Sunday, March 25, 2007


Income Inequality = Educational Failure

This is a post I've wanted to write for quite some time, but haven't been able to put into a cohesive form. Up to now it's consisted of a variety of disjointed thoughts and observations. However, after reading teacherken's excellent diary from this morning discussing the Democratic presidential candidates and their respective positions on education (all of teacherken's diaries are excellent by the way), I felt like this was as good a time as any to try and connect these thoughts and ideas. What you are about to read is based on ten-plus years of first-hand observations and some cold, hard data. Basically, the entire diary can be summed up as follows:
We will never solve our education problems until we address the increasing problems of income inequality in America.

For years, the CW has been that money is at the heart of the education problems we face in America. From teacher pay to school funding, there never seems to be enough money to do what we would like to see done. While I agree that funding for public education is woefully inadequate, I believe that the true money problem facing public schools here in America lies in a different area - the families. In short, income inequality is the true culprit in today's schools.

Here in Illinois, we recently received our school report cards for 2006. Based on my experience, the data contained in the report card was not surprising. Economically disadvantaged students consistently perform at a lower level than all other subgroups with the exception of students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.

Just looking at the state of Illinois' report card (PDF) for now, we see that Economically Disadvantaged (ED) students have a lower graduation rate (76.5) than all but two of the twelve subgroups: Migrant and Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

And by high school, ED students are performing at a rate far below that of most others with only 35.1% meeting or exceeding standards in Reading, 27.5% meting or exceeding in Math, and 23% meeting or exceeding in Science.

Looking at this particular report card, one may notice that when the scores are broken down by race, Africa-Americans scored lower than ED. But according to the US Census Bureau (PDF) nearly one quarter of blacks in America live in poverty. In addition, the numbers aren't much better for Hispanics and are actually worse for American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Unfortunately, it's impossible to look at ED numbers and not realize that many of the students that fall under that category are minorities.

Looking at other schools' report cards, I've found similar results when it comes to ED students. In Iowa (PDF) for example, only 60.1% of ED students tested proficient over all at the high school level. In South Dakota, only 49% of high school ED students were proficient in Math and 60% we proficient in Reading. In Arizona (PDF), less than 50% of high school ED students were proficient in Math and just slightly more than 50% are proficient in Reading. Moving on to New Jersey (PDF) we see that only 65.2% of high school ED students tested proficient in Language Arts while a mere 54.1% were proficient in Mathematics. And in North Carolina only 45.1% of ED students passed both parts of their end of year tests.

While reading teacherken's aforementioned diary, the thing that struck me most is that this issue isn't even addressed by most of the candidates. With the exception of John Edwards and, in a roundabout way, Dennis Kucinich, nobody even mentions poverty as an issue. This, to me, is sad. The data clearly shows that poverty is a problem when it comes to education in America but none of the candidates will address it.

Of course the Republican argument is that our kids need to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and "buckle down." That all sounds well and good and probably looks nice on paper, but in reality that's not an option for most. You see, poor families don't have the same options others do. When Mom is sick or has to work or otherwise has an appointment, the family can't afford daycare and the older kids have to stay home to babysit the younger ones thereby missing out on a day's worth of school. When the weather's bad, students from poor families who live too close to school to ride the bus but don't have a working vehicle will stay home rather than brave the weather. Oftentimes, poor families suffer from what's called generational poverty where the family has lived in poverty for years and they don't see the value of an education and their children aren't encouraged to attain an education. So to say that students need to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" really doesn't work because many times the families in poverty don't have the bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

So what can be done? Well, again it comes back to money. For years the CW has been to put more money and funding into schools to fund after school programs, increase per student expenditures, and raise teacher pay to attract better teachers, but to an ED student it really doesn't matter how much money is being spent to educate him or her and it sure as hell doesn't matter how much the teacher's making. In the end, the student is still ED and the family is still in poverty. That's why I believe that to truly address the problems with our public education system we need to honestly address the problem of income inequality. Until we find a way to keep the poor from getting poorer while the rich get richer, we will never be able to truly address the real problem with our public schools.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Bitten On the Ass!

You know how things sometimes have a way of coming back around and biting you on the ass? Well, the entire Republican party got bitten on the ass big time today on Meet the Press. And who did the biting? Why none other than the people-powered Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

Allow me to set the scene...

Midway through today's broadcast, there was a roundtable discussion concerning Iraq that included Sestak, Fmr. Rep. Tom Andrews (D-ME), Robert Novak's long lost twin Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute and PNAC, and Fmr. Rep. Tom DeLay (shouldn't he be in prison by now?). Naturally, Perle and DeLay were bleating endlessly about how withdrawal would only lead to defeat (pretending of course that we haven't already lost) while Sestak and Andrews were arguing for a redeployment as our generals have now acknowledged that there is no longer a military solution to the issue. Relevant quotes from Perle and DeLay include:
MR. PERLE: Well, I think it is certainly true that setting a date certain would alter the leverage. Unfortunately, it would alter it in favor of the terrorists. If they know that we're going to leave on a date certain, they will adjust their strategies to take full advantage of that... What a date certain will do is guarantee the defeat to the United States' effort in Iraq. Guarantee it!


MR. PERLE: ...(to Andrews) what you're saying is that we should pull out. Setting a date certain only anticipates the pulling out, but it will unleash forces that will be completely uncontrollable. And the consequences of an American pullout will not only be a defeat for the United States and a setback in our effort to combat terror around the world, it will be a catastrophe for the people of Iraq.


MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Delay, you raise an interesting point in an interview--in your political column. You talked about congressmen advocating withdrawal, and you conclude by saying, "Yes, I am questioning their patriotism." Why is that?

FMR. REP. DeLAY: Well, I--it, it is my opinion that when you go to war, we ought to all come together. You can debate going to war, that's a legitimate debate. But once you have our soldiers and our, our young people dying on the battlefield, we should come together, and we shouldn't have what we had yesterday on the Mall of, of, of--in Washington, D.C. When the--those are not, in my mind--my opinion, patriots that are talking about impeaching the commander in chief, that are--that are--work as, as Tom's group works....

MR. RUSSERT: But setting a date for--is setting a date for withdrawal...

FMR. REP. DeLAY: ...every step of the day, undermine--I think it's aiding and abetting the enemy. When you tell the enemy what your strategy is, that's aiding and abetting the enemy because they can use that strategy to come back and harm your soldiers.

And then Sestak sank his teeth in deep.
REP. SESTAK: Tim, I spent 31 years in the service of our nation leading men and women into combat in war. And I always assumed, at least I always hoped, that the men and women back here, the policy makers, day in and day out, were spending hours, weeks, debating about the best use of this national treasure. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it best a few weeks ago when he said, as someone asked him about this debate and what's going on in the House, he said, "Our men and women of our military are educated. They understand the democratic process." I remember when working for President Clinton as director of defense policy, when I didn't agree with you, Tom, but that there was the Buyer Amendment to stop in a year any more funding for our troops in Bosnia. And then there was, in 1999, the effort not to place any more troops not--in Kosovo. While I may have disagreed with you, I respected your office, that that is the constitutional duty of Congress, to take pride for the common defense.

(emphasis mine, obviously)

Buyer amendment? Kosovo? What's he talking about? Well, thank whatever deity you believe in for Thomas. With a little searching I was able to find the following tidbits of information.

In 1997, Rep. Stephen Buyer (R-IN) proposed an amendment to H.R.1119 ("An Act to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 1998 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to precribe personnel strengths for such fiscal year for the Armed Forces, and for other purposes"). The purpose of Buyer's amendment read as follows:
An amendment to prohibit any funds authorized in the bill to be obligated for the deployment of U.S. ground troops in Bosnia after June 30, 1998, except to support a limited number of U.S. military personnel sufficient to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and noncombat military personnel serving in an advisory capacity to NATO commanders of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(again, emphasis mine)

The amendment passed on a vote of 278 - 148. Among those voting in favor of it, Tom DeLay and a number of other Republicans still serving in congress. Now I don't know about you, but June 30, 1998, sure sounds like a "date certain" to me. Does it not?

As for the Kosovo remark, it took a little more searching, but I think I've located the relevant legislation. In 1999, H.CON.RES.42 dealt with "the use of United States Armed Forces as part of a NATO peacekeeping operation implementing a Kosovo peace agreement." Among the amendments proposed to the resolution was one by Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-FL) whose purpose was "to limit the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces and not authorize the President to deploy ground forces to Kosovo as part of a NATO peacekeeping operation." The amendment failed by a vote of 178 - 237. However, over 75% of the voting Republicans supported the amendment. Once again, Tom DeLay was among the "Ayes." As were a large number of the other Republicans who are currently decrying Democratic efforts to change the course in Iraq.

So while DeLay, Perle, and the rest of the Bush-apologist Republicans, like to cry cut-and-run and vilify the Democrats for even considering re-deployment or tightening the purse strings, it's just another example in a long list of Republican hypocrisy. More of the "do as I say, not as I do" style of leadership we've come to expect from them.

So to Joe Sestak I say "Thank you!" Thank you for pointing this out." And to Tom DeLay, Richard Perle and the rest of the Bush-apologist saps I say "Ouch! That's gonna' leave a mark."

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Obamarama Hits Iowa

This weekend Barack Obama made five campaign stops in Eastern Iowa - Dubuque, Clinton, Davenport, Muscatine, and Burlington. Although I currently live in Illinois, I grew up in Muscatine. My family still lives there and as luck would have it, Sen. Obama's stop was practically in my in'laws' back yard. It only seemed logical that I would go.


Things started on Monday when it was announced that Sen Obama would be visiting Eastern Iowa. My sister e-mailed me about the event, so I looked it up in the local paper. The event would take place in the gymnasium where my wife went to junior high and they were expecting over 200 people to attend. They were a little off.

According to the online information, the doors were supposed to open at 10:00. To be sure I got a good seat, I wanted to get there early. Well, daylight savings time screwed me up and I didn't get there until 9:20. However, the doors were already open and as it turned out I got a pretty good seat anyway. At this point, there were approximately 200 chairs set up on the gymnasium floor. By 10:45, the bleachers were entirely full as were all of the chairs on the floor and they had begun bringing in more chairs. By 11:00 when the local Democrats were opening the event, the staff had brought in somewhere between 50 and 100 extra chairs and there were at least 100 people standing along the walls. In the end, I would estimate that there were at least 1,500 people in attendance. According to the local papers, this had been happening at the other events, as well. The Telegraph Herald in Dubuque estimated 2,700 people while the Quad City Times claimed 3,700 in Davenport. (No official numbers on the Clinton appearance, but a local discussion forum claims that there were people who had to stand outside and watch through the windows.)

Finally, after an introduction from the local officials, the good Senator entered the room to a standing ovation.

He spoke of progressive issues like energy independence, wage inequality, education reform and funding, and, of course, ending the war in Iraq. This last topic received the most vigorous applause. He spoke for twenty to thirty minutes then took quesstions. He said he was going to take three, he ended up taking five. The topics included what his plans were if he didn't get the nomination, his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan, government waste, "Don't ask - Don't tell," and a question concerning the wording of a report that one of his oversight committees approved. He didn't have all the answers (more on this later) but he was open and attentive and never appeared defensive or evasive.

At the end of the event he announced that he would stay right where he was and shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures for as long as he could. Luckily, I was the last person to get anything signed. He signed my copy of Dreams from My Father just before one of his aides took the Sharpie away from him and said that they needed to hurry up.


Living in Illinois, I've been to an Obama campaign event before. I've heard the term "Rock Star" applied to him on many occasions and I have to say - it fits. When he enters the room, the electricity is palpable. He is completely at ease in front of an audience. He doesn't give speeches at these events, he simply talks to everyone in the room. No notes. No teleprompters. No lectern. Just talk. He jokes, he laughs, he's self-deprecating, he's humble. However, he's confident and honest. I never feel like I'm being fed a bullshit answer. For example - I mentioned earlier that he didn't have all of the answers to the questions the audience asked. In particular, the one question about the wording of a particular report. His answer? "I don't know." He honestly said "I don't know." Where most politicians would give a bullshit answer that danced around the question without ever answering it, Obama said "I don't know." He then told the woman who asked the question to give her name and contact information to his aides and he would find out the information for her as soon as he got back to Washington and had a chance to look over the report in question. I don't know about anyone else, but I find that type of honesty refreshing.

In 2004, the Republicans enjoyed saying that America would rather have a beer with George W. Bush than with John Kerry. I guess that's supposed to mean something. I don't want to have a drink with my president. I just want him to be honest and trustworthy. (To say that the current administration has fallen short on the honesty front would be the understatement of the century.) As far as I'm concerned, the Republicans can have their President Blutarsky. I'm looking for an Atticus Finch, myself. In my honest opinion, Obama is it. He's the real deal. He's honest, intelligent, and respectable. God knows these qualities are severely lacking in our current leadership. I know that there are some people here who aren't sold on Obama. To those of you I say give him a chance. His policies are sound, his attitude is positive, his character is unimpeachable and his honesty is refreshing. If you can make it to a campaign stop, do it.

I hope this is helpful to anyone who may be on the fence about Obama. To close, I've got a few more pictures I'd like to share.

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