Thursday, December 29, 2005

Educational Malpractice

I've been meaning to make a post on this topic but put it off until I was reminded about it by the Wingard Report.

An article ran in the Oregonian a couple weeks ago that really is exhibit A for what is wrong with our elementary schools, colleges of education, state education departments and teacher certification agencies.

The article softpedaled the central point, but it was clear nonetheless: our schools have available to them reading and math programs that are absolutley proven to be effective, but the schools choose less effective programs because teachers don't like to teach the way the proven programs require.

In other words, they knowingly use ineffective programs to mollify teachers. Imagine if a hospital did the equivalent: choose ineffective therapies because the doctors found the effective ones to be professionally unrewarding. Wouldn't we call that malpractice?

The article starts out saying exactly this: "

"Two elementary school reform programs with roots in Oregon show the best evidence of raising student achievement, a new study commissioned by the
federal government shows, yet they are barely taught in Oregon classrooms."

I know something about these programs. The Arthur Academy charter schools, of which I am co-founder, uses one of them: the Direct Instruction Program based out of University of Oregon. This phonics based reading program and traditionally-sequenced math program is quite simply the most research validated elementary school curriculum in the history of mankind. (Believe it or not, that is not an overstatement.)

Yet the program is openly scorned by the vast majority of teachers and the colleges of education that train them. Even the University of Oregon college of education treats the Direct Instruction people there like some kind of family secret.

I've written about this for years. I got so frustrated by what I saw as an education establishment that shamefully ignored the overwhelming empirical evidence in favor of this program because of their own ideological aversion to direct teaching, that I decided to create a network of charter schools that used it, just to prove that it works.

The Arthur Academy Neighborhood Public Schools. Take a look at our results.

Then ask your elementary school principal if he or she has ever heard of Direct Instruction. You'll probably get a scornful smirk.

This is really a scandal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lighten Up!

Front page Metro Section in today's Oregonian - the story about former state senator Neil Bryant, who had to withdraw his nomination to be a board member of OHSU. Why?

Because, for a joke, he wrote "white/male" in the box asking whether he had any disabilities.

OK, now am I alone in finding that kind of funny? Sure, perhaps it's a little inappropriate, given that the form is an official government document and all, used for vetting applicants for the senate confirmation process.

I don't know what is worse - Bryant having to withdraw, or the fact he found it necessary to act so nauseatingly obsequious in his apology.

Am I wrong here? Is that really so offensive?

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Relatively Credible"

It is good to see my stature is intact with all the folks in the education establishment.

Article in today's Statesman Journal about the fact that only one candidate has filed to run against Susan Castillo for State Superintendent.

John Marshall, a lobbyist for the Oregon School Boards Association, was quoted in the article by way of explaining the absence of candidates. He said:

"I think of the race of four years ago, when a relatively credible Rob Kremer ran against her and couldn't even force a runoff."

High praise indeed. Relative to whom, I wonder?

Friday, December 16, 2005

My radio show survives!

We were the Tookie Williams of Sunday morning talk radio. Except we survived.

KXL had made the decision to cancel "Kremer & Abrams" along with the other shows on the Sunday morning lineup, but we got a last minute reprieve. In part it was no doubt due to emails and phone calls to KXL.

Standard TV and Appliance will become the title sponsor to "Kremer & Abrams," and we will start back up after the new year, on January 8th.

If you need any household appliance this Christmas season, please shop at Standard. I know I will.

Latest KATU segment

My co-host and I spar over the war on Christmas:
12/15/05 - Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Friday, December 09, 2005


Reaction to Castillo's call for repeal is flooding in. I do admit I am enjoying it.

If you are interested in some pretty in depth background on the whole issue, read my long post from last May that explains the CIM/CAM system, its theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, and its practical flaws.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Castillo Surprise Friday

Susan Castillo is giving a speech at the City Club tomorrow. She's going to call for the elimination of CIM and CAM.

I heard it from Steve Carter, education reporter from the Oregonian, who got an advance copy of her speech.

She apparently won't get too specific (and of course it isn't exactly the proper forum to do that) but she will say that it is "time to turn the page on CIM and CAM," that "people don't understand it," and that "we should replace them with different assessments." (This is my memory of what Steve read from her speech, so they are not direct quotes.)

To say the least, I am surprised. I've spent the better part of the last four years trying to get rid of CIM and CAM and replace Oregon's flawed assessment system with a less expensive, less time consuming system that gives us more useful and more reliable data. Castillo opposed my efforts at every turn.

In my campaign for Superintendent (which she won handily) I made an issue out of CIM/CAM and she defended it. All the education establishment groups lined up behind her.

Now, a full three years after the campaign, and after two legislative sessions where my repeal bills were killed by the Democrats, and almost 15 years since the School Reform Act was shoved through by Vera Katz, she has apparently come around.

Well, all I can say is I look forward to working with her to make it happen.

I hope someone at the city club or in mainstream media have the sense to ask whether anybody going to be held accountable for the hundreds of millions of dollars that was wasted over the last 15 years implementing this failed system.

Latest KATU Commentary

Abrams and I discuss Neil Godschmidt, and the effort to taint Saxton with his stench.

12/6/05 - On Ron Saxton's campaign for governor

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Oregon's science standards get an "F"

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been analyzing and rating state curriculum standards for years. They just released their report on each state's science standards, and they were, er, underwhelmed.

Go take a look at the report. Oregon has been developing this stuff for more than a dozen years, and they still can't figure out how to devise rigorous curriculum goals.

Fordham blisters Oregon's standards for their shallowness and their scant treatment of significant subject matter, such as electromagneticism, electric circuits and others that are completely ignored.

Remember the rhetoric of the Oregon School Reform Act: "World Class Standards." Far from it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vicki Phillips

I went to the Rotary Club lunch today where Vicki Phillips, Sup't of Portland Public Schools was giving a "report card" on the schools.

Vicki Phillips is a very good big city school district superintendent. She's smart, forceful, and knows what she wants to accomplish. She's tough minded and fair. She's honest. She spoke about her efforts to make the PPS system serve the taxpayers better than it has been doing over the last decade or so.

And I don't doubt she will be able to do it. She will manage the Portland School District better than any previous superintendent, and do it in the most challenging of times.

Unfortunately, that is not what we need. The district needs a leader who will change its structure. A Gorbachov, if you will. Gorbachov knew that the Soviet model was outdated, destined to take its place on the dustheap of failed governance models. He, the last of the communist leaders of the USSR, shepherded its transition to a new model, a new structure.

He understood the inexorable reality of the coming 21st century world, and he let the governance structure of his country collapse, which it was destined to do.

Large urban school districts face a similar choice today. Their structure is completely outdated. Created for a 19th century world, the school district governance structure is uniquely ill-suited to handle 21st century social realities.

There are some big city superintendents who understand this. Oakland Superintendent Dennis Chaconis has spent the last three years aggressively closing failing schools and contracting them out to whoever he thinks will meet the rigorous performance objectives he negotiates with their successors. Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan launched the "Renaissance 2010" initiative, which seeks to start 100 new contract/charter/alternative schools in the district, all held to similar performance criteria.

THAT is the type of action that Portland School District needs. I like Vicki Phillips, but she is not a reformer.

Here's a hallmark of a reformer: Chaconis, Oakland's superintendent/reformer has THREE BODYGUARDS! His life is threatened every single day. THAT's how much he's shaking things up in Oakland.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Portland School District about to make another huge mistake

Tonight there's a certain "action item" on the PPS board meeting agenda. (Action items are those things they expect to vote on with minimal (if any) discussion. The choo-choo is all the way down the track; the fix is in; it's a done deal. No community input wanted. )

Tonight's big mistake: the district is adopting a new high school math curriculum, known as "CPM" (College Preparatory Mathematics.)

This math curriculum and others like it have stirred hot controversy all over the nation whenever gullible school boards listened to their curriculum experts and took their recommendation to buy this faddish curriculum.

You've probably read about this kind of math before. Called "fuzzy math" or "constructivist math" or "reform math," it's based on theories about how kids learn that emanate from those bastions of banality, the colleges of education. They hate any kind of drill or practice of math computation, and especially disdain memorization and application of formulas. They love cooperative group projects, posters and calculators.

These programs have a miserable track record, but the people who push them don't care, because they truly don't believe in empirical measures of achievement such as tests. Of course, the position that tests don't reveal true learning is a very convenient belief when you are in love with math programs that have a crappy track record in raising test scores.

I got a call from an acquaintance today who wanted me to help her derail this train by talking sense into the school board. I laughed. I've seen this movie so many times, in so many places. The educrats don't care whether parents want this type of program or not - they think parents are just an obstacle to be avoided. This decision was made long ago - and the whole process of textbook adoption was a charade.

So they will make their unanimous decision tonight, and the Portland School District will be one step closer to imploding. Anybody who thought that Vicki Phillips would stop the district from making self-destructive decisions were thinking wishfully. Sometimes I just wish they would hurry up the inevitable.

My last radio show this Sunday

The last broadcast of my radio show, Kremer & Abrams on KXL, is this Sunday. I'll miss doing the show.

The show was cancelled (along with Oregon Crossfire with Randy Leonard and Larry George) due to budgetary issues. Even though the Sunday moring lineup was #1 in the market, KXL couldn't figure out a way to make any incremental revenue from the shows. (At least this is what they tell me.)

The Sunday morning listening audience is obviously a lot smaller than weekdays, so even though we had a good market share, the gross number of listeners was apparently too small to make it worthwhile for the KXL sales staff to sell ads specifically for the shows. After almost three years, KXL management got tired of paying our mega-dollar salaries, and figured that they would run the same ads out of their inventory if they just ran re-runs of talk shows that aired during the week.

It's their business, and it was a business decision. We'll try to pick up with another station in the Portland market, but that will take time.

I really do enjoy doing radio. Having that regular connection with real people is a privilege. In the meantime, my alter ego Marc Abrams and I will continue to do our KATU commentary, and will try to convince another radio station in the Portland market to give us a show on Sundays.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Face 2 Face commentary

My latest "Face2Face" commentary on KATU

11/29/05 - Is it time for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq?

Neil Goldschmidt

The Portland Tribune reported that a lawyer who practices law in San Jose is on a jihad to warn Republican voters that Ron Saxton has ties to Neil Goldschmidt.

I was quoted in the article, saying “For the Republican rank and file, Neil Goldschmidt symbolizes everything that has gone wrong in Oregon for the past 30 years.”

The quote was accurate, and I believe it is very true. I didn't say it, however, in the context like the article framed it, essentially supporting the notion that it is legitimate to try to smear Saxton with the stench of Goldschmidt. I don't think it is.

That is, Ron Saxton is no Neil Goldschmidt clone. I know Ron, and I've discussed with him many times the problems of this state and how to solve them. (For the record, I have not decided who I will support in the Republican primary. It may be Ron. I don't know yet.) Ron understands that Oregon has a public employee union problem, and he wants to take them on.

That said, I do believe that the Mannix campaign will play the Goldschmidt card relentlessly throughout the campaign, and it will probably be effective. It doesn't matter whether or not it's a legitimate issue or just a trumped up tempest in a teapot. Mannix knows if he can get the Republican rank and file to buy the narrative that Saxton is a Goldschmidt crony, he'll win. So he'll do it.

The obvious suspicion about this lawyer, Mark Foster, and his efforts to taint Saxton, is that the Mannix campaign is secretly behind the whole thing. He denies it.

Do I believe that? No.

Here's why: If you want to attack an opponent in a political campaign on an issue that is somewhat controversial, in that it might cause a backlash or bring criticism on you for bringing it up, it is best to have someone else do it for you.

As a candidate, you can just stay on your message and let the hit squad do the dirty work. Kind of like how Tonya Harding eliminated Nancy Kerrigan.

An enterprising campaign manager will set the whole thing up. He'll protect the candidate by keeping him several steps removed from the scheme. The candidate will give the nod, but will have no dirt on his hands. He'll have plausible deniability. Nobody can criticise him for the smear.

I'm guessing that is what is going on here. My take: (and I stress - this is a guess)

This has the smell of a Loren Parks/Gregg Clapper project. Clapper goes to Jack Kane, Mannix's campaign advisor, and pitches the idea: Loren Parks will fund the new group, "Worried Oregonians," find a spokesperson who doesn't have ties to Mannix, and pay for some direct mail hit pieces talking about all the times Saxton crossed paths with Goldschmidt.

They know the media will pick up on it, and write stories that push the message: Saxton has ties to Goldschmidt. The newpaper stories are the real goal; the mail is just a way to get the media to write about it. They want everybody discussing the issue - talk radio, editorial boards, blogs, office chatter. The more discussion there is about whether it is a legitimate issue the better, even if the conclusion is that it is not, because the indelible impression gets left behind - that Ron Saxton is a Goldschmidt crony.

Mannix can stay above the fray, honestly say that he's not behind it; that Mark Foster is acting on his own, so none of the criticism falls on him.

That's my guess.

So, is it fair? Is it a legitimate issue? It doesn't matter!

This is politics. Short of outright bald-faced lying, in the rough and tumble world of campaign politics, this is hardly over the line.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Wingard Report

Read the following analysis of the philosophical difference between the Democrat and Republican parties. It is very insightful. Then go subscribe to the on-line newsletter from which it came - The Wingard Report. Just email I personally guarantee it is a newsletter you will find worthy of reading every time you find it in your mailbox (unlike most every other newsletter you probably get.)

Republicans are from Mars, Democrats are from Venus Part I
From the Wingard Report, November 30th

Recently, I was asked by a well meaning Democrat to describe the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. With credit to Balint Vazsonyi, my answer was thus:

In the late 1700s two deeply and long held human desires burst into revolution: Freedom and Equality. Men wanted to be free. Men wanted an end to inequality. Over the last 200 years, it has become clear that these two fundamental aspirations are often in opposition to each other. An increase in freedom often produces inequality. An increase in equality often reduces freedom. It’s the tragic realization of the utopian vision.

This is not to say that one can only have freedom or equality. No, you can have both. But there is no perfect equilibrium. Just as a legal system must decide if it wishes to error on the side of innocence or guilt (in effect choosing which injustice it prefers), so too must a society decide whether it wishes to give preference to increasing and protecting freedom, thereby acknowledging that there will be inequality, or whether it wishes to strive for equality, thereby acknowledging that freedom will have to be curtailed to achieve this goal, often by force.

This is the central question of the modern era. There is no middle ground. Every political philosophy of the last 200 years admits a preference. This split began early, with the American Revolution choosing Freedom over Equality...the French Revolution choosing Equality over Freedom. The French Revolution (focused on "Egalité") is the mother of Marxism, Communism, Socialism, collectivism. The American Revolution (focused on "Liberty") is the mother of Capitalism, Libertarianism, 19th Century Liberalism.

And so it is that the modern Democrat Party is the heir to the desires and philosophies of the French Revolution. Dems care deeply about inequality in all its forms: economic, educational, spiritual, intellectual. Their focus is the group, the collective, the “greater good.” So it is that they advocate for government programs to balance these inequalities, higher taxes to redistribute wealth, quotas and set asides, a “right” to health care (which comes at a cost of economic freedom to others), etc. This is not to say that Dems don’t support freedom, but they tend to define “freedom” in terms of whether equity goals are being met. (If you don’t have access to basic health care, for instance, then you’re not really free.)

The modern Republican Party places a higher priority on freedom. This includes economic freedom, rights to property, to raise children according to your own beliefs, to bear arms in your own defense, et al (which all come at a cost in equality). Republicans care about equality, but they tend to define “Equality” in terms of opportunity, not results. (You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.)

Again, both sides value Freedom and Equality. But in both cases, there is a point where support for the lesser value stops. REPs stop supporting equality when it begins to erode other people’s freedoms. DEMs stop supporting freedom when it stands in the way of achieving ever greater equality.

Regulation in the pursuit of Social Justice (read "Equality") is the great debate of our time, and has only intensified over the last 100 years. The war of ideas rages on. The modern Democrat Party has been on the offense, pushing policies that curtail freedom to achieve their higher goals of eradicating or reducing inequality.

The modern Republican Party is in the defensive position, defending principles of freedom, acknowledging the inherent inequality that must result, and advocating for the personal responsibility that must accompany any such philosophy. Seen through this rubric, debates over such things as environmental laws, tax increases or tax cuts, national health care, free-trade policies, affirmative action, land use policy (just to name a few) come into clearer focus.

Who is right? Well obviously that depends on what you value most: Freedom or Equality (recognizing that we all value both). My own biased answer is that history has not been kind to those who placed equality ahead of freedom. In the end, they got neither.

NOTE: I expect the greatest argument against my theory to be raised by people who think Republican and Democrat stands on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are motivated by exactly the opposite preferences that I just attributed to them. I disagree and will explain in the next issue of TWR.

To subscribe, email

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Calling their bluff

Big editorial this week in the Oregonian about how stupid Oregon's kicker law is.

They say it is a "random, ridiculous law," and they especially disdain the corporate kicker, because most of it goes to out of state corporations, so the money disappears from our economy.

What a wonderful chance for the Oregonian to put its money where its mouth is! Guess who is an out-of-state corporation that will be getting a kicker this year? Newhouse, who owns the Oregonian.

I hereby call on the Oregonian to return, in full, the kicker they receive this year to the state government coffers.

After all, they have lamented for years the underfunded schools and other state services. They have supported every tax increase that has come down the pike. They think the kicker is bad policy? Nothing stops them from sending theirs back.

When they do it, I'll be more willing to take their constant cries for more revenue seriously.

[BTW - I do think that the kicker in its current form is not the best policy. Basing it on actual receipts compared to forecast doesn't make a lot of sense. I'd much rather see a spending limit, coupled with a rainy day fund and a mechanism that returns all tax receipts in excess to the taxpayers.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Would you put Rex Burkholder in charge of your happiness?

You just have to read this to believe it. Over on, Rex Burkholder indulges in his latest fantasy about how his transportation agenda is proven by research to increase our happiness.

Go ahead - click on it and read it, because you really have to hear it in his own words to get a full measure of what this guy is all about. Remember - he is a publicly elected official, thought to be square in the mainstream of the Portland political firmament.

His starting point is that when we decide public policy (such as transportation) we should care less about economic efficiency and more about increasing the "happiness" of our citizens.

From there, just ask people what makes them most happy, then we can design a transportation system to fulfill those needs! It's simple. According to Rex, tops on the list of happy factors is time spent with family and friends. (Actually, he says sex is #1, but he avoided suggesting a way to accomodate carnal urges in transportation policy.)

So, Rex says, the "obvious" policy is to decrease commute times by having jobs located near where people live, and - get this - make commuting more "sociable." (Meaning, force people to crowd themselves into busses and light rail, so they can enjoy the community.)

What a coincidence! It just happens to confirm the smart growth agenda!

If we want to reduce commute times for the most people, maybe having a road system that is built for current use patterns might be a good idea. But Rex and his smart growth buddies have made sure that the bulk of transporation dollars go to non-road projects such as light rail, streetcar, riverwalks, and bike lanes.

Rex writes: "If the purpose of government is to meet the needs and desires of its citizens, shouldn't we be asking them what makes them happy?"

No, Rex, that is not the purpose of government, at least not in our country. But Rex thinks that such a notion is somewhere in our founding documents. He writes: "If we really want to meet the most basic of human values, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, to increase satisfaction with our lives...."

This is scary stuff. I always thought the basic human value expressed in the Declaration was that we have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." I'm pretty sure the Founders didn't say the government was responsible for making us happy.

But the irony is that Rex's policies do the precise opposite of what he pretends. Skyrocketing housing prices and ever worsening traffic jams - those aren't exactly high "happy factor" phenomena, but Rex's policies have brought them about.

He's not talking about what will make the vast majority of us happy. We just want to be able to move around the region without too much hassle, and to be able to afford a nice house and yard for our families in a nice neighborhood.

That is not how Rex wants us to live. Rex will make us happy. We will use transit and be thankful for the chance to have social interaction during our commute. We will live in little boxes close to where we work and shop. We will play catch with our kids in the public park, so we can be part of the community. We will love big brother.

Oregonian lectures GM on cost structure

I was surprised to open the editorial page of today's Oregonian and see a very large lead editorial about General Motors' problems. (You no doubt saw that they are laying off 30,000 workers and closing a bunch of production facilities.)

The Oregonian lamented GM's fiscal woes, and then had some stern advice: "get your cost structure in line with revenues."

I just had to laugh at the irony. The Oregonian presumes to lecture GM, a private company headquartered 2000 miles away, on their too high cost structure. Have they ever taken a similar tone with the Portland School District - a public entity in their own city that has similar cost structure issues? Not to my recollection.

They only tone I ever hear from the O on PPS is the excruciatingly monotonous "raise your taxes" chime. To be consistent, they should lecture GM to raise its prices on all its cars.

Why would the Portland Oregonian even chime in on the fiscal condition of GM? What are they now, securities analysts? And if cutting costs is the remedy for a private company whose revenues aren't matching their capacity, why isn't it also the answer for a school district?

Curious indeed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A short history lesson for the cut and run crowd

I used to argue with people who said that Iraq was Bush's Vietnam.

With the recent call by Congressman Murtha to immediately withdraw, followed up by Earl Blumenauer's piece in the Oregonian calling for us to get National Guard troops out right away, I'm starting to see some eerie parallels. I'm thinking Iraq is indeed just like Vietnam, but not in the way the left means.

The whole point of our presence in Vietnam was to prevent the North Vietnam communists from taking over South Vietnam, and to keep the Pol-Pot led Khmer Rouge from taking over the Cambodian government led by Lon Nol.

The anti-war left in American hated the war, because we were preventing the spread of their ideology. Jane Fonda and her husband, former radical turned congressman Tom Hayden, organized an "Indo-China Peace Campaign" to try and lobby Congress to cut off aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam. They even took a camera crew to certain parts of "liberated" South Vietnam to make a propaganda film showing how if the communists took over they would create a utopian agrarian society based on justice and equality.

Nixon negotiated a truce with North Vietnam and we pulled our troops out in 1973, but U.S. aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam continued. Nixon hoped that with the aid, the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam could be preserved.

But he resigned in disgrace shortly thereafter, and in the next election, Republicans got hammered. A bunch of anti-war lefties were swept into Congress, and in their first act of the 1975 session, they rescinded all aid to both South Vietnam and Cambodia.

Republicans at the time warned that if we end our involvement, there would be a bloodbath. John Kerry argued that Republicans were just trying to "stir up anti-communist hysteria."

Within days, communists had overrun Saigon, executing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, and more than a million fled. The Pol-Pot led Khmer Rouge swarmed into Phnom Penh, which led to the slaughter of about two million souls in the "Killing Fields."

You'd think the left would learn. But the same basic story played out in China and Russia before Vietnam, and there too, the political left in the U.S. didn't see them as a threat.

Now they want us out of Iraq. People like me say if we leave there will be a bloodbath, as Sunni's and Baathists take back what they think is theirs. The left has no credible response, but people like Earl Blumenauer want us out anyway.

I've never seen Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, John Kerry, John Dallums, Bella Azbug, David Bonior, or any one of the prominent anti-war crowd from the Vietnam era ever admit that they succeeded in enabling the slaughter of millions of Indo-Chinese.

And if the left succeeds in getting us out of Iraq prematurely, and the inevitable happens there, don't expect Early Blumenauer to apologize for the carnage.

Hey - I guess I'd be reluctant to admit it if the ideology I spent my life spreading had resulted in the mass murder of more than 100 million people in a single century.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another reason to eliminate ESD's

Did you catch wind of the tawdry goings-on at Willamette ESD? Just another example of why ESD's have to go: the people who run them think they are their own private feifdoms.

The short story: the migrant education director, Nicolasa Mohs, was a disaster of an employee. Nepotism, padded expense reports, misuse of ESD resources - you name it. The ESD had the good sense to fire her.

So she filed an "intent to sue" letter, which claimed she was the victim of favoritism paid to her co-worker, who she claimed was having a lesbian affair with the ESD superintendent. The super decided she better settle, and so gave the woman a consulting contract for $8,000+ a month, and paid her attorney fees!

[Update 11-22: The Statesman Journal has a follow-up article discussing what possible official action might be taken against the ESD Superintendent. For some reason, while explaining what happened, the S/J left out the very significant detail that the "intent to sue" letter charged that the Sup't was having a lesbian affair with the co-worker. This is relevant because it goes directly to the question of why the sup't would settle so quickly a discrimination case that seems so weak. Why would the S/J leave that out?]

Now it's all blowing up in their faces, as it well should. One board member resigned, because the super never consulted the board on the settlement.

This kind of stuff is all too common at ESD's. The problem is that ESD's fly under the radar screen of public awareness. Most people have very little idea what they do, who runs them, and how they operate, so the administrators usually do what they want and are never held accountable.

The "leaders" of ESD's make a good deal of money. They are compensated like school district superintendents, yet the job is nowhere near as difficult, time consuming or stressful. ESD's receive direct funds from the state in the neighborhood of $100 million per year - yet there is very little public scrutiny or even awareness of what they do with the funds.

What DO they do? Well, lots of things. ESD's provide all sorts of services to school districts. Data management, payroll, nursing, itinerant special education, ESL, and a host of other things. For the money the ESD's get from the state, they are supposed to provide a basket of services to districts that are negotiated. These are called "resolution services."

For services not on the resolution services list, ESD's charge fees to districts. They also get grants for various projects they run. A publicly elected board is supposed to oversee them.

Here's the deal: why do we provide direct funding to ESD's in the first place? It makes no sense to give the money to the ESD's, and then have them negotiate with all the school districts in their territory to decide what services to provide.

Why not just send that money to the school districts, and if they need to purchase those services, they can negotiate with the ESD's (or another provider) for them? That would force the ESD's compete for the business. If they are the best provider, great. If not, they shouldn't be guaranteed the contracts.

There is no reason why ESD superintendents should make $130,000 a year with annuity, car allowance, expense accounts, etc. These positions are really pretty much functionary. Mid-level bureaucrats. Yet they run around as if they are big shot education leaders - it would be funny if it was not the taxpayer dime. You can bet your bottom dollar if the ESD's had to compete, provide services at a competitive price, they wouldn't be blowing their budgets on overpaid bureaucrats, which is precisely what most ESD superintendents are.

I've pitched this idea in the legislature, and never got much traction. Every session there are bills to "consolidate" ESD's, supposedly to get better efficiency. That misses the point - ESD's should be ended as we know them.

Make them compete. If they provide valuable services, then school districts will pay for them. If not, they don't deserve the money.

"Special" to the Oregonian

I always love it when I open the Sunday Oregonian editorial page and see the byline of University of Oregon professor Garrett Epps, because I know I'm going to be treated to a thousand words or so of condescension, illogic, straw man arguments, and erratic swerves off the road to offend conservatives.

His piece today did not disappoint. He argued that a judge should not care about popular sentiment when deciding a constitutional question, and conservatives who are screaming about Judge Mary Merten James overturning the desires of 61% of the voters misunderstand the role of the courts.

Well, I'll deal with his rather lame argument in a minute. But first I just HAVE to point out a glaring faux paus in his opening paragraph. He sets up a football analogy: a receiver in the end zone dives for a catch and hits the turf.

Epps writes "Touchdown! No! Fumble!"

An ivory tower metrosexual professor like Epps really should be careful about using football analogies. You can't fumble in the end zone, you dumb dumb. It's either a touchdown or an incomplete pass.

I have to admit some guilty delight in his failed football analogy. I envision a nerd watching a football game, trying a little too hard to prove he's one of the guys, only to confirm to every one else watching that he is, after all, just a hopeless dork.

So what does the dork do when guys shun him? He insults them to his dorky friends. And that was the entire point of Epps op-ed piece, billed as "Special to the Oregonian."

His entire argument was built on disproving a position that I've never heard anyone take - a classic straw man. He writes that conservatives think:

"Any judge whose decisions are unpopular ..... is a judicial activist or is legislating from the bench."

And he goes on to prove this is wrong, arguing that the role of the judge is to decide constitutionality, regardless of how popular or unpopular the law in question is.

The problem of course is that no serious adult ever took the position he tears apart. But it does afford him a prominent place to cast some broadsides and insults at conservatives who criticize Judge James' decision and who want her recalled. And the Oregonian is happy to oblige, by devoting 70% of the front page of the editorial section to his juvenile arguments, complete with a large graphic showing a judge with a gavel, dressed in a referee uniform.

No, Professer Epps, conservatives don't think it is activist simply to overturn a law passed by a vote of the people. Conservatives think it is activist when a judge:

1) Has a conflict of interest in the question at hand (Judge James owns a parcel of real estate about a half mile from a pending Measure 37 claim, and in her ruling she allowed one plaintiff standing due to the fact their property would be effected because of a Measure 37 claim a mile away.)

2) Knows beforehand that the desired outcome is to get rid of the law;

3) Concocts the most tortured, illogical and ludicrous legal arguments to justify the decision, arguments that if applied to dozens of other existing laws would result in their repeal.

THAT is what we call activist, Professor Epps.

Epps argues that perhaps Judge James' decision was wrong, but the forum for that to be decided is in the higher courts, where perhaps the decision will be overturned.

That's not good enough. There are hundreds of already granted and pending Measure 37 claims that are now on hold for two years or so while this works its way through the Oregon Supreme Court. There is a tremedous human and financial impact.

We are supposed to just shrug our shoulders when a judge makes a ruling that is clearly not just erroneous, but fundamentally dishonest?

What if a Circuit Court Judge in Harney County were to rule that Oregon's land use laws were unconstitutional, because they violate Article I Section 18 of Oregon's Constitution, which says that "Private property shall not be taken for public use .... without just compensation."

Would Garrett Epps think THAT judge was activist?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tribute to Senator Tom Hartung

I was saddened by the news that Tom Hartung passed away.

He was a truly fine man. A total gentleman. He had a distinguished career as a legislator that spanned four decades.

I came to know him in 1997 as his Senate Education Committee was trying to craft a decent charter school law. The effort failed that session, but we tried again in 1999, that time successfully.

Tom was a strong supporter of charter schools, and without his efforts it is certain that there would be no charter law in Oregon today. He was a moderate Republican, which helped bring the charter school issue into the mainstream in Oregon.

He supported me in my run for State Superintendent, which he certainly did not have to do. I am more conservative than he was, and I am sure that his support of me came at some cost to him.

We stayed in touch after he retired from the legislature. We'd chat every couple of months. Even after he retired he kept an active hand in school policy and other political issues. He was a grad of Jefferson High School class of 1950, and it pained him to see what has become of Jefferson today. I know he hoped that the charter law might be a way to save Jefferson, and he was frustrated that there were so many obstacles to making that happen.

Tom Hartung, here's to you. A good man, a life well lived, and a legacy that will grow with every new charter school in the state of Oregon.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Another teacher complains about accountability

Did you see the op-ed piece by the Portland middle school teacher in the Oregonian today?

Parts of it were so rich, I just had to paste it below and add my editorial comments (in red.)

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted

(I pick it up in the fourth paragraph...)
Teachers, who see their students daily, understand that academic improvement is an ongoing process not measurable by slide rule or abacus. Which I guess means that tests cannot measure learning at all. This is always the crux of their complaints about test based accountability. They pretend that the question of "How well does Johnny read?" is so complex and mysterious that only trained teachers who see the kids every day can begin to answer it, and tests are worthless for such purposes. What a crock.

Many of us resent society's cavalier dehumanization of our students, all in the name of "accountability." I love it. By giving kids tests we dehumanize them. Any evidence of this? Even more upsetting is the unspoken truth behind this numeric infatuation: We live in a society that does not trust professional educators to do the job for which they have been trained and hired. She veers unintentionally into some truthful territory here. One might argue that the public has very good reason for this distrust.The elephant in the middle of the room is the sad fact that test scores exist not so much to measure student ability but to reassure taxpayers who are uncomfortable that money taken from their paychecks is going to educate someone else's children. It's hard to understand what she is saying here unless it is just an indirect way of calling people greedy. OF COURSE the tests are to reassure taxpayers that the schools are doing their job. Why does she say this is the "elephant in the room," as if it is something nobody will acknowledge?

Administrators have been put in the untenable position of catering to this societal distrust. In other words, the administrators have to win back public trust by making sure all the kids learn to read and do sums. Principals and superintendents are the visible figureheads of any educational team; they are the obvious targets when test scores -- trumpeted ad nauseam by the media -- indicate that a school or district is "underperforming." In order to maintain job security, they are forced to go along with the illogical idea that a child's ability can be gauged by a number. There it is! A denial that a test score has meaning!

Teachers, on the other hand, concern themselves with whether their students are actually learning, which is seldom quantifiable. Reading and math ability is not quantifiable? Pretty good scam, wouldn't you say, to claim that you are a highly trained professional, and there is no way to measure your effectiveness! No Child Left Behind has forced administrators to be more concerned with numbers than with children or learning. People who should be on the same side -- the side that supports students -- are forced apart by the quick-fix nature of our society.

Real learning requires time and hard work. But most Americans would rather look at a number in a newspaper than visit their local schools or contribute sweat equity to public education. Her contempt for us is palpable. We don't contribute, we just look at a number.

And our children, regardless of their test scores, are intelligent enough to learn the lesson inherent in this attitude: Why should they put time and effort into learning, when our society so obviously tells them that public education is not worth the time or effort? What self serving moral preening. Society doesn't value her enough, she lectures us. The funny thing is that the "lesson" that she claims is "inherent in this attitude" --- it doesn't follow at all! Even if I buy her argument: 1) test scores don't reflect actual learning; 2) people are lazy and focus only on test scores -- how does this tell children that public education is not worth the time and effort? And she, I guarantee you, thinks she teaches kids critical thinking, when she can't even make a coherent logical argument.

D.M. Suydam teaches language arts at Five Oaks Middle School in Portland.

This little essay reveals attitudes that are not uncommon among public school teachers, I'm afraid. Many teachers reject the notion that learning can be measured at all. They think it is such a mysterious process that a test cannot possibly reveal what a child knows.

Many times they will set up a straw man when arguing against testing and test-based accountability: "there is no way any test can measure all aspects of learning."

Yup. Nobody ever claimed a test could. But we are kinda interested in, say, whether our third graders can read. Can THAT be tested? Of course.

Hey, I'm critical of Oregon's tests, but I am not anti test. I think Oregon's tests are bad because they don't give us reliable information when we try to answer the question "how well does Johnny read?"

But I am a firm believer in tests to monitor teacher effectiveness, and to identify student progress.

But teachers such as this one - we should worry when people like her are in charge of student learning.

Uniformity at the university in the name of diversity

Update on the University of Oregon five year diversity plan which I first discussed here in June.

As reported by one of my favorite bloggers, Professor Plum, (and as many of us predicted would happen as the Diversity Plan was implemented) the U of O has essentially established an ideological litmus test for job applicants. If you want a teaching job at Oregon you must profess that you "share our commitment to diversity."

Take a look at the web site that lists its academic job postings. Almost half of the job descriptions end with the statement:

"We invite applications from qualified candidates who share our commitment to diversity."

Which of course means that if you don't believe in racial preferences, or if you don't accept the liberal dogma on racial/gender/sexual orientation identity politics, or if you think their five year diversity plan is a bunch of politically correct garbage, I guess you aren't qualified.

Sounds like a great way to make sure they are the laughing stock of the academic world for years to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Portland turns down four charter schools

Displaying an unyielding commitment to the status quo, the Portland School District board denied four separate charter school proposals at their board meeting this week.

Now, PPS hostility to charters is not really news, but there were some interesting - and revealing - aspects to the whole process. Two of the proposals were rejected unanimously. I know nothing about these proposals - for all I know they were horrid, and should have been rejected.

Two of the proposals, however failed on a split vote, and only after the board subcommittee recommended that the proposals be approved. In the testimony and discussion over these two proposals, some educators and board members made some pretty revealing comments.

During the testimony a teacher from Madison High School, Tom Conry, spoke against the proposal to start a "Leadership & Entrepreneurial High School" not far from Madison. Conry and others are in the middle of trying to reform Madison High, and they are afraid that if they let a new charter school open nearby, it might hurt their efforts. I've met Conry - he's a nice fellow. Here's what the Oregonian reported:

He said charter schools, even though they are public, are in a larger sense part of the movement toward privatization because they turn schools into commodities that cater to a few rather than institutions that whole communities support for the benefit of all.

This is the kind of statement that we get all the time from people opposed to charters. How does providing choices in the form of charter schools turn schools into commodities? What does that mean? The funny thing is that Mr. Conry's objection is completely irrelevant. He was trying to convince the school board to deny a charter school, which they can do only for specific legal criteria. These criteria don't include his handwringing over school commoditization.

Conry went on to say:

"This devaluing of the common good is the cancer that will kill us all if we let it," Conry said. "To believe in public schools . . . you have to believe that our lives are important to one another on some noncommercial, nonmarket-based level."

Again, totally irrelevant. But revealing. He's clearly a collectivist. I've read the statement a dozen times and still don't know quite what it means. But what I do know is he is spreading this gobbledygook in his classrooms.

Now, onto the board members. There is good news here: apparently, new board member Sonja Henning has a lot on the ball. Not just because she supported the school, but because she was the one board member who seems to understand that they are dealing with a statute that has specific legal criteria for how they deal with charter proposals.

New member Dan Ryan also seems to get it. He voted in favor of the school, brushing aside concerns that the charter school would hinder plans to reform Madison, saying that high school students not being served don't have another two years to wait to see how reforms take hold at existing schools.

But the old guard on the board; they are hopeless as ever. Doug Morgan admitted that he was "confused." Well, I can't argue with that. He voted no, fretting that the new charter school might "undermine the flexibility and creativity that the board is already trying to encourage at existing schools."

They offer this stuff up as if it has some meaning. How on earth would one school undermine flexibility at another? It doesn't even come close to qualifying for a valid reason to deny a charter school.

I guess what he is saying is that he is against this school because he is afraid that some students might choose to go there.

Later, Morgan told everybody that he has training as an "ethicist," and that this charter proposal presents him with a moral dilemma, presenting him with "two equally compelling goods." He wanted everybody to know how tortured he was about his no vote, saying that in all of his years serving on boards and advisory committees, "None of the weightiness and moral conflict equaled the moral conflict I personally felt in voting on some of the charter proposals."

Oh, brother. It's all about you, Director Morgan. He casts the deciding vote against a charter that would give a choice to students who desperately need it. He willingly sacrifices these kids, for what? Because of some imagined decrease in flexibility and creativity in the other schools.

Sorry, Director Morgan, that doesn't even come close to meeting the standard for a valid reason to deny a charter school. And I doubt that the students you are denying a school they and their parents want care very much about how much moral conflict you personally felt.

In fact they might point out that we all feel moral conflict when we do something we know is wrong.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The OEA: "Working Wonders for Public Education"

The title to this post is the OEA's slogan. "Working Wonders Public Education." It's right there on the banner of their website

You gotta wonder if they laugh when they visit their site. Of course the joke is on us. For years the OEA has tried to cynically pass itself off as a protector and defender of public education, all the while throwing the children under the train in their endless quest for expanded benefits, enhanced authority, and higher pay for teachers.

They know it is a lie. Occasionally they are even honest about it, when they think nobody is looking. Back in the 80's in their OEA Bulletin they made the following, oh-so-revealing statement:

“The major purpose of our association is not the education of children, rather it is, or ought to be the extension and/or preservation of our members’ rights.”
- OEA Bulletin, October 19th, 1981

There is a telling picture in this month's BrainstormNW Magazine of the car driven by one of OEA's lobbyists. The care is a late model BMW. Nice ride. The car has vanity plates. Guess what the plates read?


Yes, it is all for the children. The hypocrisy is palpable.

And that hypocrisy is on display in Sandy, where the teachers are striking in what now is the second longest in Oregon history.

It has been a sad spectacle. According to at least one Sandy board member, the real problem is that the OEA is making Sandy the frontier in getting a few non-economic concessions into a teacher contract, so they can boot-strap them into contracts in other districts when time comes to renegotiate.

This of course is a tried and true union tactic. Get a concession in one place, then use it to leverage the same concession elsewhere. And if they have a local union (the Wy'East Education Association, in this case) willing to strike, they have a better chance of getting their beach head.

In Sandy, the OEA wants more union control over which teachers get laid off in the event the district needs to cut staff (and future staff cuts are virtually assured, since Sandy, like every district in Oregon, has costs going up faster than revenues.) They also want the district, I hear, to recognize same sex couples for medical benefits.

One positive side effect of teacher strikes is that they illustrate union hypocrisy in a way that the general public is pretty much forced to notice and understand. It's hard to insist that you are all about the children when you close the schools for three weeks in order to insist on medical benefits for same sex couples.

People get it, and they start to question the institution of unions in the public sector.

Of course, don't count the Oregonian editorial staff amongst them. The O ran an editorial today that still has me scratching my head. I can't figure out what the point of it was, other than to whine about the strike. They ended the piece with this curious advice:

It might be best if the leaders on both sides of the dispute quit the public gesturing, dump their outside advisers and go back to listen to cooler heads in their own organizations. This strike has gone beyond the point of anybody really winning it. The negotiators must simply find a way to end it -- soon.

Huh? Why did they waste the ink if they have nothing of substance to add? The public employee unions they have supported all these years have grown into a monster that is devouring our public institutions.

The face of the monster is on display in Sandy. The Oregonian doesn't want to face the monster. It sounds like a child, hands over his eyes, saying "make it go away."

It is not going away. If anything, when (and I say when) the Oregon Trail school board capitulates, the monster will just get stronger. It will only weaken when one of two things happens: 1) it devours everything, and there's nothing left to eat; and 2) a courageous public body slays it.

Here's what I would have done if I was dictator of the Oregon Trail School District: I would have started last school year, after it was obvious that contract negotiations were going nowhere, and I would have prepared a "strike survival strategy." Identify substitute teachers and give each a $1000 retainer to be ready to come teach in case of a strike. Prepare a strike plan that laid out the schedule of classes, transportation, after school activities, etc.

When that is all done, go the the union and say: "OK, time to negotiate."

That might have changed the OEA tune just a little bit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

9th Circuit Decision on Sex Education

The 9th circuit has done it again.

It made a decision (and wrote a legal opinion) that seemingly swerves off the road to run over the sensibilities of parents who are worried that the schools are trampling the values they want to teach their kids.

By now you all know the case. Intrusive questions of a sexual nature were asked of 7-10 year old kids as part of a psychology research project. Ten of the 54 questions asked about things of a sexual nature, such as whether the child worried about "Thinking about having sex," "Not trusting people because I think they want sex," and other completely unsuitable questions for a first grader. (You can see all the questions in the judge's opinion, linked above.)

There was a parental consent letter sent home prior to the questionnaire being given, but it didn't reveal that they would be asking questions of a sexual nature. Oddly enough, however, the letter did say, in effect, that if their children experienced emotional trauma from the questions, the district would help them find a therapist to help deal with the damage! I am not making this up.

The legal questions asked in the lawsuit hinged upon whether the 14th Amendment vested parents with a due process right that gave them exclusive reign over what their children are taught. It is a pretty narrow question. I'm no lawyer, but when I read the opinion, I come to two conclusions:

1) The question the parents asked the courts to decide was the wrong one;
2) The court's opinion is correct on the law.

I know this is not the take of most conservative commentators. I of course think that Palmdale School District's conduct is outrageous. If I was a parent, and read that letter of consent, I would have never consented, and I would have wondered why they were doing a psychological survey when they should be teaching my kid to read and do math.

But the legal question is basically "Do parents have the right to compel the schools to follow their own moral or ethical views on what should be taught to the kids?"

The court said "no," and I think they got it right. If parents did have such a right, how would that work? Parents have different moral and ethical views on a plethora of issues, and they often conflict. How could the schools possibly be an arbiter of such a "right?" They would end up having to teach each child a curriculum tailored to his or her parents moral views.

But for some reason the Judge's opinion contained an explanatory statement that went far beyond the question, and is sure to rankle my conservative comrades:

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote "there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children . . ."

Now, here's the problem. I think the above statement is demonstrably false. Yes, parents do have this right. They can exercise it by home schooling, or otherwise filtering the information their child is exposed to.

But the CAN'T exercise it by forcing the public school to follow their moral standards.

I don't know why the judge put it this way. Later in the opinion he wrote a more limited explanation. He said the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children (which, coincidentally, was established in an Oregon case called "Pierce vs. Society of Sisters" which stemmed from Oregon's attempt to make private schools illegal, which was found unconstitutional in 1925)

"do not afford parents a right to compel public schools to follow their own idiosyncratic views as to what information the schools may dispense."

I think this is not a particularly controversial proposition. So, in this case, the courts got it right.

This is not to excuse the Palmdale School District. If I were the parents, here is the question I would have been asking:

If a private citizen were to corner my 7 year old daughter and ask her if she "Worries that she touches her private parts too much," or whether she "Thinks about touching other people's private parts," he would be sent to jail and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Yet we let our school officials ask these questions? I would have filed a complaint of sex abuse!

Any school official who thinks these questions are suitable for 7-10 year olds has something wrong with them. But the answer is not to give every parent veto power over the school curriculum.

No, the Palmdale case is just another illustration of the need for school choice. Parents resort to lawsuits when they feel trapped. They are forced to send their child to school, and in most cases they are assigned to their public school based on where they live. They are captives. If their values are trampled by things the school does with their children, they have little recourse other than to sue.

But what if they could just choose another school, one that had a better fit between their values and what the school taught and believed? A few things would happen. First, lawsuits such as the Palmdale case would be rare, because parents would just leave schools such as Palmdale that had such a perverted view of what their role is.

Second, school officials would realize that they can't do this kind of stuff with impunity. They would lose customers! Parents now have little recourse, but if we had school choice, they could vote with their kids feet, and it wouldn't be too long before people such as those who perpetrated the Palmdale questionnaire would be on the outside looking in.

It would be about time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A very public shakedown

It is almost unbelievable that the below op-ed piece, which ran in the Wilsonville Times, could be written by an elected official in America. The reasoning it reveals is summarily collectivist, and is based on the philosophy that one person's need is a claim on another's assets.

I've inserted, in bold, my comments throughout the column.

By Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehann

Ordinance rights a wrong

The City of Wilsonville recently passed an ordinance dealing with the displacement of homeowners who are evicted due to the closure of their mobile home park. [The ordinance requires the owner of the park, who wants to sell the property for about $8.5 million, to spend about $4 million relocating the tenants.]

The protections we put in place are similar to what governments must provide any homeowner when government condemns property for a new road or other public purpose: reasonable relocation costs and compensation for the value of the home. Whether the displaced homeowner owns a mansion or a modest mobile home, we are expected to make them whole. [The difference here, Mayor Lehann, is that when the government condemns property and pays to relocate the prior occupants, the public bears the cost. In this case you want to force that cost on a private person.]

Similarly, if homeowners are displaced by a park closure the landowner must pay the homeowner’s reasonable relocation costs, or if the home cannot be relocated, must compensate the homeowner for the in-place value of the home. [There it is. A bald faced shakedown. There is NO similarity between a government exercising the power of eminent domain and a private landowner selling his property. She is claiming the two are equivalent. They aren't.] The landowner is exempted from the ordinance if they reach a negotiated settlement with the homeowners.

Without these protections for the property rights of both the homeowner and the landowner, [Just exactly how does this "protect" the landowner's property rights? It's an outright theft of $4 million, and she tries to pass it off as protecting his rights? And what property right does the "homeowner" (which is a tenant on rented land) have in this case? This sentence is overtly Orwellian] there is a large transfer of wealth when a park is closed. The wealth of the homeowners is dest
royed and the wealth of the landowner is greatly increased. [She obviously doesn't understand the first thing about wealth creation. The landowner has an asset that has a use far more valuable than as a mobile home park. The renters own none of this wealth. There is NO transfer of wealth when the park is closed. What could she be talking about?]

In most mobile home parks homeowners have made space payments [Space payments? You mean rent?] for years or decades in addition to investing most of their life savings in the purchase of their home. [Yes, and in apartment buildings the tenants pay rent, sometimes for decades. That doesn't mean they own the apartment, or that they should get relocation money if the building is sold.]

With notice of closure, the expectation of a secure place to spend their retirement years disappears. Since older mobile homes cannot easily be moved and are usually not allowed to locate in other parks, the owner’s only major asset is immediately made worthless and is likely to be demolished without compensation. Sorry to point this out, but a mobile home that cannot be moved is not a major asset. [It is too bad that these people will have to figure out somewhere else to live. If Mayor Lehann thinks the public should help these people out, she is welcome to make that case and convince taxpayers to do something. But instead she wants to force the park-owner to pay the cost of her welfare dreams.]

In the meantime, the landowner is able to take advantage of decades of space payments [Rent!] and escalating land values to realize windfall profits at the expense of all those homeowners. [I love the rhetoric here. Windfall profits! Expense of homeowners! Where does their rent contract say that the park owner must rent to them in perpetuity?]

This is clearly unfair. [This is what I love about communists like Mayor Lehann. They always whine about unfairness, and their solution is to steal money from someone who has it. Is THAT fair? In their world, yes it is.] In Wilsonville’s case, as in many communities, homeowners in mobile home parks are predominantly senior citizens of modest means. They include many World War II and Korean War veterans, or their widows, who have carefully planned to remain self-sufficient in their retirement years, living independently on modest pensions and Social Security. [And again.... if she wants to help these people - and that may be a worthy goal, ask the public for the money. Don't steal it from some private person just because you have a gun.]

Some retirees supplement their incomes with part-time jobs nearby. Most are longstanding members of the community, including lifelong residents from Wilsonville’s pioneer families. Many of them continue to volunteer their time in public service at the library, Community Center, and local schools. [This justifies stealing from a rich guy?]

Loss of their homes can mean loss of financial independence, and along with it, loss of community, friends, jobs, and much of their social support system. It can also mean loss of the gardens and pets that are a large part of their lives. [That is all true.... so take up a collection.]

These are potentially debilitating losses for anyone, but for people in their 80s and 90s the stress can be truly life-threatening. That is why Wilsonville approached this issue from the standpoint of public health and safety.

After we watched the tragedies unfold in New Orleans, we cannot stand by and expect a physically and financially fragile population — stripped of their assets and without assistance — to manage mass eviction any more than we would expect them to manage mass evacuation.
What do we say? “Why haven’t you relocated? Didn’t you get the notice?” [No, you say "let's find some guy with a "windfall profit" who we can shake down so we don't have to pay to help these people from our own pockets.]

These people are not looking for subsidies, but if through no fault of their own they are suddenly left homeless and made dependent on public assistance then the windfall profits of the landowner will also be realized at the public’s expense. [OK so let me understand this argument. If he sells his park, and the renters have to go on public assistance because they are unable to find other accomodations, then it is his fault and he ought to pay instead of the public. In other words, he is duty-bound to operate his asset as a mobile home park even if there is a far more valuable use. So basically the Mayor's position is that he should be forced by law to be a charitable operation.]

Oregon taxpayers shouldered part of the responsibility in the last legislative session by offering potential tax credits for both the landowner and the homeowner. But the landowner, the one who stands to gain the most from escalating land values, also bears some responsibilities to the homeowners who have purchased homes in good faith — some only days or weeks before receiving notice of intent to sell the park. [If he took new tenants days or weeks prior to selling the land, knowing that he was going to sell it, then they would have a bad faith case in a lawsuit. This can be dealt with easily under existing law without the need for the looters on the city council to shake him down.]

We fully expect to defend this ordinance in court, but we believe we are on solid ground. [Sadly, in Oregon the courts just might side with Wilsonville on this. If they can throw out Measure 37 on the thinnest of all possible legal justifications, they can concoct some legal sounding justification to allow a straight out looting of a private landowner's value for public benefit.]

In the three days since its passage, we have received at least 10 requests for copies from other Oregon cities facing the potential of mass evictions without compensation for homeowners in mobile home parks. [I'm sure this is true. I'll bet the League of Oregon Cities is helping spread the word of how to turn evil capitalists into unwilling charities.] This is clearly an issue that needs our attention.

Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan is serving her third term as mayor. She first joined the City Council in 1992.

It really is quite sad that we have elected officials that think it is OK for a local government to do something like this. If this is OK, then any city anywhere can basically co-opt your property and use its value for whatever purpose they think fulfills someone's need.

Here's a quote I love, quite valid here:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

-William Pitt, 18 Nov 1783

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Too Much Going On

I haven't posted in a while. So many things going on:

  • Measure 37 tossed with the most ridiculous judicial "reasoning." Recall a possibility.
  • Teachers strike in Sandy - The OEA shows its teeth.
  • Alito nomination sends the left into a tizzy
  • Libby indicted for perjury, lying and obstruction; Rove apparently in the clear, and no underlying crime was charged
  • Wilsonville passes an ordinance that requires a mobile home park owner to pay relocation costs to tenants if he sells the property
  • PDC scheming and scamming continues
  • The Tram will cost at least three times as much as originally thought
  • Regional income tax proposal is being seriously considered
  • Iraq ratifies its constitution; Sunnis join the political process.

The world is sure an interesting place.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reminisces on the White Sox

Blogs are all about self-indulgence, right? So it is OK to use it to reminisce.....

With the Chicago White Sox in the World Series for the first time since 1959, I can't help but think about my days in Chicago and how fortunate I was to get to know a man who arguably had the most significant impact on the sport of major league baseball than any other person - former White Sox owner Bill Veeck.

Bill Veeck was a giant of a man. He was larger than life in every respect. Most people have a passing familiarity with him, because he will forever be remembered for his most famous stunt - putting a midget to bat in a major league baseball game. That was indeed a fabulous story, but Bill Veeck the man was so much more than a showman with a genius for marketing stunts.

He was the most learned person I have ever had the blessing of spending time around.

I got to know him in the early 1980's. I was just out of school, working at a large bank in Chicago and attending business school in the evenings. I lived in Hyde Park, where University of Chicago (my alma mater) is located.

Bill Veeck had sold the White Sox about a year earlier to Jerry Reinsdorf. He correctly saw that the game of Major League Baseball was quickly becoming all about money, and he never had the resources to fund bidding wars for free agents.

The story of how he acquired the White Sox in the first place is a story in itself. It was actually the second time he owned the team - he bought and sold it a decade or so prior to when he reacquired it in the mid 1970's. It was typical Bill Veeck dealmaking. He never actually was all that rich - he would convince well-heeled friends to back him, create a consortium of owners, and he would be the public figure in the front.

Anyway, as I stomped around Hyde Park I'd see Bill here and there. He loved to while away Saturday afternoons in local bars drinking beer and holding court with whoever wanted to sit at his table and listen to his stories. In my senior year in college I worked at a fancy Hyde Park restaurant as a waiter, and Bill's daugher Marya worked there also.

She was a dear, and we became friends. Through her I met her sister, Lisa, and Lisa and I dated for the better part of a year.

During my time hanging around Lisa was when I got to know Bill and his lovely wife Mary Frances quite well. I spent many weekend days with him, and also many nights eating and drinking at restaurants all over town.

Going out to eat at a restaurant with Bill Veeck in Chicago meant that your table was a constant bustle of activity: people would stop by and chat, take pictures, and buy rounds of drinks for the table. It was not uncommon to have three drinks stacked behind each other as people would order our waitress to buy another round for the table - they'd just stack em up.

Bill would talk with anyone who came by. He loved people. He didn't care who they were. Everyone felt welcome to stop by, shake Bill's hand, and listen and laugh with everyone.

The best memories, however, are from the long Saturdays I spent with Lisa, Bill and Mary Frances in his condo, making Old Style empties and listening to Bill talk about his career.

His condo was on about the 30th floor of a building across the street from the Museum of Science and Industry. It had a great view of the museum grounds and Lake Michigan. Bill would sit on his couch, smoke cigarettes and drink beer. I fetched many a can from his fridge - the guy could drink, In fact he was a pretty famous alcoholic.

He was in awful physical shape from injuries he got in WWII. One leg was amputated, and he hobbled everywhere on his trademark peg leg. His eyes were bad, his hearing was bad, his other leg was shot up in the war also, and he had various and sundry other ailments about which he never complained.

On side of his wooden peg leg he carved out a little ashtray, and he would flick his cigarette ashes and stub out the butts in it. He was quite a sight.

He took a liking to me, as did Mary Frances. They told me all about his father, who was the GM of several baseball teams in the early part of the century. When Bill was a kid his dad was GM of the Cubs, right at the time Wrigley was built. As a youngster, Bill Veeck actually built the famous Cubs scoreboard that still stands today. He also planted the ivy that still covers the brick outfield wall that is the trademark of that wonderful stadium.

Mary Frances once broke out the family scrapbook. The whole family was on the cover of Life Magazine in the early 1960's. They showed me the newspaper stories they had saved when he put the midget up to bat, and told me all about how outraged the other team owners were about the stunt. He just laughed. It's a game, he would say.

He was guy who started all the promotions at baseball games. Bat night, poster night, kids night, ladies night, etc. He knew how to fill the stands. During games he never sat cloistered in an owners suite - no way. He sat in the stands. Actually, he would roam the stadium and talk to the fans, drink beer with them. He was a man of the people, and absolutley hated pretense.

There was nothing at all pretentious about Bill Veeck, even though he was the smartest man I ever met.

All his accomplishments, his storied career, all the stories he would tell about the people he knew in baseball - were only a small part of the man. He was also an historian. He knew more things about more things than anybody I have ever met. He read voraciously. He could cite chapter and verse about the battles and generals of the Mexican American war, the civil war, the history of Russia, and dozens of other historical events.

He was also an amateur etyomolgist. His vocabulary was unbelieveable and he knew the origins and roots of all sorts of obscure words. One of his prize possession was his dictionary. It was proudly displayed right in his foyer, on a table against the wall. It was a complete editon of the Webster, I think it was 12 volumes each about two inches thick, leather bound. He showed it to me once - opened it up to a page, and some common word (I forget what it was) had about a page and a half of definition, derivation, history, etc. He got a kick out of reading that kind of stuff.

I remember one of our long afternoons in his condo, watching a football game and drinking beers, listening to Bill and Mary Frances talk about the White Sox, and Mary Fraces said: "You know, Bill, Rob is the kind of guy you really wish you still owned the ballclub for."

I took that as the highest compliment.

The last time I saw Bill Veeck was a couple years after Lisa and I stopped dating. I went to a fall afternoon Cubs game, and after the game ended, exiting Wrigley, I saw Bill. Hobbling out of the bleacher gate exit, in a crowd of people, waving and talking to well wishers as he slowly made his way to the el station. His health had clearly deteriorated and his leg was obviously hurting him. Each step was pained.

But the larger than life smile was still on his face when I waved hi.

A few months later he died.

He was as great a showman who ever lived. But as a man he was about much, much more than a sports promoter. I will forever consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to understand why.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

NAEP scores just out; Oregon about average

The NAEP scores were released today. For the uninitiated, NAEP stands for National Assessment of Educational Progress. They are snapshots of average achievement levels in each state. Every student doesn't take the NAEP - it is only given to samples of students, and only to 4th, 8th and 12th graders every few years. The results are, however, statistically significant indicators of a state's achievement, and can be compared state to state.

Of course comparing states is still tricky, because of differing demographics. Affluent states with fewer minorities will tend to score higher than poor states with large minority populations. Oregon has an advantage on the demographic scale. We have a mostly white population, relatively high income, and higher than average education level.

But despite our demographic advantages, we score just about average on the NAEP. In some areas, slightly above average.

Scores were released for 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading, 4th grade math and 8th grade math . In general, all the scores were slightly down from the last time the NAEP came out, 2003. Compared to the first years Oregon participated, in the 1990s, most of the scores are up.

The exception is 8th grade reading, which for some reason has pretty much steadily declined since 1998.

I've already seen some press releases on the scores touting the fact that Oregon's scores are higher than the mid-1990's scores. That is all well and good, but it glosses over the troubling fact that there is an apparent contradiction between NAEP and Oregon's statewide test results over the last couple years on the math test. That is, the math scores on Oregon's test have gone up significantly, while the scores on NAEP have not.

NAEP tests in grades 4 and 8, while Oregon tests in grades 3, 5 and 8. The results are expressed in terms of the percentage of students who are "below basic," "Basic," "Proficient," and "Advanced" in achievement. Oregon's tests have three categories - "Does not Meet," "Meets," and "Exceeds" benchmark. To compare the two tests, let's look at each test's results for the percentage of students who are at or above the "Basic," and "Meets Standard" levels.

Between 2003 and 2005, 8th graders on the Oregon's math test did better by 2.5%, but on NAEP, they did worse by 2.5%. Fourth graders on the NAEP math test did better by 1%, but on Oregon's test the third graders grew by a whopping 7.2% and fifth graders by 5.0%.

What is going on? I've argued for years that Oregon's assessment system is not reliable and valid. In 2003 we released a study by an OSU economist that had compelling evidence that Oregon's math tests in particular had gotten easier over the years. This gives us one more piece of evidence that it has.

The Oregon Department of Education has consistently ignored the mounting evidence that something is wrong with its tests. The mainstream media rarely asks penetrating questions about their claims of validity. How long can there be such a stark divergence between Oregon's scores and the NAEP scores before they have to actually admit that something just might be wrong?

Don't underestimate the ability of bureaucrats to stonewall and obfuscate. In Oregon, it is an art form.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Robed Hypocrites

Section 8. Freedom of speech and press. No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.—

Section 18. Private property or services taken for public use. Private property shall not be taken for public use, nor the particular services of any man be demanded, without just compensation…

Section 20. Equality of privileges and immunities of citizens. No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.—

Read the above three clauses in Oregon’s constitution. The courts in Oregon are so inconsistent in how they treat these clauses that it would be funny if it weren’t doing so much damage to our state.

The recent Supreme Court decision that said live sex shows are protected speech had to somehow make the argument that a paid sex act constitutes “expression of opinion.” Just what opinion might that be? Any reasonable person who reads Section 8 must conclude that the framers were referring to written and spoken opinion, not lewd acts. Yet the courts are so in love with the free speech rights that they expansively interpret it.

Not so with our property rights. If they can do the mental contortion necessary to convince themselves that a live sex act is an expression of opinion, then certainly they could be equally protective of our right to property, say, by acknowledging that regulating the entire productive use of your land away in order to achieve some public purpose just might be a “taking.”

But no, the courts care not a whit about property rights, so they narrowly construe the definition so as to allow government to steal property value again and again.

Then look at the privileges and immunities clause – this is the main argument Judge James had when throwing out Measure 37. Imagine if she applied the same criteria she used to throw out M37 to the very land use laws she was trying to protect?

Having an urban growth boundary that restricts development outside – doesn’t that inherently grant some citizens (those who own the land inside the boundaries) privileges that are denied to others (those with land outside)? Of course.

Would the courts in Oregon EVER make this argument? Of course not! They don’t believe in property rights, at least they don’t believe in them when the “community” wants to steal them. So they won’t protect them.

They aren’t really judges – they are politicians with political viewpoints and are perfectly willing to use their offices to further their political ideology, regardless of what the constitution actually says.

We are in a sorry state with judges like these.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Oregon courts are a mess

Four recent decisions by Oregon courts have me shaking my head. Live sex acts are protected speech. Fraternal clubs have to accept women. Portland School District can't sub out its janitors. Measure 37 is thrown out.

Have we had enough? Getting Jack Roberts on the supreme court will be a start. But it's about a one-yard run on third down and 75.

When some piss-ant district court judge can toss out M37 (which 61% of Oregonians voted for) on the most ridiculous of legal pretenses, we are in trouble.

I love the part about M37 violating the "equal protection" clause of Oregon's constitution. It is unfair to the "group" of people who are more recent property purchasers, since they have the restrictive rules the other "group" (who bought their land earlier) don't suffer from.

First, this is a pretty expansive definition of "group." I'm guessing you could find thousands of Oregon laws that treat different people differently if this loose definition of class or group is allowed to stand. Second, if M37 is disallowed on this basis, wouldn't that invalidate ANY law that created a grandfather clause exempting a "group" of citizens to whom the law doesn't apply because they acted before the law was passed?

So the decision it seems to me, puts the court in an impossible dilemma between this new legal principle and an age old one - that of disallowing retroactive laws.

M37 is basically a grandfathering law. It says they can't change the land use rules on the land you already own. This decision basically says grandfather laws are unconstitutional because they always create two classes of citizens - one who is exempt from the law and one who is not.

So, this decision basically says all laws HAVE TO BE RETROACTIVE! Which of course violates what I always thought was another pretty established legal principle.

This is what happens when you have judges who are nothing but politicians in robes. This judge knew where she wanted to get, and so she concocted a legal basis to get there. But the lame-brain that she is, she failed to think it through and realize that her basis for the decision would invalidate a huge body of other laws.

Can we get Jack Roberts on the Supreme Court before this stupid decision gets up there?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Office of Unsustainable Economics

I chuckled when I read the story in today's Oregonian that five city bureaus are leasing office space in the private market while city-owned owned offices remain vacant.

Just another run-of-the-mill example of incompetence and perverse incentives we so often find in government budget management.

But I laughed out loud when I read the comments by the head of the "Office of Sustainable Development" when she justified the fact that her office is spending $25+ per square foot to lease swanky offices in the Pearl instead of occupying the vacant city-owned offices.

So all the greenies in the office go to work in the "uber-green Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center building, commonly known as the Ecotrust building."

Why do they need to spend all this money to be in the upscale office buiding: As the article says: "City employees can walk downstairs for a slice of organic pizza or pick up a new fleece from the Earth-friendly Patagonia store. "

from the article, Susan Anderson, head of the office says the expensive space is

"core to our mission" because it shows the office is committed to the environment. That's helped attract more private money to beef up the budget, Anderson said.

"If you dig even an inch deep, you can see the economic sense of it," Anderson said. "Could we do our work from someplace else? Sure. Could we do it as well? Probably not. That I'm pretty sure of."

Ok, let's analyze this just a little bit.

Greenies like Anderson don't understand a central tenet of economics, which is that a dollar represents a claim on resources. Spending dollars unnecessarily is the anithesis of "sustainability."

For her to say that she attracts more private money to the office because they show their commitment to sustainabilty by wasting taxpayer dollars is just, well, laughable on its face.

She says if we dig an inch deep we would see the sense of it? Reminds me of another saying about so-called environmentalists. Scratch a greenie and you'll find red underneath.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Solving school overcrowding

Lots of stories lately about the struggles growing school districts face building enough schools.

Districts like Beaverton are adding the equivalent of a school building worth of students each year. But land and construction costs are hugely expensive, and few districts have current bond issues sufficient to build the needed schools.

The only solution they can conceive is to ask the voters for a bond to build more brick and mortar.

This is the wrong answer for a couple reasons. First - school districts are demonstrably incompetent at building schools. The going rate for a 600 student elementary school is about $12 million. That is $20,000 per student-seat, or, if annualized comes to about $1,000 per student per year. High schools are even more costly. Plus, huge cost overruns are the rule in school construction. Projects almost never come in on budget. Prevailing wage regulations balloon the cost, and land prices are outta sight.

So you would think that school districts would be looking for any alternative they could find to building more school buildings. But they aren't.

What possible alternatives, you ask? Here are a couple:

1) Encourage parents to enroll their kids in a virtual charter school. The Oregon Connections Academy is off and running fast. If a school district wanted to take pressure off its facilities capacity, why not assist parents in taking advantage of this new and innovative program? The best part is that the district still gets 5% of the state funds allocated to the district for the student! In other words, for every student from the district they enroll in the virtual school, they get $250, and they do not have to educate him!

2) Did you know that there are several national charter school management organizations waiting to be invited into a district to start a school, and the companies will build the school building at no taxpayer expense? So a district like Beaverton, who is just about to ask voters for $200 million plus to build a bunch of schools, could simply contract with one of these companies to build the schools instead. They would have new schools without new taxes. Why is this not even on the table? Why doesnt' the Oregonian EVER ask this question in their stories about school bonds?

A case in point is Portland Public Schools, who are looking for ways to pay for the new school they want to build in the Columbia Villa housing project. They want to borrow about $8 million and patch the rest together from donations. This of course is at the same time they are contemplating which schools they will be closing in the next year because of enrollment declines!

Months ago I approached the District and the Housing Authority of Portland with an idea: Instead of spending public money to build the school, why not contract with an already approved but not yet opened charter school to build and run the school? Mosaica Education, which is the school management company behind the "Portland Arts and Sciences Academy" which the district approved back in 2001 has expressed its willingness to build the school at no taxpayer expense and run it as a charter.

No interest. I got the runaround for a couple months before I finally got a response, something on the order of : "Director Wynde says they want to pursue other options for the school."

Which I can only take to mean that the district would rather spend $12 million in public money to get something that they could get for no taxpayer dollars.

And they wonder why the public has a decreasing appetite for tax hikes?