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  Progressive Political Blog

Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World


Posted: 07/13/13 11:57

by Dave Mindeman

On the Rachel Maddow show, a couple of nights ago, Steve Schmidt, the chief adviser to the McCain/Palin campaign, said that the Republican Party needs to "dekookify" itself.


Good word. I like it.

The context of the term comes in relation to immigration reform, but Schmidt also talked about the Republican losses in 2012 regarding Senate seats they should have won. Schmidt should be aware, and probably is, that a dekookification process would be long, arduous and painful.

The immigration debate has brought out a lot of the kookified rhetoric in the GOP Party. They seem unconcerned that the Latino vote is so heavily weighted against them. They have extraordinary difficulty coming up with rational arguments.

John Kline and Erik Paulsen hide behind "border security". They ignore the fact that illegal immigration is virtually zero at the present time....and that even so, the Senate immigration bill that passed puts up billions of dollars for additional patrol agents, technology, and even drones.

How is that not addressing security concerns?

But in a broader context, the "dekookify" comment goes to characters like Rep. Louis Gohmert, our own Michele Bachmann, Alan West, Sarah Palin, the Texas legislature, a lot of talk radio, and many other players too numerous to mention.

It is obvious that these "kooks" wouldn't get so much attention if they did not have a following. If they did not have a significant number of Republican rank and file members who agree with them.

How does a "dekookify" process ever have success when the problem is so deeply engrained into the Party structure?

Schmidt made another very significant point. Our democracy needs two competing and viable viewpoints to make governing work. But those viewpoints have to have intellectual viability. Schmidt made a point that if William Buckley were alive, this nonsense would get squashed before it got to the mainstream.

Rep. Pat Garofalo likes to use this phrase regarding Democrats - "the inmates are running the asylum."

Well, I think that is a good description of the current GOP.

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Teach For America: Let's Practice Good Journalism

Posted: 06/29/13 12:56

by Alan Anderson

Recent op-eds from both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press criticized the lack of support for the Teach for America (TFA) program. They suggested that policy makers were siding with the teachers' union, primarily to protect jobs from being taken by young innovative teachers. Teach for America is a program that recruits bright students from elite colleges and places them in inner city classrooms. These individuals have no prior teaching experience and receive five (5) weeks of intensive training before they enter a classroom. The editorials characterized TFA as a creative alternative for teacher preparation and a program that had support from administrators and many public officials. They presented positions as though there was no opposition to TFA.

What the editorials failed to mention is that many people and groups have some deep concerns about the quality of TFA programs. After all, they contend, five weeks is clearly inadequate for teacher preparation. Not only do teachers' unions oppose TFA, but many schools of education reject them....or simply fail to work with them. There are no such similar efforts in medicine, architecture, social work, or any other major profession to place people with only five weeks of training in the front lines of the most challenging work settings.

The research on TFA is mixed. While some suggest these novice teachers help improve math scores, the bulk of studies raise serious concerns about the effectiveness of long-term solutions promised by the TFA organization. Recent reports indicate that most of TFA candidates have left the classroom by the third year (up to 80%). It creates problems for students in urban schools who are looking for some stability rather than a revolving door of teachers. Developing relationships is an important part of teaching. Creating a teacher program that can't retain most of its trainees is not helpful. This also creates huge costs for districts in terms of retraining and replacement.

Add to this the mixed results of TFA teachers on academic achievement. In one major study by Mathematica (2004), a respected independent research firm, TFA teachers did OK compared to other teachers in the schools. They did better in math scores and the same in reading. Unfortunately, the majority of the comparison teachers were similarly poorly prepared, most having not done student teaching nor had a formal preparation program. And the data are clear as far as concern for classroom practice: TFA teachers had twice as many problems with physical abuse between students, three times as many problems with verbal abuse of teachers, and more problems than comparison teachers with students following directions or general misbehavior. So, in some respects it doesn't matter if some test scores improved a bit....the nature of the classroom was clearly less problematic in the hands of more experienced teachers.

When compared to experienced, regularly prepared teachers, they don't do as well. According to the National Education Policy Center, "the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers." And in a large-scale Houston study, in which the researchers controlled for experience and teachers' certification status, standard certified teachers consistently outperformed uncertified TFA teachers of comparable experience levels in similar settings. To be fair, TFA teachers do as well as conventionally prepared teachers if they actually stay and get a full credential. However, this may be because the strongest people stay and the rest move on to other fields. This is hardly a solid endorsement for a program that was supposed to address the achievement gap by placing bright, energetic students in the hard to staff inner city schools. And keep them there!

Add to this mix research from Stanford University (Reardon, 2011) that suggests the achievement gap is actually getting larger for economic groups. The author says "the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier.
In fact, it appears that the income achievement gap has been growing for at least fifty years." So, it is fair to assume that when it comes to school achievement, poverty matters. Many other authors have reached this same conclusion (for example, Diane Ravitch in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, 2010). It's not reasonable to think that a teacher education system alone can alter the performance of urban youth.

Let's do our homework, Star Tribune and Pioneer Press editorial writers. Your position on TFA was not a good example of well researched opinion. At the very least, present the existing countervailing information and research. We should have had enough information to suggest the governor and policy makers didn't act just to protect the teachers' union. They acted on a body of research that raises serious questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of TFA. We await the next debate/discussion, but let's make it an honest debate.

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Wendy Davis vs. the Texas Legislature

Posted: 06/26/13 02:30, Edited: 06/26/13 02:50

by Dave Mindeman


Here is the new Democratic star. She's from Texas and her name is Wendy Davis. (and probably the new spokesperson for pink tennis shoes) She attempted a 13 hour filibuster of an abortion bill in the Texas Senate.

To show you how hard a Texas filibuster can be to deal with, here are the rules:

1) You can never sit down. 2) You cannot go to the bathroom. 3) You must stand alone - no help from a colleague. 4) You can not lean on your desk. 5) You must stay directly on topic.

Three violations and you are ruled out of order.

And of course, all of these are subject to the interpretation of the Senate Chair President.

Wendy Davis got through over 10 hours of the filibuster. The Republicans came up with some violations.

1) She brought up Planned Parenthood. (ruled as not germane) (Really?)

2) A colleague adjusted her back brace. (help from the floor)

3) A reference to a 2011 bill on Sonograms. (ruled not germane)

The last violation came with less than 2 hours to go to midnight. Midnight is when the special session MUST end; and no Senate business can occur after midnight.

Republican Lt. Governor Dewhurst was presiding and ruled her filibuster was ended. But the Democrats in the senate called for a parliamentary violation - calling for debate on the subject.

As midnight approached, chaos took over. The Senate President called for a vote and the place erupted. The gallery was filled with abortion rights supporters and the noise was loud and boisterous.

In the confusion, the Republicans maintain that the measure was passed. But there is a major dispute on the timing. The Senate President said the vote was called at 11:59. The Democrats say the timestamp clearly shows 12:02.

State police were called in to arrest remaining members of the gallery and the rest of the nation is still wondering what happened.

Through it all, Wendy Davis remained calm and resolved.

Texas Republicans may claim a sordid victory, but the real winner was Wendy Davis and her voice of reason - speaking truth to power.

The railroading of this bill through the Senate will keep this discussion going for the forseeable future - and Wendy Davis will be in demand.
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