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Education

abanschoolAnd it should start with this.
 

Whether President Obama realizes it or not, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is now “damaged goods,” a leader whose credibility has been sharply diminished on both sides of the aisle and is widely despised by teachers and parents around the nation. As a result, any initiative he launches will generate skepticism and opposition and will go exactly nowhere. Whether the President can cut loose his long time friend and basketball buddy is an open question, but the die is cast. Arne Duncan is now a liability more than an asset and someone whose presence may cost Democrats votes in the 2014 elections.
(Mark Naison – Dump Duncan Facebook, 7/17/14)

What all has precipitated commentary like the above, which is spot-on if you ask me, is that Duncan is essentially pimping a conservative Republican approach to American education. Full corporatization (“Walmartization,” if you prefer) of schools is the odious goal.
 

The American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution July 13 calling on President Barack Obama to put U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on an “improvement plan,” and demand his resignation if he doesn’t change positions the union deems harmful.
 
This is a very interesting development, notably because it’s arguable whether this resolution is stronger than the National Education Association’s similarly themed resolution, or weaker.
 
On the one hand, unlike the NEA resolution, it stops short of calling for Duncan’s immediate resignation. But on the other hand, the AFT makes it explicit that the buck for the education secretary ultimately stops with the person who appointed him — President Obama.
 
Delegates noted Duncan’s support for the Race to the Top competition, which gave incentives to states to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores; for the recent Vergara v. California equity-lawsuit ruling, which declared certain teacher protections unconstitutional in California; and for supporting planned teacher firings in Central Falls, R.I., as well as for saying that Hurricane Katrina’s reshaping of New Orleans’ school system was beneficial.
(Education Week)

Every indication is that President Obama is with the deformer crowd, and I wish I knew why. This is easily my biggest disappointment with his presidency. According to a big long survey (PDF), a largely uninformed public both strongly supports public schools (as it should), and more charters (as it most certainly shouldn‘t). Grounds for some measure of optimism, or at least determination in the face of difficult odds, is that the President has shown himself open to learned, rational persuasion in the past, on gay marriage for example.
 

Duncan is one of those professional suck-ups that infest DC like mold spores. And he displays a smug arrogance that is truly obnoxious and repellent. Some of his recent, combative comments are likely subconsciously grounded in fear that he’ll be exposed before all for the wretched fake that he is. Just…he needs to go (preferably replaced by Diane Ravitch, though that would seem too-good-to-be-true unlikely).
 

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SCOTUS and unions: Could have been worse

by Dan Burns on June 30, 2014 · 3 comments

unionsBut bad enough.
 

However, the decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito is limited to undercutting home care workers specifically…This means that teachers and fire fighters and the like maintain their existing union rights, but many of the most vulnerable workers have lost a tool for building power…While the Harris decision carves home care workers into a category of not-quite-public-employees to leave fully public employees untouched, the decision makes clear that the conservative majority is hostile to the precedent allowing fair share fees for public worker unions more generally, so unions are not out of danger, in addition to the blow this case deals to organizing new categories of workers who have not traditionally had union rights.
(Daily Kos)

Because of the prevalence of women among home care workers, this is, among other things, SCOTUS going two-for-two on anti-woman decisions, today.
 

Could have been worse, because the Court conceivably could have essentially extended “Right To Work” (I call it “Right To Be Exploited”) to all public sector workers (including public school teachers) nationwide, thereby potentially rendering their unions non-functioning.
 
Every reasonable progressive knows that there will be setbacks, sometimes severe, on the long path to ultimate progressive triumph. I suggest ignoring the doom and gloomers, purity martyrs, and the terminally cynical, and bearing in mind that the long game is in our hands.
 

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Hamline adjuncts vote to unionize

by Dan Burns on June 24, 2014 · 4 comments

The_hand_that_will_rule_the_worldAnd yet the world keeps turning. I don’t know, whether Hamline brought in sleazy union-bashers, to try to influence the vote.
 

In the first union-organizing election among faculty members at a private college in Minnesota, adjunct instructors at Hamline University in St. Paul voted to join Local 284 of the Service Employees International Union.
 
Eligible faculty members at Hamline cast their ballots by mail earlier this month. A vote tally took place (Friday) morning at the Minneapolis office of the National Labor Relations Board, with 72 percent voting in favor of forming the union.
 
In a press release announcing the election results, SEIU declared the election results a “victory for adjunct faculty across the nation,” noting that Hamline faculty members had joined instructors at Northeastern University, Georgetown University and a growing number (of) schools across the U.S. in forming unions via the SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign.
(Workday Minnesota)

Having looked, my sense is that really reliable information about the whole deal with adjunct faculty is hard to come by. Everyone has an agenda (including me; I’m strongly pro-union, and just as strongly pro-teacher). Those who choose majors like classics, art history, and so forth – noble as those are – are mostly well aware that there aren’t nearly enough tenured positions to go around. And that‘s true of plenty of “technical“ disciplines as well. (People definitely knew that when I was an undergrad, and that’s over three decades ago, now.) But no one can seriously deny that, whoever and whatever might be at fault and what has to change (I don‘t claim to have those answers), adjuncts getting raw deals isn’t good for anybody.
 

For those few unfamiliar with the challenge, it’s not hard to describe. Research on adjunct working conditions paints a picture of inequality between them and their tenure-track counterparts. A 2010 survey of non-tenure-track faculty members by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce showed low median compensation rates for adjunct faculty, at $2,700 per three-credit course, with little, if any, compensation based on credentials and minimal support for work or professional development outside the classroom. (At four courses per semester, that’s $21,600 annually, compared to starting tenure-track salaries that average $66,000, according to data from the American Association of University Professors.)
 
But adjunct faculty now make up the majority of the higher education work force. As recently as 1969, 78 percent of instructional staff comprised tenured or tenure-track professors, with adjunct faculty making up the rest, according to information from the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. By 2009, the figures had nearly flipped, with a third of faculty tenured or on the tenure track and two-thirds ineligible for tenure. Of those non-tenure-track positions, just 19 percent were full-time.
(Inside Higher Ed)

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abanschoolWhich, incidentally, doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that public school teacher tenure is doomed, everywhere.
 

So is Kathy Saltzman, a former legislator who is now the Minnesota director of StudentsFirst, a group that has pressed to eliminate state teacher tenure laws.
 
“Now, with a robust teacher evaluation law in place, now is the time for us to have a real conversation about the fact there’s no state requirement for teachers with repeated ineffective ratings to be dismissed,” she said. “This ruling is a win for kids.”
 
…The American Federation of Teachers blasted the California ruling. “It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.
(Star Tribune)

Yeah, good ol’ StudentsWorstNightmare. If it appears that what I’m doing here is displaying the leaders of the school “reform” crowd as a bunch of selfish, narcissistic, cowardly corporate swine, well, that’s on purpose. The deformer long game is straightforward. Let corporations relentlessly strip-mine our schools for profit, while churning out generations of kids well-drilled in rote, but hopefully not given to questioning the status quo. Lest public education turn out independent, rational young people determined to live as moral individuals in a moral society, rather than to wallow in self-absorbed, soul-destroying greed and power-mongering (cf. this brutal expose of Bill Gates’s role in all of this).
 
I think a good way of getting more of the public actively on our side is to emphasize that with public schools, parents get a say, when it comes time to elect their school boards. With charterization, decisions will all ultimately be made in corporate boardrooms, based on corporate bottom lines. (I know the charter movement claims otherwise, and it’s unfortunate indeed that well-meaning people in the deformer trenches are naïve enough to buy that. My screed, here, is not meant as a personal attack on the hoi polloi that honestly believe that the deformers mean well, and will deliver better schools. But they really should know better.)
 

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Eric Cantor has lost the Virginia Republican congressional primary.
 

He is currently on television making his thanks and giving his concession remarks.
 

Speculating on what this means for the general election, with Cantor apparently OUT – so far no mention of him running as a write-in, he sounds from the comments like he is retiring – at least for this election cycle.  He is talking about his term as majority leader in the past tense.
 

I despise the Tea Partiers, but the right wing has been the great user of wedge issues.  It backfired here in Minnesota in 2012, with the demise of the attempt to amend our state constitution.  There is a delicious irony in it that now the right wingers are now fracturing their own party with these same wedge factions like the Tea Party.
 

Virginia apparently has a ‘sore loser’ law (as I understand it), so once you lose the primary, no write-in vote, no other way of appearing on the ballot.  You lose………..you lose for the whole election cycle.
 

Cantor is still talking up his corrupt corporate owners, feigning concern for the vulnerable as he pushes to privatize more education with failed charter schools.
 

Bye bye to the slimy man who pretends to show concern for things like bringing down health care costs, and who has done so much to keep those costs high and to obstructing any real progress.
 

Buh-bye Eric Cantor.  Don’t let the screen door hit you on the rear end on your way out of the next political cycle.  David Bratt, the winner — don’t get too comfortable; odds are, given the 2012 election cycle wins for Dems, you too, Bratty, won’t be around for long – although Virginia CD7 has been somewhat Republican.
 

An interesting bit of trivia – Dave Bratt is a professor at Randolph-Macon College; his Democratic opponent, Jack Trammell, is a professor at the same college.  It should be interesting to see how many of the students at that college turn out this November – and for whom.

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Wisconsin Democrat cites Minnesota comparison

by Eric Ferguson on June 9, 2014 · 2 comments

garofalo-asleep-on-the-jobh/t Jeff Wilfahrt at Left.mn
 
Wisconsin State Representative Chris Taylor wrote about her experience attending an ALEC conference. ALEC couldn’t entirely keep her out since she paid her dues, but they didn’t try to make her feel welcome either. “Secrecy reigned supreme. When I asked one of my fellow attendees to take my picture, an ALEC employee forbade it.” This was the part that jumped out at me:
 

Finally, there are the economics of the ALEC otherworld. I chuckled at the scorn directed at Minnesota, where, Rep. [Pat] Garafalo remarked, “the inmates are running the asylum.” Minnesota raised taxes on the rich and invested the resulting revenue in public schools, including all-day kindergarten. In “Rich States, Poor States,” an ALEC publication that ranks states in terms of a 2013 State Economic Outlook, Minnesota ranks 46th, Wisconsin 15th and Mississippi 10th. Yet in 2012 Minnesota had one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, and currently has higher median incomes and lower unemployment and poverty rates than both Wisconsin and Mississippi (where a whopping 17.5 percent of families have incomes below the poverty level). The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts Minnesota near the top of private-sector job growth in the Midwest, while Wisconsin lags near the bottom. In the ALEC otherworld, actual economics do not count.
 
It’s all about a business-friendly environment. Hello, Third World.

I noted a couple times in my live blog of the DFL convention that speakers compared Minnesota to Wisconsin, in a way flattering to Minnesota. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman briefly, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk gave the comparison some length. I wondered if Wisconsin Democrats were making the same comparison. There’s an answer. One is, anyway. That’s some reassurance that we’re seeing what we think we’re seeing, and not merely living in a state boundary bubble. ALEC sees it the same way, except they think budget crises are good, and better for funding schools is bad, so no wonder ALEC is upset with us.
 
And we see Rep. Taylor encountered one of the Minnesota Republicans who is more, quick witted isn’t quite the term … what’s a term for quick witted, except annoying rather witty? Anyway, she ran into Rep. Pat Garafalo, whose policy analysis on energy, “solar is dumb”, is more or less what we’ve come to expect, at least before he earned some positive attention for supporting marriage equality and medical marijuana. Good for him, getting on the right side of those two issues. Though yes, Rep. Taylor, what you heard is pretty much what we get over on this side of the St. Croix.

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DFL state convention live blog

by Eric Ferguson on June 1, 2014 · 8 comments

I’m at the DFL state convention, and I’ll be live blogging it, which means I’ll be posting updates below. The video above is an introduction similar to this, just for kicks. Feel free to subscribe to my channel. I may post video updates if opportunity arises, but I’ll generally be where people are trying to talk or people are trying to hear, so no promises, but I’ll see if I can show some of what goes on at a convention. Otherwise I’ll be posting what’s happening, maybe with an opinion since I’m allowed to do that. It’s a blog you know, and I’m not pretending to be a reporter or to be without biases. Jump to a preview of what’s going to happen.
 
Late Saturday update: The Saturday portion of this live blog got very long and made the front page a long scroll, and there are other posts worth reading. So I’m putting the “read more” below this paragraph, and the time stamped updates start on the jump. As expected, life required my presence at home, but I plan to live blog Sunday too, if I can get The Uptake’s stream working for me (quickie update: it worked). I suppose it depends on traffic, but I should have a better connection anyway. The mining resolution is expected to be the controversial part of the platform debates. Guess we’ll watch and see. Some things, like the constitution changes, might be inside baseball, but leave a question in the comments and I’ll try to answer.
 
…READ MORE

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Conservatives believe things which demonstrably are not true.

 

Conservatives continue desperately to cling to ideology-driven policies even as they go under the waves of epic failure for the third time, rather than change, rather than repudiate their failed ideology, and rather than fact-check the results.

 

There IS such a thing as a bottom line, such a thing as a valid metric of success or failure by which we all can and must evaluate success or failure OTHER than ideology.  When ideology requires that, as a requirement of faith, you ignore objective reality, then ideology is wrong.

 

Kansas, like Wisconsin and other red states, became a victim of the Tea Party economics policies in the 2010 election cycle.  Kansas proved that cutting taxes does not result in growth or adequate revenue — just like similar measures failed with the Bush tax cuts in the first decade of the 21st century (and every other time, after time, after time it has been tried, either short term OR long term).

 

As Bloomberg Businessweek recently noted:

Sam Brownback has been a Tea Partier since before the Tea Party was born. When he became governor of Kansas in 2011, he set about making the state a testing ground for conservative principles, including cutting funding for some public education and the eventual elimination of the state’s income tax. “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in a 2012 op-ed. He predicted cutting taxes would “pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

The Kansas experiment attracted the attention of both conservatives and liberals around the country, who saw it as an acid test for the Tea Party agenda. Brownback, a former U.S. senator who briefly ran for president in 2007, crept up the long list of dark horse candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination.

A little more than a year has passed since the first phase of the Brownback tax cuts went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, so it’s possible to make a preliminary assessment of their effects. The early verdict: not too good. The jury is still out on whether lower taxes will stimulate businesses to expand and hire over the long term. But the immediate effect has been to blow a hole in the state’s finances without noticeable economic growth.

In Kansas, one of the nation’s reddest states, the relevant political split isn’t between Republicans and Democrats but between conservative Republicans and somewhat more moderate ones. National Journal recently ranked Kansas’s four-member congressional delegation the most right-leaning in the country. That describes Brownback, too. A convert to Catholicism from evangelical Protestantism, he is as conservative socially as he is fiscally, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. His campaigns have long been supported by billionaires Charles and David Koch, the conservative majority owners of Koch Industries, based in Wichita.

The most authoritative study of the effect of these measures is a January report by the Kansas Legislative Research Department, a nonpartisan arm of the legislature. It found that revenue isn’t keeping up with expenses even after cuts in spending on K-12 schools, colleges, libraries, local health departments, courts, and welfare. If nothing changed, the research department’s numbers show, the state’s general fund would have a shortfall of about $900 million by fiscal year 2019, or 14 percent of expenses that year. The state’s constitution requires a balanced budget, so either taxes will have to go back up or spending will have to come down even more. “The tax cuts don’t pay for themselves,” says Duane Goossen, who served as state budget director under both Republican and Democratic governors. “That just is not happening.”

Conservatives claim to hate government, scathingly deprecating what they term ‘big government’. What that really means is they don’t like it when government acts on behalf of all citizens to stop conservatives from doing bad things, like voter suppression, pollution, selling off public assets at a fraction of their value in the name of privatization that does not operate more efficiently and costs more, serving special interests to the detriment of ordinary people including letting the special interests draft their own legislation, discrimination against minorities, culture wars on the LGBT community, pushing creationism and other theology as science when it is not,  promoting revisionist history, etc.

 

If one looks honestly at what the ideal size of government should be, as has been done, in many different kinds of analysis, smaller government does not make anyone more free, it tends actually to make people more oppressed by big money and special interests. If one looks honestly at the functions of government, we all do better and succeed more with a healhty functioning government of a size suitable to our size in area, population and economy, both state and nationally. There is absolutely zero indication that smaller government correlates to a healthier economy at any level, or more individual freedom for anyone. You have only to look at the size of government and the higher rates of taxation of those nations which outperform us by every metric. Like economic policies, ideology about government needs a vigorous, rigorous reality check to see if assertions are true or false.

 

Another Bloomberg Businessweek article made a similar finding:

Innovative States Aren’t Low-Tax States
It’s intriguing to compare the fiscally conservative lists with those designed to highlight science, technology, human capital, and innovation. A very different story emerges. Take the Milken Institute’s State Technology and Science Index 2012 (pdf). Massachusetts, Maryland, California, Colorado, and Washington are its top five, while Wyoming, Nevada, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi rank lowest. The 2010 State New Economy Index, by the Kauffman Foundation, praises Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut, while South Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi are in last place.

…going through the various lists, it’s striking how low-tax states such as South Dakota and Wyoming hold a place of pride in fiscal rankings, while such states as California and Minnesota dominate innovation lists.

In general, low-tax states have historically been dependent on natural resources or on mass production industries, relying on low costs rather than innovative capacity to gain a competitive advantage. “But innovative capacity (derived through universities, R&D investments, scientists and engineers and entrepreneurial drive) is increasingly what drives competitive success,” write the Kauffman study scholars. (my emphasis added)

A similar insight informs an economic analysis into how New York City developed one of the nation’s largest and most vibrant tech/information sectors, second only to finance as an engine of economic growth in the city. Among the public policies that contributed to growth in the tech/information industry are the “funding of multiple tech incubators and training programs for entrepreneurs and small businesses; the rapid extension of broadband access throughout the city, including free Wi-Fi in key public spaces; NYC’s broad-reaching Open Data initiative; and the Applied Sciences competition, which has put Cornell-Technion on track to open a 2 million-square-foot campus on Roosevelt Island plus the expansions at Columbia University and NYU-Poly in Brooklyn,” observes Michael Mandel of South Mountain Economics in a report (pdf) prepared for the Bloomberg Technology Summit last September. Going through the report, taxes aren’t even mentioned.

Of course, New York City is anything but a low-tax regime, yet the metropolitan area is thriving in the global economy. The same goes for Minnesota and California. The lesson isn’t that high taxes are good or lead to dynamic growth, but that investment in human capital, technology, science, and knowledge matter in an intensely competitive global economy. The Milken Institute scholars hit the right note. “Technology and science are important to states and by extension the nation because innovation drives economic growth and bolsters the ability to compete in the global economy,” the Milken Report says. “State governments must recognize this and adopt policies that maximize their ability to innovate.”

It is not an accident that Minnesota is more successful than Kansas, in education, in economic growth, in a low unemployment rate, in a government budget surplus – or any of the other states which emulate Kansas conservative taxation and other economic policies. It is not an accident that conservatives in those states try to blame everyone but themselves, from Obama on down, with false claims that federal policies stunted their economic growth, when clearly states with liberal legislatures and governors (aka blue states) are dramatically outperforming conservative states (aka red states).

 

Blue states tax more, spend more on education and infrastructure, and generally understand what drives economic success and what does not. Blue states rely on facts, not blind ideology that refuses to acknowledge reality when it diverges from that ideology.

 

If we support so-called liberal fact-driven reality-based economic and government choices, both in policies and politicians, we will do better as a state, and better as a nation.

 

The recent Franken ad nails it:

Government is not the enemy that the radical right portrays it to be.  Investment in education pays off in educational and economic outcomes.  Shrinking government and then strangling government in the bathtub only serves to harm us all, it does not create a more vigorous or growing economy, or a well educated citizenry. We need to REALLY hold government accountable, with bottom line honest measurements of what succeeds and what fails, not blind ideology.   So-called “Common sense ideas” coming from the mouths of conservatives equate to “don’t look too closely for results” and demonstrate a complete and utter failure to recognize that simplistic bumper-sticker thinking is a failure, or that sometimes solutions might be counter-intuitive and more complicated in the real world of adults.

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Text of State of the State address

by Eric Ferguson on May 1, 2014 · 2 comments

This is the text of Gov. Mark Dayton’s State of the State address tonight as released by the governor’s office.

 

When I ran for Governor four years ago, I promised “A Better Minnesota.”  Tonight, I can report that the state of our State is better – much better — than before.  It’s better for us, and it’s better for those who will inherit it from us.  But the economic growth and social progress we have achieved, also reminds us of the work we still have left to do.

 

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John Kline enters Maher flip a district

by Eric Ferguson on April 30, 2014 · 2 comments

Finally, some national attention for Rep. John Kline, (R – for-profit education industry). Kline is chair of the House Education Committee, and his record, well,

Kline must be hoping young adults don’t vote, because the student debt issue is a huge vulnerability for him. In case anyone from the Mike Obermueller campaign sees this, Kline is vulnerable on the student debt issue. Maher mentioned that students got his attention with a Twitter campaign using the hashtag FlipADistrict. This tells us that Twitter can work to get attention (if that’s news, welcome to the 2010′s), that students care a whole bunch about the student debt issue, and at least some of them are aware that Kline is trying to make their debt worse instead of better by not merely opposing loan forgiveness, but by actually trying to raise the interest rates.

Actually, Democratic candidates of all races, not just CD2, this is a huge issue for a demographic group we’re very concerned won’t bother voting. Being on the same side of an issue is nice; being on the same side of an issue likely to drive infrequent voters to turn out is something you need to talk about often.

Update: By the way, not small thing, Kline’s opponent Mike Obermueller <a href=”http://www.mikeobermueller.com/”>could use some cash.</a>

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