Monday, August 31, 2009

New taxes needed for firefighting and schools

Even though residents in the foothills turned out to denounce health care reform, today they are benefitting from the work of a socialist project, state tax funded firefighters and equipment. Governor, tea baggers, are you listening? The Sacramento Bee on Sunday has an editorial on the positive aspects of the state economy. A problem with this analysis is that only part of the California and U.S. economy are showing signs of improving – the corporate finance sector. There is no evidence of a growth in jobs. So, we probably are headed for another job less recovery in which the well off will profit. What caused this economic crisis ? Major banks and corporations looted the economy creating an international meltdown. Now, they have been rewarded with bail out money. We have cuts in parks, nurses, libraries, .School children did not create this crisis. Foster care children did not create this crisis.

Meanwhile the anti tax crowd roars, - No 
New Taxes. I hope that they do not live in a fire zone.
This is not just another business cycle, this Great Recession is different. Read, “No Return to Normal”, by James Galbraith in the Washington Monthly.
Or his new book, The Predator State: How Conservatives abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stealing from the Youth


Stealing From the Youth

by Joseph Palermo
There’s an ancient saying that we do not inherit our society from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children. On July 21, the California State University Board of Trustees approved a fee increase requiring undergraduate students this fall to pay $4,026 a year, an increase of about $1,000 over the previous year (and this fee hike came after years of previous increases). The fee hikes, the denial of enrollment to 40,000 students, the layoffs of faculty and staff, the budget cuts and furloughs, the stuffing of more students into fewer classes, etc. are all sacrificing California’s future for a short-term “fix” that in reality is not a “fix” at all. The 2010-2011 year will likely bring more bleak budgetary news. By blocking any new revenue streams to fund higher education, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Senate Republican minority are not only taxing California’s young people and their families, they are crippling the state’s future.
The degrees from CSU awarded during these furlough years might lead future employers to look upon them as suspect, perhaps even as inferior. The teachers, nurses, technicians, journalists, criminal justice professionals, and others we teach could have the quality of their training questioned. It’s not fair to the students and their families to be forced into buying an inferior product for grossly inflated prices. Students are paying more than ever for a CSU education even though they’ll be spending less time with professors, have fewer course offerings, and be crammed in overcrowded classrooms.
These budget cuts and student fee increases have gone on for years now, but 2009-2010 will be the cruelest year of all. In past budget cycles, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and the Board of Trustees have responded with a shrug, saying simply: “We’ll manage.” Reed recently told the press that CSU is still a “bargain” compared to other institutions.
Really? A “bargain?” Or is it a bargain basement sell-off? Some students are transferring to other colleges that are more prestigious and only cost a little more in tuition.
There has been a profound lack of leadership among our elected officials in the state Capitol and in Long Beach, where the Chancellor and Trustees preside. Now the CSU administration has been finally forced to acknowledge that the latest round of devastating cuts will adversely affect the quality of education: “Cuts of this magnitude will naturally have consequences for the quality of the education we can provide,” a side letter to the furlough agreement states.
The California Faculty Association has stood and will continue to stand with students and their families. The record is clear. CFA has opposed every single increase in student fees whenever the issue has been raised in the Legislature. As a faculty organization we have consistently lobbied state legislators and the governor’s office to invest in California’s higher education. To that end we have voiced our strong support of Assembly Bill 656, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont), because it is a sensible and fair effort to secure funding for the CSU. The Republican minority in the State Senate and our Republican governor squashed it, and by doing so they denied the necessary funding for the CSU system that would have helped us avoid what we are seeing today — cuts, furloughs, and fee hikes. (It’s a tax on CSU students and their families. The pay cut is also a tax on faculty and staff.)
In order NOT to tax ExxonMobile, Shell Oil, and other oil conglomerates that have made record profits in the tens of billions of dollars off California consumers in recent years, the Republicans blocked Torrico’s oil severance tax proposal that would have provided a billion dollars for higher education. They also blocked a tax on cigarettes that would have adverted cuts as well. And they did so for blind ideological reasons with a total disregard for what is in the best interest of the state of California. They sided with Big Oil and Big Tobacco to penalize college students who are just trying to increase their skill and knowledge levels to be productive members of the state’s workforce and to make California’s future as bright as its past.
Somebody should ask Governor Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in the Legislature why they insist on taxing students instead of oil and tobacco corporations. That’s why students were chanting outside the Chancellor’s office when he approved the fee hike: “TAX OIL, NOT STUDENTS!”
At his annual convocation to college staff and faculty, the president of CSU, Chico, Paul Zingg, pointed out that over the past 10 years state revenues have gone up while the percentage of the state general fund for higher education has gone down. Over the same time period general fund spending for prisons has gone from $5 billion to $11 billion. California spends about $50,000 per prisoner, and less than one-tenth of that to support a student in the CSU system. How can a state that spends more on prisons each year than on higher education create a better future for its citizens? President Zingg called it a “rejection of history and common sense.” “Education is as fundamental to our state as waterways, railroads, highways and the Internet,” he said.
It won’t be easy, but CSU professors can absorb these pay cuts and we will absorb them. We’ll manage. We’ll get by. We can take the hit as our faculty union voted in favor of doing so in the name of protecting higher education in California. CFA approved a 9.23 percent cut in our remuneration that will be reflected in a 9.23 percent reduction in our teaching activities. We’ve done our part.
The professors will endure. But the students and their families are the true victims here. They’re getting ripped off. CSU students are taking on extra jobs and piling on extra units to get through faster just to make ends meet. The quality of their education is suffering even while they go into debt, work long hours, and stretch themselves thin with heavy unit loads to obtain a degree. If it is true that we do not inherit our society from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children, then the current downsizing of the CSU system represents a wholesale larceny against our children and our future.
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

Posted with permission.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Marty Hittleman: CFT, on Race to the Top ?


“Race To The Top:” Feds Demand Too Much, Too Soon, For Too Little

By Marty Hittelman
President
California Federation of Teachers
The California Federation of Teachers has a number of serious concerns regarding Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s proposed “Race to the Top” competition for state education funding. The proposed regulations for federal funding would require changes that could harm California students, are not based on research, and won't turn around struggling schools. There are two rounds of application, and no need to be panicked by the governor into rushing into the first one without proper discussion. Following are concerns, excerpted from a letter I wrote to the Education Secretary. For the complete text of the letter, go to www.cft.org.
Student Data
The California Federation of Teachers believes that student achievement and student growth data may be worthwhile tools in helping to improve school instruction when the data instruments contain information that is useful to the teacher. We do not believe that current standardized tests being administered as part of the No Child Left Behind Act meet those criteria. In terms of the “firewall” between student and teacher data, California has no restrictions on the use of such data at the local level, where it matters, for such evaluations. California should be judged to be in compliance with this requirement.
We need the right reforms
It takes more than the ability to fill in bubbles to be considered an educated person. We thought President Obama understood that. With the proposed requirements of “Race to the Top,” we are led to believe that he subscribes to the No Child Left Behind ideology of narrow testing and one-size-fits-all education. We are disappointed.
I am concerned that the governor and legislators of California will succumb to the temptation of increased funding while, at the same time, giving up traditional state and local autonomy in the area of education. We believe that many of the requirements of Race to the Top will be detrimental to our students’ education. We believe that it is unwise for California to accept, and for the federal government to impose, changes that have not been shown through research and practice to be productive. It is one thing to try new ideas, another to impose them before they’ve been proven to work.
Our experience indicates that schools improve when teachers are provided: relevant professional development; support such as mentoring and induction and manageable class sizes; supportive principals and qualified and trained support staff; a voice in school-level decisions; and safe schools in which to work. Firing or moving staff en masse hasn’t been proven a successful solution. Closing a school has the devastating effect of disrupting communities and displacing children, disruptions that weigh most heavily on minority communities.
Charter Schools
The CFT believes that the heavy emphasis in favor of charter schools in The Race to the Top is misplaced. Most charter schools do not do better than regular public schools, and many of them do worse. A recent study has shown that only 17 percent of charter schools produced higher academic gains than the traditional public schools and 37 percent did worse. The rest were about the same.
If charter schools are to become labs for new directions they should be required to serve English-language learners, students with disabilities, and very low income students. They should be held accountable for academic achievement the same way that our traditional public schools are. They should be financially sound and based on the same state standards as those proposed for traditional public schools.
Standardized Testing, Student Assessment, and Teacher Evaluation
The CFT believes that the emphasis on standardized tests, and their linkage to teacher evaluation, is misplaced and destructive. Multiple-choice tests in math and reading do not address the real goals of education. Teaching to the test not only narrows the curriculum but also tends to destroy any love of learning. When tests drive the curriculum, instruction suffers. It is not fair to teachers, students, and schools to have standardized test scores as the main determinant of teacher and school quality. It is not fair to base high stakes decisions on these test scores.
Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom will tell you that one day’s performance in not a valid indicator of a student’s mastery of his or her school year curriculum and growth. That is why educators use ongoing quizzes, tests, written assignments, and portfolios to determine how much a student is growing. Not only are children’s performances on one standardized test not a valid measure of quality, but it also is unfair to determine things like teacher compensation and dismissal based on these test scores. Such an approach will cause some teachers to fight for the easiest group of students to teach in order to maximize pay. This is just not a productive approach.
In addition, it is unclear how the proposal would base teacher evaluation, compensation, promotion and dismissal on standardized tests, when most teachers teach grades and subjects not captured in standardized tests or repeated. We are also concerned that the use of data may violate student and educator privacy rights. We are concerned that the programs being proposed have no track record in turning around schools while proven programs are not under consideration.
Making Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap
Any effort to close the achievement gap in our schools that does not address the conditions that children grow up in is doomed to failure. Schools can only do so much in the time that they work with students. Until this country closes the gaps in job opportunities at a livable wage, health care, and affordable housing, efforts for improvements in the schools will have limited success. In addition, you can develop all the best tests in the world but if you don’t improve the conditions in the schools that students and teachers operate in, the test scores will not improve. As the famous farmer said, “weighing my hog doesn’t help it to grow heavier.”
Posted on August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Race to the top ? Regulations

Remarks on Race to the Top (RTTT)
Stephen Krashen
Expanded version of comments submitted to regulations.gov on Race to the Top
August 27, 2009

Standards supporters are telling us "that poor kids in crumbling urban schools will have equal opportunity for a quality education if we institute national tests and tell kids they can't graduate if they don't master quadratic equations" (Ohanian, 1999, p. 5).

THE RATIONALE

Global competitiveness

The major rationale for the RTTT is the claim that the US needs to improve its educational system drastically to keep up with the rest of the world, to be able to compete with other countries. In reality, the US is already very competitive: In fact, the US ranks first in the world (out of 134 countries) in "global competitiveness." (World Competitiveness Report, World Economic Forum).

The STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics) shortage

"… the impending shortage of scientists and engineers is one of the longest running hoaxes in the country" (Bracey, 2009).

One of the major priorities of the RTTT is to "Prepare more students for advanced study and careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics." There is no shortage of STEM-trained professionals, in fact, there is a surplus (Teitelbaum, 2007; Toppo and Vergano, 2009; Bracey, 2009). In addition, the US ranks at or near the top of the world on all categories related to STEM education and availability of expertise: According to the World Economic Federation, the US ranks 6th out of 134 countries in "availability of scientists & engineers," first in "quality of scientific research institutions" and first in "university-industry research collaboration."

Our schools are bad. Our students' scores on international tests are mediocre.

Students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families score outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average (Payne and Biddle, 1999; Bracey, 2009; Martin, 2009) The US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). Our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.

Hunger Strikers demand funds for schools

SACRAMENTO — Two Oxnard School District trustees, one day after having ended a weeklong fast to call attention to education funding cuts in California, brought their protest to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Trustees Denis O’Leary and Ana Del Rio-Barba were praised by Ventura County Assembly members Pedro Nava and Julia Brownley at a brief news conference on the Capitol steps before they delivered petitions bearing more than 1,000 signatures of Oxnard residents to the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Although the fast, during which the trustees and six others consumed nothing but liquids and spent their days peacefully protesting in Plaza Park, drew much attention and publicity, O’Leary said it was secondary to the cause they sought to highlight.

“What’s primary is that we’re taking the word of the people and we’re coming to Sacramento and saying, ‘Hey, guys, I had always heard that education was your No. 1 priority, but education took 60 percent of the budget cuts. It’s time you stood behind education.’ ”

Among those joining the trustees was Oxnard PTA Council President Sylvia Cates, who said parents across the state are just now beginning to understand the seriousness of the budget-cutting actions taken by lawmakers over the past year.

When her daughter returned to classes at Haydock Intermediate School last week, Cates said, the evidence was plain: “There were tons of children in each classroom, and they were lacking for desks.”

Debbie Look, legislative director for the California State PTA, said similar experiences are happening across the state with the beginning of the new school year.

“When you hear about ‘billions of dollars’ being cut, it’s very much an abstract concept,” Look said. “When it starts impacting your community schools, it’s not an abstract concept. We’re going to see parents saying, ‘This is enough!’ ”

Brownley, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, said the contrast between what the Legislature has done with education funding and prison funding is stark.

“We can cut $6 billion from schools, but we can’t seem to figure out how to cut $1.2 billion from prisons,” she said. “We bus our convicts to our prisons, but we cannot afford to bus our children to their schools. We have lost our way in California. We are not investing, we are foreclosing.”

O’Leary and Del Rio-Barba displayed charts showing that Proposition 98 “revenue limit” funding — the basic state aid school districts receive for each child attending classes — for Oxnard’s elementary and junior high schools dropped from $5,530 per student in 2007-08 to $4,976 this school year.

Had school funding been appropriated under the existing statutory formula, the figure this year would have been $6,095 — meaning that budget cuts over the past two years have shortchanged Oxnard schools by $1,119 per student.

Nava urged the delegation from Oxnard to support his proposal to implement an oil severance tax in California to help restore some of the education cutbacks.

“It is clearly time to talk about revenues,” he said. “If Alaska can have a severance tax, if Texas can have a severance, if all the other oil-producing states can have a severance tax, why can’t California?”

He said he will push the proposal during an upcoming special session to discuss changes to the state’s tax system. A 10 percent severance tax on oil extracted from California wells would raise an estimated $1.5 billion a year, he said.

O’Leary said he lost 12 pounds during the seven-day fast during which he consumed only pomegranate juice, sports drinks, water and tea.
“Yes, I was nervous,” he said. “I didn’t think that I could make it.”
Oxnard hunger strikers' petitions reach Capitol
By Timm Herdt
Ventura County Star
August 25, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

California schools race to the bottom

Testimony before the California State Senate on California’s response to the demands of the Duncan Administration Race to the Top. Topic, Race to the Bottom or Lost in Space?
The Senators asked excellent questions. They probed the real issues. Particularly effective was Sen. Lonnie Hancock.
While the California schools race to the bottom- Legislators blow smoke.
Paid policy advocates had a rosy outlook and cheered the possibility of new funds in the Race to the Top. Teacher representatives described the grim class room realities after the budget cuts.

California Secretary Glenn Thomas made important comments that no teacher was going to be measured by a single test nor a single test score. He asserted that the Race to the Top provided the basic architecture for the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He argued for a growth model , a value added approach to measurement. A major demand is “effective support for struggling teachers.” and a second measure is that the state has a process for restructuring of low performing schools.
An argument was made by Jennie Oropeza of the state Department of Finance that funding under Race to the Top will be used to improve the gathering better data. She argued that providing a robust data system will allow policy makers information to make better decisions. Well, perhaps, but developing further data gathering will not improve teaching one step.

If the state wishes to improve schools – as they should- there is a need to assist and support teachers. Developing a “more robust” testing system does not do this.

Lets take an example. If a person has the flu, a nurse takes the person’s temperature. ( Like taking a test.) Taking the students’ temperature does not treat the disease, it does not even treat the symptoms. It only measures the temperature. That is what we are doing with test scores. We are investing in testing, not in treating the problems.

Marty Hittleman of California Federation of Teachers gave testimony on the limits of current testing. The views are well developed here: http://www.cft.org/index.php/cft-presidents-page/434-cft-comments-on-qrace-to-the-topq.html

There is yet no evidence that the official policy makers understand the problems of testing, of assessment, or with teaching support.

Clear testimony from the Vice President of United Teachers of Los Angeles. And Pat Rucker representative of Calif Teachers Association called for slowing down and developing good schools, not in responding to Race to the Top.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

California politics and Race to the Top?

Re "State can't let money slip away" (Editorial, Aug. 20):
The Bee editorial argues that California must not let federal money slip away for school reform and that we must alter California law on the use of test results to evaluate teachers. The problem with this position is that writers and policymakers do not understand the tests nor their results. All STAR and NAEP exams are in English. Some 1.6 million California students are English language learners (ELLs). At least half of these are at a low level of English learning.
If you do not speak a language well, taking a test in that language is not a valid measure of your knowledge. ELL students score more than 25 percent below native English speakers on these tests. Decades of research show that tests given in a language the student does not understand are invalid and unreliable measures of the students' achievement.
In many classrooms, up to one-third of the students are English language learners. If you use these test results to measure the teachers or the schools, teachers working with ELL students will always score low. To use these scores to evaluate teachers would be unfair, inaccurate and poorly informed.
– Duane Campbell, Sacramento

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Even Diane Ravitch recognizes the sham of Race to the Top

Obama's Awful Education Plan

By Diane Ravitch
Posted: August 23, 2009 10:22 AM
No group had greater hopes for President Obama and his promise of change than the nation's teachers. Poll after poll showed that they despised President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law with its demand for testing, testing, testing. When asked, teachers said that NCLB was driving out everything except reading and math, because they were the only subjects that counted. Science, the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, all gave way to make more time for students to take practice tests in reading and math. In some districts, the time set aside for practice tests consumed hours of every school day.

NCLB was a failure, and not just because teachers didn't like it. Test scores inched up, but no more than they had before NCLB was passed. Scores on college-entrance exams remained stagnant. Just last week, the ACT reported that only 23% of the class of 2009 was prepared to earn as much as a C average in college. ACT tests over a million students, not only in reading and math, but also in science and social studies. ACT found that more than three-quarters of this year's graduates--who were in fifth grade when NCLB was passed--are not ready for college-level studies.

Part of the problem is that the tests on which so much attention is now lavished are low-level. Students don't have to know much to pass them.

Another part of the problem is that the states have been quietly but decisively lowering their expectations and passing students who know little or nothing. New York State's tests have recently been deconstructed and shown to be a sham. Diana Senechal, a New York City teacher, demonstrated on gothamschools.org (http://gothamschools.org/2009/08/17/guessing-my-way-to-promotion/) a few days ago that she (or anyone) could pass the New York state examinations in the middle school grades by guessing, not even looking at the content of the questions but just answering A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, in order. Frederick Smith, an independent testing expert, determined that virtually every student got enough credit on the written portion of the state tests to be able to guess randomly on the multiple-choice questions and pass (http://gothamschools.org/2009/08/21/test-analyst-reading-exam-bar-even-lower-than-critics-say/).

So, what is the Obama administration now doing? Its $4.3 Billion "Race to the Top" fund will supposedly promote "innovation." But this money will be used to promote privatization of public education and insist that states use these same pathetic tests to decide which teachers are doing a good job. With the lure of all that money hanging out there to the states, the administration is requiring that they remove all restrictions on the number of privately-managed charter schools that receive public dollars and that they use test results to evaluate teachers.

This is not change that teachers can believe in. These are exactly the same reforms that President George W. Bush and his Secretary Margaret Spellings would have promoted if they had had a sympathetic Congress. They too wanted more charter schools, more merit pay, more testing, and more "accountability" for teachers based on those same low-level tests. But Congress would never have allowed them to do it.

Now that President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan have become the standard-bearer for the privatization and testing agenda, we hear nothing more about ditching NCLB, except perhaps changing its name. The fundamental features of NCLB remain intact regardless of what they call it.

The real winners here are the edu-entrepreneurs who are running President Obama's so-called "Race to the Top" fund and distributing the billions to other edu-entrepreneurs, who will manage the thousands of new charter schools and make mega-bucks selling test-prep programs to the schools.

Follow Diane Ravitch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DianeRav

Saturday, August 22, 2009

NEA Slams Obama's School Reform Plan

From Class Struggle: by Jay Mahews. Here's a dispatch from my colleague Nick Anderson on the national education beat:
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/?hpid=news-col-blog

The nation's largest teachers union sharply attacked President Obama's most significant school improvement initiative on Friday evening, saying that it puts too much emphasis on a "narrow agenda" centered on charter schools and echoes the Bush administration's "top-down approach" to reform.
The National Education Association's criticism of Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" initiative came nearly a month after the president unveiled the competitive grant program, meant to spur states to move toward teacher performance pay; lift caps on independently operated, publicly funded charter schools; and take other steps to shake up school systems.

Excerpts selected by James Crawford. ELL Advocates.

"Achievement is much more than a test score, but if test scores are still the primary means of assessing student learning, they will continue to get undue weight. ...

"[T]he most prominent research organizations in the United States have confirmed that test-based measures of teacher “effects” are too unstable and too dependent on a range of factors that cannot be adequately disentangled to be used for teacher evaluation, much less for teacher preparation program evaluation. ...

"The use of these measures can also create disincentives for teachers to work with the neediest students—such as special education students and English language learners—whose learning might not validly be assessed on traditional grade-level tests. ...

"We need to offer incentives so that our best teachers teach the students most in need of assistance, not necessarily teach the students most likely to score highest on a standardized test."

To download the 26-page document, go to: http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/documents/NEA_documents_082109.doc

Thursday, August 20, 2009

English Learners and Test Scores

The Organization California Together Responds to the publication of California STAR test results. August 18,2009.

“System Failure; For the seventh straight year, the achievement gap between English Learners and English proficient children has widened. The State Board of Education and State Superintendent equally share the blame for what can only be described as a system failure. Children, parents, teachers and administrators deserve better.

The reforms of the State Board of Education, Superintendent O’Connell and the Secretary of Education have not kept their promise of closing the achievement gap. The system has failed nearly 1.6 million English Learners, 25% of California’s student population.”

Note: California’s school accountability program relies upon testing only in English. Thus, they do not accurately test the 1.6 million English Language learners. The accountability measures focus only on English and have severe negative consequences for some schools. When that school has a large percentage of English Language Learners, the testing is not valid nor reliable.
We are rewarding some schools and teachers, and punishing others, based upon non reliable and non valid measurements.
Distributed at California State Senate Latino Caucus event.
www.californiatogether.org

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell:
Aug. 18,2009. On the CDE web site:

"The number one priority of my office is to close this persistent achievement gap that deprives too many students of color opportunities to succeed in school and in life,' O'Connell said. "We must continue to push our education system to better serve all students. I remain committed to making changes at the state level to support the work being done at the school and district level to close the gap.'
The performance of African American students and Hispanic students continues to lag behind that of white, Asian, and Filipino students regardless of economic status in most cases. (Tables 3, 4, 8 and 9) The 2009 STAR data reveal that the percentage of not economically disadvantaged African American students (35 percent) achieving the proficient level and above in math is eight percentage points lower than economically disadvantaged white students (43 percent) achieving at the same level. Likewise, the percentage of not economically disadvantaged Hispanic students (41 percent) achieving at high levels in math remains two percentage points lower than that of the economically disadvantaged white students (43 percent). The lone exception to this situation is the percentage of Hispanic students who are not economically disadvantaged scoring proficient or above in English language arts is two percentage points higher than the white students who are economically disadvantaged.
Under the STAR program, California students attain one of five levels of performance on the CSTs for each subject tested: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic. The State Board of Education has established the proficient level as the desired achievement goal for all students. The proficient level represents a solid performance. Students demonstrate a competent and adequate understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area. This goal is consistent with school growth targets for state accountability and the federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The state target is for all students to score at the proficient or advanced levels.

See the following post on ELL learners and Race to the top.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Race to the top

The Honorable Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Duncan,

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund presents you with a unique opportunity. By using this program to reward boldness and creativity, you could support a wide range of projects to expand the knowledge base about teaching and learning, fostering valuable innovations in our nation’s schools.

Unfortunately, your proposed priorities for Race to the Top would squander that opportunity by restricting federal funding to a set of preconceived notions about “reform,” which may be ideologically fashionable but are largely unsupported by scientific research.

Our organization is especially concerned by your insistence that standardized test scores be used as part of teacher-compensation systems. In the absence of evidence that such a change would be beneficial, it would be irresponsible – not to mention undemocratic – to force states to bring their laws into conformance with your plan.

As evidence for this mandate, your proposal cites only a handful of economists, far removed from actual classrooms, who were unable to isolate the observable characteristics of effective teachers – “effective” as determined by their students’ test scores. So, the logic goes, why not just evaluate and pay teachers on the basis of those scores rather than on their years of teaching experience or academic credentials?

Perhaps, lacking any background in education, the economists were “observing” in the wrong places and failed to consider the myriad of talents and skills that inspire children to learn. Or maybe their study designs were slanted, consciously or otherwise, to bolster a hypothesis that monetary incentives based on test data are key to improving teacher quality. (Several of the authors are members of the Future of American Education working group at the American Enterprise Institute, which is associated with that position.) Whatever the case, your proposal is based on research that is admittedly inconclusive and on a theory of teacher motivation that remains unproven.

The grant criteria would also place an undue reliance on standardized tests that offer, at best, a blurry snapshot of student progress. For English language learners (ELLs) in particular, such tests are rarely valid or reliable. Because these students cannot fully show what they have learned when assessed in a language they have yet to master, their scores typically lag far behind those of English-proficient peers. If teachers are to be penalized for an “achievement gap” over which they have no control, how many will want to teach ELLs? It is also well established that these children’s progress in speaking, comprehending, reading, and writing English is never a straight-line trajectory.[1] How could any “growth model” fairly accommodate that reality?

During his campaign, President Obama raised hopes that his administration would limit the uses (and abuses) of high-stakes testing. But paying teachers on the basis of test scores can only raise those stakes, at considerable cost to kids.

Surely, Mr. Duncan, you must be aware of the growing body of evidence about the perverse effects of high-stakes testing: narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, stressing basic skills over critical thinking, limiting bilingual instruction, unfairly labeling and sanctioning schools, demoralizing dedicated educators, fostering corrupt practices, encouraging educational triage, and – worst of all – creating incentives to push low-scoring students out of school before test day.[2]

Or perhaps you, like the economists you cite, are unfamiliar with what takes place in actual classrooms after your ceremonial visits are over. So here’s a basketball analogy that you and the President should be able to appreciate.

Suppose that NBA team owners woke up one day and decided they no longer trusted scouts and coaches to rate players. There were just too many unobservable traits that required human judgments to assess: motivation, leadership, flexibility, ability to work as a team, court smarts, and so forth. It wasn’t clear how those characteristics correlated with player effectiveness, as measured by objective performance data. How could the owners tell whether they were getting their money’s worth? So they decided it would be simpler to pay the players based on a single measure: points scored per game.

You can imagine how that would work out. The long jump-shot would be highly valued, while skills like ball-handling, rebounding, and assists would be expendable. Nobody would pass the ball or worry about playing defense. In fact, the players would all be competing against their own teammates in an individual “race to the top.” Winning wouldn’t matter anymore – only point totals. Basketball would be an entirely new game, drudgery to play or watch. But whoever said it had to be fun?

Can you now envision how schooling, a far more complex endeavor than basketball, might be harmed by a pay system that gives significant weight to one crude performance indicator? You yourself have complained about the quality of standardized tests. So how can you propose a central role for such tests in making major decisions about teachers, which, in turn, could have cascading, negative effects on their students?

We encourage you to rethink this approach and consider not only the potential waste of federal funds but, more importantly, the potential damage likely to be done by Race to the Top as presently conceived.

You might also consider the need for a kind of Hippocratic Oath among self-styled school reformers: First, do no harm. Or to put it another way: Until you have solid evidence to support your policies, don’t try to impose them on our schools.

Sincerely,

James Crawford, President
Institute for Language and Education Policy


[1] See, e.g., De Avila, E. (1997), Setting Expected Gains for Non and Limited English Proficient Students, NCBE Resource Collection Series, No. 8, Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

[2] Nichols, S.L., and Berliner, D.C. (2007), Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press; McNeil, L.M., Coppola, E., Radigan, J., and Heilig, J.V., (2008), “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Testing and the Dropout Crisis,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 16, No. 3; Menken, K., (2008), English Language Learners Left Behind: Standardized Testing as Language Policy, Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Dan Lungren Town Hall Meetings

California. Congessional District 3

Saturday, August 22nd 10:30- 12noon
Jackson
Civic Center
33 Broadway
Jackson, CA 95642 View Larger Map

Wednesday, August 26th 7:00-8:30pm
Rancho Cordova
American River Room
2729 Prospect Park Drive
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 View Larger Map

And, Thank you Barney Frank.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Medicare for All

Medicare for all
The town hall meeting occurring across the country reveal a renewed hard right wing in the U.S.
The health care debate has interest.
I support Medicare for everyone. I am 68. I have had Medicare for 3 years. Prior to Medicare, I had Kaiser. I and my employer paid for Kaiser care.
Now, I, and the Medicare system pay form my Kaiser Advantage system using Medicare. There has been no noticeable to me difference in the care, only a difference in billing for drugs. I get good care, we should all get good care.
So, I think everyone in the U.S. should have health care, we should all have Medicare.
This would save billions each year by eliminating the insurance industry.
Some people want a public option in our health care, Medicare is a public option.
Many people want a Single Payer system to save money. Medicare is a single payer system. Most people have private doctors under Medicare. I prefer an HMO, Kaiser.

So, what can you and I do to advance a sound medical reform other than engaging in a screaming match at a local town hall meeting?

Write letters to the editor of your local publications -- something that's easy to do.
Read news items on line and respond in the comments section with rational, reasonable suggestions.
Submit an editorial column, a more advanced form of advocacy that takes more time to perfect. Newspaper web sites have instructions on how to submit these "op-ed" articles.
Or, read op-ed pieces in your newspaper and respond with a letter to the editor.
Arrange to meet with your members of Congress (both senators and representatives) -- or their staffs, which tends to be easier -- in their local offices in your area.
Just call up an make an appointment, preferably when the member is in town on the weekend or during a Congressional break. If you live in the district, the odds are good that you will get in. Bring facts and material to support your position.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

History textbooks- it is a real issue

The Sacramento Bee for Saturday has an article , “Districts allowed to delay updating textbooks; states OK Frees us funds,”http://www.sacbee.com/ourregion/story/2111306.html?storylink=pd

This issue is far more serious than presented. It is not only that the textbooks are old. Textbooks in California must be based upon the State Frameworks and Standards. The current History/Social Science Framework for California Schools was written in 1987. It was in the process of being revised before the budget cuts.

The authors of the 1987 Framework were “mature” scholars. Thus, their own academic preparation was in the 60’s and 70’s, before Ethnic Studies, before the massive changes in this state due to immigration. The History Social Science Framework is embarrassingly inadequate in the history of Chicano/Latino people, and Asians. And, the economics described has a viewpoint from before the end of the Cold War. It portrays a time when the U.S. was the dominant economy in the world – hint, we no longer are.

There is more on this here:
http://sites.google.com/site/democracyandeducationorg/Home/california-history-social-science-framework

So, the textbooks currently in use are distinctly inaccurate. When students use such books they are not encouraged to see the world as it really is. And, they are not encouraged to see history, civics, and economics as relevant to their lives.
This is another sad impact of the budget crisis on California schools.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Barack Obama on costs of health care

Why reformers are losing the health care debate -- and how to win it back

Chris Kromm
We're now two weeks into the Town Hall Uprising that has rocked members of Congress coming home for their August recess. The signs and screeds have been uncannily similar: "Obamacare" will kill your grandma. Bureaucrats will choose your doctors. We're headed towards socialized medicine, a slippery slope towards communism in the USA.


But whether coming from a hot-headed protester or a former governor of Alaska, the rhetorical bombs share at least two things in common: One, they have little basis in reality. And two, they have little if anything to do with real health reform.

Health reform isn't being debated in the country's TV screens and town halls -- it's being swift-boated. And just like the infamous 2004 TV ads by deep-pocketed right-wing operatives had little to do with Sen. Kerry's military honor, the current assault reveals more than anything the ability of powerful interests to fan lingering resentments - especially in places like the South - to serve their bottom line.
read the entire piece.

http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/08/why-reformers-are-losing-the-health-care-debate----and-how-to-seize-it-back.html

Chris Kromm

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Education 'Miracles" Don't Survive Scrutiny

Education ‘Miracles’ Don’t Survive Scrutiny
By Mike Rose
Despite a childhood of incantations and incense, of holy cards and stories of crutches being tossed, I don’t believe in miracles. So it is with less than wonderment that I watch as a language of miracles—along with a search for academic cure-alls and magic bullets—infuses our educational discourse and policy.
We started off the new century with the Texas Miracle, the phenomenal closing of the achievement gap and reduction of dropout rates through a program of high-stakes standardized tests. (The Texas Miracle would then spawn the federal No Child Left Behind Act.) Politicians and media-savvy administrators have also found the miraculous; the governor of my state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, referred to an Oakland charter school as an “education miracle.” And the pundits have appropriated the lingo. A recent New York Times column by David Brooks on the charter school of the Harlem Children’s Zone was titled “The Harlem Miracle.” And so it goes.
Upon closer examination, some of these miracles turn out to be suspect, the result of questionable assessments and manipulated numbers. The Texas Miracle didn’t hold up under scrutiny. And some, like the Harlem Children’s Zone—which is a commendable place—gain their excellence through hard work along multiple dimensions, from teaching and mentoring to utilizing outside resources and fundraising. There’s nothing miraculous about their successes.
Read the entire essay:
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090813_education_miracles_dont_survive_scrutiny/

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The problem of testing

Testing Issues
Added to the shortcomings of the standards movement is the recent heavy emphasis on high-stakes testing to determine the achievement of the standards. Decades of work have highlighted the effectiveness of authentic assessments (portfolios, student exhibitions, scoring rubrics, etc.) as tools for informing teachers’ instructional practices and methods for communicating to students and parents the knowledge that has been gained. However, the current practice in testing is the standardized, norm-reference test, consisting almost wholly of multiple choice questions. It is problematic that policy makers would on one hand mandate the development of elaborate content standards only to couple such policies with low-level and narrow assessments (Nichols and Berliner, 2007, Dorn 2007)
The long and troubled history of testing and test development in the United States was severely damaged by racism, which the test producers have yet to overcome (Berlak, 2000; Vald├ęz & Figueroa, 1994). Standardized, usually multiple choice, tests are preferred because they can be mandated by political leaders, implemented, and deliver clear results. But, as in the case of positivism and reductionism (from which these tests come), they are measuring and evaluating only a small segment of the important learning goals of schools. Low level tests do not measure human relations, respect, civic courage, and critical thinking, for example. Standardized testing is a political act that often forces teachers to change their teaching strategies. Teachers need to examine the limits of the testing processes and use classroom based assessments to inform their teaching. In many states, including Texas, California, and Massachusetts, and in many school districts, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, standards and a test driven curriculum have been used to reduce teacher professional choice and decision-making.
The most basic failure of the testing/accountability model was to refuse to recognize that public education is far more than production; it includes, at a minimum, facts, concepts, generalizations, skills, attitudes, critical thinking, and citizenship. Thus, a business-production model, based on low-level, multiple choice testing, only measures a small part of the important issues of schools in a democratic society (see Renzulli, 2002, Dorn 2007). Meanwhile, governors and legislators committed to the testing movement ignore other parts of the business production model, including providing as much support, including tools, training, and technical assistance for the workers as needed.
Testing systems have grown in part because they are very profitable for the companies that produce and score these low-quality tests—companies that lobby the legislatures to establish testing systems. State funding for testing grew in Texas from $19.5 million in 1995 to $ 68.6 million in 2001 and at similar rates in other states (Gluckman, Jan. 2002). Bloomberg News estimated in 2006 that the testing industry makes over $ 2.5 billion per year ( Gloven and Evans, 2006). Funding increases for testing and test preparation usually is matched by a reduction in funding for other classroom items such as textbooks, dictionaries, libraries, and teacher support. In spite of these large investments test-based accountability systems, without major improvements in the quality of testing and investments in teacher capacity-building, will not produce significant improvement in student achievement in high-risk neighborhoods (Kober, 2001; Popham, 2003, Nichols and Berliner, 2007).
Extensive evidence shows that the current testing emphasis has driven instruction away from important issues of developing democratic and multicultural content, away from critical thinking, and away from the development of citizenship and prodemocratic values (Neill, 2003; Renzulli, 2002). Available testing, particularly multiple choice testing, is not the only form of assessment. Other assessment devices include teacher observations, rubrics, student presentations, and portfolios ( Wood, Darling-Hammond, Neil, and Roschewski, 2007 ) These forms of assessment can be used to measure progress on goals of critical thinking, democracy, and important multicultural goals such as mutual respect.
Scores on most standardized skill tests actually teach us very little; they measure very imprecisely. Current objective tests measure whether the student can identify letters, words, and rhyming words, but they do not measure comprehension of a paragraph or the ability to write a creative essay. They measure skills and isolated facts rather than significant academic achievement. Tests are usually not actual measures of competencies, but measures of isolated skills that can be drilled without improving the student’s education. Rather than investing more money in the current low-quality testing systems, we could develop appropriate and useful assessments, including using computer technology, which would help the teacher. There are good uses for standardized testing. They should be short tests given frequently that assist the teacher in making decisions about individual students, teaching and review. But that is now what is happening with testing in k-12 today.
From: Choosing Democracy; a practical guide to multicultural education. 4th. ed. 2010. p. 381.
Duane Campbell

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Listen to the Teachers, not the corporate shills

I was giving a speech on the political control of public schooling to a forum here in Sacramento. A teacher in the conference asked, “ I understand your points on NCLB, on multicultural education, and on testing, but what can we do about these things?”
What a great question.

We need to propose alternatives. There are numerous clear voices to explain the education crisis, the economic collapse and the health crisis. We need to magnify and extend these voices.
Just as corporate money distorts the health care debate and prevents reform, corporate influence distorts the discussion of school realities and school reform.
A major problem with our campaigns for a democratic approach to schooling is that most of the media has been sold a mindset or framework of accountability. Corporate sponsored networks and “ think tanks” such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Bradley Foundation, the Olin Foundation and their access to the media is not likely to change. The domination of a particular simplistic accountability frame within the media and political circles must be opposed. The problem is not accountability. It is dysfunctional accountability systems that fail to measure real learning. Certainly in the current battle with Arne Duncan he has ceased the high ground with a claim of accountability in funding the Race to the Top – it’s a false claim- but it works.
Lets consider what accountability would be like. This false form of accountability would be like measuring a news writer by the number of words they get published without measuring if the story was about a garden, T.V., or news.
The appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education was symptomatic of the problems. He represents the kind of corporate/media approach to school reform that claims accountability. The earlier post on history in Chicago was insightful and helpful. Education and explaining will be a constant struggle.
There are many strategies. However, the most important is to share and magnify teacher voices. Politicians make bad decisions – such as the current budget cuts- because they are not listening to teachers voices. Instead they are listening to paid consultants, and “experts” from the corporate establishment.
Newspaper writers and other media writers make the same mistake. They call their favorite “source” which just happens to be a corporate promoter like Arne Duncan, Michele Rhee, or one of the “experts” at elite universities. Note: the elite universities work with few teachers. They are several steps removed from the classroom.
You can read more about this on this blog by searching for PACT. Or here: http://sites.google.com/site/assessingpact/. This is a failure to have validity and reliability in measurement and accountability. For more see, Gerald Bracey (2006). Reading Educational Research.
More strategies to come in future days, but the most basic is insist on teacher participation in the development of policies. Get the politicians and the corporate shills out of the classroom. – they have failed our children.
Of course there is much more on this in my book, Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education, (2010) Allyn and Bacon.

Why and how health care is stalled

The Real Problem with The Senate's Small-State Bias
by Nate Silver
Five Thirty Eight: Politics Done Right
8/3/2009


As you all surely know, the Senate is not a terribly
democratic institution. A voter in Wyoming -- population
533,000 -- has about 70 times more ability to influence
the Senate's direction than one in California --
population 36.8 million. And the lack of
representativeness can be particularly acute when the
Senate is conducting business at the committee level.
Max Baucus's Table for Six, for instance, which may very
well determine the fate of efforts to reform health
care, is made up of members who collectively represent
about 6.5 million people, or around one-fiftieth of the
country's population.

This in and of itself is problematic for Democrats,
since there is a correlation between the size of a state
and how Democratic it tends to vote in elections for
national office, although the relationship is not as
strong as you might posit (Rhode Island, Delaware and
Hawaii are small states too). The bigger and more
structural problem, however, may have to do with the
ways that small-state senators raise funds, and in turn,
whose interests they are beholden to.

The chart below details the 20 current senators who have
received the highest percentage of their campaign
contributions since 2003 from corporate PACs, based on
data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
This data focuses on corporate PAC contributions and
individual contributions only; other, usually minor
sources of income (self-financing, transfers from other
campaign committees, contributions from ideological and
labor PACs) are treated as ambiguous and are ignored.
Data should be current through roughly May of this year.

What do these senators have in common? All 20 come from
states with below-median populations. In fact, you have
to go to #26 (John McCain) to find a senator from a
state with an above-median population, and #30 (Saxby
Chambliss) to find one from a state with an above-
average population.

The reason this occurs is because individual
contributions are easier to obtain in states with larger
populations. Although some people make campaign
contributions to candidates from outside their states,
most do not, and so a senator from Texas ought to have
an easier time eliciting funds than one from Idaho. On
the other hand, there is no relationship between the
amount of PAC contributions and the population of a
senator's state; PACs know that one senator's vote is
just as good as another.

What this means is that senators from small states tend
to be relatively more dependant on special-interest
money -- it makes up a larger share of their overall
take. Senators from the ten smallest states have
received, on average, 28.4 percent of their campaign
funds from corporate PACs, versus 13.7 for those in the
ten largest. There is a tendency to think of senators
from small states as being populists, and there are a
few instances in which this is accurate -- Jon Tester of
Montana and John Thune of South Dakota, for instance,
are relatively non-dependant on PAC money. But for the
most part, something the opposite is true, and senators
from small states in fact have more incentive to placate
special interests.

It is worth noting, by the way, that the six senators on
Baucus's mini-committee are especially egregious in this
regard. They rank #1 (Mike Enzi), #6 (Chuck Grassley),
#11 (Kent Conrad), #13 (Baucus), #14 (Jeff Bingaman) and
#20 (Olympia Snowe) in the share of contributions
received from corporate PACs (an average of 47.5 percent
of their funds overall).

One can think of several plausible reforms to redress
this imbalance. For instance, corporations might be
restricted from donating PAC money to a senator unless
they do a material amount of business in her state. In
addition, the proliferation of the Internet as a
fundraising tool has probably leveled the playing field
some, making it easier for populist-ish candidates like
Tester or Jim Webb to receive contributions from
activists all over the country.

This goes a long way toward explaining, however, why the
Senate tends to be more protective than the House of
corporate interests -- be they in the form of bank
bailouts, tax breaks, or whatever else (consider, for
instance, that H.R. 1424 -- the second take on the bank
bailout -- was approved with the votes of 74 percent of
the Senate but just 60 percent of the House). We don't
need vague notions about the "cultural" differences
between the two chambers to explain this -- they have
mostly to do with where the money is flowing in from.

A complete list of the source of campaign funds for all
100 senators follows below.

-- Ira Cohen

Friday, August 07, 2009

Unemployment picture

Recovery Act saving jobs, but long-term unemployment highest in 70 years
August 7, 9:08am
The July unemployment report released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics detailed the 19th month of the recession, showing that 247,000 more jobs were lost in July but unemployment was little changed, declining 0.1 percentage points to 9.4% as 422,000 people dropped out of the labor force. The number of workers who have been unemployed for over six months increased by 584,000 to 5 million, so that now over one-third of this country's 14.5 million unemployed workers have been unemployed for over half a year.

The pain in the real economy is clearly deepening, but it is doing so much more slowly than during the winter months, when the economy regularly shed around 700,000 jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now providing a significant boost, most likely adding 3 percentage points to GDP growth in the second quarter, which likely created or saved around 720,000 jobs. The job losses in July would likely have been nearly double without the impact of the recovery act.

"The recovery act is now creating hundreds of thousands of jobs but you can’t put out a house fire with one hose. Additional policy interventions by Congress are desperately needed to provide relief and generate jobs, including an immediate extension of federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed," said economist Heidi Shierholz. "Weekly earnings didn't grow over the last six months, so we can see it will be difficult to generate growing consumption and a robust recovery," said EPI president Lawrence Mishel.
From Economic Policy Institute.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Health care reform

Robert L. Borosage
Co-Director of the Campaign for America’s Future
Health Care Reform: Time to Go All In


It is time to go all in to support comprehensive health care reform. The stakes have gotten prohibitive. Republicans have essentially bet the House on it. Obama, for all intents and purposes, has wagered the White House agenda. The insurance and drug companies are pouring in dough. This month will be telling. The debate in congressional districts across the country in August will go far in determining what kind of reform we get -- or whether we get any reform at all.
The opposition -- well financed by the insurance and drug companies and by the rabid right -- is mobilizing now to stop reform. Republicans believe that they can replay 1994 when the defeat of Clinton's health care plan (and the fight over NAFTA) led to the stunning elections that resulted in the Gingrich congress. The insurance and drug companies have sought to dilute reform on the inside the process while helping to fund front groups trying to torpedo it on the outside.
Their tactic this August is clear. Run Astroturf campaigns and mobilize the zealots to disrupt congressional town hall meetings, spew anger and invective against the "government takeover" of health care that will "kill your grandmother." Intimidate legislators, cow decent citizens, sow fear and confusion. Legislators learn that if they vote to disembowel reform they'll be amply rewarded with campaign contributions. If they vote to support it, they'll face the fury of the wingnuts and the Astroturf activists. Cynical but effective politics. (For a fact check on the big lies, go to the Campaign for America's Future page here)
Every American has a direct stake in this debate. Every citizen faced with soaring health care bills, every one of the 14,000 who lose their health insurance each day, every one of the millions frozen in jobs for fear of losing health insurance, every family that faces bankruptcy because someone got sick, every one denied coverage or cut off of coverage because he or she fell sick, every parent losing sleep over a child entering the workforce without insurance, every senior gouged by unconscionable prescription drug prices, every worker who simply can't afford adequate coverage for her or his family. If the insurance industry and the Republican right manage once more to frustrate reform, all of us will pay part of the price.
We should make it a personal mission to challenge and counter the opposition's plans. Locate the town meetings that your legislator is having. (Call your legislators' district offices. Health Care for America provides a listing of town halls organized by pro-reform groups here) Attend with friends and family, silence and shame those trying to disrupt the meeting, demand a serious discussion about this fundamental issue. Challenge your legislators to ignore the wingnuts and support real reform, not a watered down substitute.
So what constitutes "real reform?" Amid the foul odors and sordid ingredients of the legislative process, it is easy to lose sight of what is needed to insure the result is nourishing, and not dangerous to our health.
What many of us would favor -- a system of government funded insurance with many alternative plans, a sort of Medicare for all - is not on the table, to the dismay of single payer advocates. But reforms now under consideration include major changes -- all of which have passed through Senate and House committees -- that could make a dramatic difference in people's lives, and begin to mend our broken system. Those elements include:
Choice . if you have insurance, like it, and can afford the increasing costs of it, you get to keep it. Every plan on the table insures that. The charge that this is a government takeover of heath care is simply a lie.
Comprehensive insurance reform. Since most American voters have some kind of insurance, these reforms will have the greatest impact. Every plan under consideration will force a change in the insurance companies' model. They will be prohibited from refusing to cover those who are sick, and prohibited from cutting off those who get sick. Discriminatory prices against women will be banned. Children can stay on family plans until the age of 26, which is vitally important to those like myself, a father of a 23 year old daughter who works at a place that doesn't offer health insurance. Insurance companies will be prohibited from hiking rates and co-pays in the middle of the year just because someone gets sick. They won't be able to gouge small businesses when one of their employees suffers a serious illness.
Shared responsibility. Everyone covered; everyone contributes. Mandates on businesses - beyond small shops -- to provide insurance or pay into a common pot; mandates on individuals to get insurance. This removes the hidden charge -- estimated at $1,100 per person -- we each pay for the 47 million who aren't insured and are forced to use the emergency room as their doctor, often putting off treatment that results in higher costs when the untreated illness becomes critical. If you have health insurance now, you've got a big, personal stake in getting everyone covered.
Affordability. You can't mandate that people get insurance without making it affordable, since cost is what keeps people from getting it. The best legislation coming out of the House would provide subsidies for low and middle income families up to 400% the poverty level (about $43,000 in individual income). The house legislation would also empower Medicare to negotiate lower prices on drugs, and allow the import of drugs from safe places abroad, saving seniors big time. This would remedy the outrageous payoff to Big Pharma in the prescription drug bill that prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices on drugs.
Fair financing. Not surprisingly, there's a pitched battle over how to finance the costs of the change. This shouldn't be complicated. In society with gilded age inequality and the wealthiest paying lower tax rates than their secretaries, the most sensible way is to add hike top end tax rates on millionaires. Rep. Charles Rangel has been pushing for high end tax rates. The least sensible way -- floated constantly by the eternally wrong-headed Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee -- would be to tax those who have so called "Cadillac" health care plans now. Too often people with high cost plans are people who suffer terrible illnesses. The insurance companies already gouge them for getting sick; it would be truly outrageous for the Congress to tax them for it. Luckily Obama campaigned against this in his campaign, and should be held to that promise.
Public Option. For those whose companies don't provide insurance -- disproportionately lower wage workers in small businesses -- every plan offers access to an "exchanges" that provides choices in private plans and helps keep prices down. Key to this is a robust public option that can contract with providers at something like Medicare rates. That will drive down the price of private insurance, provide model coverage that they will have to compete with, and help, as the president put it, keep the companies honest. The most obscene part of this debate has been to watch so called fiscal conservatives in both parties seek to oppose or disembowel the public option. This is the corrupting influence of insurance company dollars. If they succeed in prohibiting the public option from pegging its rates to Medicare, it will be as outrageous a subsidy to private industry as the prohibition on negotiating lower drug prices. Legislators in both parties should be challenged to support a real public option.
This isn't as complicated as some in the media try to make it. Cover everyone, curb the abuses of the insurance companies, insure affordability, and send the bill to those who've had the party, use a public option and the power of Medicare to drive lower prices and better practices.
Making the case
In a town meeting or on the phone to legislators' offices, many of us get intimidated. Legislators and aides often are skilled at using detail to dazzle or distract. The right-wing claque hopes to intimidate others. But in fact, you don't need all the facts and figures. Just tell your own story about health care, and express your opinion clearly. Say you want insurance company abuses curbed. That you expect your representative to fight for a public option strong enough to cut costs and force competition. That you want the reforms paid for fairly by higher taxes on the wealthy and a cutback on subsidies to the insurance companies. And make it clear, reform is essential; the right-wing extremists don't speak for you or the district. Don't let them hijack the debate.
These reforms aren't nirvana, but they would make a difference. And committees in both the House and Senate have now passed bills that contain them. If they are passed into law, 
we will have made dramatic changes in our health care system that will benefit the vast majority of Americans. A lot more work will still be necessary to fix the broken system -- particularly on cost. But most Americans will enjoy more secure, more affordable, and more sensible coverage.
Needless to say, this is all contested. The House Energy Committee, held hostage by the Blue Dogs, weakened the public option, lowered the subsidies for middle income workers, and diluted the reforms. We haven't even seen the worst of the bills, whatever comes out of Baucus' Finance Committee. But in the House and the Senate, if liberals stand tall, we've got a real chance to pass the basics mentioned above.
The first question, however, is whether any reform will pass. That is what is at stake this August. Will the insurance companies, the Republicans and the wingnuts sow sufficient fear and doubt to stop any serious reform? Or will citizens demand an adult debate about a broken health care system that must be fixed?
If Republicans are betting the house on this, so is President Obama. As Senator DeMint suggested, the right thinks defeat here will be Obama's Waterloo, that it will "break" his presidency. There is no question that failure to move health care will be treated by the press as a monumental setback, weakening the president significantly. If health care reform fails, then the other reforms on the table -- energy, financial reform, education, immigration, empowering workers -- will face more daunting odds. Many voters dismayed at the failure will stay home in 2010. Failure on health care may well strangle this era of reform in its infancy. That, of course, is what the zealots on the right seek.
But this country can't afford more drift and more stasis. We can't afford another failed presidency. We desperately need to step up to deal with the fundamental changes that can no longer be avoided. This isn't a spectator sport. The abusive tactics of the right are designed to keep the good hearted away, to create fear in the undecided, to cow timorous legislators. We can't allow that to happen. It is time to go all in.
From: The Huffington Report.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Nevada brothel offers free passes to Senators

The Keith Olberman video below is powerful. Please view it.
If Republicans and Blue Dogs are going to sell their souls; they might as well enjoy it.
A famous Nevada brothel is offering free passes to the legislators. This is far less corrupting than taking millions for campaign finance efforts as the Republicans are doing; and several Blue Dogs.
http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/08/nevada-brothel-offers-free-passes-to-lawmakers.php

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Healthcare and corruption of our legislature


Keith Olberman

Budget: Schwarzenegger

California's July Budget Blues: ...For A Man May Smile and Smile and Still Be A Villain

By Sheila Kuehl
California Integrated Waste Management Boardmember
It's difficult to simply lay out the bare facts of this latest budget revision, because, unlike other budget negotiations, and other budget solutions, this one takes our state to what the Los Angeles Times calls a "shabbier, less generous and...more dangerous" place. This is a very, very different state than most of us have lived in, because the Governor has finally managed to enact most of right-wing strategist Grover Norquist's playbook right here in California: shrink government down to where you can "drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," characterize the poor as lazy and deserving of sanctions and cuts, shred the safety net, characterize government workers as greedy and overpaid and slash their salaries, close state parks, undermine public schools and pretend you had no choice but to do it all.
The Budget That Was Signed
The greatest blows were heaped on the poor, the elderly and children in schools. The Governor refused a 9.9% tax on oil companies that extract oil in California (Gov. Palin signed a 25% extraction tax in Alaska), had already slashed the vehicle license fee, and adamantly refused to consider any taxes or fees. What suffered as a result: higher education, parks, battered women, foster children, and every poor person in this state (more and more in this economic downturn), the sick, both uninsured and underinsured, and impoverished seniors. Last month, for the first time, in our state of 38 million, more than 7 million people qualified for MediCal.
The Facts
The budget package projects $89.5 billion in revenues and transfers to the General Fund, and authorizes total General Fund spending of $84.6 billion, with an estimated reserve of $500 million.
Reduces Proposition 98 appropriations for K-12 education by another $5.3 billion and community colleges by an additional $800 million.
Reduces by $2 billion--to the minimum level required for federal stimulus funding--payments to UC and CSU.
Rejects the Governor's proposal to eliminate the CalGrant program.
Rejects the Governor's proposal to eliminate the Healthy Families Program, but further reduces support by $179 million, mostly gutting it.
Reduces Proposition 36 substance abuse programs by $90 million.
Shifts (steals) $1.7 billion of local redevelopment funds.
Reduces court funding by 10 percent for $169 million of savings. Assumes one-day-per-month court closures.
Reduces CalWORKS (California's welfare-to-work program) by 510 million.
Reduces In Home Support Services by $264 million by eliminating some services for all but the most severely disabled, making the least disabled ineligible for all services, and implementing several antifraud activities, such as requiring providers and recipients (the disabled) to be fingerprinted. (As the LA Times wrote in their August 1st editorial: we can't have those seniors flitting from county to county trying to get more sponge baths).
Reduces funding to counties for Child Welfare Services by $80 million.
Rejects the Governor's proposals to eliminate CalWORKS.
Does not include either the Governor's proposal to close most state parks or the legislative proposal for a vehicle fee to support the state parks system. Reduces General Fund support for state park operations by $8 million, requiring the closure of about 50 parks. 
Steals $62 million in "loans" from resources-related special funds (like the tire fees used to clean up tire piles and recycle tires, which brings in millions of dollars a year. Look for the return of tire fires in the state).
Next: The Line-Item Vetoes: Get What You Asked For (Except for Offshore Oil Drilling) and shoot the hostages anyway.
Sheila James Kuehl was appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board on December 1, 2008, after having served eight years in the State Senate and six years in the State Assembly. Senator Kuehl served as chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee from 2000-2006. Her website is www.sheilakuehl.org
Posted on August 03, 2009
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