Search This Blog

Loading...

30.7.09

Frivolous request won't halt speed trap law implementation

If ever we needed to confirm that for dozens of Louisiana towns it’s all about money, a legal request initiated by one of them confirmed that.

Act 188 of the 2009 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature makes all non-home rule charter municipalities remit any speeding ticket revenue from an infraction on an interstate 10 miles an hour or less over the posted limit to the state. Several communities generate a large portion of their overall finances from these citations on all roads, as ridiculously high as seven-eighths of the towns’ total revenues.

One at the higher end, Washington Mayor Joseph Pitre, gathered about three dozen signatures of mayors to petition Gov. Bobby Jindal to veto the bill that became the act, to which Jindal wisely responded by not doing so. Pitre now has come back with more signatures on a request for an advisory opinion from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on the constitutionality of the new law to go into effect Aug. 15. The opinion may be get rendered by that time.

29.7.09

BESE can save academic integrity by applying GEE

All throughout the process, the defenders of legislation recently passed by the Louisiana Legislature that relaxed significantly the classroom requirements to graduate high school with an alternative diploma argued they were not dumbing down the curriculum in order to boost artificially graduation rates. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has the chance to help them put their money where their mouths are.

At BESE’s regular meeting next month, it will get the chance to promulgate final rules about the installation and operation of the new curriculum. In part because the law only specifies broad unit requirements and leaves much up to BESE as far as details, many districts are opting out of starting the curriculum this year, as permitted by law by approved waiver, since their terms begin for some as early as in two weeks and guidance still is lacking. (Interestingly, all of the lower-achieving urban systems in the state except Orleans have not asked for waivers to date; Orleans however hardly has any schools left under its jurisdiction).

Of all the rules that need to be laid down by BESE, by far the most crucial will be whether those in the new curriculum must take the Graduate Exit Exam to graduate. This assesses whether students have learned sufficiently material that they must know theoretically to pass essential classes that make up the existing curriculum. It sparks some controversy because some students fail it even though they were given passing marks in all of their courses.

But as far as the integrity of raising and maintaining academic standards goes, there is nothing more crucial than the requirement to pass the GEE. Prior to its introduction and requirement of it to graduate in the past decade, the dirty secret of Louisiana public education for decades was that some schools were passing through and handing diplomas to students who could not do some very basic things expected of graduates. Even now, you find some schools were some students complete their coursework near the top of their classes yet cannot pass the GEE even after multiple attempts. This is because these school lack rigor in their approaches and quality in their instruction (often the teachers themselves do not have sufficient mastery of the subjects they teach; Louisiana has no requirement that at regular intervals teachers be able to demonstrate subject mastery). The GEE was designed to solve for this by making sure uniform and adequate standards were being employed in instruction regardless of where instruction was taking place.

Backers of the bill kept saying the new curriculum, which would reduce the number of units taken in some areas, would still leave a student prepared with meaningful skills. The GEE itself is not based upon the entire four-year courses of study, but on the first couple of years where the most basic skills are learned (which is why the English and mathematics components are taken as many as two years prior to graduation, and the science and social studies parts a year ahead, leaving time in hand for remediation and retaking of the test if necessary). In fact, at present a student doesn’t even have to “pass” (score at the “basic” level) either the science or social studies section of the GEE to qualify for graduation. In other words, this material should be covered in the new curriculum, and therefore there is no reason that the GEE should not be required of students in the new curriculum.

BESE was lukewarm to the new curriculum, so let’s hope it asserts itself and requires the GEE of all students, as it does now of the present college-preparation curriculum and the relatively new, technical-based alternative that already exists. Exempting this third, new “career” track would make BESE an accomplice showing the whole idea behind this in fact was to dumb down the curriculum to boost statistics, putting politicians ahead of children.

28.7.09

Commission offers hope for fundamental LA govt change

Some wondered why Louisiana needed a commission to sort out cost savings measures, created under law this past legislative session and set to expire at the end of the year, and just didn’t go ahead and do it. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s introductory remarks to the new commission gave us the answer that at least provides the potential for a welcome, wholly-new philosophy to be introduced into state government.

All the publicity seems to have centered on that Jindal emphasized the commission should seek ways to privatize and outsource functions of state government. Certainly that is desirable but it does not really change the worldview under which government operates. Savings would be realized in terms of total resources consumed by government, but its scope would remain the same. The same things would be done, just more efficiently.

This will bring some controversy for die-hard liberals in state government will not want to surrender any direct government control even if it retains indirect control in a principal-agent relationship. The real wailing and gnashing of teeth will come from several other requests given by Jindal, namely to define what an agency’s actual mission is, the core activities around it, and how closely matched is what the agency does to these. While it may be true some activities may be found to be neglected and thus should be added, chances are many more will be discovered to be peripheral, duplicative, and/or outdated, and thereby targeted for elimination.

In other words, this alters the worldview. Under this regime, the scope of government would be addressed, and almost certainly resulting in the shrinking of scope. Those who believe government’s primary mission is to transform society and redistribute wealth because of some perceived and assumed inequities erroneously present in society, will not abide by such determinations, as they threaten the very basis of their power. This threat they will fight tooth and nail, depending what gets forwarded by Jindal from the commission’s deliberations.

This kind of impact Jindal presumably desires from the commission, and points to why the whole exercise should be gone through. By having an official body recommend such things, it strengthens Jindal’s hand in carrying them forward to the Legislature (and don’t think that some of the items won’t already have been discovered by the Jindal Administration but were not acted upon because of the strength of the political constituencies behind them, but now will have the imprimatur of the commission to aid in their quest for passage). Even having the commission mention them, if it lacks the stomach, will, or the avoidance of enough revanchist sentiment fully to recommend them, will provide some political capital for Jindal to push for them if he wants this. If this is his wont, surely he recognizes the additional tool in his arsenal to encourage him to go for it – impending budget deficits that create no better political time to remake government into a smaller, less inefficient enterprise.

Or, it could be all just a big public relations exercise. Proof will come at the end of the year when summing all that was discussed and recommended. If these things include shrinkage both of government’s resource usage and scope and Jindal’s subsequent willingness to fight for these, the ideal purpose of the commission will have been realized, possibly dramatically and with long term positive implications. If they simply address marginal aspects, the grand opportunity will have been wasted, and one will wonder whether the commission was worth it.

27.7.09

Melancon again paints stripes on horse, calls it zebra

Rep. Charlie Melancon’s career as a legal, publicly-employed con man continues apace with his crowing about his support and passage of a bill that claims it will introduce fiscal discipline into Congress when it actually will end up doing the opposite.

Democrat Melancon’s federally-elected career has consisted of trying to convince voters he is one thing even as he acts differently. Perhaps the greatest fiction he has perpetrated on his constituents is he supports fiscally conservative government, with the final nail on the coffin to that lie he struck earlier this year his by supporting Pres. Barack Obama’s massive spending increases and sounding foolish in doing so when giving excuses as to why he did that.

But Melancon also apparently believes that if you tell a lie often enough, enough people will think it is true, so his latest sortie to shore up his image has come with the passage of H.R. 2920 which would mean that Congress, whenever it increases spending in select areas or cuts taxes in select areas, that any reduction in revenue must be accompanied by a reduction in spending. Prior to its passage helped with his vote, Melancon proclaimed “If we do not begin paying our bills today, we will continue to short-change future generations ….Our federal government simply cannot continue to live beyond its means, mortgaging our future on the backs of our children and grandchildren,” and suggested it as a solution.

The hypocrisy of Melancon, braying loudly about deficit spending when only months ago he voted to increase that deficit by trillions on top of another trillion or so dollars over the previous few years, is obvious. Less so is the fact that the bill basically does little to put deficit spending under control. Not only do the substantial loopholes exist that exempts several areas but without any cap at all on spending some 40 percent of annual appropriations is unaffected by any limits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill praised by Melancon could allow a $3 trillion increase in deficits over the next decade. And waivers can be passed to exempt anything.

In other words, its practical effect renders it nothing more that a public relations stunt, designed to give cover to those like Melancon who pose as fiscal conservatives but in reality are big spending liberals. It's a sham palliative he hopes will hide the fact he is incompletely closing the barn door after the massive deficit horse has fled with his assistance -- a horse he has painted stripes on to call it a zebra. As he contemplates a run for the U.S. Senate or to seek reelection to his House post, this camouflage Melancon would find very helpful. But recognize this smokescreen for what it is, yet another pathetic attempt to fool the people.

26.7.09

Resignation call sign of progress in improving education

The clearest signal that Louisiana’s Superintendant of Education Paul Pastorek is doing something right has come with the call for his resignation by the polar opposite of excellence in education, a teacher’s union.

Over the past two years, Pastorek has not opposed wider introduction of charter schools and vouchers and merit pay ideas, initially opposed a measure that became law that will reduce standards in secondary education, and supported several changes that would have depoliticized public education in the state. As these preferences are diametrically opposed by teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators has called for his head.

Investigating the goals of each shows why this collective would make such an unusual request. Teacher unions’ goals include transferring as much taxpayer wealth as possible to teachers in exchange for the least amount of work and supervision. If they care about quality at all, they prefer there to be as little as possible because the more demanding that standards are, the more work a teacher must do and the greater ability and intellect they must have. By contrast, Pastorek has been adamant on the issue of standards and has allowed the increased use of innovations such as charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay, all of which have the effect of demanding more from teachers (which, with pay for them rocketing upwards, is appropriate).

Concurrently, they threaten the hold that unions have over education in the state, a major reason why achievement historically has been so poor. As these kinds of measures erode the state monopoly over education and the political influence over it, it becomes more difficult for unions to have easy access to policy-making as decentralization creates more points of influence and parties to contest for it. Accentuating standards and introducing competition while reducing bureaucratization steers policy away from the environment in which unions can most effectively exert power, where a concern to put everything at the lowest common denominator rules. Make striving for excellence the standard and unions lose because simply they are not conceptualized nor designed for this, instead as they are created to protect jobs and benefits the most effective way to do so is to have the lowest possible performance standards.

Thus, the two are at an impasse because Pastorek’s desires (and, by implication, those of the voters who put most the members of his employer the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education into office and Gov. Bobby Jindal who put in the remainder) contradict theirs. And a call for his dismissal only can mean he is perceived by the union leadership as a grave threat to its wishes.

Which these, of course, have nothing to do with quality education or the best interests of school children and people of the state. Board members and Jindal have indicated strong support of Pastorek, and wisely so. The opposite of what opponents of excellence in education want only can be positive for Louisiana elementary and secondary education.