Tuesday, September 29, 2009

O-lympic O-bama

Republicans are admonishing Obama for flying to Copenhagen in an effort bring the Olympic Games to Chicago. Nevermind that the decision to focus the US bid on Chicago was made in March 2007, well before Obama was president, or that there are few better motors for economic development and international respect than the Olympics, the Republicans are going to complain. Nevermind that the new Prime Minister of Japan will be representing Tokyo's bid as well, Republicans will complain. Of course, Republicans may be complaining because Obama is setting up to claim a diplomatic coup that he had little to do with.

As the first link notes, Mitt Romney confirms the importance of sending the head of state to lobby the IOC for the Olympics. There may be no vainer group of men and women than the International Olympic Committee, and being feted by our popular president may make the difference. All along, I've said that the 2016 Games are Chicago's to lose -- really, the 2016 Games are the United States' to lose.

This only counts for a few votes. Most votes are based on "taking your turn" -- as in 2004-Australia, 2008-Asia, 2012-London...2016-the Americas. There's all sorts of noise, but it's easy to see how it plays out. If London has 2012 (thanks to Tony Blair's personal lobbying), Madrid won't get 2016 no matter how good their bid is. Tokyo doesn't have enough Asians on the IOC to count on a natural support bloc, and the Japanese capital isn't getting the Olympics a year after Beijing had them. Rio de Jainero had sentiment on its side, and pushing to be the first South American games made them a threat. However, Rio can't escape their technically inferior bid, and recent revelations of dirty tricks have torpedoed their chances. And then there's the money. The route to a fat IOC budget is through Chicago 2016, and the IOC knows this.

Obama's team may be a lot of things, but they're not stupid. They know that Chicago has this in hand, and that linking Obama to winning the Olympic Games is only smart politics. When Chicago is named the host of the 2016 Olympic Games, Obama wants to be there. And there's nothing the Republicans can do about it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'd like to review education in the US Senate race..

...but I can't. Of the five candidates for governor -- Coakley, Capuano, Khazei, Pagliuca, and Brown -- only the Hopele$$ Millionaire mentions education on his website as an issue. He says:

I believe that we have the resources and know-how to ensure that our education system lives up to Senator Kennedy’s dream. My mother was a teacher, and I have tremendous respect for her profession and the many terrific educators around the country that dedicate their lives to preparing our children for success. I intend to vigorously pursue education reform and make it a priority when elected to the United State Senate.

Simply, we need better schools. We have great educators and we have to explore options to grow that pool of talent, by providing teachers clearer goals and better resources. I believe in supporting creative solutions and sponsoring significant investment in educational reform. In Massachusetts, we are seeking a healthy mix of private, charter, and public schools. On the national level, the focus of educational reforms has to be on the students. I would vote for legislation that rewards performance and aptitude in teachers, not just the ability to “teach to a test.” I would approach the question of education reform with the same collaborative and goal-oriented mindset that I have always addressed challenges: seeking advice from labor leaders, educators, and, most importantly, parents and students.

I applaud Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” initiative and look forward to supporting similarly innovative solutions. Providing universal pre-kindergarten services is an important step toward closing the gap in opportunity that plagues our education system. Every child deserves a fair start; we owe it to the children of our nation to provide quality, universal education for every child, regardless of their parents’ income.


I respect teachers...heck, I'm even related to one.

I'll ask for advice from people. I believe education is about the students, and I'll reward teachers for making education better. Charter schools are good.

Spending money on charter schools is good. Like every living Democrat, I support universal pre-kindergarten. Because education in important.

In case anyone needed further convincing that Pags isn't serious about this...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free tip to politicians, athletes, etc...

If you want people to think that you're humble, do not call yourself "humble" and do not say you've "been humbled" by anything. If you feel brought down to a proper place, it will be evident in your behavior. Throwing the word around paints you as hustling, not humbled.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Genuine indecision

Si, it'll be Coakley vs. Capuano for the Senate (plus some millionaire and an aspiring Axelrod clone).

On the Axelrod metrics -- "leadership", "optimism", "judgment" and all those other feel-good subjective impressions that don't tell you a damn about how a candidate will actually govern -- I prefer Coakley. She has a better way of talking to people and listening. In rare and brief personal encounters, she always struck me as a thinker with an ability to look beyond the next re-election campaign. I imagine that she'd be effective in the insular Senate world. However, the only issue on her website is health care, so I have no idea how she'd act on education or foreign policy, my top two issues. I can't commit to anyone who keeps those kind of secrets.

On the other hand is Capuano, who does mention non-health care issues, but also ignores education. Capuano has been in Congress for ten years, and I can't think of anything he's done. Sure he gives good speeches on all the good things and often joins with other groups of people, but I haven't seen much from him in the way of leadership. Plus, his very first press conference as a candidate included a needless attack on Coakley. I realize he'll have to throw some slime to bring down her astronomical favorables, but being unable to wait a single day shows a lack of class.

I think Coakley would be a slightly more effective Senator, but I don't know what issues and positions she'd be effective moving. I want to support her, but have no reason to -- and reason to wonder if Capuano might be a better pick. So as of now I'm genuinely undecided. Anyone else in the same boat?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The cold fusion of charter studies

Boston Foundation Boston Foundation BOSTON FOUNDATION!!! Ask any charter booster, amateur or professional (of which there are many, considering charters' hefty advertising budgets), for proof that charters have a significant impact on student outcomes, and they will tell you about the Boston Foundation study. The study takes me back to the names Pons and Fleischman -- the two eminently credentialed scientists who claimed to have discovered cold fusion 10 years ago -- whose brethren seem to have found a home at the Boston Foundation.

A couple things about this product. It isn't a study. True, its authors have many letters after their names who work with lots of numbers (similar to the cold fusion experiment). However, at base this is some data worked up by a nonacademic nonprofit at the behest of a very pro-charter Secretary of Education, himself responding to a pro-charter zealot of a governor, both eying charters as a means to re-election. Studies aren't usually published in pamphlet form fronted by a photo of a doe-eyed youngster, with credit given to the pamphlet designer before it is given to the authors. Studies are refereed.

Yes, its listed authors of this...exploration...do work at universities which I suppose is something. The idea, like the cold fusion study, started out with apparently good and smart intentions. The Boston Foundation did the smart thing by deciding to track outcomes only of students who applied to charter schools. The contention has long been that the act of researching and completing an application to a charter schools shows that the family is more dedicated to education. Thus, whether the students ends up in a charter or not, s/he is already enjoying an advantage over non-interested families. Previous studies were suspect, the story would go, because they compared unmotivated students in public schools with charter students who'd demonstrated motivation just by getting in.

Subsequently, the Boston Foundation methodology approach sought to level the playing field. All students in the study applied for a charter school, and the study's two groups were those who went on to the charter and those that did not. Motivation was roughly controlled, and the only variable was the type of education received. Apparently solid methodology.

The key point here -- the Boston Foundation made this change to neutralize an advantage that other studies gave to to charter schools. In a perfect research environment this study would be more pro-public school than its brethren because it neutralized a built-in advantage for charters in academic studies.

However, what happened is a result that was significantly more pro-charter than more rigorous and comprehensive studies.

Herein lies the puzzle. A change in how this "study" is conducted generated results outside the mainstream of scholarship. But that movement from scientific consensus took it in the opposite direction that the methodological change should have logically taken it.

In short: The Boston Foundation made a change that should have resulted in this; instead it resulted in that. This study should be less pro-charter than the mainstream, not more pro-charter. Regardless of results, this should have made the researchers, promoters, and allies pause. Unfortunately, it merely excited them more, just as Fleischman and Pons breathelssly announced their "discovery" of cold fusion without questioning how it could have occurred.

There are a host of possible explanations for this change:

  • We are so ignorant of how to study education that our grasp of methodology is completely wrong. The causal relationship between methodology and results is more complex then dreamed, and frankly the validity of all charter studies is in question.
  • The Boston Foundation stumbled upon a truth undiscovered by the body of scientific work (start here and here for rigorous study), which proves the only they have a valid understanding of how to study educational outcomes.
  • The Boston Foundation effort was so poorly cobbled together (due to incompetence and/or bias) that this charter study is invalid.
You'd think this methodological blow-up would make people stop and think. If a high school biology class did a lab that found that adding weight to an object increased its buoyancy, would the Globe be informed, or would the students be told to review their procedures?

If you're a high school biology student with a questionable result, you question it. If you're the Boston Foundation, you inform the media. Same if you're Pons and Fleischman. There's a lot in common -- both groups used questionable methods and rigor to get a surprising result that stands against scientific consensus and is irreplicable. They publicized it everywhere possible.

The difference, of course, is that there was no industry in place that is desperate to promote cold fusion as a received fact. Whereas today there are millions invested in convincing the government that privatizing education works in a way that privatizing agriculture, the military, transportation, and health care don't.

I will give credit to Deval Patrick, who in a conversation with me seemed rather unmoved by the Boston Foundation study. He may have noticed the rabbit already hiding in the magician's hat, and I hope people as similarly fanatical about charter promotion take his example. Because right now the only thing on offer from the Boston Foundation's "study" is educational cold fusion -- a risky purchase at best.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

MassLib nails it on Menino

Why even mention this muttering about the deleted emails at City Hall when Massachusetts Liberal does such a great job finding the proper context:

Let's start with what appears to be the center of the storm -- a city attorney who doesn't know the law. Richard Sinnott has already made the mistake of thinking that you don't need to save trivial e-mails....It all comes back around to the city attorney's office (and not the state attorney general, at least not yet.) It is the responsibility of Sinnott, not that of the "overworked" Dot Joyce, to comply with FOIA requests, not to mention court orders. And insure that there is adequate and appropriate staff to handle all the lawful requests...Still and all, I'm not ready to go out on a limb about the impact of this incompetence on either the results of next Tuesday's preliminary or the November final. There is a deep and abiding affection for Tom Menino and the administration's ability to plow the snow and pick up the trash.

But the e-mail nightmare certainly reflects what happens when someone hold office for as long as Menino has -- and starts to think l'etat, c'est moi.
I like Menino, but it is clear that he's gotten comfortable...too comfortable in "his" City Hall. However, that's a distance away from replacing him. Too comfortable and competent isn't the worst thing out there, and I'm not convinced that the other three have much to offer in the competence department.

Fire Paul Reville. Now.

When the Governor and his associates waded into a local decision about charter schools in Gloucester, residents were properly outraged. From the mayor on down, local officials with the best understanding of the needs of Gloucester students had rejected the idea of opening a somewhat-public school in the city. Deval's desire to promote the privatization of education in the form of charters was in the ascendant, however, and Patrick demanded that local officials re-examine this charter application until they came up with the answer Deval wanted. An answer that will cost Gloucester $2.4 million in diverted school fees.

At first, I thought this routine merely the product of somebody who hadn't spent any real time in a public school for over 40 years, elected on a platform that pretty much ignored education. Politicians like that typically use charter schools in place of a real program on education because they remain quite frankly ignorant of the real issues. Turns out, I was being generous. An email from Deval's charter-loving secretary of education Paul Reville makes this clear:

This situation presents one of those painful dilemmas. In addition to being a no-win situation, it forces us into a political cul de sac where we could be permanently trapped. Our reality is that we have to show some sympathy in this group of charters or we'll get permanently labeled as hostile and they will cripple us with a number of key moderate allies like the Globe and the Boston Foundation. Frankly, I'd rather fight for the kids in the Waltham situation, but it sounds like you can't find a solid basis for standing behind that one. I'm not inclined to push Worcester, so that leaves Gloucester. My inclination is to think that you, I and the Governor all need to send at least one positive signal in this batch, and I gather that you think the best candidate is Gloucester.

From this we can see a few things:
1 - The "political cul de sac" receives far more attention than the actual good of the students at stake. Reville is clearly used to making educational decision for the good of his boss's poll numbers.
2 - They think the Boston Foundation is moderate.
3 - Promotion of private charters inherently represents "fighting for the kids".
4 - Charter decision are based upon who Reville is personally "inclined to push" for, not educational data.

To reiterate -- the City of Gloucester is losing $2.4 million because Deval Patrick's team is concerned about his ability to win re-election. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is moving $2.4 million of our tax dollars from the city of Gloucester to a semi-public concern in order to court the Boston Globe.

Deval Patrick has a Bush-like inability to back down from personnel mistakes without an incredible amount of pressure (see Marian Walsh and Jim Aloisi). Hopefully people will realize that his decision to turn the DESE into a lever for his sagging poll numbers is not acceptable. Firing Paul Reville would be a good first step.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It boggles the mind

George W. Bush's former chief of staff is running to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate. If there is a political sentence that reads "dooooomed" more pithily than that, I don't know it.

This is a supposedly serious guy from a supposedly serious party pretending to make a sincere run for a seat, and it's beyond ridiculous.

It's like Karl Marx's publisher going for Chair of the Chamber of Commerce. It's Jerry Remy interviewing to manage the Yankees.

This is the most fantastically doomed campaign that I can think of...take a vengefully Democratic state, a seat linked to the Kennedy family based in that state, and plop in a guy chin-deep with the most pathetically incompetent Republican administration in living history. If Card does everything right, and the Democratic nominee plays "Old McDonald" on a juice harp throughout the entire debate, the nominee still wins.

I understand that Card is ambitious, but the friends-n-family advantage from growing up in Holbrooke can't equal the disadvantage of being a Dubya lackey in Massachusetts. He'd be better carpet-bagging in some loser state that won't admit how much Bush sucked.

What a loser.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Geez, Dad

Less than 12 hours after Alan Wilson kicked off his campaign for South Carolina Attorney General, his Dad embarrassed himself by heckling the President in the Congressional Chamber. Shouting at the President in the midst of a Congressional speech probably won't play so hot in that part of the country, where bigotry is fine as long as it remain polite. This wasn't polite.

Now, the newly minted candidate will be choosing whether to throw his dad under the bus, or give a thumbs-up to this Neanderthal behavior. I know they don't much cotton to President Obama in the Palmetto State, but I don't imagine this is the first day on the campaign trail that Daddy's Boy had in mind. Couldn't happen to a nicer family (and it wouldn't either...)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Schilling: Baker loves the gays

In his blog, Curt Schilling makes some remarks about his beliefs as part of his eventual decision not to run for office. I will give him credit that his ideas are more in line with a person trying to work out some conflicts and questions, and it's a nice change from the tight, poll-tested list of convictions most pols present. I'll give Schilling this -- he strikes me as more sincere in what he says he believes than most candidates.

But he does say something curious about Republican gubernatorial candidate/guy who won't pay for your prosthetic Charlie Baker:

Charlie Baker is running for Governor of Massachusetts. I am a huge supporter of Charlie. Charlie Baker is very much in favor of Gay marriage, I’m not. That doesn’t make me feel one ounce different about Charlie, because I understand there is no perfect candidate and no one exists but yourself, that’s going to align perfectly with your opinions and beliefs. This state needs good people above all else, and Charlie is that.

It's the "very much in favor of Gay marriage" that gets me. Not just in favor of equality, in favor of Gay marriage ("G"ay marriage? Baker wants sprinters to get married?). No, Baker is very much in favor of gay marriage. He doesn't just favor of equal rights in marriage, or colloquially accept the idea of gay marriage.

The way Schilling phrases it, he makes it sound as if there's nothing that gets ol' Charlie's motor running like two men going out and getting themselves married. A real guy-on-guy knot-tyin' enthusiast. To read Schilling, Baker cruises Unitarian chapels in Provincetown.

I doubt that's Baker's case. Rather, Baker can read poll numbers as well as anyone else, and realizes that clinging to an anti-equality stance in this state is a short path to loserdom. However, it certainly makes it seem that in Curt's mind, even a hint of tolerance makes you thrill at the idea of two men exchanging rings. It certainly makes it seem that the hardline conservatives in Massachusetts are not going to accept Baker's admission of equality quietly.

Which is perhaps a sign that it's a good thing Schilling won't come close to being our Senator, and that Baker isn't as close to the nomination as he likes to think he is.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It dawns on me...

...if Martha Coakley wants to be taken seriously as a candidate, she should probably have some ideas on foreign policy, national security, and education on her website. It's been three days since her declaration, and nothing.

I want to support her for Senate. In Axelrodian terms, she has all the intangibles of charisma and attitude that I look for. However, I'm no "hope and change" sucker, and I need to see some attention and principles on the issues before I fall in love and fall in line.

The President's Speech...lesson ideas

The Empty Right in Washington has chosen to ignore producing actual solutions on everything from the budget to health care, and is instead focusing on their latest fake outrage: the idea that a Democratic President (an African-American one, no less!) would tell students to stay in school. This is certainly more outrageous than President Bush, Sr., already campaigning for re-election, indoctrinating students to support his plan to aimlessly tinker with reform education by sitting them down in front of television screens back in 1991.

Of course, some of the richer conservatives have figured out that the sooner a child drops out of school, the less education s/he has, the more likely they are to vote Republican. So it's in their interest that students not stay in school; indeed some parents are using Obama's speech as a pretext for that effort to dumb down children enough to vote Republican when they are of age by keeping them away from that awful non-white man's plan to tell them not to drop out.

Now, this all surpasses ridiculous, but in an age where these people are not called for their foolishness by the powers that be, educators have to work around them. thus, I would borrow Bush's proclamation on the "controversy" over teaching evolution versus...something baldly unscientific...by "teaching the controversy".

Hopefully all public school teachers will seize this moment to expose students to the public dialogue concerning their education. Democrats in Utah ("a call by our nation’s highest elected official for our children to work hard and live up to their full potential is surely something all of us can agree on regardless of party affiliation") and Republicans in Florida ("President Obama has turned to American's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American's youngest children") have clearly laid out their cases...why not let students decide for themselves who is right? Or is that the kind of education that Republicans fidn so objectionable?