Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Good MinnPost Article on Constitutional Amendments' Effect on 2012 Elections.  You may have read one of my earlier posts about this year's election wild card in Minnesota.  It is difficult to measure the effect that the proposed constitutional amendments will have on legislative races.  The latest polls show Senator Klobuchar with a healthy lead over her challenger, State Representative Kurt Bills, and the same poll shows President Obama with a double-digit lead in Minnesota over Mitt Romney. but will "segmented" turnout that may result from voter interest in the proposed constitutional amendments?  By "segmented" turnout, I mean will certain segments of the voting population who may not vote in an ordinary election year be more motivated and which, if any, segment, be more motivated to vote?

One of the dynamics not discussed much is that the constitutional amendments, like the Presidential and US Senate races, are statewide in nature.  That means that high turnout against the amendments may translate to higher numbers for both the President and Senator Klobuchar.  Likewise, motivated "yes" campaigns will cut into the advantages those candidates currently appear to have.  That part of the electoral equation is straightforward.

Where the mystery ensues is the possible effect the amendment votes will have on legislative races.  Most polls have shown the proposed amendments are trailing in the urban core and a handful of the inner-ring suburbs, but those legislative seats are already held by DFLers so if there is higher turnout as a result of motivated "no" voters, the DFL candidates will only win these relatively "safe" seats by larger margins.  The opposite side of the coin--"safe" Republican seats where the amendments will pass comfortably--will likely have the same effect.  It is in the "swing" seats--and there are more "swing" seats as a result of the reapportioned legislative districts--where it is difficult to determine the effect of the amendments.

It will boil down to two effects:  (1) the get-out-the-vote effort of the pro and con teams on both amendments and (2) whether or not there will be any evidence of ticket-splitters.  While the vote on the amendments when considered by the Legislature were pretty much party-line in nature, voters may not mimic the Legislature's voting patterns.

It's just another interesting element in an interesting political year in Minnesota and the nation.

MinnPost link:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Interesting Article.  I don't spend a lot of time over at The Center for the American Experiment--Minnesota's conservative think tank--but I came across this article when I happened over to their website the other day.  I don't know a whole lot about Peter Epstein of the Hoover Institution (except that the Hoover Institution is a pretty conservative place) and his article does make a couple of good points about the Chicago teacher strike and the public employee salary/pension issues that many believe are simply untenable over the long run.

I'm not going to take too much issue with Epstein with his description of the problem.  Reasonable people can disagree about the magnitude of the public employee salary and pension issue.  It's not as big a deal in Minnesota, as teachers and other public employees pay more into their health care coverage and pension plans than do teachers in many other states.  That doesn't eliminate the issue, but the differences between Minnesota and Wisconsin public employees which came to light during the Wisconsin legislative fracas over public employee bargaining in 2011 indicate that the pressure to limit public employee bargaining is, and should be, less in Minnesota.

Where I will take issue with Epstein is in his suggested solution.  For Epstein, the answer to the problem is to greatly expand the charter option.  We have experience with the very liberal granting of charters since the charter school law was first passed in 1991.  In fact, problems with charter schools became so great as a result of the greatly expanded ability to create charters in the mid-1990s that Minnesota had to retrench a bit and tighten up authorizing authority.

There are two problems I see with the "charter as answer" school of thought.  First, where is quality assurance?  Student performance at charter schools is all over the board, which isn't a fatal indictment as performance is similar in comparable traditional schools.  The main point, and it's one I continue to harp on, is that if performance is going to be the measure of charter school success, it is going to have to get better.  Second, if the primary value of charter schools is to drive down the salaries of teachers, that's not necessarily a good thing, as it may push qualified teaching candidates into other fields as opposed to teaching.  Epstein claims this isn't a problem, but as most school boards and administrations know, teacher salaries in many curricular areas are not competitive with comparable private sector jobs.  Finding top-notch secondary level science and math teachers and special education teachers across almost all licensure areas is becoming increasingly difficult.

Paying for public services is going to be a challenge moving forward, but it's important to keep in mind the goals of the public education system and realize that going "cheap" may erode progress toward a fully educated populace.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Old News, but Interesting Observation.  I was sifting through some of my magazines--and those of you who know me know that I subscribe to a whole lot of 'em--and came across an interesting observation on the Chicago teachers' strike (yeah, I know it was settled two weeks ago).  The comment came from Dr. Timothy Knowles of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, who stated "It's Old Labor meets New Democrat meets fiscal crisis.  That's the perfect storm."

It dawned on me that dynamic is playing out, not only in the Chicago teachers' strike, but also in a number of other localities and state legislatures throughout the nation.  It's not just conservatives who are promoting increased teacher evaluation, charter schools, and school "trigger" bills; a number of those initiatives have their roots in center-left think tanks and have been sponsored by, as Knowles describes them, New Democrats.  President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is case-in-point and his agenda, both from his time in Chicago and Washington, D.C., are clearly that of a New Democrat.

It makes for an interesting discussion and it will be interesting to see how things unfold after the election.  In Minnesota, a change in control of either house of the Legislature would certainly alter the reform-heavy bent of the past biennium, although there are a number of what I would term New Democrats in both the House and Senate who would continue to push reform initiatives if control would flip.

Here's a link to The Christian Science Monitor article from which I pulled the Knowles quote:

Romney and Obama on Education.  I missed the debate tonight (on purpose), but I did come across this little comparison of candidates' education plans in another issue of The Christian Science Monitor.

Here's the link:

Bad News that has Gotten Better.  I found out on Monday at the MASA conference that former Sauk Rapids-Rice school board member Brenda Woggon--a SEE stalwart during her tenure as a school board member--was recovering from a serious bout of viral encephalitis.  She's now home after a stint in the hospital and convalescent center and things are looking up.  She'd never forgive me if I gave out her address in this forum, but if you want to send her your regards and best wishes, contact me at the office and I will give it to you.

Brenda, get well soon!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Good Thing about Road Trips.  In an entry that will reveal my ever-increasing nerdiness, I want to wax about the joy of road-trips (and I'll be racking up about 2,000 miles in October) and the opportunity to listen to either books-on-tape or taped courses from The Teaching Company.  I am currently listening to Volume 3 of Robert Caro's "The Years of Lyndon Johnson:  Master of the Senate."  I prefer actually reading to listening to a book-on-tape, but it's hard to read a book when one is cruising along at the speed limit, so a book-on-tape it is.  This book is proving both interesting and entertaining, as it outlines Lyndon Johnson's legislative career, touching briefly on his time in the US House of Representatives and more thoroughly tracing his rise to prominence in the US Senate.  The book is read by actor Steven Lang (evil military guy in "Avatar") and he does a great job.  All in all, a great experience.


My other on-the-road diversion comes in the form of audio courses from The Great Courses series produced by The Teaching Company. I've been listening to these for a past decade and the courses are usually interesting and have helped me fill in a number of gaps in my education.  Lots of good bargains with rotating sales at the website and I'd highly recommend trying a couple of courses on for size.


Monday, October 01, 2012

We're Just Five Weeks Away.  The election draws ever nearer and it's very difficult at this juncture to pick winners.  This is especially true in Minnesota where, while incumbent US Senator Amy Klobuchar and President Obama are likely winners, it's anyone's guess as to which party will control the Legislature.  I've spent 37 years in this business and there are always surprises on election day and this is one of those rare years when an isolated surprise may actually determine which party is in control of the respective houses of the Legislature come January.

When the boundaries for the newly reapportioned legislative districts were released in February, I was a bit puzzled by the map.  There seemed to be a lot of "tortured" districts that weren't based on the "communities of interest" methodology by which legislative districts are comprised of similar communities with similar needs.  One of the problems with modern democracy is that population patterns have produced legislative districts that are "safe" seats for one party or the other (for a sterling description of that phenomenon, read Bill Bishop's "The Big Sort" described at:

What the court did in its reapportionment plan was create a number of very competitive legislative districts where it is difficult to discern a winner (perhaps even a favorite) at this point in the election process.  So how to make sense of this?

MinnPost has put together the best tool--at least in my estimation--for handicapping the various races by creating an interactive map on their website featuring what they deem the 28 key races (12 Senate, 16 House) that will determine control of the Legislature for the next biennium.  The only caution I would urge is that there will likely be surprises from races not featured by MinnPost and any surprise could swing control one way or the other.

One of the dynamics that is showing up in polling to this point is the possible effect of the constitutional amendments.  Both amendments are not doing particularly well in the urban core and inner-ring suburbs.  However, most polls are showing that they are passing comfortably in the outer-ring suburbs and most of Greater Minnesota.  How this translates to legislative races is anyone's guess and as Baird Helgeson wrote in the StarTribune on Sunday, most legislative candidates are staying quiet on the issue.  Still, one would think this might favor conservatives outstate as they attempt to retain control of the state House and Senate.

MinnPost interactive map:

StarTribune Constitutional Amendment/Legislative Races article:

Nice Job MASA!  I spent today at Madden's at the MASA conference and I say "Good work Gary (Amoroso) and company!"  (Note to self:  You owe Gary $5 for introducing you as a dignified guest.")

Great speakers and breakout sessions and a lot of very good opportunities to meet with vendors and network with colleagues.  Great to see so many SEE members there.