Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa

During the debate on HB 4813, a measure to provide for the dissolving of the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts,  Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons uttered the famous words, heard round the state.

“Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. I am done now talking about political parties and adult interests. I want to focus on the problem that these adults created.”

Not surprisingly, many took the words as referring to teachers. The representative has been on the defensive ever since. In today’s Grand Rapids Press she tries to explain herself. It wasn’t teachers she was referring to , but

“special interest union leaders who were playing political games with amendments and the bills.”

This packs an  unusual amount of irony, given the legislative history of the measure. In her column Lyons summarizes the bill

After much negotiation, Democrat and Republican lawmakers agreed to an amendment in the bill that would have provided for displaced teachers from the dissolved districts to be the first hired in the receiving districts.

Exactly. The only difficulty was that wasn’t the bill that came before the chamber. The substitute measure (H-4) stripped those very protections from the bill. The “special interests” standing in the way of children? That was the proposed amendments from the Democrats, seeking to restore the teacher protection.

The legislative history is abundantly clear on this, it wasn’t the unions or Democrats who brought forward the measure, but the Republican caucus. Trying to blame it on the unions then, is misplaced, and instead only shows the pique of the GOP leadership. The tragedy here s that a real bipartisan bill had been crafted, but the animus of some to teachers apparently was such that  “just to show them” they made the bill more onerous and destroyed the bipartisan cooperation.

Oh, there certainly were political pigs in the room.

Likewise, Rep. Lyons displays a remarkable lack of understanding about the structural problems that have been driving Michigan schools into crisis. It’s all the fault of the school districts:

Funding isn’t the problem; mismanagement and administrative negligence led to this crisis.

That might be true were it not for the fact that over the Recession most school districts (GRPS being one of the few exceptions) actually had their fiscal problems worsen. The challenges schools face are structural. Schools have seen a decrease in enrollment from the Recession coupled with the rising role of schools of choice (Bridge  reports Pontiac lost roughly $14 million because of transfers). Add to this the Legislature’s shifting of money away from the schools that only compounded the economic impact of the loss from enrollment. This was the storm that has hit not only Buena Vista and Inkster, but Muskegon Heights  and others.

The fact is, if we really believe that opportunity should not be restricted to Zip Codes (oh, like 49331), then we had better be passing appropriations and legislation that actually back that up. And if that won’t work, how about this: quit blaming the unions for the failure of your own party. Deal?

Filed under: Education Policy, Republican Folly, , , , , , , ,

What doomed The Press

As the Grand Rapids Press shrinks it’s useful to consider the source of its decline: the internet

Jack Loechner’s Research Brief from Media Post captures the problem rather sharply. When it comes to picking a restaurant, what do you turn to? Overwhelmingly, it is the net; we search and go. The push by media to go online? Not really the way of the future either. Loencher reports

31% rely on newspapers, including
  • 26% rely on printed copies
  • 5% rely on newspaper websites

Even online doesn’t work. From a political standpoint, the danger here is that the source of news — the stuff for civic action — will take new economic models. The damage gets worse. Those turning away from the print edition are the very heart of the potential audience: women.

As distinct populations, they are more likely to live in households earning $75,000 or more, and have college educations. In addition, the 55% of adults who get information about restaurants, bars, and clubs are more likely to be women, young adults, urban, and technology adopters.

What is worse, the news junkies are even more fickle:

Those who are heavy local news junkies are considerably more likely than others to get material about local restaurants. 71% of those who used at least six platforms monthly got news and information about local restaurants, compared with 34% of those who relied on just one or two sources.
The best readers, the most regular readers are shifting away. For the political junkie this is a danger. Our politics depends on the presence of the customers who make the journalism platforms possible.  The continued danger is that our politics will not only go formally more opaque through Super PACs, but will miss the external eyes of those armed with sufficient support to shed some light. In that case, we may well know what the best restaurant is but be blind as to political choice. And that would really cause us to yelp.

Filed under: Community, , , ,

Ed Golder Declares War on the Poor

I suppose we should be thankful that the Press is finally beginning to take the deficit seriously. Yet to judge by the front page editorial, we shouldn’t get our hopes too much.

Ed Golder wants to be a reasonable man, someone asking for a well-meant bipartisan approach to the deficit.  A pressing issue that must be addressed, a time for mutual sacrifice, and so forth. And to judge by the essay, it is a sacrifice to be borne solely by program cuts.  Really? Even though most economists recognize that we cannot cut our way to economic success.

Alas, Golder is drinking from the font of Republican foolishness here.

And to be clear, the sacrifices entailed shall come at the expense of the poor and their opportunities.  To turn a blind eye to the trillion dollar tax advantage handed the very, very rich, while asking for the poor and middle class to do with less represents little more than the transfer of financial benefit form one class to the other.  The middle class will  have less in their pay check in order that the exceptionally fortunate may have more.

A better path for Golder and The Grand Rapid Press would be to name names.  This will ask them to be sharper about what is going on, and not listen to the local conservative whisperers.  When the GOP imagines that its proposed repeal of ACA law comes at no expense to the deficit (CBO estimates place it at close to a 230 million charge), or that tax advantaging the wealthy will pay for itself — these are precisely the fiscal foolishness that should be called out.  At least by any one who professes concern about budgetary responsibility.

but oh, would he at least acknowledge that one cannot cut on

Filed under: Economy, , , ,

Barely Passing

The Grand Rapids Press opens with an interesting account of Michigan’s standing relative to other states when it comes to educational testing (and ranks).  The news is especially grim for Michigan’s minority and economically disadvantaged communities.

Becoming a Leader in Education is the first report from The Education Trust -Midwest. Clearly they bring a passion for supporting the educational opportunities for minority youth, and Michigan certainly needs that.  However, even more we need to be clear headed about the educational situation facing our State.

Room for doubt

So is Becoming a Leader on the up and up?  Perhaps.  To generate a sense of urgency Education Trust-Midwest compares and contrasts MEAP and NAEP scores.  So scandals errupt about Michigan’s underperformance, most notoriously in their report,

Though 84 percent of parents of Michigan fourth-graders are told by the state their children are proficient in reading, only 30 percent of those same students scored proficient on the national reading exam.

Surely troubling.  Then again when Michigan is compared to national NAEP data for reading, the state’s performance is, well, average.  The problem may be more to do with our own testing, as other reports have born out. For instance, this spring we had another report saying perhaps the MEAP was too easy.  This malleability of MEAP scores makes them less than useful for comparison from year to year — one of their great disadvantages compared to the NAEP.

As to unreliability, there is also the sure temptation to “teach to the test.”  The top performing school district for the eight grade math test among African Americans was …. Inkster?  Seriously, if that were true, then shouldn’t the case study be from that district?  The fact that the report picks on North Godwin as much as admits the data cooking.  (Secondarily, one might ask how representative a small district like Godwin can be.)

Third, it should be pointed out that the state-level NAEP tests are done through a sampling of students in a given state.  The data generated are  not robust enough to bring down to a district level, let alone individual schools — the location where parental choice would have the most impact.

Such doubts, however should not blind us to the real dangers.  We need to be especially clear sighted here.

The real dangers

The one danger in the report that should stand out is Michigan’s competitive position relative to the other states in the region.  Whether the ranks of NAEP performance is statistically significant, the nominal ranking nonetheless provides a quick snapshot or the state’s challenge.  While Michigan scores for Grade 8 Math for higher income students compares well with Florida, our state is far behind all the other Great Lakes states.  That is not a good sign at all.

An even more worrisome problem shows up Education Week’s Quality Counts report.   Although Michigan is not portrayed as the complete basket case that Education Trust-Midwest would have it, the various data sets point to the challenges.  Among them, Michigan lags in AP programs.  Where nationally, 20 percent of 11th and 12th graders will get a 3 or better on (at least one) AP test, in Michigan the number is 15 percent.  This is not especially surprising for observers in Michigan, particularly with the large number of rural districts and the hammered urban districts, nonetheless, such under performance places a huge roadblock before any community seeking to make itself attractive nationally.

Perhaps the most troubling data provided by Becoming a Leader is the lagging performance for Kalamazoo Public and Grand Rapids Public Schools on the fourth grade reading tests.  At the very least, we will need to see more data here.  A failure to raise these scores only puts added pressure on the current administration.  So what can be done? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Education Policy, Horace Mann, , , , , , ,

Just how green is that grass?

Saturday, Michael LaFaive signed up once more for the “Grass is Greener Club” in the Grand Rapids Press. We’ve seen it before –the  idea is pretty much the same: some state is outperforming Michigan on some standard, and only if we emulate that other state then we, too, will out perform.  Invariably our problem is that we are not somehow Oklahoma, Florida, Mississippi, or in this case, Texas.

The narrative is also inevitably  wrong.

To fall for the reasoning of “if only we had…” invariably places policy choices in a reactive setting. Strategically, this is bad reasoning, since it means that state action must invariably follow in someone else’s footsteps.  We surrender control of our destiny.  The second flaw is political: it teaches a politics of despair.   It is at the end, a moralistic argument: if only we did x, then we would be blessed.  Of course there is a long tradition of such jeremiads, particularly from the Right, particularly looking nostalgically (or this case, over the fence) to some other, imagined eden.

LaFaive is much more concrete.  His hook is the comparison of population loss in Michigan compared with the significant increase in Texas.    There’s no doubt the numbers are big and troubling – and costing our state at least one seat in Congress. And the reason?  Sunshine, no unions and lower taxes.  Economic virtue is rewarded, plus you get a beetter tan.  The evidence however points to a more complex answer.

Texas. Really?

LaFaive cites  the ALEC Competitiveness Index:  Michigan is at 34 while bastion of economic freedom, Texas is at 10. Of course, that was for the 2009 data. The 2010 report gives a different picture: Michigan now at 26, middle of the pack, and Texas at 19. So what happened?  Did our Texas suddenly fall on its sword?  Did Michigan suddenly acquire economic religion?

LaFaive goes on to admit that total net Michigan to Texas over the past decade may be as high 80,000 (we’re being generous), however with a job loss even add in the 68,000 net moves to Florida, and we’re still left with 400,000 moves unaccounted for.

With numbers like this, the claim that this is the result of a poor tax code or some other failure in the state’s economics.  Obviously, there is more at work. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , , ,

More Moonlighting

Note: a form of this also appeared at West Michigan Rising.

Joe Crawford is out moonlighting again.

The spirit of, if not the actual words of Joe Crawford is alive tonite at The Grand Rapids Press and its sterling endorsement of Justice Cliff Taylor. I suppose it’s only right, after all the other Republicans are out recycling the greatest smears of yesteryear.

The sheer vacuity of the Press is on breath taking display. Rational argument has evidently deserted 155 Michigan. They take Justice Taylor’s words at face value, that his path is as he defined it (my emphasis) one of “restraint.” Yet surely, this is a classic form of New Speak, for in what reality does judicial restraint become its opposite, now defined as altering landmark legislation and overturning long-standing precedents?

So what actions  justify treating change of tradition as restraint?  Apparently it’s his sharpened pencil

(He) has brought a cost-consciousness to his job of overseeing all of Michigan’s courts, one of his important roles as chief justice. Last year, as the state faced an impending budget crisis, Mr. Taylor led the way in fiscal discipline by giving up his taxpayer-provided car,

That is touching. Why the next thing they’ll tell us is that he likes puppies. The notion that this fiscal prudence supplies sufficient warrant for re-election turns trivial once the scope of the problem is known — as even Press allowed:

the Taylor court has altered landmark legislation and overturned long-standing precedents. Some of these individual decisions lead to legitimate concerns that the court’s attempts to correct years of judicial activism have swung too far in the direction of protecting certain classes — guarding, for instance, business interests and insurance companies against the rights of ordinary citizens.

Hmm fiscal prudence or my rights as a citizen? They seem so alike.

The paper tries to camouflage its view as something rational, even normal. Justice Taylor articulates “a sound judicial philosophy”, as if the presence of a philosophy were reason enough. This completely evades the fundamental question: is this a philosophy — however “sound” — that ought to determine whether grieving mothers get their redress, or communities get the right to protect their environment? Whether city contracts and promises to the public be honored? or whether crime victims get their day in court?

The Supreme’s assault on the citizens of Michigan is increasingly well known.

It may be true that this is a sound philosophy of a sort at work here, but given the grim fruit such philosophy has borne it really belongs to the Press to explain that philosophy. It is not at all evident that being “sound” is an unquestioned virtue. What is sound (or not sound) is the content of the philosophy — the results that flow from its implementation. In endorsing the over-stepping of this radical court, the Press has again shown what its true philosophy is. Sadly.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan,

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