Monday, January 24, 2011

One for five

Funny...looking back through some old, stuff I found this from a year ago:

So, if I'm going to take the 2011 State of the Union seriously, 3 of these 5 things must be true:

-Guantanamo no longer holds foreign captives;
-Openly gay and lesbian Americans serve in the military;
-There is an exit date for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan;
-There has been a test vote on a public option in health care;
-Tim Geithner is long gone.

I don't care if this is done as a result of political considerations facing the midterms, or just because it's the right thing to do. But considering that numbers 2 and 5 can be done by Obama's office regardless of anyone else's disposition, this is an achievable list.

I'm not trying to put out a litmus test. If Obama wants to ignore a fair economic policy in favor of smart projection of American power, he can. If our president wants to ignore full rights for LGBT Americans, perhaps we can start respecting international conventions. But if Obama can't be bothered to do any of this...well, why should we vote for him?

Huh. One out of five, sorta. To be implemented. On the positive side, the banking business is doing rather well again...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Far as I can tell...

There are two groups that love the "deal" on taxes struck by President Obama. Those who think he's American salvation who is clearly the bestest president ever...and those who think he's a secret African Muslim.

Oh, and...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

O'Malley FTW

So get this...Martin O'Malley is named "Education Governor for the Year" by those evil lazy teachers over at the NEA. Kiss of death in a Republican year, right?


He crushes, absolutely destroys, his Republican opponent to a degree only dreamt of by most Democratic incumbents in 2010. He doubled his margin of victory from 2006. Now he's the head of the Democratic Governors' Association. I'm not saying it's all related, but it is another data point that proves that supporting teachers who believe in quality education is good policy...and good politics.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting to Excellent

A data-rich, methodical, and transparent report prepared by McKinsey offers the passionate follower of education much to consider. Unlike, say, the Boston Foundation's pamphlet, this 124-page, rigorously detailed study gives serious policy wonks food for thought. The methodology is carefully detailed, not hidden. The data is easy to weigh and follow.

The most fascinating aspect of this report (PDF) is tracing how school systems develop and improve from one stage of performance to another. One of the more interesting findings is that what works for a school system seeking to spread literacy needs something different from a system seeking to prepare students with 21st century thinking skills.

So how does this affect Massachusetts? Well, of the international spectrum of system provided, Boston is mentioned as a much improved system in the nation's pre-eminent public education structure -- Massachusetts. So how does a system such as Boston, that is good, or great, improve?

"Move the locus of improvement from the center to the schools themselves; the focus is on introducing peer-based learning through schoolbased and system-wide interaction, as well as supporting system-sponsored innovation and experimentation."

Decentralize. Experiment. Professionalize and respect teachers. Provide ways for teachers to collaborate for results, not compete for dollars. Further in the guts of the report, the research team mentions the following imperatives:

In the final frontier of school improvement, the journey from great to excellent, systems focus on creating an environment that will unleash the creativity and innovation of its educators and other stakeholder groups. At this point in the improvement journey, system educators are highly skilled and have a body of agreed routines and practices that have become innate to how they work.

The intervention cluster for the journey from great to excellent serves further to enhance the educators’ responsibility for looking after each other’s development; the systems give their teachers the time, resources, and flexibility to reflect upon and try out new ideas to better support student learning.


When teachers achieve a higher level of skill, as is the case in good to great and
great to excellent improvement journey stages, such tight central control becomes counterproductive to system improvement. Rather, school-level flexibility
and teacher collaboration become the drivers of improvement because they lead to innovations in teaching and learning. The center learns from these school-based innovations and then encourages their use in other schools across the system. Higher
skill teachers require flexibility and latitude in how they teach in order to engage in such innovation and to feel motivated and fulfilled as professionals.

In case you were wondering about those systems that are better than good, the report identifies four. Only Finland is rated excellent in this report; Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea are great.

As mentioned in the last post, all systems are decentralizing at the precise moment that the United States is starting to march in lockstep to Washington DC's tune. Obama wants states, districts, even schools and teachers to compete for dollars; this report mandates that collaboration as superior. Obama wants to tighten control over what is taught on a daily basis; this report mandates the contrary. Obama pushes for an unprecedented level of centralization in this country; the data say this will hurt our students.

This report merely confirms what is widely understood:

  • A large and growing body of data indicate how to improve public education in this country.

  • Those responsible for running education in this nation and state insist on doing the exact opposite.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wrong Way Again

One of the most annoying things that I see in America's approach to education is the oxymoron of claiming we need to "catch up" to other countries...then promptly doing the opposite of what they do.

One can easily question many of the international tests used to compare national education outcomes -- many are entrusted to foreign ministries to be administered and reported fairly. However, I think it's fascinating that just when Obama is using a few pennies to control education in each individual state, our supposed betters are moving in the opposite direction.

Today's object lesson in the United Kingdom. David Cameron's oddly hybrid liberal-conservative government may be the last place on might look for progressive ideas on education. Yet it is there that Education secretary Michael Gove is asserting what people who enter classrooms on a daily basis realize: centralization doesn't work.

Just when Massachusetts turns over its constitutional competences to vague inter-state groups working on shared standardized tests, suborning its achievements to a dumbed-down national curriculum, Michael Gove advocates for the opposite:

While each of these exemplars has their own unique and individual approach to aspects of education, their successful systems all share certain common features. Many have put in place comprehensive plans for school improvement which involve improving teacher quality, granting greater autonomy to the front line, modernising curricula, making schools more accountable to their communities, harnessing detailed performance data and encouraging professional collaboration. It is only through such whole-system reform that education can be transformed to make a nation one of the world’s top performers.

Compare this to Obama's current drive (with Deval's complicity) to take autonomy from the front line, divorce them from their communities and tie them to the state, and poisoning professional collaboration by throwing funding in as a prize of competition rather like the Apple of Discord.

Just reading this White Paper is enough to make any American teacher look at visa requirements. Here are some choice lines:

"We envisage schools and teachers taking greater control over what is taught in schools, innovating in how they teach and developing new approaches to learning"

"The guidance on the National Curriculum is weighing teachers down and squeezing out room for innovation, creativity, deep learning and intellectual exploration."

"Government cannot determine the priorities of every school, and the attempt to secure compliance with its priorities reduces the capacity of the system to improve itself."

"Reform initial teacher training so that more training is on the job."

There are some baffling name-checks on the most destructive practices in America in this document, which contradict pretty much everything else contained therein. However, combined with a McKinsey international study that demonstrates the direct relationship between international achievement and school/teacher autonomy due for release tomorrow, it is clear in which direction the UK is moving.

The same direction prescribed in Germany (PDF) Japan, or South Korea. The same direction embraced by the industrialized world -- except for the United States.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Education: "Thank God for Massachusetts"

On education, the The Atlantic Monthly is an interesting magazine. It's honest enough to be honest about the facts in its education reports and articles. An article some time ago on No Child Left Behind made clear that the target that every single American must possess adult-level math and English literacy skills by 2014 was a political decision. Politicians simply didn't have the courage to admit that somebody learning English, or with severe learning disabilities, wasn't going to get there. In the current issue, the Atlantic gives some notice to Diane Ravitch, who has reversed her stand for the test-and-punish system for something that matches up with research. She has gone back on previous policies based on the copious research that speaks in another direction.

Of course, while admitting the facts -- something the Boston Globe generally doesn't do -- it still pushes the common viewpoint of an elite thoroughly unfamiliar with public education. Of course, the Atlantic sees that nothing in education can't be fixed by the judicious firing of many people. Hence, a worshipful article on what "Teach for America" can tell us (hint, it's common sense to anyone familiar with public education, and epiphanic for the ignorant). This issue's profile of Diane Ravitch is knee-capped by a harrumphing parenthetical that the editor disagrees with her, and a coda for "balance" that praises the superintendent in Rhode Island who arbitrarily fired every teacher in her high school.

So, much like the Wall Street Journal on economics, the Atlantic gives every sign of strong fact-based reporting on education that is utterly ignored by the editorial staff. Hence an article online that includes the following:

One cannot help but thank God for Massachusetts, which offers the United States some shred of national dignity—a result echoed in other international tests. "If all American fourth- and eighth-grade kids did as well in math and science as they do in Massachusetts," writes the veteran education author Karin Chenoweth in her 2009 book, How It’s Being Done, "we still wouldn’t be in Singapore’s league but we’d be giving Japan and Chinese Taipei a run for their money."

I can't see why we'd want to emulate that gerontocracy. They do well on test scores and horrible on democracy. I also highlight this author's kowtowing to the Chinese-mandated name for Taiwan.

What did Massachusetts do? Well, nothing that many countries (and industries) didn’t do a long time ago. For example, Massachusetts made it harder to become a teacher, requiring newcomers to pass a basic literacy test before entering the classroom. (In the first year, more than a third of the new teachers failed the test.) The state also required students to pass a test before graduating from high school—a notion so heretical that it led to protests in which students burned state superintendent David Driscoll in effigy. To help tutor the kids who failed, the state moved money around to the places where it was needed most. "We had a system of standards and held people to it—adults and students," Driscoll says.

Does the article mention how the standards were arbitrarily set when not enough teachers and students weren't failing? No. Does it even attempt to find a reason for Massachusetts' success beyond the preset viewpoints of the editors of the Atlantic? Of course not. But it does admit the truth -- the Bay State was once the national leader on education. We may still be, but not for long.

I say "was" advisedly. Obama's people plow ahead with Bush's failed policies on education. One innovation is to dangle a fractional percentage boost in federal funding for Massachusetts if we dumb down our standards, double the amount of testing in the classroom, short-circuit local democracy, and change laws to fit the model of an education secretary whose own reputation is built on cheap tricks, articles like this need to be cherished. Because I doubt they'll be written five years from now.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From time to time

This blog went dark as personal life got more complicated, aside from a very few occasional posts. Honestly, I figured that what little I felt a need to say I could say on BMG.

That was before my recent post on BMG suggesting Menino for Senate was picked up by the Globe, who asked the mayor's office for a reaction. Meanwhile, the Herald is pushing Brown for Prez. Imagine that -- a ticket where Sarah Palin is the experienced candidate.

Crazy Commonwealth we live in. I may need to resume blogging.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dodd-Peterson debate liveblog

Summary: The biggest change, the biggest difference between these candidates is not their beliefs, but their focus. Tim Dodd talked about people -- people with whom he's worked, people he's met on the campaign trail, people he's helped as selectmen. George Peterson talked about laws, bills, funds, taxes, budgets, and programs. It's an interesting take on their viewpoints. After 16 years of looking at line items and categories, that's what Peterson seems to see when he thinks of the 9th Worcester district. After years as a selectman and a teacher, Dodd sees the people next to him, with whom he works. He seems to want to represent the district, not facilitate it.

7:15 - It's a lot colder outside than it seemed on the way to the car. Standing in the cold holding a sign is proof.

7:30 - Dodd supporters outnumbering Peterson backers. Peterson sign-holders head in first. Small victory.

7:45 - Sheriff's debate starting first. Evangelides, the Republican sheriff candidate, couldn't be bothered to show up.'s a "prior commitment", which comes in second to "more time with his family" on the list of bulls--t political excuses. The Democrat (Foley) and the unenrolled candidate (Nicholas) came. Both are law enforcement professionals. I'm reluctant to comment further as someone unfamiliar with this race.

8:10 - Break time. Foley lays into Evangelides (not by name) for ducking the big issues by skipping the debate. Dodd and Peterson are up in a few. At least half the crowd leaves.

8:15 - Off we go! Peterson's up first with his opening which commences with the pre-Nixon days. He reads it from a paper in front of him. Peterson's been married for 34 years -- good for him! He's also got kids. I just have no idea why he's running for office.

Dodd's opening begins with thank yous to people in the debate, including Rep. Peterson. Calls himself a "citizen legislator" who wouldn't take per diems or a salary raise. Talks about the constituents in each of his four towns.

8:20 - First question asks "what kind of legislator would you be?" Dodd speaks about availability to constituents and would be a full-time legislator. He earned a doctorate while teaching. How many legislators do we have with doctorates? Methinks not enough. Rep. Peterson is full-time, and speaks about constituent services, constant meetings on constituent issues.

8:24 - "Name a concrete proposal you have to create jobs/implemented to create jobs". For Peterson, the answer -- surprise! -- is to cut taxes. The US Chamber of Commerce would be so proud. He's against the excise and income tax, and probably refuses to accept the "Poor Tax" Chance Card when he plays Monopoly. Dodd speaks about his proposal for a district-wide task force to bridge the 2 chambers of commerce in this district that would include local small business owners. Peterson protests that although Massachusetts unemployment has gone down, but we've lost jobs so don't think we aren't in a "terrible situation in this economy". DOOM!

8:26 - "Name a concrete proposal you would implement/have implemented to improve education...touch on a response to the Chapter 70 formula question". Peterson is proud to continue funding through the "Ed reform formula", even though they haven't followed through with the commitment. So, like all state legislators, he brags about how awesome they are at defending local aid. Peterson dodges the Chapter 70 question. This is an easy question for Dodd, as he's in the classroom every day. He knows this law inside and out, and talks about revisiting the charter school funding formula. This formula treats student dollars differently depending on which type of school to which the student transfers.

8:31 - Term limits and pensions. Dodd commits to a five-term/ten year limit of service. Constitutional term limits are "murky water", but he believes in citizen legislators. Defends the idea of hard-working people earning pensions, but continuing Governor Patrick's work against loopholes. Peterson does not, and did not support term limits. Rep. Peterson talks about unfunded pensions, but believes that anyone who pays into a pension system should get it back. Not much daylight between the two of them on this one.

8:35 - Position on ballot questions. Peterson says YES, NO, NO. Claims "double taxation" and dismisses the idea of using those funds for fighting addictions, which is a "gimmick". Calls for reform on Chapter 40B. Supports a sales tax rollback to 5%, but to 3% as per the question. Dodd says NO, NO, NO. People fighting alcohol addiction need the help. Peterson says that raising the sales tax gives these programs too much money.

8:42 - To can you have a "fresh perspective" if most legislators are Democrats? Dodd responds that being a selectman and a teacher gives him everyday contact with the issues, which has resulted in the plans mentioned on his website. To Peterson...three bills he proposed to help the district. Peterson doesn't/can't mention three bills. Everything is everyone else's fault. But government is bad, and there aren't enough Republicans. Oh, government is bad, except when I'm getting all sorts of money for the district -- government is bad when it helps other people, I guess.

8:45 - Peterson asks Dodd "what is the fresh perspective? Can you define it?" Dodd answers that it is not new issues, but rather new ideas. For him, it includes putting bottle bill redemption funds for teaching arts and physical education.

Dodd asks Peterson about Charlie Baker's term limits plan to limit legislators to ten years. Karyn Polito introduced 46 bills, George Peterson passed one bill to rename a road in Upton. So what idea do you have that you could actually done? Peterson talks about restoring the funding for the underground storage tank fund, but he's busy playing defense. Admits that as a legislator, he doesn't have a legislative record.

8:51 - Closing statements. Peterson comes out against taxes and spending, and calls for God to bless the district and America. Dodd again offers energy and experience as a "citizen legislator" bringing new ideas to the district.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Debate liveblog tomorrow

I will be blogging, hopefully live-blogging, the debate between Tim Dodd and George Peterson tomorrow in Grafton. In a contest between a motivated selectman and teacher, and a do-nothing Republican whip on the other, this is a clear choice for anyone who cares about education in the Commonwealth. I'll do it here, possibly on BMG, too.

Ride the wave: Dodd and Cutler

I suppose we could play defense and say that 2010 is an anti-Democratic year. Try to keep what we can keep. Surrender. Alternatively, we could micro-analyze every warp and woof of the governor's race and ignore every other election slated for November. I think there's a better way.

I suspect that 2010 is an anti-people in charge year. Sure, that's a problem for many of us as most of the people in charge at the moment happen to Democrats. Rather than stop at fighting over whose fault is the economic downturn that began months before Obama took office, let's use the tide. Let's ride the wave. No need for Bennett, Murkowski, Crist, and Castle to be the only Republicans thrown out of office this year.

If people want to vote out incumbents, we have a couple Democrats working very hard to help them here in the Bay State. Tim Dodd and Josh Cutler. Two hard-working guys giving of themselves in a tough environment, while the Democratic Party runs its usual incumbent-protection racket. They deserve our help.

Is there an easier job on Beacon Hill than Republican whip? What does that entail -- keeping people awake so they can vote no? Well, Tim Dodd is looking to replace that piece of decorative furniture that is George Peterson. Dodd is a current selectman -- he knows what the towns are going through and how to improve laws to better people's lives. He's a teacher -- he knows how to reform education, not just perform a sound bite. He'll work with the state leadership, not just vote no and go home. And hustle? The guy's everywhere in that district -- and you should see his proposed schedule for district hours. It would make a lesser man keel over. Don't look for him at campaign HQ though, as he's knocking on doors.

Some Republicans offer a differing voice in the Legislature. Peterson offers his constituents indifferent service, and the rest of us a seat warmer. Dodd wants to change that. Smart work on budgets, education, environment, jobs. Far more than "not my fault, I said no" that typifies the incumbent. Unfortunately, the reactive ethics law in force prevents this candidate, pretty much alone on this, from asking for campaign donations. So I'm doing it for him -- give this guy some scratch. Ride the wave, and get someone who knows how to work, and wants to work, in the State House.

Josh Cutler has stepped up when so few would -- to take on a longtime incumbent in SE Massachusetts. To color blue a district largely surrounded by blue, and to add a voice to the Beacon Hill conversation whose vocabulary will extend beyond "no". He's been running hard for several months now, and unlike the current occupant -- he wants this job. He's a businessman who knows how to be responsible for his actions. Cutler knows how to get away from our over-reliance on capital gains taxes. Cutler knows 40B and Open Meeting Law have problems. He's willing to take positions...and fight for them. If the people in Webster's district want to get rid of the incumbent. It will be a real step up. Will you help?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gov. Patrick, Lt. Gov. Tisei?

Maybe I'm missing something here. But if memory serves, voters vote for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor separately. This usually doesn't matter.

Here's a hypothetical. The race for governor comes down to a very close margin, but Deval Patrick is re-elected. However, a number of voters nevertheless choose Cahill, say about 5%. These voters see Loscocco's name still on the ballot, but as they know that Loscocco withdrew from the race because he's a rat, they vote for the Republican candidate, Richard Tisei. Those additional votes overcome Governor Patrick's margin of victory, and our next governor has a Republican LG.

I know that in some places (Arizona under Governor Napolitano springs to mind) managed with a mixed-party executive. Would our Commonwealth? How do you think that would work out?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is it really so hard?

Ad starts with a photo of a precocious, adorable 11-year old.

"Meet Billy. Billy loves his Mom and Dad, America, and especially his dog Skip. Until recently, Billy loved Little League, too. But Billy learned that he had (horrible disease). Billy's Mom and Dad weren't worried, because they had health insurance."

Switch to photo of dense, official looking letter.

"But their health insurance was with Charlie Baker's company, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Incorporated. Baker raised profits by enacting policies like the one that said that Billy didn't qualify for (procedure, care, test) for his (horrible disease)."

Switch to photo of Charlie Baker.

"Charlie Baker made sure that his company sent many letters like this to families that had trusted him with their money. Now, Charlie Baker is running for governor, so he can do to Massachusetts what he did to the people who trusted their health insurance to his company. Charlie, we just can't take that chance."

Last photo, of a happy Billy in a baseball uniform.

"Happily, under CommonwealthCare and Deval Patrick's governorship, Billy's family found affordable medical care, and Billy is make catching fly balls in centerfield."

Sorry, but if Deval loses to a health insurance executive -- one step above losing to the CEO of British Petroleum -- there's no excuse. If his campaign doesn't want to run an ad like this, find someone who will. It's not really that hard.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Huh? What?

You mean I'm supposed to keep this blogging thing going still? Since when?

Okay, it's been a bit of a break enforced by real-life. I have a great thing lined up on the reality v. the rhetoric of pensions, I'll type and buff up in the next few days. However, there's good stuff out there worth reading:

    I've dabbled (here and here for starters) in the Globe's inability to talk straight about education, but this guy is doing a comprehensive series on the subject over at BMG. Wow.

    Speaking of which, Arne Duncan (whose self-reported success stories fall apart under close scrutiny) cheers on the arbitrary firing of Rhode Island teachers. I wonder if the Obama Administration would be so enthusiastic if the victims were financiers rather than teachers. As I note here, the Globe's reaction is that this is a blunt questionable reaction that is nonetheless a good idea.

    If you want to learn what real government waste looks like, check out this publicly built, brand-new $160 million airport in Japan that hosts... one flight per day.

    RedMassGroup shows its true feelings -- remember when offices didn't belong to the holder, but they were all "the people's seat"?

    Why is it that I read the headline "US school cancels prom because of 'lesbian date'" as a headline, I just know that this school will be located south of DC?

    And of course, I could never say no to noternie (purveyor of Someday I Will). That's coming up soon.