Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Recommendation. For those of you with time to read, I would love to recommend this book to you. I've studied my share of economics over the years, but I have yet to read as well-written account of the differences between supply-side and demand-side economics as that presented by Norton Garfinkle in his The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy. The book is part of Yale University Press' The Future of American Democracy Series.

I am not going to pretend that this book is a simple history without a considerable slant in the material. Garfinkle, a very prominent member of the communitarian movement, has strong negative opinions regarding the supply-side tax cuts of the Gilded Age and the Reagan and Bush eras, but he is also critical of Presidents and other policy makers of different stripes and the decisions made in many different eras. It also gives a very good history of the depression and some of the tax and policy changes that worked along with some that did not.

And, at base level, this is a very readable book with concrete examples of how and why many of the great tax decisions have been made over the past 150 years of history in the United States and the results of those decisions. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for either the professional policy maker or the lay person. It is truly a remarkable little (200 very readable pages) book.

Amazon Link:

We Know Where the Monty Python Vote will go. Oh, wait! That was Michael Palin, not John McCain's somewhat surprising choice as running-mate Alaska Governoor Sarah Palin. As a long-time political junkie, I find the pick a bit intriguing, but stepping back, there is more than a bit of logic to the choice.

Clearly, the fact that she's hasn't served a full-term as Alaska's governor is going to raise more than one eyebrow as she faces scrutiny, but all indications are she shares Senator McCain's maverick bent and is solid, perhaps even more solid than McCain, with the conservative base on a number of issues. Further, this choice will resonate with a number of women who either feel left out of the process due to Senator Hillary Clinton's failure to capture the Democratic nomination for President (and remain disaffected because Senator Obama did not put her on the tickiet) or the fact that the power structure in both parties often ignores bread-and-butter issues that are important to women (remember the Year of the Soccer Mom).
Further, when you consider that she hails from Alaska and served as Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission and has a working knowledge of the energy industry, she brings a background and perspective on a hot-button issue in the campaign on which the McCain camp is trying to take a very aggressive stance on more drilling for oil on American soil. In other words, be prepared to hear a lot about the Alaska Nature and Wildlife Reserve in the next few months.
Whether or not the calculus works for McCain, we'll never quite know, but those whose jaws initially dropped (Mine included. I was thinking it was going to be either Mitt Romney or Ohio Congressman Rob Portman) probably need to step back and see that, at least at some level, the choice makes sense. Further, it shows once again that McCain, at least at a surface level, is not afraid to do it his way.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Pretty Obvious School is Right around the Corner. If you pick up a national or local magazine or newspaper this month, it's likely to have an education story in it. It's been a total bombardment! Some of the more interesting articles I have seen are (unfortunately, most of thees articles require either a subscription to view online or a run to the local newsstand for the issue):

Harper's, September 2008 issue, "Tyranny of the Test" by high school science teacher Jeremy Miller, who worked for a year as a tutor for Kaplan. This is a pretty compelling story written from a first-person perspective. Most of it we've all heard before, but it never hurts to hear it again.

Tyranny of the Test:

The American Prospect, September 2008 issue, "How the Dems Lost on Education" by Kevin Carey. The American Prospect is a left-of-center magazine, but this article certainly doesn't have many nice things to say about one of the key constituencies of the Democratic Party, the National Education Association. In pretty much direct contrast to Miller's Harper's article, Carey provides a spirited defense of NCLB from a left-of-center perspective.

How the Dems Lost on Education:

Carey is a research and policy manager at Education Sector, an education think tank located in Washington, D.C. Here are links to Education Sector and Carey's biography.

Education Sector:

Kevin Carey:

The American Prospect also has a blog and Dana Goldstein provided this interesting entry in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention. This one is FREE folks.

"The Democratic Education Divide":

It looks as though education is going to be a hot item in this fall's election and I will keep you posted with the latest articles in the national and local press.

Dueling Executive Directors. Speaking of the local press, there was a spirited exchange in the StarTribune during the past week or so on education accountability between Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Blazar and Minnesota Association of School Administrators Executive Director (and SEE's landlord) Charlie Kyte. Blazar provided the initial comments in a piece outlining questions he believes should be asked by Minneapolis voters as they approach this November's referendum in the Minneapolis School District for $60 million (partially renewal/partially new revenue).

Blazar Editorial:

Kyte Editorial:

Frankly, I thought Bill Blazar would have more than four questions and his questions seem eminently reasonable. But there's always seems to be this undertone with folks writing from the perspective of business that insinuates that schools create an on-going stream of misinformation and verbal legerdemain that masks their basic incompetency. We know that isn't the case and I think Charlie Kyte's straightforward response speaks to that.

In my aside, I would have to say that I don't always "get" business either and I sometimes wish their books were more open to the public. I can't walk into Dick Schultz' office at Best Buy and ask for his sales per square foot at all of his retail locations and tell him, "Look, these numbers improve (and the selection gets better in the music section), or I'm heading to Circuit City from now on!" I suppose business can argue that the fact I have that choice and that they always make decisions based on objective data gives them the right to protect their data and make the decisions they want to make without my input.

I realize that we cannot treat schools on the same model as businesses and that almost any comparison is inappropriate. Everyone is a "stockholder" in public education and businesses, as well as individual voters, have a right to their expectations. At the same time, if all can criticize, all should be expected to roll up their sleeves and help make our public education system the best that it can be and compete in the global economy.

Keep Checking the Website. Deb and I are going to be posting a lot of interesting data and other things in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, it will help every one of you make the case for education funding and reform in the months ahead.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let's Get Blogging. Sorry about the short absence. The State Fair has started, school is literally around the corner, so we're having some kind of fun how. Things are picking up in the policy development corridor as well, with meetings starting to fill up the schedule.

August served out its usual dose of consternation, as test scores were released. As per usual, the scores were "disappointing" (I think if everyone got 100%, someone would still be disappointed) and more schools have found their way onto the list of schools on some type of double-secret probation.

Here is the link to the test scores and report card data: cards.

Lawsuit Update. Not here. In South Dakota. Dr. John Sweet from Delano is providing me with updates from the South Dakota adequacy lawsuit.

Fall 2007, Sioux City Journal:

July 2008, Argus Leader:

August 2008, Madison Daily Leader (I guess all the leaders are in South Dakota):

The problem with lawsuits as a remedy are many and varied and a big hurdle has already been thrown in front of the South Dakota suit, as the South Dakota State Supreme Court has ruled that school districts cannot finance the lawsuit. I'd have to have Dick Berge outline the manner in which this was avoided when SEE (then ASGSD) filed the Skeen lawsuit.

It just goes to show how lawsuits in and of themselves are not just on a slippery slope; they are the slippery slope. It's like if all the planets line up and then the Cylons, Klingons, or Romulans (how come alien races always end with an "n"?) came and blew everything up.

This post isn't implying that there will be a lawsuit in Minnesota. Nor is it implying that sometime in the near future, there won't be one. It's just an observation about something happening in a neighboring state that provides us with a perspective--which we already knew--regarding school litigation.

John and I will keep you posted on any developments that happen in the Coyote State (South Dakota has two state nicknames, the other one being, The Mount Rushmore State. Coyote just sounds cooler.).

Not-so-Sweet District 16. Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, will be choosing his running-mate in the week ahead and if he comes to Minnesota for that choice, I'm relatively certain (make that completely certain) that in the wake of all the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, he won't be picking Representative Mark Olson to stand on the dais with him at the Xcel Energy Center in the first week of September.

Representative Olson was denied party endorsement by the District 16B Republicans earlier this year as the opted to endorse former Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer instead. Some of you may recall that Representative Olson stood trial in 2007 (and was booted out of the House Republican caucus) for domestic abuse and was convicted on a lesser charge. It appeared that Olson was ready to hang up his microphone (those of you who are legislative watchers will get that comment), Senator Betsey Wergin was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission, creating a vacancy in Senate District 16.

In the first week of August, Olson was endorsed over Alison Krueger by the Senate District 16 Republicans in a move that was swiftly rebuked the the Senate Republican Caucus and Michael Brodkorb at his "Minnesota Democrats Exposed" website. For anyone familiar with Brodkorb, he usually saves up his fastballs to go high-and-tight on the Democrats, but he went medieval on one of his own here.

So, what is next. Alison Krueger has stayed in the race, so the primary on September 9, will determine the Republican candidate and the winner there will go on to face Princeton School Board Chair Lisa Fobbe in the general election.

Links on this saga:

Olson Endorsed from StarTribune:

Brodkorb Piece:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

School is Just Around the Corner. Hard to believe, but with the earliest Labor Day possible, public schools will be in session starting in less than three weeks. With that, I suppose it's time I got away from my intermittent posting and get down to regularly-scheduled messages to all those who are interested. So, it's back to the keyboard. I'll be looking for interesting stories and information to pass on to interested parties so if you have something you think would be of interest to those involved in education policy in Minnesota--especially SEE members--don't hesitate to pass it along.

MSBA Summer Leadership Conference. The MSBA Summer Leadership Conference convenes tomorrow for its annual one-and-a-half day run. I plan on being there for most of the conference and look forward to meeting with as many of you as possible. It's always fun to see membership outside of the formal confines of SEE events for relaxed discussion and to catch up on a summer's worth of activity. I'll be the guy with the camera trying to get some quality candids to post on the blog, so don't be shy.

Type III Vehicle Hubbub. One of the issues facing school districts in the coming weeks is going to be the new qualifications for drivers of Type III vehicles (cars and vans). Legislation was passed during the 2008 session that brings many of these drivers under greater scrutiny. The legislative intent was to exempt those drivers, principally coaches and other extra- and co-curricular advisers, from coming under the purview of these new guidelines and instead concentrate on those individuals for whom driving is their principal duty.

The Department of Public Safety has read the law and has decided, in spite of the legislative intent expressed by the bill's authors, to enforce an interpretation of the language that will require that anyone for whom driving is an assumed part of their responsibility to meet the new requirements. This does not necessarily involve placing these drivers into a random drug-testing pool, but it will require greater training and, in some instances, may create a situation where this pool of drivers will drive their own vehicles instead of a school vehicle to transport students involved in a specific activity. I know most of you aren't personal injury attorneys, but I don't have to tell you of the nightmarish situations that could be created when staff uses non-school district-owned vehicles to transport students.

I will keep you updated on this issue as a number of you are in the midst of putting together these transportation plans for the year ahead.

Movie Review. Yep, along with all of the education-related information I provide, I also share my viewpoints on some of the popular culture that is floating about in the ether. Today's review is Kevin Costner's latest "Swing Vote." I went to the movie not expecting a whole lot. Costner's box office swagger has largely evaporated in recent years, as the wrinkles in his sun-weathered face have taken some of the luster from his once boyish California good looks (Hey. I know. He still looks about a hundred times better than me. I get that.).

The first 90% of the movie is pretty much your standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Costner's character--Earnest "Bud" Johnson--stumbles into a very odd state-of-affairs which invests in him the obligation, as a single voter, to choose the next President of the United States. Along with this fish-out-of-water tale is a not-so-veiled critique of the current state of political campaigning. A lot of this stuff is flat laugh-out-loud as the two campaigns vie to mine Bud's mind for the issue that will swing the vote their way and their reactions to Bud's responses.

But it's the last twenty minutes of the movie that are both touching and instructive, as Bud finally realizes the responsibility that has been thrust upon him. Underlying the action is a not-so-subtle swipe at the Baby Boom generation (and as a member of that generation, I cannot say we don't deserve it). I won't give away the ending, but would urge anyone who watches politics in the early 21st century to carve out some time to see this. This isn't Plato or Thomas Hobbes, so don't expect any grand political theories to spout forth, but a message worth heeding does spring forth.

This isn't Costner's first foray into the realm of the political. There was a time in my life when I would do movie doubleheaders on the weekends and one particular weekend, I saw Costner in "The Postman" and the star-studded cast of "Wag the Dog" back-to-back. For those of you who cannot remember, "The Postman" was slaughtered by the critics, while "Wag the Dog" was their darling. Seeing them both on the same day gave me a whole week's worth of food for thought (and I remembered to keep it in the refrigerator so it wouldn't spoil). "Wag the Dog" was an extremely clever, but unbelievably cynical movie. In many ways, it supports the notion that there is this oligarchy of politicians and public relations people who simply make the truth malleable enough to maintain a grip on power. "The Postman," on the other hand, is this homespun (and not particularly well done) paean to the power of individuals to stand up to threats to their ability to run a democracy. In terms of cinematic construction from the script-to-shot, "Wag the Dog" wins hands-down. But as in the case of "Swing Vote," the message of "The Postman" is far more uplifting and elemental.

In its purest form, democracy is rather banal. There isn't much exciting about it. But that is its beauty. Democracy affords all of us the opportunity to design the social contract and map society's destiny. It just takes work and persistence. In this election year, regardless of where one sits on the ideological spectrum, that's an important thing to remember.

Now, if you really want a hoot, go rent the cult classic "Bubba Ho-tep." But don't let yourself escape too far in this election season.