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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

President Feingold

Ben has Feingold's statement on Bush's speech this morning.

More exciting, though, is the reaction to Russ on MSNBC this morning. Jeffrey Feldman has a good write-up (waring--lots of comments, slow loading):
I just listened to a statement from John Kerry in response to the President's speech, and then an interview with Russ Feingold. [. . .] Russ Feingold has just become the new leader of the Democratic Party. [. . .]

Kerry was confusing, he was overly patrician. He was unclear. After listening to him speak for five minutes, it was not clear what his ideas were.

Feingold was the exact opposite. [. . .] Feingold made several points that were crystal clear.

First, he said that the President's strategy should not be "Victory in Iraq," but "Victory Against Al Qaeda." [. . .] Second, he said that just because the President made the mistake of confusing the war in Iraq with the fight against Al Qaeda, doesn't mean that we should make that mistake over and over again. We must refocus the war on the real enemy: Al Qaeda.
There's lots more.

Face it: Russ Feingold is talking about what our national security priorities should be. No one else in the Democratic party has been so consistently and so eloquently right about the war. The underlying problem is not so much that Bush misled (in more ways than one); it's that Bush's priorities have been screwed up since the beginning.

Russ is not cut-and-run wimp, as the right wing has so inelegantly tried to label him. (When in Doubt, the right-wing motto seems to be, Accuse a Democrat of Treason.) He just wants to be sure that when we do send our troops into battle, we do so against the right enemy, with the right planning, and with a clear mission and definition of victory.

Hillary ain't got that.

Rubbing salt in the wounds

Last night, in an utterly unsurprising move, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors renewed the contract of our superintendent:
Approval of a new contract came after a closed session of almost four hours, the board's fifth closed session in three months to discuss [the superintendent's] job performance and contract. In total, the board spent almost 15 hours on the subject. [. . .]

The new agreement also removes language in the current contract that would allow the board to fire [the superintendent] without giving any cause. The new contract will give him a stronger position by permitting him to be terminated only "for cause."

Board member Peter Blewett urged the board to keep the provision for firing without cause in the contract, saying the change might tie the hands of future boards. But his motion to that effect was defeated 7-1, with one member voting "present."
Jennifer Morales, the "peacemaker" on our side of the board (there's no sense in pretending there aren't sides anymore), voted with the reformer majority to renew. That's not what bugs me. I have fully expected this move since the board elections last April; I'm a little surpised it took this long.

Here's what chaps my overworked behind:
[The superintendent] was given a 5% raise, increasing his salary from $160,000 to $168,000 a year, plus improvements in some of his fringe benefits, including a $3,000-a-year increase in payments for an annuity beyond the standard Milwaukee schools retirement benefits. That would increase the annuity benefits from $16,000 to $19,000 a year.
Anyone else want to take this one? I mean, you could start with, Where are all the anti-pension anti-tax folk on this one? Oh, I know: They're all busy trying recall defeat Jim Doyle.

Beyond that, there are really only two reasons to give someone a raise--to keep them from quitting and to reward them for performance. We know that the superintendent wants to stay at MPS, so there is no need to juice his contract to keep him around. What about his performance? Let's just say that if were an MPS student, he'd be held back a year. Perhaps the Board is thinking that his railroading through untested and unproven "reform" is sign enough of success, but if I were a board member--and I'm not (yet)--I would want to wait until I saw the results of the "reform" before I reward its implementation. And don't get me started on "improvements in fringe benefits"! Every other time he opens his hypocritical mouth, he's yammering on about the need to cut teachers' benefits! (The board majority, also known for their itchy benefit-cutting fingers, deserves blame here, too).

But I can't just keep ranting forever here, as I have work to do (I don't think he works four times as hard as I do), more than usual since I'll be in Ottawa starting tomorrow. At least now I have something to brood over on the plane.

Backwards

So let me get this straight: We're two and a half years since "Mission Accomplished," and just now we're getting a strategy for victory in Iraq? Does that strike anybody else as insane?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

First I broke Parliament . . .

. . . and now I've made the Virgin Mary cry.

I'd better be careful tomorrow, lest I flood the Grand Canyon, turn lead into gold, or, perhaps, find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

J-Dizzle in a holding pattern

SurveyUSA is out with its latest set of rankings for 50 states' worth of governors, and Wisconsin's Jim Doyle is once again thoroughly mediocre, and slightly behind in overall approval. If the conservative half of the Cheddarsphere gets hold of it, they'll trumpet the slight uptick in Doyle's negatives from the rooftops. But the new poll is no different, if you look at this pretty graph:



You can see that, from month to month, there's a lot of statistical noise, with the negatives consistently a little higher than the positives, but all of it back and forth in a narrow range.

In fact, these numbers are not much different from where they were the last time I commented on them, and not really different from the head-to-heads from the non-partisan St. Norbert poll out couple of weeks ago.

What's interesting is looking at the break-out numbers. J-Dizzle has a huge gender-gap problem, for one. But What I find most interesting is that Doyle's pos-neg in Southeast Wisconsin--where Milwaukee and Racine might provide a stronger liberal base--is 41%-51%. Oustate, he clocks in at 49%-46%. This suggests that, if Doyle can turn up the liberal charm without alienating the rest of the state, he can pick up some ground. I'm not sure what he can do to do that, though. The details also help to answer a question Dean Mundy posed a while ago: Why are Doyle's ratings so low? Self-identified Dems show a 26% negative, and self-identified liberals show a 36% negative. I doubt many of those can be "turned" by Walker or Green, so, again, room for the Dizzle to grow.

Update: Xoff beat me to it, but I didn't see it.

From this morning's paper . . .

  • Mortgage defaults are up, which should come as no surprise. The bubble is getting closer and closer to bursting. (And, looking at the graphic, you have to wonder what happened in New Jersey.)
  • No comment. Okay, a little one: The superintendent of my district has decided that next year, my school should enroll essentially no new ninth graders, on our way towards planning for "small learning communities." What we tried to tell him, and what he chose not to understand, is that the resulting loss of staff from such a cut would devastate the very programs that would become our small learning communities. Bye-bye, electronics, advanced placement, CNA training, International Baccaluareate . . .
  • I still have not heard a persuasive--or even logical--argument why a constitutional amendment designed to destory this family will "protect" the marriages of anyone else. I know I have the occasional conservative reader; any of you want to give it a shot?
  • There's a joke in here somewhere about rocket scientists from Sheboygan, but I haven't found it yet; still, it has to be better than the paper's dull "one giant leap" teaser. More seriously, any economic development plan is worth looking at, and this is certainly among the most daring.

Just my luck

Canadians dissolve Parliament days before I head to Ottawa. Do you think they knew I was coming?

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Wages of Teaching

Many of you have probably already seen it, but I am just getting around to posting about Anna Quindlen's column from last week's Newsweek, The Wages of Teaching:
Teaching's the toughest job there is. [. . .] The average new teacher today makes just under $30,000 a year, which may not look too bad for a twentysomething with no mortgage and no kids. But soon enough the newbies realize that they can make more money and not work anywhere near as hard elsewhere. After a lifetime of hearing the old legends about cushy hours and summer vacations, they figure out that early mornings are for students who need extra help, evenings are for test corrections and lesson plans, and weekends and summers are for second and even third jobs to try to pay the bills.

According to the Department of Education, one in every five teachers leaves after the first year, and almost twice as many leave within three. If any business had that rate of turnover, someone would do something smart and strategic to fix it. This isn't any business. It's the most important business around, the gardeners of the landscape of the human race. [my emphasis]
I think one of the strongest and most insidious myths of modern America is the myth that teachers have it easy--the summers off and weekends free crap. I haven't had a summer off since I was 16. My weekends are not--and, as long as I'm teaching, will not be--free.

The reason the myth is insidious and particularly destructive is that it contributes to the idea that teaching is neither an honorable profession nor one that we should encourage our best and brightest to attend to. The easy extrapolation is that people who teach must be lazy fools who can't hack it in a real job that takes real talent or real effort. Worse, given that so many teachers leave the profession in the first three years (in urban areas, the attrition rate is much higher), the myth makes those who bail feel even more inadequate that they can't hack it at such an easy job. Teachers quit because teaching is hard work. I have always invited anyone who doubts this, and who criticizes teachers based on this myth, to join me for a day at my school. Do my job, for just one day, and see if you still believe the myth. Sykes? Belling? That crotchety guy up north? None of them want to do it.

I also have never fully understood why, given the pervasiveness of the myth that my job is so flippin' easy, there aren't lines around the block of people signing up to do it.

Back to Quindlen:
The point about tying teaching salaries to widget standards is that it's hard to figure out a useful way to measure the merit of what a really good teacher does. [. . .] Tying raises to pass rates is a flagrant invitation to inflate student achievement. Tying them to standardized tests makes rote regurgitation the centerpiece of schools. Both are blind to the merit of teachers who shoulder the challenging work of educating those less able, more troubled, from homes where there are no pencils, no books, even no parents. A teacher whose Advanced Placement class sends everyone on to top-tier colleges; a teacher whose remedial-reading class finally gets through to some, but not all, of a student group that is failing. There is merit in both.

The National Education Association has been pushing for a minimum starting salary of $40,000 for all teachers. Why not? If these people can teach 6-year-olds to add and get adolescents to attend to algebra, surely we can do the math to get them a decent wage. Since the corporate world is the greatest, and richest, beneficiary of well-educated workers, maybe a national brain trust might be set up that would turn a tax on corporate profits into an endowment to raise teacher salaries. Maybe states and communities could also pass regulations with this simple proviso: no school administrator should ever receive a percentage raise greater than the raise teachers get. Neither should state legislators.

In recent years teacher salaries have grown, if they've grown at all, at a far slower rate than those of other professionals, often lagging behind inflation. Yet teachers should have the most powerful group of advocates in the nation: not their union, but we the people, their former students. I am a writer because of the encouragement of teachers. Surely most Americans must feel the same, that there were women and men who helped them levitate just a little above the commonplace expectations they had for themselves.
Good luck with that, Anna--asking corporate America to shoulder an extra tax burden to ensure that their workers are better educated.

Let me digress here for a second to remind everyone that Quindlen is falling into another too-common trap, buying another insidious myth about American public education. That's the myth that education serves only or primarily to shape children into cogs for corporate machines. (That crotchety guy from up north conveniently posted a retelling of this myth this morning.) Jonathan Kozol, when I heard him speak a couple of weeks ago, reminded me of this fact: Children have value beyond the dollar signs corporate America may see in them. An educated child, who can think and reason for herself, is a worthy end in itself. Yet for a century, public education has been seemingly beholden to the idea that schools should be an assembly line to prepare workers for the assembly line. That attitude--not whole language, not big high schools, not "new math"--is the attitude that threatens the quality of education in this country. And it contributes to and reinforces the first myth: If all you want is cookie-cutter product from your schools, then teachers need to be no more than cookie cutters themselves.

Quindlen's big point, though, is that teachers deserve more money. Let me be clear, speaking only for myself: I don't want more money. Sure, it would be nice to finally have my summers off, or to have a car newer than eight years old, or to finally retire that student loan debt. But more money is not a priority for me. I have never asked for it, and I never will. And it incenses me when people assume that's what I want--my district's superintendent, for example, in trying to justify how he screwed up our health care in the last contract, would only talk about how salaries went up, and how teachers would get their retro pay and be happy.

However, there is value in the idea that starting salaries should be higher. A math major coming out of college could easily earn more than $40,000 in private industry. Same thing for a chemist, an engineer, an electronics specialist, a physicist. We English majors have little other choice--professional poets are few and far between--but even still, I would like to see better English majors attracted to teaching. It may only be higher salaries that spark the lines around the corner of people wanting to do my job.

So what do I want, if not money? It's simple: Shut up and let us do our jobs. Because (almost) everybody is a product of the American public education system, they feel they have the right to criticize it, suggest ways to change it; everybody is suddenly an expert. If Quindlen is right that the American people should be our biggest advocates, then those same people ought to recognize that it was the teachers who reached them--not the meddling anti-tax forces, the know-it-all politicians, or the privateers who currently run the Department of Education--who deserve the praise and rewards. It was the teachers who helped them "levitate" who created conditions for success, not vouchers or Intelligent Design or corporate America.

Think back for just a second about your favorite school teacher, one who really did help you levitate, and ask yourself this: Would I meddle now in how that teacher does her job? Would that teacher have been as effective with me then if he'd had to prepare me for a standardized test? Would that teacher agree with me if I'd said to her face that she had an easy job--summers off and weekends free?

You know what the answers are. You know what the solution is: Stop perpetuating myths and start respecting and supporting what we teachers do. Then work on your family, friends, neighbors, and legislators to do the same.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Keep blaming me

Your taxes are high because of the teacher's union, not because Wisconsin's health care costs are 31% higher than the national average.

Just keep blaming me and my juicy benefits package, so you can go on hating public schools, teachers, and all that we stand for.

The alternative--doing something to control the cost of one of the most basic necessities--is just unthinkable.

Lautenschalger & the DUI

The reason most often--usually exclusively--given for why Kathleen Falk should have entered the Wisconsin Attorney General's race is Peg Lautenschlager's 2004 DUI. Falk and Peg are not so different on the issues, and either one would be a great AG (and we have the evidence of that for Peg from her term so far). The anti-Peg forces just figured that the DUI would drive droves of normally Democrat voters toward the Republican candidate, and bringing in Falk would make for an easy, clean election.

Instead, we are going to get a full frickin' year of the DUI story.

This article today, for example, is just a harbinger of what's likely to come. Even when all of the candidates quoted in the article are careful to say, "Oh, I never talk about Peg's DUI," it's going to continue throughout the primary season to be the big story that's on the front page that no one talks about.

My thoughtfully conservative friend Dean is right: "If I were a Democrat," he writes, "or even a moderate, I wouldn't be worried. As far as I'm concerned, she made a mistake and admitted it and it should be over." Dean is a moderate ( ;P ), and when he listens to the arguments presented by the two sides in the new Democratic primary, he is unpersuaded. If the signal on our side is getting buried under the DUI noise Falk's entry to the race has created, then we are most definitely losing.

Death penalty follow-up

A couple of days ago, I noted that Tom Reynolds (R-Sadism) wants to bring back state-sponsored killing here in Wisconsin. This is a bad idea, of course, and Wisconsin has known this since 1853. Reynolds wants to undo 152 years of history to push the reactionary-right's theocratic agenda. Ben at Badger Blues reminds us of Wisconsin's one and only execution, in 1851, and the uproar it caused.

Let us hope that Wisconsin lawmakers are smart enough not to turn the clock back 150 years.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Cut and Run

That's what cowards--and Bush and Condi--think we should do in Iraq.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Friday Random Ten

The Day Two of a Four Day Weekend (and not random) Edition

1. "Back Around" Ani DiFranco from Puddle Dive
2. "Back to Me" Kathleen Edwards from Back to Me
3. "Back to You" John Mayer from Room for Sqaures
4. "Coming Back to Life" Pink Floyd from The Division Bell
5. "Come Back (Light Therapy)" Josh Rouse from 1972
6. "I'll Back You Up" Dave Matthews Band from Remember Two Things
7. "Sing Me Back Home" Merle Haggard from 16 Biggest Hits
8. "Stand Back" The Allman Brothers Band from Eat a Peach
9. "Turn the Lights Back On" Lucy Kaplansky from Ten Year Night
10. "When You Come Back Down" Nickel Creek from Nickel Creek

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Not a turkey . . .

But it is a Carnival. Thanks, Dean.

Hey, Canadians!

Next week, I'll be in Ottawa, and I have some time to kill. I'm heading up from Milwaukee for some professional development over the weekend, but I have Thursday evening and Friday during the day free. I will be staying at the Westin, a few blocks away from Parliament.

So here's my question: What should I do while I'm there? Any cool bookstores or shops or museums or anything I should definitely see? Any Ottawan Kossacks in the crowd interested in getting together?

Edify me!

Teaching Turkeyday: Making Milwaukee Voucher Schools Play Fair

"Teaching Tuesday" just didn't happen in a timely fashion this week, y'all.

Thoughtful Cheddarspherean (and this week's Carnival host) Dean asked me the other day, in comments, if I'd seen his fellow "Community Voices" columnist's colum from Monday this week. Indeed, I had, but I hadn't gotten to blogging it yet. So, here we go.

Dean mentioned that he agreed with Lois Moore's column. I do to, to an extent. Let me quote the parts I agree with first:
It's time private schools advertised truthfully that they are not held accountable to the taxpayers. They do not currently have to squander resources trying to teach kids how to pass a standardized test to avoid sanctions and closure if all students do not achieve, as required of public schools.

This is particularly disturbing when the fact that private schools may turn down or throw out any student who does not fit their cookie-cutter mentality. For example, they can turn down physically, mentally and emotionally challenged students or students with behavior or truancy problems.

Public schools must educate anyone and moreover must develop an individual educational program for each challenged student. They must teach every student how to pass the standardized tests, even those who are not learning at grade level, for their scores will be included in the school's evaluation regardless of the student's ability to learn the required curriculum.

How does the exclusion of these students, and exclusion of private schools from accountability tests, justify receiving public money that should be going to the public schools to address the severe problems associated with poverty, unemployment and special needs of MPS students? If private schools boast that they can have smaller class sizes, why is it wrong for public schools to work toward that goal?
Right on, sister.

Here's one of the biggest problems with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Choice schools exist, on the state's dime, as a separate shadow system of essentially unaccountable schools. Wisconsin taxpayers are supporting two systems of schooling in Milwaukee, one that is demonstrably failing and one that may or may not be failing, we're not really sure, and that's okay that we don't know, since the less we know the better off we are. Tortured logic, if logic at all, I know.

Moore is right that choice schools can summarily remove students who don't fit the program. Choice schools do, however, lose whatever remaining disbursements are due them for such ousted students (though if they time it right, they can do well) and MPS does not get the funds, either, to pay for the students' presence in MPS classrooms post-ouster. Still, if it comes down to it, a school may feel it's better off one kid short. Choice schools can also decline to accept special needs kids (and their state money) if they don't have the facilities to handle them. And, as I am fond of pointing out, choice schools are under no obligation to collect or report any performance data of any sort to anyone at all.

What is left unsaid is that choice schools are also allowed to operate with no accountability to the community they serve, either. They don't have to report to hold open meetings or even tell parents anything (.pdf) at all about what goes on in the school. This is an untenable situation that has been allowed to continue for too long.

However, Moore implictly demands something from voucher schools that I will not--standardized testing. Jim Doyle wants it, as evidenced by his recent proposal. I don't. If I were to start advocating for standardized tests, I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world, because, you know, I hate standardized tests. I don't want them for my school, and I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy's schools. Tests are just about the worst way to judge schools' performance, and in their current implementation, they are not very good at judging students' performance, either.

My plan is simple, and it assures basic quality in voucher schools. Require accreditation, and require all schools to be in operation for one full calendar year before accepting state dollars. No tests, no meddling in curriculum or philosophy of education.

Lois Moore is on the right track, in that the choice program needs serious revision. However, testing choice students, as with testing public school students, is not the answer.

Wisconsin Death Trip?

Is right now really the time to consider this?
Looking to target the most severe criminals, Sen. Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) is circulating a proposal among legislators that would apply the death penalty in cases in which someone had sexually assaulted, killed and either dismembered, disfigured or mutilated the victim. Conclusive DNA evidence tying the offender to the crime would also be necessary, the bill says.
Well, maybe it is; maybe Reynolds is trying to capitalize on the Steven Avery case.

However, there's another capital punishment case in the news right now, that doesn't make state-sanctioned killing look like such a good idea . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Drinking Liberally Tonight

I won't be there, but you can join much of the rest of the DL crew at Club Garibaldi tonight, at the corner of Superior and Russell in Bay View, for good times and, I imagine, a few rounds of "What are you thankful for?"

More details here.

Wisconsin school taxes and John Gard's foul humour explained

The paper this morning has a thing about school taxes, and how some are up and some are down, but on average, they are down. This is primarily a testament to Jim Doyle's vetoes restoring (almost) the 2/3 funding promise made by known liberal pinko commie Tommy Thompson many years ago. Last year, recall, school taxes were up over 7% statewide in an effort to make up for state cuts. This year, overall, school property tax levies are down about half a percent.

But the graphic (right) accompanying the story may help to explain why Wisconsin Assembly Speaker John Gard is always so testy and so distracted he does stupid things like support anti-gay marriage amendments and Milwaukee's voucher program. The top increase belongs to Sun Prairie, Gard's way-out-district home, but where he has a house and sends his kids to school. I suppose that the extra $44 a day Gard gets over and above what he deserves for per diem (Dane County reps get half what non-Dane residents do--Sun Prairie is in Dane County, but Gard gets elected from Peshtigo) more than makes up for the 11% increase, though.

McIlheran Watch: Wrong again, Pat

I felt kind of bad about leaving the McIlheran Watch duties to Robola last week--although he did an excellent job!--but it is just further evidence of my being buried under work of late.

And late I am again, just now getting McIlheran's most recent pile of crap:
Polls and pundits are in that '70s groove, there being a decreasingly popular war on, and one of the rehabbed ideas is that the disadvantaged are doing more than their share of the fighting.

Only it may be wrong. A new study this month from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, compared enlistments in 1999 and 2003.
I'm going to interrupt here to point out two obvious things: One, McIlheran's citing the Heritage Foundation, and while he acknowledges Heritage's conservative bent, what he doesn't tell you is that the Heritage Foundation believes the anti-war movement is anti-American. In other words, take anything Heritage says about the military and the war with a greater-than-usual helping of salt. Two, Hertiage's data go through 2003, which, for those of you not paying attention, is before the war started to go so badly, and before recruitment levels started plummeting. So the trends Heritage identifies from two years ago may not match up with reality today (more on that in a minute). Now more from McIlheran:
Labor economist Tim Kane found that not only did enlistees' economic background and education match the country's before 9-11, they were more likely from better-off neighborhoods and possessed more education after it.

If you rank enlistees' neighborhoods by income, the poorest and richest 20% were home to fewer recruits than you'd expect in 1999. By 2003, it was the lowest two tiers that were underrepresented, while wealthier neighborhoods were overrepresented.

While three-quarters of Americans ages 18 to 24 have at least a high school diploma, 98% of recruits do.

Recruits are slightly more likely to come from rural areas, unsurprising in that rural America has been losing its young for decades to places with better job options and has traditionally been more supportive of the military. [. . .] But rural recruits aren't subbing for suburbanites. Measuring by ZIP codes, Kane found that it's only the most urban category that is home to fewer recruits than expected. [. . .]

Similarly, when Kane bracketed neighborhoods by income, every bracket with a household income of $40,000 or above sent proportionately more recruits in 2003 than it did in 1999. Every lower bracket sent fewer.
Now, I don't have the data Kane worked from, and even if I did, I'm not an economist and couldn't verify whether that analysis of information from two years ago is legit or not.

However, I know how to Google. From the Washington Post earlier this month:
As sustained combat in Iraq makes it harder than ever to fill the ranks of the all-volunteer force, newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed, rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war. [. . .]

Many of today's recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

Such patterns are pronounced in such counties as Martinsville, Va., that supply the greatest number of enlistees in proportion to their youth populations. All of the Army's top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.
I doubt that McIlheran reads the WaPo every day, so it wouldn't be a surprise that he missed this article, which ran a couple of weeks before he wrote his column. What is surprising is that McIlheran also cites the National Priorities Project, but in support of his own thesis that Iraq is "not a poor man's war." What does NPP actually say? For one, median income for households sending kids to the military in 2005 was $43,052, more than $1000 below the US median income of $44,389. While the overall poverty rate of military households in 2005 is comparable, the child poverty rate in military households is almost a full percent higher.

McIlheran cites NPP to make a point about the Milwaukee area. "Figures from the anti-war National Priorities Project tell a similar tale," he writes. "The rate at which high schoolers enlist varies, but not by school poverty. Whitefish Bay and Watertown rates in 2004 were similar--triple the rate of Shorewood and North Division." He should look at all of Wisconsin, though; NPP shows that 13 of our top 15 counties for recruits had below-average household income (Dodge and Washington being the exceptions).

Even in Wisconsin, this is a poor man's war now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can you believe the nerve?

Those ungrateful Iraqi leaders that we helped install are undermining the troops!
Reaching out to the Sunni Arab community, Iraqi leaders called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.

The communique - finalized by Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders Monday - condemned terrorism but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The leaders agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation" and end terror attacks.

The preparatory reconciliation conference, held under the auspices of the Arab League, was attended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers as well as leading Sunni politicians.
I mean, what kind of moonbat liberal idiots would say that the terrorists have some sort of "right" to resist? And a timetable! Don't they know setting a timetable will only embolden the resistance? Who do they think they are, John Murtha? Or Russ Feingold, maybe?

Better puppets, please!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Scott Walker's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week

One of the things I have not blogged lately is how candidate for governor and Milwaukee County Executive Walker: Tosa Ranger is having a very bad week. Other people have been on top of it, though:
Anyone want the over-under on how much worse this week is for the Tosa Ranger?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

McIlheran Watch

Robola over at Someone Took in these Pants (a great blog name!) writes the McIlheran post I was too tired to last week. Go read; it's probably better than what I would have written anyway.

I'm Sick

And not in a good way. In a sinusy, achy, exhausted way.

As the good Dr. Murphy might have predicted, I started feeling miserable Friday afternoon, and I'll probably be all better in time to go to work tomorrow.

Sigh.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday Random Ten

Another Non-Random Edition

1. "Can't Outrun My Heart" Darryl Purpose from Same River Twice
2. "I Told Him that My Dog Wouldn't Run" Patty Larkin from À Gogo
3. "I'd Run Away" The Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass
4. "Off and Running" Lucy Kaplansky from The Red Thread
5. "Up and Running" Béla Fleck from Tales from the Acoustic Planet
6. "Run" Catie Curtis from My Shirt Looks Good on You
7. "Run for your Life" Cowboy Junkies from This Bird Has Flown
8. "Run, Baby, Run" Sheryl Crow from Tuesday Night Music Club
9. "Running up the Stairs" Peter Mulvey from Ten Thousand Mornings
10. "Running with the Buffalo" Peter Mayer from Elements

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wisconsin Representatives Aren't

Republican polling outfit Strategic Vision is doing polls of bunches of different states. Recently, they did Wisconsin, and the results show something striking, especially given recent news about the agenda the Republican leadership in Wisconsin seems bent on pursuing.

First, the numbers. Yes, Xoff ran down the numbers this morning, but I've got something he doesn't--October results (in parentheses below) for comparison. Some questions renumbered because the html is easier:
  1. Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush's overall job performance?
    Approve 29% (33%)
    Disapprove 62% (58%)
    Undecided 9% (9%)
  2. Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush's handling of the economy?
    Approve 27% (31%)
    Disapprove 63% (61%)
    Undecided 10% (8%)
  3. Do you approve or disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq?
    Approve 32% (37%)
    Disapprove 60% (56%)
    Undecided 8% (7%)
  4. Would you like to see the United States Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?
    Yes 36% (35%)
    No 56% (58%)
    Undecided 8% (7%)
  5. Would you like to see the United States withdraw all troops immediately from Iraq?
    Yes 49% (43%)
    No 40% (49%)
    Undecided 11% (8%)
Okay the ones about Iraq don't have much to do with Republicans' mismanagement of Wisconsin, but I've included them just so I can hear how half of Wisconsinites are traitors.

But the others, reflecting on the Republican leadership's agenda, tell a story.

Let me be clear: I do not advocate, nor have I ever advocated, making policy based on public opinion polls. However, if our elected leaders are trending in a decidedly opposite direction than the people who elected them, we have a problem.

Take the economy question, for example. While most people in Wisconsin probably don't know the finer points of Bush's economic policy, I bet they can name one thing: tax cuts. And us cheeseheads are growing decidedly more displeased with the tax cut method of economic governance. Which, of course, is about the only thing Wisconsin Republicans know how to say about the economy--remember that TABOR is back on the table this week.

The Roe v. Wade question is also interesting, as the only lobbying group that seems to have any sway with the Republican leaders in Madison is Wisconsin Right to Life. For example, WRL was the only one out of more than 20 groups registered on favor of that pharmacists' "conscience cause" bill (sorry about the Google cache--the CapTimes database is apparently broken). Xoff has more on WRL's disproportionate influence here and here.

Strategic Vision did not ask about gay marriage or school vouchers or stuffing guns in your pants, but I am betting that Wisconsinites don't consider those to be top legilsative priorities, either. Sadly, SV also chose not to poll health care, public school funding, alternative (and cheaper and renewable) energy, or any of the many other issues that actually affect the lives of Wisconsin residents on a daily basis.

In short--because I am wont to ramble if I don't try to keep it short--the legislative leadership in Wisconsin is out of touch. And, again, I don't think actually trying to make law based on poll numbers is ever wise. But when your representatives aren't, it's time to start thinking about cleaning house.

Theocracy keeps on rolling in Wisconsin

This time it's abstinence:
The Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that would require school districts with human growth and development classes to teach sexual abstinence until marriage as the preferred behavior. [. . .]

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), said Wisconsin teens don't get the abstinence message in classrooms enough, because of a focus on using condoms and birth control instead. "Abstinence isn't taught out there, or isn't emphasized," Lazich told the Assembly Education Committee. "Abstinence should be taught to students unapologetically," when a school district decides to teach students about growth and development, Lazich said.
I do not teach health and, frankly, am kind of glad not to have to have that kind of talk with any of my students. But to suggest that teenagers don't know about abstinence is ridiculous. They know that not doin' it means you don't get pregnant, and they understand that not doin' it is an option for them. The idea that somehow teaching them about condoms crowds all that they ever heard about abstinence out of their brains so that they forget to be not doin' it is just silly.

This is not about making teenagers safe and healthy. This is about control of sex. This is about control of local school boards. This is about putting another awful bill on Jim Doyle's desk that he will veto, so that Republicans can distort it into a campaign issue for 2006. (Given new poll numbers, Republicans will need all the trumped-up issues they can buy, it seems.)

(Link fixed)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lift the Cap for more schools like this

The paper has a straightforward story today on another Milwaukee Parental Choice School cut off for not meeting minimum requirements:
Northside High School, 4840 W. Fond du Lac Ave., does not meet standards set by law for an organization to be considered a private school and, because it is not legally a school, it cannot receive money supporting schools, the state's deputy schools superintendent, Tony Evers, said in a letter to Ricardo Brooks, the CEO of the school.

Evers said neither the day nor evening programs at the school provided the 875 hours of instruction that are the minimum required by law and the school did not provide "a sequentially progressive curriculum in the six required subjects" listed in the law.
The $310k or so of your taxpayer dollars already sunk into the school is likely gone for good, but we can hope that--pending a possible appeal of some sort (these kinds of closures, and, therefore, appeals, are unprecedented)--no more of your money will be wasted.

Remember: Problem solved if they would just pass my plan.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Cal Thomas is a jerk

It feels good enough just to say that Cal Thomas is a jerk. But, in the interests of fairness, I should prove it, too. We don't need to look much past the first sentence of his latest op-ed:
Observing the riots in the suburbs of Paris, an American is tempted to rejoice.
Which American, jerk? Hm? Name one besides you. (Bill O'Reilly doesn't count as American anymore, the traitor.)

The jerk continues:
Are not the French getting their just desserts for their arrogance, opposition and condescension toward the United States [. . .]? Unfortunately, laughing at the French dilemma is a luxury we can only briefly afford because what is happening in France among many of their Muslim immigrants is the immediate future for all of Europe and a probable future for the United States, if the West does not immediately and effectively confront this spreading threat.
By now the astute among you see where he is going; you don't even need to skip to the end to see the punchline coming. But we need to ask ourselves for a minute: What kind of jerk laughs at riots? Cal Thomas is sitting there stifling giggles behind his caterpillar mustache at death and widespread destruction of property, and he thinks the French are arrogant and condescending. Jerk.
High fertility rates among France's Muslim population, coupled with low fertility rates among the native-born French (the government is offering cash incentives to middle-class French women to have babies) and increasing Muslim immigration from North Africa, contribute to the undermining of French culture and social and political stability. [. . .] France is experiencing what other Western nations are, or will soon, experience.

Millions of Muslim youth identify with the larger and borderless Muslim world and less, or not at all, with their host countries.

Mosques erected in these countries are growing as rapidly as Starbucks or McDonald's franchises. The same is true in the United States.
Xenophobic racism is the last refuge of a jerk (though perhaps a bad Starbucks joke should qualify, too). Cal Thomas laments that those nice white ladies in France have to be bribed to reproduce--I guess that plan to keep white women barefoot and pregnant isn't working out so hot among the arrogant Gauls. French wimmins is gettin uppity.

Filling the void, of course, are immigrants and their children. You don't have to go back very many years to find Cal Thomas's intellectual forebears complaining about all the immigrants and their children ruining our country. (Hell, you only have to go as far as Tom "Tom Tom" Tancredo.) The jerk seems shocked--just shocked--that immigrants might bring their religion with them! I mean, we didn't let the Pilgrims--those jerks!--bring their churches to this country, did we? Cal Thomas should know better: The mosques are popping up as frequently as those freaky warehouse churches that this jerk seems not to mind. In fact, he concurs: "According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research's recent Faith Communities Today study," the jerk writes, "the total number of mosques in the United States increased 42% between 1990 and 2000, second only to the growth of Christian 'mega churches.' " Hah!

More rope for the jerk to hang himself with:
France will be America's future, if we don't stop denying that this invasion is deliberate and purposeful.

If we don't end the proliferation of radical Muslims, it would not be out of the question to predict a terrorist plot to blow up American cities, if the U.S. government fails to bow to fanatical demands to abandon Israel.
Because jeebus knows that White Folk would never try blowing up American cities! Seriously, I want some of what this jerk is smoking, 'cause I've had a bad couple of weeks at work and I could stand to hallucinate for a little while, maybe forget my history and all sense of proportion. Maybe sprout my own little caterpillar mustache.

Then the jerk has the gall (see? I made a pun) to ask me a question:
Before you start accusing me of bigotry, on what basis--other than your wishful thinking and refusal to confront this threat--do you base your position?
Here's your answer, jerk: Scroll up. Then scroll down. Then tie yourself to the tracks where the clue train is about to blow your mind.

I would start by pointing out the the riots in France are not caused by Islam! If you believe they are, jerk, you really do need to stop smoking whatever it is you have there. Millions--nay, billions--of Muslims live all over the world, in Europe, Asia, the Americas, even--gasp!--in the Middle East, and they don't riot, nosiree. The Christian Science Monitor has perhaps one of the best analyses of what's caused the riots in France:
"Frankly I am not surprised by what is happening," says Dounia Bouzar, an expert on French-born Muslims who has worked in the mostly black and North African districts on the outskirts of Paris. "Given the way these kids live, I wonder why it doesn't happen more often."

The outburst of violence, pitting youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails against riot police, erupted after two teenagers in the nearby suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois--apparently hiding from the police--died by electrocution.

That incident, says social worker Michèle Lereste, "crystallized the hatred" that some of the most disaffected and hopeless young men living in what the government calls "sensitive urban zones" feel toward authority.

In these 751 zones that the government has designated for special programs, unemployment stands at 19.6 percent--double the national average--and at more than 30 percent among 21- to 29- year-olds, according to official figures. Incomes are 75 percent below the average.

Stung by charges that the government has mishandled the wave of unrest in a dozen suburbs, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have both cancelled planned trips abroad. President Jacques Chirac called Wednesday for "dialogue" to cool tempers.

Mr. De Villepin and Mr. Sarkozy met Thursday to discuss ways of dampening the violence beyond deploying more riot police, which has been the government's approach so far. But after two decades of policies that have tried, and often failed, to strengthen schools, provide jobs, and improve housing, critics say it is time authorities took the problems more seriously.

The ugly, often poorly maintained blocks of public housing that have become a nightly battlefield are testament to 40 years of government policy that has concentrated immigrants and their families in well-defined districts away from city centers, as housing there became more expensive.

"Working class suburbs have become ethnic ghettos," says Marc Cheb Sun, who edits "Respect," a magazine aimed mostly at young black and North African readers. "That is the origin of the problem."
Were the LA riots caused by black churches, jerk? How about the Watts riots and other riots of the civil rights era? Of course not, and only a jerk would try to blame the boiling over of frustrations borne from poverty and ghettoization on the religion of the rioters. A far more sober analyses of the kinds of problems biting France--and the real potential for similar problems in this country--can be found, believe it or not, in today's Washington Times, of all places:
 The old conviction that France is such an egalitarian society that differences need not even be noted is crumbling. The sense that a "real" Frenchman does not have an Arab name or olive skin is undergoing a searching re-examination.
 
"France cannot avoid a discussion about what is my identity," Mr. Sabeg said. "You have to explain to the rest of France that France is a multiethnic society." [. . .]

The denial that separate communities exist has thrown a veil of darkness over them. The gritty realities of life in the ghettos, where jobs are scarce, education is poor, housing is dilapidated, and police routinely stop young men of North African appearance, remain unexamined.

"I think young people rebelled because they could not make themselves heard," said Reda Allouz, 15, who lives in the eastern Parisian suburb of Val-de-Marne. "And they can't find jobs."

 He and his friend Madjid Akchiche, also 15, were born in France. They have never lived anywhere else. But they feel that, in the eyes of others, they're not French. They're "Algerian kids."
So let's go, then, Cal; let's start labeling and ostracizing the Muslims in this country. Let's keep playing the game that your friend Ward Connerly likes to play, that make-believe game that there's no racism anymore, and that Americans--except for those worrisome Muslims--can all be equal. If we don't think about racial and class divisions in society, this jerk believes, they can't hurt us.

But Islam, like the gay agenda, is recruiting, the jerk says:
In the United States, a concerted effort is being made to convert more of us to Islam, especially in prisons.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, in September 2003, some 5.5% of the federal inmate population (172,785 on Oct. 6, 2003) were some form of Muslim.
OMG! If prisoners are Muslim, then all Muslims should be prisoners!

At this point, I can't keep you from the punchline any longer. Sure, you saw it coming from the very beginning, but I still want to prepare you, because--remember, Cal Thomas is a jerk--this is revolting on so many levels it's hard not to throw up twice:
Why shouldn't we fight back by reaching out to them with our religious and political doctrines?

I know Muslims who have been converted and now live peaceful and productive lives among us. We shouldn't passively allow them to proceed with their conversion agenda with no response.

Let's peacefully and lovingly share our far better religious and cultural message with them.
That's right, boys and girls! The way to stop Muslims in this country from rioting is to convert them to Christianity. Problem solved!

Praise be to the mustache of Jesus, and pass the jerk.

I was right.

And I hate being right about things like this--two of next year's big campaign issues, neither of which will help average Wisconsin residents one bit in their daily lives, showing up in consecutive days' papers:
Tax amendment returns: Colorado backtracking doesn't deter backers of limits

Madison - After months of being stalled for retooling, a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state and local tax revenue in Wisconsin is back on the fast track and will go before the Legislature early next year.

---

Marriage vote on track for next year: GOP wants hot-button amendment on ballot alongside governor

Madison - In the next 12 months, Wisconsin voters should expect to become familiar with what might be the most talked-about two sentences of the 2006 campaign season.

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."

Linky Linky

It's been another week, which means both another Advocate Weekly and a Carnival of the Badger.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

To all my teacher friends,

Happy American Education Week!

Here's one of my teacher friends--Milwaukee Teachers Education Association President Dennis Oulahan--sharing his thoughts about AEW.

For my non-teacher friends, if you get a chance, thank someone in education, public or private, elementary, secondary, or beyond. None of us would be where we are without educators in our lives.

Jonathan Kozol and the re-segregation of American Schools

I saw Jonathan Kozol speak briefly (and he signed my book!) this evening at a fundraiser celebrating the 20th anniversary of Rethinking Schools. Work prevents me from doing a full accounting, but he provided one important statistic worth repeating, and repeating, especially in urban school systems like Milwaukee:

A smaller percentage of African American students are in integrated schools right now than at any time since 1968.

Discuss.

Yikes

So last night in the storminess a plane crashed about a block from where we used to live:
The plane crashed in the alley between Humboldt Blvd. and Weil St. on Clarke St. at around 6:15 p.m., said Anne E. Schwartz, Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman.

The plane was suspended, nose down, just 3 feet from the ground, apparently propped up by a broken utility pole and power lines, with pilot David J. Betts, 37, of Elkhorn trapped inside.

No one on the ground was hurt, Schwartz said.

Initial reports indicate that Betts' plane approached an airstrip at Timmerman Airport several times during a heavy downpour, Schwartz said. He circled back each time without landing and finally headed east before dropping off the radar at 6:15 p.m., Schwartz said.
Timmerman is many miles away from Riverwest, where the plane ended up; I will be interested to know what the pilot was up to by heading east after giving up on landing.

From the sound of it, there are still houses in the area without power, and I bet our old place would be one of them. Power did go out here at the current place last night around midnight from the windstorm--still ongoing, by the way--but was back on when I awoke today. Still, not nearly as, erm, exciting as having a plane land a block away.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Should I be flattered?

I have never pretended that this blog is anything other than it is--an opportunity for me to blow off steam, share my thoughts, make bad jokes, and try to draw maybe just a little bit of attention to Wisconsin stories and topics that I think are important but not widely discussed. While I sometimes daydream of the day that Ben Merens's prodcuer calls me to be on the show to talk about school choice or capo abuse (I know Ben plays guitar), I don't take myself so seriously as to think that I can write something one day and see action the next. (The sole exception is the editorial at the local paper that I think I may have prompted, but I can't prove that.)

However, this morning, Jessica McBride labeled me "a leading Wisconsin liberal blogger" and feels that, because the media is not paying attention to me (and, admittedly, about a dozen other people), it is evidence of a double standard. Look: The media's ignoring me is just par for the course around here.

(I will be above-board and say that what McBride wrote about me today is much nicer than what I said the last time I wrote about her--though, Jessica, you have to admit that was a hard-to-follow post you wrote there--and certainly nicer than the campaign I waged to beat her in that MKE blog contest.)

McBride only slightly misrepresents what I wrote, saying that, in the primary between Kathleen Falk and Peg Lautenschlager for attorney general, I want Peg to win, when the post she links to preceded Falk's announcement and makes no endorsement. I still have made no endorsement, and may not, since I think either woman would be much better as attorney general than McBride's husband or that other guy with the initials. She does highlight the important sentence from the post, a sentiment I still hold: "Mostly, I just don't like this kind of primary fight, and I don't like to encourage the notion that there is a serious split (even if there is one) within the party."

I think the split in the party may be slightly overstated anyway, since the Madison Dems lining up behind Falk have shown no (public) split with Jim Doyle. I mean, if I really were an opinion leader in the state, my own tepidity about J-Dizzle would be exposing fault lines all over the place.

What I'm worried about is unnecessary and damaging primaries. You may or may not have noticed, but we live in a pretty evenly divided state (you wouldn't notice by looking at the gerrymandered state legislature), and the more amunition we Dems provide to the opposition, the easier it is to lose what little bits of power have left. Jim Doyle is the only thing that stands between us and John Gard's dream theocracy. Peg Lautenschlager consistently put the interests of the people over the interests of the party, and that is not something I necessarily expect from the Republican candidates.

Every Democrat in the state ought to be thinking about protecting what we have, not upsetting our tiny little apple cart.

And that is what I hope my wildly overstated influence buys us.

Small Schools follow-up

In the paper this today, there's an article by Sarah Carr (following up on an earlier story, making me think this may be a series) on the first-quarter performance of some of the new small schools and "multiplexes" in the Milwaukee Public Schools. It is not all good news:
The high school reform movement in Milwaukee that led to the creation of Saddler's school is rooted in the concept of staying small, but it is experiencing some growing pains.

A new report on the initiative shows extreme variability, with many boasting attendance rates well above district averages, but some falling below. In general, the schools that struck out on their own are outperforming those that arose when an existing high school, such as Washington, was broken down into a multiplex of smaller schools.

Although overall they are making progress in areas such as attendance and suspensions, the small schools are having little luck thus far in keeping students at their schools from year to year. Last year, the stability rate--the percentage of students remaining enrolled between school years--for schools in the high school redesign was 51%, while for other high schools it was 65%.
I haven't seen the report Carr refers to--it's not anywhere on the district's web site--but the information she provides from it confirms what I have heard anecdotally and what I predicted would happen with the multiplexes. True, there is just a small window of data available, but what is there shows, as I said, for example, in this August post of mine, that a top-down, forced multiplexing of comprehensive high schools is the wrong way to do it, and that bottom-up small schools have a much greater chance of success.

One of the most persistent arguments among the staff in my own school against moving us toward a multiplex is that we should take a wait-and-see approach. The information we have right now suggests that our caution (okay, zealous opposition) is well-founded. By the end of the year--or after two or three years--we'll see some more data that could point to whether or not forced multiplexing is worthwhile.

It does seem now that my school is not on the list for multiplexing; we've joined the list for becoming "small learning communities." In fact, I think the multiplex transitions are all on hold pending more results from Marshall, Washington, and North Division. Let us hope, for everyone's sake, that the numbers get better.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I no longer have any reason to live

No reason at all.

Burn in hell, FOX.

Friday Random Ten

The Non-Random (idea stolen from Tom) Edition

1. "Waiting" Sons of the Never Wrong from Consequence of Speech
2. "Waiting 'Round to Die" Townes van Zandt from Live at the Old Quarter
3. "Waiting for a Miracle" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere
4. "Waiting for Gilligan" Vance Gilbert from One thru Fourteen
5. "Waiting for the Dawn" Patty Larkin from Tango
6. "Waiting for the Storm" Richard Shindell from Somewhere Near Patterson
7. "Waiting for the Sun" The Jayhawks from
8. "Waiting on the Cards to Fall" Guy Davis from Live at the World Cafe
9. "Waiting on the Rain" The Loomers from Shine
10. "Waiting to Derail" Whiskeytown from Strangers Almanac

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I should blog about something today

I am beat today. Twelve hours, almost, at school. Exams. Grading. Union mess. Vaguely smelling of smoke the whole time (Scott has the pictures). Just a long, long day. (I did get out to lunch see my friend Carley at her day job. The soup was tasty!)

Here's my quick take on a bunch of things I have not blogged about today:
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Patrick McIlheran (and, this will surprise you) is being stupid again. His Wednesday column is on Governor Doyle's compromise plan to "lift the cap" on participants in Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program. He neatly parrot's GOP talking points (another big surprise!) and gets in his digs at Doyle's good working relationship with the state's teachers. A more energetic me would do a more energetic fisking.
  • Speaking of choice, the former Harambee School CFO was sentenced this week to seven years in detention.
  • Eye on Wisconsin is drawing attention to Wisconsin GOP hypocrisy. You may remember a few weeks back when the GOP, knowing Democrat Pedro Colòn was just outside, didn't allow him to vote? This week, a Republican committee chairman entered votes for GOPers who were out of the room!
  • I'm waiting for a certain conservative blogger whose name I am not allowed to mention and to whom I am not allowed to link to start calling all those surburban school districts with their nice conservative school boards unpatriotic.
  • Owen writes about rights. Some paragraphs of interest:
    Negotiated rights are those that come about as part of a contract. [. . .] These types of rights also extend to the civil contract between a person and the government. [. . .]

    Natural rights rest in the individual [. . .] The key characteristic of a natural right is that it can be exercised without imposing any obligations on anyone else. After all, if one is one’s own sovereign, then everyone else is also the sovereign of themselves. One sovereign may not transgress the rights of another sovereign by imposing obligations on him or her without his or her consent.

    The rights to speak freely, practice religion, own and control property, self defense, etc. are all natural rights. [. . .]

    Gay rights are a myth. Gay folks are humans just like everyone else and possess all of the same natural and negotiated rights that everyone else has. The notion that one group of individuals has rights separate and distinct from the rights of everyone else is a hateful notion that is in opposition to the cause of liberty. The same can be said for women’s rights, men’s rights, white rights, black rights, etc. We should be striving to ensure that we are all at liberty to exercise out natural, or “human,” rights – not engaging in a horse race whereby each group tries to establish a set of “super” rights for themselves. [. . .]

    One of the more controversial rights--especially in a time of Supreme Court contention--is the right to privacy. Privacy is a natural right. If I want to keep something to myself, it poses no obligation on anyone else. It is my right to do so. The fact that privacy is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution does not matter. The Constitution does not grant rights, nor does it purport to be a comprehensive catalogue of all natural rights.
    A couple of things bug me about this. Starting from the end, "privacy," Owen cleverly avoids (and, who knows, he might have a word limit) the implications of his declaring privacy a natural and, therefore, untransgressable right. Abortion, against which Owen staunchly is, has been ruled to fall under privacy rights--as an individual medical decision. Must be quite the conundrum.

    Second, the "gay rights are a myth" thing. The typical conservative line on any kind of civil rights question is that these rights are "special rights," and that gays, women, minorities--anyone other than straight white guys like me and Owen--should just shut up about it if they can't do all the things we can. Owen also conveniently forgets here to ask the question why straight white guys get to negotiate more rights than everyone else. Straight white guys can negotiate the right to marry whom they love, earn higher pay, not get pulled over on the freeway so often, and so forth.
  • We now have proof postive that "Intelligent Design" is a front for creationism.
And that's the end of that chapter.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Separated at birth

(playing on a theme . . . )

Jessica McBride and Time Cube.

There's some sort of pissing match that normally I wouldn't get involved in (see Xoff for more), but I think I win.

Wisconsin is sick of higher taxes!

Except, apparently, in Florence County, where voters approved a measure to exceed the revenue cap yesterday:
The vote marked the fourth referendum since May 2004 on whether to exceed state-imposed revenue caps to pay for minimum programming requirements, safe busing and building maintenance, said Superintendent Jan Dooley. The first three failed, the latest in June.

Residents were asked two questions: whether they would approve the board exceeding the caps by $4.75 million over five years, and whether they approved the dissolution of the school district.

Only the vote on the revenue caps was binding.

In the final tally, 1,424 voted to accept exceeding the caps, to 1,253 against, while 443 approved closing the district compared to 2,210 who voted to keep it open, according to Kathy Holland, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

The district, with a current enrollment of 589 students, will now be allowed to collect an extra $500,000 in property taxes starting this year, an extra $750,000 next year, an extra $1 million in the third year and an extra $1.25 million in both and fourth and fifth years.
I've written about Florence before; its situation is a perfect confluence of decades of bad decisions, bad policy, and bad luck. Rising fuel prices (even amid record oil company profits) have been among the final stakes in the sprawling 500-sqaure mile district's heart, but several other factors apply:
  • The decision--and this is one most school districts are guilty of making--to offer generous retirement packages years ago, in the theory that younger, less-experienced teachers would be cheaper. This worked out okay until . . .
  • Double-digit percentage increases in the cost of health care every year for the last decade or so. This socks taxpayers twice, once for their own health care, and once to support those young teachers and all the retirees from the school district. The district feels the pinch because of . . .
  • State revenue caps, which were coupled with the state's picking up of 2/3 of the cost of education and the QEO law, to create a straightjacket for districts across the state. Locked into increasingly expensive retirement obligations, accompanied by the state's reneging on the 2/3 promise in recent years, schools districts have found themselves squeezed in even more directions. Add to it the public's usual reluctance to vote to tax themselves more (see referenda 1-3 in Florence) and the disincentive contained in the QEO to save money on health insurance (Florence County probably doesn't have that many insurance providers to compete for the schools' business, anyway), and districts are so squeezed they just might explode.
Florence has dodged the explosion this time, but it won't be long until other districts start feeling the same pressure to do something. Sadly, the leaders of our state legislature will continue to focus on god, guns, gays, and, er, vouchers, since they make for better campaign issues. While they do, taxpayers, schools, and the future get closer to exploding.

Tennessee School Shooting

I was teaching in an exurban high school that looked remarkably like Columbine when that school shooting happened. Since moving to the Milwaukee Public Schools, ironically, I have felt safer, primarily because the students at my school most likely to get violent tend to have very focused anger and very specific targets.

There is not much information out yet about yesterday's shooting in Jacksboro, TN, but it certainly seems like the shooter there knew who his target was--the administrators at the school.

Our thoughts should be in Jacksboro today.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

From the "Most Likely to End Up on 'Law & Order'" file:

Not to take away from the tragedy in the Avery/ Halbach case, but the set-up seems too good not to get picked up for TV:

A man who spends 18 years in jail for a rape he didn't commit is suing the county for wrongful. A missing woman's car--with evidence of foul play--ends up in the man's family's junkyard. The police are digging all over the property for half the night, while the man remains "suspicious."

The only question is whether it gets to "Law & Order" or "CSI" first--and if we have an answer to the real mystery before Jack McCoy (or Gil Grissom) gets his man.

Drinking Liberally Tomorrow

This one is sure to be the most explosive yet:

  • a no-holds-barred cage match between the pro-Peg and Pro-Falk factions;
  • many rounds in celebration of Fitzmas (which we missed by two days last time)
  • Jason holding forth on DIESEL POWAH (again)
  • me and Scott F. trading Saturn stories (welcome to the family Scott, bwahahahah!)
  • followed by a trip to Scott's place to intimidate his neighbors!

(note: only one of these is really likely to happen)

So join us!

Updated to add one more likely thing: Toasting new papa Ben.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Falk in; blood pressure up

Let us all remember something: Electability gave us John Kerry.

I'm not saying Kathleen Falk is John Kerry--I'd take Falk over Kerry any day in any race--but electability is the wrong issue to base a campaign, even for Attorney General, on. I will argue that point until I die.

Yes, Peg Lautenschlaer was convicted for DUI; but she has "paid her debt to society," or however you want to phrase it, and is concentrating on doing her job. A Falk-Peg primary will hinge almost entirely on the DUI, since it seems to be the only point publicly made by the pro-Falk crowd and the candidates are not that far apart on the issues. How low does this make Democrats look?

Yes, Peg is not as good a fundraiser as Falk is, but Democrats have truly reached a new low when fundraising ability is a factor in judging who should run and who shouldn't (let's not pretend that Falk's marquee draw isn't a factor in this). In fact, I would argue--have argued--that Peg's ambivalence to fundraising and pandering makes her that much more independent and reliably pro-public as AG.

Yes, Kathleen Falk is a credentialed progressive liberal and a good politician, but Peg has decades of experience as a prosecutor and has led the fight as AG on liberal issues such as environmental protection, oil company profits, prescription drugs, and more.

If every dollar spent on a Falk-Peg primary could instead be spent on close Assembly and Senate races; on Doyle's tough re-election fight; on the fight against the expected anti-gay marriage amendment; or in the open-seat race of the eighth Congressional District, the Democrats might have a chance at real progress in 2006. With this primary fight, we lose, pure and simple.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A voucher story and a public school story

So I'm taking time out from the work to watch the live Vinnick-Santos debate (Vinnick is more comfortable on his feet; Santos has better ideas), and I thought I should get a couple of stories out there while I watched.

First, J-Dizzle has decided to use part of my idea (!) for dealing with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and added it to the same compromise that he's used before. This week he offered to "rasie the cap":
Under the plan that Doyle unveiled Friday [. . .], the cap on students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program would be raised from 15% to 18 % of Milwaukee Public Schools enrollment. Under the plan, about 3,000 more students could enter the program, which was closed to new enrollment Oct. 25 after the Department of Public Instruction determined that it appeared to have reached the state-mandated cap.

The package, which Doyle described as a "compromise," would also:
  • Require private schools participating in the voucher program to administer the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the state standardized tests required in public schools.
  • Enable MPS to count each choice student at a rate of 45% for determining its per-pupil value for the state aid formula. Although MPS does not count choice students for the purpose of calculating state aid now, Doyle said, "Milwaukee taxpayers are required to pay 45 percent of the cost of the choice program."
  • Increase the income cutoff for participating families.
  • Increase funding for Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, commonly called SAGE, from $2,000 to $2,500 a student, a change that Doyle described as "long overdue." The program holds class sizes to fewer than 15 students in participating schools from kindergarten through third grade.
  • Increase the enrollment cap for the Racine Charter School program from 400 to 480 to allow students attending 21st Century Preparatory School to attend the school through eighth grade. [. . .]
Also under Doyle's plan, an independent authority would have to accredit choice schools.
There is something admirable in this--Doyle is asking for some badly needed things like accountability in voucher schools, reifornced SAGE funding, and my idea, accreditation (I have to ask Zepnick if he passed it on to the gov or if the gov just reads my blog). But the Republicans in the legislature want just one thing out the voucher debate: A campaign issue. You can see it already in their responses to Doyle's plan, under the sub-heading "MPS aid criticized."

My prediction? The plan dies an ignoble and quiet death while Republicans keep banging the drum to "lift the cap."

Meanwhile, in the Milwaukee Public Schools, the move towards layoffs and bigger class sizes in overcrowded schools continues, with the board's approval of the closure of four more schools. What's remarkable to me is not necessarily the closures--anyone who knows the board knew the outcome before it started--but rather the misinformation from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in their editorial in favor of the closings and an earlier article about the hearing at Juneau High School, where hundreds of people lobbied to keep it open. In both pieces, the paper noted that last spring, the Superintendent proposed closing three schools but that the Board--the pre-election board, from before the "reformers" took over--scuttled the idea.

While not technically wrong, the wording in both stories puts the blame in the wrong place: The board had to reject the superintendent's proposal to close those three schools because he did it outside of the Board's rules and the district's guidelines for proposing such measures. In perpetuating this fiction, the paper continues to absolve the superintendent of any blame for anything--even when he's the one who screws up. Typical.

The obligatory "I'm not dead, just really, really, really busy" post

This coming week is exam week; teachers, you know what I'm talking about.

Keep yourselves busy with a Badger Carnival.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I've started a trend!

So far, one more liberal Cheddarspherean has stepped forward in support of Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, for some of the reasons I have, and for some surprising reasons of his own.

And, you know, Jason's a pretty big guy, so when the barfight breaks out at Drinking Liberally next week over the Falk/ Lautenschlager thing, we'll have that advantage. Bring it on, I say . . .

Friday Random Ten

The This is a test. This is only a test. If this test mattered one bit to you, you'd sit quietly and take it. Instead, your teachers are ready to throw themselves into cauldrons of hot oil because this is a test Edition

1. "Friday at the Circle K" the Nields from Play
2. "Wolves, Lower" REM from Dead Letter Office
3. "Call it Democracy" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere
4. "Filipino Box Spring Hog" Tom Waits from Mule Variations
5. "Tea Tale" Sons of the Never Wrong from Nuthatch Suite
6. "Song for the Asking" Simon and Garfunkel from The Best Of
7. "Lead Me On" Carrie Newcomer from Visions and Dreams
8. "As I'm Leaving" David Gray from Lost Songs
9. "When We Begin" Ellis Paul from Sweet Mistakes*
10. "Floating Bridge" Eric Clapton from Another Ticket

*Anyone else seeing Ellis Paul with Peter Mulvey in Madison Saturday?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Dear State Superintendent Burmaster:

This is just a brief note. Given how little I've slept this week, you'll have to wait at least until this weekend for the long, perhaps profanity-laden screed.

But I wanted to remind you that I support you, I voted for you, I campaigned for you, wrote nice things about you (and bad things about your opponent) on my blog.

I've celebrated the new and recent vigorous enforcement taken against dangerous and unaccountable voucher schools wasting taxpayer dollars.

Yet, your office has me very, very angry this week.

This is state testing week.

And I'm very, very angry.

This year, the 10th grade WKCE was expanded to over 8 hours long. (And I know we have it easy--the 8th grade test is nearly 9 hours.) The test book is more than an inch thick, frustrating and intimidating for even the best students. Following the test administration timeline provided by DPI requires between 30 and 60 minutes of testing every day for three weeks straight.

The testing window--the time frame within which schools must test students--is situated just right so any school on a four-by-four block calendar has final exams smack in the middle of it. Without three weeks straight to pull our sophomores out of class to test, the test lasts a solid day-and-a-half at our school (though it didn't quite work; you'll have to wait for the long version to hear how ridiculous the procedure is getting after the FUBAR week we've had), the week before final exams. That leaves us a spare handful of days to do make-up testing to try for that magical 95% mark for number of students tested.

Who has time to organize all of this? Our guidance staff this year dropped from four couselors for 1500 students to three, and the level of testing compliance required only grows every year.

The teachers may yet mutiny tomorrow, but I consider our school lucky not to have dissolved into a puddle of frustration and chaos.

I know that you are as much at the mercy of George W. Bush and his band of merry privateers itching to take down the public schools. But your office keeps inflating the test. Your office tests sophomore-level knowledge of students who have only finished 9.25 years of schooling. You could be joining Connecticut in a lawsuit, or taking other action to ease the demands on students and burdens on schools, districts, and teachers.

This week I am not a happy teacher. I am not a happy voter, either.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

One of these things is not like the other

Am I the only Democratic blogger in Wisconsin who likes Peg Lautenschlager? Am I the outlier in the Cheddarsphere? Here's the round up:
Now, I realize that this is not at all the whole spectrum of Wisconsin left bloggers, but it's all of us (that I can find) who are writing about the potential Peg-Falk primary and, with the exception of this very post in your hot little hands right now, everyone is encouraging the primary fight.

I know that Peg has some baggage and isn't a great fundraiser or campaigner, but I think she's been a good Attorney General. I think Falk would be too, of course. Mostly, I just don't like this kind of primary fight, and I don't like to encourage the notion that there is a serious split (even if there is one) within the party. As we see on the national level (with, for example, Democrats in the Senate yesterday), we succeed when we stand united, but we don't do so well when we refuse to. Besides, if I had my druthers, I'd toss Doyle, not Peg.

It'd be one thing if Peg were not qualified to be AG, or had made a mess of things. She hasn't, and I think it's important, then, to stand by her despite poor poll numbers, and despite what everyone else thinks. But it looks like this cheese is standing alone in that conviction.

For your Wednesday discussion pleasure:

Should the county courthouse parking annex really be torn down? Who will save the whales?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For your Tuesday reading pleasure

while I'm busy with the state tests: