Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another question of ethics and integrity for the News Journal: Rodel lobbyists

Among the more interesting paragraphs in the Harvard Research Group study about the Rodel Foundation and education reform in Delaware is this bit that includes Paul Herdman talking (obviously before the 2012 school board elections) about the new areas Rodel would be moving into:

The foundation’s communications efforts and coalition building will deepen and expand as real changes begin to take effect. Rodel will concentrate on broadening support for those leading the change. While continuing to educate and inform the public about the need for change and what kind of change is possible, Rodel will direct communication efforts regarding specific larger scale changes that are going to be implemented by the state and districts—higher standards, greater accountability for performance, and development of strong new teachers and leaders. For these changes to be effective, many constituencies need to be willing to put aside old ways of doing business. One investment Rodel is making to support change processes on the ground is to incubate the emerging Voices 4 Delaware Education organization, a 501(c)(3) education advocacy organization. Other private sector partners will support the legally separate 501(c)(4) organization, Voices 4 Delaware Education Action Fund, as well as a functioning PAC. The investment in Voices is focused on bolstering broad public understanding of change needed in the state’s education system and on providing public leaders and lawmakers with information and knowledge to make the right choices for Delaware kids. Herdman adds, “When teacher evaluation efforts start to have consequences attached to them, when school board elections are no longer controlled by the old power structure, and when we take on fiscal equity issues and the funding formula, we anticipate strong voices of dissent. Changing behavior and shifting resources is extremely challenging to the status quo. There must be an effective counterbalance, an equally strong set of voices saying we need to do the right thing for kids and to support the elected officials and school-level leaders who are going to be receiving most of the heat in this new environment.”
Now the truly intriguing part about this is that what Herdman doesn't tell Harvard (and what, in an equally intriguing manner, they don't ask) is that Voices 4 Delaware Education will be engaging in candidate advertising, and directly attempting not only to elect like-minded individuals to school boards around the State, but to unseat existing board members like Shirley Saffer in Christina.

What's also truly interesting is the lack of integrity on the part of the report writer:  the report was issued in October 2012, months after the Rodel-led charge to drop tens of thousands of dollars to influence school board elections had gone down as a dismal failure.  Yet all readers get to see is a puff piece with Herdman holding forth on educating the public to "do the right thing for kids."

Apparently the right thing to do for kids is to spend thousands in trying to influence elections instead of spending it in the classroom.  (That kind of goes with all those multi-thousand dollar celebratory events that get covered in the News Journal more often than student test scores or the steady re-segregation of Wilmington schools.)

Apparently the right thing to do is also for Paul Herdman to saddle up as a registered lobbyist to push for (just this year) the passage of HB 90 and SB 51--at least according to the Delaware Public Integrity Commission:
OK, I happened to like HB 90, and applaud Kim Williams for introducing it.  I happen to think SB 51 is going to harm teacher preparation programs (and therefore the supply of new teachers) in Delaware.

And I want to point out that there is nothing illegal or inherently shameful about being a registered lobbyist.

There is, however, a question of journalistic integrity here for the News Journal to ponder.

What's missing here is the fact that Herdman is a registered lobbyist.  I don't necessarily blame him for the omission:  when you are shilling for a cause you take all the publicity you can get, however you can get it.

On the other hand, the newspaper would appear (even when it has no statewide competition, and is therefore effectively a monopoly) to have some journalistic obligations toward its readers.  And that means that when it allows people who have registered as lobbyists to write editorials it should actually inform the public.  I don't care if that registered lobbyist is John Daniello, John Flaherty, Frederika Jenner, Richard Korn, Chuck Mead-e, John Sigler, Wayne Smith, Ezra Temko, or Nancy Willing (all of whom are currently registered), the public has a right to know and the newspaper has a responsibility to report their status.

Again:  there is nothing illegal or unethical about being a registered lobbyist.

But we make people register for a reason, and the reason is ostensibly for transparency in government.

The public is supposed to be able to depend on its news sources for information about vested interest and who is exercising it in Legislative Hall:
Paul Herdman is CEO and president of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, a nonprofit that advocates for education reform.  Mr. Herdman is also a registered lobbyist.
See?  That wasn't so hard, was it?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just let them wear burqas

British author Nick Ross argues that dressing "provocatively" is the equivalent to leaving your laptop on the seat of an unlocked car:
The main argument of my book is this: we can aggravate crime by tempting fate, and we curb it by playing safe. We have come to acknowledge it is foolish to leave laptops on the back seat of the car. We would laugh at a bank that stored sacks of cash by the front door. We would be aghast if an airport badly skimped on its security….  Our forebears might be astonished at how safe women are today given what throughout history would have been regarded as incitement … 
Then there's this:
He says things like, “Rape is one of the most defiling crimes and there is never excuse or justification for it.” Then he says, “In any other crime we take account of provocation and contributory factors. Even in murder. Why not with sex?” And he wonders why readers are a little confused. 
More "legitimate rape" goodness to start your day.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Vision 2012-2015-2020: Delaware's educational Fisker

It is very difficult these days to find references to Vision 2012, the original title of the Rodel-led initiative to transform Delaware schools.

Paul Herdman et al have, for example, written it out of the history of Vision 2015 published by the Harvard Graduate School, just as Herdman had Delaware's first State Secretary of Education, Iris Metts, edited out of the same article.

The term "Vision 2012" has also been pretty carefully scrubbed from its website.  Google searches may turn up references to the older name, but when you try to follow them, this is what you get:
You can still find scattered references to Vision 2012 if you look real hard, like this one in Delaware Today from (ironically) 2012:
Vision 2015 (originally titled Vision 2012) focuses on six major system reforms, four of which were also building blocks of the state’s Race to the Top plan. So far, 25 schools are part of the Vision Network that is putting Rodel-backed reforms into practice.
The most specific reference to the original Vision 2012 that you can now find (outside of Delaware blogs) with even a determined web search is this article from the October 2005 edition of Philanthropy Magazine:
To that end, the Rodel Foundation of Delaware’s mission is clear: to help Delaware create one of the finest public school systems in the nation by 2012.
The Foundation’s eight-member volunteer board meets quarterly and works to ensure that Rodel spends its funds appropriately on what it calls “Vision 2012.” Rather than supplying conventional grants or scholarships, the Foundation is committed to investing in systemic reform of the public school system, and it seeks to engage parents, teachers, administrators, business leaders, and government representatives in this effort. In the next seven years, Rodel will target its investments in the six areas of systemic reform that the Foundation believes are central to improvement: teacher quality, leadership development, standards and accountability, school finance, school choice, and family and community engagement. 
I have highlighted certain portions of this to make several points:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More budget goodness: computers for state testing, but screw employees and kids

Today Governor Markell made it official:  once again he is not seeking a raise for state employees (to go along with not seeking to do anything meaningful about child poverty, either).
“I very much appreciate our state employees since it is their extra effort that has continued state government services the last few years while we have cut costs and reduced by attrition the number of state employees,” he said. “Unfortunately, given demands in education, health care, courthouse security and infrastructure improvements as well as the fact that we are facing a large gap in the FY15 budget between projected revenues and expenses, an employee raise isn’t responsible at this time.”
He appreciates you, all right.  So much so that he rates computers for state testing above the necessity for a pay raise or even money to keep paraprofessionals at work in Delaware classrooms.

Meanwhile, instead of funding better access to health care for 535 poor Delaware children, the Governor and Joint Finance Committee have apparently decided that charter schools need $2 million more than kids who cannot see a doctor.

It doesn't have to be health care, you know.  I'm using that figure about kids and health care to point out what the Governor and General Assembly don't want you to focus on:  they don't have actual strategic priorities for State spending.

(By the way, for kavips--who asked--here is the link to the premium cost of Medicaid for kids)

First, the Mayor, now the Fire Chief--but not you: more Wilmington hypocrisy

I particularly love the reason why the Wilmington Fire Chief needs to carry a firearm:

Wilmington Fire Chief Anthony Goode has been carrying a department-issued firearm for about a month, saying with increased code enforcement duties he and the mayor’s staff thought it would be a wise move. 
“Firefighters are always in dangerous situations. You never know what you’re going to be walking into,” said Goode, who was appointed fire chief by Mayor Dennis P. Williams in January.
The fact that much the same could be said for many city residents in high crime, high violence areas is an irony apparently lost on city officials and Delaware legislators.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

53 Delaware children didn't get health insurance so the State Police could pretend to buy back guns

That's right:  the General Assembly appropriated $200K last year for a gun "buyback" that never happened.

Instead, the Delaware State Police used the money for "unexpected" lease costs for one of its buildings.

This year, by a 7-5 majority, the Joint Finance Committee appropriated another $200 K for a gun "buyback" in FY 2014.

Don't hold your breath.

As the Controller General's office observed, actual gun "buybacks" tend to include a significant percentage of
broken and unusable guns.
So, odds are, what will happen again this year is that the DSP will pick up another $200 K for a slush fund.

At $3,739 annual premium cost, that's 53 poor children in Delaware who could have had health insurance both this year and last.

It's time to quit pretending that that the Delaware budgetary process has any real priorities, and admit that what's happening in Dover is purely carving up the pork.

Delaware politicians, as usual, fail to lead

I find it less than amusing to see the juxtaposition of an article on rising child poverty in Delaware with another on a $20.2 million uptick in projected revenues in today's News Journal.

There are several quite unintentional (I hope) ironies here.

First, the child poverty numbers:

About 20 percent of Delaware children lived in poverty between 2010 and 2012, the study shows. 
That’s better than the 21.5 percent nationally, but still a sharp increase from 2009, when the figure was 13 percent.
Combine this with the number of unemployed or under-employed adults:
About 26 percent of parents aren’t fully employed. That’s better than the 28.9 percent nationally, but it is still worse than in previous years. In 2006-2008, the number was closer to 20 percent. 
Then lay in the dramatic increase in single-parent families:
The study also found a large and increasing number of Delaware children, almost 38 percent, are growing up in single-parent homes. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 33.8 percent, which is close to where the state was in 2005-2007. 
It is important to point out here that, in particular, the dramatic increases in child poverty have occurred in a state that has nearly complete one-party rule.  Pretty much the Democrats possessed the power to pass any measures necessary to combat rising child poverty if that were a major priority for our lawmakers.

But it apparently isn't.

That's why the second article, the one on finding $20.2 million more of our tax dollars coming in, is so instructive.

Recognizing that even $20.2 million is not a hell of a lot of money in a $3.7 BILLION budget, it still ain't chicken feed, and it could very well have an impact if not pissed away.

Let's see how the WNJ reports legislators and other concerned folks as wanting to spend it:

State employee unions will press for an across-the-board pay raise (and, in the interest of full disclosure, as a DSU employee I would receive such a pay raise), arguing that for the fifth straight year Governor Markell has not proposed such a pay raise for them.  Even a 1% pay raise, by the way, would eat the entire $20.2 million.

Some people will want either the farmland preservation or Transportation Trust Fund cuts in Markell's budget restored.  That would come with an equally large price tag.

Chief Justice Steele wants $3.5 million for improved court house security.

DSEA head Frederika Jenner wants to use to money to "back-fill" losses in education revenue from the expiration of Race to the Top funds, or the evaporation of certain monies under sequestration.

Nobody appears to want the money to deal with child poverty, which is really quite strange when you think about it, because Delaware's ruling Democratic Party claims to be, ah, ... progressive!?

It was politically easy to deal with marriage equality and gun control earlier in the session.  While divisive, those issues were high-profile, high pay-off (in political terms), and served as great vehicles for both conservative and liberal fundraising.

But neither of them required the Democratic majority nor the Markell administration to actually DO anything about child poverty in Delaware.

So let's see what we could do, with just a modicum of political courage.

There are apparently about 42,000 Delaware children in poverty today.

About half of these children have no health insurance.  Medicaid premiums for kids run about $3,739 per year.  To find and cover the 21,000 kids not on Medicaid would cost the State $77.7 million.  So even using the $20.2 million toward that end would leave us with a $57.5 million shortfall.

Where would we ever find another $57.5 million for children's health care in the Delaware budget?

It is easier than you think.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Today's DSU graduation

Number 122 ...

No rain (although it kept trying), and one of the better organized events I've seen in the past 22 years here ...

671 graduates (the largest number in history), of whom about 73% were African-American ...

It is often difficult to maintain the traditions of an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) in a rapidly changing world, but to do so is pretty damn important.

Over the past twenty years, the faculty demographics at many HBCUs began changing, primarily because the larger academic job market finally opened up, on a more or less level playing field, for African-American scholars, who abruptly found themselves able to make considerably more money at majority white institutions.

(When I came to DSU in 1990 there were many social studies teachers at high schools in the surrounding community making more money than I did as an assistant professor of history.  Even today, DSU and other HBCUs pay well below national norms at all ranks in salary.  A DSU full professor makes only about 2/3s of what his/her colleague will at UD, and most Del Tech Instructors make more than DSU associate professors.)

So the percentage of African and African-American faculty at DSU and other HBCU's declined, despite the institution's best efforts to the contrary.

My own Department of History and Political Science had nine white males, one white female, and one African-American female on the full-time faculty when I arrived in 1990.  Since then we have conducted ten searches for full-time faculty.  Five of those positions were secured by African-Americans (three male, two females); one by an Asian male; and four by caucasians (one male, three females).  So over that twenty years we have taken some pretty significant steps to increase the diversity of our department.

Overall, DSU's faculty has become one of the most diverse in the nation.  According to our 2011-2012 Self-Study for Middle States accreditation, of the 211 individuals holding full-time faculty status we are 42% caucasian, 39% African/African-American, 19% Asian/Indian, 4% Other, and 1% Hispanic.

Far from the "whitening" that concerns some researchers interested in HBCUs, DSU has embraced the idea of global cultural diversity within a strong African-American heritage.

While we were missing the rain today at DSU's graduation, the men of Morehouse College (another of the nation's pre-eminennt HBCUs) were not so lucky:  the rain apparently fell in sheets.  That could not diminish the crowd's enthusiasm (smaller than ours:  they only graduated 500 today) at hearing President Obama address them.

Regular readers will know I find little common ground with this President, but I think his comments at Morehouse were right on the money:
"Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down," he said. "I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there's no longer any room for excuses."
There are, obviously, a lot of other viewpoints about what is happening (and what will happen) to HBCUs in this country.  Some passionately (but, I believe, misguidedly) think that the day of HBCUs is over.  Others, through fear or opportunism, are sounding an unrealistic alarm that the whole premise of the HBCU has been subverted and sold out.

Looking around Alumni Stadium today, I don't see it.
 

Friday, May 17, 2013

This was predictable: Vision 2015 poised to become Vision 2020

Originally it was Vision 2012.

Then, when it became evident that the corporate donors weren't coming across with the promised money, it became Vision 2015.

I have been predicting for about two years now that with 2015 just around the corner it would be time to move the goal posts again.

I thought Vision 2020 would be a lame enough visual pun and give Rodel et al a long enough timeline to keep avoiding accountability.

Sure enough, here's a quote from their invite to a big event next week:
"Rodel is hosting an event to officially announce the foundation’s new mission to help Delaware become a global leader in public education by 2020, and to acknowledge all the work we’ve collectively accomplished in getting to this point."
The problem is that Rodel, and Governor Markell, all really do think that the public (and the General Assembly) is so stupid that they won't notice what's happening.

Based on prior experience here, they're right.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Delaware's (corporate) welfare queens take money from your schools and roads thanks to the General Assembly

Everybody (including me) likes to keep beating the Markell administration (and the legislature that let it happen) over the head about Fisker.

But by the time that the News Journal gets involved, you have to know that the story is finally old hat.

Instead of pointing the finger at Alan Levine and Jack Markell (neither of whom is running for re-election in 2014), how about we do the responsible thing and stop this team of capitalist geniuses before they help us again.

Oops.  Too late.  AstraZeneca.

OK, maybe we can still expect our legislature to stop them before they do it again.

But probably not.

Here's what Governor "Trust me I'm a knowledgeable Wall Street capitalist" Markell and Alan "I made mine, so now it's time to play with your tax dollars" Levine plan for our 2014 State budget.

Remember that revenues are down, hard choices must be made, and we can't afford Minner Reading teachers, School Resource Officers, or to conduct a statewide safety assessment of our schools and public buildings to make them better protected against people who might want to kill children.

But for this, we've got $29,000,000 just sitting around:
First, notice that the list of "recent projects supported" has been purged of those pesky losers like Fisker and AstraZeneca, where spending millions (including uncollected school taxes) didn't turn out to preserve or create jobs.

Second, let's take a look at our current crop of Delaware welfare queens:

JP Morgan Chase has an annual revenue of $109 billion.  Uh, folks, the State of Delaware has a total income of $3.6 billion, and we're giving them money?

Citigroup has an annual revenue of $97 billion, and we're giving them money while we make schools compete for "safety grants"?

Amazon has an annual revenue of $60 billion, and we're giving them money while we cut reading and math specialists in our schools?

Capital One has an annual revenue of $23 billion, and we can barely afford medical care for prison inmates, but we're giving them money?

Kraft Foods has an annual revenue of $18 billion, and we're giving them money while we cannot afford School Resource Officers?

Ashland has an annual revenue of $8 billion, and we're giving them money while tens of thousands of people in Delaware have no healthcare?

Atlantis Industries has an annual revenue of $3.6 billion, which is the same as the State of Delaware, and we're giving them money while we can't afford environmental clean-ups?

OK that's seven of the companies that Governor Markell is bragging that we have given money, seven companies with a combined total revenue of $318.6 BILLION, as opposed to Delaware's $3.6 Billion (or, think of it this way:  they take in, between them, nearly $100 in revenue for ever $1 Delaware receives of your tax money), and we're giving these corporate welfare queens money?

And we're bragging about it?

Yes, of course we need jobs in this State.

But two observations here:

1.  If you really wanted to give away money to help potential employers, just think how many small businesses in Delaware could be supported to hire new workers and expand their enterprises with the $29 million that is literally a rounding error to these mega-corporations?

2.  The reality is that our pitiful few million dollars of grant money do not even constitute effective bribes for companies like JP Morgan Chase or Citigroup.  They take the money out of our coffers to remind us that they can.  They actually base their employment decisions and their location decisions on things like our infrastructure, our public education system, our crime rates, etc. etc.  They cash our tiny (in their terms) little checks and use the money to pay for the appetizers they serve in the boardrooms on "Chump Appreciation Day."

I don't blame Governor Markell or Mr. Levine half as much as I blame our General Assembly.

Anybody can offer you an indecent proposition:  it's your choice to lay down and spread your legs.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vermont: wherein effective nullification becomes both a Green and Libertarian thing

The Vermont House has just passed a GMO labeling bill by a heavy majority:  99-42.

This basically represents a state choosing to nullify the Monsanto Protection Act [assuming the Vermont Senate also passes it and the Governor signs it] by requiring labels that the Feds have said are unnecessary and may even be illegal.

State legislatures and referenda pushing back at the Federal government used to be derided as the province of "Tenthers" and conservative extremists.

But Colorado and Washington pushed back on marijuana legalization.

Twelve states have pushed back on marriage equality.

Vermont is now pushing back on food labeling exemptions.

For Libertarians this is pretty simple, doctrinaire stuff, trying to limit Federal power.

For our Green friends, who have consistently advocated for environmental and economic policies driven from the top down this may be new territory.  "Think globally, act locally" may take on an entirely different connotation.

A national biometric database: obviously just more Libertarian paranoia ...

Except, of course, that the source is Wired:

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system. 
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID. 
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.
Of course, both President Obama and all of his supporters will tell me that (a) it is paranoid to think the government has intentions other than those stated; (b) that "slippery slope" arguments are always fallacious; (c) that the government would never target its own citizens for involuntary detention; (d) and that Gitmo will be closed, with the innocent there being released.

The reality, once again very uncomfortable for my liberal friends, is that Richard Nixon had far more respect for civil liberties and the rule of law than Barack Obama.

Random thoughts about Delaware's 2014 budget

I really should do a coordinated piece on this, but times are full of lots of stuff, and so I offer just a few observations:

1.  Higher Education

You can really tell who owns the General Assembly here.  According to the proposed increases for next year:

UD will receive an increase of over $9 million--a 4% increase

DelTech will receive an increase of over $5 million--a 7.8% increase

and

DSU will receive an increase of about $0.9 million--a 2.8% increase

In other words, in both terms of total money appropriated and percentage increases, despite the most rapidly growing enrollment in the state, DSU will again be the stepchild of higher education in Delaware.

Four years ago the state appropriated about $38 million for DSU; this year's "increase" will bring DSU back up to just  $33.7 million.

From a comparative standpoint, DelTech's 2009 appropriation was about $73 million, and this year it will rake in over $74 million.

Again:  you can tell who really owns the General Assembly here.

2.  Safety and Homeland Security

The completely unnecessary Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security had a budget appropriation in 2012 of $8.3 million.  In 2013, when almost all other state budgets were shrinking, that appropriation leaped to $12.9 million, and next year they are slated to get $13.5 million.

Now remember, this office is above and out of the budget line of the Delaware State Police.

So what are we getting for our $13.5 million, aside from the privilege of having a hefty-salaried retired FBI bigshot sitting on his ass in Wilmington?

I don't think you'd believe it if I just quoted it, because you probably think the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security actually has something to do with law enforcement.  The reality is that all it has to do with is ... $13.5 million in paper-shuffling.

Here's the screenshot:
You get this, right?

The performance measure for the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security is evaluated on "the percentage of fiscal documents received, reviewed and processed within three days."

There's, uh, nothing in the entire freaking document about being evaluated on making Delaware safer, on conducting risk assessments, or anything like that.

Here's a thought:  instead of taking $13.5 million for plush offices and sending a retired FBI agent to conferences so he can pimp for the next FBI Directorship on the state dime, let's actually spend the money on ... homeland security.

Want to know how to make our schools safer?

Eliminate this office and return its oversight functions to the Delaware State Police.

Then take $13.5 million and have an actual safety audit of our public schools done and begin spending the money to upgrade their security.

Let's see:  over five years we would be able to commit over $75 million to improving the safety and security of our public schools without increasing taxes by a dime, and we could get rid of the ridiculous idea that our schools should compete for grants to make their students safer.

Later I'll do public education and a few other topics.  This is enough to chew on today ....

More government idiocy on containing the spread of information

US citizens prohibited from even handling scientific manuscripts originating in Iran.

Sort of a governmental form of Sha'ria law: 

Major scientific journal publisher Reed Elsevier and others are vowing to obey thelatest US sanctions against Iran in their day-to-day operations, implementing bizarre policies aimed at following the letter of the law.
The sanctions ban Americans from having any contact with anything written in whole or part by Iranian government employees. Though Elsevier is a Dutch company, it has plenty of American employees, particularly as relates to its English language publications.
So the company has had to introduce a series of zero tolerance policies that its American-born employees cannot have any interaction with the physical manuscripts of Iranians, and also advises managers to “reject outright” any manuscripts from Iran if they can’t find a non-American employee to handle it. The company is concerned that journal editors could be held personally liable by the US government for acquiring the taint of handling Iranian manuscripts.
An over-reaction from Elsevier?  Possibly.  But since the US Government has asserted the power to issue national security letters to anyone violating its policies, letters that the recipient cannot challenge or even tell anyone else about (that's a crime, remember), this policy may not have sprung directly from the minds of the publisher.

Should the US Government be able to make the flow of information on an international basis illegal?

Funny, we didn't even do that with Soviet papers of nuclear physics during the height of the Cold War.

We didn't do that when India was developing nuclear weapons.

We didn't do that when Israel was (illegally, according to international law) developing nuclear weapons.

I am, apparently, an unreasonable Libertarian dogmatist for pointing out that this policy (a) makes no sense when European and Asian nations are not doing anything similar; (b) actually inhibits our own passive intelligence gathering about the Iranians; and (c) is another example of why the current administration is by far not just the worst administration on civil liberties in the history of the nation, but is also the most dangerous in terms wanting to stop the free flow of information to and between its citizens.

I will say it again:  the Obama administration routinely (almost daily) pursues policies that would make Richard Nixon cringe, and gets a pass on them.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Over half of the prisoners at Gitmo are known to be innocent, but we still don't release them

That's right:  86 of the 166 prisoners at Gitmo have been officially cleared for release because the US government now admits they have no connection to terrorism, but they continue to be held because our leaders can't figure out how to release them.

Not that we're trying too damn hard:  the Obama administration closed the office responsible for figuring it out, and the Pentagon refuses to make use of relaxed restrictions on prisoner release granted by Congress.

Another 50 are being held--presumably until they die--because the "evidence" we have against them is the result of torture (er, enhanced interrogation) and cannot be used in court.  So even a military tribunal cannot convict them, so we basically intend to force feed them (many are on hunger strike) till they die.

This is not new, unfortunately.  The US government has a long, sordid history of holding people without charges until they die, just as the US public has a long, shameful history of ignoring it.

About twenty years ago I was deployed to the Joint Readiness Training Center, then at Fort Chaffee AR, for wargames.  Most people don't know it, but Fort Chaffee is where we eventually sent part of the remnant population from Castro's Mariel "boat lift"to live out the rest of their lives in squalid conditions in condemned barracks.  By hook and crook I got to see some of this up close, and most of what I saw was now wizened old men in their sixties and seventies, most with no teeth.

The US government gave most of the troops involved in imprisoning these folks the Humanitarian Service Award (you just can't make this stuff up).

Ironically, the two largest mass life-time detentions by the US in modern history have been overseen by the two Presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize:  Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

For all of Carter's subsequent posturing about human rights around the world, just as with all of Obama's rhetoric on similar topics, both pursued (especially Obama) foreign and domestic policies that would have made Richard Nixon cringe.

And we continue to give President Obama a pass on it.

The US Government and King Canute

So the State Department is attempting to suppress the blueprints for 3-D printable firearms ...

You can hold any opinion you like about the propriety or morality of spreading the information about how to create your own weapons via 3-D printers around the planet, but at this point (sorry if I offend your sensibilities) your opinion is meaningless.

The information is out there.  It has been downloaded and copied to mirror sites (many far out of reach of the US government) millions of times.

Suppressing knowledge, even potentially dangerous knowledge, has always been a fool's game, which is to say:  something the government constantly attempts.

The height of irony, of course, is for the State Department to take this action under the pretext that publishing the blueprints violates arms trades regulations.

The State Department presides over the largest arms trade operation on the planet, and will sell virtually anything to virtually anybody.  There are multiple conflicts now where US arms are being provided to both sides.

So instead of believing that the State Department is somehow motivated by the idea of keeping us all safer, my best guess is that its clients (the arms manufacturing industry) demanded that action be taken to keep their profits safe.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reflections on process: Gun Control and Marriage Equality

I'm sometimes as interested in process as I am in the content--can't help it, I'm an academic.

Over the past two months we have all watched two major, high-profile fights in the Delaware General Assembly:  the first over gun control and the second over marriage equality.

What's interesting for me to reflect upon is that my personal ideological bent opposes the gun control measure, but supports marriage equality.  So--to put it bluntly--I watched one fight from the the losing side, and the other from the winning side.  Aside from some of my fellow Libertarians and Senator Ernie Lopez (who supported gun control and opposed marriage equality, so he's like my evil twin, I guess), this gives me a different perspective on the process.

Leave aside the relative merits of gun control of marriage equality for a  moment (I know that's difficult for some of you, but take a real deep breath), and consider what the fights had in common.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dead Blog Walking

Reluctantly, I have reached the decision to delete the blog Delaware Politics from my blogroll.

As one could certainly tell my decision to retain sites like Libertarian Republican, which is pretty far ideologically removed from me and run by someone who disdains my own political positions, this is not an issue of disagreeing with the politics of David Anderson's blog.

However, over the past few weeks (maybe months) as the number of commenters has declined, so has the level of comment, until we are now at the point where commenters are being told that nothing in the blog's rules prevents the administrators from choosing to "out" commenters with whom they disagree.  Not trolls, just people who disagree with them.

This may be the way to run a police state, but it is certainly not a way to run a blog.

So while it will certainly be small loss to them, this Libertarian will no longer be allowing traffic to be directed from here to Delaware Politics.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Congratulations to Chuck and Bruce, and all the other couples who will now be equal

Chuck Mead-e with my daughter Alexis at the Delaware State Fair
last summer collecting signatures for marriage equality

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why Democrats stay in power in Delaware (at least partly)

To some extent this post piggy-backs on the one at Delawareliberal about why "moderate" Republican Cathy Cloutier manages to hold her Senate seat in a heavily Democrat district.  Basically, the conclusion is that she pays attention to her constituents--as one commenter said, she has "a ground game."

Let's extend that point, and ask why Republicans in Delaware struggle just to stay in the debate.

Last week, as noted in posts below, I started contacting DE Representatives in an attempt to influence their votes on SB 51.  The emails I sent were all polite and to the point.  I sent the messages to six Democrats and four Republicans (based on membership in a key committee and people I thought might be interested/responsive).

To date, five of the six Democrats have responded, and none of the Republicans-including my own representative.

In one sense I don't care if I had gotten the polite brush-off email--at least it would have indicated a minimal amount of attention being paid to these concerns.

From the Dems I received actual replies from the Reps, several of which contained requests for more information or suggestions of other Reps to contact.

From the Republicans ...

<>

There is something besides ideology that keeps people in power.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Moody's: Highmark heading toward junk bond status

... thanks to what analysts see as an extremely risky move in Pennsylvania ....

But in Delaware Highmark's partly owned offspring, MedExpress, continues to spend bazillions of dollars in advertising to use Wal-Mart tactics [and questionable preferential reimbursement policies] in a brazen attempt to drive all other urgent care centers out of business.

Friday, May 3, 2013

An Open Letter to members of the Delaware House of Representatives

[I will be sending this letter personally to my own Rep and others; I encourage you to cut and paste as necessary and send it to yours.]

Within the near future, SB 51, which purports to raise standards for teacher education preparation programs in Delaware will come across to the House.

I am asking you to look past the "feel good" rhetoric in the precis of the bill, to look past the unanimous Senate vote in favor of it, and to look past the claims by the Governor's office that these changes will make Delaware eligible for additional Federal grant money.

Instead, please consider the following:

1.  This bill was prepared and introduced without the input of the Professional Standards Board, the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wilmington University, or many relevant offices within the Delaware Department of Education.  In other words, legislation that will make dramatic structural changes to teacher preparation and licensing are already coming to the General Assembly without any input or data from either the organizations that prepare our new teachers or the board which credentials them.  This should be a red flag.

2.  Delaware already has in place a rigorous set of standards for teacher preparation and certification.  Our universities are accredited by NCATE [National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education], which enforces the toughest national standards in real time.  Our Professional Standards Board has done yeoman work over the past two decades to tighten licensing requirements and carefully assess the qualifications of each applicant.

3.  Our current approach works.  Between the entrance and exit requirements, UD and DSU already winnow out over two-thirds of the students interested in teaching careers.  All students graduating from UD, DSU, and WU have passed Praxis I and II; have logged hundreds of hours of observation and additional hundreds more hours of supervised teaching under the watchful eye of master teachers in our public schools.  Compared to the standards even 10 years ago, new Delaware teachers graduated by these universities are the best prepared to enter the classroom in our history.

4.  There is no research to suggest that our new teachers have significant problems in the classroom that impacts student learning.  Aside from the anecdotal offerings you may have heard, when you inquire you will discover that there is no data suggesting that students with new teachers (a) fare less well on standardized tests; or (b) have greater disciplinary problems.  If anything, our graduates are better prepared to handle the latest innovations in instructional technology than their peers, and understand the high-stakes testing environment better because they have lived through it as students.

5.  SB 51, as amended by SA-1, will have a corrosive structural impact on Delaware's ability to train and certify new teachers that will far outweigh any positives received from Federal grant money.  The changes in SB 51/SA-1 actually lower some credentialing standards rather than raise them [see the section on now accepting Composite Scores].  The sweeping provisions of this bill will literally require all credentialing standards in the State to be rewritten from the ground up.  The new provisions for teacher preparation programs will not only waste valuable time in meaningless new compliance, but will also divert resources away from students, endanger the NCATE certification process, and serve to make it more difficult to recruit the "best and brightest" into public education.

I urge you to vote against this bill, either in committee or on the House floor.

If you believe that our teacher preparation and certification program needs revision, then I urge you to demand that legislation be crafted that (a) involves input and review from the Professional Standards Board and our universities; (b) is supported by actual research and data; and (c) is accompanied by an impact statement regarding how this will affect recruiting and certification of new teachers.

Please do not allow seriously flawed legislation to slip through on your watch because the precis of the bill uses bipartisan platitudes that would be better employed on a Hallmark greeting card than in a serious bill.

You can find your House Rep's email address here.

This is a bad bill.  A very bad bill.  Please do what you can to stop it.

DSEA President now trying to backpedal furiously to "victory"

Yesterday the Senate proved once again that nobody there--despite party differences--actually thinks about public education critically by passing Dave Sokola's ridiculous SB 51, which is supposed to improve teacher preparation in Delaware.

I will have more to say on this later today, but here's the morning takeaway.

Earlier this week the DSEA Facebook page praised the bill because
It also gives DSEA a seat at the table to help develop the criteria for the exam and the assessment.
I pointed out that this is both disingenuous and dangerous.  There are already plenty of teachers involved in the teacher preparation programs at UD, DSU, and WU (which produce 95% of our new teachers), that there are already rigorous national standards being closely monitored (via NCATE), and that no research has ever EVER actually determined the preparation of our entry-level teachers in Delaware to be a problem.

Today I discover DSEA President Frederika Jenner, who has publicly endorsed this bill now backpedaling away from the (brutally honest) statement on her own organization's Facebook page:
DSEA leadership does not actually want that proverbial "seat at the table." What I would like to see is a greater number of working teachers involved in every aspect of teacher prep--the profession managing the profession, so to speak. I do not know which teachers were involved in any of the planning of this legislation. I have recommended that teachers be involved in planning, preparation, and implementation of teacher prep. A variety of working teachers. I also believe that lots more teachers could and should be involved in teaching college students about teaching.
Ms. Jenner, get real.

Your first statement is contradicted by your own organization's testimony in front of the Senate and other public statements.

And your agenda is for DSEA, not teachers, to become involved in teacher preparation, and involved not on the basis of professional quality, but involved on the basis of having state law MANDATE that involvement.

My guess is that you don't even know how many teachers are currently involved in such preparation programs.  There are dozens if not hundreds across the State.

Master teachers work with ALL the pre-service candidates for extended periods.

Teachers have a virtual veto over the credentials of all student teachers.

Many teachers are involved as adjunct faculty at our universities, and many retired teachers (or teachers who went on to get their advanced degrees and then switched career fields) are on the full-time faculty. Take a look at the teacher preparation faculty at our universities and you will discover ... teachers!

But apparently not the right teachers for Ms. Jenner.

Her rhetoric about not wanting a seat at the table is woefully thin at this point, given that such has been the argument she used while committing DSEA's full support for Vision 2015 and Race to the Top, both of which have been disasters for Delaware teachers as a whole.

How the teachers of Delaware continue to support a union that makes common cause with corporate officials who blame virtually all the problems of public education on them is beyond comprehension.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

DSEA proves once again that it does not speak for Delaware teachers

This post, from the DSEA Facebook page, is pretty good evidence that at the state level the teachers' union is far removed from the concerns of teachers in the classroom:
Today DSEA's Dir. of Legislation and Political Organizing Kristin Dwyer is testifying in support of what is being called the "Teacher Prep" bill, SB 51. 
This bill "... strengthens teacher preparation by raising the standards for entry into the teaching profession. More specifically, the bill requires all Delaware teacher preparation programs to set high admission and completion requirements, to provide high-quality student teaching experiences and ongoing evaluation of program participants, and to prepare prospective elementary school teachers in age-appropriate literacy and mathematics instruction. Further, the bill requires preparation programs to track and report data on the effectiveness of their programs. Finally, the bill requires new educators to pass both an approved content-readiness exam and performance assessment before receiving an initial license, and requires special education teachers to demonstrate content knowledge if they plan to teach in a secondary subject."   
It also gives DSEA a seat at the table to help develop the criteria for the exam and the assessment.
Let's take this one point by point:

 the bill requires all Delaware teacher preparation programs to set high admission and completion requirements

UD, DSU, and WU--the providers of 95% of the new teachers from DE institutions of higher learning already have high standards for entry and completion.  At UD and DSU at least 40% of the applicants do not get into the teacher preparation program (WU is open enrollment), and at all three schools a large percentage of education majors who are not cutting it are diverted into other majors.

to provide high-quality student teaching experiences and ongoing evaluation of program participants

Contrary to practices many years ago, students at all three institutions begin early field experiences in real classrooms during their Sophomore year.  By the time they qualify for student teaching, most have logged hundreds of hours of observation, and dozens of hours of actual teaching.  Student teachers are thus far better prepared to take over classrooms quickly, and therefore often log 100+ more hours of actual teaching experience than their predecessors would have a decade ago.

Ongoing evaluation?  All of these programs are evaluated on an ongoing basis by NCATE, which is the national standard for teacher education programs, and requires the schools to log not just the hours but the actual coursework of the students, so that it can be matched against what the university SAYS it is teaching.  And as Wesley College learned a couple of years ago, NCATE will pull your accreditation if you stop measuring up.  No program put together by the State is likely to equal NCATE in thoroughness or familiarity with best practice, which is why DE DOE turned over accreditation to them about 15 years ago.

NCATE accreditation is why all of those changes I spoke about above were made.

to prepare prospective elementary school teachers in age-appropriate literacy and mathematics instruction

In fact to improve age-appropriate literacy is why these universities have developed long-term working relationships with school districts throughout Delaware.  For example, DSU has a long-term agreement with Red Clay that places students in the same building (and often under the same master teacher) for most of their early field experiences and student teaching, so that the master teacher has direct input on the student's progress (or lack of it).

the bill requires preparation programs to track and report data on the effectiveness of their programs.

As noted above, the institutions ALREADY do this, via NCATE.  And it is ironic, because DE DOE knows this very well.

the bill requires new educators to pass both an approved content-readiness exam and performance assessment before receiving an initial license, and requires special education teachers to demonstrate content knowledge if they plan to teach in a secondary subject."

Uh, guys, education majors already have to pass content-approved exams (called Praxis II) before they go into a performance assessment (called "student teaching" wherein 50% of their grade is awarded by the master teacher not the university professor, meaning that current master teachers ALREADY possess a veto over the certification of new teachers).

Special Education teachers ALREADY need to pass Praxis II content tests.

This bill does nothing that is not already happening, except


It also gives DSEA a seat at the table to help develop the criteria for the exam and the assessment.
Now we see the crux of the issue.  Veteran Delaware teachers have been involved in teacher preparation programs in Delaware from the get-go, as consultants, as master teachers, and often as adjunct professors.  In fact, there is no shortage of input by Delaware teachers into these programs.  The universities would be foolish in the extreme not to seek such input because it would cripple their programs and reduce their ability to get their graduates hired.

But the key here is that DSEA--not teachers but the statewide union leadership--wants "a seat at the table" to develop new local tests to either add onto or replace nationally normed teacher preparation exams.

We know how well creating local high-stakes tests worked out in student assessment, don't we?  (Can you say DSTP, DCAS, SBA?)

And we all know how well Race to the Top and Vision 2015 have worked out for Delaware teachers with the state DSEA leadership having "a seat at the table."

We'll be a good decade recovering from that quality input.

Plus, you know that something is wrong when the leader of one of the state's largest locals (with over 1,700 members) breaks with the state leadership and does not endorse passage of this bill.