News & Notes July 29, 2010

I’ve had a very busy week and a very bad headache (as a result of the busy week) for two days.  There’s much to catch up on and comment about along with some news about several state campaigns.

First up was Sunday’s release on WikiLeaks of 92,000 Pentagon reports concerning Afghanistan.  Though I didn’t see anything I hadn’t known or knew before they did provide details and examples.  I’ve been questioning these issues for several years and have been asking first, what was the mission and, secondly, is it attainable?  I think these leaks illustrate the war and our missions are not attainable.  Why are we there?

A judge declared much of the Arizona immigration law unconstitutional yesterday.  Isn’t it funny how conservatives rally around the constitution when its about the Second Amendment then ignore the rest of the document when it doesn’t suit them?  All this anguish about immigration is hypocritical because Barack Obama is doing more about the issue than George W. Bush.  Deportations are up significantly, border control has been enhanced and a bill for comprehensive immigration reform is on the table.  Crime in Arizona is actually down though undocumented people tend to obey the law more than citizens and pay taxes into Social Security and Medicare without receiving any benefits.  The outcry is much ado about nothing.

Bankers received $1.6 billion in bonuses which were supposed to be illegal under federal law due to bailout funds going to their institutions.  That’s a lot of cash going to the very people who helped crash the economy.  Any bank getting taxpayer money had to limit the bonuses they paid and this rule was flouted and ignored to the tune of $1,600,000,000.  Where’s the Tea Party outrage over that?

Pennsylvania is one of 19 states in the finals for the Race to the Top education program.  Obama’s openness to school vouchers is disturbing and undercuts our traditional program of public education.  I am against any use of tax payer funds for private or religious schools.  Let them raise their own money.  Our schools are having a difficult time as it is, diverting their funds is not the answer.  Of course this is yet one more example of Barack Obama being a conservative.  There are actually quite a few, the federal bailouts to health insurers via the new law being the best.

Which High School Gets President Obama As Their Commencement Speaker?

The White House held a conference call this afternoon to go over the competition to see which high school will have President Obama as their speaker for commencement.  Do you remember who your high school commencement speaker was?  Likely not even if it was just last year.  Six schools are in the finale of this effort and Friday they will be reduced to three.  Next Monday the President will announce his choice from the final 3.  You can vote beginning today by clicking here.  The sequence of schools coming onto the page differ so no one has a clear advantage.  The ratings are skewed so as to minimize multiple voting.  Three of the finalists are charter schools but the White House says that isn’t because the President is a major fan of them.

A reporter from the Kansas City Star mentioned on the conference call there are reports out of Overland Park (a suburb of KC) that some parents will not allow their students to attend commencement if the President is the speaker.  I suppose these are the Birthers who still think he is Kenyan.  Go watch the videos and rate each school.  A thousand high schools applied for this competition and I think its rather neat the White House thought to do this.

Random Thoughts March 30, 2010

Delaware and Tennessee won the first round of federal funds for education in the Race to the Top program designed to rethink education under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Most Pennsylvania school districts opted out of the program yet the state finished in the next tier of five.  Will they get serious about the tens of millions of dollars available?

I asked Gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato about it yesterday and he clearly was caught off guard.  Had he not heard the news or didn’t he know what the program is?  I’m not sure but it was one or the other.

Speaking of Arne Duncan he has done more media conference calls than any other Cabinet official.  Kathleen Sebelius is probably number two between the swine flu program and health insurance reform.  Sec. Duncan does another call this afternoon to discuss the expansion of Pell grants which was part of the health insurance bill just passed by Congress.

I was trying to think of one issue in which Mr. Onorato is progressive and could not come up with a single example.  Anti-choice, anti-equality for marriage, pro death penalty, willing to violate constitutional rights at the G20…  The way I watched him dance around direct questions yesterday was worthy of a seasoned politician however.  The thought of either him or Jack Wagner sitting as Governor is worrisome.

No sooner did I finish writing yesterday’s article on accountability for violence than I saw on television where this radical militia group was busted.  Very scary people and there are too many of these factions rising up as the result of all this hate speech.  Now a lunatic from Philadelphia has been arrested for threatening Congressman Eric Cantor.  It appears this guy is totally off his rocker.  I suppose you could say that about most of these militia/tea bagger folks.

The GOP talking points for opposing regulation of Wall Street leaked and, once again, their strategy will be to lie to voters.  Black is white and white is black to these people and they’ll stoop to nothing to brainwash stupid people.  How long will it be before the morons begin reciting the smear that this is yet another bailout when it’s exactly the opposite?  The morons are already gathering their talking points without reading the actual legislation and understanding what it says.  Reading without comprehension is like using a defective condom:  you’re screwed.

I have a serious problem about prosecuting children as adults especially when they are but 12 years old.  Let’s get civilized.

Joe Hoeffel went after AG Tom Corbett yesterday over his frivolous lawsuit to end health insurance reform.  He called him the “Motions Eleven.”  Great play on words but where was George Clooney Joe?

Baseball season is about to begin so spring has to be close.  That 70 degree weather was nice but came a bit too soon.  The rain has been better than snow but won’t a bit of sunshine feel good?  Is anyone betting on the date the Pirates get mathematically eliminated?  I take July 22nd.  It’s good to be a Phillies fan these days!  Every fifth day is a Halladay.

Ricky Martin came out of the closet, finally.  Did anyone not doubt his sexual orientation?  He called himself “a fortunate gay man.”  Now I suppose he can live “la vida loca.”

Michael Steele is under attack again for spending almost $2000 of RNC cash at a sex club in LA.  Who was stupid enough to report this on their FEC disclosure?  Having a party at a lesbian/bondage club is entirely legal but not very smart.  Of course when I think of Republicans and bondage Club Voyeur isn’t what comes to mind.  I think of slavery of African Americans and how too many Republicans continue to support that image.  There’s a reason the GOP is the Party of the South.

Education Department Announces “Race to the Top”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the new program called “race to the Top.”  This be a competition among states to reform education so as to improve achievement and reduce the dropout rate.  A total of $4 billion is available to fund initiatives based on state’s past achievements and their ability to continue educational improvement.  Pennsylvania could access between $200 and $400 million through the program.  

Charter schools seem to be a special emphasis though evaluation of teachers based on merit and a focus on reducing the national 30% dropout rate seem to be priorities based on the conversation this afternoon with reporters and media.  There will be two rounds of competition among the states with the first round of proposals due January 19th and funds awarded in early spring.  States which don’t win in the first round can still participate in the second round.

Update:  I sent emails to both PSEA and the PA Dept. of Education about this program.  I’ll keep you updated.

The press release for the program:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today released the final application for more than $4 billion from the Race to the Top Fund, which will reward states that have raised student performance in the past and have the capacity to accelerate achievement gains with innovative reforms.

“The president said last week that Race to the Top will require states to take an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Duncan said. “We will award grants to the states that have led the way in reform and will show the way for the rest of the country to follow.”

The U.S. Department of Education is asking states to build comprehensive and coherent plans built around the four areas of reform outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The application requires states to document their past success and outline their plans to extend their reforms by using college- and career-ready standards and assessments, building a workforce of highly effective educators, creating educational data systems to support student achievement, and turning around their lowest-performing schools.

The $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund is an unprecedented federal investment in reform. Duncan will reserve up to $350 million to help states create assessments aligned to common sets of standards. The remaining $4 billion will be awarded in a national competition.

To qualify, states must have no legal barriers to linking student growth and achievement data to teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation. They also must have the department’s approval for their plans for both phases of the Recovery Act’s State Fiscal Stabilization Fund prior to being awarded a grant.

The final application released today includes significant changes to the proposal released by the U.S. Department of Education in July. After reviewing responses to the draft proposals from 1,161 people, who submitted thousands of unique comments, ranging from one paragraph to 67 pages, the U.S. Department of Education restructured the application and changed it to reflect the ideas of the public.

“The public’s input on this application was invaluable to us,” Duncan said. “The comments helped us clarify that we want states to think through how they will create a comprehensive agenda to drive reform forward.”

The final application also clarifies that states should use multiple measures to evaluate teachers and principals, including a strong emphasis on the growth in achievement of their students. But it also reinforces that successful applicants will need to have rigorous teacher and principal evaluation programs and use the results of teacher evaluations to inform what happens in the schools.

In Race to the Top, the department will hold two rounds of competition for the grants. For the first round, it will accept states’ applications until the middle of January, 2010. Peer reviewers will evaluate the applications and the department will announce the winners of the first round of funding next spring.

Applications for the second round will be due June 1, 2010, with the announcement of all the winners by Sept. 30, 2010.

Teachers have been hesitant, justifiably, to connecting pay with performance since so many factors outside their control affect outcomes.  Parental involvement in children’s education is pathetic.  Others are so suffocating they are called “helicopter parents.”  Funding for schools varies drastically based on district’s overall wealth.  Until we equalize funding for all schools evaluating all teachers the same way seems a bad idea.  It will be interesting to watch how creative states can be in addressing these factors in Race to the Top.