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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Answers to burning questions

No, I didn't watch the speech. I, like Ben, expected nothing original. Sounds like we got it.

Yes, I am glad concealed carry failed again. Though, I must say, I was all excited to hang my new "No Guns Allowed" sign outside my door. I'd even photoshopped a copy of my ACLU card onto it, just for good measure.

Yes, I did see this story on the achievement gap. I even downloaded and printed the WPRI report to read. Left it at work. I have some ideas--maybe tomorrow.

No, I don't have the energy for a McIlheran Watch right now. I was thinking about turning it into a villanelle (not haiku), but that takes time I ain't got tonight.

Yes, I am excited to see that Wisconsin is one of the seven states on the economic honor roll. No, I doubt it will quash those persistently pesky "tax hell" myths.

RIP, Coretta Scott King

The civil rights icon has passed on. Condolences to the family, and to the millions she inspired.

Monday, January 30, 2006

RIP, Wendy

Wendy Wasserstein has died at a painfully young 55.

Another one bites the dust

I alluded to this in a post over the weekend, but just for a sense of completion, I figure I should make explicit mention of this Milwaukee voucher school story:
The state on Friday kicked the voucher school L.E.A.D.E.R. Institute out of the city's school choice program. [. . .] In ordering L.E.A.D.E.R. out of the program, state officials cited financial insolvency, arguing that the school owes $497,822 for improperly cashed checks, improperly claimed summer school payments, past payroll payments and other debts.

L.E.A.D.E.R.--the letters stand for Learning Educational Assets Development and Educational Reform--is in its second year of operation. The school has students in kindergarten through 12th grade and is housed in a former bank at 2200 N. King Drive that was previously used by two other voucher schools that have failed, the Mandella School of Science and Math, and Academic Solutions.
Notice what is missing from the DPI's justification--no mention of the questionable academics at the school:
The DPI challenged the school in the fall on the grounds that it did not offer enough class hours in a school year to meet the legal minimum for private schools of 875 hours. Tyler argued that because the school met six days a week and in the summer, with about 10 weeks off spread out through the year, it met the total.

A DPI hearing examiner accepted Tyler's argument and said the school met the state minimums.
So the number stays at two--two schools in 16 years that DPI has successfully challenged based on their inability to meet minimum standards. Does anyone really believe that those two have been the only two wastes of taxpayer money since the system's inception?

When the cap gets lifted--because jeebus knows there is not the political will to do anything but--it will be the L.E.A.D.E.R.s of the world that take the additional students. Is that what we want for our money? It is not what I want for mine.

The War on Atheism

A few weeks ago on this very blog, congressional candidate Bryan Kennedy created a bit of a stir with the line, "How is it that conservative religious zealots have seized my Savior and determined His values?" Critics jumped all over him, prompting defenses from me and from Bryan himself, with the furor even garnering notice in the inaugural moments of Spivak and Bice's SpiceBlog. The critics accused Bryan of slandering all religious conservatives, when he was really just talking about the unfortunate fringe who dominate the religious debate on the right.

So I checked in with the usual suspects--those quick to judge Bryan--and found nary a peep from them about the way Dale Reich slanders non-religious people in this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He writes:
Friends, if you're going to be atheists, start thinking and acting like it. Get rid of your own irrational beliefs and embrace the world as you say it is: a purely physical and random place where goodness and evil don't really exist and where the rules set down by organized religion and thousands of years of human history are no more meaningful than two rocks colliding at the bottom of a mountain after an avalanche.

What I learned from my foray into disbelief was that most atheists have it all wrong. They've merely substituted their own irrational belief system for the one I was given from 2,000 years ago. [. . .]

God is the basis for good and evil, and once you reject him and his rules, you're left with nothing but self-serving and self-preservation. In short, you're left with being your own god.

[. . . V]irtually all of my non-believing friends [have come] up with a set of beliefs on their own. They find them in tradition, in rational thought, in politics, in philosophy, in the moon and the stars, in Tarot cards and even in the cookies where they get their Chinese takeout. [. . .] It seems to me, as a rational man as well as a Christian, that those thoughts are irrational and should be discarded immediately by any right-thinking atheist. I'm puzzled why they cling to something so silly. For them, life should be merely an exercise in seeking personal pleasure, procreating and then dying.
I'm not going to pretend to understand everything there is to understand about the devoutly religious. I did, however, grow up among them; they are my people. I went to church three or more times a week until I was 18, and I think I have a pretty good handle on at least some of it all. What Reich has done here is not uncommon in my experience.

By writing that "God is the basis for good and evil," he dismisses any notion that there may be a source of morality and ethics derived from the non-divine. This is one of the most common fallacies presented by those who, for example, do not want evolution taught in schools. Somehow, they believe, knowing that life's development was due to a fortuitous confluence of physics, chemistry, and biology--rather than due to divine intervention--somehow makes life meaningless. It does not. The prisons are not stocked full of the irreligious (despite Reich's clumsy attempt to equate atheists and sociopaths); the atheists are not the ones committing suicide en masse; the non-believers did not fly the planes into the World Trade Center.

Reich wonders why we irreligious would bother to help stranded motorists, for example, since helping others is not "seeking personal pleasure, procreating [or] dying." He neglects that many of us find being nice, kind, generous, or charitable in itself a pleasurable activity, even if we believe the good works bring little more than temporary satisfaction. In fact, a key principal of evolutionary biology is the idea of altruism; helping other members of the species ultimately benefits our own chances of survival, and those of our offspring. I look at it more from the angle of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." This giant frontal lobe of mine--and the attendant consciousness and reason--endows me and all of the rest of us with a responsibility to take care of each other and the world we live in. There's a reason why those noted non-Christians, Native Americans, practiced a "seventh-generation" philosophy; it's not that they wanted to do and be good to please God, but rather to ensure that their descendants would survive and inherit a society worth living in.

In fact, it is depressingly cynical to consider that, in Reich's worldview, the only reason to do good is to earn a better seat in the afterlife. One would think we've evolved beyond that by now.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Your Choice of Choice Opinions

In addition to McIlheran's claptrap, there is plenty of other ink in this morning's paper given over to opinion pieces on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. By far the most ink (well over 2000 words!) goes to the pro-voucher Mikel Holt, whom many of you may remember as a key part of the team that, using WTMJ radio production facilities and employees, produced the ad explicitly comparing Governor Jim Doyle to segregationist southern governors Orville Faubus and George Wallace. Holt doesn't bother to check his hyperbole in this column, either:
School choice--in its most basal form--is a civil rights issue. [. . .] Some suggest the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is a sledgehammer used to tear down the walls of educational apartheid. [. . .]

Those who naively believed that at some point opponents of choice--the teachers union, the Democratic Party and missionary organizations--would put aside their biases and illogical opposition and join us on this freedom train were living a pipe dream. [. . .] I have no illusions about my ability in a commentary to persuade opponents to alter their course, to climb aboard our freedom train.
Again, Holt is implicitly--if not explicitly--linking those who believe in supporting the public schools before supporting private and religious schools to those who support segregation and apartheid; he is calling those of us who demand genuine accountability and more than minimal standards for the MPCP racist--there's just no way around it. As someone who has dedicated his professional life to urban education, to helping the same children that Holt claims to want to help, this is deeply offensive. I realize that Holt is not trying to win my friendship and influence me; rather, he is stirring up the African American community to vote against Jim Doyle this November. Because, you know, those Republicans have such a long history of supporting Milwaukee's black community . . .

But Holt doesn't stop at the name-calling:
Because we have reached the statutory cap on enrollment in the program, the state Department of Public Instruction has engineered a rationing program that will be implemented this fall. It will essentially put a limit on the number of seats participating schools can provide.

That process, DPI officials admit, will mean a minimum of 4,000 students will be thrown out of the schools of their choice next fall. That means schools like Messmer Catholic Schools (which has 400 families on a waiting list), St. Joan Antida and St. Marcus Lutheran, each of which have excellent records of achievement, will be forced to dismiss half their students.

But the losses and personal disruption to human lives doesn't end there. It is estimated that 20 to 30 schools would close as a direct result of the rationing plan, meaning that hundreds of teachers, cooks, janitors, bus drivers, security guards, secretaries and cleaning personnel will lose their jobs.
Here Holt is misplacing the blame, directing his anger at the wrong people. He needs to get on the phone to the GeorgeandSusanMitchells of the world, the Howard Fullers of the world, as ask them why--as voucher supporters--they opposed DPI's initial plans that would have protected all of the schools Holt names and the students attending them. Holt needs to call his allies in the state legislature, the John Gards and Alberta Darlings, and ask why they allowed the lobbying against DPI's initial plans to pursuade them to reject them. It is voucher supporters--most emphatically not the DPI--that deserves the blame should Messmer or Harambee or Urban Day School or any of the other schools whose quality is readily apparent be closed. Period. End of sentence.

Holt decries the additional spending that would come with accepting the governor's compromise plan for raising the cap--money for SAGE programs statewide, and money to offset the losses incurred by Milwaukee taxpayers because of the program. But Holt neglects to tell his audience, those African Americans he's hoping to persuade to vote out Doyle in the fall, that lifting the cap comes with its own price to them as property taxpayers. As we learned this week, Milwaukee taxpayers pay $1000 more per voucher student than we do per MPS student. And in exchange for that $1000 extra investment in students the public schools don't teach, we get no information on how the private schools gladly taking our money are performing. That's a raw deal, in my view.

It is these matters of taxes and of accountability that get the editorial board's ink this morning. They agree with Mayor Tom Barrett's assertion that the state must chip in to make up some of the loss to Milwaukee taxpayers for any increase in the voucher plan. But then in a piece entitled "A study to fill in the blanks on vouchers," the board lauds the Georgetown study I wrote about this week that, in my view, would only fill in one blank, and that one, partially. The board acknowledges that any voucher school that wants to will be able to opt out, and they also acknowledge that the inclusion of Jay Greene on the research team was likely a mistake. But they err in way major way--saying that through this study, "anecdotes may give way to hard facts." This is simply not true.

The one blank that the Georgetown study may fill in is how well the MPCP is doing as a whole compared to MPS. And I say may, because even though statistical sampling will help to create comparable groups of students in both halves of the study, there is no way to correct for the voluntary exclusion of voucher schools. If I were Deb Lindsey, head of research for MPS, I would "exclude" all of the worst schools in MPS when picking students for the MPS sample, just to prove the point. And even so, even if magically no voucher schools opt out and we get a full answer for that one blank, the study still does not provide for parents what may be the most important answer: How well is their school of choice doing? By sampling, instead of requiring full participation of all schools and voucher students, the study will only be able to provide the big picture, rather than the detailed images available for every single MPS school.

The last two opinion pieces on choice in the paper this morning come from Barbara Miner and the Milwaukee Legislative Caucus. Both take the more reasoned side of things. Miner:
The consternation over the voucher enrollment cap is a manufactured crisis.

The true crisis facing the voucher program is the lack of accountability that has allowed crooks, con artists and the well-meaning but educationally incapable to bilk taxpayers out of millions of dollars and to shortchange the educational hopes of hundreds of children.
The Caucus:
Anyone who knows the governor and his family knows that his first priority is education. He wants the doors of education to be open to all, and he wants to ensure that the education our kids receive is the finest in America. [. . .]

As he first did two years ago, Doyle has again proposed a plan to lift the cap on the number of low-income students able to participate in the voucher program and eliminate prior-year enrollment requirements that limit eligibility.

The governor has clearly and repeatedly stated that he supports lifting the cap as part of a reform package that strengthens the program and expands educational opportunities for all Milwaukee students--whether they attend public or voucher schools.
Both pieces--very short, especially compared to Holt's, which is longer than these two combined--are worth the full read.

As an addendum, there is this story, which didn't make the on-line edition of today's paper (though it may be in the paper version):
A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as "the nation's report card," the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances. The researchers said they compared math scores, not reading ones, because math was considered a clearer measure of a school's overall effectiveness.
This study was very, very limited, and did not consider Milwaukee in particular. But I'm throwing it out there as food for thought. Kevin Drum has more.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Allow me to answer that question for you

Tomorrow is Sunday, meaning that everyone's favorite local conservative space-waster's column will be mucking up the Crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The topic of the column? What else--vouchers. That's three misguided and misinformed columns on this topin in a single month. (See MWatch for the first and second for more.)

This time around, Patrick McIlheran takes on his favorite bogeyman, the teachers union. As I happen to be an active member thereof, of course I have a keen interest in the particular hokum he's peddling. And it turns out to be nothing more than the same BS we've been hearing from conservatives for the last several weeks:
[W]e don't know what we're getting for our tax dollars because the governor said no. The Legislature has several times tried to commission objective studies of whether letting parents pick schools improves poor kids' lives. The governor has vetoed them all, vetoes desired by the teachers unions that spent seven figures to put him in office.

We may get such a study because a scholar at Georgetown University is rounding up academics and foundations on both sides of the school-choice debate to do one. Bring it on. [. . .]

[W]ith school choice, we do know what we're not getting for our tax money.

We're not getting the Mercedes-buying principal mentioned by the governor: Mandella School of Science and Math got thrown out of the choice program in 2004 by state authorities acting under a law instigated by school-choice advocates. So did Northside High School last week after a state examiner flunked it. So did three other choice schools, and 30 with dicey plans were kept from opening this year.

The abuses cited by the governor and likely to appear in radio ads were stopped by rules choice advocates sought.
It's the full gamut, no? Starting with Doyle is owned by WEAC and running through Doyle vetoed a study to All these closures mean there's accountability. All of them have been dealt with in these very pages to one extent or another, but it's worth reminding people:
  • WEAC (and me!) wants the voucher program ended; Doyle has proposed expanding it. WEAC was just one opponent of the study bill's opponents, and the bill was bad to begin with . . .
  • . . . because it would have provided no real information. The bill, most recently introduced, passed, and vetoed in last 2003, would have allowed any voucher school to opt out, and it would not have provided any data on any individual school, just on the program as a whole. It's great the McIlheran can cite data on MPS--as he does later in his column--but if he wanted to, he could have broken it down to tell us which MPS schools are best or worst. The study would not have done that for voucher schools, nor would the new Georgetown study. It also would have added no enforcement teeth, so we could learn that the program was doing badly and, well, that's it.
  • As for closing schools, as McIlheran notes, DPI has not done it often, and all of them have been in the last two years. And none of the closures (including one yesterday, by the way) have been because the quality of education at those schools was poor. It's also funny to hear P-Mac giving credit for these measures to the pro-voucher side, as this is authority DPI wanted for years before the Republican legislature let them have it--and then only because stronger accountability measures demanded by the anti-voucher side were shot down time and time again.
McIlheran doesn't stop there, citing, as I noted, the bad test scores of MPS schools, and even going so far as to cite the 29% number I dissected earlier this week. I'm telling you--if P-Mac would just read my blog, he'd know the answers to all of his questions.

But I have to share with you my favorite line in the column:
Of course, nearly every choice school does give some kind of standard test, and many reveal the results to parents, the people with the greatest claim to know.
Wow! Many schools give results to parents. Many! That's accountability for you, isn't it? "Of course," I should write, "if you read the paper, you'd know that parents just don't use academics as a factor in their decisions."

And he closes with additional digs at my union:
Not that the [public schools are] not trying new things. It's resizing high schools, experimenting with curriculum, trying to oust bad teachers. But frequently opposing reforms sought by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos have been the School Board members elected with union support, and the union says it wants to defeat board members who support Andrekopoulos. Thus, the union asks parents to trust a system accountable to a board that's accountable to a union whose idea of reform is higher pay.
Again proving that he doesn't read my blog, McIlheran repeats spin that I've shown to be false before. For one, he should read up on backwards way the district is going about doing small schools. He should also learn himself a little something about Milwaukee's TEAM program, a union idea which, since its implementation, has helped bad teachers out of the system. And higher pay is not where our disagreement with the superintendent comes from; it comes from the unprofessional way he treats teachers, and the way he pushed a bad health-care package that is actually costing the taxpayers more money than the union's proposal would have, and the teachers less.

But that's okay, I suppose; if McIlheran could actually get his facts straight, I'd lose two posts a week making up for it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Random Questions

  1. The perennial, What liberal media?
  2. If the state really does re-bid the travel contract, and the bids come in higher than what Adelman had bid to win the contract (after a state employee fudged the numbers to force another round of lower bidding), will Republicans complain that the state is spending too much on travel? Badger Blues and Playground Politics have the best writing on this issue.
  3. On most Blogger blogs, clicking the name of the blog in the header will return you to the home page of that blog. That doesn't happen with mine; I know there's probably a line or two of code I should slip into my template, but I can't figure out how to do it without turning it blue. Anyone know the magic words?
  4. If I were going to put a face on the media establishment in this town, it would be Charlie Sykes's face. At what point will they stop calling him "alternative" media?
  5. I am not sure Sheldon Wasserman's idea is practical, but it may be worth considering, just so I can say I live in Milwoshawaukawashozacine County.
  6. How big of an idiot is John Stossel? Okay, I've actually found a couple of good answers to that question already, and the consensus seems to be, "bigger than his mustache."
  7. Is John Kerry really the best person to lead the filibuster on Alito, with Ted Kennedy singing harmony? I agree that Alito is wrong for the bench (it's the separation of powers, people!), but couldn't we get a moderate from the South or West to lead this one, like Blanche Lincoln or Ron Wyden?
  8. Finally: Should I or shouldn't I? I can't be more specific than that right now, but I'd appreciate your opinion.

Friday Random Ten

The Jane Edition

1. "Two Janes" Peter Mulvey from Ten Thousand Mornings
2. "Eliza Jane" Vance Gilbert from One Thru Fourteen
3. "Jane" Barenaked Ladies from Maybe You Should Drive
4. "Ann Jane" The Jayhawks from Tomorrow the Green Grass
5. "The Song That Jane Likes" Dave Matthews Band from Remember Two Things
6. "Jane" Dan Bern from Feeting Days
7. "Little Liza Jane" Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer from When I Go
8. "Jane" Catie Curtis from My Shirt Looks Good on You
9. "Jane" Jess Klein from 12-Hour Dream
10. "Sweet Jane" The Velvet Underground from Loaded

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Public School Teachers and Private Schools

From the mailbag:
I am a retired Madison teacher and formerly a 25 year member of the MTI negotiating team.  I have been trying to find out some information for some time.  Maybe you can help me.  On public radio this week, there was an advocate of choice schools reciting some statistics.  He said that a study by MTEA found that 29% of Milwaukee teachers send their kids to voucher school.  Do you know that the actual numbers are?  I have heard various numbers like that ranging from 14 to 50%.
The program he heard was the Joy Cardin show with George Mitchell, the one I called into and wrote about Tuesday. And it's true--Mitchell said that "29% of MPS teachers with children send their children to private schools," calling it a long-term tradition.

But, because I am attentive to my readers, I took this fellow up on his question, and did some looking into it. As I found in my own conversation with Mitchell, it turns out he was not telling the whole story.

The 29% figure is real, if debatable. The number comes from a study by pro-voucher researcher Denis Doyle, published through the Fordham Foundation. The figure is based on Doyle's analysis of 2000 census data; just to give you an idea of where he's coming from, Doyle's analysis of 1980 census data was published by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and his work on the 1990 data was funded by the pro-voucher Center for Education Reform.

Doyle's analysis had two components, studying the difference between public school teachers and the general public nationwide, and teasing out the data for America's 50 largest cities, including Milwaukee. Doyle found that in the nation's 50 biggest cities, 21.5% of public school teachers send children to private schools, about 4 percentage points more often than parents overall. Milwaukee's 29.4% of teachers sending kids to private schools was six percentage points higher than Milwaukee parents in general. Milwaukee ranked 20th of 50 cities in terms of difference between parents and population, and the study made no distinction between private schools and schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

But there are some other things going on here. Gerald Bracey, a crusader on the side of public schools and teachers, gave Doyle and Fordham one of his coveted Rotten Apple awards in 2004--the “If at first you don’t succeed: Fudge, Fudge Again” award, in fact:
When Doyle finally got around to showing the data, the 1990 data revealed that 12.1% of public school teachers use private schools compared to 13.1% of the general public. In his analysis of the 2000 census, the figure is down to 10.6%, and it’s only 7.9% if you don’t count teachers who send their kids to both public and private schools. For the general public it’s 12.1%, 9.4% dropping out parents who use both. [. . .]

Doyle calls public school teachers education “connoisseurs.” One would expect private school teachers to exhibit the same level of expertise, yet fewer than a third of private school teachers pack their children off to private schools, 29.5% in 2000, down from 32.7% in 1990. In fact, although 54.1% of private school teachers in 2000 had family incomes of more than $84,000 a year, only 31.1% of this group had children in private schools.
Of course, Bracey can't break down the private-school number by city, so we cannot make the direct comparison between Milwaukee's public and private school teachers, specifically. But it is important to note that the 29% number would probably be lower if you take out parents who send their children to both public and private schools, as Bracey found for the study overall. Plus, when George Mitchell said that it is 29% of Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, this is not what the report says; it refers only to public school teachers who live in the city, who may not all teach for MPS. More importantly, the number for Milwaukee is not significantly different than the number for private school teachers nationwide. If the public schools are good enough for 70% of private school teachers, why can't they be good enough for 70% of public school teachers without its being an issue?

But there's more to it than that: If you go back to discussions (see here and here, for example) about the creation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice voucher program in 1990, two proponents, Annette Polly Williams and Howard Fuller, were claiming--based on what, I admit I don't know--that fully half of MPS teachers were sending their children to private schools. These claims were a big part of the push behind the program's creation. If that 50% number is true--and, again, I'm just taking their word for it--that means that between 1990 and 2000, there was a 40% drop in the number of MPS teachers sending their children to private schools. I have no idea what the number might be now, but the trend seems to be downward.

Finally, and, cautiously, given my discussion of sampling the other day, a note on Doyle's methodology. It's actually worth reading the "Methodology" section in the report, since it talks about the census data being used. The Census Bureau releases 5% of the data for an area--like the city of Milwaukee--for study; the authors say that the incidence of teachers with children in the population is 2% of households. In other words, all the data on public school teachers in this study comes from just 0.1% of households in Milwaukee.

Exam Week

I have to slow down the blog a little bit twixt now and the weekend, with exams and gearing up for new classes next week. But I have something in the pipeline for later today, and another meeting with 8th CD congressional candidate Steve Kagen this afternoon to keep me extra busy.

But here's an existential question: Am I making a difference? I've blown who knows how many hours and how many thousands of words on vouchers and the politics of it and the mechanics of it in the last ten days, and I can't tell if it's been worth anything. I can't even get a dismissive sneer from Sykes for accusing him of hypocritically playing the race card.

I will tell you that I am slightly afraid George Mitchell knew who I was on WPR the other day: I'm the only caller he addressed by name . . .

UPDATE: Apparently I am making a difference, as someone nominated me for a Koufax award. Last year I cheated and nominated myself, but this year I didn't get around to it. Thanks, whoever it was.

And I should add that the fine folks at Wampum are still looking for financial support to run the left blogosphere's biggest awards show, so if you have a little extra coin, drop some in the "make a donation" basket over there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

McIlheran Watch: I Spy with my Little [fill in the blank]

Robola, introducing his haiku, sums it up nicely:
After his last column, I thought Pat had given up. Writing about the minutiae of Gov. Doyle’s reasonable proposals, I sensed that Patrick’s heart just wasn’t in it.

Now I know why; he was busy working up this gem. Shanks of unimaginable falsity, logic with swiss cheese holes, all piled on top of a whole wheat bun seeded with the sesames of “teh dumb”.
Gem is among the last words I would use to describe today's McIlheran, even ironically. It's one thing for him to tippity-tappity out tepid columns following his formula (one bad joke, some misdirection, a handful of unoriginal Republican talking points); it's another thing entirely to write line after line of untruth. I mean, after reading it, I couldn't even trust the byline, the whole thing was so phony.

Knowing I haven't got all morning to dissect every lie--700 words, 700 flasehoods--I'll just take a couple of big ones. The column today is a defense of Bush's NSA domestic warrantless wiretapping program. Well, duh. Of course it is. P. Mac got the same memo everyone else did that this is "defend-the-spying week"; his column is a provencial example of GOP message coordination. What the Karl wants, the Karl gets. It's reassuring that McIlheran, like the other little Rovebots, is still able to follow directions.

Anyway, here's one whopper:
What the president did was, in war, get National Security Agency snoops to see whether they could find enemy phone calls outside the U.S., including some to people inside it. Critics say the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires a warrant; the president's advisers contend that court decisions from the '70s through 2004 say otherwise--and that Congress told the president to take on terrorists "with all necessary and appropriate force."
The head spins, no? One, we're not at war. Yeah, they call it the "global war on terror," but "they" do not declare war--Congress does. And if you haven't noticed, Congress hasn't declared war. Besides, being "at war" is not any kind of a Constitutional standard--the president's power doesn't change in time of war, and to suggest that it does is to question the words and wisdom of the framers who drew a big red circle around the war powers and said, "This is for Congress." Two, there is no Supreme Court decision that says the plain language of FISA can be overridden by a president if he wants. It doesn't exist, and the administration's justifications feel like the ransom notes of kidnappers: They cut out a word or phrase from a bunch of decisions and string them together in a sentence telling us to play along or we'll never see our liberty again.

Three--and this is the big one--Congress's authorizing of force after the 9/11 attacks did not cover warrentless wiretapping of U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. The bill passed in the hours after the al Qaeda attacks is referred to as the AUMF, where the M stands for Military, not "whatever I gol-darned please." The Congress specifically rejected language from the administration that might have allowed it. You can tell that Congress did not expect that the AUMF to override the plain langauage of FISA because a month later, when they wrote and passed the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, Congress included revisions to FISA, none of which allowed warrantless searches of U.S. persons. Then yesterday comes Glenn Greenwald with this:
In June, 2002, Republican Sen. Michael DeWine of Ohio introduced legislation (S. 2659) which would have eliminated the exact barrier to FISA which Gen. Hayden yesterday said is what necessitated the Administration bypassing FISA. Specifically, DeWine's legislation [. . .] would have eliminated the "probable cause" barrier (at least for non-U.S. persons) which the Administration is now pointing to as the reason why it had to circumvent FISA.

During that time, the Administration was asked to advise Congress as to its position on this proposed amendment to loosen the standard for obtaining FISA warrants, and in response, they submitted a Statement from James A. Baker, the Justice Department lawyer who oversees that DoJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, which is the group that "prepares and presents all applications for electronic surveillance and physical search under the Act to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court or Court)." If anyone would be familiar with problems in obtaining FISA warrants, it would be Baker.

And yet, look at what Baker said in his Statement. He began by effusively praising the Patriot Act on the ground that the 72-hour window provided by the Patriot Act had given the Administration the speed and flexibility it needed in order to engage in eavesdropping [. . . and] "the proposed change raises both significant legal and practical issues, the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it." [. . .]

The second concern the Administration expressed with DeWine's amendment was that it was quite possibly unconstitutional.
That's right--the administration itself felt that lowering the FISA standard for wiretapping non-U.S. persons was both unnecessary and perhaps unconstitutional. In what way, then, can they (and, as a good parrot, McIlheran) claim that lowering or ignoring the FISA standard on U.S. citizens is constitutional? (The facts also undercut McIlheran's assertions later in his coulmn about how the warrants were impractical.)

The other amusing bit of misdirection in McIlheran's columns is his repeated claims--one might say he protests too much--that you have to look as well at what Bush didn't do:
What the president didn't do was set the fuzz to listening in on political enemies. He didn't use the FBI to blackmail activists, didn't round up 120,000 people of a particular ethnicity into camps, didn't suspend habeas corpus. Unimpeached presidents have done all these during war. Bush hasn't. [. . . A]mid the plentiful emerging evidence that the program existed, no signs point to political abuse.
Are we supposed to jump for joy at this? I bet Bush didn't drown any kittens, either. Look, the law exists as it does because previous presidents overstepped their authority; FISA was a direct rebuke of the warrantless domestic spying going on in the Nixon-Hoover era. But this whole argument is one giant straw man, anyway. No one is offering evidence that Bush used this program against political enemies or anything like that. From the beginning, Democrats' (and some Republicans') objections have concerned Bush's violation of the plain language of FISA, the law governing situations like these.

The headline writers, I think catching on to Robola's haiku habit, offer a seven-syllable description of this column: Impeach? No, empower him. But that's the trouble. The Congress has specifically declined to do any additional empowerment--and that is their repsonsibility under the Constituion--and the administration has previously indicated that it didn't need it. Yet after all that, Bush still authorized a pogram that pretty clearly violates the law. I am not an advocate for impeachment (who wants President Cheney?!?), but there is no excuse for secret overreach of reasonable law. McIlheran's apologist stance is embarrassing.

Adelman Travel non-Gate

Surprisingly, there has been news in the world besides that about the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, including the indictment of a state Department of Administration official in the Adelman Travel "pay-for-play" scandal. While the right Cheddarsphere is basking in the news, Cory Liebmann at Eye on Wisconsin has a harsh, cold shower for them:
First, the indictment “does not allege a pay-to-play scheme in which the contract was awarded in exchange for the money.” Second, Georgia Thompson was actually hired by the Republican McCallum Administration. Even if one is inclined to believe the right wing conspiracy theories, it would be very difficult to accept that a Republican hire was at the center of a grand Democratic plot. Really now, just think about it. If you are going to plan such an elaborate scheme, why would you make the main player a person that your last opponent hired?
For several days now, the right has been following the grand jury, with hoping Thompson "rolls" on someone higher up. Wigderson, for example, is eating his words with his Thin Mints, but I bet he never expected that the indictment handed down would be against a Republican appointee. It's looking more like there may be no there there, at least not the one the GOP has been hoping for.

Do I support the kind of numbers-cooking Thompson is alleged to have done? Of course not. But I will not judge Jim Doyle or anyone else in the administration based on such a limited indictment. The right would do well to hold its tongue, too.

Voucher Crisis = Campaign Issue

I've said it before and I will say it again: There are Republicans who are loving the fact that Wisconsin's voucher students' futures are up in the air. It is great press for them, a way for their supporters to make Jim Doyle look bad even when the Governor is actively trying to engage them on a solution to the crisis.

This morning, for example, one of the Republican candidates to replace Doyle, Mark Green, will be swinging through Milwaukee to exploit the media attention it's gotten. John-David Morgan at Watchdog Milwaukee has the details, but lays blame more on Tosa Assemblywoman Leah Vukmir, a co-sponsor of the poor GOP counterproposal to Doyle's on raising the cap. Morgan notes that "while [Assembly Speaker John] Gard, Gov. Doyle and legislators such as Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) went to work in Madison, Vukmir decided the best place for her to be was with Green stumping to lift the cap." Indeed.

But Carrie Lynch at What's Left links instead to the press release from Green's campaign touting the appearance. Green has no plan on the table to promote, and, as a U.S. Congressman, Green doesn't even have the ability to change one word in the statutes and regulations that have precipitated the crisis. He's just hoping to score some points in the Milwaukee media market and with voucher parents.

Speaking of the voucher parents, I really hope that one of those parents points out a grave irony in all of this: Vukmir and Green are appearing at the Holy Redeemer Christian Academy this morning, no doubt bashing Doyle as the roadblock to raising the caps. Yet it was at that very school three months ago that Doyle proposed his plan to lift the caps. With any luck, when the Doyle-bashing gears up from the candidates milking the crisis, one of the parents will remark how Gov. Doyle stood in that very spot telling a different story than what the anti-Doyle forces would have you believe.

I hope. But I doubt it will happen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Accountability II: Short Version

Somewhere in the 137 screens of text below is the nut of the argument against the current Republican plan for "accountability" in Milwaukee's voucher schools. Thinking that you all might want a shorter post to link to and quote from, here it is, in brief:

Most importantly, the program will only test a representative sample of students from MPS and voucher schools. I am not a statistician, but I know enough social science to recognize that representative samples can produce valid data. But I have serious concerns about that part: For one, I am concerned that schools will be allowed to opt out of the study. The sampling is supposed to cover that, I know, I know; but if the only schools participating are ones with above-embarrassing test scores, the researchers will have to work hard to make the sample representative.

For two, and perhaps most importantly, while the study this time (as opposed to the 2003 proposal) involves the state WKCE exams, the study will not in any way at any time provide any kind of comprehensive picture of how individual schools perform on those tests. While the samples will provide an idea of whether the voucher program overall is better or worse or comparable to MPS, the study does not one damned thing to paint a picture of how well the individual schools that parents have to choose from are doing at present or over time.

Right now on the Milwaukee Public Schools home page, you can find the district's report cards and download the reports for any school and for any racial or other subgroup. If this study of the voucher program goes through with sampling, there will be no comparable set of data for the schools in the program. When parents hear whatever the answer is from this study, whether it be that voucher schools are great or that they are weak, they will have no way to know whether or not the particular school they are choosing is reflective of the program as a whole.

MPS has some dynamite programs, many of them. Even within bad schools, there are pockets of success in distinct programs that draw from that population. It would simply be a fallacy to suggest that because MPS's fourth-grade reading level, as a whole, is low, that every MPS school fails its young readers. The same will hold true if this voucher study is the only information we have--it would be a fallacy to suggest that any individual school a parent wants for a child is as good or as bad as the overall study results show the program to be. Yet the pro-voucher folks insist that there is no need to collect or make public data on voucher schools the way we must, by state and federal law, do in MPS.

Another Pre-emptive Strike: Accountability

Sorry this is so long. The topic is complex.

Yesterday I talked a little bit about the changes in Milwaukee Public Schools funding provided in the Sinicki bill addressing the issue of Milwaukee Parental Choice Program caps. Today it's accountability, as the Sinicki plan--which mirrors the plan Governor Jim Doyle proposed in November--radically changes the accountability structure for voucher schools.

Now, I need to be honest again up front: I do not like standardized testing. As I have written here many times before, I do not think the regimen of testing imposed by No Child Left Behind provides an accurate assessment measure for either students or schools, and to use standardized test scores as the sole basis for judging the public schools is bad public policy and bad educational practice. As I have noted, I would be a hypocrite to advocate the kind of testing that I despise in my own school for voucher schools. However, my own plan for accountability seems not to have drawn any sponsors. That leaves the two choices on the table--the Sinicki bill or the Darling/ Vukmir bill. Again, I point you to Seth's place for a comprehensive side-by side (also note Seth's follow-up).

While I would not wish testing like this on my worst enemy, on the merits, the Doyle/ Sinicki version is the one I side with, under protest. There are many reasons why I would rather have that one, but first I want to look at present levels of accountability and the changes under the Darling/ Vukmir proposal; I will end this post with a discussion of the Sinicki bill.

As it is now
Up until 1995, the state received an annual report from John Witte, a respected and unbiased professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at the UW-Madison's LaFollette School. But for the last decade, there has not been a single independent analysis of the program. Anything we know about voucher schools comes from information that the schools themselves choose to release to the public. MPCP schools are not required to release any data except the number of students attending in the program (and schools have been caught inflating that number). So, with the exception of selectively released information, the schools are or can be utter black holes when it comes to graduation rates, truancy rates, achievement and proficiency levels, or anything else that you can think of. (I am not suggesting all or any specific voucher schools would show poorly in those areas, just that any information we get from schools in those areas is likely calculated to make the schools look good. If you don't have to make public bad test results, you probably won't.)

A number of outside studies of quality have been done since 1995 by arguably biased researchers; those who like vouchers generally have found that the program does well while those who dislike vouchers find that it is not any better for kids than MPS. Several studies, though, have been done on process, and accountability that accrues through that process. The Public Policy Forum, in particular, has done well with this. For example, despite the news that 92% of voucher schools give some flavor of standardized test at one or more levels, the PPF discovered that many of the data collected are never made public, or even provided to the parents of students in those schools.

In fact, the pro-voucher Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in its excellent series on the MPCP last spring, found that concerns over academic quality just don't factor into parents' decisions to send their children to particular schools as often as we might like. Howard Fuller, president of one of the groups now advertising hard against Gov. Doyle, admitted that the marketplace idea--the idea that accountability inherent in the free market's process for rewarding success and punishing failure--has failed when it comes to MPCP. The Public Policy Forum identified one solitary school that had been shut down by parents' decisions in the first 12 years of the program.

That is not to say that schools don't shut down--they do, sometimes because the sponsors pull the plug or sometimes because the state's Department of Public Instruction steps in. DPI can shut down a school for basically three reasons: the school does not offer a safe physical environment for students (including checks on employees); the school does not have a sound business model or attempts to defraud the state; or the school does not meet the minimum statutory definition of a "school." This does not give me much of a sense of certainty regarding the quality of the schools that remain.

George Mitchell, when he was on WPR this morning where I could call in and question him, said that there were "many requirements that schools must follow" to continue in the program--but aside from the three I mentioned above, the requirements are quite thin. Basically, schools have to do one of these: advance 70% of voucher students one grade a year; claim that voucher students attend at least 90% of the time; assert that 80% of the voucher students make "significant academic progress"; or involve 70% of the voucher parents. The standard basically is, create your your own standard and then say you met it.

What's of greatest concern is that for the schools shut down by DPI--just a handful overall, and most of them in the past 18 months--parents didn't get involved in closing them, and on occasion have been dismayed that the schools closed. I will never forget the words of a parent interviewed following the shuttering of Academic Solutions about a year ago. She was upset at the closure, as her daughter--previously a failing student in MPS--was getting A's at Academic Solutions. But as DPI and even the Milwaukee Police Department made clear, there was no learning going on at the school--the A's earned by the girl were meaningless by any objective standard. Yet the inflated grade gave the mother, and possibly her daughter, an inflated sense of the quality of Academic Solutions.

The plural of anecdote (like the one above) is not, of course, data. But therein lies the current conundrum: There are no data. There is nothing to show that any of the present levels of accountability do anything to guarantee that the state is getting good returns on its investment in the MPCP.

Their proposal
In late 2003, the Republican legislature sent Gov. Doyle a bill that included a long-term study of the voucher program using standardized testing data. There were a number of problems with that bill. Despite what George Mitchell said to me on WPR this morning, that study would not have provided the level of comparable data that the Doyle/ Sinicki bill would. I discussed that at the bottom of this long post. But the same ideas are being recycled in the present Darling/ Vukmir proposal. There is an article in paper this morning about the study gearing up:
The study would be conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project at Georgetown University, with Patrick Wolf, a well-known researcher in education policy, as the lead figure. Jay Greene, a professor at the University of Arkansas who has written numerous research works favorable to voucher programs, would be a partner with Wolf, as would University of Wisconsin-Madison professor John Witte, who was the main researcher in the studies in the early 1990s and who is regarded as more neutral on the merits of vouchers.

Wolf said the study was expected to cost $9 million and last five years, with funding to come from private foundations. He said about 40% of the money had been lined up from foundations such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. Other major national foundations are considering funding requests. Researchers are seeking funding from a variety of sources, hoping the results will be regarded as even-handed and scientifically sound.

A major part of the research would be using a randomly selected sample of students in MPS, in charter schools in Milwaukee and in private schools that are in the voucher program to analyze and compare the educational success and progress of each group of students. Scores on Wisconsin's battery of standardized tests called the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination would be used in the analysis. [. . .]

The questions that the research would aim to answer include how well voucher students are doing academically, how their performance compares with other students and what are the explanations for the findings, Wolf said. The researchers would also aim to identify and describe the traits of schools that are the most successful.
Here we see some of the potential problems: The funding for this study, as was planned in the 2003 bill, will come entirely from groups which are not exactly disinterested. I mean, the Waltons and the Joyces are to vouchers what Orville Reddenbacher is to popcorn. Jay Greene never met a voucher program he couldn't skew data to support. Most importantly, the program will only test a representative sample of students from MPS and voucher schools.

Now, I am not a statistician, but I know enough social science to recognize that representative samples can produce valid data. But I have serious concerns about that part: For one, I am concerned that schools will be allowed to opt out of the study. The sampling is supposed to cover that, I know, I know; but if the only schools participating are ones with above-embarrassing test scores, the researchers will have to work hard to make the sample representative.

For two, and perhaps most importantly, while the study this time (as opposed to the 2003 proposal) involves the state WKCE exams, the study will not in any way at any time provide any kind of comprehensive picture of how individual schools perform on those tests. While the samples will provide an idea of whether the voucher program overall is better or worse or comparable to MPS, the study does not one damned thing to paint a picture of how well the individual schools that parents have to choose from are doing at present or over time.

Right now on the Milwaukee Public Schools home page, you can find the district's report cards. And this isn't just the big document that tells you how the district is doing overall; you can download the reports for any school and for any racial or other subgroup. You can find data, and then find it again flipped upside-down around and backwards, the district is so thorough with its reports. If this study of the voucher program goes through with sampling of data, there will be no comparable set of data for the schools in the program. When parents hear whatever the answer is from this study, whether it be that voucher schools are great or that they are weak, they will have no way to know whether or not the particular school they are choosing is reflective of the program as a whole.

MPS has some dynamite programs, many of them. Even within bad schools, there are pockets of success in distinct programs that draw from that population. It would simply be a fallacy to suggest that because MPS's fourth-grade reading level, as a whole, is low, that every MPS school fails its young readers. The same will hold true if this voucher study is the only information we have--it would be a fallacy to suggest that any individual school a parent wants for a child is as good or as bad as the overall study results show the program to be. Yet the pro-voucher folks insist that there is no need to collect or make public data on voucher schools the way we must, by state and federal law, do in MPS.

The Doyle/ Sinicki plan
As I said above, I reluctantly back the Sinicki bill's accountability measures. I do not do so because it involves a No Child Left Behind-style testing regimen, but rather in spite of that. As the plan indicates,
MPCP schools must administer the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) Criterion-Referenced Tests in grades 3-8 and grade 10. DPI must report the results for MPCP schools so parents and taxpayers can compare the academic performance of choice schools with public schools. In addition, the scores of MPCP pupils will determine whether schools meet adequate yearly progress objectives or are labeled “in need of improvement” under the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act--just like under-performing public and independent charter schools.
Note that this plan requires the testing of all students in all schools, not just a "sample" from schools that did not opt out. This is key, because then there is no other way for the taxpayers, the public, parents, or the state to know the quality (as much as a standardized test can judge that) of individual schools in the program. Even if you feel, as I do, that standardized tests are not valid and authentic assessments, this plan provides two important bits of data. One, we will be able to track schools' performance over time, and gauge the "value-added" effect of these schools. If they really are able to take students who are failing miserably in the public schools, two or three or four grade levels behind, then we should be able to track whether or not the school is effective in identifying and remediating the problems. Two, if the voucher schools are giving the same tests at the same time as public schools, there can be some real, legitimate comparative data. Even if we know that "proficiency" is an arbitrary and useless benchmark, we still will be able to compare the achievement on "proficiency" of voucher schools to those of public schools and, perhaps more importantly, to each other.

But this extensive and far-reaching NCLB-style testing plan is not without its detractors on the other side. If the funding piece I talked about yesterday will generate mind-blowing spin from the right, the accountability piece is equally dangerous to the state of our craniums. For example, when I pressed George Mitchell about accountability this morning, he was shocked--shocked, I tell you!--that anyone would dare suggest that every school administer the same test. "The idea that the state's test should to be mandated on more than 100 different schools in Milwaukee, I don't think is appropriate. Schools ought to have the option of choosing which of many acceptable standardized tests they desire to use." I wanted to shout into the phone about how nutty it is that MPS's 200 different programs have to all take the same test! Where is our freedom to choose how and when we test? Hm?

This is something I'm toying with calling the "Accountability Paradox": Conservatives who cannot mandate standards and testing fast enough for the public schools absolutely abhor the idea of applying those same standards and tests to private schools that take state money.

Campus Tavern's Ryan Alexander points to a couple of Marquetters' thoughts on the matter displaying this paradox. Law student Steve at Eminent Domain explains,
A lot of this testing talk is just a means to control the private schools. Let's say that Doyle gets his way and his chosen test is used to measure the quality of the private schools. The private schools don't want to look bad based on these test results. They will abandon their chosen curriculum in order to "teach for the test" as it has been called. That kills the whole idea behind school choice: parents should chose the kind of school that they want for their kids. The private schools that once offered a diverse range of educational programs will now be forced to teach for Doyle's test or look like they are "failing". And believe me, if they look like they are "failing" based on the test, school choice opponents will be happy to claim that as proof that school choice doesn't work.
This is different from the way people use the test to label public schools as "failing" . . . how? Steve himself complains that he doesn't want his "tax money being wasted in the public school system as it currently is." How does he know it's a waste? Could it perhaps be because the test data (or other data collected by MPS but not voucher schools) show that the schools are "failing"?

Even more to the point: Should the creative and varied programs in MPS be forced to "teach to the test"? Is it right to take away the choice of parents to send their children to unique programs within MPS? Is it possible that NCLB and its requirements are stifling the kind of innovation that would make the voucher program unnecessary? Okay, that's a little much with the rhetorical questions, but you have to ask them when Marquette Prof. John McAdams can write,
Even if the testing doesn’t have a tendentious political agenda, it’s likely to be burdensome. The bureaucrats imposing the testing will likely have a “public school” mentality. They will care more about “standards” and “outcomes” and “assessment” and “procedures” than about actually teaching kids.

They will tend, in other words, to undermine the distinctive ethos of private schools.

Don’t parents looking for a school in which to enroll their kids have a right to know how effective the school is? And don’t parents with kids enrolled in the school have a right to know how their kids are doing?

The answer is simple: in a competitive market, all schools will be under pressure to show that they are effective, but there are different ways of doing that.

Schools may choose to administer some form of standardized test, but will be free to pick a test that reflects their educational goals and philosophy.

Parents will want to know how their kids are doing, but this might involve sitting down with a guidance counselor to discuss scores on standardized tests, or it might involve having parents review all their children’s graded assignments.

The key thing to remember is that public school bureaucrats will, either by design or because they don’t know how to think any other way, subvert the benign organizational culture of private schools.
But it's all right to entrench a monolithic culture, through testing, upon the diverse--some would say "distinctive"--ethos of more than 200 different public school options in the city of Milwaukee? And, professor, the straw men in that post . . . unacceptable from someone who should know better. "Do the private schools fail to teach kids in junior high how to use condoms? They may be found to violate educational 'standards.' Do religious schools fail to teach that gays are the victims of 'homophobic' prejudice? Same thing." You of all people, professor, ought to know how to Google up the state Model Academic Standards, none of which cover condoms or homophobia. I hope they cover the logical fallacies, though. As much as people like Steve will say that "Hasn't it been the political Left that has done nothing be berate standardized testing for years? Now it's the lynchpin of school choice regulation?" in some kind of mock disbelief, I can just as strongly question how the pro-testing side is running away from their standards here. At the very least, I hope I can expect to see Steve and Professor McAdams at the next anti-NCLB protest.

More seriously, there is more to this than just a simple what's-good-for-the-goose proposition on my part and the part of Chris Sinicki and Gov. Doyle. If voucher schools are teaching to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards, then at least we know that there is something more to the school than just a drawerful of paper work. And if a school chooses not to teach to exactly those standards, they can freely explain why their results don't matter, or rest secure in the knowledge that their quality, innovative program's success will shine through even if they don't "teach to the test." After all, good students with a good education ought to be able to perform up to the level of "proficiency" in reading, math, or other core subject areas. There should be nothing in the test results that schools will want to run away from--and if there are results they want to run away from, I think we, as taxpayers funding these schools, are owed an explanation.

In the end, that's the crux of the accountability matter: We are the taxpayers. We are paying for these schools' existence, and we deserve some assurance that the trains are running, even if not on time. If these schools were completely private, and parents' private funds were all that got invested in them, then I could (and happily do) stomach the idea of schools that don't follow state standards or open meetings laws or special education requirements. But, as I've explained before, the vouchers signed over to these schools are not just parents' money. The money is their money, my money, your money, all of our money. Even Charlie Sykes throws a few pennies into the hopper for every voucher student. And even Charlie Sykes deserves better than the non-specific, long-term study proposed (for the second time around) by Republicans in the legislature.

Mayor Barrett on Vouchers

Seth has the scoop. Basically, Barrett confirms that eliminating the program would save Milwaukee money, despite conservatives' claims that vouchers do education on the cheap. Barrett also would like to see the kind of property-tax relief that I wrote about yesterday.

UPDATE: Alan Borsuk has more in Wednesday's paper.

George Mitchell on WPR

George Mitchell, who is the George half of GeorgeandSusanMitchell, the entity that has brought you everything from School Choice Wisconsin to the Alliance for Choices in Education and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council, was on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning. (You can find the audio archive here; look for 01/24A.) I was able to get in as the first caller, questioning Mitchell about accounatability. He said some things that were not quite true, but since today is Voucher Accountability Day at fr&r, I'll save that for later.

But I was able to catch part of his response to the caller after me, who asked about special education, before I went inside where I don't have a radio and can't make the live streams work. Mitchell said something technically accurate, but misleading. The caller stated that schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program do not have to take special education students, and asked how this was fair. Mitchell said this was not true, that voucher schools do have to take any and everyone. What he didn't say--at least in the part I heard before I got out of the car--is that voucher schools are not required to provide special education services. A school may accept for admission a deaf student, for example, but the school does not have to provide sign language translation or other aid. Parents would be insane to send their deaf child to a school that will not provide the service.

By default, then, most special needs students--especially the most severe, and those with severe health impairments--inevetably end up in the Milwaukee Public Schools, where by law, we muct provide all accomodations no matter how expensive. As Mitchell went on and on about how voucher schools did the work at half the price, I kept thinking about how the cost of a voucher student (~$6300) is not significantly lower than MPS's per-pupil spending on non-special needs, non-college bound (AP and IB are expensive programs, and the bureaucracy to support those programs and special ed is huge) students. If MPS didn't have any special needs students, our cost would be much, much lower.

Update: I just listened to this part of the program again, and I was right. Two other notes: Mitchell said that some MPS schools exlude special needs students. This is false. Every single MPS school must accept and educate special needs children. Period. Also, Mitchell told us, as is true, that voucher schools can't exclude low-performing students from admission. But these same schools are not excluded from kicking these students out--as long as they feel they can afford it--later in the year. The MPS schools that do screen (for example, Rufus King High School, or Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts) for academic performance are still required to take in neighborhood students even if (I believe) there is a waiting list for admission district-wide.

Seth has a link to the state guidelines about special needs teaching in voucher schools.

Also, props to sometime-contributor Sarah Fadness, who was the first caller after the news break!

A real debate at Real Debate

For a long time there were two things wrong with the title of Fred D's Real Debate Wisconsin*. Not anymore! Today, he and blue-leaning Belle face off on the notion of concealed carry. Go have a read.

*Fred seemed dismayed I haven't been mean to him yet this week, so I had to do something.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Double standards and doubler standards

As I noted yesterday, Jessica McBride is all a-twitter because Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle sent a letter (.pdf) to MMAC president Tim Sheehy calling Sheehy and the ads his group helped put on the air "dishonest." She's at it again today, at the bottom of this post, asking, "when's the MSM [main-stream media] going to get around to reporting that Doyle called some of the top business leaders in our community dishonest? Or are they still stuck on the governor compromising?"

See, McBride has been on an anti-media kick lately, complaining variously that the media ignored endorsements earned by her husband's campaign, obfuscated the political affiliations of liberal professors, and (gosh-a-mighty!) reported a story, all in the last two days. And then the bomb, above, about the "MSM" (please read the sarcasm in the sarcasm quotes) not covering big bad Jim Doyle writin' a mean ol' letter.

What McBride neglects to ask in her spirit of fair play--well, there's a whole long list, so bear with me:
  • Was Doyle correct in calling his targets dishonest? I have argued that he was. McBride's main problem with Doyle's letter is not its accuracy, but rather its bad politics. Maybe that's what the media should cover--whether or not the ad was misleading.
  • If the media is "stuck on the governor compromising" on voucher caps, why is there no corresponding coverage of Republicans' refusal to compromise?
  • Where is the media coverage of those big, bad media figures on the right who made the ad literally equating Doyle with racist, anti-segregationist southern governors like George Wallace?
  • Now that the Orwellian-named "Center for America's Families" is paying to run the ad, will the media question the ad's accuracy, especially given their history of dishonest and misleading campaigns? (1, 2, 3, 4, and this deceptive website)
  • Will the media investigate WTMJ's complicity (media investigate itself--ha!) in the production of the now-CFAF-funded ad? At least two WTMJ employees were involved in the production of the ad at WTMJ studios. Is CFAF reimbursing WTMJ for the production expenses, or has WTMJ "donated" those services?
  • McBride touts more ads produced by the MMAC; will the media explore MMAC's connections to pro-voucher and anti-Doyle organizations, its PAC's endorsements of Doyle's past political opponents? Or will the media keep portraying the MMAC as a disinterested, neutral organization?
I could go on. I think that from now on, in the interest of fair play, Jessica McBride needs to raise these kinds of questions, too. She probably won't, since she's working from a decidedly not-disinterested point of view herself. The MMAC, CFAF, Charlie Sykes--they all speak with McBride's voice. So she will maintain her own double-standard and not ask the questions. But I will.

A pre-emptive strike

The spin will be coming fast and furious (and has already started, alas!) concerning the bill, to be introduced by Milwaukee Rep. Chris Sinicki and the Milwaukee Caucus, that is essentially Governor Doyle's compromise package on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program caps. If you don't know what I'm talking about, scroll down this blog for a while.

The part of the bill that will get the right Cheddarsphere, the radio talkers, and legislative Republicans most exercised is this:
MPS ‘Hold Harmless’ Provision:
-- Currently, MPCP students are not counted for the purpose of calculating state general school aid payments to Milwaukee, but Milwaukee taxpayers are required to pay 45% of the cost of the choice program. Without a change in the formula, increasing the choice cap will take additional state aid away from MPS and raise property taxes in Milwaukee.

-- MPS may count each choice student as 0.45 FTE in determining Milwaukee’s per-pupil property value for state aid. This provision will be phased in over five years (0.1 FTE in 2006-07 … 0.4 FTE in 2009-2010, and 0.45 FTE in 2010-11) to provide an equitable division of resources to Milwaukee over time as enrollment in the choice program is allowed to grow.

-- The Milwaukee Board of School Directors must direct 100% of these “hold harmless” funds to instructional services for students. Such funds must be used for core instruction—not for any administrative or non-instructional purpose—including funding teaching and instructional support staff, remedial instruction and after-school instruction provided by MPS and to address deficiencies in meeting the state’s Twenty School District Standards (Wisconsin State Statutes Chapter 121.02).
There's a lot of mumbo-jumbo in there if you're not familiar with the way the choice program is funded, so I want to try to clear it up now so you can help me stop the spin.

The spin will be that the state now wants to give the Milwaukee Public Schools extra money for students it does not teach. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Currently, the full cost of the MPCP is split between the Milwaukee Public Schools and the state. MPS pays 45% of the cost, the state pays the other 55%. The 45% that Milwaukee pays is deducted from the equalization aid that is sent to MPS from the state based on MPS's enrollment, and that enrollment does not include students in MPCP. So right now, Milwaukee is getting charged by the state to cover the partial cost of educating voucher students--students MPS does not teach. This is not fair to MPS, or the students and families remaining in the public schools.

To put it into easy to understand numbers, assume that the grand total of equalization aid sent to MPS is $100. With the MPCP cap set at 15%, that means MPS pays 45% of the cost of 15% of its aid, or $6.75 out of that $100. So for the actual students actually enrolled at MPS, the district can use only $93.25, instead of the full $100.

Under this bill, the state would start including MPCP students in its figures for determining state aid, counting them as .45 of a student. If passed, the bill means that MPS's equalization aid would rise (assuming 15% enrollment in MPCP) to $106.75. And then the state would deduct its $6.75, meaning that MPS would actually be able to spend the actual $100 on the actual number of students actually attending school in the district. In short, this places the full burden for educating these students on the state, with none on MPS. (The real numbers are somewhere around seven million times the ones I used--and my formula is simplified.)

So is this extra money for MPS? No--it is the full amount that MPS is owed under the state's equalization aid formula. The state will finally stop the practice of forcing MPS to pay for students that it does not teach.

(Here is the example with real money, pulled from a comment below: The state estimates MPCP will cost about $90.1 million in 2005-2006. MPS estimates its equalization aid will be $586.5 million. That means the state will take back about $40.5 million from MPS to cover the cost of the vouchers. If the formula were changed, the state would send an additional $39.5 million to MPS in equalization aid. That means if this new formula were in place this year, MPS's net would be negative $1 million, which is much closer to breaking even than negative $40.5 million!)

Why, you might be thinking, is the language so complicated? Why, you might wonder, can't the bill just say that it is changing the formula so that there is not longer a 45/55 split in funding, but 100% from the state? Well, I might answer, I can't get into the heads of Gov. Doyle or Rep. Sinicki, but I would surmise that the complicatedness has a lot to do with that last paragraph in what I quoted above: It isn't enough that MPS is finally getting the full amount that it deserves, but the state wants to make sure that the amount returned to them is all spent in the classroom, and not in some other way. The idea behind the bill is not just to expand MPCP, but to ensure that all children in Milwaukee see some improvement in education. Requiring that this money be spent directly on things that benefit children is one way to make sure that happens.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shameless Race-Baiting on the Right: Conservatives' True Colors

I will not lie: I would like nothing better than to wake up tomorrow and find that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has vanished in the night. Gone. Kaput. Poof. It has caused headache after headache after headache. It sucks money, investment, and concern right out of the public schools. It is an unregulated, unaccountable, fully opaque shadow system of schooling that is dividing a city and state in two.

And now we know it is more than just divisive; it is bringing out some very, very ugly sides of people who should know better.

Exhibit A: ACE
I wrote last week about the Alliance for Choices in Education ad that was running in Madison and Milwaukee media markets, noting that their target--Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle--was the wrong one to be aiming for. The text of the ad, with an ACE press release, is here (.pdf). I will not re-hash that argument, but note that those ads featured all African-American students questioning Doyle about why he was not lifting the cap on MPCP enrollment.

By itself, the ad is nothing more than misguided and slightly suggestive of the racial undertones that the battle has taken on in the past week. But the ad prompted responses from people as far away as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, who compared Doyle to former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who literally stood in a school doorway to block integration. This conceit was applauded by conservative bloggers here in Wisconsin, from Owen to the crotchety anti-gubmint school guy to, most lamentably, Peter DiGaudio, who even goes so far as to photoshop Doyle's head on a picture of Wallace in the school doorway. (Note: Peter "hat-tips" Dennis York for the photoshop, but no such photoshopping appears on Dennis York's site and Dennis, in an email, tells me he did make the imgage.)

Exhibit B: Lies
While we're on that post by Peter, note the way he lies about Governor Doyle:
Doyle demands that choice schools take standardized tests with the results being made public; however, Doyle vetoed a bill that did just that in 2003 because WEAC didn't want an objective study [of] choice.
He's half-right, except in his description of the 2003 bill. (This is something Fund mentioned, though keeping his own comments vague enough they were merely misleading, not an outright lie.) That bill, which was passed by Republicans in both houses of the state legislature, and which is mirrored in a new bill proposed by Alberta Darling and Leah Vukmir, would not have required any testing at all, as the voucher schools could easily opt out. It would not have required that any tests given be state tests, either. In addition, it was only a "long-term" study, meaning the state or the DPI could not act on any publicized results for a solid decade.

Owen's post, as well, is misleading:
One man is preventing a better education for thousands of kids.  One man is choosing to close the door of opportunity on thousands of kids for 30 more pieces of silver in his campaign fund from WEAC.  That man is Jim Doyle.
That's also not true, as I've explained before. For two years now, Doyle has been seeking common ground with Republicans who will not compromise. This is not one man standing in the way of the door; this is one man offering to open the door while those who hold the key--legislative Republicans in the majority in Madison--won't unlock it unless it's done on their terms.

Exhibit C: The Sheehy Letter Backlash
Doyle, upset that ACE attacked him, and clearly irked by the racial overtones the debate has been taking on, wrote a letter (.pdf) to ACE board member and Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce president Tim Sheehy (the governor's emphasis, not mine):
Since early last year, I and representatives from my office and my administration have been discussing changes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program with you. You personally know of my desire to reach a compromise on this issue because I and my staff have discussed it with you many times. It is unfortunate for the children of Milwaukee that you have decided that, rather than work with me on a solution and a compromise, you would rather engage in divisive tactics and push extreme positions that you know I cannot accept. [. . .]

[T]his potential crisis was intentionally precipitated by school voucher lobbyists and Republican legislators. Voucher proponents actively opposed and Republicans defeated a sensible rule put forth by DPI in 2004 that would have protected existing students from having to change schools and allowed currently participating schools to maintain their enrollments. [. . .] They chose to politicize this issue rather put the interests of students first. If you and other voucher advocates had put your effort into honest discussions then we might possibly have solved this issue already. [. . .] I do not support the alternative recently proposed by the Department of Public Instruction, unlike what your dishonest ads imply. [. . .]

As your members wrote in their letter, "Our businesses depend on local schools for an educated workforce." I couldn't agree more. That's one of the many reasons that as Governor, I have strongly supported investments in education. That's also why I am asking for additional help for the children of MPS, not just choice schools. I simply cannot allow the choice program to be expanded at the expense of other public school children in Milwaukee, who under your latest proposal will see further cuts to their schools. We must help both private and public school children But that is obviously not the interest of Republican leaders who care more about having a political issue [. . .].

I hope we can work to resolve this issue without resorting to further dishonest attacks and high-pressure tactics that are divisive and unproductive.
The right Cheddarsphere has blown back with both barrels against this letter (what, Sheehy can't defend himself?). Owen called the letter "vile and vindictive." DiGaudio, who now refers to Doyle as "Governor Wallace" in every post, called the kettle black by saying Doyle had "the petulance of an 8-year-old child throwing a temper tantrum." Jessica McBride writes that a "clearly furious Doyle" wrote a "three-page diatribe." Now, I quoted for you the nastiest parts of Doyle's letter, including all of the lines that McBride, in particular, took exception to. Does that sound nasty to you? I mean, if I started writing like that on a regular basis, my regular readers would wonder who replaced the real folkbum with Mr. Rogers.

What's actually kind of funny, though, is when those conservative bloggers start trying to pick apart Doyle's letter to say that, somehow, he is wrong. I have already tried to set Owen right, at the link above and at this one. But since McBride and DiGaudio do not allow comments, I have to set them straight here. McBride takes umbrage that Doyle would call Sheehy and the ads he helped fund dishonest. She says that's "fighting words, and they are hardly conducive to 'working together to resolve this issue' " (her bold). She doesn't explain if or how Doyle is wrong to say Sheehy and the ACE ad are dishonest, just that it's "a poor political stratagem." In fact, Doyle is not lying to say that the ad is dishonest. The ad says, "Governor Doyle would force up to 4,000 inner-city children to leave their schools." Doyle would do no such thing, and has been actively trying to avoid it. Republicans' rejection of a DPI plan to prevent it is much more the culprit here. And if Sheehy knows--as he should--that Doyle has been talking with him for a long time about how to avoid the crisis, Sheehy shouldn't put his name or his dollars behind an ad that says Doyle is the cause of that crisis.

DiGaudio's critique is even funnier, since he contradicts himself right there on the page: "A solution and a compromise to Doyle is to give WEAC whatever it wants, and we all know WEAC would like the Choice program to go away." Right. So offering to raise the cap and send more students into the choice program is what WEAC wants--the program's disappearance. I don't think you can make that add up, Peter. Keep those posts in mind--McBride's and DiGuadio's--for I will return to them in a moment.

Exhibit D: Sykes
Much of the furor of the last week has been prompted by an ad produced by WTMJ talker Charlie Sykes, with the help of another WTMJ employee (and some community members) using WTMJ facilities and aired repeatedly during Sykes's drive-time show this week. I have not heard the ad; I do not listen to his station and, frankly, don't have any desire to start now while he's smearing Governor Doyle.

The ad, whose text you can read here (linking to Sykes against my better judgment), is, in fact, titled, "GOVERNOR DOYLE, GET OUT OF THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR," making explicit the connection between Doyle and anti-integrationists like Wallace. Sykes uses (and I do not choose that word lightly) African-American students from choice participant Messmer High School, conveniently located less than a mile down the road from WTMJ studios. Beginning with an invocation of Brown vs. Board of Education, the spot goes on to include charged language like, "Let our people go."

The kerfuffle, summed up well by grumps, stems mostly from the supposition, voiced first by Xoff, the the production and airing of this kind of issue ad by WTMJ's parent company might be illegal, and the denizens of the right Cheddarsphere's inability to recognize that the FEC/ FCC rules for broadcast entities like WTMJ are different than for, say, WisPolitics.com. The antics continued this morning on Sykes's "Milwaukee Insight" program on WTMJ television, with essentially the same cast of characters named here making the the same baseless accusations and lies about Governor Doyle (as chronicled by Seth.)

Rather than apologize, as some demanded, for standing up to Sykes and standing up for Doyle, Xoff instead noted that Sykes owes Doyle the apology. I think he's right.

Exhibit E: The Race Card
I haven't jumped in on this up until now, though I've wanted to, because I am so utterly furious at the way the right has portrayed Doyle. It isn't just the outright comparisons between Doyle and anti-integrationists like Wallace, it's also the more explicit language of race-baiting, or of playing the race card. As I pointed out in comments to this Eye on Wisconsin post, Charlie Sykes has been uniformly negative over the years against the race card, and for him to use it so blatantly is a joke and ought to offend everyone of color involved in making his ad. The funders of the school choice movement, as another commenter to that very same post points out, have a long history of also funding some pretty egregious racist activities and organizations. (The evidence is there for anyone with Google to see.)

McBride's post about the Sheehy letter, for example, accuses Doyle of picking a "street fight" with a whole list of sympathetic African American community leaders, including Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Ken Johnson--a man elected to represent the public schools who advocates for the MPS-weakening voucher program whenever he gets the chance. DiGaudio, who just this week complained about Hillary Clinton's use of the word plantation, writes, "Like Simon Legree, the WEAC plantation owners want the poor black children to remain uneducated slaves, prisoner to its curriculum of low expectations and inferior education." These righty bloggers do everything but come right out and say, "Jim Doyle hates black people."

This is why I've wanted to jump in. It's because I know Gus Doyle, one of Governor Doyle's two sons.

I went to college with Gus, and, because he was a couple of years ahead of me, I did not know him well. But on a campus as small as ours, you pretty much at least knew of everybody, particularly prominent upperclassmen. This was in 1992, so Jim Doyle was already Wisconsin's attorney general, so everyone also knew that Gus was the AG's son. But because I knew Gus Doyle before I knew Jim Doyle, I was very surprised the first time I saw a picture of Jim Doyle. Surprised that Jim Doyle was white. Because Gus Doyle was black.

I can't imagine what it feels like to be Gus Doyle, one of two African-American boys adopted by the Doyles, to hear and read and see pundits and wannabes all around calling your father a racist. Comparing your father to George Wallace and Simon Legree.

Jim Doyle has done a much better job than I would have in that situation. As much as McBride and her posse may think that Doyle has somehow lost it, I believe he has been remarkably restrained. He is sticking to his guns, by proposing a reasonable compromise plan to avert the coming crisis in the choice plan.

It is the right--the bloggers and newspaper columnists and radio personalities--who have taken this to the level of outrage. I mean, even in saying that Sykes's radio ad may have been illegal, Xoff didn't call Sykes a criminal or use any other adjective to describe him except "proud"--proud that he could run a commercial comparing Doyle to racist southern governors. It is the right who are showing their true colors.