Monday, January 26, 2009

School spending doesn’t lead to higher performance in N.J.

by Derrell Bradford

Education Week’s recent release of “Quality Counts” - its state-by-state study of a variety of education data - ranked New Jersey in the top five nationally for its public education output. This was enough to garner a B- on the study’s A-through-F scale.

A top-five finish should be something to write home about, but a closer look at the report, and the data from which it is culled, provides an unfortunate picture of New Jersey’s school spending, its suspect student achievement, and how utterly average its student performance is, despite its marketing as an education leader.

First: According to the report, New Jersey has the second-highest state contribution to public education costs, and the third highest per-pupil spending at $13,238. It also reports an adjusted national per-pupil average of $9,963.

If per-pupil spending and student achievement are hardwired, as the state’s education bureaucracy would have us believe, we’d expect New Jersey’s B- to be about 32 percent higher than the national average. Unforunately, we barely distance ourselves from the rest of the pack and the nation’s average grade of “C.”

This spending (which is as high as $20,482 in Newark, for instance) makes it worth noting that, as a Tax Foundation study shows, New Jersey has seven of the 10 counties with the country’s highest median property taxes - and the link to school costs, if not performance, is undeniable.

Second: The study measures academic performance by compiling myriad state and national data. Notable among this information is the state’s reported high school graduation rate.

As is often chronicled, New Jersey graduates between 11,000 and 15,000 students annually who are unable to pass its standard High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA. These students fail the math, language arts, or both, sections of the test as many as three times before taking the state’s much-maligned alternate route exit exam, the SRA. They then receive the same diploma as their classmates who pass the test outright. Additionally, though Abbott students represent only 15 percent of the state’s graduation total, they are 42 percent of SRA takers.

If all of these students are removed from the graduation tally, New Jersey is not first in graduation rate, as is often cited by the governor and advertised by the New Jersey Education Association - it is 24th.

This says nothing of the relative rigor of the HSPA itself, which has been described as a “middle-school level” test by Education Commissioner Lucille Davy. Even our lower grade assessments reflect these abysmal standards, with fourth graders needing to answer only 42 percent of questions correctly on the language arts assessment to be deemed proficient.

Lastly: A key indicator on the study’s “Chance for Success” index is the enrollment of 3- and 4-year olds in preschool.

New Jersey’s court-ordered pre-K system is populated largely by private and community-based providers who are chosen by parents in what amounts to one of the nation’s largest school-choice programs. Despite the ostensible success in this area, many districts are currently moving to eliminate these existing private and community-based providers and replace them with capacity in the traditional public school system - at significantly higher expense. Which begs the question: if you have a good thing going, why change it?

In the end, what “Quality Counts” shows is that, for all its bombast, New Jersey’s public education system performs barely above average, despite its near nation-leading spending.

That its nation-leading high school graduation rate is inflated to the detriment of students and taxpayers, and that, if it wants to emulate its success in pre-K, it should look to expand the school choice implicit in the system to K-12 as soon as possible.

Obama Pushes for Ugent Economic Relief

As major companies announce layoffs, President Barack Obama is urging Congress to act swiftly in passing his economic stimulus plan. (Jan. 26)

Phila. Suburb Stunned by a Series of Arsons

Authorities are urging residents in this Philadelphia suburb to remove flammable materials from their porches and to keep porch lights on at night following a string of suspicious fires. (Jan. 26)

More anti-baby talk from Speaker Pelosi (D-CA)

26 January 2009
More anti-baby talk from Speaker Pelosi (D-CA)

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pro-abortion and she says she is Catholic.

Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco, where her district is, was going to have a chat with her about that, but we haven’t heard much about what happened.

I picked this up from the Drudge Report:

Sun Jan 25 2009 22:13:43 ET

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi boldly defended a move to add birth control funding to the new economic "stimulus" package, claiming "contraception will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."

Pelosi, the mother of 5 children and 6 grandchildren, who once said, "Nothing in my life will ever, ever compare to being a mom," seemed to imply babies are somehow a burden on the treasury.

The revelation came during an exchange Sunday morning on ABC’s THIS WEEK.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus? [I suppose there is an amusing way to answer that…. but…]

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government. [So! Let’s get rid of the babies!]

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. we have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

I wonder if in those first 10 seconds in hell, the eternally lost soul in a moment of stark realization considers the consequences of his own "downturn".

The Social Security system will probably collapse because, as the population ages, not enough people pay into it to support those who will draw from it.

How many abortions have their been since Roe v Wade?

How’s that for a strain on the nation’s budget?

The United States will one day probably be involved again is a serious conflict, which will truly have to engage the whole populace.

How many abortions have their been since Roe v Wade?

Who will bear arms and be productive when the crunch comes?

Explain to me again how thwarting God’s will results in blessings for individuals, families, communities and nations?

Sometimes the way these pols speak, when talking off the cuff, truly reveals their mindset. Remember the "I don’t want my daughter with a baby" comment? Perhaps Speaker Pelosi’s comments above reveal something of the same mindset.

African Americans Vie to Lead Republicans

Michael Steele, former Maryland lieutenant governor
(AP Photo / Matt Houston)

Kenneth Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state
(Photo /

By James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer

(January 24, 2009) - After suffering major losses in the last two elections, Republicans have a chance to make history as well as inroads with crucial minority voting blocs next weekend when they meet to select their next chairman.

Two African Americans are campaigning to lead the Republican National Committee when it holds its annual winter meeting Jan. 28-31 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is considered a leading candidate to chair the RNC. Steele has repeatedly argued to his fellow Republicans that the party should expand its base to include more people of color.

In 2002, Steele became the first African American to win statewide office in Maryland. Four years later, he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat.

Steele currently heads GOPAC, a political action committee that recruits and grooms Republicans for political office.

The other African American hoping to lead the Republican Party is Kenneth Blackwell, the former secretary of state of Ohio. A staunch conservative who believes that the party should stand its ground whether Blacks are attracted to it or not, Blackwell is vice chair of the RNC's platform committee and was the party's 2006 nominee for governor in Ohio.

Blackwell and Steele are running against several White candidates who include present RNC Chair Mike Duncan; Saul Anuzsis, chair of the Michigan GOP; Katon Dawson, chair of South Carolina Republicans; and Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee party leader who was campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential bid and who generated controversy when he sent a CD titled "Barack, the Magic Negro" as a Christmas present to RNC members.

The RNC is virtually all-White and needs to make inroads with Black and minority voting blocs after losing the House, Senate and White House to Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

At its convention held last year in St. Paul, Minn., African Americans comprised only 1.5 percent of the total number of GOP delegates, substantially below the record-setting 6.7 percent four years earlier. The 36 Black delegates in 2008 represented a 78.4 percent decline from the 167 Black delegates at the 2004 GOP convention, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Steele spoke at the convention and provided one of the party’s more memorable lines - “drill, baby, drill.”

If an African American is elected RNC chairman next weekend, it may help the party among Blacks, but only a little, said Michael Fauntroy, assistant professor of public policy at the George Mason University School of Public Policy.

"If either Steele or Blackwell is picked, it might say to Black voters that the party is interested in them," said Fauntroy, who has written a book called Republicans and the Black Vote.

"Not only that,” Fauntroy added, “it would also attract a wide range of voters outside of the Black community."

“If an African American is elected RNC chairman next weekend, it may help the party among Blacks, but only a little.”

Fauntroy said that it really depends on whether Steele or Blackwell wins the post.

"If Blackwell wins the position, it may not make a difference to Blacks because he does not register well with them," he said. "If Steele wins, then there is a chance but with Steele, moderates will feel more comfortable with the party."

If Blackwell or Steele is elected, they would become the first African American to lead a major political party since the late Ronald Brown was head of the Democratic National Committee from 1989-1993.

The Economy: Whites are Hurting but Blacks are...

By James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer

(January 25, 2009) - Barely a week in office as president of the United States, Barack Obama is facing one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The nation's economic woes top the new president's agenda even as the war in Iraq continues and the conflict in Afghanistan heats up.

For African Americans like Carl Gray, a D.C.-based freelance videographer and entertainer, with a wife and two children, things always seem bad. Gray suspects that because he is Black, he will suffer economic discrimination, much of it subtle at times.

"I voted for Obama because I wanted someone in the White House who understood what I was going through," Gray said. "I know he does but the question is does he know the answer."

When it comes to Blacks and the economy, two old sayings seem to sum up the struggle: "last hired, first fired" and "when Whites are in a recession, Blacks are in a depression."

The income disparity among Blacks and Whites is striking. For every one dollar a White man makes, a Black man generates 70 cents, followed by White women with 68 cents and Black women with 59, according to a book by Claud Anderson, "Black Labor, White Wealth: The Search for Power and Economic Justice.”

A 2007 study conducted by researcher Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution showed that a typical Black family had only 58 percent of the income and assets of a typical White family. Blacks lag behind Whites in two wealth-producing instruments, homeownership and owning a business.

A 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey showed that while 75 percent of White families owned their homes, only 47 percent of Blacks did so. A 2005 U.S. Department of Commerce survey showed that barely 5 percent of the nation's businesses are Black-owned.

Algernon Austin, an economist and director of the Race, Ethnicity and Economy Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, said that recessions are hurtful, particularly to the "poor and socially marginalized populations."

"As we face the second recession of the decade and consider the merits of various stimulus packages, it is useful to examine what a recession would mean for Black America," he said in an essay, "What a recession means for Black America."

"In the best of times, many African-American communities are forced to tolerate levels of unemployment unseen in most White communities," he said. "For example, the 2002 recession pushed the White annual unemployment rate up from a low of 3.4 percent in 2000 to a high of 5.2 percent in 2003. During the same period, the Black unemployment rate shot up from 7.6 percent to 10.8 percent."

Austin said that "national recessions take African Americans from a bad situation to a worse one."

"In 2007, the Black unemployment rate was 8.3 percent," he said. "This figure is still above the pre-recession low and more than twice the White unemployment rate. Goldman Sachs estimates that a new recession would increase the national unemployment rate to 6.4 percent by 2009. For African Americans, the unemployment rate would be expected to rise to 11 percent."

To combat those numbers for all Americans, the Obama administration has designed a stimulus package to fuel the economy by building thousands of quality schools, lower electricity bills and increase health coverage for millions who lose insurance.

“National recessions take African Americans from a bad situation
to a worse one."
"Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four," he said in his five-minute Jan. 25 radio address. "And we could lose a generation of potential, as more young Americans are forced to forgo college dreams or the chance to train for the jobs of the future. In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."

Daunting statistics faced by Obama include:

*The United States lost 2.6 million jobs last year, the most in any single year since World War II.
*Manufacturing is at a 28-year low.

*The potential for unemployment could top 10 percent before the recession ends.

*One in 10 homeowners is at risk of foreclosure and the dollar continues its slide in value.

Corporations continue to suffer. Circuit City is closing and Microsoft announced recently it will lay off 5,000 workers nationwide. Most governors are asking for help in the stimulus package as they face staggering deficits because of lack of revenue from faltering local economies and the growing need of Medicaid and children's health insurance programs.

Obama said that his plan would create 3 to 4 million jobs over the next few years by emphasizing public works projects, increasing the federal portion of public assistance programs that states manage, some tax cuts and taking on some uninsured Americans through a new, comprehensive health care plan.

“There are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there’s so much work to be done,” he said.

But Obama cautioned again against expecting instant results: “No one policy or program will solve the challenges we face right now, nor will this crisis recede in a short period of time.”

Gray, the videographer, said he understands that things will take time and he will be patient.

"At least I know that Obama is trying," he said. "That is the important thing -- that somebody high in the government understands that people are hurting and trying to do something about it."

Obama takes steps to reverse Bush climate policies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama began reversing the climate policies of the Bush administration on Monday, clearing the way for new rules to force auto makers to produce more fuel-efficient and less polluting cars.

The president told the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider immediately a request by California to impose its own strict limits on vehicle carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for contributing to global warming.

The Democratic Obama took over last Tuesday from former President George W. Bush, whose Republican administration had denied the request, prompting California and other states to sue.

"The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Obama said at the White House, taking a stab at his predecessor's policies.

"California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to 21st century standards. And over a dozen states have followed its lead."

Obama's directive, which is likely to result in a formal change in coming months, could prompt as many as 18 states to follow California's lead by putting into effect tailpipe emissions standards that are tougher than federal requirements.

The president directed the Department of Transportation to move forward with setting vehicle fuel efficiency standards for model year 2011 by March, giving automakers an 18-month period to prepare.

The rules piled pressure on an ailing car industry struggling to survive in a deepening recession with the help of federal bailouts.

General Motors Corp said it is "working aggressively" to develop better hybrids and electric cars to reduce emissions and improve mileage, but policymakers must weigh in economic factors when making their decision.

"We're ready to engage the Obama administration and Congress on policies that support meaningful and workable solutions and targets," the company said in a statement.

Their future may be more troubled as the U.S. recession deepens. Economists polled by Reuters in advance of Friday's Gross Domestic Product report think GDP contracted at a 5.4 percent rate on an annualized basis in the fourth quarter, which would be the worst performance since 1982.


The Obama directive pleased environmentalists, who supported his election but could annoy labor unions, another key constituency, whose members are embittered about the loss of auto jobs.

Obama said the policy shift would help carmakers in the long run.

"Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry, it is to help America's automakers prepare for the future," he said.

California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the Obama administration last week to review the pollution emissions decision.

"It is clear that California and the environment now have a strong ally in the White House," he said in a statement, welcoming the move on Monday.

"Allowing California and other states to aggressively reduce their own harmful vehicle tailpipe emissions would be a historic win for clean air and for millions of Americans who want more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly cars."

Democratic lawmakers in Washington hailed the measure as a step toward energy independence and clean air, but some Republicans accused him of setting back the struggling U.S. auto industry.

The moves signaled Obama's desire to move forward quickly with his campaign promises to fight climate change and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Obama laid out broad principles that he said his administration would follow. It was time for the United States to lead on climate change, he said, and reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

"It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil," he said, adding previous administrations had made similar goals.

"We need more than the same old empty promises. We need to show that this time it will be different," he said.

The U.S. State Department is expected to name Todd Stern, a senior White House official under former President Bill Clinton, as its climate change envoy, two people familiar with the decision said on Monday.

Stern coordinated the Clinton administration's Initiative on Global Climate Change from 1997 to 1999 and acted as the senior White House negotiator in the Kyoto negotiations on climate change.

Verducci: “Joe Torre does not rip anybody in the book.”

In response to yesterday’s hoopla about Joe Torre’s new book, the book’s co-author, SI’s Tom Verducci, answered some questions about the controversy. He claims that it is a third-person account, and that, as the headline says, Torre doesn’t rip anyone, and that “[i]t’s not a tell-all book.” He goes on to say that the book is a third-person narrative. While it’s nice to now know the point of view the authors employed, I don’t think this fact alone gets Torre off the hook.

Meanwhile, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times offers up a review in Sunday’s paper. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit more even-handed than the tabloid accounts we saw yesterday. It talks about the actual focus of the book, the post-2001 decline, rather than a few cherry-picked anecdotes. Again, none of this comes as a shocking revelation.

That said, third person point of view or not, it does appear Torre got in his shots:

The book does not hide Torre’s bitterness over his departure in 2007 (he was offered a one-year contract that involved a pay cut in his base salary) and takes a few swipes at the general manager, Brian Cashman, and some players — most notably, Alex Rodriguez.

The quote on A-Rod used in this review: “Rodriguez was like nothing ever seen before on the championship teams of the Torre Era: an ambitious superstar impressed and motivated by stature and status, particularly when those qualities pertained to himself.” There’s also a bit on Jason Giambi, whom Torre says “wasn’t part of what we prided ourselves on: playing well defensively.” So I guess the whole book isn’t third person.

Kakutani notes one of the book’s shortcomings:

This book often fails to detail Torre’s role in the decisions made over these years. His reactions to the signing of Giambi and management’s refusal to grant Williams a guaranteed contract in 2007 are duly noted, but in other instances, it’s unclear to what degree he protested specific choices made by the front office or its lack of a long-term rebuilding strategy.

I’m sure it also doesn’t discuss Torre’s on-field decisions, which had drawn the ire of fans for the last four or five years of his tenure. Despite the point of view, the book is Torre’s take on those years, and in all likelihood he didn’t see much fault in himself. What I also find strange is that he has these unkind words about the way the teams were constructed after 2001, yet he wanted to come back and manage that same team in 2008 and beyond. That, perhaps, is why many will view this as Torre taking swipes on his way out the door.

In the end, this has turned into more a marketing scheme than anything. Now we’re all talking about the book. There have been controversial claims made in the book. The only way to give it all context is to read it.

P.S. Joshua Robinson at the Bats blog has a great line from the Torre: “One thing I’ve learned is that people are going to feel the way they’re going to feel, regardless of what happened.” That means you too, Joe. That means you too.

Hot Rod Blagojevich Considered Oprah For Obama’s Senate Seat

Impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Good Morning America. Speed ahead to around 5:15 for the Oprah mention
Hot Rod goes on the offensive as his impeachment trial starts today. In the above video, Blago mentions that he considered nominating Oprah Winfrey to replace Barack Obama in the United States Senate. Earlier he whines to Diane Sawyer about not being able to call Valerie Jarrett, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. as witnesses in his impeachment trial.

But, they will be called in his very public Chicagoland trial.