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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

For the visual learners in class

Credit to Barabara O'Brien, who has encapsulated in a flow chart everything that's wrong with Bush Administration policy.

Glenn Greenwald, writing unrelatedly, provides an explanation in words:
For the last couple of years, the tactic of war proponents was to simply deny reality and pretend that the disaster in Iraq was just fiction, nothing more than the invention of an American-hating media. That little tactic isn’t working any longer. All but the hardest-core Bush loyalists have abandoned this war long ago. And anyone with eyes can see that our Iraqi project is a disaster – at best, it will achieve nothing in exchange for the incalculable costs our country has endured and will have to pay for a long time to come. At worst, it will ensure the opposite of our goals.

Finally forced to accept the reality of their failure, war proponents have only two choices left: (a) admit their error and accept personal responsibility for their horrendous lack of judgment and foresight, or (b) blame others for their failure while insisting, in the face of a tidal wave of evidence, that they were right all along. Guess which option these Shining Beacons of Personal Responsibility are embracing? [. . .]

Those who insisted on this war, who started it, who prosecuted it, who controlled every single facet of its operation – they have no blame at all for the failure of this war. Nope. They were right all along about everything. It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.
They make decisions in a bubble, smear anyone who dares to question them, and then blame the powerless for failure of policies. This is fundamental; there is no adminsitration policy--from Medicare D to the Dubai Ports World deal--that does not fit this pattern.

Vouchers: A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

I don't expect everyone to follow the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as closely as I do. There are people who know more than I, of course (some of whom comment here occasionally), and I freely acknowledge that. But I try never to sound insane (much) (anymore). Bloggers who don't know what they're talking about, and who do sound insane, bother me, but I find it's par for the course. When people who don't know what they're talking about have a national forum, though, that's just unacceptable.

As an example of the former, consider the blogger Cantankerous at Ask Me Later. She apparently didn't like my assertion of a few weeks back that the so-called Jim Doyle "blink" was as phony as the cap "crisis." She calls my post a joke. Her disagreement with me in and of itself is not the insanity, but rather the bizarre stuff she starts making up during the conversation below in the comments (crazy stuff in bold for easy reference):
Pardon me but you keep referring to the accountability measures in the just reached compromise as the same accountability measures previously offered by Governor Doyle. This is complete Hog Wash (I love that phrase).

The accountability measures championed by Governor Doyle and his handlers in the Teacher's Unions in the past demanded that choice schools be accredited by MPS AND adhere to the same teaching standards adopted by MPS. So much for CHOICE!!!

The new accountability measures are not only palatable but what many TRUE choice advocates had long championed. The main difference is MPS doesn't do the curriculum accrediation, instead respected educational organizations like Howard Fuller's Institute for the Transformation of Learning review the schools teaching methods and decide if they should gain choice status. [. . .]

The only time Doyle said he would consider lifting the cap was if any choice student that left an MPS school also counted on the MPS roles...basically double-dipping the taxpayers to the tune of $18,000 per choice student.
I respond there (mostly by referring to my previous posts on accountability and funding), so I won't take the time to re-refute the insanity here, but this comment fits in perfectly with the thesis I advanced in the "blink" post: Cantankerous has convinced herself of some utter nonsense about Doyle's past offers to raise the cap (perhaps confusing MPS's role as a chartering agency in the mess) and so sees a much bigger move on Doyle's part to make the compromise happen. The crazy nonsense isn't even fully apparent until enough layers get pulled back in the comments section; that's how deeply some on the right have internalized an entire series of lies about the issue.

But Cantankerous is an amateur (as am I--that's not a value judgment). John Tierney is not. At least, he gets paid to write his insane ravings. Last week his New York Times column was about the Milwaukee voucher doings. It was hidden behind the NYT Select subscription wall, of course, but I got a glimpse of it through this post at Steve Benen's Carpetbagger Report (someone in the comments there was kind enough to link to me as doing a "good job" on the voucher issue--thanks, Dave, whoever you are!). It's worth noting Benen's response to Tierney, which is what I saw before I saw the Tierney itself:
First, describing Milwaukee's voucher program as "successful" is more than a little dubious. [ A rehashing of recent voucher school scandals and links to the Journal Sentinel series on vouchers omitted because you know all this already, loyal readers.]

Secondly, Tierney insists that African-American families love vouchers so much, they will inevitably turn on the Democratic Party. As proof, Tierney points to … nothing in particular. [. . .] Where is the overwhelming demand that Tierney sees in the African-American community? It doesn't appear to exist. Indeed, the nation's largest civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, all strongly oppose vouchers. [. . .] While all voters in California rejected the voucher plan by a 2-to-1 margin, an exit poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times showed that black voters opposed the plan by an even bigger margin--68% to 32%.

In Michigan, all voters opposed a similar statewide plan by a margin of 69% to 31%. According to an exit poll by the Detroit News, blacks statewide rejected the proposal by an even wider margin, voting it down 4 to 1. In the city of Detroit, voters rejected the scheme 72% to 28%.
Lucky for me, Tierney's op-ed escaped the NYT Select wall and landed on my front porch Sunday, since the pro-voucher editorial board down to the newspaper never misses a chance to run a pro-voucher op-ed. (To be fair, Sunday's op-eds did include a pro-public school--though carefully not anti-voucher--piece by MPS's superintendent.) The column was not worth the wait, and was, in many ways, a warming over of arguments covered a month ago by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal. It is full of inaccuracies and distortions like these:
Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, looks like public enemy No. 1 for African-American schoolchildren. [As opposed to, say, asthma? violence? poverty? patronizing newspaper columnists?]

So the state announced a rationing plan on Monday that would deny vouchers next year to thousands of students, many of them already using vouchers to attend private schools. [. . .] The governor and the Republicans have negotiated a last-minute deal--expected to be enacted shortly--to stave off the rationing plan by allotting extra vouchers. That would spare the Democrats from the immediate prospect of kicking black children out of private schools. [Remind me again: Who wanted to kick kids out of private schools?]

How long will blacks vote for a party that opposes the voucher programs they strongly favor? And how can Democratic leaders keep preaching their devotion to public schools while sending their own children to private schools, as Doyle did? He's what I call a LYPSY, an acronym for Let Your People Stay.
See what I mean about insane? Tierney is another one of those--like Milwaukee's own Charlie Sykes, for example--white guys who feels the need to tell blacks what to think; not even in my insanest days to I go that far. Howard Fuller, an actual African American, provides the voice of reason and moderation in Tierney's column: "Howard Fuller, a prominent advocate for vouchers as well as a former superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools, told me he hadn't seen the popularity of the voucher program translate into much affection for Republicans among his fellow African-Americans, especially his civil rights comrades."

As white as Tierney may be, he is in the New York Times, after all, and a lot of people read that paper, including some African Americans, like Star Parker, a conservative Christian activist who occasionally writes for the right-wing TownHall.com. She uses Tierney's op-ed as a springboard for her own column:
I was aghast to read Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle's response to a question from The New York Times columnist John Tierney, "How long will blacks vote for a party that opposes the voucher programs they strongly favor?" Doyle's response: "I don't think this is an issue that moves voters." [. . .]

I think hope for the future of America's black community hinges on education and whether we can succeed in getting school choice implemented nationally. [. . .] I suggest that no black American cast a vote for any candidate of either party that does not support school choice.
That's the opening and closing of her column; in between, Parker cites a lot of gruesome statistics about endemic poverty and the correlations among poverty, employment, and education. But rather than suggesting, as I have often, that a solution to education challenges amid urban poverty lies in addressing the poverty part of the equation, she decides the problem is that public schools don't teach the right "values." She writes, "Politicians who pay lip service to the growing gap in incomes and the plight of our growing poor, black population must appreciate that this problem is first and foremost a crisis of freedom and values." I'm not entirely sure how to respond to that, beyond slowly shaking my head.

Here again we see the problem of a little learning being dangerous: Tierney, undoubtedly working from the same talking points that supplied John Fund with material for his op-ed, was willing at least to make a few calls. But he still relies on shaky or specious second-hand arguments about the program. Parker picks these up, making it now third hand, and demands more "freedom" for poor African Americans to access "values." And both make the explicitly partisan political connection to voting against Democrats. The problem is, as I discussed here yesterday, the deal to raise the caps will almost certainly benefit moderate-income white families more than the poor African American families these columnists think they're saving (by trying to turn them Republican). Neither columnist, writing from New York or Los Angeles, acknowledges what Farrell, Pumphrey, and Mathews have seen with their own eyes: "[State Rep. Polly] Williams knows from her own field visits, as do we, that many, not all, of these schools--unfortunately a large number founded and headed by African-Americans--offer little of educational value." The facts bear this out, and demands for serious accountability have been ignored in the deal brokered by Doyle and Assembly Speaker John Gard.

Benen, quoted above, notes the defeat of voucher programs on the ballots in Michigan and California. I have often wondered what the result of such a ballot question would be here in Wisconsin, and, more specifically, in Milwaukee. Farrell, Pumphrey, and Mathews begin to answer that question anecdotally, writing that their informal poll of key Milwaukee figures shows a lack of support for the program if it remains unaccountable. It's notable that State Rep. Chris Sinicki, who helped broker the deal, is just about the only Milwaukeean (and Democrat generally) supporting it, aside from vocally pro-voucher Rep. Jason Fields (another source for Tierney). Perhaps that should be Mayor Tom Barrett's next step in his quixotic quest--ask the people of Milwaukee what we actually think. Maybe then those of little learning will stop telling us what we should think.

Malpractice Malpractice

With news in the last week or so that the Wisconsin GOP is going to try capping malpractice lawsuit awards again, I thought perhaps the many GOP legislators who read my blog (please allow me some of my delusions) would be interested in some notes about medical malpractice I've seen in the last few days.

I'll start with the great news that the "malpractice crisis" seems to be over, if there ever was one (pretty graph included). There's also Ezra Klein's reminder that "average malpractice awards domestically are lower than in Canada, the UK, or Australia [. . .], and the whole malpractice 'industry' amounts to less than one half of one percent of spending." Saving even, say, 25% on malpractice would result in savings somewhere south of 13 cents per every ten thousand dollars spent, and we'd still be spending twice as much for our health care than countries without award caps. An organization the size of the Milwaukee Public Schools--one of the largest employers in the state--would save less than $1000 a year on their health care costs; is this really the way to save money for the taxpayer or health care consumer?

I also found Kate Steadman's Health Policy blog and her series looking at Tom Baker's recent book on the malpractice "myth." That whole page is worth a read, and can educate my GOP friends on all aspects of how their malpractice malpractice will not actually solve any real problems.

Peter DiGaudio owes me $1000

Tucked in behind his wishing death upon liberal celebrities (is that "the job the Mainstream Media used to do"?), and buried in a long ranting post about those horrible liberals, is this:
No one ever said Iraq was tied to 9/11 and I have a standing offer of $1,000 cash to anyone who can produce a quote from President Bush or any official who ever said that.
I know, I know--you're all clamoring for the cash prize, but I'm claiming it first. We can start here, when Bush said "The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war.” Bush said that just a week or so after he said, "We went to war because we were attacked." This was less than a year ago.

And then there's Dick Cheney, who said, famously, in direct response to the question "Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?" that it's "been pretty well confirmed, that [9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack." Cheney, of course, later denied having said that (despite the White House web site transcript), leading to one of my favorite "Daily Show" moments ever.

More? You want more? Here's one list, with, among others, classics like Tom Ridge's "Well...Iraq was not the first stage of the war. The first was on September 11." Here's a second list. And who can forget that "Mission Accomplished" moment when Bush said "The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001"? Here's a good Christian Science Monitor article from around the beginning of the Iraq war that traces many of the ways the administration linked 9/11 and Iraq.

That ought to be enough to satisfy the requirements, eh? I'll just assume my check is in the mail.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The voucher cap deal not so much a deal

This is the proverbial pin to pop the proverbial bubble of all those who have gleefully imagined Governor Doyle standing in an equally proverbial schoolhouse door over the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program cap. Some people who know--from first-hand research, and a more careful analysis of the cap deal than I've had time to do so far--point out that the big benefit of the deal will not go to poor, African American students:
Lifting the enrollment cap by 7,500 will most significantly benefit white students, who already make up one-third of the school choice population.

Given the requirement that students no longer will have to be enrolled in MPS prior to receiving a voucher or will have had to have been already enrolled (as nonvoucher students) in an approved choice school, it will be easy for existing voucher schools, mostly Catholic and Lutheran, to simply flip their existing nonvoucher students into their choice program. Thus, they will not be encumbered by the need to engage in a major recruiting effort.

Moreover, since the income limit is proposed to increase from 175 percent of the poverty level (where it now stands) to 220 percent of the poverty level under the proposed deal, upper-working-class and lower-middle-class families will now be eligible to participate. For example, under the new proposal, a family of four earning more than $45,000 a year would now qualify for the voucher program. In addition, if that family's income rises to, let's say, $75,000 over any period of employment, the family would still maintain its eligibility.

With all of these changes to the existing legislation, vouchers would serve as a subsidy for private education rather than, as Speaker Gard says, "hope and opportunity" for the poor.

In Milwaukee, 75 percent of school-age black children have an annual median family income of less than $25,000. If this program were for their benefit, why would there be a need to raise the income cap at all?
They go on to note some more objections to the lack of real accountability measures in the deal. It's worth a complete read.

Michael Joyce dead at 63

While no one's death is ever timely, or deserved, there is an irony in realizing that Joyce's death comes at the start of a week that will see the Wisconsin legislature vote on two arch-conservative measures that he, unfortunately, helped catapult into mainstream politics.

The first of those two issues is, of course, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the system of vouchers that hurts the public schools and Milwuakee taxpayers:
Joyce led the Bradley Foundation to be the key financial supporter of building the private school voucher program in Milwaukee. The foundation largely paid for the legal battle that led to a state Supreme Court ruling in 1998 that allowed the program to expand and to include religious schools. It also funded thousands of scholarships for students while the battle was under way.
I have noted this seeming contradiction before, that conservatives (who decry activist judges and trial lawyers) and private organizations would back legal challenges to force the state to give money to private organizations. That's not the definition of conservative I learned in Mr. Eaton's American government class way back when. But the votes scheduled on the voucher cap deal this week come largely as a direct result of Joyce's legacy, not only in funding the expansion fight, but in funding groups like the American Education Reform Council (one of Howard Fuller's groups, now the Alliance for Choices in Education) and School Choice Wisconsin along with other pro-voucher bazillionnaires like the Wal-Mart heirs, and in buying legislators who support the cause of vouchers.

Joyce was also instrumental in shaping the debate on another subject--the ban on gay marriage and civil unions almost certain to pass the Assembly tomorrow. As my internet friend Mitch Gore noted in this encyclopedic hsitory of conservative philanthropy, Joyce was instrumental in creating groups like Empower America and Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprise. The Bradley Foundation under his leadership and beyond, "with the largest assets of the conservative foundations, with its national connections and a sharply focused political agenda, plays a leading role in the conservative movement." Joyce's--and the Bradleys'--history with the anti-gay movement is long-standing and embarrassing for a city like Milwaukee, and a state (our motto is "Forwward!") like Wisconsin.

That will be $7.50, please

Actually, I don't know what the going rate is for Mayoral Joke Writer, but it really seems like I ought to get a little credit if Milwaukee's own Tom Barrett is using my material, right?

Actually, the article ends up mostly being about why the voucher cap deal may not go through anyway. I will repeat what I have said previously: Scrap this deal; real quick pass a bill that would restore DPI's original rationing plan--the one that protects current students and existing schools, the one Republicans and voucher supporters shot down last year; and go back to work on a comprehensive reform as part of the 2006-2008 biennial budget. That way, you can fix the tax fairness issue (and school funding issues statewide), address accreditation, boost SAGE, and all of that in a more comprehensive way.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Something sort of good about Sensenbrenner



For the most part, Sensenbrenner's take on gays is he's anti-marriage but pretty much live and let live when it comes to domestic partnerships; it's nice of him to offer second-class citizenship, don't you think? He has spewed some of the usual rhetoric about "the gay invasion" into Americans' marriages. Still, anti-gay initiatives have never taken center stage in his platforms. Please correct me if I'm wrong here, but my research says no.

I know he helped pass the House statute to "protect" the rest of the U.S. from recognizing Massachusetts marriages.

Considering this, here's a scenario I'd like your opinion on. The right will take swift action here in Wisconsin, if the State Legislature passes its anti-rights bill targeting the lgbt community. It looks like it will win. And this time there won't be any gray areas, i.e. allowing basic civil rights such as domestic partner benefits. They want it all: no hospital visits, no inheritance rights, no d.p. arrangements, and certainly no adoptions.

They even came up with these nifty pink triangles for us to wear. You know, separate but equal.

What's going to be interesting in this election year is how Sensenbrenner will bring this state initiative into the fold of his reelection campaign. He certainly won't be able to ignore it. When I asked his staffer in D.C. for my article if he'd be running with this on his platform, I got the standard, "No comment."

The right is on the run this year, even if smug conservatives or cynical progressives don't want to admit it, and they'll try and sway voters their way using this tactic, just as they did in 2004. In addition to immigrants, gays will be on the right's whipping post. Sensenbrenner won't be able to ignore the issue, because he needs the right.

Is he really for this take-no-prisoners approach to the lgbt community?

Maybe they're correct about the 5th District being untouchable, and I'm in la-la land. But I think even WI Republican voters will ignore this hate-filled approach because they know they're not getting any return on investment from extremely high taxes. (Bryan Kennedy has a lot of information on that, bk2006.org) And those are just the people who are still working, or haven't been devastated by a serious illness in the family, or from chronic un- and under-employment.

I forecast Republican burnout at the polls. Even among people who secretly hate gays.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

This was the teacher's fault

Just jumping in (I'm not officially back yet) to remind everyone--including my colleagues!--that this is why teachers should never, ever leave a classroom full of students unattended. It's school board policy for a reason.

That is all.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ok, "HOW to make Senselessbrenner lose"?

I'll go first, before changing subjects. I want this guy OUT of Congress, so when the Dems take back the House we can begin impeachment of George Bush. Through Constitutional means, of course. Those papers have to start in the House Judiciary Committee, before being introduced on the floor and then make their way to the Senate. As we know committee chairs control committee schedules. Right now we have that brick wall of a human being in that position, named James Sensenbrenner.
Plus as Jay said, he's just mean. The list is long and if you read this blog, you know it.

Now, HOW can Bryan Kennedy win? I think he and his people should try and recruit resources and money from progressive groups across the country, along with Wisconsin fundraising.

They're already trying that, I'm sure. I'd like to see BK's name out in the blogosphere and in progressive publications.

Jay's sub. For the weekend

Hello folkbums,

Jay handed over the reins to me this weekend. I interviewed him for a recent article on Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner. It's posted on my own blog, race2006.blogspot.com.

I also host another blog on cancer politics and the cronyism that goes on within "charities." It's runfromthecureforcancer.blogspot.com.

My name is Mary Ann Swissler. I live here in Madison.

So blog away. To get us going how about a topic? I've only lived here since Sept. 2004 (have visited since '94), so you probably know more about Sensenbrenner than me.
To me, he's an exact clone of too many other people in government, in pharmaceutical lobbying and nonprofits, and in the news: Might is right.

Tell me why you'd like to see him lose this November 2006's election.

Friday Random Ten

The Actually Random (for once) Edition

1. "Beast in Me" Martin Sexton from Live at Gathering Of The Vibes 07/17/2004
2. "Much at All" Susan Werner from Last of the Good Straight Girls
3. "Old Man" Neil Young from Harvest
4. "This is Me" Girlyman from Little Star
5. "Cherry Tree" 10,000 Merchants from In My Tribe
6. "Drunken Sailor" Great Big Sea from Great Big Sea
7. "Are You Happy Now?" Richard Shindell from Courier
8. "Clap Hands" Peter Mulvey from Deep Blue
9. "Crazy Dog" Sons of the Never Wrong from Nuthatch Suite
10. "Icicles" Patty Griffin from Impossible Dream

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Time Out

Sarah and I will be out of town this weekend for a wedding. But the bloggy goodness won't stop, nosiree. Stepping in will be Milwaukee-area freelance writer Mary Ann Swissler. Be nice; as I tell my students when there will be a substitute, all points are double when the sub is here!

The Hate Amendment, coming soon

I do hope all of you are following the news from the Action Wisconsin team and their No on the Amendment! blog. The Assembly seems poised to vote on the amendment to write the ban on gay marriage into the state Constitution next Tuesday (this would be a good time to call your Assemblyperson).

They also have had a number of interesting articles up profiling real people, and a new series profiling the real scary people, including Channel 30 fixture (Makes Me) Ralph Ovadal and the Wisconsin Marriage Defenders.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bloggers on trees

Dead ones, anyway. Waukesha-an (Waukesha-ite? Waukeshotan?) Ozaukeean and former contributor to this very blog Tim Schilke is now author of a weekly column in the Waukesha Freeman. His debut is here, on the right's reaction to the car-seat law. Go read.

I'm still waiting for my call from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . . .

McIlheran Watch: "Deal"ing from the bottom of the barrel

Unsurprisingly, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's resident alien--as in, I don't know what color the skies are on the planet he's from--is opining on last week's voucher-school cap deal. What is surprising is that he's opted not to use his tired formula of (1) bad joke, (2) lie or misrepresentation, and (3) Republican talking point. He left out (1). Watch:
The choice program started with all its burden borne by Milwaukee taxpayers. When the Legislature eased that, teachers unions told Wisconsin voters their Republican representatives were robbing them on behalf of undeserving Milwaukee. [(2)] Rep. Debi Towns, a Janesville Republican who heads the education committee, says she faced such advertising just last year, and Gard says he can't ask his caucus to be kicked again. [(3)]
(2) In 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, the MPCP actually did cost all districts in the state, an idea dropped like the proverbial hot potato at the end of a biennium that saw $44.5 million in aid originally aimed at other districts redirected to Milwaukee's voucher schools. Today, the program's state costs are paid by two things: A chargeback of 45% of the cost (this year $42 million-ish) from MPS's equalization aid and an amount equivalent to 55% of the cost (this year, $44 million-ish) from the General Fund. No state school district loses money for this program except the Milwaukee Public Schools. (3) Gard is not willing to ask "his caucus" to take a hit, but is willing to let Milwaukee taxpayers suffer? And, again, his caucus would not take a hit, anyway.
[E]ven if 45% seems like a large share of the bill to Milwaukeeans, "we have districts across the state where local tax effort pretty much carries the ball." [(2)] The average district's figure is 41%, and it's between 80% and 90% in much of suburban Milwaukee. While Milwaukee's share is set by state formula and its poverty, its light load limits others' sympathy. Besides, that 45% buys Milwaukeeans a uniquely beneficial reform. [(3)]
(2) The state's equalization aid formula is a complicated set of rules that all add up to one simple idea: DPI does not try to create equal per-student spending per district, but they do try to ensure that individual taxpayers' burdens are roughly equitable. Small districts with high property values get less (or none); large districts with low property values get more. A district whose property-tax collections cover 90% of the cost of educating a student should be counting its blessings, not envying Milwaukee's "light load." (3) To suggest that Milwaukeeans ought to be happy to shell out $15 million this year (over $22 million if the cap is miraculously hit again next year) for students our public schools do not teach is a pretty cheap shot--and there is no evidence that the "reform" is worth that. At least, no one seems to be asking Milwaukee property tax payers (like me) if it is.
Without mandated tests, say critics, you can't tell [how valuable the reform is]. The deal would require some kind of standardized test. The issue was a ruse anyhow, since most choice schools already test. Want to know how a school's doing? Ask it to show results before sending your kid. [(2) (3)]
(2) The number of schools offering tests is decreasing, and the number who make their results public is pretty slim. The Public Policy Forum has noted for years in its annual reports that the results don't get into the hands of current or perspective parents. (3) Why should parents have to demand from voucher schools what MPS gives them automatically?
If you're only sending money via taxes, then ask: Has knowing test results done you any good at MPS? On state tests, only 25% to 40% of its 10th-graders show more than a rudimentary grasp of most subjects, and the trend is wavering, not rising. Such results are aggregates. [(2)] Education's true results are on a child-by-child basis. The old arguments about funding and why Johnny can't read are macroeconomics, but the tragedy of the real Johnny who can't read is on the micro level. [(3)]
(2) MPS test scores are indeed rising, as the graph at the right shows. Those are generally steady trendlines. I'm not defending the scores--I know they're low--but pointing out the lie. In addition, as McIlheran derides "aggregates," he fails to note that the Republican-desired "study" of the voucher program will produce little more than an "aggregate" result, too. (3) As I have noted before, I could go anecdote-for-anecdote against him. My fellow teacher Diane Hardy started to a little while back. Look, the plural of anecdote is not data. McIlheran has to resort to an anecdote--one about a child who seems to have spent all of five months in school, total, public and private--because there are no data, no reputable studies that show that this program is worth the extra money it costs me and everyone else in the city. There are no data to tell a parent whether the voucher school in her neighborhood is better than the public school.

McIlheran is so excited that the "market" for voucher students seems to be expanding, but not interested in making sure that the market is free, open, and transparent. But, given his propensity for dissembling and obfuscating, it shouldn't shock me that he likes it as it is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Speaking of lies spin . . .

[Updated! See below!] One of my favorite bloggers once noted that part of her M.O. was to flit around blogs from the other side until something made her mad, and then to blog about that. It's not a bad M.O.

I was stuck waiting around for the doctor's office to call me back, not wanting to dig into the pile of rough drafts just yet, when I stumbled across this post from Peter DiGaudio, one of the Usual Suspects. Entitled "Empowering Terrorists," the post begins with that trademarked DiGaudio civility, with his calling the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee "Sen. Arlen 'Magic Bullet' Spector (RINO-Al Qaeda)." DiGaudio is upset that Specter would demand FISA judicial review for the president's program of warrantless and currently un-reviewed wiretaps being conducted on US citizens and other "US persons."

But what got me hopped up enough to blog it was these two paragraphs, which have to be two of the most densely-false paragraphs I've read in a long time:
So why propose anything that will make it even more difficult to track and monitor terrorist operatives? The FISA Act has no relevance in dealing with today's threats. With terrorists communicating via disposable cell phones, the 72 hours it would take to get a FISA court warrant would make it impossible to track and monitor those plotting the next 9/11.

The fact that usually sensible folks like former Rep. Bob Barr are opposed to this reflects poorly on the national media's deliberate misrepresentation of this program. Once again, this is not "domestic spying." My phone calls are not being monitored, nor are my e-mails, nor anything else.
You know, in my last post, I took Fred at RealDebate to task for missing facts and the calling people who opine based on those facts he doesn't have liars. Here, we have a perfect example of someone missing facts and substituting opinion instead. The violations are numerous:
  • Specter's bill does not make anything "more difficult." Notice,
    Specter said his proposal would empower the court established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to review the National Security Agency's domestic anti-terrorist surveillance every 45 days to ensure it does not go beyond limits described by the administration. Currently, Bush himself reviews the program and signs off on its continuation every 45 days.
    There is nothing in the bill that requires FISA warrants for these currently warrentless wiretaps; there is nothing in the bill at all, really, except a provision that puts oversight of this program into the judicial branch instead of allowing the executive branch to oversee itself.

  • FISA is not irrelevant, and is in fact quite flexible. It was amended with the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act to make it more responsive to modern telecommunications (see this page, for example). The court itself almost never rejects warrant applications, meaning that they must understand their "relevance." But it's DiGaudio's point here that is irrelevant: Specter's bill requires no warrants.

  • It does not take 72 hours to get a warrant. Either the talk radio is lying to him, or DiGaudio is deliberately misreading the law: The 72 hours is the retroactive limit; the NSA can start spying right away on anyone it suspects, as long as they go to the court with their evidence later. Of course this is also irrelevant: Specter's bill requires no warrants.

  • If I were trying to be funny, I would say that Bob Barr was never sensible . . . but I won't. Instead I will just point out that the last time a president was found to have broken the law (and Bush has admitted to bypassing FISA) Bob Barr led the charge for impeachment. Sounds consistent to me.

  • I'm curious to know how DiGaudio thinks the media has misrepresented the story. If he means that they have presented uncomfortable (for him) facts like the ones I name here, then that's not misrepresentation at all. Clearly, DiGaudio is upset that people are saying things that contradict his world view; the only misrepresentation I see is DiGaudio's distortion of reality.

  • Finally, I love how he asserts that since his calls are not being tapped (that he knows about), the program "is not 'domestic spying.' " Well, I wonder what he would call surveilling US citizens inside the United States? Giving puppies to the poor?
So there you go. Six sentences, six falsehoods.

The last time I noted the factual innacuracies and blatant spin at DiGaudio's place on this very topic, he offered no corrections, no anything. Let us see if this time he cleans up the untruths.

UPDATE: DiGaudio lets his imagination run wild, applying his falsehoods here to the story of three terror suspects in Ohio. He writes,
keep in mind that if Feingold, Ted "The Swimmer" Kennedy, Sen. Depends (Patrick "Leaky" Leahy), the ACLU, and now even Arlen "Magic Bullet" Spector had their way, the tools used to capture these traitors plotting attacks inside our borders would not be made available to the fed, and consequently these terrorists would have escaped detection.

That's right: two of the tools used here were the warrantless wiretaps and surveillance and the Patriot Act.
Ahh . . . that DiGaudio civility. But that's not important: What's important is that he claims the feds used the warrantless wiretaps to catch the bad guys. This is not true. From the FOX News story he cites: "One official told FOX News that this investigation used all the tools, including FISA warrants. 'A lot of FISAs,' one source said, referring to the warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." And besides (I say again), Specter's bill requires no warrants.

Fred wants to know about lies

In a post of folkbum-worthy length, RealDebate's Fred is complaining about lies:
I’ve had as much as I can take with the rhetoric coming from the left and the MSM in regards to the President, his Administration and anyone who has an R after their name. What we are hearing is a coordinated effort to distort the truth to the betterment of the Democratic party. They are being allowed to say pretty much anything they want because they are sick, tired and angry about being the minority.

Sometimes what you do not say is just as indicative of your lies as what you do say, we will look at this from a variety of issues and site examples of the lies coming from the left and the MSM.
First, I should tell Fred to check out Peter Daou, both from today and last week, as Daou seems pretty well convinced that the "MSM" is, in fact, rapidly spiraling the other way.

But Fred names a few specific cases. Rather than respond there, where the comments thread is already on tangents and growing relatively hostile, I thought I'd throw out some responses here.
  • Fred: If you have read it once you have read it a thousand times. Undercover operative Valerie Plame. [. . .] This much we know. At the time of this “leak” Valerie Plame had not been undercover for at least six years. [. . .] What we find again and again is the Democratic Leadership and the Main Stream Media continue to perpetuate the lie that Valerie Plame was an undercover operative, they also ignore the rest of the story about Plame’s lies and the lies of her husband Joseph Wilson.

    They lie to minimize the perception that the leak was an honest attempt to question the since proven side of the story that Joe Wilson’s story, and the way in which he got this assignment were less than on the up-and-up. The leak may [have been] non-intentional, it may [have] been in bad taste, but it was not of an undercover operative.


    Truth: (Hey, if Fred can do it, so can I.) Newsweek reports,
    Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion. (A CIA spokesman at the time is quoted as saying Plame was "unlikely" to take further trips overseas, though.) Fitzgerald concluded he could not charge Libby for violating a 1982 law banning the outing of a covert CIA agent; apparently he lacked proof Libby was aware of her covert status when he talked about her three times with New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Fitzgerald did consider charging Libby with violating the so-called Espionage Act, which prohibits the disclosure of "national defense information," the papers show; he ended up indicting Libby for lying about when and from whom he learned about Plame.
    As for the Wilson's story not being on the "up and up" thing, I don't know specifically what to respond to, so I'll just send Fred here and here for some debunking of the notion that Wilson was not truthful.

  • Fred: It has been argued time and again that Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction. That in itself is a lie.

    First, every major intelligence operative in the world thought Iraq had WMD’s, practically every major Democrat has been heard bloviating from the floor of the House or Senate at some point in their career about Iraq’s WMD’s and how Iraq could not be allowed to keep them. Of course they do not say that anymore that they deem in politically a dangerous position to take. Now they are running from the debate screaming Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied Bush lied, all the while expecting us to turn a blind eye to their positions.


    Truth: I've said it before and I'll say it again: The argument about Bush and the WMD intelligence is not that no one but him believed there were WMDs; it's that by the time Bush was making his case to the 'Merkin people, the was new and credible intelligence to suggest that the WMD threat was not what we once believed it to be. The administration chose not to include the new information when it reported to Congress and the UN and other places about what Saddam supposedly had. For example, "It is simply not true to state that Congress received the “same intelligence” as the White House." The intelligence presented was flawed--Bush admitted it--but the greater problem is that they knew about the flaws at the time.

  • Fred: I have said from the start of this that [Abramoff] will be a largely Republican scandal, however many Democrats will also be pulled into this. That is a fair statement, you will read no such thing in the MSM or hear it from any Democrat. They think this is a purely Republican scandal. Why? Because it fits their template. Just go ahead and ignore the Senate Minority leader he is nobody..... Right? Not if you are trying to perpetuate a lie of your own.

    Truth: What's the grand total of Democrats indicted so far? Zero. Republicans? Two. Even after the AP did its best to smear Harry Reid, for example, there is no there there.

  • Fred: I stopped talking about [domestic spying] at RDW because the lefties were driving me nuts. They have the President tried convicted and impeached on this. The fact of the matter is we do not even know everything on this. You can not believe them though, vetting the facts and determining where powers lie they do not have time for. You see they have an election to win in November, no time for legality, just time to slime. This case is going to take years through the courts because the issue is not really about domestic spying it is about Presidential authority. As usual the left want all of that when they have the office and none of it when they do not. Does this necessarily show a lie, no. This does show an outrageous spin, and the MSM is going with it 100%.

    Truth: The president has admitted to breaking a law. Last time that happened, we had an impeachment trial. I'm not advocating for one here, but you can see how there would be a bit of an issue. Fred seems to be saying that the FISA law is unconstitutional, a claim that the administration just isn't making in court the way Fred seems to want them to. Republicans--like our own F. Jim--don't seem interested in holding hearings to really learn "everything." Their spin, in fact, seems to be kind of like sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending they don't see even the other Republicans expressing doubts about whether the program--spying on citizens without a warrant--is appropriate.
I didn't touch all of Fred's points--time and space limitations, and so on--but he also needs to recognize that even if reasonable people can disagree here about what the facts in evidence may mean, no one can argue that they are facts. There will be spin a-plenty from both sides, but to suggest that facts are the same is spin is ridiculous.

Monday, February 20, 2006

As predicted, sun rises today

Or something like that.

Alan Borsuk reports that, as predicted, the Department of Public Instruction's rationing plan for Milwaukee voucher schools will hit established schools hardest. We all, you know, saw it coming.

You, too, can read DPI's information here, under the header of "Information on Prorate." What you'll find is that the rule DPI was forced to adopt (after groups like School Choice Wisconsin rejected a plan that would have prevented this) treats schools that are new and may never even open the same as schools that have been around for years and have hundreds of students enrolled. That means the 40 new schools, asking for 4627 students (including one school asking for more than 700 students!) are, in great part, skewing the process. There's also the matter of existing schools' wildly optimistic requests for more than 10,000 more students than they enrolled this year, as well. Don't we all remember that Public Policy Forum says there won't even be an increase of 1000 students this year?

Some of the overage is undoubtedly due to the panic that pro-voucher groups created by manufacturing the cap crisis in the first place--schools overestimated so that they wouldn't get burned by the rationing. The good schools didn't, so, like the good students who don't cheat on their vocabulary quizzes (first block, I'm looking at you!), they lose out.

Anyway, that will be the news tomorrow. Just thought you should know.

Headlines I wish I'd written

Pennsylvania firm buys Wisconsin Nipple

That is all.

McIlheran Watch: F. Jim is still wrong, and Pat is even wronger

I've been slacking on the McIlheran Watches lately, and for that I apologize. There's been other news to cover, and, you know, the job and things.

And again, this week, I'm farming out the work. This week's column gets taken on by Xoff. McIlheran is in full Sensenbrenner apologist mode, claiming that F. Jim was right to vote against relief aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. "[T]he Democratic Party said at the time [. . . h]ow dare Sensenbrenner suggest Congress [. . .] try putting some safeguards on the next $33,000 per household?" Xoff notes that P-Mac is full of it:
One small problem with that analysis. Sensenbrenner said no such thing. He didn't offer any amendments or suggest any safeguards or oversight. He just voted no, knowing the bill would pass, and hoping he would be proven "right."

He is as reponsible as anyone for allowing the Bush administration to prove its incompetency.
And besides, had F. Jim voted for the measure, his "Mardi Gras Breakfast" last week would still have been in bad taste.

Go visit Bryan Kennedy. He's the best shot we have at F'ing F. Jim.

Accreditation

One of the provisions I like about the recent voucher cap deal is the requirement that all schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program be accredited through an independent accrediting agency. As to where the accreditation will come from, news reports are listing the North Central Association, which accredits pretty much all public schools and post-secondary institutions in the state; Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation, which accredits mostly religious schools; and Howard Fuller's Institue for Transformational Learning.

I have a call in to North Central to ask about whether they currently accredit any MPCP schools; their website is extremely throrough in detailing what a school needs to do for accreditation. As for WRISA, they currently accredit 30 of the 125 or so schools in the MPCP, with several others listed as being in "application." The information on their website is also relatively good about what it takes to achieve the accreditation. As for the ITL, well, to date, all they offer schools is help with the WRISA; their website offers no information on any accreditation through them at all.

So I'm trying to put together a small little project that would do a compare/contrast among the three, once I have all the information about what is involved in receiving accreditation from the three sources, how much each will cost, how long it lasts, and so on. I'm waiting, basically, for ITL. In an email today, I was told, they "will be glad to forward our documents to you as soon as the legislation is passed and our designation is official." So the compare/contrast will have to wait . . .

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another no-bid contract to Halliburton

This time, $42 billion. Waiting for F. Jim to criticize the potential waste, fraud, and abuse . . .

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Doyle "Blink": As Phony as the Cap "Crisis"

There's that old saw about two similar items being a coincidence, and three being a trend, you know? And so when news hit this past week of a potential deal to raise the cap on vouchers in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, I started seeing a trend in the right half of the Cheddarsphere: Doyle blinked! (Sometimes, Doyle caved!) Examples:
  • Chip: Jim Doyle “blinked” in the standoff because the Democratic base in Milwaukee was starting to sweat this, big time.
  • Fraley: Doyle blinks a lot.
  • Esenberg: Doyle gets out of the school house door? Did Doyle cave on school choice?
  • Patrick: Anything that pisses off the teachers unions is a good thing. The fact is Doyle caved.
  • Binversie (at Owen's place): Read the Deal. Doyle got creamed.
  • DiGaudio: DIAMOND JIM GETS OUT OF THE SCHOOHOUSE DOOR. Looks like there is a deal to increase the cap (not remove it) on Choice enrollment. Diamond Jim blinked and Milwaukee schoolchildren won.
To be fair, not all on the right like the deal (mostly because of the $25 million promised for SAGE funding), and not all are happy with John Gard's hand in making it happen. But those saying that Doyle "blinked" (or worse), like the ones above and the ones I probably just haven't seen yet, are lying. While I do not support this compromise, I can at least look at it objectively and see that Doyle is in no way the one who caved most to make this happen. Consider:
  • For almost two solid years before last week, Doyle had been offering to raise the cap in exchange for things like more funding for MPS, or greater accountability in the choice schools. Though he personally opposes the program, he has always been willing to accommodate the needs of Milwaukee parents, students, and taxpayers. For those same two years, John Gard never once offered to sit at the table to work out a deal. Blinker? Gard.

  • Doyle's November proposal to raise the cap included all of the following, which have either been signed into law already or have been promised by legislative leaders: An increase in SAGE funding; an increase in the enrollment cap in Racine's charter school program; accreditation for all voucher schools; required standardized testing in all voucher schools; changes to eligibility requirements to make it easier for families to stay in the program. Blinker? Gard.

  • Doyle has always wanted to keep the enrollment cap limited, offering at first 18% and then 20% of MPS enrollment. The deal ends up at about 25%. Gard has always wanted--sent the bill to Doyle several times for a veto, in fact--100%, or, effectively, no cap at all. Blinker? Gard.

  • Doyle wanted a "hold Milwaukee harmless" provision that would ease some of the extra bite felt by Milwaukee taxpayers due to the vouchers. He didn't get that one.
So how is it that the right Cheddarsphere can lie about Doyle's blinking like this? It's easy, actually: The right has spent the last couple of years creating a "crisis," and then, ever since the cap hit, they have been lying about Jim Doyle's role in that "crisis." By internalizing the previous lies--that Doyle wanted to "kill choice" and was "standing in the schoolhouse door"--they can now believe the lie that it was Doyle who "blinked."

The truth is that Republicans, in concert with their backers at pro-voucher organizations like School Choice Wisconsin, manufactured a "crisis." Gard's refusal to compromise with Doyle, plus SCW's rejection of DPI's plans to protect existing schools and current students, combined to make this issue, as one conservative commenter noted, "a very powerful campaign weapon." So they capitalized on it: In ad after ad, MMAC, ACE, and others blamed Doyle for creating the mess that might have kicked 4000 students out of their choice schools, rather than the real culprits. Bloggers repeated the lie ad nauseum that it was Doyle's fault that these families would suffer, that Doyle was opposed to raising the cap (never mind that he had produced written offers to do so). They even ran photoshopped pictures of Jim Doyle's head on the body of an anti-desegregationist governor blocking the literal schoolhouse door. These were all lies.

But they repeated the lies, and refused to listen to those of us on the left who pointed out that they had their facts completely wrong. It was a little bit like arguing against truthiness--the facts may change, as Colbert says, but their opinion doesn't.

This set them up perfectly for the phony "blink": If they believe, in error, that Doyle would never agree to raise the cap and, in fact, was trying to kill it (Doyle, being a "wholly owned subsidiary of WEAC," must want to kill it, right?), saw the deal as a cave on his part. Since they did not believe that Doyle had ever offered to compromise on the issue before (when, really, that was Gard), they saw Doyle as the one who flip-flopped.

And this is reflective, I think, of the way the right often works: Spread enough seed lies, and then you can reap them when needed. For example, when I say "Howard Dean," what's the first thing that comes to mind? If you said "wacky liberal," you might just be a conservative. In reality, Dean was to the right of almost all the other 2004 primary candidates, but his opposition to the Iraq War drove the narrative. Now whenever Dean makes a salient point of any kind, the right trots out the "wacky liberal" label and ignores him. (Or, sandwiched in between posts about how incivil the left is, posts more photoshopping.)

The same happened here. It's something Republicans do well (we Democrats don't like to lie), and if Howard Fuller and Brother Bob and a few others who actually think about children instead of campaigning hadn't dragged Gard to the table, they would have completely gotten away with it.

"Points Taken" on the cap

A few weeks back I was asked to be the "point" (or maybe "counterpoint") in MKEOnline's "Points Taken" feature. The topic was whether we should be lifting the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program voucher cap. The result is here.

I'm a little bothered that the "pull quotes" in the margin did not actually appear in either short essay. But they do basically sum up the arguments.

I may be biased, but I think I won. I could do a counter-counterpoint, but since there's a deal on the table, there's not much, er, point.

And, bucking the tradition of my wife's photo work being uncredited, I should note that she took the picture, even if it is "courtesy of" me. I have so much less hair now than in the blurry photo up top there . . .

Friday, February 17, 2006

And they have a deal

I thought about calling it "Glenn Grothman and I finally agree on something," since he's apparently not on board either with the compromise announced this morning on the phony cap crisis in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. I'm not sure what Grothman's beef is with the deal (nothing on WisPolitics yet), but mine is two-fold, as explained yesterday.

However, I would be willing to offer qualified support depending on what the full story is with this:
Require all voucher schools to administer a standardized test and report the scores for use in a proposed longitudinal study of the program.
Previous iterations of this idea have allowed for schools to opt out, so if this is truly all schools, then that's a step in the right direction. What we need, though, is for the results of testing to be made public, not buried in a long-term study. If the deal actually includes a provision that involves getting the results of these academic measures into the hands of parents, then that, combined with the accreditation measure, resolves most of my accountability questions. I have an email in to Chris Sinicki to see if I can get clarification on this point; if it is not what I hope it could be, I will lobby against this bill (and in support of bringing back DPI's original fair rationing plan in the interim)

I'm willing to take Doyle at his word that the funding flaw will be dealt with in the next budget (and, really, school finance generally should be on the table). We'll have to see what the stick-it-to-'em Republicans do with it.

Friday Random Ten

The Dick Cheney Edition

1. "Gun Shy" 10,000 Maniacs from In My Tribe
2. "Don't Give that Girl a Gun" Indigo Girls from Shaming of the Sun
3. "Enemy Fire" Ryan Adams from Gold
4. "Can I Take My Gun to Heaven?" Cracker from Cracker
5. "Bring a Gun" James from Seven
6. "Gun Street Girl" Tom Waits from Rain Dogs
7. "Cupid's Got a Gun" The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from Acoustic
8. "Art of the Gun" The Nields from Play
9. "Crossfire" Casey Chambers from Barricades & Brick Walls
10. "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" Bruce Cockburn from Anything Anytime Anywhere

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Your "liberal" media at work

Daou reports. You decide: Are the media really all that liberal?

The examples just go on and on and on . . .

iVirus

Stan Miller tells me that Mac OS X has its very first virus, something that attaches itself to your iChat stuff. I don't use iChat (no friends, you know) so I'm not too worried. But that means it took what, six years for the first virus?

Given that there are already viruses for versions of Windows that aren't even out yet, I still say, get a Mac.

Still a Bad Deal

The full story on the expected cap deal for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program provides some more details (see my initial reaction, below), and I'm still not convinced it's a good deal for parents or taxpayers:
The expected agreement largely accepts Doyle's position on accreditation, giving schools three years to comply.

But Doyle had proposed that all voucher students take the state's standardized tests of educational proficiency and report school scores publicly, as is required of all public school students, and the agreement would not include that. Voucher leaders have long opposed such a step.

The agreement is expected to give support to a study of the voucher program to be conducted primarily by researchers from Georgetown University and to be privately funded. Voucher supporters have long sought such a study, while critics claimed it was not enough of a step toward accountability.
Again, I applaud the accreditation (it was my idea, after all), but the plan to give the state's imprimatur to the Georgetown study is misguided. I wrote about that here: This plan does not do a thing to get more information into the hands of parents--the "informed consumers" of this market-based system!--about how well or how poorly individual voucher schools do. Parents will still have no way to really know whether their neighborhood voucher school is really any better or worse than their neighborhood public school.

That has to stop. As I wrote yesterday, DPI's closing of schools proves that the system is broken, not that it's working. Parents should be shutting these schools down, but the parents simply aren't getting the information they deserve.

This is a bad deal, people.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Bad Deal

Seth got to it before me, but it sounds like there's probably going to be a Milwaukee Parental Choice Program "cap" deal tomorrow:
An agreement is likely to be announced Thursday and is expected to include a substantial increase in state funding of the class size reduction program known as SAGE.

Two sources told the Journal Sentinel that the agreement will likely allow an increase in the number of low-income students using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools and religious schools in Milwaukee from roughly 15,000 to about 22,500. It also reportedly calls for all schools using vouchers--currently 124 schools--to obtain one of several forms of accreditation within several years. Many have such accreditation now, but some, including some of the weakest schools, do not. [. . .]

The agreement does not include property tax help for Milwaukee residents, as Barrett had urged, but political figures on both sides of the discussions have suggested issues related to the impact of the voucher program on Milwaukee taxpayers will be considered in state budget work a year from now.
From the sound of it, this is a bad deal. The increase in the cap--this puts it at about 25%, unless the 22,500 is a static number and not based on a percentage of MPS enrollment--should keep us from getting near the cap for close to a decade. That, at least, will prevent any more "phony" crises, like the current one, manufactured by pro-voucher advocates and their Republican allies.

But it's what's not in this plan that has me thinking it's a bad deal. Now, I'm just working from the same press reports everyone else has, since no one bothers to invite me to these summit meetings. There seems to be no relief for Milwaukee taxpayers. As my regular readers (I think I'm up to eight now) will know, Milwaukee property tax payers pay $1000 more for a voucher student than for an MPS student. At the new cap, that's $22.5 million dollars that could be going back to taxpayers.

It also seems like, beyond accreditation (which I applaud), there are no accountability measures in the package. So Milwaukee parents still will be flying mostly blind when it comes to the quality of the voucher schools they might be considering.

In other words, the rest of the state gets a good deal with SAGE funding. Milwaukee's private schools can continue to eat at the public trough. And Milwaukee's parents--not to mention Milwaukee's taxpayers--keep getting screwed.

Thanks for nothing!

And confidential to SJK: I said the issue would be good for two weeks . . . I was right, but barely . . .

The Theme of the Day: Education Funding

I'm not sure what's in the water the past few days, but the right half of the Cheddarsphere is getting things wrong all over the place about education, the Milwaukee Public Schools, and vouchers. So, here we go:

Moving chronologically, we can start with James Wigderson's Saturday post on the impending compromise on the cap "crisis." He writes,
While the governor’s stance on school choice has been despicable and intellectually dishonest, many of those he is catering to at least are honest enough to admit they would like to end school choice. But are they intellectually honest enough to admit that they are more concerned with protecting institutions, public schools and teachers unions, than they are about educating children?

One correspondent here has laid out what I think are the basic arguments against school choice they’re willing to offer. He writes, “Money used for vouchers to send Milwaukee students to private schools is money that could have been put towards the public school system.”

The question is, why is this an issue? Shouldn’t the education dollar follow the student? And if there’s a more efficient means of educating the student (our presumed goal) then shouldn’t we put our investment there? And that’s the beauty of the concept of school choice. The education dollar follows the student, and the parent (whom we trust would know best) gets to choose what is the best method for educating that child.

Even better for the state, the choice school is often more efficient in educating the child, and therefore the state actually achieves a cost reduction while turning out a better product. [. . . L]et’s look at the bigger picture. If we have a successful program (school choice) and an unsuccessful program (MPS) then shouldn’t we be doing what we can to expand the successful program?
Aside from slandering Governor Doyle--who, for two solid years has been asking for Republicans to come to the table on a cap-raising compromise--Wigderson misses some points and makes dangerous and unsupported assumptions. For example, Wigderson assumes, like many on the anti-union right, that the teachers' union doesn't care about anything but lining their fat pocketbooks. But they do; that's why the primary thrust of MTEA's campaign so far has been on accountability for parents and taxpayers.

Which brings us to another problem: Wigderson assumes that parents have the information they need to make an informed choice. But remember that voucher schools are not required to collect or report any performance data; even though most of them do some testing of some students at some level or another, many do not even report those results to the parents--and none of the schools are asked to give the same tests, so any public data cannot necessarily compared on an apples to apples basis. For MPS, however, you can learn just about anything you want about any school. When parents sit down to make a decision, how can they make an informed choice between their neighborhood MPS school, about which they know everything, and their neighborhood voucher school, about which they know nothing?

All the talk of schools being effectively shut down by DPI exactly proves that the accountability system currently in place is failing miserably. DPI should not be shutting down these schools; parents should be.

Finally, Wigderson includes the typical conservative trope about money "following the student." Per-pupil spending is a convenient measure of a school system's cost, but it does not mean that every student is "worth" a certain amount. This is, I think, one of those "education-as-industry" notions, except students are not "widgets" that should all be the same; in a district like Milwaukee, with nearly 100,000 students, we make 100,000 unique, non-uniform widgets.

It is well documented that, for example, special education students are "worth" more because educating them can often cost two or three or ten times the per-pupil average. Advanced students may also have more "worth" by these measures, too, as will poor students who eat subsidized lunches or immigrant children who need language support. Should a special needs student get a bigger voucher? An English language learner? What about the thoroughly average student who needs no "extra" spending at all--does she deserve a smaller voucher? Part of the difficulty of running a voucher program like Milwaukee's, one where the size of the voucher is determined to be a flat rate by bureaucratic fiat rather than the actual cost of the school, is that you end up with a skewed sense not only of what education costs but of what a student is "worth." This leads, inevitably, to the equally skewed notion that voucher schools are educating students at half-price. That debunking, as I have promised repeatedly, will be its own post later.

MilwaukeeID10T (who comments here as Clint) picks up on Wigderson's post and comments to it, noting,
In so many arguments I keep hearing about economies of scale. From Chris B’s comment…
Correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure schools operate on economies of scale. Therefore, removing money for individual students hurts the students left behind.
While I understand this principle, I don’t believe that it is a valid argument. If economies of scale were an underlying primary contributor to the high budget numbers we see, then please explain to me why we have so many schools operating that don’t have enrollment numbers near their capacity. I believe that fiscally it would be extremely cost effective to shutter under-enrolled schools and have those students attend any number of other schools that have the capacity. [. . .]

Now I don’t want to seem like one of the eeeeeevvvvvilllll conservatives, but the harsh reality is that our politicians and school board members need to make difficult decisions when it comes to consuming our tax dollars. I know, please stop laughing. It is always easier to spend someone else’s money. We can, and do blame the unions for a lot of the woes associated with MPS and the public education system in general. But, how any member of the school board or local politician can say with a straight face that MPS is running at peak efficiency is ridiculous.

WEAC/Jim Doyle et al., even most conservatives, want to close choice schools that under perform. I agree that they should be closed. Now the question becomes to what standards of performance and, why are MPS schools that drastically under perform still open and sucking up tax dollars to ‘educate’ those children. [His emphasis]
Apparently, the ID10T hasn't been paying attention to the news that MPS is closing schools--one elementary school this year (with two others merging) and five schools total next year. These are based on enrollment and neighborhood demographic numbers. The ID10T also seems to have missed the point that failing MPS schools are being shut down or revamped (I don't want to say reconstituted, because what's happening isn't exactly described by the traditional definition of that word). Three big high schools are being phased out in favor of multiplexes of small schools; other high schools (including the one where I teach) are being revamped as "small learning communities"; elementary and middle schools are being reconfigured to offer K-8 or 6-12 and new curricula. Most of these decisions are being made on the basis of the performance of the schools--you don't see the superintendent tromping into Rufus King or Samuel Morse and demanding change, now, do you?

So, yes, ID10T, I am laughing, but because you have your facts wrong.

As for the operating at capacity idea--as I said, schools are being closed. Reliable sources tell me that next year will bring another round of closings beyond the ones named above. In other cases, schools are not at capacity for a variety of reasons: My own high school, for example, is being prevented (by the superintendent) from enrolling new ninth graders next year, leaving us below capacity. The new small high schools are in most cases being "phased in," so there are quite a few operating at one-quarter or one-half capacity now that will be full within a couple of years. There is also still leftover construction from Spence Korte's neighborhood schools initiative, which has been largely forgotten.

Plus, in parts I didn't excerpt, the ID10T asks why we should bother to pay to keep up century-old buildings. The answer is easy: Because replacing or renovating them would be voted down in referenda by anti-tax, anti-public school folk like the ID10T.

I included the ID10T's last paragraph because it's illustrative of several broader trends: One, there's the untruthful argument that MPS schools are not closing or changing due to pressure to perform. As a central office person put it to me last week, about my own underperforming school, it's change or die. MPS will shut the school down or hand it over to DPI, as required by law, without significant gains. Two, there's that same thing about closing bad voucher schools, and the same missing of the point that we saw in Wigderson's post: It is not, and should not be, the job of the state to close down failing private schools. Period. Parents need to have access to full and complete information about what's really going on at these schools--information that is readily available about MPS.

The ever-thoughtful Lance Burri gets into some of the same territory as the ID10T with yesterday's post, but with actual numbers:
Statewide, school spending is growing at about 5% per year. [. . .] In all, Wisconsin spends nearly $10 billion annually on K-12 schools. We cracked the $10,000 per student mark years ago.

Which brings me to a more basic question: why does it cost so much?

We’ve been over all this before. We’ll go over it all again. In five years (2000 to 2004), per-student spending went from $8,618 to $10,505. Over the same period, the student-teacher ratio fell from just over 13 students per teacher to just over 12.8. That’s not the same as class size--class sizes are actually larger. But just for kicks, let’s say it is the same. Rounding up to 13 students, at $10,505 per kid: that’s $136,565 per classroom. Enough to hire two full time teachers (at 2004 compensation levels), with $7,500 left over.

Let’s imagine an elementary school with kindergarten through 6th grade, three classrooms per grade. The leftover money (after we hire two full-time teachers per grade [I assume he means classroom]) adds up to $157,521. Enough for a principal and receptionist, maybe a janitor, too. And that’s if we double the number of teachers we actually have.

That’s part of why I’m frustrated: just perusing the numbers, I can’t imagine why we aren’t already spending enough. They shouldn’t need to ask us for more. [His emphasis]
I like Lance's thought experiment here, because he's at least starting to put some pieces together about how expensive it really is to educate a child. Let's keep going with his elementary school--we'll call it the Lance Burri Academy. LBA has 21 classrooms with 42 teachers and, it sounds like, about 450 students. Of course, 21 of those teachers teach the 21 classrooms. But let's identify the 21 others:
• One "teacher" is a librarian
• One "teacher" is a music teacher
• One "teacher" is an art teacher
• One "teacher" is a guidance counselor
• One "teacher" is a school psychologist
• One "teacher" is an assistant principal (450 require more than one administrator)
• One "teacher" is the school's share of the speech pathologist, school nurse, special education compliance officer, and tech coordinator
• Two "teachers" are physical education teachers
• Two "teachers" are two more secretaries and a safety aide (in MPS, anyway)
• Two "teachers" are another janitor (someone has to work the night shift) and two teachers' aides
• Six "teachers" are special education teachers
You see where this is headed, right? Because after those 19 "teachers" above, you still have to pay a share of additional district personnel who may never even set foot in Lance Burri Academy: The superintendent, the school board, the human resources people who hire the teachers and the "teachers," the people who make sure a district follows state and federal laws, the guy who delivers intra-district mail, and so on. That could easily eat up the remaining $140,000 for the two (of 21) not listed above. On top of that are costs for things that are not people: Heating the buildings, driving the buses, sports and clubs, sponges to clean the blackboards.

Where does LBA get money to pay for those things? Maybe they don't have a full-time librarian, or they've cut music. Some of you probably see other things on the list that you'd cut. I don't know. But as Diane Hardy pointed out last week, making those decisions can be tricky, and should not be undertaken lightly. Lance recognizes that his Academy would probably rush to find cost savings by throwing off some unfunded mandates, and that if the costs of health care or energy were lower, school costs would be lower, too. But that won't solve everything.

I think this exercise also starts to get at some of the drawbacks to what Wigderson was suggesting way back at the beginning (see? I go long with these essays, but they come together at the end), that there is a "per-pupil" value or worth for every student. As I said, it's a convenient metric for gauging the cost of schooling; it just gets clumsy when you start trying to do more than broadly pontificate about it. This also starts to fill in some of that long-promised post about the true costs of education.

I will be among the first to admit that throwing money at the public schools is not a comprehensive solution to performance problems in and of itself. However, to suggest that schools undergo extensive (positive) change at the same time as they are being provided fewer resources puts a lot of pressure on an already-squeezed system.

A classic




Update: To be clear, this was going around after the VP debate in 2004--I didn't make it. But I pulled it out because it seems appropriate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

folkbum the Authoratative Source

At least I was the most available source for this article about Wisconsin's 5th CD race between whatshisname and Bryan Kennedy, the "Democrats' unlikely conqueror."

Guess this means we need to work on updating SWatch more often, eh? Maybe starting with something about the Great Wall of Texas . . .

folkbum the Matchmaker

Just a reminder that I am responsible for this and this.

Although, I must say, I recognize it's the 00's and all, but Valenblogging seems a little . . . impersonal.

Not *my* Darling

Seth nails it:
The expansion at Bayshore Mall in the suburbs north of Milwaukee is expected to double the mall's workforce from 4,000 to roughly 9,000 employees [. . .]. Wisconsin State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) called the expansion "a perfect opportunity to match W-2 moms with real jobs." (Two quick thoughts: 1. At least we've moved on from "welfare queens" and 2. Apparently being a mother isn't a real job...someone should relay that info to a sizable portion of Darling's female North Shore constituents.)
Representing two (posh East Side) wards in the city of Milwaukee does not give you the kind of authority to speak on poverty and the unique challenges Milwaukee's central city faces, Senator. So stop it already.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Voucher Questions, Budget Woes

Did anyone else find the tone of this Q & A on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program condescending? Not that the information was bad; it just felt patronizing. Anyway, I'm glad to see more of this in print (my italics):
Q. What's wrong with the DPI's rationing formula?

A. Key elements driving it are numbers that often bear little resemblance to reality - how many students schools (including proposed ones that won't actually open next fall) claim they could enroll next fall. In the past, only a handful of schools have made accurate predictions in January. Some have made wildly inflated claims. Under the DPI rationing plan, the wilder your claim, the more you would be rewarded with seat allocations. The most accurate schools would be hit hardest.

Q. Couldn't they come up with a different formula?

A. Sure. And they did a while back. It allowed current students to continue in their schools, gave preference to their siblings in new enrollment and so on. But key voucher advocates and Republican legislators argued that it still didn't work and that no rationing plan would work. They put the kibosh on the plan.
Elsewhere in the paper this morning, fellow MPS teacher Diane Hardy touches on another corner of the funding argument. In my head there's a very long and complicated post about how much education really costs; when it will make it out of my head, I don't know. But Hardy touches on a couple of points:
MPS has comparable per-pupil spending to its neighboring districts. We "only" get about $3,000 less per student than the Nicolet district. Multiply that by my school's 1,600 students, and there is a serious gap.

One voucher supporter told me that his school spends less than MPS does per pupil. What he failed to mention is that most choice schools can choose who they let in.

Special needs programs such as those in MPS are not offered at most choice schools. Nor do we know if choice schools are succeeding since they are not accountable in testing as public schools are. There are choice schools that offer support for students with learning disabilities, but public schools carry the burden of educating children with special needs. At Rufus King High School, we have programs for deaf students, the mildly and severely autistic, as well as all learning disabilities.

Many people do not consider the cost of programs for the blind, the physically disabled, English as a Second Language, teen parents and myriad programs that support poor, abused, addicted and homeless students.
Some of these programs MPS implements because we are required by law (voucher schools aren't), some because it's good policy or sound pedagogy. Either way, it simply costs more to educate children from distressed backgrounds than it does to educate the wealthy--one study says 40%more. Paul Soglin is having a discussion on schooling and its context, the 85% of the time students are not in school between the day they are born and their 18th birthdays. A community's poverty rate is one of the biggest predictors of educational success--something I've discussed before. I'm interested to see where it goes, and how much of the post in my head he ends up writing for me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Some quick thoughts: Cheney, Conservatives, Caps

Busy weekend, busy life, lots of work, still sick, and so on. Here's what I haven't blogged about yet:

--> Will Wisconsin families now be able to buy bumper stickers that read, "My 8-year-old is a Better Shot than Dick Cheney"?

--> Glenn Greenwald writes a long, but excellent post, on what it means to be "conservative" and "liberal" these days. I encourage all of my readers--yes, both of you--on the left and on the right to read it. I'm especially curious to know what my "conservative" readers think of his thesis.

--> Carrie and Xoff have already noted that John Gard, perhaps against the better judgment of his campaign manager (and certainly in a move to irritate Mark Green and Scott Walker), seems finally ready to "settle" the cap "issue." This is, of course, something that could have happened two years ago, but better late than never, eh? Seth asks about one of the things missing in the little bit of information we know about the discussions--funding. Will I and other Milwaukee taxpayers continue to have to pay extra for every voucher kid? I want to ask about something different: accountability. Where are the negotiations on a real plan to provide full and complete information to parents so that they can actually use "choice"?

Friday, February 10, 2006

ƒℜ!¢ Blogger!

So I can't seem to get Blogger to work in Safari since the "downtime" last night. Anyone else getting that? Luckily I have a version of Firefox hanging around. So I may or may not post tonight. There's some catching up on stuff that I'd like to do, but if I can't get the thing to work, I don't know.

I have absolutely no desire to change from Blogger (apparently the WordPress revolution is sweeping the Cheddarsphere), but this is really irritating.

Grr.

Update: (9:06 p.m.) It may be working. Let me just press this button . . .

Friday Random Ten

The VD Edition

1. "Love and China" The Nields from Love and China
2. "When Love Comes to Town" B. B. King from Live at the Apollo
3. "What We Talk About (When We Talk About Love)" Jon Svetkey from YeahYeahYeah
4. "Love Like and Immigrant" Carrie Newcomer from An Angel at my Shoulder
5. "The One I Love" R.E.M. from Eponymous
6. "Damn Love Song" Kris Delmhorst from Five Stories
7. "My Love Has Gone" Josh Rouse from Nashville
8. "Our Love" Kate McDonnell from Next
9. "If There's Love" Citizen Cope from Live at the World Cafe
10. "If Love is not Enough" Peter Mulvey from Rapture