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Ed. Reform Bill: A Failure of Policy & Politics

Ed. Reform Bill: A Failure of Policy & Politics

Iowa HouseSoon after the final votes of the Iowa legislative session were taken late last week, many legislators from both Parties took to multiple media platforms trumpeting the “historic” and “sweeping” positive reforms they had just passed.  I would love to fully concur—and if I happened to be a Democrat I certainly would—but as a Conservative Republican I am less than impressed with some of these “achievements”.

Of the three major compromises reached I believe, at the most, Conservatives should be “somewhat satisfied” by the understandable terms reached on tax reform and health insurance coverage.  However, I am deeply disappointed by what has passed as “reform” in Iowa’s K-12 education system.  The following will focus on education reform and later in the week we will deal with the tax and health insurance issues.

Making Appropriate Distinctions

In general I believe House and Senate Republicans grossly misread and under-valued the strength of their hand—particularly in dealing with education reform.  In all fairness, the tax reform and health insurance issues had different dynamics surrounding them and this criticism applies less in these areas.

The reason for the differing standard in my mind on the tax and health insurance issues was that in these two areas inaction would have resulted in direct negative consequences for Iowans—higher taxes and un-insured citizens.  However, when it came specifically to public education reform the status-quo would not have concretely damaged anyone—a point made more painful by the likelihood the reforms that were passed will have no positive impact.

Just to be clear, I am making a key distinction between the public education reforms and the home schooling reforms contained in the bill.  I strongly support any action that makes it easier for homeschoolers to operate and expand—and I do not necessarily begrudge them for supporting this reform as a means to achieve it.  The real tragedy here is the sad construct in which this group has to “buy” these reforms by supporting increased money for an ever-expanding and shamefully ineffective education leviathan.  The truth is the vast majority of home schooling families pay taxes to support a system which they often-wisely opt out of—and then ironically proceed to outperform while simultaneously funding.

Public Education Reform

The best way to go about exposing this bill as the completely ineffective piece of legislation I believe it to be is by asking 6 simple questions.  Since we as taxpayers will be spending an additional $160 million dollars a year, answering these questions shouldn’t be too much to ask—unfortunately I have a strong suspicion that even those who voted for it can’t provide many answers.

1.  How and when will we know this reform has worked?

By this I mean what specific metric or metrics can be looked at to prove this reform has or hasn’t worked?  Additionally what date on the calendar will we be able to make this assessment?  At a minimum Republicans should of asked these questions and demanded the answers be written into the bill. Surely this isn’t too much to ask for.

2. Why didn’t the 35.4% increase in K-12 education spending (an additional $650 million) that we have had since 2002 produce any positive results?

A seemingly common-sense question to ask I would say.  It would be one thing if this reform came on the heels of us having starved the system of money for decades—but this simply isn’t the case.  What specifically did this massive increase (including 4% allowable growth every year under Gov. Culver) in spending since 2002 go to?  Was it supposed to raise test scores?—I hope not because if so it clearly didn’t.

3. Are we to honestly believe that every member of the Iowa House (91-0) and 80% of the Iowa Senate (40-10) looked at this legislation and all independently concluded it would deliver fantastic results?  And further that these results would justify spending an additional $160 million a year?

I fully understand the concept of compromising, and that doing so will deliver a more bi-partisan roll call—but let’s be serious here.  Anytime Ako Abdul-Samad and Tom Shaw are voting together on a major reform that spends hundreds of millions of dollars and affects every child in Iowa we have to be skeptical.  Unless I’m missing something I see only two possible reasons for this—and neither are good.  One is that many out of town members just wanted to go home (which I doubt), and two is that so many random offerings were made by both sides it was just palpable enough for each caucus to vote for (which I believe).  If so, this approach will never result in a meaningful, affordable, and wise solution.

4. Why does it continue to be acceptable not to evaluate teachers, at least in part, by the actual results they achieve in a classroom over the course of a school year?  And what kind of people refuse to stop the practice of passing 3rd graders on to the next grade when they can’t even read?  And whose interest are they honestly serving in doing so?

The answers in order are: the teachers union, disgraceful ones, and their own.  This is where true education reform lies and the fact Republicans can only get a “study council” on teacher evaluation is absurd—too mad to expound on any further.

5. How were teachers able to have such high-performance in the late 1980’s and mid-90’s and not in the 2000’s and beyond?

In the early 90’s Iowa led the nation in reading and math scores—but those days are long gone.  Today we face disturbing realities like this one—only 3 other states in the nation (2 of which are in the Deep South) have less 8th graders enrolled in some form of advanced math by grade 8.  Furthermore, the performance of minority students in math at this level is alarmingly low and trials other students by up to 30%.

During this debate we have heard a lot about starting teacher pay in Iowa.  While this is an important number, lost in shuffle is the fact that the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010.  The teachers union will say this steep increase was due to the fact Iowa teachers were among the lowest paid in the late 90’s-early 2000’s and this in part is true.  But then I ask: if they were among the lowest paid and salary equates to performance—how could they possibly have had Iowa kids achieving at such a high level?  Also, the fact remains they saw a large increase in pay and responded with flat-lining and worsening performance.  By the way, if the teacher’s union is ready to start blaming the kids or their parents for worsening test scores I’m ready to listen.

6. Why does “reform” always mean spending more money?  Why can’t it ever be spending the same amount of money but in a smarter way—or even (gasp) spending less?

Maybe someday we will try it…I bet it would be just as effective if not more so.

Final Thoughts

Though controlling only the Senate and not having the House or the Governor’s office—Democrats got well over half of what they were after with this bill and have to be privately ecstatic.  They managed to get additional money both for 1st year and veteran teachers, 4% allowable growth this year and next, and have again avoided being evaluated on their actual results.  Republicans should and could have done much better—and if they couldn’t they should have done nothing.

And the final insult—I can’t be the only one who sees the irony that we apparently have to create “career pathways” with increased pay for our not-so-good teachers to be taught by other teachers how to teach better…and this is after the not-so-good teacher already graduated from a college that apparently did a not-so-good job teaching them how to teach in the first place.  A sign of the times I guess…

 

 

 

 

What Are Iowa Republicans Looking For In A Senate Candidate?

What Are Iowa Republicans Looking For In A Senate Candidate?

mystery candidateThere is one certainty about the pool of voters who will decide the impending Republican Senate Primary–they won’t necessarily be the “average” Iowan.  Some of the folks who show up to the polls on June 3rd, 2014 will surely be disaffected Independents (and some meddling Democrats), but the bulk of voters will be fairly hardcore Republicans and single issue activists.  This group will have a specific set of traits they are looking for in a candidate, so the question is what are they?

The focus here today will not be on issues, policy prescriptions, and deeply-held core beliefs–we will get into that down the road–but rather on the more admittedly surface level of broad characteristics.  I believe that the candidate who emerges will be a young, bold, energetic conservative.  Yes it’s true that most of the potential field happens to possess these qualities, but I don’t think this is a coincidence–here is why.

Iowa 2012

One of the best ways to gauge the mood of the current Republican electorate in Iowa is to look at who they gravitated towards in 2012.  Doing so quickly reveals that what has transpired in Iowa Republican politics closely mirrors what the Party has done nationally.  There is no doubt that youth and energy have become the calling card for the current Republican leadership at the Federal level, and you really don’t have to look any further than Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Justin Amash and Paul Ryan.  Though they don’t agree with them on anything, Democrats should be jealous of this list–and trust me they are.

This phenomenon of electing youthful outspoken leadership has certainly made its way into Iowa with the likes of Republicans Jack Whitver, Jake Chapman, Amy Sinclair, Bill Dix, Mark Chelmgren, Chris Hagenow, Jake Highfill, Meagan Hess and several others.  To show the Democrat antithesis of this check out just this small list of Democrat legi-saurs roaming around the Iowa Statehouse.

Though not a statewide race, the proof this tendency extends to the Congressional level is found in Republican Ben Lange’s CD 1 bids in both 2010 and 2012.  The 2010 results are especially ripe for comparison to 2014 as it was an off-year election versus Bruce Braley with the challenger Lange being a mere 31 years old.  Far from getting blown out of the water he came only 4,209 votes short of the upset–with 32,244 more registered Democrats in the district and a libertarian candidate pulling 4,087 votes.  Also worth noting is that, though it was a Republican wave year, Braley couldn’t even pull 50% of the vote as the “progressive” incumbent in an ultra-liberal district.

Iowa 2014

I think this makes a pretty good case regarding the general mood of the Republican electorate in Iowa, and makes it reasonable to predict our eventual Senate nominee will be a young fresh face.  Part of this trend is no doubt a logical and natural reaction to decades and decades of electing the “grey”, “wise”, and “experienced” political veteran–only to have them make a further mess of government.  No offense of course to any grey, wise, experienced Republicans.

On the national level it’s more than a bit ironic that the Liberal baby boomers in the Senate and House–whose foray into political engagement began by protesting everyone over 40 in late 1960’s–now find themselves holding power, but having grown stale…trying to fend off young, bold, and energetic Conservatives.

It’s good spot to be in–and I’m glad Republicans are there.  Whether this continues in the primary or not predicting the candidate based on this trend is an interesting exercise…now lets see what happens.

 

Term Limits In Iowa: A Policy Proposal

Term Limits In Iowa: A Policy Proposal

Cronstal 1st yearIOne of my favorite self-coined terms is “legi-saurs”.  As you may guess it refers to politicians at all levels of government who get elected–and then never go away.

Like many on the right I am convinced this semi-permanent presence in the halls of power is a destructive one in politics.  These careers start innocently enough.  The member actually has a job in the private sector, lives as a normal citizen, and regardless of ideology brings fresh ideas and solutions to the table.  But in most cases, over time, they eventually detach from the economy by not working  outside the Capitol, they develop grudges against their colleages, their ideas and thinking become stale, and they learn to play the legislative process like a game.

Here in Iowa

This happens at all levels in both Parties and unsurprisingly Iowa is not immune.  Our current six Federal representatives have an average of 19 1/2 years in office, with both our Senators having 39 years each.  While on average the Iowa Legislature isn’t as bad, looking through our current Senate reveals several examples of a certain timeless creature…legi-saurs.  For whatever reason this phenomenon in Iowa is more popular among Democrats, with the longest serving Republicans being elected in 1993 (Hubert Houser and Sandy Greiner).  This doesn’t hold a candle to the imperial reign of the 5 longest serving Iowa Democrats–one of which who has been serving for 40 years.  Here’s the list:

  • Bob Dvorsky – since 1987
  • Jack Hatch – since 1985 (out of office 93′ to 01′)
  • Mike Gronstal – since 1983
  • Dennis Black – since 1983
  • Wally Horn – since 1973!

I’m not going to go through all the arguments and counter-arguments for term limits here– I think we all know them (for=incumbency offers name ID, party infrastructure, media coverage, a donor base, special interest money etc. and against=”we have term limits…they are called elections”).  I will say however that the best question to ask someone who opposes term limits is, “So you support removing them for Presidency I assume?”–I’ve yet to hear anybody ever answer “yes”.

A Proposal

Below is a proposal released last week and co-written by both a current Republican and a Democrat serving in the U.S. House.  It is meant to be applied at the Federal level, but it would essentially work the same here in Iowa.  It is superbly well thought out, simple in nature, plainly written, makes the case for why term limits are needed, and offers a realistic way to make it happen.

I vote Yes!

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Finally, A Bi-Partisan Solution on Term Limits

Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) written with Congressman Beto O’Roarke (D-TX)

Many in our country and in the districts we represent feel that Congress is out of touch and that members are more focused on re-election than on providing real solutions to our nation’s biggest challenges. We hear from constituents all the time that there is a lack of urgency and focus when it comes to solving our country’s toughest issues like tackling the deficit and putting policies in place that will lead to economic growth.

The two of us, freshman members from different parties with divergent views on many issues, have come together because we believe a healthy debate is warranted on how we best serve the American people and whether, in a time of enormous powers of incumbency and multi-million dollar campaigns for Congress, we can be better public servants and curb the corrupting influence of money and power by limiting a member’s term in office.

Public opinion in favor of term limits for members of Congress is unquestionable. A Gallup poll released this past January reflects the same trend seen year after year from countless reputable research firms. Overall, 75 percent of American adults responding to the survey were in favor of implementing term limits and the support is unanimous across party lines.

That support stands in stark contrast to the overall approval rating of Congress, which hovers somewhere around 15 percent. Despite the unpopularity of Congress as a whole, sitting members still win re-election about 90 percent of the time due to the overwhelming benefits of incumbency. A system that rewards poor performance with job security is clearly in need of a shake-up. Congressional term limits could be the change needed to steer the institution back in the right direction.

Our proposal is a simple constitutional amendment. It does not prescribe the number of terms a member can serve; rather, it gives Congress the constitutional authority to pass and implement term limits. The reason for this structure is that by taking away the details from the amendment process, the likelihood of passage increases. We believe that even members who are philosophically opposed to term limits would support a constitutional amendment providing the legislative branch with the ability to debate and vote on the issue.

Despite widespread popularity, congressional term limits are incredibly difficult to implement because doing so requires a constitutional amendment with two-thirds of both chambers as well as ratification by three-fourths of America’s state legislatures. Having super majorities agree on the details of term limits, including the exact number of terms, is nearly impossible. Since 1995, there have been several attempts to move specific term limits amendments, but all have ended right where they began by being voted down in the House.

Previous term limit efforts have also failed because the only people who can begin the process to impose term limits are those who will be most affected – incumbent members of Congress. By voting in favor of, or even publicly supporting a term limits amendment, a member of Congress can be exposed to charges of hypocrisy or disingenuousness if they don’t also voluntarily limit their term of service. This has a chilling effect on those who would otherwise support term limit efforts.

Congress owes the American people action on term limits, including a new approach that actually stands a chance of becoming law. Our approach provides the flexibility needed to enact term limit laws by a simple majority and to allow future generations to decide the term limit law that works best for them through the regular legislative process.

For far too long, Congress has failed to give the people what they clearly want. We should pass this amendment and finally put that power in their hands.

Jim Bridenstine represents the First District of Oklahoma

 

Braley Votes Again For Obamacare—Why This One Was Worse Than The First

Braley Votes Again For Obamacare—Why This One Was Worse Than The First

Bruce B.Yesterday the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted once again to repeal Obamacare in full—a vote that passed 229-115 on party-lines besides two democrats who crossed over.  Not the least bit surprising was that Rep. Bruce Braley once again voted in favor of Obamacare—but my how much different this must have felt than his first vote for it three years ago.

A Different Landscape

Besides the obvious fact that Braley is now a U.S. Senate candidate, a variety of things made yesterday’s vote a much bigger political gamble.

Consider this, on the day the Senate passed Obamacare through the Reconciliation process—March 25th 2010—the Real Clear Politics approval rating for Congress was a shocking 17.4% approve to 77% disapprove.  As bad as that seems, at that time in 2010 there was still a residue of “change” excitement in the air, the Tea Party was only just forming, Democrats had not yet lost the House, and President Obama could still credibly make the argument (especially to Independents) that he had successful solutions to the nation’s problem.

Since that day however the absolute failure of the trillion-dollar Stimulus Bill has been fully revealed, the implementation of Obamacare has been continually problematic, the economy has not recovered, and the national debt has further ballooned.  And this is not even to mention the numerous scandals and mini-scandals that have surrounded the administration for the past week and a half.

Perhaps even more troubling for Braley’s Senate candidacy is that the mood of the public is remarkably similar to the grim view they had the day Obamacare passed.  The following are the RCP polling averages from then and now: Congressional approval on March 25th 2010 was 17.4% approve to 77% disapprove—Congressional approval from 5 days ago on May 9th stood at 16.8% approve to 76% disapprove.  Public approval of the Obamacare legislation one day after it passed on March 26th 2010 was 50.7% oppose to 39.4% support–and 8 days ago on May 9th it was 49.8% oppose to only 39% who support.

2014 Impact

For Braley’s purposes what perhaps will be the biggest difference from then and now is he has left the friendly confines of Iowa’s 1st Congressional district (D+ 27,356) and has entered a statewide contest (D+ 4,952).  On top of this he has just voted in favor of one of the largest and most expensive initiatives in American history—one which only 39% of the public currently support. 

Braley no doubt believes in this legislation to his core and will never vote against it.  Nevertheless it’s a safe bet that as he pushed the “nay” button yesterday he was keenly aware that the circumstances had changed drastically since his first vote on the legislation.  What has transpired since then has not been kind to the bill nor to any purple state legislators voting for it. 

Though President Obama and many Congressional Democrats were not held accountable for their economic and policy failures in 2012, at some point their luck will run out.  If in November 2014 Obamacare still can’t even muster 40% support and implementation keeps getting more and more messy–the Republican who emerges to challenge Braley will need less and less luck.          

Another Potential Scandal Brewing In Iowa’s Education System

Another Potential Scandal Brewing In Iowa’s Education System

Iowa map educationWith a sweeping education reform package currently being worked on by a bi-partisan Conference Committee at the Statehouse, some potentially damaging information about how the state is representing student achievement is coming to light.  Late last week the citizen group Iowalive released a report that would, if true, give all Iowa parents and legislators cause for grave concern.

The crux of the report is Iowalive’s claim that the standards our Department of Education is using to report student proficiency levels is misleading.  This, according to the group, stems from Iowa having adopted a lower standard to measure student learning called the “40th National Percentile Rank”.  This current set of standards was adopted a decade ago by the then Governor Vilsack administration and is different from a more “honest” standard used by other states known as the “65th National Percentile Rank”.  The 40th National Percentile Rank standards that we use now apparently do not actually require a student to be proficient in various skills at their grade level to be deemed as such.  The obvious problem here being that if this is the case, parents are being told their child is succeeding at their grade level when in fact they are not.  If true this is absolutely unacceptable.

Between long declining national education rankings, the misrepresenting of graduation rates at some Des Moines High Schools, and the entire Nancy Sebring debacle–the education system here in Iowa hasn’t exactly built a huge reservoir of trust recently.  Despite this, and despite the fact spending on K-12 has increased $650 million since 2002 (+35.4%), the legislature is potentially poised to yet again increase the dollars flowing into this institution by almost $200 million any day now.  If the claims of Iowalive have any merit it’s long past the time to say enough is enough–the river of funds needs to be damned until the system functions honestly and properly.

 

More To Come

This issue will be looked into further by this website in the coming weeks, including a specific explanation of the two sets of standards.  At first glance the source–Iowalive–appears to be legitimate group with expertise in education and statistics (I was unfamiliar with them prior to late last week).  In the meantime I encourage you to visit their website (link here), and become informed on their general claims.  If everything they say checks out, this level of brazen misrepresentation and deception to Iowa parents will be a massive outrage.  If a teacher tells a parent their child is performing “at a 3rd grade level” in a subject, that better mean exactly that–anything else would be totally unacceptable.

Without a doubt Iowa legislators from both parties and both chambers should demand an explanation from Jason Glass and the Department of Education.  If it turns out they have been “cooking the books” with a deliberately low standard to enhance our schools perceived performance, then the reform bill currently being discussed should be tabled immediately.

Below is an excerpt from the Iowalive report, here is a link to the report complete with tables and source data, and more can be found at their website.  Though the information is not presented in a lively way, these are serious charges that demand being responded to by our elected and unelected government officials.  We as Iowans must have answers on this very, very soon.

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GROSS MISREPRESENTATION OF % OF IOWA STUDENTS, THE  DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION REPORTED PROFICIENT

Greetings, Governor Terry Branstad and all—

Finally, at 3:34 PM, Friday May 10, (to make it nearly impossible to make the Sunday Papers) the Department of Education provided Percent Proficient data Iowalive requested on Jan.14, 2013.  The data would not have been provided at all except for prodding from State senators and the State Ombudsman—who are gratefully thanked for their help.

As shown in the table below, the Department of Education reported to parents, students, legislators, taxpayers and others that 74.4% of Iowa 4th graders are Reading  Proficiently (Expertly) at the 4th grade level, when in fact the Department of Education just admitted only  40.3% are actually reading at the 4th grade level, when tested.  This equates to an 85% inflation, or misrepresentation, of student achievement—perpetrated by use of the bogus 40th National  Percentile Rank (NPR) Proficiency standard, adopted by the Department of Education, under Governor Vilsack and the ISEA  teacher union.

Similarly, the table shows parents, students, legislators, taxpayers and  others were told 78.2% of Iowa 4th graders are doing Math Proficiently (Expertly) at the 4th grade level, when in fact the Department of Education just admitted only  40.1% are actually doing Math at the 4th grade level, when tested.  This equates to a 95% inflation or misrepresentation of student achievement.

Similar misrepresentations for 8th and 11th grade reading and math are shown in the table.  It must be stated that the Department  of Education made NO corrections for cheating, as if none exists, despite gross cheating already under investigation in Davenport.

The problem is: Iowa’s low 40th NPR ‘proficiency’ standard considers 4th graders scoring at the 3.1 Iowa grade level to be ‘proficient’ or expert 4th grade readers!  Similarly, Iowa’s low standard considers 8th graders scoring at the 6.9 Iowa grade level to be ’proficient’ or expert 8th grade readers, and 11th graders scoring at the 9.2 level to be “proficient” or expert 11 grade readers.  The same applies to Math–and all grades tested.  This is nearly double the number actually Proficient.  And it is going on in grades 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, & 10 as well.

Large Iowa media news editors have failed, and stubbornly refuse, to report these shameful, if not outright fraudulent,  conditions to Iowans.

Governor Branstad, you’re a lawyer—if this misrepresentation isn’t fraudulent, what is??  What are you going to do about it?  This happened on your watch—even though it started under Governor Vilsack!   DE Director, Jason Glass, could have stopped using the bogus 40th NPR Proficiency Standard and replaced it with the honest 65th NPR, but he did not, Governor.  How come?

(Read Report With Tables)

 

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