With 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.Â 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.Â This, according to the group, stems from Iowa having adopted a lower standard to measure student learning called the “40th National Percentile Rank”.Â 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”.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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).Â In the meantime I encourage you to visit their website (link here), and become informed on their general claims.Â If everything they say checks out, this level of brazen misrepresentation and deception to Iowa parents will be a massive outrage.Â 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.Â 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.Â 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.Â We as Iowans must have answers on this very, very soon.
GROSS MISREPRESENTATION OF % OF IOWA STUDENTS, THEÂ DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION REPORTED PROFICIENT
Greetings, Governor Terry Branstad and allâ€”
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.Â The data would not have been provided at all except for prodding from State senators and the State Ombudsmanâ€”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 ReadingÂ Proficiently (Expertly) at the 4th grade level, when in fact the Department of Education just admitted onlyÂ 40.3% are actually reading at the 4th grade level, when tested.Â This equates to an 85% inflation, or misrepresentation, of student achievementâ€”perpetrated by use of the bogus 40th NationalÂ Percentile Rank (NPR) Proficiency standard, adopted by the Department of Education, under Governor Vilsack and the ISEAÂ teacher union.
Similarly, the table shows parents, students, legislators, taxpayers andÂ 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 onlyÂ 40.1% are actually doing Math at the 4th grade level, when tested.Â 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.Â It must be stated that the DepartmentÂ of Education made NO corrections for cheating, as if none exists, despite gross cheating already under investigation in Davenport.
The problem is: Iowaâ€™s low 40th NPR â€˜proficiencyâ€™ standard considers 4th graders scoring at the 3.1 Iowa grade level to be â€˜proficientâ€™ or expert 4th grade readers!Â Similarly, Iowaâ€™s low standard considers 8th graders scoring at the 6.9 Iowa grade level to be â€™proficientâ€™ or expert 8th grade readers, and 11th graders scoring at the 9.2 level to be “proficient” or expert 11 grade readers.Â The same applies to Math–and all grades tested.Â This is nearly double the number actually Proficient.Â 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,Â conditions to Iowans.
Governor Branstad, youâ€™re a lawyerâ€”if this misrepresentation isnâ€™t fraudulent, what is??Â What are you going to do about it?Â This happened on your watchâ€”even though it started under Governor Vilsack!Â Â 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.Â How come?
(Read Report With Tables)
The battle between traditional Republicans and Libertarians that began in Iowa on Caucus night in 2012 has risen to a destructive level and needs to be addressed.Â If it werenâ€™t so publicly obvious I would call this an opinionâ€”but the reality is itâ€™s a fact.Â Â What has transpired to this point is a lot of bomb throwing from each side and very little, if any, attempts to search for the potential common ground that would result in, at the least, a truceâ€”and perhaps even a mutually beneficial alliance.
The feud started when, after having a relatively modest presence in 2008, Ron Paul inspired Libertarians organized and made a concerted effort to acquire as many county central committee seats as possible on caucus night.Â Perhaps surprising even themselves, they encountered very little resistance and were hugely successful in many precincts.
Since that night in June the hostility level has ratcheted up several notches, and I believe both sides share some responsibility in what has become a very non-productive situation.Â Initially I understood the reaction and the lashing out from Republicansâ€”they were taken by surprise, infiltrated, lost a good deal of influence they had taken for granted, and their tone at first was a reasonable natural response.
On the other side, Libertarians went on to essentially take over RPI and gain a presence at the county leadership level.Â In the aftermath I feel there was a lack of reaching out to traditional Republicans that could have lessened the wounds, resulted in more unity, and ultimately led to more victories in November.Â The bottom line is they came up short on election night, and if they thought prior they didnâ€™t need inner-Party cooperation to win House and Senate races they were clearly proven wrong.
What makes this battle so maddening is that each side could have benefited greatly by working together.Â This was proven by the returns from the Iowa Senate races where only a few hundred more votes would have led to Republicans winning a majorityâ€”and thus controlling the Governor’s Office and both Legislative Branches in Iowa.Â Had this come to pass, both factions would today be much closer to implementing their principles into legislation.Â At a minimum traffic cameras would be banned, taxes would be lower, and the proposals being debated on education reform would look much different.
Each Side Shares Some Blame
For what itâ€™s worth here is how I see each sideâ€™s culpability in this conflict:
Where Traditional Republicans are to blame
â€¢Â Not enough interest at a grassroots level on caucus night to even fill central committee seats.
â€¢Â Rhetoric has been too harsh and focused on a small number of political operativesâ€”by extension this has served to alienate libertarian leaning voters who may be persuaded to support the Republican candidate in their district.
â€¢Â Lack of success in building the Party base and, so far as I know, doing very little youth outreach.
â€¢Â Especially at the Federal level, the chance was blown to control government expansion and spending throughout the 2000â€™s.
â€¢Â Not realizing that Conservative and Tea Party Republicans are now closer on the spectrum to Libertarians than they are to traditional Republicans.
Where Libertarians are to blame
â€¢Â Not enough reaching out by new leadership after taking over RPI.
â€¢Â Rhetoric has been too harshâ€”sending mass e-mails impugning the personal integrity of media members is not the way to conduct yourself.
â€¢Â Too many rank and file Libertarians in the movement donâ€™t care about winning elections and are uninterested in working to shape the Republican Partyâ€”if a Libertarian is not on the ballot they disappear.Â The all or nothing approach is irrational, and in fact is counter-productive if you hold strong convictions.
â€¢Â Lack of realistic policy goalsâ€”the Federal budget isnâ€™t going to be balanced in a year, nor will we go from marijuana being illegal to all drugs being decriminalized in a 2 year timespan.
â€¢Â Complete lack of pragmatism from many rank and file in the Libertarian movement.Â To me the litmus test for this are Libertarians who could not bring themselves to vote for Mitt Romney, even though he was running against a president that was the proven antithesis of everything they claim to stand for.Â You can say what you want about Romney, and I get the criticisms, but the guy ran on the Paul Ryan budget for heaven sakeâ€”no more aggressive approach will ever be championed by a presidential candidate (prior to a total economic collapse that is).
Whether you agree with my specific assessments of blame or not doesnâ€™t really matter.Â What matters is that both sides start attempting to bridge this divide well before the 2014 elections.
Personally I donâ€™t have a dog in this increasingly silly fight.Â What I want is for Conservative principals to be implemented and this can only happen if Democrats are defeated in elections.Â When it comes to primaries I subscribe to the William F. Buckley philosophy of supporting the most Conservative candidate who can win.
If Conservatives, traditional Republicans, and Libertarians all followed this mantra in both primaries and general elections all would benefit and success would be had.Â If segments of each faction continue being concerned about what kind of Republican is on a general election ballot (unless there is a specific and compelling reason to withhold support), then Democrats will win.Â As long as Democrats win society will continue to get more progressive and taxes and spending will riseâ€”itâ€™s just that simple.
Later this session the Iowa Legislature will debate various measures, namely the Governorâ€™s, designed to improve the performance of our stateâ€™s K-12 schools.Â There are three main components to the Governorâ€™s proposal and in a continuing series we will look at each separately.Â Today we start with the most expensiveâ€”the $160 million for increasing the base teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000 over the next three years.
First things first here, before they appropriate an additional dime of taxpayer money to this system it is both fair and prudent that at least three simple questions be asked and answeredâ€”Who are the great teachers in Iowa? Who are the average teachers? and Who are the bad teachers?
To clarify, by â€œwhoâ€ I mean a literal list of names district by district categorizing each teacher as great, average, or poor in terms of classroom performance.Â Though this sounds simplistic I think most Iowans would be shocked to know how complicated a question this really isâ€”and even further shocked to find out that nobody in the education bureaucracy can currently answer these questions definitively.
All we hear from both political parties is we have great teachers in Iowa, and to both reward this greatness and make sure we have great teachers in the future we have to pay them more.Â Even though itâ€™s just as pertinent to fixing the problem, and because itâ€™s not pleasant or politically correct, we never hear about bad teachers in our classrooms.Â You would think the first step in solving this problem, as it would be in the private sector, would be determine which employees are not performing their jobs at a high level.
While there is no doubt I am skeptical of most of these individual proposals I will reserve judgment and keep an open mind as legislation is crafted and various amendments are added.Â I donâ€™t need to agree with all elements of the final product to support it, but do have to feel that it at least identifies the problem specifically.Â As with all issues there is both a policy and a political aspect that need examined.
From a policy perspective, to just approve a blanket increase in pay when a majority of our schools are functioning very well is sillyâ€”and to spend this money with no clear goal or way of measuring success is flat-out nonsensical.Â Common sense says that in order for anyone, especially a Republican, to support a final bill it would have to contain clear benchmarks and ways of actually proving results were being delivered for the extra pay. As it stands now the approach seems to be letâ€™s just pay teachers more money and in theory kids will learn moreâ€”which hasnâ€™t proven to be the case in the past.
To make the point beyond question that we have already tried theÂ increased funding approach, one needs only to consider the following three statistics: 1) since 2002 education appropriations to K-12 schools in Iowa has increased $650 million (+35.4%), 2) the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010, and 3) 4% allowable growth was given every year from 2006 to 2010.Â In spite of all these amazing numbers, here we are again talking about more money.
What few seem willing to say is that when a school is failing there are only three actors involved to shoulder the blameâ€”the teachers, the parents, or the students.Â Simply put, one of the three, or a combination of all three, are at fault when a school is failing.Â When looking at the teachers one obvious element is missingâ€”a way to fairly evaluate how good each one is and how much money they deserve.Â Until this gets determined one senses that no amount of increased spending will do the trick.Â Here is what I propose.
While unsympathetic to their concerns regarding â€œteaching to a testâ€, Iâ€™m relatively sympathetic to teacherâ€™s arguments that there are many factors out of their control determining a classesâ€™ progress throughout a school year.Â Taking this into account my initial thought on a fair formula to evaluate our teachers (and hence dictate future pay) would look like this: 25%= credit for years on the job and the resulting experience (this would be automatic much like the step and lane increases in the current formula), 25%= based on student achievement using a baseline for the class coming in compared to their results going out, and 50%= determined by a yearly grading and evaluation by their direct superior (usually their principal).
From a political standpoint the construct of the increased pay proposal seems to be offering Democrats (the teachersâ€™ union) the following: we will increase teacher pay in exchange for allowing student achievement to be factored in to teacher evaluation.Â In my view Republicans shouldnâ€™t be bargaining for a student achievement metric in evaluationsâ€”they should be demanding it.Â This should be a reality both because it makes perfect sense, and because past reforms and increases in pay have not solved the problem.Â Republicans should be able to win on the political argument that, in order to fix the problem, Iowans need to know which teachers are adequately doing their jobs.
If there is a political trade to be made in exchange for increasing teacher pay it should be for a significant look at the benefits of true school choice for parents.Â In my mind this would be a four year pilot program in which parents at all failing and sub-standard schools in Des Moines would have the freedom to spend the per-pupil cost attached to their child at any school they chose (with transportation being the responsibility of each participating parent).Â All students involved would have their progress tracked, with reports being given to the legislature after years 2 and 4.Â This would be similar in principal to the Zaun study bill from last session without all the â€œextremeâ€ elements, like abolishing the Dept. of Education etc.
I would love to see baby-steps being taken in this direction, and would dare the teachersâ€™ union to make the argument to Iowans that the well-being of the teachers and their union trumps that of a student in a failing school which they staff.
Given the history of failure in select districts and the many fruitless past funding increases, in general I believe the Republican hand on education reform is stronger than the Governorâ€™s proposal recognizes.Â There is little reason the argument canâ€™t be made that we have tried the teachersâ€™ union way of never assigning blame and increasing spendingâ€”and it has not worked.Â If there is going to be reform, let us at least not try the same blanket increases in spending and hope for a different result.Â Instead we should identify the shortcomings in the flawed districts and fix them specifically.
When the inevitable battleÂ with public-sector employees in Iowa begins to rage here in the next few months and every elected Democrat in the state marches in lock-step with union negotiators, the following will help you understand this phenomenon.
Not only does their ideology lend itself to supporting the concept of an organization/government “protecting”Â people from the free market–it turns out thatÂ this cast ofÂ Democrat legislators largely are the unions.
Iowa House Democratic Caucus by Occupation
Below is a look at the occupationsÂ of the 46 Democratic members of the Iowa House that will be in office the next two years.
Teachers/Principals former and current = 12
Attorneys = 7
Occupation Unclear = 4
Social Work = 2
1 Each of the Following— Realtor, Farmer, Pharmacist, Grants Coordinator, Funeral Home Business, Golf Course Owner, Banker, Accounting Clerk, Head of Non-Profit Organization, (12 more random single occupations not listed here).
Number who have direct/indirect past or current union backgrounds (mostly public-sector) = 21
By far the biggest takeaway here is that of the 42 who had a clear current or former occupation that could be found on their legislative page or campaign website, a whopping 21 of them had direct connections to unions–the vast majority of which were public-sector.Â That is a full 50% of the caucus and does not even include Bruce Hunter, a ranking member of the Labor Committee whose wife is the StateÂ Political Director of the AFL-CIO,Â or Anesa Kajtazovic who goes out of her way to mention in her bio that at a young age her father’s experiences in the workforce led her to be “reminded how important union representation can be.”
The second biggest trend is that 12 of the 42 members with clear employment histories are current or former teachers.Â This explains why year after year we have a fight in the legislature to increase spending on education by 4% for “allowable growth”–not to mention why firing a teacher is almost unheard of, why there is currently no substantive teacher evaluation, and why there needs to be a Republican pushÂ just to ensure that students aren’t passed out of the 3rd grade without being able to read at the proper level, a policy that would seem to be the epitome of common sense.Â What is not so easily explained is with such a large number of educators doubling as legislators and a majority of the state budget dedicated to it every year, how are the results embarrassingly insufficient in such a large number of districts.
Revealed aboveÂ isÂ the gross disproportion of representation that unions have in the General Assembly in comparison to the percentage of Iowa’s workforce that they account for.Â As of 2011 Iowa had nearly 1.4 million people in the workforce.Â Of this number only 155,000 were in unions (11.2%) and an additional 32,000 were effectively represented by union negotiations while not being listed members, thusÂ bringing the total number of employees directly or indirectly represented by unions to 187,000, or 13.5% of the workforce.Â Of note here is that the 1.4 million Iowa workers number actually excludes those self-employed so the percentages represented by unions are actually slightly smaller than those listed above.Â Even taking the larger percentages, while only 13.5% of Iowans are either in or governedÂ by unions, in the Iowa House’s Democratic caucus a full 50% have direct or past connections with unions.
Before the session gavels in I will also do a breakdown of the Republican Caucus by occupation in both Houses (unless one of the Liberal bloggers reading this wants to save me the leg work).Â It would be very interesting for comparison purposes and may further explain the massive partisan divide we see year after year–my guess is the top 3 for Republicans in some order are small business owners, lawyers, and farmers.
Later this week we will take a look at 3 specific cases that symbolize this dynamic of union/citizen representation in the House, and next week we will have a breakdown of the occupations of the Democrat Caucus in the Iowa Senate.Â This will be followed by a look at the proposals offered by both the unions and the governor and what is likely to unfold on this front next session.
The tax credit for wind energy is back on the agenda, and Iowaâ€™s own Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad are taking leadership roles in fighting for the extension, going so far as to appear together at a press conference about it.
Wind energy is my favorite target at the moment, because it combines socialist economics, corruption, aesthetic vandalism, junk science, and cynical political machinations – all melting together into a hideous soup of wasted money and ruined skylines.
After the last election, targeting two of Iowaâ€™s best known Republicans for criticism is perhaps a risky business, but for those who think I – with my dislike of leftists – shouldnâ€™t be doing it, I offer the following historical analogy:
In the days of the Roman legions, the centurions were legendary for their swift discipline. One centurion developed a habit of breaking his staff over the backs of soldiers who had acted disobediently. â€œGive me another,â€ he would say to his aide when it happened, and it happened so often that â€œgive me anotherâ€œ became his nickname . In this way, withering cruelty became not a malicious attempt to destroy, but deep concern for long-term wellbeing.
Well, give me another.
Political Venture Capital
Wind energy is an odious political scam. First of all, the industry cannot survive without government subsidy, namely, the tax credits. The wind industry makes profits not from the power grid, but from their tax returns.
It is also ridiculously expensive and underproductive. When Alliant Energy built the Whispering Willows wind farm in Franklin County, they petitioned utilities regulators for a rate hike to help cover the cost. The market had reached a price for electricity, generated by coal, but at that price the wind farm was not economically viable – it wouldnâ€™t produce enough electricity to cover its cost.
They built it anyway. Even though the money in the wind industry is earned on the tax return and not the power grid, they didnâ€™t want to eat an operating loss, so rates have to increase. Consumers in central Iowa found themselves paying more money for the electricity they used – still mostly generated from coal – to pay for a wind farm erected so the utility could earn a tax credit.
The utility sells the power and claims the credits; the landowners earn fees for having these modern art sculptures on their land; the turbines produce just enough electricity to power a massive, metaphorical conveyor belt carrying money from the pockets of poor customers to the rich and the politically-connectedâ€¦ Because that is progress these days.
Grassley stated at the recent news conference that â€œWe have a 20 year investment in thisâ€¦ it would be terrible to throw a way a 20 year investment if it will mature in a short time.â€
We have been waiting for the wind energy industry to mature since the days when pioneer farmers could order a windmill from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Most of them were dismantled after rural America was electrified. Now, the fantasy is that the same technology that was felled by electricity will be the future of electricity.
Nothing becomes outdated faster than a fantasy about the future. This is never more true than when the fantasy has its birth in the minds of politicians; a future brought to you by the same people who bring you inflation, wars, and prisons.
The general public is also rapidly becoming too poor to cover higher utility bills, but wind energy fits into the political rhetoric of our time and so they charge forward. Wind energy doesnâ€™t make power cheaper, reduce our trade deficit, strengthen the dollar, or generate tax revenue – but it can get you elected. Â It employs only a handful of people, especially when compared to the coal industry – which politicians have threatened to kill. The turbines themselves are insanely ugly, and provide a far too convenient backdrop for political photo opportunities.
I understand that this is politics. I also object to the fact that this is politics. The experience of subsidized public housing should have been enough to dispel the urge to make fantasy into reality, but it wasnâ€™t. We will all pay the price. Literally.