Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Credit where due

I'll give credit where it's of the stupider aspects of the MCAS was modified today.

Up until now, schools have been ranked by comparing the test scores of this year's students with the test scores of last year's students. A school was judged on how the scores changed from year to year. Whether the change happened because of the quality of the school's teaching, or the intrinsic skills and gaps of the students being educated, never came up. Schools and districts were judged on their ability to get better scores from different students.

Naturally, people without their heads up their a-- have been pointing out from the beginning that it would be more accurate to measure the growth of a certain class of students, something often called "longitudinal study". Now, schools and districts are judged on their ability to get better scores from the same students. Today, about 16 years after the law that birthed the MCAS passed, it's starting to happen.

Of course, lest too much common sense break out at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at once, this new method will merely "complement" the old (misleading) method and will be "rolled out" over a few years.

I'll finish by noting two things:
1. This move was finalized before Paul Reville came on board, so he gets limited credit for the obvious idea...though I suppose good for him that he didn't kill it;
2. It's pretty sad that any time common sense breaks out about the MCAS it gets a banner headline.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Return of the "angry" liberal Democrat

Little to surprise one in last night's Senatorial debate. Would-be and could-be Senators Mike Capuano and Martha Coakley staked out similar policy ground and different approaches while chasing Democratic Bay Staters' votes. Coakley was clipped as is her wont, and Capuano was bombastic as is his.

A lot of commentary saw the debate as largely a draw, doing nothing to alter Coakley's comfortable lead. What did catch me unawares last night was the decision of many commentators to recycle a favorite epithet for an honest, liberal Democrat: "angry". Joan Vennochi used it in a phrase of punditry quintessence: "Why is Representative Michael Capuano so angry?" No proof offered, just a wild stab masquerading as an opinion. Politico joins in, labeling Capuano as a "borderline angry personality". With synchronicity, supporters of Coakley's rival rush in -- the blogosphere is littered with Coakley boosters who labeled Capuano as "angry".

After all, what is there to be angry about in the Senate? Afghanistan? Iraq? An economy that fails anybody who isn't a millionaire? The current strategy of dealing with education through ignorant platitudes and energy with...well, nothing? Joe "Filibuster" Lieberman?

This ridiculous name-calling bugged me for a few hours until it found its mate in memory -- the attacks on Howard Dean for being angry, by watery pundits and Kerry-lovers back in 2004. This 2003 Time article is a perfect representation of the media' pearl-clutching -- are Democrats ready for an angry nominee??!? Kerry jumped on his opportunity, salting his primary stump speech with the phrase "don't just send people a message...send them a President". Kerry doesn't indulge in anger...he's presidential according to everyone but the voters. I wrote back in 2004:

I'm tired of Democrats being 'concerned' about the economy being run by the rich for the rich. I'm tired of them being 'troubled' about the rape of our Constitution. I'm sick of them being 'bothered' by the needless killing fields in Iraq. I am tired of the leaders of my party being 'worried' about what's happening to our country. I am way past 'concerned' or 'troubled' -- I'm pissed and I'm glad to see that somebody running for president is pissed too.

Here we are, five years later. We're still in Iraq. Our economy is still being run by the rich, if not for the rich. Harry Reid had to be bullied by "angry" Democrats such as Chuck Schumer to put a public option in his health care bill. John Kerry isn't president. Howard Dean was right about pretty much everything.

Another thing that hasn't changed are these faint-hearted observers and name-callers. Take honest liberal values, and combine them with a well-built male. This progressive big guy (Dean was a high school wrestler) starts talking plainly about the state of our union, and the delicates whimper at their "anger". They prefer the dispassion coolness that handed Kerry a loss and handed Patrick a 34% re-elect (true, this works for Obama, but everything works for that guy...Coakley and Kerry are not Obama).

And frankly, what Capuano and Dean offer isn't even anger but righteous passion. Perhaps some sheltered folks find passion scary if it comes from a tall guy with broad shoulders, I don't know. Heaven knows how they'd react if the tall, broad-shouldered guy were African-American as well (no chance of getting their vote). There are plenty of good reasons to dislike a politician, but the fact that he's squarely built and cares about the country is not one of them at all. Sure, Dean and Capuano are unafraid of a fight...but that's only a problem if you plan on being on the other side.

And if you plan on standing opposite Mike Capuano on a regular basis, you shouldn't even be voting in a Democratic primary.

Hey, you know who doesn't show any real passion about injustice? Charlie Baker. Vote for him, maybe he's more your speed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cahill pulls a Boehner?

The last thing Cahill needs is to sound like a clueless DC Republican...and that's exactly what happened yesterday.

Boehner is the sad little man who is the Republicans' "leader" in the House of Representatives in DC. Earlier, he remarked "I’m still trying to find the first American to talk to who’s in favor of the public option". This obvious hyperbole/lie promptly garnered responses from constituents, and even a poll indicating that Boehner indeed has many Americans in his own district who favor a public option.

Well, Tim Cahill sounded an awful lot like Boehner yesterday:

Cahill said he does not know of a single state employee who has been laid off.

To help out the Timster, I would ask a member of his campaign team to print out the following webpage: Regional and Area Offices Directory of the Office of Health and Human Services. Drive him to one of the addresses there listed, and ask around.

If Cahill wants to say that we haven't laid off sufficient state workers, well, I guess he's welcome to make that point. But to claim that none have been laid off, when it is so easy, convenient, and quick to disprove, is simply ridiculous. He isn't sounding pennywise on this one...he's just sounding foolish.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Boo Humbug!

A great article from the AP about those of us who rightfully detest what Halloween has become:

Halloween haters aren't as easy to categorize as that odd old lady on the block who always pretends that she's not home on Oct. 31, or people who protest the day on religious grounds. The new Halloween Hater is young, loud and proud.
I too am proud to hate Halloween, detestable attempt at sanitized Bacchanalia. I was confused about how people so loved it throughout childhood, and migrated to antipathy throughout college and my young adulthood, whether spent in Canada, Ireland (where every Dublin family seemed to be setting off fireworks), or here in the US. I can't stand it, and never have. Not due to religious reasons certainly, or education in a Halloween-free home. I trick-or-treated once as a child (Swedish Chef), and couldn't stand it...especially when I quickly figured out there was a lot of candy in the offing in my warm, dry house as out "there". Consider the following about Halloween:

  • It is a commercialization of the wondrous Samhain, party stores stripping yet another great day (such as Sol Invictus or Lupercal) from its wide-eyed pagan meaning;
  • It has become an excuse for sad adults who can't accept that college is in the past, and get liquored up -- leading to a weekend with more drunk driving fatalities than New Year's;
  • It is so often gruesome -- somebody who has lost a loved one in the last few months has to endure seeing cemeteries and faux dead bodies everywhere. You can even buy a lifesize gallows;
  • It offers bizarrely risqué costume choices that send all the wrong messages to younger minds;
  • It pushes parents to paranoia about who's opening the door and/or what's in the candy, to the point where trick-or-treating is mall-based for many families.
People who know know that I love a good time, but this crass hybrid of Halloween and Hooters is a day best in the past...only twelve days until all this crap is behind us. I detest Halloween* as Ebenezer Scrooge detests Christmas. To paraphrase from the original:

If I could work my will every idiot who goes about with 'Happy Halloween' on his lips, should be boiled in his own melted candy corn, and buried with a witch's broomstick through his heart. He should!

*Except for "War of the Worlds". That was an awesome thing stunt that Wells pulled off.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Would be treasurer: gambling expansion "imminent"

After the Senatorial race concludes, the next notable Democratic primaries figure to be for treasurer (Steve Grossman and Joe Connolly are in, possibly to be joined by others), and for attorney general should Martha Coakley win that Senatorial election.

It is on the question of treasurer that I'd like to dwell today, particularly Steve Grossman. Grossman was a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, and chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He was also Howard Dean's campaign chair, meaning that the gentleman has many good friends.

What concerns me is a passage on Grossman's printed campaign literature. It's bad enough that he calls one section "gambling and local aid" as if the two have any link, but worse still he says:

It is crucial that the Treasurer be a part of the imminent expansion in gaming.

This tells me that Grossman -- a man I respect for many reasons as a pro-labor, pro-solution, pro-Dean Democrat -- not only wants more gambling in this state, but is treating it as a fait accompli. More gambling will happen and soon. It's imminent. I don't much like the idea of the state finding new ways to abscond with the money of Massachusetts citizens, and I really don't like how Grossman seems to think that any debate on the question is beside the point. Let's hope he changes his tune over the course of the campaign; pro-gambling, isn't as bad as anti-debate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Massachusetts students number one -- again

Ten hours ago, the 2009 mathematics results on the most prominent national standardized test -- the NAEP or "nation's report card" -- were released. And to no surprise of anyone who follows these things, Massachusetts is beating the rest of the country in math. At two levels. Again.

Of 50 state plus DC, Massachusetts is number one. Same status as in the results of 2005 and 2007, the last two rounds of this test. No state in the nation scores as well as the Bay State:

  • A higher percentage of students scored advanced at fourth grade math than any other state in the nation.
  • A higher combined percentage of students scored proficient or advanced in fourth grade math than any other state.
  • A higher percentage of students scored advanced at eighth grade math than any other state in the nation.
  • A higher combined percentage of students scored proficient or advanced in eighth grade math than any other state. This one wasn't even close -- second place was 8 percentage points behind.
Of course there's work to be done, clearly shown in those numbers. However, I don't think it's inappropriate to spend a couple hours recognizing a job well done. Now, in most states, the governor would take pride in this, and trumpet the good news. Probably send out a celebratory and congratulatory press release. Not Deval -- he's dutifully ignoring good news about public education in Massachusetts. Heck, he's probably glum at the news that his "public education system in crisis" sell just got smacked harder by reality and trying to find bad news to harp on in his next op-ed.

So I'll do the governor's job for him, and congratulate the students, families, communities, and education professionals of this state in once again leading the nation. Well done everyone.

Updated: The governor released a positive statement the day after the results were released from embargo. The video:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A (belated) last word on the awarding of the 2016 games

I tried a round-by-round analysis to try to get a feel for how the games landed in Rio de Jainero for 2016. I opened it with the words "it seems to indicate that Rio had it in the bag from the beginning."

The folks at the Rio bid certainly felt so...and I think this says how little impact Obama could have had one way or the other. From the head of the Rio 2016 bid a few days ago:

"On September 28 ... we made a final list ... of the votes, and our strategy. The result that we have - it's on paper, we can show, final round; Rio 67, Madrid 33 and we missed two members."
The actual vote was Rio 66, Madrid 32.

When it is set in stone to this degree, I don't think Obama and Oprah really had a chance to change the vote.

PS: The 2016 Rio de Jainero games will feature rugby for the first time, and will bring back golf, which had been part of early Olympics. Baseball and softball remain locked out.

More flailing from the Globe on education

I'm indebted to Mark Bail for pointing out another Boston Globe attempt to rationalize its hostility to labor organization in education. Unsurprisingly, what we have is an emotion commanding an army of words, all of which are marching around the page in search of an idea. The sole theme about the Globe's "coverage" of union organization in public education is that something is going wrong, and it must somehow be the unions' fault. Last summer the Globe talked about middle shcools. This year, it's pilot schools and/or Teach for America, depending on the paragraph you read. Here's an early line from the editorial:

But no collaborative spirit is evident in the union’s resistance to bringing the acclaimed Teach for America program to Boston or creating more pilot schools.

Anyone familiar with the modus operandi of the modern media probably is already noticing a favorite technique -- slip in a favorable adjective with no substantiation. Just who is "acclaiming" Teach for America is never specified. The person speaking so well of the program, our anonymous Globe writer, wants you to accept on face-value the greatness of a program that will make you a teacher in just five weeks of training! Never mind that an "accelerated" college-based program for college graduates comprises a full year of courses, with enough credits to get you halfway to a master's degree. TfA can do it in five weeks. Idealism is a necessary, but hardly sufficient quality of good teaching, and heaven forbid teaching professionals are less than eager to see their qualified colleagues turned out the door in favor of an Insta-Teacher.

The editorial isn't about Teach for America, of course, but rather about the handiest club of the day with which to beat labor, which for a couple paragraphs is Teach for America. Having gotten no mileage out of its first claim, the Globe turns to another, pilot schools. In fact, we quickly learn that this is op-ed isn't about Teach for America, but, um, pilot schools. Or something...

In 1994, the BTU and the Boston Public Schools agreed to establish pilot schools, flexible but still unionized schools that were meant to be the system’s response to independent, nonunionized, charter schools. When that reform bogged down because of union concerns about the number of unpaid hours teachers were putting in at pilots, the city granted the BTU concessions in a 2006 pact aimed at resolving that issue.Despite that, however, the BTU leadership unsubtly discouraged efforts to convert traditional schools to pilots.

So we are once again told to take on faith the Globe's opinion that the teacher's union was making things difficult for the city three years ago (this time about pilot schools), so we should be angry about labor rights today. It seems that this writer believed that two half-points would equal one supported claim. It does not.

Regardless, the writer pushes on. (This op-ed is worth reading, only to get an approximate sense of what an op-ed must look like early in the editing process). The Globe apparently feels that it has succeed in its mission of making its readers angry about...well I'm not sure what. But they should be angry, and the readers should be anti-labor and pro Thomas Menino and the school committee. After flailing around long enough to fill the empty space on the op-ed page, the writer goes for his/her coup de grâce:

So here’s a word of advice to the BTU. If you want to be treated like a partner in school-improvement efforts, you have to show that you’re a willing partner.

Considering that the Globe's corporate parent is trying to balance its poorly managed books on the back of its own union, it's no surprise that labor is a bad guy in its pages. However, the editorial staff of the Globe is ostensibly able to write a column that makes a central point and backs it up with evidence, and on that score this column fails. There is a theme -- unions bad! -- but no claim upon which to hang that theme, much less evidence to back up the claim.

And I'm sure that's the fault of the teacher's unions, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Capuano stronger on education

I was thrilled to recently learn that Representative Capuano had voted against George W. Bush's attempt at education policy, the No Child Left Behind law back in 2001. Capuano became one of only 45 representatives to stand against this law. On the heels of becoming one of only 2 representatives to vote "present" on a motion to "Support Charter Schools Week" in 2001, Capuano really had his priorities straight back then.

His explanation last month for the 2001 vote is reported in the Globe:

Capuano and other critics say the metrics are unfair and unfunded.

"I voted against it, because there was no money in there for you guys to do the things we were telling you to do," he said, prompting enthusiastic applause.

I was impressed with Capuano's prescience, and was ready to firmly throw in with him. I was looking forward to reading his remarks in the Congressional Record about the law, only the find...nothing. While I am disappointed that he remained mute on the House floor during the debate, I cannot question Capuano's understanding of education on this bill, given his 2001 op-ed piece in the Globe which showed his understanding of the nature of this law:

The president promises substance and accountability. He proposes to measure a school's success through annual testing of all students, Grades 3 through 8, in math and reading. But what will his high-stakes tests really accomplish?

Such tests force schools to drill students in test-taking strategies and emphasize rote memorization. Less time is available to teach children to read, write, and calculate. Less time is available to teach them to think critically, to ask questions and seek answers. Is this the education we really want?

Reading further, you learn that the president would permit any student from a school that tests poorly to take $1,500 of Title I funding out of the failing school and transfer it to another school. ... This would accelerate the downward spiral and leave those who remain significantly worse off: 36 subsidized, 414 harmed.


What about the private schools that would receive Title I funds? Must they offer classes for special needs children? Can they demand religious conversion? Who will review their curriculum? We already know they won't be held accountable - the president's plan exempts private schools from his high-stakes testing.

And what about justice? Even if we exclude schools that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or gender, no private school accepts every applicant, and all can expel at will. So who remains in public schools? Children with disabilities, children with developmental problems, children from families where homework is not checked. The neediest and most troubled children - those who most need our help and cost the most to educate - will not disappear. Maybe President Bush should call his proposal "Leave some children behind."

This is frankly an article that President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and Governor Patrick should be forced to read. Capuano understands not only the fiscally debilitating implications of the bill on schools, but the sheer injustice of private/charter/religious receiving a full helping of public education funding with very little of the attendant responsibilities. Let me be clear: I am not ready to see Rep. Capuano as a leader on education issues: he's been rather silent in Congress on education. It's a lot to take a person on faith based on very few votes. However, if the Senate finds itself needing a leader to emerge on this issue, I think and hope that Senators Begich and Capuano are the best hope for a smart policy.

I came into this race leaning toward Martha Coakley. However, her issues page remains silent on education, and a follow-up inquiry elicited this response:

In the next few weeks, the Attorney General's position on education will be posted on her website.
I can't help thinking that the primary election will be over "in the next few weeks". Right now, it looks as if she's ducking the issue. On education, Capuano is clearly emerging as the more progressive candidate on education. While I am still uneasy about what his attack mentality, and refusal to enter the race without permission from the Kennedy family say about his ideas of leadership, Capuano's grasp of education issues is heartening.

NCLB is about to blow up, as the stated goal of making every child magically proficient in reading and math by 2014 hits reality. The US Senate will be part of the reaction to reality, and on that vote I'd rather have a strong, knowledgeable Senator such as Michael Capuano than someone measuring the winds.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

...and Mousavi, too

I'm a sucky fake pundit because I often wait to sum up my thoughts on something, and by then the topic has passed me by. However, I do want to "round out" the whole thing on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and why I believe it is undeserved. I started some thoughts at BMG, but this is a more systemic conclusion.

First of all, I'm in no way blaming any of this on Obama. While arguments abound on whether Obama should have refused this award, I can't fault how he handled this situation. I should also mention that I find it hilarious that the same conservatives who call the Nobel an example of Obama's unseeming friendship with Euro-elites are the same ones cheering the "loss" of the Olympics to Rio (Chicago never had them to lose) the hands of those same Euro-elites.

Secondly, while it is tempting to point out that this is "just an award", pragmatic concerns necessitate remembering that with this award comes cash to the total of some $1.2 million. Many people working toward peace are on shoestring budgets, harassed by an autocratic state. That money can build a lot of peace, if used right.

The key point is this -- anytime somebody wins a Nobel Peace Prize, lots of other nominees lose it. When arguing that Obama deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, it is insufficient to say that he meets the criteria...Obama should only have won the prize had he met those criteria better than anyone else. That's where the argument that "Obama deserved it" fails. The list of NPP nominees is secret, but for argument's sake let's take the example of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, leader of the nascent democracy movement of Iran (Greg Mortensen or Morgan Tsvangirai work just as well). Using the criteria bandied offered to rationalize Obama's victory, let's see how Obama and Mousavi stack up...

  • "Obama has brought hope to the world". Obama brings hope to the world by not being George W Bush. It is true that America's friends around the world are relieved at Bush's retirement, but that frankly would have happened regardless of who the 44th president was. His ideas would have died with President Hillary Clinton, and even to some extent with President John McCain. In that way, there is nothing inherent and unique in Barack Obama that merits this award. Same for variants of the idea that Obama is bringing peace because people around the world love him so. A lot of that love is for the fact that he isn't Bush, and as for the rest...Boris Yeltsin was well-loved around the world in his day as well.

    As bad as Bush is, he never denied the Holocaust or threatened to incinerate another country. That is who Mousavi is trying to send into retirement. And Mousavi is doing this by taking his life in his hands, not merely running an election campaign. So in terms of "doing more to change the world for the better", I'd have to give Mousavi the edge.

  • "Obama has rallied the youth of his nation and brought energy to the process". Obama's campaign energized the youth of a country, bringing in 5 million new minority voters. Turnout was up 1.5% over the last election. (Not that this is a major impact on the world).

    There are no reliable turnout figures for the 2009 election. However, Mousavi has managed to turn out about a million people in the largest protests in Iran in my lifetime. And unlike Obama's rallies, shooting was a real chance -- and a reality -- at Mousavi's rally. Obama's people voted, Mousavi's people risk their lives. Mousavi again gets the edge.

  • "This is about potential for peace, not what they've achieved" This is hardly worth talking about. I've never head of an Oscar given because the actor's next movie might be great, or a Lasker given because someday a doctor might turn out great research. History's dustbin is filled with people who arrived in office with energy and potential to change the whole game, only to fail to meet that mark -- everyone from Alexander Kerensky to Junichiro Koizumi. Tony Blair became Prime Minister under excitement as intense as Obama's. He was a breath of fresh air for Britain's lurching Conversative foreign policy, and a new hope for the peaceful construction of Europe. Perhaps if John Major had been as loony as Bush, Blair would have won the Peace Prize. (If he'd dispatched Margaret Thatcher, he'd have had an even better chance.) However, nobody had ever claimed Blair should have won the Nobel Prize for being elected.

    As for potential for peace, Ahmadinejad has shared responsibility (the extent is unclear) for a nation that supports terrorism at least in Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. While I'm not going to paint Mousavi as a saint, his potential as president -- remember, we're told that potential matters, not accomplishment -- his potential as president to reverse Ahmadinejad's hateful policies can set more wrongs right than I would argue Obama. With President Mousavi comes not just hope for a more democratic Iran, but a more democratic Lebanon and Syria as well. A three-fer! Once again, Mousavi rises above.

  • "This award is a call to action" I'm glad that's how Obama accepted the award. It's the best he could have handled it. This call to action means to be involved in the community by helping people out, recycling, and trying to improve civil society. I presume Mousavi would like his supporters to do this, you know, after they overthrow an anti-democratic, medieval regime that is suppressing a proud people. Advantage Mousavi.

There's one last point. One of the most powerful messages of the Nobel Peace Prize is that the world recognized the value of this person, almost named as a "world treasure". And as with ecological or architectural treasures, the world has a vested interest in their well-being. The Dalai Lama and Aum Sung Suu Kyi of Burma are two people whose status as Nobel Laureates has kept them in the eye of the world. Despite Chinese harassment and Burmese intransigence, these two peacebuilders are known figures, not least of all for winning the Nobel Prize. Every autocratic regime has its brave lights fighting for the true peace of freedom (Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, for example), but can't go the final step of hiding away Kyi in prison or in death because the Nobel Prize confers an almost mythical status to the laureate.

Such status is so essential for people, from Yitzhak Rabin to John Hume to Anwar Sadat who take the chance of angering their communities and rivals with the brave decision to go for peace. If Obama makes strong progress toward peace (something he hasn't much done in Iraq or Afghanistan yet), he will receive a wild-eyed rant from Glenn Beck. If Mousavi makes strong progress, he may well receive a bullet in the head.

A bell can't be unrung, and this prize can't be ungiven. I know some of Obama's most loyal followers think this award is richly deserved, as would be any award given the President. I can't say that Obama emphatically doesn't deserve this, but it is the Mousavis of this world who not only deserve this award, but can use it to do the most good, and produce the most peace.

Congratulations to Barack Obama. As for Mir-Hossein Mousavi, there's always next year -- provided he's still alive.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Senatorial silence on education

I emailed the four Democratic senatorial campaigns the following question a week ago:

Federal law requires that all American public school students demonstrate "proficiency" (as measured by the individual states) in math and English by 2014. Standardized testing in 2008 placed less than 80% of public high school students at those levels in Massachusetts; many states scored much lower.

I would ask you if you believe that all students will reach this goal by 2014, and if not what changes to the law or education policy would you recommend in view of this requirement not being reached.

So far, all I get is utter silence. They want this issue to go away. Cowards.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's Good to be Paul Reville

Our Secretary of Education leads quite a charmed existence. With the noise of a mayoral and Senatorial election, there's the hope that the citizens of the Commonwealth could forget the fact that Paul Reville has sought to buy media favor for his boss on the back of public education. Remember, Paul Reville overrode repeated decisions by boards of education professionals, forcing a poorly planned charter school on Gloucester. The reason for his decision to move $2.1 million away from elected city officials to an unaccountable council? To make the Boston Globe like his boss more (seriously, that was stated reason in a leaked email). Oh, and to a please some bunch of people who publicize pro-charter pamphlets that masquerade as studies. Let's repeat the Mission Statement of Reville's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, according to the Secretary himself:

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.
Had this been the approach to a hospital or nursing home, he'd be gone. But since it's just a school, Reville can report his comfort with the decision and his future prospects:

In an interview with the News Service, Reville said the recent flap – news reports outlined an email he sent in February appearing to advocate for the approval of a Gloucester charter school for political reasons – would not compromise his ability to promote Gov. Deval Patrick’s education agenda.

Oh, and if you disagree with anything Reville does, you're declaring "war" on him:

We’ve got wars on whether it’s English language or charter schools ... I do think we’re in danger right now of considerably losing public respect through our internecine war here.

So, he's been apparently promised that his job is safe no matter what he does, but any disagreement equals "war". There's something about doctorates in education that seems to blow up egos. Well, this combination of safe harbor and delusion may have driven Reville's latest move which will only serve to handicap public education further -- a decision to essentially classify most standardized test questions.

The whole idea is that standardized tests inform people of a school's strengths and weaknesses. Using the data from the test, a school can improve on its weak points. So, Paul Reville chose the most efficient route to kneecapping public education -- he's withholding essential data from schools.

If your school's fourth graders performed significantly worse than most fourth-graders in the state, you're supposed to find out the reasons. Say your fourth-graders did poorly on "number sense" questions -- well, the idea of accountability is that you study these questions and the answers to fix the mistakes, or you pay the price.

Except now Reville, and his well-connected New Hampshire friends who make big money off this test, refuse to release almost all the test questions. If most sixth graders in your local school miss question #34 on the MCAS, schools probably won't be able to find out what the question was, or what the correct and incorrect answers are. Measured Progress, Incorporated knows, but they and Reville refuse to give local teachers the tools to correct this. So next year, when question #34 is repeated as question #37, Reville and company can use this as an argument that public schools can't do their job -- they whiffed on the same question repeatedly! Nevermind that teachers never learn what question this is, and have to trust Measured Progress, Inc. with education the way we trust Diebold with elections -- all this means is more charter schools are needed!

(I should mention in balance that this sudden decision was announced in the name of saving money. Apparently, this privatization model means that Massachusetts has to pay private incorporated entities a lot of money to write math problems.)

So, in between playing politics with charter schools, Reville is spearheading a drive to handicap silly teachers who are trying to...improve their teaching. You know, the whole stated goal behind the "Test Every Child" movement. Perhaps if he gets another job guarantee form Deval Patrick, Reville can skip the whole logistical mess of actually testing children, and just issue test scores and lists of failing schools.

Don't forget -- "education reform" means that teachers are accountable and the Secretary of Education is not.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Conservaporn, Liberal Satire

First, go to this website about a mural of sorts assembled by a Bible-thumpin' conservative "artist". Scroll over it, and "explanations" appear in the righthand column. There's a lot that could be said about this, but I'll just say two things:

1. You really don't find too many people these days who publicly object to Brown v Board of Education, and
2. This liberal satire is funnier and more informative than I could be.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Why is Alan running?

A while ago on BlueMassGroup, a commentator frustrated by Khazei's silence on this issues asked "What does Alan Khazei believe?"

The only answer I could offer then, and offer now, is that Khazei believes that he should be senator, and that you should vote for him.

Aside from the idea of extending opportunities for public service, an idea well in the hands of President Obama and organizations such as Americorps, he's got nothing. Literally.

Khazei's website is silent on every single issue. It's loud on his biography, but that's about it.

Khazei seems to share Sam Yoon's thinking that all it takes to get elected in Massachusetts is enthusiastic talk "citizen-driven! grassroots! hope!" and a nice biography. However, they apparently both forgot that Deval and Obama shied away from extensive policy talk while campaigning, but that policy work was done, offered, and available by their campaigns. Obama didn't like to talk about health care details like Hillary Clinton did, but Obama did have a plan on his website.

I'm genuinely worried that Khazei may pick up a large amount of support to go with his $1 million war chest despite his refusal to meaningfully think about the economy, energy, education, health care, foreign relations, and other significant issues. I really hope the Massachusetts electorate is not that naive, especially given the gift of experience.

PS: His website isn't even set up to accept unless you're a Facebook kind of voter, I guess Alan just doesn't want to hear from you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Open Mike Attack Night

As predicted at the outset of the race, Capuano is on the strident bus, going after Coakley rather than talking about his own ideas:

“She’s not a liberal. How do you figure that? Who said she was? Voters will think about philosophy and issues and whether someone can deliver on that philosophy and issues...A month ago it was a coronation."

Granted, the Globe just went for the juicy part of the interview, and the dynamics of the campaign are such that Cap simply must throw mud at Coakley if he's going to win. However, this isn't the kind of crap I'd want to see my Senator doing. Capuano seems to have a chip on his shoulder (I don't remember anyone saying this was a coronation) and frankly sounds more like somebody who isn't getting what he thinks he's entitled to more than anything else.

I'm still pretty undecided, but stuff like this makes me figure that Capuano has a good past, but a questionable future.

Vennochi on Anonymity: Preserving the Gatekeeper Role

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, who occasionally gets things right, brandishes her Old Media bona fides in a column today. Over at BMG, regular poster "Ernie Boch, III" has been agitating for a boycott of Howie Carr's radio show. Now, Carr is a Jurassic mouthpiece, a spokesman for everyone left behind in an era of equality and fairness, and the city would be better off without him on radio. At some point, I'm not really sure why, "Ernie" took it upon himself to see if he could make that happen.

EBIII, as he is known, is getting a little traction on this. As with many bloggers, EBIII chooses to remain anonymous, which has created some headaches. Both Howie Carr and car dealer Ernie Boch, Junior are trying to find someone to spill EBIII's name, presumably to do to him what a lowlife Alaskan politician to an anonymous blogger last year. Carr feels under threat, and Boch, Jr. apparently is sick of dealing with stupid potential customers who don't get a joke. So setting out to violate a person's right to privacy seems fair to them, I guess. I don't think too many people need to take lessons on integrity from Howie Carr and a car dealer, and Joan doesn't help with her column. The key line:

But the issue is also the Internet’s ability to give cover to critics who don’t have to do what Carr does - own their opinions.
Bloggers take the cover of anonymity for good reason -- they don't have the protections that Carr and Vennochi do, but want to talk anyway. See, Carr (and Vennochi) get plenty of help in the quest to "own their opinions". They have jobs that require them to have and "own" opinions, and have contractual language that encourages and protects that exercise. They rake in good money in this quest, and their value often goes up if fired for a particularly bold opinion, at which point they get a new contract with a different media outlet. Unlike many bloggers, Howie & Joan get rewarded for crazy opinions, whereas many of us would get rewarded with a pink slip in our personal jobs. Vennochi even belongs to a union (the Boston Newspaper Guild) that runs to court regularly in case anyone thinks of firing Vennochi because she declared her opinion.

On the other side is EBIII, who doesn't have these protections built into his working and personal life, and may work in any of a dozen jobs that would result in his firing if it became known that he is using his First Amendment rights on his own time (just put "blogger fired" into Google if you require case studies).

Vennochi is calling out people who would dare to use the same rights as her, despite not enjoying the extensive protections she enjoys. This is equivalent to a big kid showing up for Pop Warner football all suited up, and complaining that everyone else on the field wants to wear pads as well. If Vennochi would like to get EBIII (or myself) membership into a union which will go to court for me so quickly on this issue, we could probably work something out. Until then, EBIII is smart to take advantage of the security extended to his personal and professional life that anonymity provides, a security used by an illustrious roster that includes Mark Felt and Ben Franklin.

I think what upsets so many traditional media outlets -- ones that used unnamed sources for anything from the President's policy priorities to the condition of Tom Brady's shoulder -- is that EBIII is choosing anonymity for himself. Media is used to the privileged position of granting anonymity to "worthy" sources with something to interest them, and refusing to those protections to those who don't "deserve" them. Anonymity provides bloggers with the chance to enter the conversation even when it involves personal risk. Nobody has to beg a reporter or have access to offer in return for that protection -- we just take it and keep on running.

And in case there was a threat that Vennochi would be taken seriously, she follows up with:

The blogosphere opened up the public conversation to new, thoughtful voices, but it should not provide a shield to hide biases and private agendas.

How many times, over and over again, have we dirty smelly bloggers been forced to root out the biases and private agendas of media sources and participants that the media is too lazy or stupid to find themselves? That's half of Media Matters' business, pointing out the sloppily hidden agendas of media outlets.

PS: The funny thing is that most of us dirty online commentators know the "real names" behind the majority of blogger handles, and the fact that these figures don't only demonstrates how far out of the loop they really are.