Our Kids Deserve Better, Our Country Needs Better

From “The Real Problems In Schools,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT:

The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in school

Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s. In the Chicago public schools where teachers are now on strike, 86 percent of children are black or Hispanic, and 87 percent come from low-income families.

Chicago’s high school graduation rates have been improving but are still about 60 percent. Just 3 percent of black boys in the ninth grade end up earning a degree from a four-year college…

In fairness, it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty.

Still, some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved. There are steps we can take that would make some difference, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying some of them — yet the union is resisting.

I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.

There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.

How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.

Unfortunately, the union is insisting that teachers who are laid off — often for being ineffective — should get priority in new hiring. That’s an insult to students.

Teaching is so important that it should be like other professions, with high pay and good working conditions but few job protections for bottom performers.

This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.

Emphasis added.

Must Read on Wisconsin

From “Why Walker Won,” Bruce Murphy, Urban Milwaukee:

“Back in the fall, when the Democrats first launched their recall effort, the problems with their approach became obvious.  They justified the recall by talking about Walker’s poor record on jobs and cuts in education funding.  But did they really expect voters would recall a governor just 18 months after his election for not increasing jobs enough, or over a policy disagreement on spending?

“Everyone in the state knew the party had targeted Walker because he effectively eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.  The only way to win the recall was to convince voters Walker not only took the wrong action, but did this in a way that was flagrantly anti-Democratic [sic] and therefore worthy of a recall.

“Instead the party tip-toed around the issue.

“But as Walker noted, Barrett’s suggested course of action — to reverse Act 10 — would simply recharge the same arguments and reopen the same civic wounds.  Why do this unless Barrett could suggest a middle ground:  some way to compromise that would reform the system or limit bargaining rights in some way?

“There’s no doubt conservatives exaggerated what the average government worker or teacher earns.  Most public employees in Wisconsin are not unreasonably compensated.  But there have been abuses, which laid the groundwork for an attack on all public workers, and for Walker’s sweeping reforms.  And as the months rolled on, and no Democrat came forward with a counter-proposal, voters began to move more toward Walker’s position.”

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

The recall has left Democrats in disarray in Wisconsin and created an opening for Mitt.  Obama will probably still carry Wisconsin, but he’ll have to fight harder for it and expend more resources there.

What a Recall Vote Means

Sometimes I just want to shake David Brooks.  Today, after reading his column “The Debt Indulgence,” is one of those days.

He writes “A vote to keep [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker won’t be an anti-union vote.”

Huh?  Walker wasn’t content to get concessions from the public unions, which they readily gave, he was determined to crush them.  This wasn’t about balancing Wisconsin’s budget now, it was about talking away collective bargaining rights forever.  And Walker has admitted that his “divide and conquer” strategy was to first go after the public unions, then the private unions, and turn Wisconsin, birthplace of the progressive movement, into a Right to Work state.  He’s working for the Koch Brothers, who want to destroy unions across the country so they can’t provide campaign contributions to act as a counterweight to those from conservative groups.

So I don’t see how you can interpret a vote for Walker as anything other than an anti-union vote.

Brooks warns that a vote against Walker isn’t a vote for the idea of keeping unions alive, it is somehow a vote against reducing deficits:

“[I]f he is recalled that will send a broader message, with effects far beyond Wisconsin.  It will be a signal that voters are indeed unwilling to tolerate tough decisions to reduce debt.”

This is not true.  The public unions themselves were willing to tolerate tough decisions to reduce debt.  If Walker were recalled, it would be a signal that voters are not willing to tolerate unfairness and bullying and over-reaching.  Walker didn’t run in 2010 on a platform of stripping public union rights.  He went way beyond what the people of Wisconsin expected and elected him to do.

I agree with this guy:

“I’m not a complete fan of the way Walker went about reducing debt.  In an age of tough choices one bedrock principle should be:  We’re all in this together.  If you are going to cut from the opposing party’s interest groups, you should also cut from some of your own.  That’s how you build trust and sustain progress, one administration to the next. … Walker didn’t do that.  He just sliced Democrats. … Walker’s method was obnoxious….”

That’s David Brooks, in the same column!

Tea Party Excess in the States Will Help President Obama Win

Conventional wisdom says that in a presidential election year, turnout for state offices is increased because more people come out to vote for our highest office.  Winning presidential candidates have “coattails” and help pull their party to victory in the down ballot races.

But I believe that this year Americans will be highly motivated to turn out for their state races, to swing a pendulum that moved too far to the right after the 2010 triumph of the Tea Party.  2010 saw the GOP win many gubernatorial races and take total control of many state legislatures.

People who thought they were voting for smaller, more efficient government found that once these candidates were sworn in, it was all abortion, all the time.  While voters certainly wanted negotiation with public unions, such as on health care and pension contributions, they didn’t want those unions to be stripped of all their rights.

Angry voters showing up to fix things in their state houses will help President Obama stay in the White House.  I believe there will be reverse coattails in 2012.

Yes, gas prices and the unemployment rate matter for him.  But so do transvaginal ultrasounds.

Hubris and over-reach are consistent losers for both political parties.

Everything in Moderation

We think of this country as founded on the principles of the 18th century Enlightenment.  But really, we go back to the 4th century B. C., to Aristotle’s Golden Mean.  Our motto could just as easily be “Everything in moderation” as “In God We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum.”

We saw this last night when the anti-union law in Ohio didn’t just lose, it lost by 22 points, and when the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi didn’t just lose, it lost by 16 points.  The right-wing extremists in this country are their own worst enemies because they always go too far.  They reject small victories and end up with big losses, thank God.

Besides the Golden Mean, they should study another Greek concept — hubris.

John Kasich’s Anti-Union Law Has Been Repealed

The people of Ohio rejected not only John Kasich’s anti-union law, but also Kasich himself today.  Kasich, who gives arrogant pricks a bad name, will find himself back where he belongs, hosting on Fox News, in the next election.

Taking a pendulum which had swung too far in favor of unions, Kasich swung it as far in the other direction as it could go.  By over-reaching, he ended up with what he deserves — nothing.

Let’s see if common sense prevails in Mississippi, where they’re voting on whether a fertilized egg is a person.