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25.8.05

Give teachers pay raises only if they prove they're worth it

Have you ever heard a bigger bunch of crybabies in this state than some public school teachers?

Let’s see – you get to work a little over half a year 6 hours a day (8 maybe if you count grading and aren’t involved in extracurricular activities), you have no service or publishing requirements, after a short period of time you have a job for life unless you’re caught with a live boy or a dead girl (or just a live boy, depending on gender), and in Louisiana your average salary with most having just a bachelor’s degree is higher than mine with a Ph.D. and 18 years of teaching at the university level.

Nonetheless, we get bleating like this:

Tessie Adams Domangue of Houma, the state Teacher of the Year, said she has a second job selling cosmetics because her school salary is less than $34,000 a year. Domangue, 34, said she sells Avon products as a second job and even considered leaving the profession before she was picked as Teacher of the Year.

Unless you have several children and/or medical problems in your family, you’d have to be a spendthrift to be unable to live on close to $34,000 for a little over half a year of work. I know several people who would do anything legal and moral to make $34,000 a year even working 2,000 hours a year. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out of the profession.

Simply, the typical public school teacher in this state has done nothing to deserve any kind of raise, given the results we get from the public schools. Still, if so many people have bought into this argument that public school teachers in this state deserve pay raises, at least they seem to have it straight that the reason why they didn’t get – a flawed plan by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to jack up taxes on an activity that had nothing to do with education, while the money was there all the time to fund this.

Nonetheless, I’d be happy to support a pay raise for teachers – if they’d accept accountability measures designed to ensure only quality and knowledgeable instructors continue to be employed, measures used by many other states, measures against which too many teachers and sybaritic unions have fought time and time again. A recent report of the National Governors’ Association reminds of the federal mandate involved in improved teaching, and specifically notes that

states are moving away from the notion of licensure as a way to ensure basic competence. They are designing performance-based licenses that require demonstration of subject knowledge and teaching skill, rather than basing licenses on course credits and hours of professional development. More than 30 states now require a candidate to pass Praxis II written tests of subject knowledge and pedagogy to receive a provisional teaching license. States are also beginning to use performance-based systems to create tiered professional designations—initial, provisional, professional, and master teacher licenses, for example.

Louisiana, it should be noted, does not require periodic testing of teachers for competency in their subject areas. And the standards for initially being licensed in an area are set so low (like most other states) it’s difficult not to pass them. Until standards are raised and periodic testing of teacher knowledge in their subject areas is instituted, teacher pay raises in this state simply are not warranted.

24.8.05

State must try harder to reduce obesity-related taxpayer costs

Once again, Louisiana makes the news for unenviable reasons. But whether public policy can change this situation is uncertain.

The state ranked fourth in obesity in a recent, if somewhat controversial, study. More disturbingly, the report notes that the combined health cost to taxpayers to pay for those on government health care from conditions resulting from obesity was $39 billion. Given that the state has nearly 1.5 percent of the country’s population, we can estimate the state paid $585 million to deal with the problems created by obesity (and it’s probably higher, because of the higher proportion of obese people in Louisiana comparatively and indicated by related diseases – for example, the state ranked tied for fifth in the proportion of adult diabetes sufferers, at 8.4 percent).

Louisiana has taken some steps that can improve the situation, mainly in the area of education. Health and physical education are required in schools and limitations are placed upon provision of “competitive” (non-school-provided) foods (which likely are “junk” foods in nature) by schools. In addition, producers of these products have a liability shield, ensuring that the proper incentives and disincentives for reduction of obesity rest where appropriate – with the consumer himself, who chooses to overeat relative to his level of activity.

Still, more can be done, according to the report. In schools, the state could require nutritional standards of both school-provided and competitive foods, or at least enforce such standards in regards to Title I (free or reduced-cost meal) recipients. Most controversially, as nearly a third of states have done in various forms, a “snack” tax could be imposed on foods of dubious nutritional value provided that the money raised be dedicated to state health care needs, raising money to offset health care costs and discouraging, even if just incrementally, these foods’ consumption.

(Unfortunately, of all the states that do this, only one – believe it or not, neighbor to the north Arkansas – does this. Almost all of the others dump the extra revenue into their general funds. This is precisely what got Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s cigarette tax into trouble this past legislative session, as the money raised would have gone to something totally unrelated to health, teacher pay raises.)

To do this favor to taxpayers, what the state should not do is permit behavior such as obese patients complaining about physicians advising them of their condition or passing laws that would encourage overeating. Whether state government can pursue policy that does not threaten citizens’ liberties which can encourage the reduction of obesity is an open question, but with budgetary constraints crying out for use of some portion of the $585 million that could be saved from this reduction, it needs to try.

23.8.05

GOP should hint thanks, but no thanks to Ieyoub

In one of the strangest deliberations in Louisiana politics, former Attorney General and lifetime Democrat Richard Ieyoub has let it be known that he is thinking about switching to the Republican Party.

Political parties don’t cast anybody aside, with the exception of the very rare David Duke, but there are not many well-known politicians in the state that would be an odder fit than Ieyoub to the GOP. He’s no U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, who was a card-carrying conservative who criticized the GOP mildly in the years up to his switch. Instead, Ieyoub as recently as his failed gubernatorial run in 2003 did things such as:

  • Called then-candidate, now Gov. Kathleen Blanco a “Republican pretending to be a Democrat” and urged listeners to turn to him as a true Democrat
  • Advocated a tax on tobacco, precisely what the Republicans prevented from being enacted last legislative session
  • Gained the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO which is loathe to give one to any Republican with any Democrat opposition, as well as New Orleans’ Black Organization for Leadership Development, which endorses Republicans even more rarely, so he could kiss those goodbye as a Republican

    This doesn’t count such rhetoric from previous campaigns but, suffice to say, except for a pro-life view, Ieyoub definitely does not fit the Republican profile. Party chairman Richard Villere has voiced noncommittal remarks about this, as well he should. Such a switch would do little to aid the party, and promises of assistance to Ieyoub for a switch need not be considered at all.

    Given his past, Ieyoub only could be interested in running for governor in 2007 or U.S. Senator in 2006 and he could possibly pick off a few votes from the Democrat incumbents by doing so. But the party would have to guard against the distraction Ieyoub might create regarding “true” GOP candidates in these races. Since both Blanco and Sen. Mary Landrieu look vulnerable and are not likely to draw opposition from the left, it would be better to have the party work to clear the field as it did concerning Sen. David Vitter’s 2004 run and removing GOP competitors for these contests.

    This strategy will work because of quality candidates have begun surfacing within Republicans ranks. With more quality, homegrown GOP politicians out there now where it seemed just a few years ago the best the party could do to win statewide office was to send out a RINO, it would serve the party and its conservative base ill to do anything in addition to welcoming Ieyoub on board if he chooses that, and just leaving it at that.
  • 22.8.05

    Increasing turnout tough job in Louisiana

    Allow me to assist Shreveport Times assistant editor Martha Fitzgerald and Secretary of State Al Ater, whose musings about increasing voter participation in elections Fitzgerald herself mused about.

    One solution would be for them to show up in my American Government class around the middle of November when we’ll spend a good part of one class period discussing voter turnout in America and why it’s relatively so low (as well as determining whether it’s even a problem, but for the moment we’ll accept Ater’s position that it is). But likely their schedules may not mesh with this opportunity, so I’ll give them a rundown of it now.
    First, we must understand both the general factors which determine political participation, and then the ones specific to voting. The first set essentially are demographic in nature, they being that the older and better-educated a person, the more likely he is to participate in politics.

    On that score, Louisiana seems to have a mixed message. The state’s average population relatively is younger than the country’s as a whole and following a trend where a demographic bulge of a disproportionately younger population is on the way in America, but educational attainment was on the rise and the gap closing slightly with the rest of America. All in all, this probably means voting participation factors here are moving a bit against any increases in turnout in Louisiana.

    The specific factors basically are attitudinal, and include attitudes about the importance of elections, the competitiveness of elections, strength of identification with candidates, and strength of identification with parties. The last is easy to answer – with the nonpartisan blanket primary, Louisiana has the weakest political parties in the country, so such attachments by the citizenry also will be weak.

    Recent data also addresses tangentially the idea of competitiveness. The Center for Voting and Democracy rated the state low on “democracy” in Congressional elections partially because of the low degree of competitiveness of these elections. That’s not uncommon in the state, particularly with judicial elections. Again, this would argue for lower turnout.

    It’s hard to say about the other two factors without hard data, but my guess is there’s more upside to these. With a political culture more infused with politics than in most states, that ought to make people feel elections are important (but, then again, given the pervasive attitude that the state has too much political corruption that could work the opposite way here). And, Louisianans often place a great deal of stock in candidates, even (perhaps especially) the rapscallions.

    All in all, Ater has a tough task. Not only must he fight demographic trends, but the necessary attitudinal changes may be even more difficult to overcome. Focus groups and surveys are fine, but the things that really count us political scientists have known for a long time and he needs not get bogged down in reinventing the wheel. The causes are well-known; it’s the solutions that will require creativity, if they even are possible.

    21.8.05

    Marketplace of ideas bankrupting liberal radio in Baton Rouge

    So Baton Rouge’s National Public Radio affiliate WRKF got rid of three news/talk shows. Not living there, I must admit I’ve never heard the three programs in question, “Here and Now,” “The Connection,” and “News and Notes with Ed Gordon,” so this change to me at first seemed unremarkable.

    But being that NPR also goes by the moniker of “National Peoples’ Radio” because of its relentless left-wing programming bias, I wondered if this was consequence of the long-term trend of an American public, being given options in their media consumption through talk shows, increasing cable and satellite radio capacity, and the Internet, to throw off the yoke of liberal media and to consume material more in tune what their education and experiences have confirmed to them in how the world really is and works. So I did a little digging and, sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed.

    I listened through archives of “Here and Now” and discovered the show’s leftist tilt. Scrolling through its listings, for example, one finds a number of stories about the war in Iraq, which usually involve interviews with people against the war, or who don’t like the idea their relatives or friends are over there, or interviews with Iraqis themselves expressing dismay over the situation. Rarely does one hear anything close to a positive affirmation of the war from any source.

    The same goes with “The Connection” which if anything is even more relentlessly trendy lefty. To get an even better sense of the show’s offerings, one also can peruse the message forum postings addressing the show’s demise, which in part gets hijacked by posts regarding the, at worst, anti-Semitic nature of the program or, at best, its relentlessly pro-Palestinian tilt.

    These two shows were outright cancelled by their host producer Boston’s (it figures) WBUR and thus WRKF had no choice here. That the other program which continues on elsewhere does so is telling because it’s the only one where there seemed to be any balance and is produced nationally by NPR. Ed Gordon, the host, who is perhaps most famous for being the guy whose interview helped fan the flames of the controversy that cost Sen. Trent Lott his majority leader’s position, tries to bring in all sides of controversies. This, of course, angers the loony left who believes it’s their right to colonize NPR (on the taxpayer’s dole).

    Gordon’s show is out at WRKF (although it may be brought back if underwriters – that is, it can’t pull its own weight in advertising so must be subsidized – step up to prop it up) because of the telling admission that classical music outdraws all three programs and news/talk competition was too tough. Classical hardly draws any listeners, and Moon Griffon and other local talk shows draw much better. And, of course, Rush Limbaugh steamrolls the competition, particularly (intellectually as well as by the numbers) the left’s puny offerings on other stations.

    These decisions illustrate the continuing decline of a media controlled by elites in everything except their ability to understand political ideas and human beings in a valid way. A very few listeners around Baton Rouge may be upset because their talking points about certain things will not make it to them over the air on weekdays, but they’ll have other sources. Or, without these programs to lean on, maybe they’ll open their eyes and minds a little wider and discover their views evolve in a direction away from what they used to swallow uncritically.