what is presented in the article, but the concept sounds very similar to the positive peer pressure discussed in The Pact, a book by three black doctors/dentists from New Jersey who defied the odds in part because they relied on each other and helped each other through the academic tribulations to becoming doctors.

While this kind of parental involvement in not only important, but may actually be crucial for the success of students in school, the one factor that is only briefly mentioned is the need for such groups. Parents often feel very alone in the advocacy for their kids's education. Some may say that is what the PTA is for. I respond with what Joe Williams said about the PTA--don't expect them to do anything other than raise money. The PTA, by definition is about the whole school and what the whole school needs, not a particularly vulnerable subset of the school. At schools where test show 90% of kids passing the starndardized tests, there is no need to advocate for the 10% of the kids not on the passing list--they are seen as a hurdle, not a problem.

While it seems that Club 2012 may be an isolated club unlikely to exist beyond the personal interests of the founders, it does point the way for other groups. Bringing people together with a common interest can yeild strong benefits for their children and the parents themselves.

Update 2/21/07: Related Comments Here.

Hillary Clinton and The South Carolina Flag Controversy

I will readily admit that it seems such an anachronism for South Carolina to display the rebel flag atop its State House. Likewise I can see how candidates can use the flag for political purposes, it is such a cheap target. But Hillary Clinton takes the Hypocrisy cake with these comments,
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from its Statehouse grounds, in part because the nation should unite under one banner while at war.
"I think about how many South Carolinians have served in our military and who are serving today under our flag and I believe that we should have one flag that we all pay honor to, as I know that most people in South Carolina do every single day," Clinton told The Associated Press in an interview.
via Breitbart.

If you are searching for a word to describe this stance, hypocrisy would be one. Clinton's hypocrisy apparently knows no bounds. The theory of uniting under one flag in a time of war is simply laughable given that less than 48 hours earlier she voted in the Senate in favor of debating a cowardly non-binding resolution of dissatisfaction with the President. That vote and position, in itself, is a reversal of her 2002 position in favor of the use of military force in Iraq. The concept of uniting behind one flag in a time of war is as alien to Hilary Clinton as reading is to a dog. She has made political hay out of her "opposition" and "dissatisfaction" with the course of the war as President Bush has led it. I can forgive a fair amount of hyperbole in a presidential election, but I draw the line at hypocrisy.

At the same time, Hilary Clinton's hypocrisy extnds to using the rebel flag for political purposes. Clinton doesn't want the flag to be removed, that would take away her wedge she needs to appeal to black voters in the conservative bastion of Sout Carolina. Hilary Clinton's standard appeal is to use race as a divider, not a uniter. So by asking for the flag to be removed, Clinton simply mouths platitudes she thinks blacks want to hear. What she should be talking about is education, or taxes or anything else that really matters. Does the flag smack of an unpleasant past, sure, but most people, including the blacks of South Carolina, have real world problems they want elected leaders to address. After those are addressed, maybe talking about a rag would be worth the time and trouble.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Daily Top Five: February 15, 2007

Sorry for the late posting, had a few modem problems yesterday and connectivity problems at work. Damn interweb thingie!!

1. If you ever needed more proof that musicians and actors should stick to their craft and spout off on political matters, John Mellencamp said this to provide it.

2. the House is debating a meaningless resultion, at least in terms of its effect on policy and on the law. However that doesn't mean the "Non-binding resolution" is without effect. The Wall Street Journal provides some perspective. this is the lead:
Congress has rarely been distinguished by its moral courage. But even grading on a curve, we can only describe this week's House debate on a vote of no-confidence in the mission in Iraq as one of the most shameful moments in the institution's history.
Here is a couple of paragraphs from the middle:
All the more so because if Congress feels so strongly about the troops, it arguably has the power to start removing them from harm's way by voting to cut off the funds they need to operate in Iraq. But that would make Congress responsible for what followed--whether those consequences are Americans killed in retreat, or ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, or the toppling of the elected Maliki government by radical Shiite or military forces. The one result Congress fears above all is being accountable.

We aren't prone to quoting the young John Kerry, but this week's vote reminds us of the comment the antiwar veteran told another cut-and-run Congress in the early 1970s: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" The difference this time is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha expect men and women to keep dying for something they say is a mistake but also don't have the political courage to help end.
And this is the closing paragraph:
History is likely to remember the roll as well. A newly confirmed commander is about to lead 20,000 American soldiers on a dangerous and difficult mission to secure Baghdad, risking their lives for their country. And the message their elected Representatives will send them off to battle with is a vote declaring their inevitable defeat.
All the stuff in between is very good as well.

3. Paul Sherman at the Center for Competitive Politics has a post about reforming the war chests that many candidates build over the course of years, in this case looking at campaign finance reformer Martin Meehan. In his piece Sherman discusses the idea of War Chest Amendment, similar to the millionaire's amendment, allowing underfunded candidates to raise money under higher limits or in the alternative, or in addition, a proposal to require candidates to dispose of their excess campaign funds. I had floated such an idea almost two years ago,here and here.

4. Edspresso is carrying commentary by Checker Finn and Mike Petrelli on the report by the Commission on No Child Left Behind. As Finn and Petrelli put it, "No Idea Left Behind." The two have a pretty tough takedown on the first recommendation:
The worst—ominously listed first—would “require all teachers to produce student learning gains and receive positive principal or teacher peer review evaluations to meet the new definition of a Highly Qualified and Effective Teacher (HQET).” That Orwellian recommendation illustrates the basic flaw in this approach: start with a sound instinct (gauging teachers’ effectiveness by their impact on pupil achievement). Then pretend that the U.S. Department of Education is a National Education Ministry, able to micromanage complicated processes (like vetting teachers) from Washington. Neglect to undo the mistakes of NCLB, so that instructors must also still meet the current law’s paperwork-laden, credential-heavy “highly qualified teachers” requirements (which mostly serve to keep talented people out of the classroom) even if they do prove effective at boosting student achievement. If past is prologue, the U.S. Department of Education will most likely muck up this entire enterprise, setting back a promising idea (evaluating teachers based on their impact on student learning) for a generation.
Many teachers alread chafe under the requirement that they are 100% responsible for student achievement despite the nature of the kids they teach. This would probably lead to an all out revolt.

One question, why is it blue-ribbon panels have to have 200 pages of mediocre or meaningless recommendations. Why not four or five really good recommendations along with suggestions for implementing them.

5. Finally, Philip Mella brings us, as always, a strong piece about the GOP nomination process. In short, the GOP must confront the issue of electability as well has defender of conservative values. Mella points out that Americans are becoming socially moderate, although I would tend to think more socially libertarian, i.e., they are sick of government involving themselves in daily lives in matters not germane to governing. In such, the GOP may have to swallow their social policy anxiety and nominate Rudy Guiliani for the very reason that he can not only beat Democrats, but beat them at their own game.
Therefore, as noted at the outset, conservatives must perform the unpleasant task of political soul searching and deal with the crucial issue of electability. That means confronting the equally disturbing fact that the electorate is evolving towards moderate positions, thanks to their lockstep response to the siren song of our culture which is at once indifferent to moral precepts and the noxious consequences of its collective behavior.

In short, Mr. Guiliani is a made to order presidential foil for the very best the Democrats can muster, one who will be an unflinching supporter of strict constructionist judges, a robust and unapologetic intelligence apparatus, and who would continue President Bush's policy of pre-emption for states that support terrorism.