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Welcome New Readers, Sorry For Our Absence, Some Updates And A Bit On Prejudice!! April 18, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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We’ve had so many new visitors over the past couple of weeks, and I want to say welcome to you all!  Welcome!  Unfortunately, this new burst of readers coincided with some difficulties on the blogging end of things, and I apologize for not getting up new material for the past two weeks.  We generally post every Friday, and I will work hard to maintain that schedule going forward.

I want to touch base about a couple of things.  First, I will put up new posts Monday (both mine and Liz’s).  We had the misfortune of being hacked just before Good Friday!  Can you believe it?  Before the holy holiday? Anyway, the misguided soul blocked my access to the Word Press server, and I couldn’t even get access to make Liz the administrator so she could post for us.  My apologies to Liz, who worked very hard and fast to write a timely piece, only to have it sit in my inbox for over a week.  It is out of date now, but she is making it current again, and you will see it Monday.  I wrote a piece especially for Good Friday, and I will hold it until another appropriate time.

From time to time I may be absent, but I will try to make that as infrequent as possible.  After being hacked, which was bad enough in itself, I had to contend with a more serious issue.  I have a terrible back and a relatively small accident left me in more pain than I’ve suffered in years.  So instead of writing, I’ve been going from doctor to doctor, getting all kinds of spinal injections and other fun things…  I’m starting to feel better, though, and it doesn’t often get so bad.  My doctors and I are considering several options to address the problem long term.  Send wishes that they don’t strongly advise another surgery, as I really do not what to take that route, and I will likely decline in any event.

But enough about my woes!  I have been contemplating adding new writers on a regular basis, but I am putting that idea on hold for now.  I am turning much of my attention to writing a book.  I know… can you believe it?  Just a few months ago, I was terrified of writing for the consumption of others, now I’m taking on a huge project, and I am very excited.  

I will write about African American politics from the time of the American Revolution through the Civil War era.  And, guess what lucky readers… I will begin to share some of that work with you here.  Now, stop!  I see you out there… my sister is sitting in the front row rolling her beautiful eyes, saying, ‘OMG, I don’t want to read history.’  But it’s really fascinating.  Just you wait.  For example….

This week I will tell the stories of two fights.  One a rite of passage; the other, a fight for life.  One involves Abraham Lincoln; the other, Frederick Douglass.  I’m sure you can guess which is which.  Had the outcomes been different, these two physical encounters could have changed the course of American history.  

I often say that reading history, especially when you focus on a few historical figures, is like watching the West Wing (only you have to read it and they have horses rather than cars… details!).  But the people are every bit as interesting.  I read about their public lives, yes, but I also read about their private lives, and I read all I can find about their inner lives.  I will try to keep it interesting.  

I will still write about today’s politics.  Sometimes I will link history to the present, sometimes I will stay in the present.  Either way, I’m having great fun, and I hope you will too!

So, again, welcome to all our new visitors.  And a big thanks to our regulars.

Before I move on, I would like to encourage everybody to leave comments.  I want this to be a learning experience for me, and you all have valuable perspectives and knowledge that I don’t.  So help me learn and keep things lively!

… So now to prejudice.  It’s such an awful thing, and we’re all susceptible to it, try as we might not to be so closed minded.  I was reminded of it this week when a friend posted a video from ‘Britains Got Talent’ on Facebook.  Susan Boyle stepped on stage to sing for the judges and a large audience in the audition phase of the show.  When they asked her how old she was and she replied that she was 47, the crowd and the panel reacted rudely because she looks a bit older than her age.  She then got rather sassy, which brought more tortured faces (and lots of applause, some of which may have been in her favor, but some was decidedly not).

Now, she could look younger with just a few changes as part of what made her appear older was her hairstyle and her clothes.  Still, she is a little overweight (which puts her in the majority in today’s world, right?).  And she could benefit from some strengthening and toning exercises (again, who among us could not?).  But, what, really, does that have to do with her ability to sing?  Are physical beauty and talent intertwined?  Well, those present evidently thought the two connected, and scoffed at her before she even began to perform… you can see for yourselves.  Suffice it to say, I think this should remind every one of us to be less hasty in our judgements.  


Happily, she won every one over within seconds, and everybody there seemed genuinely happy for her.  We are, I think, at our cores, good spirits.  So let’s remember and honor that part of us (and, yes, I’m talking to myself, too).  

I’ll close here for now.  Please come back Monday, and check in each week for new posts!  In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend!




Education Reform: Is this a Joke? (Part lll of lll) April 3, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Obama.
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Remember when Dennis Miller was a liberal and went on his truly hilarious rants.  Well those days are gone, and nothing you will read here if even remotely funny, but I’m going on a rant!

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times: Obama to Push for Merit Pay in Education Speech: There is little doubt that Lynn Sweet is an uncritical Obama fan. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a strong supporter.  But I think that our friends owe it to us to tell us when they think we are off track.)  Anyway, as usual, here she quotes the president favorably, citing as a ‘key proposal from the White House’,

“The President will increase teacher quality by dramatically (italics mine) expanding successful performance pay models and rewards for effective teachers, scaling up federal support for such programs in up to an additional 150 school districts nationwide.”

What she doesn’t do is ask any questions. How will the administration determine who is an effective teacher? By standardized tests that are widely criticized by teacher after teacher and virtually every school advocate on the left as not measuring true learning, but only rote learning and memorization? Tests that are graded differently in different states so that the results are virtually meaningless? In fairness, the president did promise to revamp the tests to measure things like analysis and critical thinking and to set a national standard to get rid of regional differences. But there is still much to be done before teachers can be judged by the same criterion. I’ve spent the last week reading everything I could find about Arne Duncan, and, in doing so, I’ve read the comments of 117 school teachers in Chicago. Not one spoke favorably of Duncan, and there are common themes of which we are all already aware, but of which we do not speak. At least not in Washington, including in the current administration. One teacher, who left the profession after only a few years, tells a common story.

In Teaching’s Revolving Door, an article by Barbara Miner which appears on the Rethinking Schools website, a teacher named Eiaine moved, at her own request, from “a suburban school so well funded that she taught with science books that weren’t yet available on the market” to an urban school. She asked for the transfer because she felt a calling to help students in an African American low-income neighborhood. Here, she found that her science textbooks were more than 20 years old, that some had entire chapters missing, and that there weren’t enough, even of those, to go around.

My guess is that the students in this school aren’t performing so well – that this would probably be considered a “failing” school, and, according to President Obama’s stated approach to education reform, would be shut down. It would be shut down without ever being provided the resources that are a prerequisite for learning. Can we truly expect great success stories from schools in such dire circumstances? And a lack of books wasn’t all she found. She also reported that, because the school was so poorly funded and because her students had a late lunch period, “by the time they got to the cafeteria, sometimes the food was gone.” In the winter, she said, “the boiler routinely broke and there would be minimal heat.” And, besides a lack of resources, she reports that there was virtually no support from district administrators. Does her students’ failure to score well on standardized tests make her a “bad” teacher – one that should be fired? Are teachers to be held accountable for these indefensible injustices? With all the talk of holding teachers accountable, why no mention of accountability on the part of policy makers – on those who allocate money to schools? Why do we accept Republicans’ (and now, neoliberal Democrats’) nonsensical ramblings about liberals “just wanting to throw money at the problem.” Well, when children don’t have school books or food or heating, I would strongly argue that their school needs more money. Should we really shut down our public schools without ever giving them the opportunity to succeed? President Obama hasn’t committed himself otherwise.  He never speaks of the unjust ways in which schools are funded.  He never mentions that some kids have no books.  He never asserts that this is unfair… that it is discrimination wrapped in the ridiculous rhetoric of ‘bad’ teachers.  Why is this?  I wish I had an answer… as I’m do those who give their all, despite their lack of resources, to help our children learn and flourish.



Our Children

Our Children



Now it is true that the president has promised to provide more training for teachers, but he has not provided any details. For how many teachers? Enough to make a difference? And what teachers? How will he determine who gets training and who gets the axe? I’m sure there are bad teachers out there. There are bad workers in every field. But his assault on them is outrageous. Can we count the times he has referred to bad teachers? As if their morale wasn’t low enough already. The teachers who ask to be placed in an urban school, with all the problems that come along with the move, deserve higher pay, but their pay is lower. They deserve more training in how to deal with problems that don’t arise in many well-funded suburban schools, but they get the least. They deserve to be credited with their choice to face these conditions – the choice certainly doesn’t come from pursuing their own self-interest. Rather, they want, more than anything, to help children who need it the most. So how can we look them in the face, acknowledge their lack of books, training, institutional support, computers, even pencils and call them bad teachers because their students don’t perform as well as their counterparts in affluent areas? I am angry this week, and I think rightfully so. It is a disgrace.  President Obama speaks of past heros like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  But President Bush’s team are the ones who think highly of his Education Secretary.  I am angry.  I am hurt.  And I feel betrayed by this man who asked us to hope.  I did hope, but I never hoped for this.
In all fairness, President Obama, in making a promise to pay “well-performing” teachers more did also promise to base their evaluation on student progress, rather than basing them solely on test scores. But, even with this promise, he is attempting to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. For he has promised funding to increase teacher pay in 150 school districts. One hundred fifty! We have 14,900 school districts in this country. And by his own count, the student drop-out rate is worst in 2,000 of them. Given these numbers, I do not hold out much hope that increasing the pay of some teachers in 1% of our school districts will turn around our public schools. A far bigger commitment is necessary. But he has not made that commitment. Nor has he uttered a single word in support of equitable funding. He’s worked in these neighborhoods. He knows what’s going on. So where is his commitment to the principle of equality?
Take Elaine. After just a few years, she left teaching. And, as the author points out, multiply her decision thousands of times and you get an idea of one of the most serious problems facing schools. Her research reveals that school districts must hire about 270,000 new K-12 teachers every fall to replace those who have left the profession. And, she found that “the problem of teacher turnover is especially acute among new teachers, with as many as half of new teachers leaving within five years.” Not surprisingly, the problem is worse still in urban districts where it takes only three years for half of new teachers to leave. This is especially bad for kids in urban districts who are already less likely to have continuity in their lives. Imagine they find a teacher who inspires them, who motivates them, who simply shows that she believes in them. And then she leaves. Do we have to guess the effect this has on those students? I think not.
I have come to support the idea of charter schools under certain circumstances. But the circumstances under which Arne Duncan operated in Chicago leave me saddened and angered. First of all, he shut down small community schools rather than huge urban schools. Smaller schools, I think, provide the better environment and are most likely to be turned around with the proper tools. Adding insult to injury, reports are that the student whose schools he closes are often not the students who get to attend the new Ren10 schools, often charter schools. Rather, their neighborhood is being gentrified along with the school closures, new, more affluent families move in and send their kids to the new schools, while the children who once lived there (or even some who still live there) are often sent off to other ‘failing’ schools. I said, last week, that I would report back on his admirers and his critics. Well, critics are much easier to find. The only folks who speak well of him are corporate interests and folks from the Bush administration. Hope? I’m finding it hard.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider this report from the Christian Science Monitor.
“Chicago students have shown some strong gains under Duncan. The percentage of elementary students meeting state standards increased from 38 percent to 65 percent during his tenure. But results at high schools give less to cheer about: Test scores have stagnated, with just under 30 percent of students meeting standards, according to Catalyst Chicago, a newsmagazine that reports on education reform. A change in testing procedures, moreover, has muddied the year-to-year comparisons…
The district closed, replaced, or overhauled the management at more than 60 low-performing schools. But Catalyst found that, early on, only a small percentage of students displaced by school closings ended up at the new and improved schools. Many landed at other schools that were on academic probation.”

Or see Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling on the Truth Out website.

“Far from a genuine call for reform, (attacks on public schools) largely stem from an attempt to transform schools from a public investment to a private good, answerable not to the demands and values of a democratic society but to the imperatives of the marketplace. As the educational historian David Labaree rightly argues, public schools have been under attack in the last decade “not just because they are deemed ineffective but because they are public.
Right-wing efforts to disinvest in public schools as critical sites of teaching and learning and govern them according to corporate interests is obvious …. The hidden curriculum is… that always underfunded public schools fail so that they can eventually be privatized.

Duncan’s neoliberal ideology is on full display in the various connections he has established with the ruling political and business elite in Chicago.  He led the Renaissance 2010 plan, which was created for Mayor Daley by the Commercial Club of Chicago – an organization representing the largest businesses in the city.  Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.  (Do we think this was accidental????)
As a result of his support of the plan, Duncan came under attack by community organizations, parents, education scholars and students. These diverse critics have denounced it as a scheme less designed to improve the quality of schooling than as a plan for privatization, union busting and the dismantling of democratically-elected local school councils. They also describe it as part of neighborhood gentrification schemes involving the privatization of public housing projects through mixed finance developments.   (Tony Rezko, an Obama and Blagojevich campaign supporter, made a fortune from these developments along with many corporate investors.) Some of the dimensions of public school privatization involve Renaissance schools being run by subcontracted for-profit companies – a shift in school governance from teachers and elected community councils to appointed administrators coming disproportionately from the ranks of business. It also establishes corporate control over the selection and model of new schools, giving the business elite and their foundations increasing influence over educational policy. No wonder that Duncan had the support of David Brooks, the conservative op-ed writer for The New York Times.
  One particularly egregious example of Duncan’s vision of education can be seen in the conference he organized with the Renaissance Schools Fund. In May 2008, the Renaissance Schools Fund, the financial wing of the Renaissance 2010 plan operating under the auspices of the Commercial Club, held a symposium, “Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education,” at the exclusive private club atop the Aon Center. The event was held largely by and for the business sector, school privatization advocates, and others already involved in Renaissance 2010, such as corporate foundations and conservative think tanks.

SIGNIFICANTLY, NO EDUCATION SCHOLARS WERE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCEEDINGS, although it was heavily attended by fellows from the pro-privatization Fordham Foundation and featured speakers from various school choice organizations and the leadership of corporations. Speakers clearly assumed the audience shared their views.
 Without irony, Arne Duncan characterized the goal of Renaissance 2010 creating the new market in public education as a “movement for social justice.” He invoked corporate investment terms to describe reforms explaining that the 100 new schools would leverage influence on the other 500 schools in Chicago. Redefining schools as stock investments he said, “I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve the portfolio.”

 What Duncan and other neoliberal economic advocates refuse to address is what it would mean for a viable educational policy to provide reasonable support services for all students and viable alternatives for the troubled ones. The notion that children should be viewed as a crucial social resource – one that represents, for any healthy society, important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests – appears to be lost in a society that refuses to invest in its youth as part of a broader commitment to a fully realized democracy.
It is difficult to understand why Obama would appoint as secretary of education someone who believes in a market-driven model that has not only failed young people, but given the current financial crisis has been thoroughly discredited. Unless Duncan is willing to reinvent himself, the national agenda he will develop for education embodies and exacerbates these problems and, as such, it will leave a lot more kids behind than it helps.”

I think this says it better than I – I hope my readers who are less radical than I return, but I feel justified in my anger, and, worst of all, helpless to do much about a situation that calls for all of us who care about educating ALL of our children to stand up and be heard.  I hope you will join me.

and, thank you condron.us

Education Reform: Part II of ??? March 27, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Education, Obama, politics.
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I sat down today (now, as I post,  yesterday) to edit what I intended to be the second of a two part post on education reform.  I needed only, I thought, flesh out a couple of ideas, add a few sentences to tie the sections together, make final edits, and call it a day and a project – one close to my heart – finished.  The first half of part II was to be entitled INNOVATION and would look at new teaching models – or rather a renewal of innovative teaching models of days past.  The first sub-section was to be entitled ‘Social Justice as a Learning Tool.’

I first encountered the Social Justice Teaching Method when I read about a Chicago high school called the Little Village Lawndale High School.  The school consists of four small schools on one campus, one of which is called the Social Justice School.  The Social Justice School teaches students through the lens of the struggle for justice and the hope for peace.  I was drawn to the methodology because it offers a means through which to teach poor and minority students in a way that speaks to their lives, and I thought that, given that the school was built in Chicago during Arne Duncan’s tenure,  it would also provide a lens through which to view his work.

The Social Justice Methodology aims to provide a a place where students can learn the basic and crucial skills that all our schools aim to teach, but in a different way.  For example, teachers teach critical thinking skills through projects centered around race, gender and economic equality – the things that touch these students, 98% of whom are minority students from low income families,  lives everyday.  Advocates tell stories of once alienated students becoming enthusiastic about learning, excited by the opportunity to explore concepts like their own identity, racial stereotypes, how advertising influences societal views about different groups, and what it is that makes a community.  Adam Doster tells this part of this story in his article ‘The Conscious Classroom’ in The Nation.   He tells that this concept of marrying learning to social justice and activism is being adopted by a growing number of educators across the country.  Where other reform efforts have failed, a growing number of educators and reformers say, this methodology, which grows from previous alternative methodologies of the 1960s, is engaging urban students who were previously alienated by mainstream teaching methods.  According to Stan Karp, an English teacher and editor of the Milwaukee-based education reform magazine Rethinking Schools, “Taking kids’ lives as a point of departure and bringing the world into the classroom really does seem to give a context and a purpose that is very motivating.”

While some conservatives denounce the movement as indoctrinating students with left wing ideology, advocates insist that teachers teach the same basic skills taught in mainstream schools, but do so in a way that helps students appreciate the need to learn.  Take math.  How many times have you heard students say that they don’t NEED TO KNOW MATH, that is has no impact on them. And while parents and teachers tell middle-class students that math is important in today’s technology economy, the Social Justice teachers can make clear math’s relevance to their student’s lives and do so in a way that makes the subject interesting.  One example Doster uses to illustrate the increased learning fostered by this method is that, “a math teacher can run probability simulations using real data to understand the dynamics behind income inequality or racial profiling.”  Now that brings the power of math home to students who know these evils all too well.

And the method is spreading.  Since 1992 the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) has run modern freedom schools in cities nationwide, with a model curriculum focused on five components: high-quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational leadership development; and nutrition, physical and mental health.  More than 64,000 children (and their families) have been taken part in this program in the roughly the last decade.  

Frustrated teachers of poor and minority students across the country are coming together to discuss ways to bring social justice issues to their classrooms, drawing on the works of those who have long studied the problems of urban schools, such as Johnathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities and Amazing Grace – books that bring the realities of these schools to life in a way that breaks the heart and frustrates the mind.  Teachers who are terribly frustrated with the reform efforts of the Bush years, which many believe have only heightened the inequalities in public education, feel it is necessary to ‘speak frankly’ with their students about fairness, about justice, about the hope of a peaceful life.  And these students, who see injustice and violence before them every day, appreciate that this new way of learning is relevant to them, that it takes them into account.

It all makes sense to me.  And while there remains a lack of research on the benefits of this methodology because it is so new, studies that have been conducted do show a significant increase in learning in relation to students, particularly low income students, who have not had the benefit of this new way of engaging students in real life learning.  But this methodology, while it is making inroads in several cities, hasn’t yet made its way into mainstream conversations about school reform.  And so I was excited to read about this new school in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago.

Then tonight, because I didn’t have a clear view of Secretary Duncan’s thoughts on this new way of teaching some of the students under his charge who need the most help,  I did a bit more research.  And the story, I think, is worth telling.  It is a provocative story that demonstrates well some – but only some – of the challenges we face in education today.

This story began when a group of Latino mothers on the west side of Chicago came together to demand a better school for their children.  Studies illustrate time and again that given school’s educational quality often reflects the socioeconomic makeup of its district.  That unfortunate circumstance is the catalyst for this story.  Educators call for parents’ involvement in their children’s education.  This is a story of dedicated involvement.  It is also a story of racial and socio-economic discrimination – on the part not just of the powerful, but of some of the folks in every faction involved in this saga.  It is a story of a continuing struggle, an intransigent bureaucracy, an allegedly racist CEO on his way out, a story of hope even in the face of overwhelming resistance, of vision, and of a new CEO who gets the school opened.  It is a story of strong advocates, poor administration and a dishonest principal with good intentions, of symbolism and determination and belonging and not belonging and gang violence and hope and despair.  And this story all takes place before the school at the story’s center graduates its first class of students.  The school remains a place of hope, as it should, and – as much as anything – it demonstrates well the vast difference between a theoretical vision and real life implementation because, like life, it is nothing if not messy.

In 1998, parents in the Little Village neighborhood on the west side of Chicago – mostly first generation Mexican immigrants who live in the most densely populated part of the city –  came together and petitioned the local government to build a school in their neighborhood because their big city high school was overcrowded, underperforming, rife with gang violence and the accompanying metal detectors and police, a drop-out rate of nearly 40%, and students, perhaps the lucky ones, being bused all over the city.  And these parents didn’t just want any old school, rather they wanted a school that taught the students about about the struggle for justice so relevant to their lives (including the struggle that the parents had to undertake to get the school built).  The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) agreed to build the Little Village Lawndale High School.  But the school did not come into existence easily.  CPS promised to begin work on three new schools, two  ‘selective enrollment’ magnet schools in the more affluent north side of the city and the Little Village school.  Work began on the two North side schools, but CPS did not begin work on the school promised to this neighborhood, rather district representatives told the parents, when they went back to ask why their school wasn’t being built though the others had been,  that there was no longer any money to build their school.  Rather than take any responsibility, CPS advised the advocates to lobby their state legislators.

The parents didn’t give up.  After two years of struggle and broken promises, a group of community organizers, parents, grandparents, teachers and students went on a 19 day hunger strike to force the issue.  They set up a tent city, which they referred to as ‘Camp Chavez,’ on the school site and waited for Paul Vallas, then the CEO of the CPS to take them seriously. According to Jaime de Leon, one of the hunger strike organizers, when the strike began, Vallas refused to come to the site or acknowledge the strikers.  In fact, he allegedly said that he did not want to come to Little Village ‘to meet with a few women who are refusing to eat.’  But the media began telling the story and, within a few days more than 500 people were living at Camp Chavez.  CEO Vallas buckled under the scrutiny and pressure and, on the sixth day of the strike, he made a visit, but he did not commit to building the school.  The strike ended out of concerns for the strikers’s health.  Just a few months later, in August 2001, CEO Vallas resigned, Mayor Daly appointed Arne Duncan to fill the post, and Duncan pledged to fulfill CPS’s promise to build the school.  According to an article written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education on Education Week‘s website, Duncan says he would have made sure Little Village got a new high school even if there hadn’t been a hunger strike.  “It was the right thing to do,” Duncan said. “It’s a community with a growing population. I saw tremendous need.”  Duncan said, too though, that prevalent view in Little Village that the school system has discriminated against Latinos is wrong. Rather, he said, “the district constantly faces the challenge of providing new schools in areas of the city where there is overcrowding, and “that is frequently in the Latino community.”  But this doesn’t explain the building, without need for community action, of the two schools built in more affluent areas while the Latino community was shut out.  Still, he lived up to his promise and the Little Village school was built at a cost of $61 million, more than has been spent to build any other school in Chicago’s history.  The school was so expensive to build because it houses more than just a high school.  The campus is open at nights and on the weekends and offers many resources for the community, such as a health clinic, an adult education program, and a distance learning facility.  And the cost was not born solely by Chicago tax payers.  La Raza and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed generously to its construction.

As David Stovall, Assistant Professor of Policy Studies in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the design team for Little Village,  writes in an article on the ‘Rethinking Schools’ website, CPS under Duncan’s leadership included parents in the planning process (though they, of course, fought hard for this inclusion every step of the way).  The result of their collaboration is one campus containing four distinct schools, with each school operating autonomously, while sharing after-school programs and other services vital to their community.  There is a school of math, science, and technology;  a visual and performing arts school; a world languages school; and the social justice school. 

But, at the time the school was being planned and built, the then CEO of the Chicago Schools had instituted what he termed ‘Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI) guidelines, which required that all proposals from the community go through another ‘bureaucratic maze,’ the Transitional Advisory Council (TAC), which, in turn, would make recommendations to CPS.  Matters were made more complicated, he notes, as CHSRI (the redesign initiative) was incorporated into a new Renaissance 2010 Project, a project implemented by Arne Duncan that aims to close 60 Chicago public schools and reopen them as 100 new ‘performance schools,’ which are public charter schools, though many will be privately operated and will lack union representation.  As Stovall, who has been involved in the school project from the beginning, explains it,  

“Performance schools are managed and funded by the district under a five-year ‘performance agreement’ that provides ‘greater autonomy’ in exchange for meeting certain performance targets like test scores.  Under Renaissance 2010, ‘performance schools’ are funded under a different formula than the CHSRI small schools, resulting in a significant decrease in funding for programming and institutional support.”

 Pauline Lipman, Professor of Policy Studies in the College of Education, University of Illinois-Chicago, asserts that the goal of Ren10 is to “reshape the educational geography of Chicago by aiding the gentrification of particular neighborhoods and, in effect, increasing educational inequality.”  And many in Chicago agree.  The community insisted that theirs was not a Ren 10 school, that its genesis preceded the implementation of Ren10, and that their school grew out of community efforts.  CPS resisted.  The parents fought back.  Finally, concerned about the demands and funding cuts as well as a fear of gentrification, the advocates requested a meeting with the new Chicago Schools CEO, Arne Duncan.  Stovall reports that Duncan told them they were ‘misinformed about Renaissance 2010’s relationship to gentrification.’  Displeased with the meeting’s outcome, the Little Village community organized public hearings to express their concerns.  In the face of strong community opposition to their status as a Ren 10 school, CPS reinstated the Little Village school’s status as a ‘neighborhood small school,’ but the school is still listed on the CPS website and in its ‘new schools development directory’ as a Ren 10 project. 

Stovall maintains that under Duncan’s leadership, CPS continued to say one thing while doing another and, in 2005 – the year the school opened its doors, he wrote the battle on the ground is far from over. “This struggle, he said, to maintain our vision for a neighborhood school demonstrates the importance of using community action to hold school authorities accountable in the battle for quality, inclusive education.”  

Because CPS required that the school be at least 30% African American, black students from the neighboring North Lawndale neighborhood joined their Latino neighbors in the school.  Stovall argues that this inclusion will serve a catalyst for much needed cultural, ethnic and racial collaboration, but there is a darker side to the story.  Though 30% of the students come from the predominately African American North Lawndale neighborhood and the school is officially called Little Village Lawndale High School, the sign in front of the school reads simply Little Village High School, and admission controversies have changed the school’s meaning for residents of both communities.   “To those who are denied access, the impressive spire and $61 million campus represent what their children are not able to receive,” writes  Joanie Friedman in her informative essay Contested Space:  The Struggle for the Little Village Lawndale High School, which appears on the website Area Chicago: Art/Research/Education/Research, and was originally published in the summer 2007 issue of Critical Planning, the UCLA Journal of Urban Planning.  Where racial collaboration was the goal, the scarcity of educational resources has driven, instead, more racial tension.  But the goal remains, as students from the two communities come together in their new school.  

So how are things going at Little Village Lawndale High School?  Surprisingly, this information is the hardest to find.  The city’s Office of New Schools holds the school out as a shining example of success.  Student attendance and achievement are up, but I am having a hard time finding numbers.  The Social Justice School recently won an award for its work in developing a strong sense of  ‘civic engagement’  in its students, topping all the other schools in the city.  And, it seems to offer a good amount of transparency, with a website that even includes the day’s assigned homework.  

Unfortunately it has not escaped the problem of gang violence that is too prevalent in Chicago’s schools, particularly in the Lawndale community.  The new year brings bad news of more gang violence, which in February required that the police be brought in, the school be shut down for a week, after school activities cancelled, and talks will soon be underway about heightened security on campus.   There is good news, here, too, though.  The students at the Social Justice School hosted a forum attended by nearly 500 Chicago students, mostly African American students, on how to decrease gang violence in their neighborhoods.  There were few adults in attendance, and their leadership is impressive, suggesting that the Social Justice school really is training leaders.  The decision to have four separate administrations and four separate principles, though, leaves four different approaches to student discipline, which, as the recent outbursts make clear, must be addressed.  

The worst news comes from the adults in the school.  There is already too little continuity, though I have yet to find how teacher turn-over rates there compare with other schools city wide.  The principal of the Math and Science school is leaving at the end of the year to join Secretary Duncan in Washington. And Rito Martinez, the principal of  The Social Justice School is being fired because he lives outside the district, which the Inspector General’s office evidently discovered by hiring a private detective to follow him for three months (he claimed to live in the Little Village neighborhood).   

I am struggling at the moment with websites that I can’t get to load, and am frustrated because this is critical information that I want to know and to share. The CPS website offers little information about any of its schools, and I am experiencing problems with the State Department of Education’s website.   I will keep at it today and update this post this information as I find it.  It looks, though, as if the students are doing well.  

This story and others I’ve read about about Chicago schools under his leadership, leave me with a mixed opinion of Secretary Duncan.  He did uphold the school district’s promise to the Little Village community.  And he does talk of supporting social justice in learning.  But talk is just talk, and it is also clear that he favors a corporate model of schooling, preferring, among other things, private charter schools free from teacher’s unions.  He argues, first, that the role of schools is to provide employees for America’s corporations, and works hard to bring corporate methodologies into our schools.  This is at odds with my vision of excellent education that brings, in addition to business skills, a breadth of knowledge to its students and an informed citizenry to the public arena.  And I am confused by the president’s choice to surround himself with so many corporate types.  It wasn’t so long ago that, in the story I’ve tried to tell here, he would have played the role of the community organizer, fighting for the right of parents to have a school that embraced their values.  Arne Duncan is not that man and, I think, does not fully share that man’s vision.  And I question how much of what President Obama cites as Duncan success stories are really stories of success.  For example, while President Obama cites as one example of Duncan’s stellar leadership the declining drop-out rates that occurred every year Duncan ran Chicago’s schools, he does not indicate whether graduation rates rose correspondingly.  My fear is that they did not.  Many criticize Duncan for simply kicking ‘difficult’ students out of the schools,  leaving them no opportunity to quit on their own.  In a scathing article on the Truth Out website, Kenneth Saltman, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Research at DePaul University in Chicago and author, most recently, of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,”  who is certainly not alone in his criticism, writes that,

“Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, (and) advocated a growing police presence in the schools….  A recent report, “Education on Lockdown,” claimed that partly under Duncan’s leadership “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has become infamous for its harsh zero tolerance policies. Although there is no verified positive impact on safety, these policies have resulted in tens of thousands of student suspensions and an exorbitant number of expulsions.”

I have so much hope for our president that it colors my vision.  Had President Bush appointed Secretary Duncan, I have no doubts that I would have quickly ripped him to shreds for abandoning our children, gotten a good night’s rest, posted my blog on time and be out shopping for a new bicycle right now. Yet, time and again I find myself searching for ways President Obama the benefit of the doubt.  The choice of Duncan is another that I do not like, yet I find myself restrained in my criticism, actively searching for indications that he will do well by our children.  President Obama is a deliberative man who does not speak in particulars until he is sure of what he wants to say.  He is undoubtedly familiar with the criticisms voiced by many Chicago residents who disdain Arne Duncan as a neoliberal reformer who will destroy our public schools as he moves toward the privitization and corporitization of schools.  Yet he chose Duncan to lead the nation’s schools.  The choice, like others he has made, leave me feeling confused and saddened.  I never thought for a moment, that as president,  Barack Obama would adopt an ultra-progressive stance.  He cannot.  He is restrained as the leader of all Americans.  But neither did I think he would embrace a capitalist model of education.  I am deeply disappointed and skeptical as I write today.  But I will be back next week, looking at other issues that we face in our efforts to improve education and educational opportunity.  And I will have looked more closely at some of the criticisms about Secretary Duncan as well at the writings of some who praise his efforts.  I hope that I have some good news to report.

Is The Gun Lobby Stronger Than American Democracy? March 6, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Constitution of the United States, in Article I, Section 2 states, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states…. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union.” In the country’s early days, there were several states, and each state’s male citizens of some means were permitted to vote, and there were territories – not yet states, to whom the right to vote was not extended. And today we still have territories, Peurto Rico and Guam. They, like D.C. residents are entitled to an at-large member in the House, but that member cannot vote. The difference is that D.C. is neither a state nor a territory, and while residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are not subjected to Federal Taxes, D.C. residents pay all U.S. Federal Taxes, which in 2007 totaled $20.4 billion, the highest per capita taxes in the country. So, while the Constitution does limit the right to vote to state residents, it also requires that only those with representation pay taxes to the Federal Government. Thus, D.C.’s unofficial motto, ‘taxation without representation,’ a concept that, at the time, was held to be of the utmost importance. Remember the Boston Tea Party? The Stamp Act of 1765? American Colonialists rebelled because the British Government sought, in violation of it’s Constitution to tax them without the tax being approved by their legislators, which was not possible as they had no representation in Parliament. This denial of the the franchise was an important factor leading to the American Revolution and to the founding of our nation.

The withholdnig of the franchise has long reflected a hesitancy on the part of those in power to expand democracy’s reach – our founding fathers denied the right to vote to white mean without means, to women, to Native Americans, to African Americans. Our government has long denied an entire city the right of self rule of any form, rather subjecting them to the rule of a Congress in which they had no representation whatsoever. Some vision of restoring to D.C. residents their right to vote in federal elections was evidenced in 1801 when the Federal Government formally took land from VA and MD to form the Dictrict of Columbia, for they allowed residents of the newly formed Capitol to continue to vote in their former states for 11 years. This course of action suggests that it was a stop gap measure until some other solution that would reinstate these citizens’ voting rights. Proposals were made, though many failed, to give VA and MD back their land, and D.C. residents have protested their loss of representation ever since, though the government did, in the mid 1840s, return much of the land previously belonging to VA amidst concerns over the slave trade in the Capitol, thus restoring the voting rights of those who lived in this part of the District. Over time, as the city’s residents lobbied for the vote, while the overall population hovered around 150,000 residents, the African American population grew such that, by the 1860s, free blacks made up 88% of D.C.’s residents. Given our Country’s history in this era, it is no surprise that the right to vote was denied to D.C. citizens.

Residents were given some governmental representation when, in 1873, President Grant appointed a Governor to oversee Washington, but he did away with his office just one year later after the Governor bankrupted the city.

For nearly the next 100 years, until the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1961, did D.C. residents have a hand in electing a single governmental official; they had no say even in the election of our President and Vice President. And the number of those denied the franchise grew substantially as D.C.’s population exploded to around 850,000 during World War II. The amendment granted to them the right to electors on a scale on par with those of the states. These electors would be considered ‘to be electors appointed by a State’ though no State appointed them. A nice fiction by Congress to overcome Constitutional concerns.

A dozen years later, in 1973 Congress passed the Home Rule Act, allowing D.C. residents to elect a Mayor and a City Council, though, amid evidence of poor management, Congress retook control of the District’s purse. No further extension of voting rights have been granted since that time, making ours the only democracy that denies resitdents of its Capitol city the right to federal representation. This was the state of affairs this week, as Congress again debated whether D.C. residents will, in 2009, receive the right of representation in their government. The time for change has come. But there was a glitch.

That our country is so divided around all the issues surrounding gun ownership is terribly unfortunate. We are so much stronger when we are united, and we should not be divided by this issue. The concern among gun owners that the left wants to take away the guns of law abiding citizens seems to me a myth created and fostered up by the NRA. I’m sure there are some who would like to see all guns banned in the US. I’ve heard the arguments, but I have never met a single person who holds that view.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitutional guarantees a right to bear arms, and that right should be respected. The First Amendment, which by virtue of being first suggests its relative importance, guarantees the freedom of speech, assembly and religion. Yet, despite the fact that the right to free speech and a free press are vital to our form of government, those rights are not absolute. Rather we must abide by, among other things, time, place and manner restrictions on our speech. Likewise, I would argue, the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment may be Constitutionally regulated.

I do not want to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen. Some of my fondest memories of are my Grandfather teaching me to shoot a rifle. As a young girl, I was shooting tin cans off the top of fence posts. My grandparents regularly welcomed hunters onto their land. It’s a part of the culture of many Americans, and they should be allowed to choose their way of life so long they abide by sensible regulation. We must be trained to drive and we must register our cars; we should require appropriate firing and safety training, and should register our guns. We should lock them safely away from children. The aim here is not to place an undue burden on gun owners, but to recognize that a right can be limited to protect the safety of others, and guns, like cars, can harm unintended victims. As for guns in urban areas, I wish they weren’t there, but I realize that many people believe that they are safer with a gun in their home. And they should be able to make that decision for themselves. They need only be responsible in their ownership.

It is most likely that the real sticking points center around the issue of what guns, if any, should be banned. We call weapons capable of killing many people weapons of mass destruction. Our foreign policy centers around trying to keep the most dangerous of these weapons out of the hands of many. I think we, too, should aim to keep automatic weapons out of public circulation. Some criminals will still get them, this we know. But others will have a harder time of it, and that could save lives. This restriction, though, requires that the police in urban areas are vigilant about keeping unregistered guns off the streets and regularly patrolling dangerous neighborhoods. I think reasonable people can disagree here. But I also think that this limited disagreement has too much of an impact on our politics because the NRA and its supporters paint an exaggerated picture of our differences. We are not at polar opposite points on this issue, though to hear Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and far too many others to name tell it, gun owners are in serious danger from we communists who want to take their guns. And this week, the the NRA, through Senator John Ensign (R-NV), fanned these flames when the Senator attached an amendment that would overturn gun control laws in the District AND would strip D.C. of the right to enact gun control legislation of any kind. The amendment remove gun registration requirements and would not even allow D.C. to set an age requirement for gun ownership. Sixty-one Senators voted for this amendment, including 22 Democrats.

One NRA representative actually said that he would prefer to see D.C. residents freed from gun control laws than to see them get the vote. He thinks that unfettered right to own guns is more important than a democratic form of government. Does he really want to live in a dictatorship where everybody’s packing? This is the rhetoric that divides, and this week, as before, its affects were far more serious. While it looked that D.C.’s residents would finally get the right to elect one member to the House of Representatives, the legislation is now stalled because of the gun control amendment.

The larger point, in this instance, is that this was all beside the point. This amendment had absolutely nothing to do with the legislation to which it was attached and should never have been part of the discussion. This is the politics we’re all tired of. Each issue that is important enough to the American people to come before Congress should be voted on with votes based solely on the merits of that bill. We’ve had enough of politicians placing considerations of their political futures before the concerns of the country, and here of democracy itself. The NRA ostensibly threatened to make this vote one that it would use as a gauge in its annual candidate ratings, which are based on the number of times the legislator supports their organization’s interests. And Democrats, too, voted for the bill with the amendment attached. Again, we read that it would likely removed in the House. But, just like the tax cuts that were added to the stimulus bill that every one said would be limited in conference, the lets give guns at christenings amendment wasn’t removed and a clean bill passed. Rather, it sits, amendment still intact, stalled in the House.

President Obama should take a stand. This is not a spending bill, it is not ‘last year’s business.’ This is important legislation that would, setting Constitutional concerns asides for now (suffice it to say there is a vibrant debate), finally enfranchise all American citizens. It is about time. Dedicated and serious minded Americans have worked since the beginning to fully expand the franchise, and politics as usual is again getting in the way. President Obama’s promise was to bring a new kind of politics. So let it be. We are beyond ready. Americans should call, write, email their representatives in Congress and their President to demand a clean bill granting the right to vote to our citizens who live in our nation’s Capitol.

Our leaders in Congress need to be called out, as the president would say, on their weak support for the expansion of democracy. Not only did they allow the insertion of the gun amendment, Senators bickered over the fact that giving D.C. the vote would be a gain for the Democratic Party, and thus Republicans demanded that another Republican State be given a new Representative to bring ‘balance.’ Truly democratic leaders do not let an advantage to the opposition party, particularly one so small, stand in the way of the spread of democracy itself. This country’s leaders have always been stingy with the vote. Every advancement has come through great struggle. Neither blacks nor women gained the franchise through the spontaneous passage of legislation by enlightened leaders seeking to expand democracy at home. Rather, we have paid dearly to enfranchise (almost) all of our people. Thus, the hailing of ours as the world’s finest democracy (as our leaders love to do) by leaders who prefer that only those who agree with them (and who are, in their minds, their equal) be able to vote is a sad smudge of hypocrisy worn by far too many American leaders throughout our history.

Despite Republican Obstinance, The Stimulus Plan Will Soon Reach the President. Will it help alleviate the worst effects of our economic crisis? February 13, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Stimulus.
Tags: , , , ,

The Politics.  Well, after much ado, a sufficient number of Legislators have agreed to the compromise stimulus plan.  For such a major piece of legislation, it was passed with remarkable speed but without bipartisan support.  In fact, though Democratic leaders offered to work with any Republicans willing to sit down and hammer out a compromise after the House and Senate each failed to pass their version of the legislation, only three Republican Senators, Arlen Specter (PA), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME), accepted the offer and helped reach a compromise that all involved in the negotiations could support.  And, even after Democratic leaders increased tax breaks and cut spending at their behest, not a single House Republican or any Senate Republican, save these three, offered their support.  The president didn’t need House Republican support for passage, but it would have been nice to see some work with him in his attempt to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work.  But it was not to be. 

Everyone, including Congressional Republicans, agree that our economy is in dire straits.  The IMF said this week that leading economies are already in a depression, and the President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank said she saw “the same type of dynamics taking place that do happen in a depression, according to Dana Millbank of the Washington Post.  Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) acknowledged Monday, “the economy is in serious trouble.”

Still, Congressional Republicans said they could not support the plan because it is too big, it will not adequately stimulate the economy, and it will permanently expand government spending programs.  Even with 36% of the resources allocated for tax breaks, Republicans weren’t taking the bait.  Rather, Congressional Republicans joined ranks and refused to budge, all while pressuring the three Republican Senators who did participate to stand down.  Despite their actions, though, Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Politics, reported that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) said Wednesday, “I know of no Republican in the Congress of the United States that wants to do nothing.”  Not all Republican leaders agree.  Michael Steele, the new Republican Party chairman who has disgraced himself repeatedly in his short tenure, boastfully told House Republicans, “The goose egg that you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful.”  President Obama has his work cut out for him in bringing a new, civil and dignified tone to Washington in the face of this Republican leadership. 

President Obama, after reaching out to Republicans to join in crafting the stimulus package to no avail, realized he would not garner the 80 Senate votes he had hoped the bill would attract and went to the public to promote the stimulus.  While the nearly total lack of support from Congressional Republicans may have made a less devoted man decide it was impossible in today’s climate to persuade our leaders to work together for the people they represent, President Obama has not wavered.  In an article that appeared in the New York Times and at MSNBC.com, Peter Baker reported, that President Obama has not given up on fostering a spirit of cooperation in Washington.  Rather, he noted that while the time for garnering bipartisan support of this legislation had passed, he made clear that he will continue his efforts.  “As I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully they will be reciprocated.”  And the people are watching.

The New York Times reported that we lost 598,000 jobs in January, leaving 3.6 million officially unemployed Americans.  With Republican posturing in the face of these dismal numbers, the public is not happy.  According to a Feb. 6-7 Gallup Poll, 67% of Americans are pleased with the way President Obama is handling the economic crisis, while only 31% approve of the way Republicans in Congress have conducted themselves.  This poll was conducted before President Obama’s Monday press conference, where he undoubtedly won over more Americans with his explanation of why the stimulus is needed and what benefits it will provide.  Even so, the poll revealed that the American people have more confidence in President Obama now than they did when he was inaugurated.  Fifty-five percent say their confidence in his ability to improve the economy has increased.  And 51% say the same about his ability to manage the federal government. 

Three Republicans Found a Compromise They Could Support. Lacking any Republican support, the stimulus plan could not pass.  Fortunately, the president picked up the support of three Senate Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  Senator Specter particularly deserves the appreciation of the President and the American people.  He is the only one of the three facing reelection in 2010, and his support at home is waning.  Acknowledging this situation, he said, “I have no doubts about the political disadvantage.  [I’m] losing a lot of political skin about this… It means I’ll have to raise a lot more money.”  This is particularly true since, according to CNN, Scott Wheeler, the executive director of The National Republican Trust PAC announced Wednesday that, “Republican senators are on notice… If they support the stimulus package, we will make sure every voter in their state knows how they tried to further bankrupt voters in an already bad economy.”  He threatened to provide financial support to any primary challenger to the Senators who supported the plan, and vowed to actively campaign against any Republican who agreed to spend more than $800 billion (probably contributing to the $787 ceiling).  He specifically targeted Specter, saying, “[H]e has “crossed the line too many times.  We’re now going to get involved in finding a conservative alternative.”  President Obama and Congressional Democrats should recognize his courageous support, and voters should note that he voted for what he thought best for the country rather than what he thought best for his career. 

The Plan: Breakdown and Highlights. The stimulus plan, now totaling $787 billion, with $505 billion (approximately 64%) in spending and $282 billion (approximately 36%) in tax cuts is a close approximation of President Obama’s initial plan.  He wanted a 60 – 40 split.  It allocates resources among four categories:

  • Tax breaks;
  •  Infrastructure projects, (e.g. transportation, broadband expansion, etc.);
  • Aid to state and local governments; and
  • Investments in healthcare and alternative energy initiatives.

 The Associated Press has provided highlights of the compromise stimulus bill – its spending, tax cuts and incentives.  A summary of the spending provisions is below.  Note that a fuller picture is provided on their site, which is helpful, as certain spending provisions could be placed under two or more categories:

  • Health Care                                                           $137 billion
  • Energy                                                                     $ 97 billion
  • Education                                                               $ 91 billion (includes school repairs)
  • Infrastructure                                                        $ 86 billion  (transportation, internet, etc.)
  • Aid to Poor and Unemployed                            $ 67 billion 
  • Direct Cash Payments                                        $ 14 billion
  • State Block Grants                                               $   8 billion
  • Scientific Research                                              $   6 billion
  • Law Enforcement                                                 $   4 billion
  • Homeland Security                                              $   3 billion

The Battle Over Education Spending. Working with Harry Reid (D-NV) and other top Democrats, including Ben Nelson (IN), the three Republican Senators put together a compromise bill that cut $110 billion of spending that Collins and Nelson said “didn’t belong in the bill.”  Matt Yglesias of Think Progress reported that they cut $20 billion for targeted school repairs and modernization, $7.5 billion to help states progress in meeting No Child Left Behind goals, $1 billion for Head Start, and $25 billion in flexible funding for states that could be used for education projects.  Yet after they cut education spending significantly, Nelson publicly patted himself and Collins on the back, saying that after cutting wasteful spending, “what remains will fund education.” 

Many Congressional Republicans, it seems, believe it is an improper use of the stimulus money to bring schools up to compliance with fire, health, and safety codes, better insulate them to save energy and governmental energy costs.  They (erroneously) argue that it is not an investment to modernize, renovate or repair science and engineering labs or libraries or career and technical school facilities.  It is likely that they fear that spending money now would open a flood gate, that the administration would continue to raise education funding, thus expanding government in a way that they oppose.  But that argument can’t stand when it comes to school repair any more than it can when talking of road repair. School construction creates jobs and puts money into the economy, and weather proofing schools will save on energy costs in the future.  Given that it meets the goals of the stimulus package, and given the low construction costs resulting from this economy, providing much needed repairs at below market value seems to me a solid plan.

House Democrats were understandably distressed over the cuts to school construction and to education spending overall. It is clear to them that we need our students to improve their science skills and master new technologies to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy. This spending is an investment in our people that will help boost our economy now, as the spending occurs, and down the road, when students enter the work force.  Some House Democrats were so distraught over these cuts that they even considered withholding their support for the president’s bill.  But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who also vocally opposed the education cuts, called a meeting with concerned Democrats, which the Washington Post reports opened with chants of, “We want more.”  During the meeting, however, cooler heads prevailed, all involved relented and threw their support behind the compromise bill.

Infrastructure Spending.  Rachel Maddow noted that spending increases economic activity more heavily than do tax cuts, and that some types of spending provide more bang for the buck than do other forms.  She provided a few examples of the ‘multiplier effect,” where government investment provides more economic activity than the amount spent.

  • Tax cuts                                           $1 = $1.09 in economic activity
  • Infrastructure Spending              $1 = $1.59 in economic activity
  • Foodstamps                                    $1 = $1.73 in economic activity

 Despite this, the Senate agreement not only cut nearly $20 billion for school construction, but also cut $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings to make them more energy efficient, and cut $2 billion to expand broadband networks in rural and underserved areas.

 As it turns out, some infrastructure projects are more of a stimulus than others.  According to The Economist:

  • Every $1 billion investment in infrastructure creates 35,000 jobs. 
  • Repairing roads and bridges creates 9% more jobs than building new ones. 
  • Spending on public transit creates 19% more jobs than building new roads.  And, not only does spending on public transit translate into the highest multiplier effect, it also serves other policy goals such as lowering dependence on foreign oil, saving energy and reducing pollution and congestion.  Moreover, convenient and efficient public transit saves Americans money by reducing the costs of fuel, car maintenance and repairs and insurance. 

 But the stimulus plan does not allocate enough to public transit to make a marked improvement.  The Associated Press provided highlights of the plan, reporting that of the $46 billion being spent on infrastructure, $27 billion goes toward building and repairing roads and bridges, while only $8.4 billion is being spent on mass transit. Even with an additional $8 billion for building high-speed railways, our government has not shown that it is serious about cutting emissions by taking this opportunity to build a twenty-first century transit system.

 And, of the $27 billion for roads and bridges, indications are that many states are choosing to build new ones rather than repair old ones.  Nineteen states have made public their transport requests and more than half requested that 80% of the funding be spent on roads, mostly on building new ones.  While some new roads and bridges may be badly needed, there is a risk that too many states will make poor decisions.  Moreover, where practicable, money should be put into alternatives that create the most jobs, save energy, help protect the environment, and save consumers their hard earned money.

 Transparency.  President Obama promised that his administration would operate in the open, and he is delivering on that promise here.  His administration will set up a website, resources.gov, which will track projects receiving funding and their progress.  It will allow us to see how the money is being used, providing accountability for poor decisions, excessive spending and other important matters.  It will allow us to see whether the stimulus plan creates the promised 3.5 million jobs.  And it will allow state and federal leaders to see what work remains to be done.  Mostly, it will provide a welcome departure from the secrecy of George W. Bush’s administration.

Conclusion. Partisan railing aside, I’m not against removing items from the stimulus bill that don’t aid our goals of providing sustenance to those worst hit by the abysmal economy, maintaining and building the middle class by increasing employment, building and improving our infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency, or building a sustainable economy.   I do, however, favor redirecting those resources to projects that meet these goals well rather than cutting the size of the bill. The bill already provides for spending a vast amount of money, and nearly all economists agree that it will take a bold initiative, likely more bold even than this, to alleviate the economic crisis we’re experiencing.  Minor cutting isn’t going to substantially affect our debt – at least not so much as to do too little when doing too little may make things much worse.  Accordingly, I would like to have seen less allocated for tax cuts and more marked for education and for infrastructure, particularly for public transit.  That said, I believe most of the measures will help improve our current situation, and that this is only the first step President Obama will take in his efforts to guide us back to economic health. 


Update: Is Senator Gregg a Good Pick for Commerce? February 12, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,

As I wrote last week, I thought Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) was a bad choice for Commerce Secretary.  He refused to vote on the stimulus plan while saying he supported it, though his voting record indicated that his support would have required a miraculous change of heart.  My main concern, though, was that, having forcefully opposed additional spending by President Clinton to conduct an accurate census, I doubted that he would work hard to ensure that all the people would be counted in 2010.

Well, it turns out that he agrees.  Senator Gregg withdrew from the nomination today.  He sat for an interview with Politico and released a written statement in which he explained that, …”[I]t has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me…. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”  

President Obama Brings Hope to the Nation and the World February 1, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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Throngs of people descended on Washington D.C. and well-wishers the world over gathered together last Tuesday to watch as Barack Obama took the oath of office and before our eyes became our president.  Most people, here and abroad, were filled with a new hope and a nearly unbridled optimism.  President Obama has inspired us with his own hopefulness and his courageous belief that good people, working together, can change our world.   He has reached us with his mantra, which, as he wanted, we’ve adopted as our own.  “Yes we can.”  Times are tough here, everybody knows that, but we feel stronger because President Obama is moving his family into the White House.

 In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the first Republican President of the United States in dark days. The question that demanded an answer was what would become of slavery.  Slaveholders in the south argued angrily that they should be able to take their ‘property’ with them west.  But resistance was strong.  Former Whigs and Democrats, in 1856, left their old political homes to form the Republican Party in opposition to slavery’s expansion into the western territories.  Activists in the new party went further and called for an immediate end to slavery, and many southerners feared an end to their way of life.

 And 1861 found Frederick Douglas, a charismatic black abolitionist, courageously leading those who called out for an end to slavery and for equal rights for African Americans.  Douglas, while he maintained that Lincoln was the white man’s president who also helped blacks, said too that Lincoln was the only white leader with whom he had spoken who showed not one bit of prejudice toward black Americans.  And, as the nation fought and Lincoln began to work toward the emancipation of slaves, he and President Lincoln developed a warm relationship.

 It was a frighteningly dark time in our history.  In the four short months between the day President Lincoln was elected and the day he took office, seven southern states withdrew from the Union, formed the Confederate States of America, and inaugurated Jefferson Davis President.  Causing further alarm were the stirrings of secessionist sentiments in the five border states.  Though Lincoln remained hopeful to the end that war could be prevented, within weeks of his taking office, the country was fighting a long, brutal war with itself that would cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.  

 Lincoln did not live to see the people, in December 1865, ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery across the nation.   This was a tremendous step forward in the battle for equality, still the struggle necessarily continued after America freed African Americans from the bondage of slavery – for there were fundamental and urgent questions to answer about what that liberty would mean in their day, and in our day.

 In 1961, one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy became our first Catholic President on a platform of civil rights, promising laws prohibiting employment discrimination, the right to an adequate education, the right of labor to organize, and, among other things, an increase in the minimum wage to meet the right to earn enough to provide adequately for oneself and one’s family. 

 And in 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., that generation’s great dissenting leader, led the march for equality under the law for those African Americans who still did not possess the right to sit next to a white person and mind their own business.  Their struggle would continue after Kennedy’s assassination, after King’s assassination, after Robert Kennedy was taken.  (By 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson had passed more civil rights legislation than any other President in our history, most notably President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act (1964), which banned discrimination in public accommodations, and Johnson’s Voting Rights Act (1965), which prohibited states from denying citizens the vote on the basis of their race.)  But, even after these struggles the work wasn’t over, as, by way of but one example of too many to list, states refused and resisted the right of black children to attend the schools of white children. 

 And too that year, in the heat of the summer, the man who became our president last Tuesday was born in Kansas, in the very heart of America, to an intellectual African father and a bright, idealistic white American mother.  In his books, he tells us that he grew up with love, guidance and nurturance, with the childhood privilege of attending an elite school, and with the knowledge that life is complicated.  He earned coveted slots at Columbia University and Harvard Law through hard work and natural intelligence.  By the accounts of many who’ve watched him over the years, though, the Barack Obama we see today has grown into the man he is through deep reflection and disciplined commitment.  

 President Obama, like many of us, sees in Abraham Lincoln an inspirational leader.  And the two men share common characteristics and ideals.  Lincoln, too, was an eloquent speaker, a man of supreme confidence and ambition.   Lincoln, too, was a man who grew into his own intentionally and thoughtfully.  Obama, like Lincoln, believes in the power of reason and of passion.  And Lincoln said, too, while finding it difficult to wait his turn in hard times, “There is one president at a time.”  Importantly, they share a deep reverence for the ideal of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  President Obama calls these words, “our starting point as Americans… our common creed.”  President Lincoln said that equality is government’s “leading object.” 

 Through our struggles, America has been blessed with its share of great leaders.  We have long had great African American leaders, dissenting leaders who’ve carried a heavy weight and won hard battles – many through sheer determination.  But President Obama is the first African American President of the United States of America.  And whether fair or not, the mantle he carries brings with it an additional responsibility to the ideal of equality.  From the beginning our country has struggled in answering this call.  We’ve fought bitterly.  At times we have covered our ears and our eyes.  But in times of bold leadership and engaged citizenship we have expanded liberty’s reach and deepened its impact.   We have put a lot of bad ways behind us, and under President Obama’s leadership we hope to see the march for equality gain some good ground.  We hope to see the guiding light of equality take root in his policies, and foremost in his approach to rebuilding our economy. 

 President Obama ran a long, hopeful campaign that, too, was important because it showed us how elections can be won with dignity – and it modeled well, though not perfectly, the values it espoused.  Now he takes office and his agenda is filled to overflowing.  Americans are focused on our economy because is in tatters at a time when our country is deeply in debt, and because what everyone agrees on is that it will get worse.  We’re worried about our jobs, and with them our insurance, our house payments.  We’re worried because our kids aren’t learning well enough and we fear they will struggle to find security in tomorrow’s world.   But despite our fear, we are truly hopeful.  We don’t know how the world will look in two, four, or eight years…  But today we celebrate and feel like things are better.