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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RIP, Jaime Escalante

by folkbum

Occasionally, when my students have me really, really mad, I will swear at them, "Sweet Jaime Escalante's ghost!" I never actually paid attention to whether such an invocation was meaningful; I guess it is now.

From the Department of Phobias I Probably Shouldn't Reveal Department

by folkbum

I do not irrationally fear very many things. However, it just simply freaks me the freak out that there exists a distinct possibility that a bunch of scientists with their "physics" will create a ginormous black freaking hole that swallows us all.

So far so good, it seems. But still ...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Look out for the Bull

By Keith R. Schmitz

Cruising through the hills and valleys of New England this afternoon, when I am stuck with a rental with no satellite radio boredom forces me to punch through the dial. So I happened to stumble upon former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs hosting his own call in show.

After apparently done with the major league dissembling of his guest, GOP attack puppy Ron Christie, Lou's first caller got on from Texas and started talking about how he was happy health care reform passed, because it would protect kids with pre-existing conditions from succumbing to life-threatening medical condition from lack of treatment. The caller cited the case of a little girl in Houston who was denied coverage and died of a heart condition.

That lit the Dobbster's fuse. He could have attacked the notion that the child was actually done in by actuaries. But why tacitly admit that health insurance engage in this practice when he can really be bold.

"That is total BS," he thundered. "There is nothing in the health care bill that bans pre-existing conditions because I've read the bill."

Um, maybe not close enough Lou, because the administration is already fighting the insurance companies' search for loopholes on this count.

Is he lying or mistaken? We don't know. But we do know that this sloppy use of the facts made the passage of this bill so difficult and still has many against the reforms. With these guys, everyday features the running of the bull.

ATT, Caterpillar health-care "tax" scares explained

by folkbum

It didn't take long once the health-care reform bill was all but a certainty before the Usual Suspects here (in comments) and across the Cheddarsphere (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8--I probably missed some) started braying that Corporate America was going to feel a pretty severe sting based on changes to the tax code contained in the HCR package. Earth-mover industry giant Caterpillar, for example, claimed it would have to fork over $100 million in just the first year based on this new bill. Or so commenters and bloggers claimed.

It seemed fishy to me at the time, but I didn't have the chance to go through and figure out exactly what it meant. But the other day apparently the Wall Street Journal--Corporate America's Official Spokesperson--ran an editorial rehashing the claims:
Yesterday AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health bill, in what has become a wave of such corporate losses. [. . .]

Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don't like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

On top of AT&T's $1 billion, the writedown wave so far includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks.
First of all, these are write-downs. Write-downs are, of course, different from normal expenses or regular write-offs; write-downs indicate the reduced future value of an asset. To be clear: These companies are not claiming gigantic new tax losses; they are saying some asset will be worth less in the future than they thought.

So what asset are these companies writing down? Ezra Klein explains:
When George W. Bush and the Republican Congress passed Medicare Part D in 2003, they were presented with a problem: The fact that the government was now offering prescription drug coverage might encourage these companies to dump the prescription drug coverage they were already offering employees. So Congress gave them a kickback: Companies that provide retiree drug benefits get a subsidy of about $1,300 per retiree per year in order to keep companies from ending their retiree drug plans at once and dumping everyone into Medicare. This subsidy is not just tax free but also tax deductible. Let me make sure that's clear: Not only did companies get a subsidy, but they could also deduct that subsidy from their taxes. Sweet deal.

This looked a bit nuts in retrospect, so Democrats ended the subsidy's deductibility. Again, let's be clear: They didn't end the subsidy. And they didn't make it taxable. They just said that it couldn't be used as a tax deduction.
The asset that these companies are writing down is free money from the feds. That's right--starting in 2004, the feds (read: taxpayers) began giving these companies free money to spend on their retirees' drug costs. And until this week, these companies also got to deduct the value of that free money from their taxes when they spent it.

Or, to put it yet another way: The new law demands that corporations pay taxes on the tax money we give them so that we don't spend tax money on pills for their retirees. Confusing? A little. But is this really something that conservative critics of the law ought to be hyping to the extent that they are? The fact that an essentially new (since 2004) corporate giveaway has lost its tax-deductible status?

When conservatives blog that ATT or Caterpillar will lose millions or billions because of "Obamacare," yeah, that sounds scary. But the truth--that these bloggers are defending not just tax giveaways to corporations but a loophole that lets those corporations double-deduct the giveaway--should shame those conservative bloggers.

Diane Ravitch Repents II

by folkbum

This time in an interview with Alan Borsuk.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Paul Ryan's Cajones II

by folkbum

Ryan, today: "By inviting market forces into health care, we can encourage a system where doctors, insurers and hospitals compete against one another for the business of informed consumers" (my emphasis).

Ryan, one month ago: One of only 19 House members (all Republicans) to vote against removing the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies.

FriTunes: Sometimes you gotta slap some bass edition

by folkbum

Amy Lavere.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New test results reinforce where state focus should be: Much earlier than high school

by folkbum

Last week I noted in passing this piece from Erin Richards at the Journal Sentinel, cryptically suggesting that her story spins positively a state designation for schools that the schools have seen as a kiss of death. (I teach in one of those schools; I have seen, to paraphrase something famous, the best minds of my generation spin wildly and paranoiacally out of control.)

That story is about Milwaukee Public Schools placed into "Tier 1" or "Tier 2" status. This is a new thing mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (you might know it as the "stimulus bill") of last year. In addition to the ridiculous "race to the top" competition, that law demanded that states identify its lowest performing schools and funnel some (non-competitive) school improvement grants their way, in order to fund one of the four reform models Richards explains in her story. (As I have noted last week, too, those models do not have track records of success, but they've continued to be what the US Dept. of Education demands under No Child Left Behind.) (Also: Watch for April's Bay View Compass, where I write about this a bit more in depth.)

So the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, using a formula that I don't fully have a handle on yet, compiled its list, and there are twelve high schools identified as the worst in the district and in the state.

Yesterday's news, though, was that Wisconsin's fourth- and eighth-grade students have fallen sharply in their reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is the only national standardized test and is pretty much the gold standard for measuring achievement. In addition, the NAEP found that Wisconsin's African American fourth-grade students performed worse in reading than in any other state or Washington, DC, and its eighth-grade African American students were almost at the bottom. An earlier release of data from the NAEP placed Milwaukee, specifically, near the bottom of the list among urban districts for fourth- and eighth-grade achievement. And there is no question that the bulk of Wisconsin's African American students go to school in MPS.

(Two caveats about the test before I move on: One, not all students in a state, district, or even school are tested, as the NAEP aims for a representative sample; and MPS has not emphasized the importance of this test among its students to the extent that it has the WKCE, the state test that actually affects us. This does not excuse or fully explain the low scores, which are appalling and ought to be a wake-up call, but this is important context.)

So here's the deal: As we learned in that first linked story above, the state's "Tier 1" and "Tier 2" schools are all high schools. Here we have NAEP results that make plain the fact that MPS students start high school dramatically behind, the state's list and laser-like focus seems mainly to be on these high schools, and then significantly (though, again, I don't have a full handle on the formula) on state tests taken about one and a quarter years into the four years that high schools have to work with teachers.

In short, we know Milwaukee's eighth-graders are dramatically behind, and we give high schools just a few months to fix them before we start applying labels of failure and threatening to fire all the high school teachers.

This is dumb.

One factor that I know is not considered in the formula for labeling high schools is a metric that MPS refers to as "value-added," which it defines as measuring "achievement growth for each school by calculating the increase in scale scores on the WKCE-CRT from year for essentially the same group of students in Reading and Mathematics, adjusted for demographic factors." In other words, comparing specific students' year-to-year scores to see if the school is doing anything to improve achievement in those specific students. Some high schools add significant value--taking low-performing students and helping them to achieve much better, if still low. (A student reading at the 8th-grade level on the 10th-grade test is not proficient, but if that student started 9th grade reading at a 5th-grade level, then the high school is doing a good job, we should all agree.) Some high schools add no value--leaving low-performing students just as far or farther behind.

Because figuring out the value-added numbers takes more data mining than other metrics, MPS doesn't have those data available beyond the 2006-2007 school year yet. But if you want to consider two representative schools from the state's "Tier 1" and "Tier 2" lists, we can see their value-added data from that year; it is on the last page of the school report cards available here. One of the schools, the Washington High School of Law, Education, and Public Service, has in its report card that its had low achievement and added little value in 2006-2007. South Division High School, on the other hand, had low achievement but high added value. And yet both schools face the same label of failure and threats from the state. Does it make sense to apply the same corrective actions to both schools?

The usual this-is-not-to-says apply: This is not to say that MPS high schools are all pony factories that smell like rainbows. Clearly, our high schools' graduation, attendance, behavior, and GPA data suggest that they have struggles and issues even if not noted by the NAEP. And this is not to say that I advocate complacency and maintenance of the status quo.

But this is to say that efforts by DPI under NCLB and ARRA are misguided and wasteful, and that the overwhelming data that we continue to collect clearly say that Milwaukee students' achievement deficits begin long before high school, even if high school is where they often become manifest. There are between eight and ten years of school where intervention can be better targeted before students even walk into high schools, on top of--I know you've been waiting for me to say it--a desperate need for investment in the community outside of school such that parents are better equipped to support their children as they learn to read and write and think critically and, importantly, behave in school. (I love the Violence Free Zone mentors in my school and I know they do a great job, but again they're working with kids who have had 15 or 16 years of screw-up in their lives before anyone bothered to intervene.)

How much longer will we continue to blame the wrong people and fight the wrong fights?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's in the bill

by folkbum

With the health care bill about to become law--and, let's be clear, this was done with above-board and legal and usual Congressional practice, not even with "deem and pass" or reconciliation--I thought I would try to find easy info about what's in it and who's affected by it. Here are two good sources.

The Wall Street Journal walks through the timeline of changes in coverage and taxes. Note that even the conservative WSJ helps to point out the lie that "the taxes start now."

The LA Times lays out much of the same, but some more and different, information about the bill in convenient chart form. And you know how much I loves me some charts!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Debunking that "The Taxes Start Now" Lie

by folkbum

Ezra Klein helpfully provides this graph:

You will notice that the orange bars, meant to represent the revenue (or cost savings) of the health care bill just passed, are negative this year and wee tiny for the next two years. For all the handwringing among the righties about "the taxes start now" nonsense, they're actually exactly wrong about that.

You'll note that this chart also handily debunks the notion that this is a "takeover" of the health care sector or of 16% of the economy. While indeed $180 billion seems like a lot of money to spend or to count as revenue/ savings (looking at the far right of the graph), in 2019 the US is projected (.pdf) to spend $4.5 trillion on health care. For those lacking calculators at the moment, that means that when this bill fully kicks in, this bill will be responsible for about 4% of health care spending. It would take an extreme amount of dishonest manipulation to try to sell the idea that this is a "takeover" of anything.

RIP, Tom Morgan

by folkbum

I just got a bulletin from MTEA, the Milwaukee teacher's union, that Tom Morgan, the executive director of the union, passed away yesterday. Apparently he had a sudden, unexpected heart attack while on vacation out of the country. MTEA has not posted anything online yet, but I'm sure they will soon.

I'm moderately proud to be a Democrat this morning

by folkbum

It took what, 60 years to get here? But the Congress has passed an historic piece of legislation that slightly nudges the health insurance situation in the United States to something closer to universal coverage.

Let's be clear: What was passed last night--the Senate bill will become law on Tuesday, when President Obama signs it--is a modest and disappointing bill. The bill to be passed later this week--reconciliation, which passed the House last night but needs to be passed yet by the Senate--makes the reform infinitesimally better.

However, there are some significant immediate benefits that will begin on Tuesday when the bill becomes the law of the land. Closing the odious Medicare Part D "donut hole" (something Republicans saddled seniors with after their dead-of-night antics passing that bill). Starting a new appeals process for those already covered by insurance, and making it harder for insurance companies to deny new coverage. Helping small businesses to afford to extend coverage to their workers. All of these are good things, and to be commended and celebrated.

And as time goes on, more elements of the reform will kick in, including cost controls and expanded access to basic and preventive care across the nation. These are also all good things, and to be commended and celebrated.

It's also worth celebrating that the Democrats seem to have held together (what was it Will Rogers said about us again?) and got something significant done. This is not something that has happened often in my lifetime. I think the last time may have been passing Bill Clinton's 1994 budget--you know, the one that led to a decade of unparalleled growth and record budget surpluses?--which, like health care, happened without a single Republican vote.

It is almost not at all surprising that Republicans held fast against it; after all, their leadership has been clear of late that that was their only strategy. (Some sensible Republicans have noted that this is a dumb strategy, not just for their party, but for the nation as a whole.) This is in contrast to previous decades when Republicans used to promote exactly the same kinds of reforms that are in the bill now.

I say almost, because in retrospect a couple of things are if not surprising, then at least disturbing. For example, apparently the process of how a bill becomes a law (everyone sing along, now) is "sleazy." Let's recap: Last spring and summer, the House and Senate held weeks of televised hearings on reform, released multiple full-text versions of reform bills, and debated all through the fall the best way to proceed. The House passed a bill in December. The Senate, overcoming a filibuster and days of Republican delaying tactics, also passed a bill. (I'm still looking for the sleazy part.) Last night, after hours of more delaying tactics by Republicans, the House passed the Senate version of the bill and it's now awaiting Obama's signature. That's the way Congress works, has worked, will continue to work. When both houses pass the same bill, it gets signed (usually) and becomes law. What's sleazy?

There is reconciliation. The House passed it last night, and the Senate has the votes to pass it as soon as they can overcome the inevitable delaying tactics by Republicans. But here's the second surprising-slash-disturbing thing: Republicans seem to remain unified against this part, as well. Which I literally do not understand, because the reconciliation bill does indeed make things better. It improves the Senate bill. It kills the "Cornhusker Kickback" and many of the other special deals that may have been the "sleazy" part and which have fueled a lot of the public and tea-party backlash against reform. It makes the bill cheaper, short-term and long-run. It fixes, by everyone's estimation, R or D, con or lib, many of the ugliest parts of the final bill being signed into law tomorrow. If Republicans were honest brokers instead of stubborn dolts, they would realize that the grand fight is over, and they lost, and they ought to be working and voting to make the winning bill more to their liking. Instead, they've continued to stonewall and delay and refuse to participate meaningfully in the governance of this nation.

Which is why, though I am only moderately proud to be a Democrat this morning, I would be utterly mortified and ashamed to be a Republican right now.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Paul Ryan's Cajones

by folkbum

I've not been glued to CSPAN today (spending time recovering--still--from being sick and cleaning house), but Ezra Klein notes today that Paul Ryan took to the floor of the House to rail "against Democrats who would dare propose 'across-the-board cuts to Medicare.' "

This is the same Paul Ryan, mind you, whose golden-boy "Roadmap to middle-class poverty America's Future" absolutely guts Medicare.

Friday, March 19, 2010

RIP, Joseph Zilber

by folkbum

He was a good man.

It's time to bring Health Care Reform home

by folkbum

I have long believed that Congress is not now, will not now, will probably not ever pass the health care reform bill that I would write. However, the Congress is now at a point where it must vote for the bill it has in front of it. Any further delay--and a failure to get this bill done now--is unconscionable and unforgivable.

There are whip counts everywhere you look, and according to Nate Silver, who counts better than just about anyone else on the internets, "if you take the seeming yes votes and add them to the people who are uncommitted but voted for the bill last time around, they add up to 217." That's one above the current magic number of 216.

The Washington Post is keeping track here, although they list as "undecided" some people who have clearly announced their yes votes or who would be insane not to vote yes. For example, Wisconsin's Ron Kind and Dave Obey are on there, and they're not very likely to vote no this time around. (Although if you live in their districts, it wouldn't hurt to give their offices a call and encourage passage--202-224-3121 is the House switchboard number.) Steve Kagen is on the WaPo's list of undecideds, too, not surprising after last week. Give him a call, too, even though he does not at present appear on anyone else's undecided list.

Steve Benen, who is as good a summation as Nate Silver is at math, lays out what this bill means:
The legislation is fully paid for, reduces the deficit in this decade, and even more in the next decade. It will bring coverage to 32 million Americans -- slightly better than the earlier estimate -- and extend Medicare solvency by at least 9 years while closing the prescription drug "donut hole."
This is on top of some obvious benefits that would accrue immediately and the clear long-term cost-reduction and coverage measures that kick in later. This is not a bill any self-respecting Democrat should balk at and, frankly, given Republicans' professed belief in deficit reduction and fixing Medicare, it ought to be something even the GOP can get behind. But Republicans have this thing called party unity, and that apparently is more important than saving lives or walking the talk.

Voting yes on this bill is a moral imperative, not to mention an electoral imperative. (It is easier to campaign on a record of having done something than on a record of having done nothing, particularly when the status quo is deeply unpopular.) It's time.

FriTunes: If I could be a song, it might be this one

by folkbum

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Milwaukee-based insurer targeted HIV patients for recission

by folkbum

Reuters--and not the Milwaukee media--has the story:
By winning the verdict against Fortis [now known as Assurant Health], Mitchell not only obtained a measure of justice for himself; he also helped expose wrongdoing on the part of Fortis that could have repercussions for the entire health insurance industry.

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell's case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators. [. . .]

Insurance companies have long engaged in the practice of "rescission," whereby they investigate policyholders shortly after they've been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. But government regulators and investigators who have overseen the actions of Assurant and other health insurance companies say it is unprecedented for a company to single out people with HIV.
Is this really the kind of behavior Mark Neumann and Paul Ryan want to stand behind as they oppose health care reform? Disgusting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I have no voice and I must blog

by folkbum

Seeing the doctor today, but haven't had any voice at all, basically, since Sunday (and it was rapidly deteriorating before that). However, some things of note:

• In a follow-up to the Advocates for Student Achievement story that I was following last year: The group agreed to a $5000 settlement after likely breaking campaign regulations.
• Paul Ryan had an op-ed in Monday's Wall Street Journal on health care that, as regular readers of this blog are probably not surprised to learn, was full of falsehoods and other misleading statements.
• One disturbing thing I had not realized about the Obama-Duncan revision to ESEA (known to you folks as "No Child Left Behind") is that while the overall Dept of Education budget for schools in increasing, "the funding for formula grants DROPS by half a billion to 20.3, while that for competitive grants almost doubles to 7.8 billion." In other words, they want states and districts to jump through more stupid Race to the Top-like hoops just to equal their current levels of funding, let alone deal with the effects of the current crappy economy on local school funding sources.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mark Neumann, protecting us from health care

by folkbum

Thank goodness candidate Neumann is out there, pledging that, if elected governor of Wisconsin, he would "take steps to try to block a health care bill from taking effect" here. Because we need someone like Mark Neumann to make sure that none of these awful things come to pass here behind the Cheddar Curtain:
• barring insurance companies from discriminating against Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions and from dropping customers who inconveniently get sick
• closing the Medicare Part D "donut hole" to save Wisconsin seniors money on prescription drugs
• opening an insurance exchange that would allow Wisconsin individuals to buy into group policies at lower rates
• providing subsidies for poor Wisconsin families to buy health insurance from Wisconsin insurance providers (this might create, you know, jobs or something, and Neumann probably doesn't want that to happen)
• offering help to Wisconsin's small businesses to make it easier for them to offer their employees health care coverage
• removing "lifetime" and limiting "annual" coverage limits that drive some Wisconsinites who have insurance to declare bankruptcy anyway
• building community medical centers in regions of Wisconsin that have shortages of primary care providers
If only all of Wisconsin's candidates had the fortitude to stand up for the status quo, where thousands die and millions more go uncared for because of this country's unique health care model!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day

by folkbum

If I were a better person, I'd have you all over for pie and ice cream. As I am instead a grumpy bastard, instead I will just wish you all have the happiest of celebrations wherever you are.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tab Dump, Because You Need Things To Read Edition

by folkbum

• Needs more salt: recipes for making good teachers.
• I'm not impressed with these standards so far. And Wisconsin's DPI might chuck its teachers' work to implement these instead!
• You can offer your feedback on those standards here.
• From the outside, Erin Richards makes getting on this list from DPI sound like a hopeful and exciting new opportunity. This belies the panic-on-a-sinking-ship hysteria I've been watching from, you know, inside.
• Also, the four mandated (by No Child Left Behind) options of sanctions for schools on that list are all different flavors of fail themselves, according to the research (.pdf).

FriTunes: GoogleBike* edition

by folkbum

* cf. (Darryl Purpose)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chart of the Day, GOP Golden Boy Edition

by folkbum

Via K-Drum, Citizens for Tax Justice have run the tax numbers (.pdf) in Paul Ryan's "Roadmap to Screw You, America Prosperity":

(click for larger image)

So not only does Ryan's "Roadmap" eliminate Medicare, not only does Ryan's "Roadmap" turn Social Security into a game of roulette, not only does Ryan's "Roadmap" not eliminate the deficit (until maybe 50 years out but only if you pretend that the plan doesn't cut revenue), Ryan's "Roadmap" jacks up your taxes. Unless you happen to earn more than 90% of the rest of America, and seeing as how you're sitting around somewhere reading this meagre blog instead of, I don't know, yachting, you are probably not a winner under Ryan's plan.

And Ryan is apparently a Very Serious Person!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Mistake Kagen Doesn't Want to Make

by folkbum

I keep being occasionally relieved as I read all the lists posted yon and wide, of Democratic members of Congress who are wavering on health care now that we are inches from the finish line, lists that have not included any Wisconsin reps who should know better. In fact, if last week you asked me to put money down on which Rep would muck up the works, I might have guessed Gwen Moore--I have been afraid she would be hesitant to vote for the Senate bill (a necessary step in the process) because it was not progressive enough.

Pretty much last on my list of possible Wisconsin defectors was Dr. Steve Kagen. Why? When the man courted my endorsement in 2006, he sat across a Starbucks table from me and asserted, flatly, that comprehensive health care reform was his top priority. It was his signature campaign issue. And he was an easy yes vote in the House last year.

So what do I find today? Ugh:
Rep. Steve Kagen (D) of Wisconsin voted for reform, and is now hedging. "I have made the case to the speaker and also to the White House that we should take small pieces, small bites," Kagen said. "In the practice of medicine, I can't give a child a big pill. What do we do? We cut it up into pieces. Let's find things we can agree on."
WTF? Seriously? What is this about? His platform in 2006 was not "small bites," and it was a sight more progressive than the current versions of the reform package.

I will be calling Kagen's office tomorrow--hey, we all should: (920) 380-0061--to try to figure out what's going on. I mean, it can't be because Kagen thinks this will save his seat this fall. People who are planning to vote Republican or Tea Party or Martian or whatever aren't gonna suddenly turn around and go, Oh, yeah, Kagen's a swell guy! He lost those votes a long time ago, when he voted Yea the first time, if not long before that.

And anyway, I have yet to see a poll suggesting that any of the rogues gallery up nort' right now poses a risk.

And if Kagen really thinks this vote is the pivotal moment of this election, well, he's got two choices. He can enjoy the full support of state grass-roots Dems and stand on the right side of history, or he can vote no and wonder where his backers are come November.

(Greg Sargent compiles the list of others like Kagen who risk making a dumb mistake in the next couple of weeks.)

Diane Ravitch Repents

by folkbum

This interview with Diane Ravitch about her new book is interesting to me for a number of reasons. For one, I was taught early on that everything Diane Ravitch said was actually the opposite of reality. (Although lately I have found myself quoting her, unironically.) For another, the Milwaukee Public Schools is now at the end of the rope that is No Child Left Behind, and running into exactly the kind of consequences Ravitch used to advocate but now says are dangerous:
Ravitch writes that she came to believe that [NCLB] “ought to be ended rather than mended” at a 2006 conference in which researchers presented studies showing that parents with children in failing schools weren’t taking advantage of provisions of the law that would have enabled them to transfer their children out of those schools or get free tutoring.

Later, she also came to blame the law—the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was first passed in 1965—for putting too much emphasis on testing, narrowing the curriculum, and leading some educators to try to game the system by teaching to the test, lowering proficiency standards, or even cheating. [. . .]

[New York City's] reform efforts, she adds, became a sort of blueprint for the NCLB law under President George W. Bush, which imposed consequences on schools and districts that failed to boost students’ test scores.

Parents and local schools also lost some control as major philanthropies, such as the Gates Foundation, the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bentonville, Ark.-based Walton Family Foundation, began pouring unprecedented amounts of money into schools to underwrite initiatives that they favored, Ms. Ravitch argues.

“The money expended by a foundation—even one that spends $100 million annually—may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of millions or billions spent by public school districts,” she writes. “But the offer of a multimillion-dollar grant by a foundation is enough to cause most superintendents and school boards to drop everything and reorder their priorities.”

The “hijacking” of public education continues now, Ms. Ravitch writes, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top Fund, through which states enhance their competitive status for a share of $4 billion in extra federal aid by putting in place education measures that the Department of Education favors.
What has happened--and we've seen it in the last decade over and over again in Milwaukee--is that local and state education agencies, strapped for cash, are scrambling in all directions after any promise of cash from anyone. For example, when Gates was funding small high schools, MPS did small high schools. When Gates realized that was a 20-sided Fail, MPS stopped doing small high schools and moved on to what Gates was funding next. Look at the contortions otherwise-sane folks wanted Wisconsin and MPS to do to get "Race" funds--something that was always going to be a long shot anyway.

This kind of follow-the-money dance is not good leadership, it is not good practice, and it is not good for the students and professionals dragged along for the ride. Some of us were warning about it way back when, and we're still waving every red flag we've got now. It's nice to see Ravitch come around.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Theological Question

by folkbum

Can God create a permanent marker so indelible that not even He could wash its ink off His hands?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Yes There Are Consequences

By Keith R. Schmitz

For those of you continually warn that "a government takeover" of health care is going to be a disaster (hard to believe that $200 B a year could be a take over) and for those of you who want a "perfect" health care bill, today's New York Times editorial about what happens if reform does not pass is worth reading.

Do you feel lucky?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The sick. It hurts.

by folkbum

i don't know what germ gods I have offended, but good grief I'm in a bad way. Need moar nap now.

Friday, March 05, 2010

FriTunes: A Preview ...

by folkbum

... of tonight's entertainment:

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Paul Ryan thinks of the children--tied up in closets

by folkbum

If ever there was a gimme bill to vote for, it's the "Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act." I mean, seriously. Who doesn't want to be on record as opposed to duct-taping kids and locking them in empty rooms.

Apparently, Paul Ryan. (Not to mention Tom Petri and F. Jim Sensenbrenner.)

First, he wants to kill John Galt. Now he wants to lock ... well, Ayn Rand never really wrote children, so let's say, widdle Howie Roark in a box. Lovely!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Comedy, Covers, and Camaraderie: Jay Bullock's Spring Oh-Ten performances

by folkbum

Don't miss yr hmble folkbum in action all spring long!

• Monday, March 8, 7:30 PM, FREE: Comedy Sportz--competitive improvisational comedy. Wear red to support my team, the Sparklers! The bar will be open at 7 or before, so come early and bring friends!

• Friday, April 9, 8:00 PM, $4 plus two cans of food: Coffee House--food pantry benefit. Featuring four acts doing covers of songs by Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Featuring me, Eric Baer, the JT Bandits, and David Kaye & the Electric Moustache.

• Saturday, May 1, 8:00 PM, $5: Coffee House--7th annual Portage Road Songwriters Guild New Song Concert. Come see me and Eric Baer, Chris Head, Mark Plotkin, Chris Straw, and Barb Webber perform the best of the original songs we've written over the past year.

See you at the shows!

Monday, March 01, 2010

DPI, MPS, and $175 million

by folkbum

I haven't been blogging on the Wisconsin DPI's threat to withhold $175 million from the Milwaukee Public Schools, but only because I was writing about it for the Compass. It's online now, for your reading pleasure.