Recent Comments

Label Cloud

Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Powered By Blogger

Thursday, March 31, 2005

More on Charter Schools

I thought about highlighting this story the other day, about a new "tool" offered by the family-friendly folks at Standard & Poors, "a searchable database of schools that includes a 'return on spending' analysis as well as data on demographics, testing and other educational results," according to the article.

But I didn't. My sworn nemesis did, though, talking about how great it was, whereas I would have pointed out how difficult it would be to judge anything based on one year's (two years ago, even) data. But the site does show that Wisconsin outperform the rest of the country on pretty much every measure.

But what was interesting about Owen's post is in the comments, though, which are not permalinkable, so scroll down. The only comments so far are from someone named Patrick who says he "recently worked for an organization that runs a charter school in Milwaukee." That's not what's astounding, though. What's astounding is that we have an insider admitting to what we already know. He writes,
[A] test score/dollars-per-pupil ratio, such as this Standard & Poors metric, is better left as topic for debate on school funding rather than a measurement parents should use to weigh the best schools.  Why?  In my time working with the local charter school, and discussions with others in similar positions at charter schools, I came to learn the “games” that charter/choice schools (or, more importantly, their parent organizations) play with “cost” numbers.  Many of us on staff with the parent organization spent countless hours of our work days to support the school, yet none of our salaries or benefits were ever included in official reports of school expenditures.  “Official” school expenditures didn’t show any marketing costs, fund raising costs, custodial services, security costs, etc.--these dollars were in fact spent and necessary, but they were applied to the parent organization.

* Many charter schools, including the one I worked for, purposely avoid costs that public schools must incur.  For example, the charter school I worked for provided no busing, bought no library books (the very small library contained only donated books), and had no students with physical disabilities (a dirty little secret among many small private and charter schools--if you don’t have a special education program, parents of special ed students won’t apply to have their kids come to your school.)

* The school I worked for received private money in addition to the public money it received.  Yet the “cost-per-pupil” figures we provided were based only on the public monies provided.

* Charter/private schools know that their private donors can be fooled by the test score numbers you give them.  Each year I worked with the charter school, we publicized only those test scores that looked good.  If 3rd Grade reading and 5th Grade Math scores were good, that’s what we publicized in articles and letters.  If the Iowa Standard tests were good but the WKCE tests weren’t, we pretended the latter scores didn’t exist.  In developing ideas on how to publicize scores, I examined materials another well-known local charter school put forth--after reviewing scores on the state DPI’s site, I found that they were actually lying about their scores by quite a bit. [. . .]

* Charter/private schools can and do accept academically talented students ahead of poor students--something public schools cannot do.  The charter school I worked for had more interested parents than it did open slots for students.  What did it do?  “Unofficially,” it accepted the students with the highest grades from their previous school work.

Having been paid to “play with” testing results to make them look good for a charter school, I offer this advice to parents who want to use testing results intelligently as one indicator of the quality of a school:
* Ask to see all cumulative testing results at all grade levels, not just what the school gives you. [. . .]
* Don’t let the school play the “year” trick.  For example, if a school had terrible test results this school year but great test results last school year, they might give you the “2004” test results, which are actually the 2003-2004 school year test results based on tests students took in November 2003 and results the school received in 2004.  If this school year’s test results were better than last school year’s, they might give you the “2004” test results, which are the results of the tests students took in November 2004 as part of the 2004-2005 school year.
(My emphasis throughout.)

Thanks, Patrick, for the honesty. I keep saying, charter and choice schools are not the answer everyone thinks they are. Sure, public schools also "play" with the numbers. But they are, at bottom, fully transparent and fully accountable to you, me, the DPI, voters, taxpayers, and parents. These "private" schools simply are not. They make promises and represent themselves one way ("The school will be safe. [. . .] We don't have a bad school. We have a great school," said the guy from Academic Solutions) while the reality is completely different (riots in the halls, anyone?). And what kind of transparency can we ask from these schools? What kind of accountability?

Not, sadly, an April Fools

This week, gas has already hit $2.39 for the cheap stuff. Tomorrow, the price will jump three more cents as that cursed automatic gas tax kicks in. I'll just remind everyone--as I did this time last year--that good Democrats Spencer Black and Tim Carpenter keep trying to kill the tax, but John Gard (R Sun Prairie Peshtigo), who is plugged into the road-builder's pipeline doesn't want it to happen. (To be fair, our Gov. J-Dizzle probably is glad about that, as much as he hauls in.)

And Good Bloggers

By which, of course, I mean me. At Fightin' Bob.

Speaking of Bad Bloggers

The wingnut who runs the St. Croix-based (no link for you!) has started a xerox of Rich Eggleston's blogTABOR at (again, no link). I'm not sure what he's up to, but it can't be good. It's also a crummy, unethical, and potentially illegal (copyright violations, anyone?) thing to do.

It does, however, go quite a ways toward proving my theory that Republicans would much rather put their fingers in their ears than listen to facts that don't jibe with their worldview.

Is This Kosher?

Frank Lasee, so weak-willed that he needs a constitutional amendment to keep him from giving in to that tax jones, has plastered some of his state websites (like this one) with a "" banner, as if they were his own private pages instead of done on taxpayers' dimes. Is that kosher?

What's funnier is that if you click on the banner, you get a 404-Not Found error page.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Russ Goes South, Again

Lots of interesting perspective on Russ Feingold's return trip to the Very Red South. For example, the Milwaukee daily called it "one of the more unusual forays a Democrat with national ambitions could make - a three-day campaign-style swing through a state his party lost by 25 points in the 2004 presidential race."

The Mongomery Advertiser made sure we knew Feingold was out of his element: "What a joke," Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said in rebuttal later in the day. "The reason he came back was because he opened his mouth and he inserted his foot to start with." To that, of course, I say, yeah, but your name's Twinkle.

The Birmingham News told us that "Congress is on spring break." And I think it means a lot that Russ is off fence-mending instead of dousing young women's thin t-shirts with Budweiser.

At MSNBC (it took me some time to figure out that the headline "Pope linked to feeding tube" probably doesn't mean the same as "Boy Scout leader linked to child porn" and has nothing to do with the World's Most Famous Feeding Tube, down in Florida), there's a rerun of local paper's story, but a brand-new story today about Russ's seat on the Senate Judiciary committee. That story includes such melifluous prose as, "Unlike another potential 2008 contender, fellow Judiciary Committee Democrat Sen. Joe Biden, whose questioning of witnesses tends to become a meandering meditation on life and the law, Feingold poses crisp queries." I don't really know what it's about.

Just thought I'd give you all a heads up.

Scott on Air

Even though his name's not on the list here, my friend and near-neighbor Scott tells me he'll be on WUWM's "At Ten" program tomorrow. The show airs at, um, ten.

MPS School Board district 7

The daily today has profiles on the candidates for the Milwaukee Public Schools 7th district race, the one that may be most pivotal this year. There's the good guy, John Malloy Hagen, and the very, very bad guy, Danny Goldberg.

What makes Goldberg so very bad? Try this: "Until September, Goldberg worked for the Technical Assistance and Leadership Center [TALC], an organization he helped create. The center--and Goldberg, specifically--was instrumental in winning Milwaukee a multimillion-dollar grant from the Gates Foundation to reform its high schools by creating new, smaller ones, and breaking apart existing, large ones."

Yay, you might be saying, millions for MPS! Why is that wrong? Well, three things in particular:
  1. The only big winner from the Gates grant is TALC itself:
    At first glance, the $17 million Gates grant sounds like a lot. But MPS is guaranteed only about $9 million, which, on an annual basis, is about $65 per MPS high school student.

    Financially, the only certainty is that the Gates grant is a bonanza for the Technical Assistance and Leadership Center of TransCenter for Youth. A little-known non-profit with strong ties to the voucher movement, the group will receive one-third, or $5.75 million, of the Gates money to provide training and support. (The grant's remaining $2.5 million goes toward forming 10 non-MPS voucher and charter schools.)

  2. The big losers in this whole "small school redisign" fiasco are students, teachers, and parents. As much as you may hear that the new "multiplexed" high schools are doing so voluntarily, don't believe it. Several high schools--North Division and Marshall, among them--were given the ultimatum to change or close.

    Our MPS Superintendents have the habit of unilaterally making decisions that affect the entire city. The immediate past guy, Spence Korte, for example, snuck off to DC to claim, without one ounce of community support, that Milwaukee wanted to be the "charter school district." And witness, for example, the recent flap over the current guy's decision to change school start times, a decision which seemed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, to plop fully formed into committee. The committee meeting I wrote about a few weeks back only had community members attending because the lone board member opposed blast-faxed schools the day before with news of the hearing.

    This small-school baloney is no different. Take the story of the Advanced Language and Academic Studies High School, or ALAS. The idea behind ALAS is not so bad--a school dedicated to a high-standards bilingual education. But its implementation has been nothing short of embarrassing. It was originally slated to be housed at South Division High School--a school that already had a vibrant bilingual program--without the consent of South's staff or parent group. In addition, the students in ALAS would be siphoned from South, gutting the bilingual AP programs and costing South hundreds of thousands of dollars. What's worse, the planners exaggerated how much community support they had.

    After a compromise that delayed ALAS's opening for a year, the powers that be finally decided to stick ALAS at Kosciuszko Middle school, again without the consent of the Kozy community, whose students would be relegated to the basement while ALAS took the upper two floors. Expect more of the same as the "small school" crap continues.

  3. Since we can expect more of the same, it is doubly important that we not continue to elect people to the school board whose loyalties lie with non-public schools. It boggles my mind--seriously, it's like scrambled eggs up there--how this city can put people on the public school board whose campaigns are funded by national voucher money and whose goal is to continue gutting Milwaukee's public schools in favor of ineffective and even dangerous private schools.

    John Malloy Hagen knows where success will come from. He is a detective with the Milwaukee Police Department, and he's worked school details before, and he knows that unless we can get kids into classrooms with quality teachers, we're doomed. And, using almost the same language I've used to describe the voucher fiasco, he says, "I don't like the idea of experimenting with children." Now, when we are at a serious crossroads, is not the time to turn over our children to unproved experimentation and start ramming through "reform" that serves only to tear communities apart. Danny Goldberg, pockets full of Gates money, campaign coffers full of voucher money, wants to keep doing just that.

So, if you live in district 7, Hagen is your guy. If you don't, tell everyone you know who does. At the very least, you still need to vote April 5 for Libby Burmaster--see what I wrote yesterday for more on why.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Advocate Weekly, Part II

Here's your reading assignment for the week. There will be a quiz.

More Superintendent News

The puff piece on Gregg Underheim (the bad guy) is here (following Burmaster's profile yesterday). Things I did not know about Underheim before:
  • The teaching job he quit was at the high school my wife graduated from
  • After he found he couldn't hack it as a teacher, he found he couldn't hack it as a national Republican operative
  • He was a world-class foosball player
  • Despite chairing the Assembly health committee for a decade, he's done nothing to control skyrocketing health care costs in Wisconsin (okay, that one I knew already)
  • One of my least favorite people in the world, Ken Cole of the state Association of School Boards, said of Underheim, "I don't think he's very knowledgeable at all" on education issues.
It's that last that I keep worrying about. Last week, when I reviewed his "platform," there seemed to be a bit of dissonance between what he envisioned as possible and what economic and pedagogical reality would allow. Whether it's his apparent misunderstanding of the QEO or his belief that good teachers will want to sit on their behinds all day babysitting students at laptops, he just doesn't have a handle on what's really going on.

In other news, Monday marked a reporting deadline for fundraising in the race, and Burmaster leads the way, rather unsurprisingly. If I didn't have TiVo, I'd probably have seen their commercials by now . . .

Monday, March 28, 2005

Puff Profile

The daily is running puff pieces on the state superintendent candidates. Today is Libby Burmaster, with that other fella tomorrow.

Things I've Been Meaning to Link

My friend Stephen and others are keeping an eye on Milwaukee media and Milwaukee Republicans at Watchdog Milwaukee.

Joe Thomas of Shut up and Teach is keeping track of many great progrssive educators and supporters of public education. He's collecting a weekly best-of; here's last week's, with another to follow tonight or tomorrow.

Scott Walker: Candidate for Governor, Liar

From the daily, my emphasis:
Since parking is always at a premium downtown, motorists, employers and retailers should welcome the news that parking under and over freeways won't be lost due to fear of terrorism once the new Marquette Interchange is completed.

The possibility that those valuable parking spots might disappear forever had been raised last year [. . .]. At the time, county officials were lobbying heavily for the state to pay for tearing down the [parking] annex, which now hangs over the northbound lanes of I-43, as part of the $810 million reconstruction of the interchange.

State transportation officials have said their plans don't require the annex to come down and that they can build around it.

While arguing for the state to raze the building, [Milwaukee County Executive Scott] Walker questioned whether Homeland Security officials would continue to permit parking over and under the interchange once the project was done. He said a parking garage that hangs over a freeway "will never be allowed again." [. . .] But Brian Doyle, a spokesman for Homeland Security, told Journal Sentinel transportation reporter Larry Sandler recently that his department had never ordered such a parking ban and, what's more, was not even considering it.
Remember this in November 2006, please.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Oh, and

Happy Easter, for those of you who celebrate it.

If you don't, then Happy Sunday.

Who Else is Anti-TABOR?

Try Colorado's Republican governor:
Gov. Bill Owens (R) has been crisscrossing the country for years promoting the virtues of this state's strict constitutional limits on government spending. He has repeatedly urged other states to adopt restrictions of their own, based on Colorado's "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" amendment, known here as TABOR.

But this summer, Owens says, he'll be traversing his own mountainous state pushing the opposite message. Midway through his second term, Owens is working to persuade Coloradans to suspend the limits he championed and let the state government spend $3 billion more in tax money than TABOR would allow.

Owens thus becomes another low-tax, limited-government advocate who has found those principles hard to hold onto amid a sluggish economy and a sharply diminished flow of federal money to the states.

In the past two years, Republican governors including Nevada's Kenny Guinn, Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne, Georgia's Sonny Perdue and Ohio's Bob Taft have dumped no-new-taxes pledges to push for major new revenue and increased state spending.
As many of our state legislators have been local elected officials, I have to wonder why so many of them think that their successors can't, apparently, make the kind of hard decisions that they obviously did. It also makes me wonder where the miraculous Republican-scribed biennial budget is that stays in the hypothetical TABOR spending limits. Governor Doyle released his budget back in, what? January? and all the Reps have done since is gripe.

Rich over at BlogTABOR points us to a Green Bay News Chronicle commentary that drives this point home:
The proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights would take spending decisions out of the hands of government and put it in the hands of voters. Excuse me, but aren't those decisions the reason we have a Legislature? If we're going to make the decisions, who needs them? We could probably save more money by getting rid of 132 legislators than we ever could with a stupid law.

Me, I call TABOR the "stop me before I tax again!" law. It's our legislators admitting they can't do their jobs. Here's a better idea. Anybody who votes for it is admitting they can't do their job. If so ... quit and go do something else.
And this is one of the strongest arguments against TABOR: If we can't currently trust our legislators to make smart decisions--where is that Republican budget again?--then why have legislators in the first place?

But the WaPo article linked above (and, hey, sorry about the required registration) goes on to explain other good reasons to stop TABOR before it starts:
All of these tax-raising Republicans offer the same basic reasons for their change of heart. "I have done something that is absolutely not part of my fiber," Kempthorne said when he proposed Idaho tax increases in 2003. "But I'm not going to dismantle this state, and I'm not going to jeopardize our bond rating, and I'm not going to reduce my emphasis on education." [. . . ]

For Owens, as for his fellow GOP governors, a key reason for the tax increases at home has been tax-cutting in Washington. Facing sharply decreased revenue and record deficits, Bush has targeted transfers to the states as a ripe place to reduce federal spending. In his budget for fiscal 2006, the biggest single reduction is a $60 billion cut in Medicaid funds that help the states provide health care to the poor.

"The federal cuts have been very difficult for states to manage," said economist Bert Waisanen of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Governors have to run programs like Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, homeland security. But there is less and less money coming from Washington to pay the bills."
Before I go on, let me remind everyone that Wisconsin currently gets back less than 85¢ per dollar we send in to the feds. As I've nothed before, NCLB underfunding alone leaves us $2 million short.
The TABOR constitutional amendment passed by [Colorado] voters in 1992 says that government spending levels must be based on changes in population and inflation. Tax increases at any level of government must be approved by referendum. When tax revenue exceeds the permitted spending level, taxpayers must get a refund the next year; thus the state cannot build up "rainy day funds" in good years.

"The result is the public sector cannot grow at a rate faster than the private sector," Owens wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal praising TABOR.

During the boom years of the 1990s, with population and personal income soaring, the limits worked well. But the economic downturn and the reduction in federal support during the first Bush term proved disastrous for Colorado's finances. The state put off building roads and maintaining infrastructure. It reduced services and raised fees. Spending on higher education fell so sharply that the president of the University of Colorado declared the flagship state school a "private enterprise."
Me again, interrupting to remind everyone that our University system is world-class and does some of the best biotech research in the known universe. Oh, and to remind you of the absolutely irresponsible spending by Republicans in the legislature and with Tommmy! at the helm during those boom times of the 1990s that left us with multi-billion dollar deficits now . . .
[Colorado] Voters grew increasingly angry and demanded changes from Owens and the Republican-controlled legislature. But GOP leaders refused to act. "So long as I am governor, we will not raise taxes," Owens pledged in 2003.

Last fall, the Democratic Party launched a statewide campaign against the TABOR limits -- and scored a huge victory at the polls. While Bush was easily carrying the state, Democrats took control of the state House and Senate.

"We have a clear mandate," said Rep. Andrew Romanoff, Democratic leader of the state House. "The voters sent us here to do something about the TABOR roadblock."

Owens conceded the point. [. . .] The striking turnabout by a onetime tax cutter has generated rage in some GOP circles. Republican legislators have rapped their governor as a "turncoat" and a "big spender." Owens has fired back. After Rep. Joe Stengel (R) announced his opposition to the proposal, Owens said: "When the next volume of 'Profiles in Courage' is written, there won't be a chapter on Joe Stengel."

While Republicans exchange insults, Colorado's Democratic leaders are exultant.

"Less than three months after they took over the legislature, the Democrats produced a solution and got a Republican governor to go along," said Democratic consultant Terry Snyder of Denver. "That's exactly what the voters put them in office to do."
See? This is how it works. The voters elect responsible people <cough>Democrats</cough> to make the difficult choices and then things get done. (And, I might note, the right half of Wisconsin's blogosphere has been unduly harsh towards Republicans even leaning a little bit toward Doyle's budget--"exchanging insults," indeed!) This push for TABOR is by people who apparently don't trust themselves to make those decisions. Well, maybe it's time they stepped aside for people who can. Hear that, Frank?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

It's up and running. As soon as we get hosting details worked out, we'll be off of blogspot.

Our motto: F. Jim Sensenbrenner before he F's you.

Friday, March 25, 2005

What Some People Say

Jef points us to some Actual Candidate Words:
On why we have affirmative action:

“I’m sure the liberals are going to say, 'It’s because they have an unfair advantage growing up, and that they don’t have access to good schools, etc., etc., etc.' This argument is nonsense. The business and political world have several minorities doing a great job, and not because of some ridiculous affirmative action policy, or because of some other tax-loving government program.”
Several? Well, then, everything's fine! Move along, nothing to worry about . . .

Friday Random Ten

Rules here.

1. "River" Ellis Paul from Stories
2. "When Sal's Burned Down" Dar Williams from The Honesty Room
3. "i Still Believe" Susan Werner from Midwestern Saturday Night
4. "Of Crickets" Plow On Boy from Broken
5. "Stranger than You" Joe Jackson from Live at the World Cafe Volume 12
6. "Johnny Was A Pyro" Patty Larkin from Stranger's World
7. "Lines" Kate McDonnell from NEXT
8. "One Good Turn" Carrie Newcomer from My True Name
9. "Red Firecracker" The Jayhawks (no relation) from Blue Earth
10. "Madame Butterfly" Sons of the Never Wrong from One if by Hand

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bryan Kennedy 2006

So I was at an organizing meeting with Bryan Kennedy tonight. He's got some interesting things going on, and a few things I'll have my fingers in that I will tell you about later.

As it is now, though, he's gearing up for his Melissa Bean moment: He will be taking on F. Jim Sensenbrenner again in 2006, he will win, and is, in fact, very far along the way. He's aiming for a first-quarter 2005 fundraising take of $50,000. Good news is, he's already raised iver $40k. Bad news is, there's only a week left in the quarter.

Remember, every Republican House member is a vote for Tom Delay and his Constitution-trampling ethics-violating antics. You can do your part here.

"Investigation 4:

Now who's swapping your fish?"
            --Carole, in a promo spot for the news tonight.

No, I don't know what it means, either.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

WI Weds (plus some Teaching Tuesday): Fisking Underheim

This is another busy week for me (oh, for a job that doesn't come home with me!). So I kind of neglected Teaching Tuesday yesterday, and so far today I have written bupkis. I'm on a string of daily blogging since Feb. 28, and I don't want to break it now. So, a softball.

Last week I mentioned how hard it was to find Gregg Underheim's website, and how frustrating it was since I was looking for answers. Turns out, I needn't have bothered.

Underheim's website has a pretty standard three-column format. At first I was excited, since the right column (seen to your left here) seemed to be link-buttons to detailed policy statements or something. No go; they seem to be just empty statements of purpose. But the long middle column is worth looking at, and, if I may, fisking.

Underheim opens with the standard tax scare spiel, and then points out something I keep saying:
From 1992-1993 school year to 2002-2003 school year school spending went up over 55%. The rate of inflation was just over 26%. Education spending grew at more that twice the rate of inflation. There must be a conversation about cost and quality in education.

If we are to succeed in not pitting seniors and kids and schools and teachers and taxpayers against one another we must recognize these problems and offer meaningful solutions.
Of course, he neglects to mention the single greatest reason why education spending has risen so: double-digit increases in the cost of health care. Education is a people-intensive business, so the personnel costs are greater than others state-wide. So when the cost of health care goes up in Wisconsin--at well faster than the national average--school district budgets balloon. This is why I noted last week that, had the legislature put an effort into controlling health care costs a decade ago instead of implementing revenue caps (which are killing us) and the QEO, we'd be in much better fiscal shape. Now, who among us is a state legislator, and could do such a thing if he wanted? That's right--Gregg Underheim.

The first of the "meaningful solutions" Underheim offers actually does, indirectly, address health care. He wants to put teachers into the same pool as other state employees. This is an idea championed by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) last January (their pdf is here), with claims that the state could save upwards of $100 million. Problem is, Underheim's third point is keeping the QEO. See, under the QEO, the total compensation of the teachers in the district is controlled--including salary and benefits. The state would still send the same money to districts; it would just be spent differently. I'm not saying that moving to the state plan is a bad idea (though others are saying it). I'm just saying it will not do what he thinks it will.

Underheim's second point, which I skipped, is what he calls W3--"What Works in Wisconsin," and it's not all bad. He wants to figure out how low-spending high-performing schools do it. (Never minding that there as many high-spending high-perfoming schools and low-spending low-performing schools.) I can venture a guess as to what this study--which was recommeded, by the way, by Governor Doyle's school-funding commission last summer!--will find. When a district spends a lot of money on special education and ESL students, their ROI is not going to be that hot.

Fourth is the "technology solves everything" plank of his platform, the thing that drove me to seek out his website in the first place. I renew my previous cost objections, including transition costs and the fact that you're not at all changing the adult-child ratio. Even if--and it's a big if--we could actually see long-term savings, we are really not in a fiscal position to make the big initial outlay now.
Fifth [Underheim writes], we must become positive toward the choice options in Wisconsin. The DPI must support the elimination of the school choice caps in Milwaukee. It must support giving counties the right to charter schools.
Do I need to give my response? First of all, a pretty exhaustive study recently showed that charter schools are not a panacea, not even a little bit. Having seen charter schools in action here in Milwaukee, I can confirm that they're not all that. And I wax eloquently on a regular basis against the problems of choice (see Fighting Bob yesterday, for example), so I won't belabor it now.

Sixth, and finally, something I can get fully behind, even if his reasoning is slightly convoluted. "[W]e must prepare students in math and science to meet the competition offered by the newly developing world," he says. And there's nothing wrong with that. Question is, how? And if he answers "technology," I may just scream.

And that's it for Underheim's website, besides a few news clippings and information about how to volunteer and give money. For comparison, I will direct you to Libby Burmaster's page, including a detailed section on her accomplishments and her platform.

Vote Libby. And go to bed. It's late.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Go say hello to my my new best friend.

More Fightin' Bum

You probably already read it here or at LSF, but I've got an opinion piece up at Fightin' Bob.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Minnesota School Shooting

I can't find many details, but it sounds bad:
RED LAKE, Minn. (AP) -- Gunfire broke out at a Minnesota high school Monday, killing an undetermined number of people and injuring as many as 14 others, authorities said.

Tom Lyons, chief deputy for Beltrami County, said up to 14 people were injured in the mid-afternoon shooting at Red Lake High School in far northern Minnesota. Lyons said a suspect was in custody, but he had no other details.

The FBI did not say how many people had been killed and also declined to release details.

Students and a teacher at the scene, Diane Schwanz, identified a male student as the gunman. Schwanz said the shooter tried to break down a door to get into a room where some students were. [. . .]

Red Lake High School, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, has about 300 students, according to its Web site.
Thoughts, vibes, etc.

[UPDATE: According to CNN, there are five dead at school plus the shooter, on top of the shooter's grandparents, whom he killed at home before going to school. There are at least 15 injured.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Apparently, I'm very big in Finland. I feel like Spinal Tap, just learning about sales in Japan . . .

Today is a busy, work-filled day for me, with a break in the middle to go see a house concert with Kate McDonnell. So join the discussions in comments to posts below (hey, some of them are up to six whole comments!) or visit some of the fine folks in the links down and to your right.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

On This Date Two Years Ago

the United States invaded Iraq. Today, the United States is invading a Florida hospital room.

I really wonder--someone, somewhere has probably already done this math--how much money the family, their supporters, the Florida state government, and now the Congress have spent to keep alive a woman who, for lack of a better word, has a cerebral cortex made of goo. Think about Florida's 700,000 children in poverty, and how much those dedicated folks could have done to help them.

But, you know, those black and brown kids don't make good television, I suppose.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Growing Up Red

That's the title of my near-neighbor Tim's new book. Give it a look. (The book's site is here.)

Gregg Underheim is Evil

Or a close approximation to it.

So I caught the last part of the call-in with Underheim on WPR this afternoon. (He's the guy trying to unseat state superintendent Libby Burmaster.) Every third word he said was technology. Now, unfortunately, I didn't get out of school today (yes, on Friday) until after 4:30, so I could not hear everything he talked about. So maybe his answer for everything isn't "technology."

But what I heard was enough to greatly upset me. I was almost a danger to drive.

For example, he described an ideal high school classroom, saving money through technology: A roomful of students, each at a different level in their math studies, working at their own pace--on their own laptops. On the other end of the internet for each of the kids would be "the best math teachers in the world!" he said. And the teacher in the room, he said, would not be a teacher, but a "tutor."

He answered every question I heard--which, as I said, was not every question--with variations on how technology would save money and solve our problems.

But since I wasn't certain that technology was really his single campaign plank, I thought I should look it up to be sure. And, wouldn't you know it, Mr. Technology doesn't seem to have a website (SEE POSTSCRIPT). Nothing from Google, Yahoo!, or even Dogpile. (MSN's search was down.) So I have no idea for sure. (To be fair, it parallels much of what I have read on the race.)

Yeah, sure, there's irony in Underheim's lack of a website. But moreso, here are two immediate problems I have with this "technology" solution:
  • Transition costs: It would take at least two years' worth of my salary to outfit my classroom with laptops, infrastructure, and support (cuz you know they'll buy wintels, not Macs). And after that, you'll still need an adult at this end to babysit and an adult at that end to teach. I don't see much costs savings, even in the long run.
  • Plummeting teacher quality: My plan since I was twelve was to teach high school, not babysit. I know the good teachers and and bad teachers and, while I haven't asked, I can imagine what the good and bad teachers will say. The bad teachers--coincidentally, some of whom are in the business department, so their current job involves babysitting kids on computers--might love it. Us good teachers? We'll be moving to a state where teachers, you know, teach.

I'm looking forward to the Wisconsin Public Television debate, so I can see if I was really hearing things right.

POSTSCRIPT: After I'd written the bulk of this post, I was just looking for the Wisconsin Public Television link and found--through them--a link to Underheim's well-hidden website. I need to spend time with it, and will report later.

Friday Random Ten

1. Open iTunes. 2. Set to Random. 3. Report.

1. "As I'm Leaving" David Gray from Lost Songs
2. "Extra Savoir-Faire" They Might be Giants from John Henry
3. "Fearless" Pink Floyd from Meddle
4. "Doc's Rag" Jim Henry from The Wayback
5. "Ruben Remus" Bob Dylan and the Band from Basement Tapes
6. "Someday Soon" Great Big Sea from Great Big Sea
7. "Intermittently" Barenaked Ladies from Maybe You Should Drive
8. "The Ocean" Peter Mulvey from Ten Thousand Mornings
9. "No Mother" Old 97s from Drag It Up
10. "Jenny and the Tower" Vance Gilbert from Fugitives

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Fighting 'Bum

My first Fighting Bob guest blog is up. A no-prize to anyone who spots the mistake.

Sad News

For all you Richard Shindell fans: Mavis died this past Sunday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wisconsin Wednesday: Ixnay on the ABOR-TAY

Okay, before we can go on, you need to go into your bathroom and get a tube of toothpaste. Go on. I'll wait.

Got one? Good. Take off the cap and gently squeeze. Toothpaste comes out the end, right? Okay, clean that up.

Now, squeeze with one hand while you use a finger from your other hand to plug up the opening to the tube. What happened? It was harder for the toothpaste to come out, but some finally escaped. Clean up that mess, too.

Finally--and this is the last one, I promise--put the cap back on the toothpaste. Give the tube a good, hard, squeeze. Harder. Harder still. Whoa! Too hard!

Your toothpaste tube probably did not actually explode, since they make those things out of steel or something, but you can probably imagine the worst case scenario: The squeezing kept getting worse until finally the thing exploded.

Most of you are pretty smart (the ones of you who actually squirted toothpaste all over your house while reading this? Not so smart) and can see where I'm going here. Our little experiment is my latest contribution to the TABOR debate. And it encapsulates everything Republicans are doing wrong.

Look, I'm a regular guy. I have a job. I own a house. And I, you know, pay taxes, too. A lot of them. Sometimes, I feel squeezed.

The school district where I teach is also pretty squeezed, which explains at least part of the reason why I'm squeezed as a taxpayer. The fact that Wisconsin is among the top ten of all states in prison spending, transportation spending, and education spending is a part of that, too. What TABORites want to do is cap the tube of toothpaste. And they've been trying that, in one form or another, for more than a decade.

Think back, for example, to the first moves in this direction. In the early nineties, Wisconsin taxpayers and agencies were starting to feel the squeeze. So the legislature tried to put a finger over the opening of the toothpaste tube in the form of school spending changes: the QEO, revenue caps, and a commitment to find 2/3 of school costs from state coffers. That led to a near-immediate relief in property taxes, but costs at schools kept rising and the toothpaste started splurting out of the tube again.

In fact, every single Republican proposal to address the concerns of taxpayers has been an ineffectual finger over the mouth of the toothpaste tube, up to and including TABOR talk (support for which boggles my mind, as it cements in place the current unfair tax structure) and the "tax freeze" business. Let me make my position on this clear:

The problem is not that we don't have a cap on our tube. The problem is that no one is trying to stop the squeezing.

(This is my common complaint with Republicans: They're all about "responsibility" but they want to wait until there's a mess and force you to clean it up--think about Republicans' drug or abortion policies--instead of providing you with better choices before you make the mess.)

Even with an iron-clad cap like TABOR would be, the squeezing, without relief, only means that at some point down the road, the tube will pop open, and then there will be toothpaste everywhere. And I'm not cleaning it up!

This is, of course, what has happened in Colorado over the last decade. Sure, taxes are low and there is considerably less squeeze in that arena, but services were slashed, tuition skyrocketed, and infrastructure crumbled. Sounds like there's Colgate on the mirror, there.

Now, Wisconsin TABORites will talk about how adjustments to our TABOR would allow for greater flexibility than Colorado's law. Fine. But it still addresses the problem ass-backwards. TABOR only tries to cap the tube, not address the squeezing.

TABORites will also be more than happy to explain how TABOR does address the squeezing. "If their hands are tied," TABORites will say, referring to those lousy elected officials who can't control themselves when it comes to spending, "then they have to stop squeezing!" Problem is, those elected officials are being squeezed, and that's why there's a problem in the first place!

Do you really think Milwaukee Public Schools--I'm being local here, I know, but this is the situation I know best--really wants to hit the revenue cap every year at the same time it's laying off staff and closing schools? Of course not! And if anyone tells you that the board members--many of whom I know personally--are just unable to control themselves, then clearly they've never been in that position. The corollary to my position above:

We are being squeezed because no one is doing anything to address the cost side of the issue!

In almost every sector of government, the cost of doing business is increasing faster than inflation, wages, and population growth. This is in part due to items that the state could very well step in and control if they had the political will to do it. It's things like repealing truth in sentencing, which has ratcheted our corrections budget way up. Or like doing something about the spiraling costs of health care or prescription drugs. Or making sure we get full reimbursement from the feds on Medicare and school funding. Or cutting the sacred gas tax cow.

And, look, I'm not saying Democrats have exactly been blazing the trail on this the way they should be. But if the only thing the legislative leadership wants to talk about is putting their fingers or some kind of band-aid over the opening to the tube, something's going to blow up eventually. And it just seems smarter to stop the squeeze first.

(Sorry this is late and link-less; I was home sick today and still spent the better part of the afternoon reading Julius Caesar essays. I may get it gussied up for a post over at Fighting Bob where, like Stacie and Jason, I'll be doing some guesting for the near future.)

Wisconsin Wednesday: Yak Yak Yak

If you're driving in Milwaukee right now, take a moment an spin your radio up and down the AM (or even FM) dial. (If you're not driving in Milwaukee right now, use your imagination.) What kind of talk radio do you hear? That's right: Wingnut radio.

On the one channel, you've got local guys. On the other, you've got many of the major national yakkers--like Limbaugh and Hannity (on tape delay)--followed by another local bobblehead. (One of these days I'm going to lay into Belling the way Belling lays into teachers, but first I have to figure out how to turn off the logic and compassion areas of my brain.)

While it's true that we get two NPR channels--one that carries the news programming and one that has state-wide call-ins and "Talk of the Nation"--those public radio types are all about balance, so you are as likely to find right-wing points of view as left or center. There is no station in Milwaukee devoted to good liberal news and talk.

Well, my buddy Scott is fed up, too. He's started a petition to bring Air America Radio to Milwaukee's airwaves. Milwaukee is the largest media market in the state, and one of the most reliably Democratic-voting cities, and we have nothing. (I believe that the vast majority of the listeners to the wingnut talkers are the sub- and exurbanites, not us city dwellers.) Go sign the petition, even if you're not in Milwaukee, if you believe that those of us not represented by the opinions of bobbleheads should have a home on Milwaukee's AM dial. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Disclaimer Time

Ms. Lauren over to the Femimiste posted a disclaimer last week--stuff that her readers should really know before opening their big mouths. Dorcasina followed up with her own disclaimer, things her university students should know before entering her class.

Makes me wish I could have my own disclaimer for my students. Sadly, it's not the sort of thing I could really give kids and get away with, but here's what I would do if I could:

  1. I have been teaching high school English for (gasp) almost a decade. In that time, I have taught probably close to a thousand students just like or very similar to you. And while something always happens to surprise me, rest assured that there is very little chance that anything you say or do to me will be new, original, unique, or particularly memorable, unless you are more creative than your predecessors.

    If I haven't quit teaching before now, your criticisms of my teaching style are certainly not going to push me over the edge. You can also feel free to criticize my looks, clothes, voice, bald spot, gait, shoes, handwriting, choice of chalk, or anything else that strikes your fancy, and none of it will bother me. Let's face it: My self-esteem really just doesn't depend on what some fifteen year old thinks of me.

    [Stealing this line directly from Dorcasina] If I don't like you, it's probably because you are a) dumb, b) belligerent, c) rude, d) unkind, or e) arrogant. If you are certain none of these applies, then I guarantee that the reason is a).

  2. Physical threats and intimidation also do not work. I have great health care and, frankly, could use some time off. Take your best shot.

  3. If you have a question, concern, issue, or problem, in particular about the way I run the class or why your grade is the way it is, the best time to ask me is, surprisingly, not the middle of class when I'm trying to teach and your classmates are trying to learn. Sadly, I never leave my classroom, because there's always a big pile of work for me to do. So, yes, I'm here before school, after school, between classes, and even during lunch. I am happy to talk to you then.

  4. I am not here to be your friend. That's not my job. There's a word for someone who gets paid to be other people's friend, and, you'll notice, that word is noticeably absent from my job description.

    I will not regale you with tales about my private life. Do not ask me about my wife, my weekend, my hobbies, my taste in music, my car, and the like. If I want you to know something, I will tell you. If I don't tell you something, clearly it is because I do not want you to know it.

    This is a two-way street. I want you to tell me if you are in some kind of trouble or need help--I assure you I will do everything in my power to assist you or find someone who can--but this does not mean that I need to know every detail of your relationships, your recreational drug use, the parties you go to, your backstabbing friends, your body functions, and so on. The "experts" all say that schools should be treating students like customers. Think about it: Do you really want your customers to tell you their life's stories as they order that Big Mac?

  5. If you address me or, through your actions in class, show me disrespect, it becomes that much harder for me to show you respect in class. When you come into class on the first day, I (usually) don't know you. I make it a practice not to dig up your transcripts or go scrounging around asking other teachers for their opinions of you. If at some point it seems like I don't respect you any more, it is because of something you said or did in my classroom.

  6. The English class you are has not been designed to make you, individually, miserable. I do not sit around at night and devise as many clever ways as I can to ruin your life. If I assign work of some description, it is because I believe that it will improve your skills with the language in some way, shape, or form. If you do not like a particular assignment, rest assured that I did not give it to you just to piss you off.

    Remember that your high-school education is a cooperative exercise: I will do my part, but I expect some effort from you. If you choose not to do an assignment, that is your choice. If you choose not to hold up your end of the bargain, again, that's your choice. I will make every effort to help you learn the skills you need to succeed in the Real World or College or Wherever, but you actually have to do the learning. Basically, I get paid whether you learn or not, but it's in everyone's best interests if you at least try.

    One additional note: I do know what I'm doing. I've been here long enough to get the hang of it. I borrowed a lot of money to go to school for a lot of years to learn how to do this. I read books, journals, and articles to keep up in my field. If you decide not to trust me, again, that's your choice.

  7. In addition to knowing what I am doing, I also take great pride in it. Ever since I was your age, even a little younger, I've known that I wanted to be a teacher. My whole educational career from high school through college led me to this moment in this classroom teaching this curriculum. That is something that weighs heavily on me, and I take this job seriously.

    I stay up late grading papers (that's why I'm always cranky), reading books, blogging, and planning lessons. I go to training, conferences, classes, committee meetings, and union meetings, because I want to make sure that your work environment and mine are the best they can be. I practice what I preach by writing and writing about writing when I'm not teaching.

    And, while it's true that I can't quit my job--seeing as how I'm not really qualified to do anything else--I don't want to. I love what I do, even when I hate how a particularly poor group of students makes me feel. In the end, I'm not asking you to love what you do in my class. All I'm asking is that recognize that I do what I do because it is both my love and my calling. Once you get that through your thick little adolescent skulls, we just might have something here.

More on NCLB Underfunding

Chris Correa does the research so I don't have to. If remember a few days back, I noted that Bush's proposed NCLB budget drops in real dollars Wisconsin's share by $2 million; I noted that it meant 2000 teachers could lose jobs. Chris gives us the per-pupil cost, not of the real-dollar cuts, but of the total undefrunding per state.

Wisconsin is underfunded by about $164 million. That translates to what looks like a paltry $169.03.

But let me put that in perspective: My district has about 100,000 students. Really. In other words, NCLB underfunding costs my district alone $17 million. The last several years we've been closing schools and laying off hundreds of teachers because we've been running deficits in the $15-$20 million deficits. How many kids are missing out on their music or phy ed because we're giving up Title I money to NCLB requirements?

(Hat tip: shari, again.)

Teaching Tuesday: Class Size

Sure, you can read the studies and position papers all you want, but no one has written a more eloquent treatise on the subject of class size than teacherken:
I have told you about three students. And the other 29? I don't know what any student understands until I hear or read his or her words. Then I should respond. But this class has 32 students, and I have 45 minutes...

If I use 15 minutes for direct instruction, I have less than a minute per student to ensure understanding, answer questions, or pursue ideas invoked by the instruction. What might I be missing about my students? Of what are they thereby deprived? I don't know, because I have too many students, and not enough time to find out. [. . .]

I agonize over the students that I might not reach because I don't have time to find out what makes them tick. Is Shoshana not talking because she is shy, or because she doesn't understand what is going on? How about Wolodimir a few years ago, who actively participated in discussions, yet never handed in any written work? Why did it take me 15 weeks to realize that despite being promoted every year, he was reading at a third grade level in 8th grade? [. . .]

I'd like to be able to talk with all of my parents at least once a term, but I can't. Which would I choose: talking with Roy's parents about why he can't sit still, advising Nancy how she can reorganize her essay, or making the modifications to my lesson to account for Daniel who is blind and Maria who is hard of hearing and needs to read my lips?

Each student is entitled to be called by name without my having to look at a seating chart. I have a pretty good memory, but how does Ophelia feel when I'm still calling her Aurelia after three weeks? What about Sandor, who passes me in the hall with a cheery ``Hello, Mr. Bernstein" the second week of school, and I'm desperately trying to remember his name, and cannot respond except with a neutral ``How are you?"

Each student is due respect for personal integrity. [. . .]

Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the costs of reducing class size, such as building more classrooms and hiring more teachers? But what about the savings? We know from a recent federal study how poorly many people write. Miscommunication in business and government costs a fortune. Had I more time to correct Scott's essays, perhaps his parents wouldn't have to pay for a remedial writing course in college. Could not a reduction in class size also reduce miscommunication?
Now excuse me while I trundle off to school to my classes of 37 and 40 . . .

Monday, March 14, 2005

My Music Monday

"March" © 2002 Jay Bullock

You came home like a lion
The way March comes in
You were screaming and crying
About some supposed sin
You said I took you for granted
And that I was not always there
You came home like a lion
You chewed me up like a bear
On the first day of March, it came undone
Like your blouse in old passion, or unthinking action
And you left me cold, like the winter’s heart
When it all came undone on the first day of March
About a week or so later
You were at my door
Your easel and all your paintings
Taking up my floor
You told me I should be grateful
That you were so kind to forgive
About a week or so later
We were at it again
And by the Ides you were gone, you’d just up and left
On St. Patrick’s day, I got a call from L. A.
You said that out west was the place for your art
As if that explained why you left in the middle of March
Was this an April Fools? A month-long gag?
Were you out for revenge, is that what you planned?
I do not think I that had treated you bad
And now I won’t go out like a lamb
The month is over like we are
Though I hear you’re back in town
An old friend of ours tells me
That he’s seen you around
I suppose I should be wary
Won’t throw caution to these winds
But the month is over like we are
And the new year’s about to begin
My new lover says not to speak your name
A finger to my lips, like a gentle kiss
And if I see you again, I will know your heart
And I will not speak your name from this last day of March

It seems seasonally appropriate. I'd let you listen, but I can't upload the mp3 to GarageBand right now; if anyone is willing to host it for a week or so, let me know in comments. Thanks!

Happy Pi(e) Day!

It's 3.14--Pi(e) Day. Last year, Pi(e) Day fell on a Sunday, so my wife and I had friends over for a celebration (Stacie--the bamboo is still thriving!). We baked pies and pie-like things and all marked 1:59 as it passed. Mmmmm. Pi.

As Pi(e) Day is a Monday this year, and neither me nor my wife has had the time/ energy/ health/ gumption to clean the house and bake, we're just celebrating at home among ourselves. But you guys can use this thread to share your pi--or pie--memories.

To get you started, here's a story from me: Once in college a classmate (a guy named Arlen Arden--real creepy case) emailed me pi to a million digits. This would have been 1994 or so, when the whole email thing was new and exciting. It crashed the school's servers. Crashed 'em dead.

Is it Any Wonder My School is Losing Teachers Again This Year?

Wisconsin's share of NCLB is seeing a decline, in real dollars, of more than $2 million next year. Overall, our share of NCLB is underfunded by $164 million. One teacher runs you about $75,000. That's more than 2000 teachers we could have in classes. But, no.

Check your own state's status here. (Via An Old Soul.)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Too Busy to Blog

I actually wrote something last night for here, but Blogger ate it. It's been doing that a lot lately. Grrr.

So, talk among yourselves, and swing back by tomorrow for new content.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I'd Like to See Owen Defending WEAC

Given how much he hates WEAC, Campaign Finance Reform, and the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board:
Last November, Democratic Sen. Bob Wirch was in the fight of his political life against Republican challenger Reince Priebus. [. . .] Normally, an incumbent would not be viewed as vulnerable as the Pleasant Prairie Democrat was, but a couple of items conspired to make him so. 1) He riled Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce, a powerful business advocacy group, which simply had the will, money and power to make him vulnerable. And 2) he angered Gov. Jim Doyle when Wirch voted to override a veto of a concealed weapons bill.

He was the only incumbent Democrat in the Senate on whose behalf the governor did not appear or do a fund-raiser for during the fall campaign.

Wirch survived, but this is less a testament to his own political acumen than to the intervention of yet another player from outside his district. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, poured in $569,270 for Wirch.

This was to counter spending by WMC, which spent an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 in its effort to boot out Wirch. We say estimated because, under current law, this group did not have to report its spending. [. . .]

But who elected WEAC and WMC to wield so much power--WMC with the ability to oust an incumbent, barring a bigger outside giver stepping in, and WEAC, in this case, with the ability to save him? [. . .]

Total spending in the Wirch-Priebus race was $2.2 million, according to Common Cause in Wisconsin. But, combined, the two candidates spent about $530,000, or perhaps just a quarter of the total. That means folks other than the candidates essentially waged separate campaigns in which they got to shape the issues and characterize the candidates, rather than the candidates making their own cases.
Other members of Wisconsin's right wing--Lance, for example--have been on this anti-CFR trip, too. I'm not sure Mike Ellis's bill is perfect, but it makes more sense than what we have now, a system that, as shown over the last several cycles has proven to be pretty broken.

Atrios Would Call This Post "Bobo's World"

Since Atrios has a habit of pointing out how the good people in David Brooks's exurban red-state imagination are often not so good.

I, on the other hand, just think it's depressing:
Gunman kills 7, himself at Brookfield hotel
Four others seriously injured in shootings at church meeting

A Waukesha County man opened fire at a church service at a busy Brookfield hotel this afternoon, killing seven people and wounding four others before killing himself, police said.

Four victims and the gunman were dead when police arrived on the scene at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel, Brookfield Police Chief Daniel Tushaus said. Three others died after being taken to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa.

Six of the dead were males, ages 15, 17, 44, 50, 58 and 72. The other was a 55-year-old woman. The four surviving victims included three females, including a 10-year-old who was in stable condition at Children's Hospital, and a 20-year-old man.

Police identified the shooter as a 45-year-old man. He used a handgun in the shootings, police said. No motive was immediately known. [. . .]

The shootings occurred at a regularly scheduled Living Church of God gathering in a meeting room at the hotel shortly before 1 p.m. Police said the gunman was in some way affiliated with the church.

The church had met weekly at the Brookfield Sheraton for the past four or five years, police said.

No other suspects are being sought in the incident.

Slow Down, Your Honor

Four words: 83 in a 65.

I guess that's really two words and two numbers. Either way, Tom Barrett should know better. Money quote: "Lt. Ted Meagher of the State Patrol said the trooper who issued the ticket told his superiors that Barrett was cooperative. He said the trooper wasn't sure who Barrett was. 'He said something like, "The name sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it," ' said Meagher. '(Barrett) said, "I'm the mayor of Milwaukee." He was very cordial." '

Don't Fence Me In

Hey, all. I signed the Online Coalition's petition. Did you?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday Random Ten (Annotated)

1. Open iTunes. 2. Set to Random. 3. Blog results.

1. "Message to My Friend" John Scofield and Pat Metheny from I Can See Your House From Here: This is the "acoustic" number from this generally excellent collaboration. It's a slow, jazzy blues, with John and Pat doubling up for the melody and alternating solos. I'm pretty sure this is the only record the two worked together on, though they made a great duo, and the, erm, synergy, I think they call it, is fantastic.

2. "Beautiful World" Ellis Paul from Sweet Mistakes: This album is a collection of B-sides, outtakes, and remixes. "Beautiful World" is a number Ellis sings a cappella to close the album. It's kind of a reminder that while things might be seeming to fall apart all around you, it's important to keep your sense of wonder and hold on to what's important. Some day I will tell you all my Ellis Paul stories, but I have too much work to do now . . .

3. "Where You Can Find Me" Darryl Purpose from Right Side of Zero: Not one of my favorite DP songs, but it is from an otherwise excellent album--"Right Side of Zero" was his debut, and it immediately established his credibility as a songwriter and guitarist. DP's got a very intriguing backstory, from his days as a professional blackjack player to the time he spent as a peace activist. That breadth of experience lends a very philosophical and wizened bent to even a simple love song. The chorus: "I don't know all the places I've been/ I've forgotten things I have done/ I can only imagine what I'll see/ But I know where I'll be: Where you can find me."

4. "Get Me to the Church on Time" Connie Evingson from I Have Dreamed: A sultry version of the Lerner and Loewe classic--it starts slow and quiet, building to a horn-filled conclusion--very different from what you might remember Sinatra doing. This CD was a gift from my in-laws, and I initially wasn't all that thrilled to get an album of standards by a singer I had never heard of. But Evingson has grown on me.

5. "Tilman Co." Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer from : The story of Dave Carter is one of the most depressing ever; it's further evidence that if there's a god, he/she/it certainly hates the world to have beautiful music. I mean, why would he/she/it take Dave at his prime and leave us with, say, the Rolling Stones who you know just need the billions from their new album. (I have real hostility about this sort of thing.) The song is from the last album before he passed, a record that, if you were looking for the best songwriting ever wouldn't be a bad place to start.

6. "I'll Be True to You" The Monkees from The Monkees: A Davey Jones love song. What else do you need to know?

7. "Tell Me Why" Common Faces from Real Life: My wife and I sometimes think we are cursed, since whenever we book a good band for something (in this case, our wedding) they break up shortly after. The Common Faces were probably Madison, WI's best acoustic group, with a jazzy, folky, funky groove thing going on. One of the best live shows I ever saw was the three-member core of the band--guitarist Asa Miura with husband-and-wife team Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines (currently with the Moon Gypsies) on fiddle and bass--completely acoustic at the Cafe Carpe. Not even a vocal mic. The energy was unbelievable; the room was packed. That was a good night.

8. "Christmas Carol" The Nields from Love and China: This is a pretty sad song when you realize it's the Christmas after Nerissa's divorce from David . . .

9. "You Stay Here" Richard Shindell from Courier (Free Bonus CD): This EP came free with the purchase of Courier, Richard's live CD, when it first came out. It's got a few additional tracks, including this one. One thing he can do that I wish I could is really paint a picture without being too wordy. The simple repetitiveness of this song--with only a few words changing in each verse--belies the complex themes behind it. Sarah and I are lucky enough to have tickets this week to see RS with Tracy Grammer this Wednesday at the aforementioned Cafe Carpe. If it's not sold out, and you can spare a weeknight, I recommend it. (They're playing Tuesday, too.)

10. "Am I too Late" Old 97s from Satellite Rides: Old 97s may be the best alt-country band recording right now. This is from a couple of records ago; the drummer is the star of this song.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

That Time of Year

DPI has announced that 171 schools have applied to be a part of Milwaukee's voucher program next year. That's more that the 154 applicants last year, and way more than the 117 choice schools open last September. (Last September is a distinction that will be important in a moment.)

One disturbing element in this whole thing--and there are so many to choose from--is this: "The new batch of applicants includes some established schools that have decided to join the program--for example, Milwaukee Lutheran High School--but many are start-ups." One of the arguments that I make regularly about the choice system as it exists here in Milwaukee is that it establishes very appealing incentives for anyone with a few friends and an occupancy permit to set up a "school" and start collecting tax dollars. (I have the highest respect for Milwaukee Lutheran--and there are many other schools, the majority, in fact, that do good work.)

How can this be? you might ask, especially those of you not from Wisconsin. Well, the answer is simple: Our Legislature, in its Infinite Wisdom (or, perhaps, blinded by its Sheer Idiocy) refuses to establish even a single academic standard that these choice schools must meet. Not. A. Single. One.

The only mechanism in place to make sure our taxpayer money is spent well is that a school must have a sound business plan. Does it matter what they plan to teach the kids? Goodness, no, we shouldn't interfere in that. But we have to make sure they'll stay afloat!

And, remember, these restrictions only came into place a year ago--after more than a dozen years of choice in Milwaukee. And these rules only came about because of massive fraud going on at some of these fly-by-night schools. You might think that problems like the ones described in the link at Mandela school would automatically be solved by the market. You know, parents would pull their kids out and the school was closed. Not so. As I wrote last spring:
The sad case of Alex's Academics of Excellency (yes, that's its real name) is instructive. This is a school that was ordered closed by Milwaukee's building inspectors in 1999, back when it was just Alex's Academic of Excellence. After moving repeatedly during the 1999-2000 school year, that summer the school's CEO (a convicted violent rapist) was jailed for tax fraud in an unrelated case. This was around the same time a private voucher program was refusing to send students to the school because it did not meet their academic standards. By the fall of 2003, the school was still open (now known as Alex's Acadmics of Excellence) and getting my taxpayer money while staff got stoned and drunk instead of teaching the children, and the state had to explain how its hands were tied.
This market approach to education is just plain stupid. It's like, stupid-and-a-half. Continuing on in that post from last spring:
The solution is clearly not the market--and what we're really talking about here is a free (or at least free-er) market for education. In any market, there are winners and there are losers. But we're not talking about losers like New Coke or Daewoo here--we're talking about children. Do we really, really want to say that the market, which guarantees losers among the winners, is the best way to educate our children?
This is doubly important based on the second thing that disturbs me about DPI's new list: "The list includes at least one person who was a key figure in a large voucher school recently closed by DPI order. Ricardo Brooks, who was an administrator of Academic Solutions, is listed as the administrator of a proposed school to be called Northside High School." Why does this matter? Because Academic Solutions is this year's poster child for failing choice schools.

I know this not just because of what I read, but because of what my students tell me--my students who have come to my school after Academic solutions closed following what can only be described as a riot. And they verify--and elaborate on--all the things I have read. Things like how the teachers stopped coming in to work after they stopped getting paid in November. Or things like absolute fraud in reporting the number students they should get paid for, so bad they called in the D.A.. Or things like this: "One parent, L* S*, said her daughter, T*, 16, had been doing well at the school, where she enrolled as a sophomore this year. She said her daughter had been getting F's at Milwaukee Marshall High School but was getting nearly straight A's at Academic Solutions." The curriculum of that school--confirmed for me by former students and by Milwaukee police officers who were there--was videos. Why not? The teachers aren't there. So the girl got an A for watching videos. Do you think that she really was getting the education she missed at the other school?

Ricardo Brooks, the guy from Academic Solutions who is looking to open a new school, said at the time of their appeal to stay open, "The school will be safe. [. . .] We don't have a bad school. We have a great school." This guy must have been blind to what was going on under his nose--serious fights every day. And now he wants to try again? Give me a break!

Any expansion of the voucher program will only lead to more of this. And this should serve as a warning to anyone in other states considering "choice." Let them look at Milwaukee: It is not what I would choose.

Where's My Hat?

I may need to throw it into the ring against Kohl. The gazillionaire senator voted for the final bankruptcy bill. Not that I think I could win, but, dammit, this is just bad law.

Russ Blogs!


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Owen's At It, Again

I've been giving Owen a free ride lately, what with my being on hiatus, and stuff. That ends today.

Today Owen's off on this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial. Now, I am not one to praise the paper very often, but their editorial stance on election reform is both reasonable and fair. They take the stance (and I concur) that Wisconsin's voting laws, which, yes, are "liberal," are responsible for our higher-than-average turnout and great participation. Messing around with the laws without good cause, they say, is a bad idea, with this specific editorial arguing against uber-strict photo-ID rules.

Owen, who has been doing a toned-down Wayne Madsen impression, is convinced that something is not kosher in (Democratic-voting) Milwaukee, and the fault is our "liberal" voting laws:
No, [he writes,] identification fraud hasn’t been proven, nor can it ever be proven.  If voters do not currently have to prove their identity, how is it possible to prove identification fraud?  [. . .] What we can look at is a preponderance of the evidence.  We have thousands more votes than we have voters, which indicates that people may have voted more than once.  We have well over a thousand same-day registration forms for which no voter can be verified, indication than many people may have provided false identification.  There are many indications that massive voter fraud took place in Wisconsin, but it will never be proven to a certainty.
What I see (and have seen, as a Milwaukee voter) is septuagenarians who are overtaxed on a 16-hour day.

Look, I am pretty well plugged in to the Milwaukee Democratic/ liberal/ leftist/ Green/ anarchist community. I go to meetings. I'm on email lists that would make Castro blush. If there were a concerted effort to perpetrate fraud in Milwaukee, I would have heard about it. Hell, I might have been leading it. But no such effort existed. Owen (and the conservative yakkers on the radio) are trying to weave innocuous threads into some tapestry of Democratic evil-doing. It just isn't true.

More importantly, let's look at some of the editorial Owen didn't quote, information you should probably take into account:
The new rule would make voting more of a hassle for the 123,000 Wisconsin voting-age residents who, according to the Department of Transportation, lack a state driver's license or ID card and for those residents who lose or forget their cards. The bill's provision to offer both the license and ID card free of charge lessens the hassle only somewhat. (And, by the way, that would cost the state an estimated $1 million per year. [Where's the "why we need TABOR" now?])

[. . . ] The Legislature's premature fix would move Wisconsin into a tie with South Carolina for the most stringent identification requirements in the country. That's not good company; the Dixie state has a sordid history of denying voting rights to African-Americans.
Seriously. Think about that: Do we want to be more like Minnesota or like South Carolina? Y'all?

Wisconsin Wednesday: The All-In-One Post

No One Listens to Me
Not that I could have gone to a daytime meeting, anyway (and I have a meeting until 6:30 tonight so I can't even go to the evening part of the program), but if state legislators care what anyone in the state's largest urban center thinks about the next biennial budget, it will only come from people willing and able to drive an hour or so to Watertown.

I mean, it's not like I don't have things to say. I do. Like, I think Jim Doyle blew it by slipping in a proposal to tax internet downloads. The idea just seems riddled with holes (Stacie [née and again] Rosenzweig has a good run-down). On the other hand, I think the Republicans are also crazy to want to hamstring everyone from your sewerage district to your school district with a tax freeze.

Not that I could have said anything, 'cuz, you know, they don't seem to want my opinion.

Belated Sympathy
to Russ Feingold. His mother Sylvia passed away last week.

Tommy Scores
How many damn jobs can one former HHS secretary hold? Looks like two three. Who's a lucky ducky now?

Why We Don't Need TABOR
You often hear Republicans and conservative bloggers whining about the "liberal media" presenting slanted news. From where I sit, all I hear is the TABOR drumbeat. (If you want me to re-hash my opposition to it, I will. Later.) Why do we need TABOR?, you might ask them. They say, Our taxes are stifling! It's a Tax Hell!

Yeah, I guess that's why Wisconsin's economy--unfrozen taxes and all--is kicking butt. To wit:
The weaker dollar and stronger corporate profits mean that demand for capital goods made in Wisconsin will be extremely healthy in the United States and abroad this year, he said.

Wisconsin produces more than its share of such goods, so the boom will help it more than the rest of the nation. The weaker dollar in particular means that the machinery and industrial parts made in Wisconsin can be sold overseas at competitive prices, Nichols said. That will lead to a boom in manufacturing in the state.
Now, I don't know that Jim Doyle deserves all the credit--Bush and his high-deficit, weak-dollar policies have a hand in it--but I think that Republicans' complaining about how dismal our economy is are starting to ring pretty hollow.

My Sleepy Head

The paper's headline this morning: High schoolers may soon sleep in. That also means me. There are some issues--like how our idiot superintendent can't just unilaterally declare start times--but I may get a break next year.

I'm not fully persuaded that it's the best thing to do, but it may ease a little tension at the folkbum household.

Wisconsin Wednesday: Call Kohl, Kind

I wrote last about Kohl's apparent support for the horrible bankruptcy bill working its way through the Senate. It is not too late to contact him about it, even though the cloture vote happened today, and debate is almost over. If we try hard enough, we might still be able to get his corporate head out of his corporate rear long enough to vote nay on this puppy. Hie thee to a phone:
Washington Office
Phone: (202) 224-5653
Fax: (202) 224-9787

Milwaukee Office
Phone: (414) 297-4451 or 1-800-247-5645 (toll free in Wisconsin)
Fax: (414) 297-4455

Madison Office
Phone: (608) 264-5338
Fax: (608) 264-5473

Eau Claire Office
Phone: (715) 832-8424
Fax: (715) 832-8492

Appleton Office
Phone: (920) 738-1640
Fax: (920) 738-1643

La Crosse Office
Phone: (608) 796-0045
Fax: (608) 796-0089
In addition, it seems 3rd CD Dem Ron Kind seems to be supporting the bill, too. Make another call while you're at it:
PH: (202) 225-5506
FX: (202) 225-5739

La Crosse
PH: (608) 782-2558
FX: (608) 782-4588

Eau Claire
PH: (715) 831-9214
FX: (715) 831-9272
This bill is bad for seniors, veterans, the uninsured, anyone who can't afford attorneys to set up legal trusts, you, me, and everybody in between. It was penned by credit card lobbyists (literally, by some accounts) and the Republicans (and some Dems) have shown their true stripes by voting down every single amendment meant to protect average Americans. Every. Single. One.

You know, I keep telling my wife not to worry, that I won't file to run against Kohl in the primary. But this is the kind of crap that makes me reconsider it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Teaching Tuesday

First off, Ms. Lauren of Feministe is doing some practice teaching with one of my favorite poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It brings back memories, as I did that poem during my own student teaching days.

Second, let me argue early and loudly for some better Geography teaching in our nation's middle schools. Well, at least my district's middle schools. My 9th graders are doing a research project, a simple comparison-contrast thing involving two cities, Milwaukee (kids ought to know a little something about where they live, no?) and some international city, i.e., a city outside of the United States.

"Can I do Denver?" a student asks. No, I tell him, since Denver is not outside of the United States.

"Oh, you mean like Kansas City?" (I wish I were making these up.) Again, I explain, Kansas City is in the U.S. We want something in a foreign country.

"Can I do France?" That's better, I say, but France is a whole country; pick a city in France.

"How about Hawaii?" (By now I'm feeling frustrated.) Hawaii, I explain, is neither a city nor outside of the U.S.

(And it goes on like that.)

Add to it the argument when a student insisted that it wasn't plagiarism if he changed a word or two, and--I'd better stop. We did the research yesterday and today; we start outlining tomorrow. Don't even ask how it went when we found percentages from their opinion surveys . . .

Iron Blog

It's back, with a Battle on about "objective journalism." Expect lots of puns from me in the comments: "I object!" "Jeff Gannon sure used his object!" and so on.

I'm not proud. It's just what I do.

Inernational Women's Day

Check out a sampling of some of my favorite women songwriters:

Carrie Newcomer
Lucy Kaplansky
Patty Larkin
Ani DiFranco
Susan Werner
The Nields
Patty Griffin

Monday, March 07, 2005

Why do I write songs?

At the Peggy Seeger workshop Saturday, she started with that question. And, since I came in right at the start time, I got stuck in the chair just to her left, so she also started with me.

You'd think, after doing this for fifteen years, i would have a better answer. I don't, especially not without time to plan.

My standard answer--which I'm not terribly proud of--is that the short form of the song is just the right size to get my head around. I don't have time to pound out the novel in my head (someday I'll tell you about it). Most of the time I even really don't have time to do much long-form blogging. (Full disclosure--I don't even really have time for songwriting, either.)

Now, that doesn't mean that I don't think songwriting is as hard or as challenging as fiction or even blogging. It is, and its demands are very precise and, in many ways, more challenging than prose.

So why do I do it? I can't say I know for sure. That's going to be my challenge this week.