Monday, July 31, 2006

Mistake on the Portland Teachers Contract

In a post last month I criticized the Portland School Board for agreeing to pay hikes in the new teacher contract without getting any concessions on either the cost of health insurance or the teacher assignment situation.

I got one significant part wrong, however. I misinterpreted the Oregonian report (which was pretty vaguely worded) thinking that the teachers got a 2.5% raise this year plus a 2.5% COLA. I was wrong - there was no 2.5% raise, just the COLA. Sarah Carlin-Ames, PPS spokesperson, wrote me today to correct me.

She points out that the new salary grid puts PPS in the middle of the pack as far as teacher pay. My points about the district's failure to address the health insurance and teacher assignment issues are still valid.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Parental Notification

So the parental notification measure has made the ballot. I am interested in what the arguments against it will be, because in my mind, it is a very hard thing to argue against.

I'm a parent of a 17 year old daughter. Most voters are parents. The notion that they should be notified if their daughter wants an abortion strikes the vast majority of people as pretty unremarkable, no matter what their ideology.

So I was curious what the arguments will be. We are now getting a good preview, from the Oregonian and from the Blue Oregon blog.

In today's Oregonian, Jack Ohman's cartoon (which isn't yet on the website) essentially makes the argument that requiring parents to be notified will result in pregnant teen girls dying from back-alley abortions. I think this is the weakest of the weak arguments against this.

On Blue Oregon, Anne Martens (who is a staffer for Secretary of State Bill Bradbury) makes the ridculous argument that conservatives are hypocritical because requiring parental notification is an example of nanny-state government.

Let me get this straight, Anne. My daughter goes to her school based health clinic because she got pregnant, and her boyfriend is pressuring her to get an abortion. She knows that I would be very upset if she tells me what is going on. The counselors at the clinic - a government agency - help her get an abortion without my knowledge.

And if I say that the law should require me to be notified, I'm looking for a nanny state?

Unreal. That, folks, is the quality of the arguments you are likely to see on this issue. Anne Martens has never really dazzled anybody with her brilliance, of course (except perhaps Blue Oregon founder Kari Chisholm, who actually did comment that her argument was "brilliant.")

Other arguments seen on Blue Oregon:
  • The age of medical consent is 15, so there is no reason to make it 18 in the case of abortion. The problem with this argument is that this measure is parental notification, not parental consent.
  • The incest question: what if a girl is raped by her step-father? First, this is a red herring. What percent of teen pregnancies are a result of incest? Second, there is is a judicial override that is part of this measure. The comments on Blue Oregon dismiss the judicial override, asking what teenager will know enough to go through all that intimidating process? Well, excuse me, but I am sure that Planned Parenthood will be ready and willing to help shepherd any teen through the process.
  • One commenter on Blue Oregon actually said they had it all wrong - the argument should be that promoting abortion among teens is a great way to save welfare state dollars and make sure there aren't a lot of single parent families! The eugenics argument, which the left has danced with over and over again during the last century.

None of the arguments I have heard or seen seem at all compelling compared to the very visceral, common sense take that most voters will have: should I know if my daughter is seeking an abortion?


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Who writes this stuff?

I love it when our newspaper editors try to talk about the business climate. They usually end up proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have no idea what they are talking about.

Today's example is found in the Portland Tribune on the editorial page. The headline says:
"Whole Portland area needs competitive economic strategy."

OK, fair enough I guess. But I do get a little nervous by this kind of statement. The word "strategy" implies some kind of controlling authority that devises and implements it. Businesses don't develop area-wide "strategies" as part of some kind of collective effort.

The opinion piece goes on to dish out some of the fuzziest and ill-defined gobbledygook that I have ever seen offered by a major newspaper as serious economic thinking. Here's a sample of what they call "immediate, needed initiatives:"

• The business community must develop, lead and invest in measurable economic outcomes that are strategically planned and consistently executed.

What the hell does this mean? "Economic outcomes" such as profit? So they are recommending that businesses develop, lead and invest in being profitable? Thanks for that ... I'm sure Nike will be offering them a spot on their board of directors for that nugget.

Or do they have some other kind of economic outcome in mind? What would that be? They never bother to define it of course, enamored as they seem to be with such lofty sounding but empty rhetoric. Newpaper editors love to talk about things being done "strategically." As opposed to what? Are they are obviously worried that businesses will pursue profits "haphazardly?"

• The business community routinely and relevantly communicate with local residents to convey why the economy matters to them.

"Hello, Mr. Smith? This is Pendleton Woolen Mills calling. We would like you to know that the economy really matters to us. Have you found this communication relevant?"

• Government must actively foster a climate in which businesses and employment can thrive by enacting policies, programs and tax structures that support the economy and the retention and creation of jobs.

This sounds really great. But the vague language is a cover for their reluctance to take a stand on specific issues. Portland and Multco has a horribly uncompetitive Business License Fee and Business Income Tax that has chased many businesses out of the area.

Is that "fostering" a bad climate? If so, they sure don't mention it. Rather than directly taking on policies that everybody knows are destructive, they hide behind tough-sounding but meaningless platitudes that substitute for actually taking a stand.

(As a side note, The Tribune itself has escaped Multnomah County, moving its offices from Portland to Clackamas County a year ago or so.)

As a general rule, anytime you hear any supposed experts say or write the words "foster a climate," you can just dismiss whatever they say about anything, because they aren't serious adults.

• Links and investments must be made between the economy, transportation, education, land use, recreation and quality of life. This chance exists right now as the state and the region plan the future of land use, education and transportation

In other words, more central planning. Pabulum like this is fun to dissect because they throw all sorts of smart sounding words without realizing that a grammatical analysis usually shows it is meaningless. For instance:

Toss out the first two words of the conjunctive phrase, which leaves "Investmetns must be made between...."

How do you make an investment "between" things? You don't. You invest IN things.

The last sentence should send chills down the spine of any business that still clings to the hope that it can be profitable in this city. The Tribune's answer for the failed planning policies of the last 30 years is apparently to keep planning. Our big chance is that we are right now in the process of planning "the future of land use, education and transportation."

Oh, yippee. They weren't doing any planning of these things before now?

The fact is, the planning is the problem, because the planning subculture has an agenda that has created the mess we are now in. More planning - more empowerment to the people who brought us here -- is not going to do anything other than make us circle the drain faster than we already are.

The Tribune doesn't see it, because their mindset is firmly inside the planning box. And that makes it very amusing when they try to pretend they understand business and economics.

That is why I call the op-ed pages the "funny pages."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ron Saxton and TABOR

The Oregonian printed an article today about the Spending Limit initiative, saying that Ron Saxton has to walk a "tightrope" on the issue, because to oppose it would alienate his base, while supporting it would harm his chances with moderates.

Well, I suppose the analysis is OK as far as it goes. But it is typical of the one-sided nature of the Oregonian's reporting on political campaigns.

EVERY candidate for office has to navigate many such issues. One of the tasks of a political campaign is to talk about the things the candidate wants to talk about, not about what others want him to talk about.

Kulongoski faces the same exact problem - he must walk a tightrope between the positions his base (the unions) want him to take and what will play well in the general electorate.

Take PERS, for instance. With union endorsements jumping on the sinking Kulonoski ship almost daily, do you think that perhaps he has a tightrope of his own to walk when it comes to the festering sore of the 20+% PERS contributions that our public schools are forced to make?

But will the Oregonian ever point that out? Nope. No interest in exposing that the incumbent governor is captured by union special interest groups. That is "off message," which is that Ron Saxton has moved too far to the right for the Oregonian's comfort.

So, as a person who has long supported some kind of spending limit, does it bother me that Ron Saxton is treading carefully around this issue? Not at all.

Saxton won't campaign FOR the spending limit initiative, nor will he oppose it. He has his own campaign to run, his own ideas to talk about and his own reform plans to explain. He should not allow a ballot initiative to define his candidacy.

I think he has the right response when asked about Oregon's TABOR: that he likes the concept, but is not going to support or oppose any specific plan. No need to say more. If that conversation results in a discussion about Oregon's state spending, great. Ron has lots to say about that.

I know some of my conservative compatriots will be disappointed that Ron isn't going to take up the mantle of the TABOR and make it a campaign issue, but I think it is instructive that Don McIntire, the author of the measure, is not among them.

Don understands politics and campaigns as well as anybody in the state. He knows that Saxton has a race to win, and he will win it by pounding away at the themes and messages that Ron Saxton himself holds most dear to his mind and heart.

The TABOR is a good idea, but there is no reason at all that Ron Saxton should make it a part of his campaign. In fact, there are many reasons why he shouldn't.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Feds to Oregon: Your tests aren't valid!

For years I've been screaming it from the mountain tops: Oregon's tests are not valid and reliable. All the powers that be said I was wrong.

Now, the Oregonian reports, the feds have threatened to withdraw NCLB funds from the state department of education because our tests aren't up to par.

I've blogged on this issue, written BrainstormNW columns and feature articles on it, written Oregonian "In My Opinion" pieces on it, spoken about it on more than a dozen talk radio shows, given speeches on it, ran a statewide campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction on it, and lobbied legislation to correct it.

Every step of the way, I was told I was wrong, that Oregon's testing experts had it all covered, and our tests were just fine. Every education establishment organization from the Oregon School Boards Association to the Oregon Education Association testified that I was wrong. Susan Castillo, who defeated me for State Superintendent, defended Oregon's testing system and opposed my bills to restructure it.

The print version of the article, which ran on page B5, headlined: "Questions about tests jeapordize funding," explains that the problem is Oregon's tests aren't "properly calibrated," and that they might not "fully assess what students are expected to learn."

In other words - after well more than a decade of Oregon bureaucrats deciding they knew better how to develop and administer achievement tests than companies with decades of experience testing tens of millions of students, our tests are garbage. They don't test what kids are taught, and they don't give accurate scores.


Ok, whose head will roll? It's not as if this is the first time they have heard this.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The OSBA declares war on charter schools

Bear with me on this post. I'm sorry it is so long. But it will take some time to explain the lengths the education establishment will go to manipulate rules and processes in order to protect itself.

This example concerns charter schools. For the uninitiated, charters are independently operated public schools that compete with the district-operated schools. Charters are public schools - they are publicly funded, and must accept all students. They are released from some regulations that cover other public schools in exchange for heightened accountability provisions, which the charter must meet, or it will be closed.

Here's the problem: In Oregon, a charter school must be approved by the school district in which it will be located. This means the founders of a startup school must ask a district if it is OK if they open a new school in the district that will compete for students with the district's schools, and if a student attends the charter school instead of the district school, the district will lose about 80% of the funding it gets from the state for that student.

Guess what? Districts usually want to tell the charters "NO!"

But the charter law seems to force them to say "yes." At least, that is, if the charter fulfills the requirements in the charter law. To get the approval, a charter school has to present a proposal to the district that addresses 24 different elements, everything from curriculum to assessment to staffing.

The charter school law explicitly says that the legislature wanted the new law to create new charter schools, and that the law should be "interpreted liberally" to make that happen.

But now, after seven years of experience dealing with charters, the education establishment groups are getting better and better at subverting the explicit instruction of the statute. They are using the school districts' control over the charter school approval process to basically give the middle finger to the legislature.

Here's the deal:

As I said, the original charter school statute requires that charters provide information on 24 different elements of the school that range from the very involved (curriculum and assessment) to the mundane (the name of the school.)

But the language of the charter law gave school districts a way to run out the clock on most charter proposals. It says that the district "may require any additional information the board considers relevant to the formation or operation of a public charter school."

It took almost six years for the school districts' lobbying group, the OSBA, to figure out how to use this language to stop charters, but it finally did. Here's how:

One thing the OSBA does is provide school districts with template procedures and policies for all sorts of things. Districts find this service very useful, because they can basically just vote to adopt the OSBA template policies and not have to spend any staff time developing their own policies from scratch.

When a policy is adopted, it basically acts like an administrative rule for the district.

One such policy a district must have in place is a policy and procedure for how charter school proposals are handled by the district. The policy scripts the timelines, hearings that must be held, and what information is required to be presented by the charter school, and how the district must analyze that information and come to a decision.

The OSBA created template charter school policies a few years ago, which nearly every district in Oregon adopted. Recently, the OSBA decided it needed to revise this template. Why? My guess is they saw an opportunity to give districts the tools they needed to stop any charter school they want to stop.

In the new template, the OSBA has layered on about 75 new informational requirements to the 24 called for in the charter law that a charter proposal must address. And many of the items they say they need to judge a charter proposal are simply unanswerable.

The cumulative result of all this new information required of a proposed charter school is to put such a huge burden on the front end of starting a charter school that virtually nobody would bother to do it.

Charter proposals that I compile generally run about 250 pages. If I had to try and answer all the specious questions and fulfill all the informational requirements in the new OSBA template regulations, it would require at least ten times that number of pages of information.

Here's the very first new item of information that the OSBA wants a charter proposal to include. Bear in mind that they want this information at the very earliest stage of opening a charter school - at the point the school is proposed to the district:

(1)Description of a curriculum for each grade of students, which demonstrates in detail alignment with Oregon’s academic content standards;

This sounds perfectly reasonable, right? After all, shouldn't a proposed school show that its curriculum is aligned with Oregon's vaunted standards? Here's the problem:

Oregon's standards are comprised of explicit learning goals for each grade in 12 different content areas. Take just one content area - math - and look at the standards. Just for grades K-5 in math, there are a total of 285 individual learning goals that are part of the "standards." These goals range from things like "Read, write and be able to identify whole numbers less than 10" at the kindergarten level, to "Develop and evaluate strategies for computing with decimals and fractions" at the 5th grade level.

(As an aside, what kind of standard is this? Why would we want our fifth graders to be developing strategies for computing with decimals? Don't we already know what the best "strategies" are for adding and subtracting decimals? I always thought it was the job of the teacher to know what the best strategies are, and to teach these strategies to the kids. But no, not in the world of "new, new math." These days the 10 year olds are perfectly capable of not only developing their own personal strategies for working with decimals, but they can evaluate them as well. This is the kind of nonsense that pervades Oregon's so-called "Standards," which charter schools somehow have to prove their curriculum covers.)

So, a proposed K-5 charter school, if it wants to satisfy this single requirement (remember - this is only one of 75 new items of information) is supposed to go through its proposed curriculum and prove that all 285 math standards are taught by it, and specifically identify which page and which lesson in the math curriculum addresses it. And that is only for math - there are 11 other content areas to go through.

And remember - this is on the front end, at the time the school is proposed. Which might be two years before it is planned to open.

The most amusing part of the new OSBA requirements come in the form of what we call the "How questions." They constantly ask the charter school to explain "how" it will comply with various state and federal mandates. It's not enough to just stipulate that the school will comply - they want to know "how."

And that is when it becomes even more absurd.

For instance, one item asks for : (1) Documentation of how the public charter school will meet the federal mandate of “highly qualified” teachers contained in No Child Left Behind;

Uh..... well.... we will only hire teachers who meet the definition of "highly qualified" as determined by NCLB. But the law already stipulates that we comply with all relevant state and federal mandates, so what exactly do they want here? What possible "documentation" would exist that would show "how" we would only hire such teachers?

This is a great example of the level of thinking that so often goes into education establishment mumbo jumbo bureaucracy. It is completely meaningless, but it very often finds its way into policy because nobody takes the time to ask the most rudimentary, common sense questions. And then it is used to put obstacles in the path of anybody who the establishment doesn't want at their little party.

The new charter school regulations are rife with this kind of stuff. You really have to read the whole thing to believe it.

In sum, the new regs are simply an obstacle that can be used to stop a charter school dead in its tracks, before it can get to the starting line and begin the statutorily defined approval process. Let me repeat that, because it is the real point here:

These regs can be used to stop any charter school proposal before it can even trigger the approval timeline scripted in law. Why?

Because the first thing a district does when it receives a charter proposal, according to a rule esatblished a few years ago, is review the proposal for "completeness." Only when the district deems a proposal "complete" is the 90 day approval/denial timeline triggered.

So if a district adopts regulations that require onerous and unreasonable information in the proposal that nobody could possibly provide, then the district can simply say the proposal is "not complete," and send it back to have the charter school revise it.

There is nothing the charter school developers can do about it. There is no appeal - we've been down that road before. If a district says a proposal is not complete, then the process doesn't start. They have the final say.

So, with these new template regulations, the OSBA has put the tools in the hands of every school board in the state to stop any charter proposal they want to stop before the process can even get started.

The preamble to the charter law, ORS Chapter 338, reads:

"The provisions of this chapter should be interpreted liberally to support the goals of this section..."

Does this sound to you like the OSBA is trying to support the goals of the charter school law? Far from it.

The OSBA is giving the middle finger to the legislature's stated desire to create charter schools.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Uninvited guest

So the Oregonian sends a reporter, uninvited, to a private meeting where Ron Saxton is scheduled to speak.

The reporter is asked to leave. That makes it front page Metro news.

What's the deal? The headline in the paper reads "Conservative Coalition Hears Private Speech," as if Saxton was there to issue some kind of secret message. The article of course then gets to quote Kulongoski's staff, who of course says the meeting was filled with people from the "far right wing of the Republican party."

Puh-leeeeze. First of all, Harry Esteve from the Oregonian was not invited to this meeting. If he wanted to come he should have called Jason Williams, who arranges it every month.

Second, this is simply a monthly meeting of people involved in various conservative/right leaning activist organizations where they update each other on what is going on. Any given month there will be representatives of the Republican party, homebuilders, college Republicans, Assoicated Oregon Industries, Freedom Works, BrainstormNW Magazine, Cascade Policy Institute, my own organization the Oregon Education Coalition, etc.

Each month there are invited speakers who may be politicians, candidates, or people connected with issues that are currently in public debate.

But the Oregonian obviously wants to paint this meeting as some kind of secret right wing extremist cabal, and then connect Ron Saxton to it, with the ominous overtones that the group was going to hear some "private message."

Well, I wasn't there yesterday, but a few weeks ago I was there when Ron was one of the invited speakers. He spoke for about 3 minutes, then he answered questions.

It's ridiculous that this should have been front page news, as it is entirely manufactured. What is the news? That right-leaning activists meet monthly to keep each other updated? Yawn.

Or is it that Ron Saxton was delivering a 3 minute speech to a group that met behind closed doors? No news there, either.

Or was it that the Oregonian reporter came to a private meeting and was asked to leave? Is that news?

What a crock.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Land law gobbles planning staff

That was the headline last week on a story that ran in the Oregonian: "Land Law Gobbles Planning Staff."

The article lamented how expensive it was for city and county planning department bureaucrats to process all the Measure 37 claims that have sprung up since the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the measure.

I scanned my memory for the Oregonian articles that have lamented how expensive it is for cities and counties to comply with all the Oregon land use laws in the first place. I can't ever remember reading an article in the Oregonian that worried about the incredible growth in planning staff expenses since Senate Bill 100 passed in 1973.

But pass an initiative that requires cities to mow down some regulations, and the Oregonian immediately mourns the cost of implementing the measure.

Elon Hasson, a lobbyist for 1000 Friends of Oregon said: "So much time is spent dealing with 37, everything else suffers."

By "everything else," Hasson is referring to the obstacles that planners put in front of anyone wanting to make productive use of their property. THAT is what planners are really for - to stop development.

Of course, the article never considers whether all the costs of Measure 37 compliance (and then some) might not be paid for the property taxes on the new property value that will be generated by the growth that Measure 37 claims unleashes.

Take a 10 unit housing development allowed by a Measure 37 claim. The claim might cost $10,000 in planning staff expenses to process. When built, there could easily be $5,000,000 of increased property value created on that land. That would spin off $75,000 per year in property taxes. Forever.

Interesting that Laura Oppenheimer, who wrote the story, neglected to even acknowledge that there might be such an offset. Shows how stuck she is in a static world view.