N.Y. Post: Escaping the Union

In today’s Post, I write about charter-school teachers at two KIPP schools trying to get rid of the UFT:

Teachers at two of the most successful charter schools in New York City made a simple request of state officials last week: Free us from the United Federation of Teachers.

The UFT, usually so concerned about teachers’ “voices being heard,” made their response clear in the two sides’ first conference before the Public Employment Relations Board on Thursday.

To paraphrase: “Shut up.”

So now PERB has a choice to make: It can allow the teachers at the KIPP Academy in the South Bronx and KIPP Infinity in Harlem to promptly decertify the UFT as their bargaining representative, as teachers at both schools have requested by way of unanimous petitions, or it can leave them chained and paying dues to a union they want nothing to do with.

It really couldn’t be any clearer cut. The teachers want to save their school; the UFT wants to destroy it.

[archive copy of this column here]

N.Y. Post: Teacher-Tenure Trap

In this morning’s Post, I beat on about one of my favorite topics: the absurdity of running a school system based on seniority and tenure:

WHAT does it take to lose your job as a public- school teacher in America?

That’s a question worth asking as state education leaders bat around the idea of appointing a commission to study how school systems award tenure to New York teachers.

One way is to threaten to blow up your school, as a teacher in the Bronx did Friday, reportedly because he was upset about having been disciplined by his principal for assaulting a student.

Another is to be nominated for your state’s Teacher of the Year award — but have less seniority than some other teacher.

Yes, that’s what happened in Hampton, NH, earlier this month.

That’s right. Teacher of the Year nominee or no, you’ll be laid off by seniority. And the union will stand behind that decision.

[archive copy of this column here]

N.Y. Post: Dr. Tom’s Dirty Tricks

In this morning’s Post, I look at the crusade for a soda tax in New York:

WANT a lesson in political cynicism, dressed up as concern for public health? Then grab the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and read city Health Commissar — sorry, Commissioner — Thomas Frieden’s piece on how to line up support for a soda tax.

His advice: Lure legislators with dollar signs — but convince the public it’s all about health.

The Frieden column is here.

[archive copy of this column here]

Welcome to Neuroworld

Folks, I’ve started a new blog on the new True/Slant network. It’s called Neuroworld. I like to think of it as a newswire of human stupidity. Basically, it follows advances in neuroscience and humanity’s ever-expanding understanding of its own irrationality.

Recent posts include:

* New iTunes Pricing: A Neuro Perspective

* Anti-Marriage Ads: Scared Straight

* Torture and the Brain

* Chimps Caught in Meat-for-Sex Scandal

* The Neuroscience of ‘30 Rock’

Give it a look. Hope you like it. The bulk of my blogging will be over there for the foreseeable future.

N.Y. Post: Obama’s Charter-School Challenge

In today’s Post, I look at what Obama’s been saying about charter schools … and how he can make his commitment to them real:

FRESH evidence of charter schools’ success should put President Obama on the spot: Will he put his muscle where his mouth is?

This month, Obama issued a direct challenge to the more than two dozen states like New York that have arbitrary, teachers-union-imposed “caps” on the number of charter schools they allow to operate. But if he’s serious, he’s going to have to put force behind his words.

What could tip the balance?

If the president did something bold, to help Paterson and other charter-supporting governors and legislators around the country: Tie one or more federal funding streams to the lifting of the caps.

The most logical candidate would be the “incentive and innovation grants” in the stimulus bill. It’s a $5 billion pot of money over which Education Secretary Arne Duncan (a reformer out of the Chicago school system) has almost complete discretion.

Until there’s federal money on the line for states that refuse to lift their charter caps, not much is likely to change.

[archive copy of this column here]

Oregon Trail for the iPhone

It’s $6. It looks awesome. That is all.

AFF Tonight: The Road Back to Capitalism

I’ve been remiss in not promoting this AFF panel tonight, on which I’m speaking:

On March 5th, the Obama Administration will have been in office for over a month. Since the loss of the election in November conservatives and libertarians from across the nation have started to think about the road back not only to power, but how to return the country to believing in free-market principles. Have libertarians and conservatives found their voice? With a plummeting economy, do free market ideas stand a chance? Have Republicans discovered a comeback strategy based on ideas and principles that libertarians and conservatives can support? What is the road back to capitalism?

If you’re in the city, come on out.

Fixing the Teaching Trade

Matt Yglesias has a good post on the teaching trade — making the case, essentially, that teacher turnover isn’t such a bad thing. So long as we get some good, productive years out of those turning-over teachers.

It’s not a popular position with the teachers unions, and plenty of the comments (predictably) accuse Matt of insulting and devaluing experienced teachers.

I get this a lot myself, of course. Support merit pay, or acknowledge the data-supported notion that teacher productivity doesn’t go up much after they get their legs in the classroom (after three or four years), and you “hate teachers.”

The truth is, though, that skilled teachers are one of the most valuable assets our economy has. Teacher quality is far and away the most important thing a school or school system can provide. But we pay teachers based on seniority, not skill, and we put up barriers to entry that benefit no one but the teachers unions (who like to create artificial teacher “shortages” and then push for higher compensation).

Alternative certification, which Matt is supporting (and which the Center for American Progress has put out a paper about expanding), is one way of trying to recruit skilled teachers who don’t have the time or patience to deal with the rigmarole of traditional certification. Programs like this, such as New York City Teaching Fellows, have had a lot of success bringing bright young folks, and people changing careers later in life, into the system. They may have higher turnover; but 10 years of a good teacher in the system beats 30 years of a bad one.

Of course, there’s a lot more you’d have to change about the system to make it attractive to a higher quality of candidate. In general, I’m supportive of higher teacher salaries — if decoupled from seniority and all the other union-created barriers to accountability. You could give principals more control over their schools, so that they’d be run more efficiently, according to a set vision. You could create a career ladder, that would allow teachers to rise based on skill (the idea of master teachers, etc., has been around for a while).

I looked at what some teachers in the New York City school system think about all this back in 2004. The column’s called “Teachers’ Secret,” and gets into what I think a lot of teachers don’t want to say in front of their colleagues and union.

N.Y. Post: Prez’s Challenge to NYC Teachers

In today’s Post, I take a look at Obama’s commitment to merit pay:

In his speech before Congress, in his stimulus bill and in his new budget, President Obama has sent a clear message to the educrats who argue that money is everything when it comes to fixing public schools: Get over it.

Is New York City’s education establishment listening?

“We know that our schools don’t just need more resources,” the president said Tuesday. “They need more reform.”

Specifically, on top of a welcome pledge to “expand our commitment to charter schools,” Obama promised to create “incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement and rewards for success.” What does this mean? In short: merit pay.

Of course, the teachers unions, a key Democratic constituency, are allergic to merit pay - as they are to any kind of accountability. Looking at how teachers perform in the classroom and then rewarding the good ones with checks? It’s an assault on mom, apple pie and the American way - if you listen to the status quo’s defenders.

But Obama’s stimulus bill has allocated $200 million to the Teacher Incentive Fund, a pot of money used by the federal Department of Education to assist merit-pay pilot programs.

Of course, it’d be nice if he put even more money behind it. He’s certainly putting enough behind early childhood education, when the real problem in our schools is middle school and high school.

The column ends with a challenge: We’re already trying a merit-pay-light pilot program in New York City (where every teacher at a school is rewarded, collectively, for performance). Let’s apply for the federal money to conduct a real merit-pay pilot program. Our teachers union always wants more money for children? Well, here’s a big federal pot of it.

Let the chips fall where they may. The kids can only benefit. And the teachers can only see higher compensation.

[archive copy of this column here]

Some Cultural Federalism From O

The Era of Big Government may be back, budget-wise. But at least we’re starting to see some dividends on cultural federalism: Obama’s attorney general finally makes some noises that the federal government will back da f— up as relates to California’s medical-marijuana law.

Eric Holder, no coward when it comes to being sarcastic to the press, told a Washington news conference: “What the president said during the campaign, you’ll be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we’ll be doing here in law enforcement. … What he said during the campaign is now American policy.”

Of course, what Obama said during the campaign is that the federal government has no business interfering with state law and raiding California pot dispensaries. Since Obama took office, however, the DEA has seemed to be on autopilot, and some more raids have taken place.

Hopefully, this means that will end soon. Combined with, say, allowing universities to start doing research on medical marijuana, we could finally be taking a step down the road to more sensible drug policies.

We’re still a long way from decriminalizing marijuana and medicalizing how we treat stronger drugs. But, as my friends at the Post editorial board like to say, small steps for small feet.

Bloomberg Plans Times Square Mall

Times Square

Cue the jokes about how Times Square already is a mall, I suppose, but Mayor Bloomberg has a plan to shut down Broadway, between 42nd and 47th, to car traffic. Making it a pedestrian mall. (Though, cross-street traffic will continue to cut through Times Square, making it kind of a… car-y pedestrian mall.)

I, for one, am against it. It was bad enough when they took down the Cup Noodles sign. Now they want less traffic? This ain’t Europe. Times Square is about the meeting and mixing of car, pedestrian, and party bike — Goddamnit.

And, it’s about change, I suppose someone will tell me. Alas, it is. Alas, it is…

Arrested Development Movie a Go?

Is the “Arrested Development” movie a go? Or is everyone involved still too… chicken?

Last Night in Hoboken

Thanks to everyone who came out in Hoboken last night, and thanks to the Hoboken Republicans for having me.

As always, a spirited discussion. One trend in these discussions — it seems to happen over and over and over again, in any crowd — is for two arguments to emerge: 1) We weren’t pure enough; 2) We weren’t centrist enough.

Of course, those who want the party to move in a Palin-esque direction choose argument 1. Those who favored, say, Giuliani or another “moderate” choose argument 2.

Neither is right.

Argument 1 is especially wrong-headed, I think. Whether it’s the Republicans or the Democrats, someone is always making this argument. After all, how many liberal Democrats argue that if their party had only nominated Howard Dean in 2004, they would have kicked George Dubya’s ass? Quite a number, from what I’ve seen over the years. Meanwhile, plenty of conservative Republicans this year believe that our only mistake was not putting Sarah Palin at the top of the ticket. But I’ve never seen any evidence that there’s a majority constituency for social conservatism plus fiscal conservatism. Nor is there a majority constituency for economic liberalism plus social liberalism.

Elections, for the most part, are won in the center — despite the Rove theory that everything comes down to the base.

But that doesn’t mean that whoever is most centrist automatically wins, either. Winning an election, it turns out, is a complicated thing. You need to be far enough toward the center to be broadly palatable; you have to actually stand for something to have any base; you need a candidate who can put one foot in front of the other, as opposed to in his mouth. (Or, you can get really lucky and run against a ridiculously bad opponent.)

In other words, there are no easy answers. It’s not that we need Palin. It’s not that we just have a communications problem. And it’s not just that we need to move to the center. Chances are, we’re going to need to reinvent the Republican platform and message for a new era. And we may not, for years, have a candidate capable of out-communicating Obama.

The facts may be depressing. But the facts is the facts.

Hoboken Area EitheR Fans

If you’re in the Hoboken area, I’ll be speaking tonight at the Hoboken Republicans’ 4th Annual Lincoln Dinner.

I’ve been delivering some gloomy talks, recently, so I hope not to ruin anyone’s dinner.

Event starts at 6:30 p.m., at the Gaslight Restaurant and Bar. In Hoboken. New Jersey.

March of the Mad Penguins

“Is there such thing as insanity among penguins?” Thus begins this unbelievably awesome Werner Herzog clip, from his new-ish, Academy Award-losing documentary, Encounters at the End of the World:

Why does one penguin separate from the others and head out on a journey toward certain death toward the Antarctic Interior? Herzog doesn’t know, but he has some tremendously grim, German-accented things to say about it.

A sure crowd-pleaser to those of us who enjoyed Herzog’s speech about the indifference of nature in Grizzly Man.

[HT: Yglesias]

Oscar Night: We’re All Just Monkeys With Juice

On Oscar night, it’s only appropriate to note the similarities between humans and monkeys. Not just because any awards for Benjamin Button will make me want to throw my own feces at the TV screen (I haven’t seen the movie, but it seems like mediocrity in movie form). But because it’s a night when our monkey-like tendencies are on particularly proud display.

Humans like to watch and hear about celebrities. Much like monkeys… which a famous experiment found were willing to give up delicious fruit juice for the opportunity to look at pictures of higher-status monkeys (think watching Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the red carpet). Conversely, monkeys must be paid in delicious juice to look at pictures of lower-status monkeys (think watching documentaries about the countries from which Angelina snatches up babies).

So, get your juice boxes, park yourselves in front of a TV, and jump up and down screeching for your favorite actors and actresses. Me? I’ve had to switch to CNN to avoid seeing Hugh Jackman’s painful opening number. You’d need to pay me a lot of juice to get me to change the channel back. Does that mean I consider Hugh Jackman a lower-status money? Or do I just value my ears and dignity?

Class Size: ‘it makes teachers happy’

As an anti-class-size-reduction activist, my heart was warmed by today’s New York Times article on the subject. Mainly because it contained the most honest defense of the real agenda behind class size reduction that I’ve ever seen:

it makes teachers happy

Simple enough. Okay, here’s the full passage:

“We can say we just want more good teachers, which would be great, but that’s a policy that we just don’t know how to do yet,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an education policy professor at the University of Chicago. “The nice thing about reducing class size is that it makes teachers happy in their own right and it’s the one thing that we know how to do.”

Got that? It makes teachers happy, and we know how to do it (true: It’s not complicated. You just make class sizes smaller. Usually by hiring lots of teachers. In order to do this, you hire teachers of lower quality.)

Of course, we do know how to improve teacher quality. The trick is, you don’t hire and promote based on seniority and meaningless degrees, and you fire bad teachers. The only way in which we don’t know how to do this, is we don’t know how to do it in a city like New York, where doing so would violate the New York City teachers contract — a roadblock put in place by, yes, you guessed it, the teachers unions.

You also get better teachers by ditching arbitrary teacher certification requirements and making use of innovative ideas like alternative teacher certification. See: New York City Teaching Fellows, Teach for America, etc.

To be clear: Class-size reduction has it’s place. With some of the most disadvantaged students, it can be a positive step. But it’s an expensive step, and, for the most part, your marginal tax dollar is better spent on trying to improve teacher quality than on reducing class sizes.

Class-size reduction is very appealing, as the article makes clear, because parents and the public can understand it; they can see it. You can’t necessarily see teacher quality.

How do you solve that problem? By tracking teacher performance in a value-added, merit-pay system. I look forward to the Times op-ed calling for those innovative (and obvious) steps.

Lolita Bar Debate Audience: The Right Has NOT Hit Bottom Yet

Thanks to everyone who came out to Lolita Bar last night for the debate on whether the Right has hit bottom yet — and thanks to my gracious opponent, Ken Silber. (And further thanks to Todd Seavey for having me.)

As Silber says, there’s not enough daylight between us to balance a presidential ticket. But, I’m gratified nonetheless that pessimism carried the day. I certainly think pessimism is what’s warranted. The Right and the GOP are deep in a hole, but they likely still have far to fall before they hit bottom and can start the climb back up. Look at the 2010 Senate races, where GOP senators will be defending their turf in Obama states (PA, NH, NC, FL) while Dem senators will be up in places like New York and California. Also, just think about candidate recruitment and fundraising in this economy. Things could get grim.

I understand there may be a transcript of the debate available at some time in the near future. Should one become available, I will post it here.

Beating a Dead Elephant

Tomorrow night, I’ll be debating the future of the right at Lolita Bar, on the Lower East Side (hosted by Todd Seavey):

With the government, intended by the Framers to be small and humble, now funneling a trillion dollars through itself and into the hands of its allies and supplicants…with pop culture iconography fusing with state-worship to create an ostensible messiah-president…with self-interested elites from academia to Nobel committees now oblivious to the difference between compassion and centralized planning (whether of economies or ecosystems), can the desperate (and often stupid) forces of opposition — the exiled right, marginalized conservatism — get any lower?

I’ll host — and Michel Evanchik will moderate — a debate on that very topic, “Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?”

This Thursday, Feb. 19 (8pm) see optimist (and writer, blogger, and Research editor) Ken Silber argue yes, that the right is already planning its comeback, while pessimist (and author of Elephant in the Room) Ryan Sager argues no, saying the movement he loves is still plummeting downward for the foreseeable future.

Ryan Sager, pessimist (and author). It’s a career. 8 o’clock. See (some of) you there.

Unfair Obama

President Obama has been very clear for a very long time that he opposes any reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine — heck, he even opposed it before he was President Obama. Way back when.

Today, we get confirmation of the long-confirmed. This probably won’t shut up the people who insist on harping on this non-issue. But there it is. (The president could go a step further and promise to veto any legislation bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. That would be a very positive step.)

Of course, as I’ve said before, I’d vigorously oppose any reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine — no matter who tried it. But it’s such an obviously bad idea — and such an obviously outmoded idea (how do you even have a Fairness Doctrine in the age of the Internet?) — that we should really all just stop talking about it already unless and until some actual threat arises.

In the Hunt for 2012

Will the “moderate” candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012 come from Utah?

In a surprise move, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has come out (yes, chortle) in favor of civil unions. It’s a totally unprompted move — there’s been no pressure on him to do anything like this, and he’s been on the so-called “pro-marriage” (that is, anti-gay) side of things for years. He’s not running for reelection in Utah (where 70 percent of voters oppose civil unions, according to the linked article), so this can really only be looked at as positioning for 2012.

That said, it’s positioning of which I heartily approve. As I’ve long argued, often in front of hostile conservative audiences, the GOP simply has to come to some accommodation on the gay issue. Gay people aren’t going back in the closet, and straight America is rapidly becoming comfortable with homosexuality as what it is: a biological fact of human existence. So, the GOP can spend the next couple decades at war with gays as they once were at war with all minorities. Or they can quickly accept that America needs to legally recognize gay couples — whether it’s left to the states for a while or whether we see federal recognition of (at least) civil unions in the near future.

The bill Huntsman is supporting won’t pass in Utah (barring a miracle). But it’s good to think we might have a conservative, Western candidate in the GOP primary holding aloft the banner of a more tolerant, more modern Republican Party.

Chavez for Life

Is it too cheap to make a Bloomberg joke here?

(One could even mention that Chavez, at least, put it to the voters.)

N.Y. Post: The GOP Bids for Redemption in NY

In today’s Post, I look at the race for NY-20 — the first congressional race of the Obama era:

The national GOP is eager to paint a potential win here as the start of a Republican comeback. The new party chairman, Michael Steele, last week called the race a “battle royal” that would send a “powerful signal to the rest of the country” that the GOP has still got some fight in it. In truth, the GOP has little to gain in this race but plenty to lose.

For starters, it’s a sign of how far the Republican Party has fallen and how fast that this race is even in serious contention. Republicans held the seat for decades until 2006, when former Rep. John Sweeney lost his re-election bid. That was the year a Bush backlash and the “culture of corruption” threw control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats. And on top of ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Sweeney was hit with a domestic-violence police report surfacing days before the election, involving the congressman and his then wife.

In other words, Gillibrand’s victory was a bit of an anomaly. (It helped that she took all those conservative, NRA-friendly positions that she’s now dropping in anticipation of running statewide in 2010.)

The district isn’t just historically Republican; it’s nearly all white and heavily White collar. The GOP has a 70,000-voter registration edge, and [Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady)] enjoys high name recognition. Plus, his opponent starts out unknown, with roughly six weeks to make up the difference.

It should be a walkaway for the GOP.

But the 20th went narrowly for Obama in November. And it’s not at all clear that Tedisco is any closer than the national GOP to finding a message to counter the new president’s still-popular talk of change and hope.

In other words, the GOP has a lot to lose in this race, but not much to win. Tedisco is running on a somewhat ludicrous slogan — “Now We Will!” — which is an attempt to, I suppose, shift Obama’s slogan into the future tense.

It all seems rather fittingly symbolic for a party that has absolutely no idea how to get back on its feet after 2008. Especially since its politicians, including Tedisco, seem oblivious to the fact that there is even really a problem.

[archive copy of this column here.]


VA GOP Twitter FAIL.

N.Y. Post: Time To Cut the City’s Teacher Glut

In this morning’s Post, I look at the possibility of layoffs in the New York City public-school system:

MAYOR Bloomberg is pitching substantial teacher layoffs, as many as 15,000 jobs in the school system, as part of a “doomsday budget,” should Albany and Washington not come through with massive rescue packages.

But while a budget crisis provides political cover, Bloomberg should push these layoffs through, no matter what.

Despite the myth that more teachers automatically equal better education - and the United Federation of Teachers’ constant cry of “teacher shortage” - the fact is that New York City actually faces a teacher glut.

Basically, New York City’s school-age population is shrinking, and will be low for quite a while. Meanwhile, we keep hiring new teachers. Things need to even out, especially in this fiscal crisis.

The problem is that if we have layoffs, we’re likely to fire all the youngest teachers (many of whom are bright young teaching fellows). Seniority and all that. I propose a buyout of the city’s worst and oldest teachers.

Sure, the UFT will never agree — such a move would need to come through a negotiation with the obstructionist union. But a reformer can dream, can’t he?

[archive copy of this column here.]


Palin 2012 starts now.

‘Fade to Awesome’

House explained.

N.Y. Post: A Slippery Slope to Charter Failure

In today’s Post, I look at a couple of mildly disturbing developments within New York’s charter-school movement:

NEW York state’s decade- old charter-school experiment is a success - so far. Yet these schools can lose hold of what makes them special - if teachers, administrators or bureaucrats lose sight of their responsibilities under a charter system.

Measured against traditional public schools, charters have performed above and beyond - boosting the scores of the mostly low-income and minority students they serve all across the state.

But this month the State University of New York’s Charter Committee made what appears to be a serious error - and it’s set to ratify it today.

SUNY … has chosen to punt on a tough choice. As one of two state bodies that grants charters, it gets to decide which schools “live” - and which close. Last week, it chose to grant a reprieve to a chronically poor-performing charter: New Covenant in Albany.

Along with the reauthorization of a failing charter school, this month has also seen the unionization of a successful charter school — a development not likely to help the school in remaining successful.

[archive copy of this column here.]

James Dobson: “[Ted] Bundy Was Right”

Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

N.Y. Post: A Cynic’s Retort to O

Barack Obama may have made a shout out to non-believers in his inaugural, Tuesday (good for him [non sarcastically]). But he also took an unnecessary shot at cynics. I take this personally, in today’s Post:

To borrow from H.L. Mencken, the cynics are still right nine times out of 10.

What President Obama’s rhetoric fails to acknowledge is that most political disagreements are real. They’re rooted in competing interests, conflicting values and differing judgments.

While transcendent rhetoric can get one through a campaign and even a transition, the real challenges of governing won’t simply wither away from decrepitude.

I look at nine issues where the stale political arguements that have consumed us for so long still, most definitely, apply.


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