Archive for August, 2010

Limited school-cheating inquiry leaves us in the dark

It was a heart-warming story: A school where nine in 10 students were poor enough to receive a free or reduced lunch, and yet where nine in 10 students met or exceeded most state testing standards.

As recently as 2009, Atlanta’s East Lake Elementary School was honored as a “No Excuses” school and deemed not only to be making the critical Adequate Yearly Progress, but to be doing so in “distinguished” fashion.

Then came the state’s analysis of suspicious wrong-to-right erasure marks on test answer sheets, including red flags for 42 percent of East Lake Elementary’s classrooms. Tighter monitoring was on order during the 2010 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, and the results, as reflected in the school’s test scores, were devastating.

Of 15 CRCT exams (three subjects apiece for five grades), scores fell from the 2009 levels in 13. In the third and fourth grades, they fell by double digits across all three measures — reading, math and English/language arts — including a …

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Haley Barbour, ‘most powerful Republican in politics’?

Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich are the Republicans getting most of the attention in pre-2012 opinion polls. Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and even Chris Christie get some pub as well.

But a Politico piece today makes the case that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is more influential than them or any other GOP pol right now:

Barbour, who runs the Republican Governors Association, has more money to spend on the 2010 elections — $40 million — than any other GOP leader around. And in private, numerous Republicans describe Barbour as the de facto chairman of the party.

It’s not just because he controls the RGA kitty but, rather, because he has close relationships with everyone who matters in national GOP politics — operatives like Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and other top Republicans running or raising cash for a network of outside political groups. Together, these groups are essential to Republican hopes of regaining power because Democrats are cleaning their …

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New ObamaCare talking points: Forget previous talking points

Some liberal groups are finally acknowledging the obvious: Hardly anyone believed their claims that ObamaCare would “bend the cost curve downward” and help balance the federal budget.

The public rejection of the claims may not be news, but the left’s acknowledgment of this defeat does qualify as a scoop — and Politico’s Ben Smith is the one who got it:

Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and the deficit and instead stressing a promise to “improve it.”

The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by Families USA — one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. The call was led by a staffer for the Herndon Alliance, which includes leading labor groups and other health care allies. It was based on polling from three top Democratic pollsters, John Anzalone, Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg

The …

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Europe shows the result of total insistence on tolerance

The American people, having been put through endless sensitivity training over the past few decades, know offensiveness when they see it. And they see it in the mosque proposed for lower Manhattan.

So, yes, the American people are a bit stunned to find the fingers pointed at themselves when controversy erupts over a $100 million Islamic project just two blocks from where 10 terrorists brought down two 110-story towers in the name of Islam. They don’t find this turning of the sensitivity tables ironic, but outrageous.

They are more than irked to hear the speaker of the House of Representatives suggest that those Americans speaking out against the mosque should be investigated to see who’s bankrolling them, not least since the identities of the mosque’s donors are still being withheld.

They hear lofty talk about tolerance and upholding the First Amendment — or at least part of it — and they think, “The freedom to practice Islam in this country does not hinge on the specific …

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Jobs forecast not the only ‘dumb’ thing about stimulus (video)

Agreeing with Barney Frank twice in two months? Don’t worry, the Massachusetts Democrat wasn’t right about everything in his interview with Fox Business Network yesterday. But he did finally acknowledge what has been obvious to everyone outside the Democratic Party for some time now (starting at the 3:37 mark):

Here’s a transcript of the relevant part of the exchange:

President Obama, whom I greatly admire … here’s the mistake he made. When the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the recovery bill, not the stimulus bill; that’s what the focus-group people tell us — with the economic recovery bill, he predicted, or his aides predicted at the time, that if it passed, unemployment would get below 8 percent. That was a dumb thing to do. In the first place, nobody knows. In the second place, what they should have said is, if we pass it, it’ll be better than if we don’t pass it. (emphasis added)

But what about the supposed reliability of the Keynesian models Obama’s …

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The tea party as a ‘hostile takeover’ of the GOP

Two tea-party promoters, Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of Freedomworks, offer a “manifesto” for the movement in today’s Wall Street Journal. The bit that’s getting all the attention doesn’t come until the end:

[L]et us be clear about one thing: The tea party movement is not seeking a junior partnership with the Republican Party, but a hostile takeover of it.

The American values of individual freedom, fiscal responsibility and limited government bind the ranks of our movement. That makes the tea party better than a political party. It is a growing community that can sustain itself after November, ensuring a better means of holding a new generation of elected officials accountable.

So, it’s a hostile takeover of a political party, but it’s also better than a political party? I think I know what they are getting at: that they are part of a movement that will try to infiltrate the GOP and change it from within, rather than compete with, or take orders from, it. But it’s a little …

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The NYC mosque and the Obama two-step

President Obama stirred up some trouble he probably regrets over his own dueling comments last weekend about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. On Friday night, at a White House dinner in honor of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, Obama said “… Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” Which is of course true as far as it goes.

The next day, while on a photo-op visit to Panama City, Fla., Obama clarified those remarks: “I was not commenting [Friday] and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding.”

But from the beginning, the debate over the …

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The real ‘two Americas’: government and the governed

The public sector sees a totally different America than the rest of us do.

That’s true in the broadest sense: Two-thirds of the political class believe the country is moving in the right direction, while 84 percent of other Americans think we’re headed the wrong way, according to a Rasmussen Reports opinion poll earlier this month.

But the divide between government and the governed goes deeper than these momentary feelings. It shows up in our paychecks as well.

Last week USA Today reported that the average federal civilian employee earns twice as much in salary and benefits as the average private-sector worker. These federal workers are paid 61 percent more than the rest of us and receive almost four times as much in retirement and other benefits.

President Barack Obama has proposed an across-the-board pay raise of 1.4 percent next year for these 2 million workers, at a cost of $2.2 billion. The USA Today story noted that this would be the smallest federal pay hike in a …

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Obama, Bush and the cost of hiring someone

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by the president of Bogen Communications, a small business in New Jersey, titled simply “Why I’m Not Hiring.” In it, he describes his company’s median worker in terms of income — and why it costs so much to employ her relative to the pay she takes home (subscription required):

She makes $59,000 a year — on paper. In reality, she makes only $44,000 a year because $15,000 is taken from her thanks to various deductions and taxes, all of which form the steep, sad slope between gross and net pay.

Before that money hits her bank, it is reduced by the $2,376 she pays as her share of the medical and dental insurance that my company provides. And then the government takes its due. She pays $126 for state unemployment insurance, $149 for disability insurance and $856 for Medicare. That’s the small stuff. New Jersey takes $1,893 in income taxes. The federal government gets $3,661 for Social Security and another $6,250 for income tax …

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Atlanta schools cheating probe missed big life lessons

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I witnessed a petty crime in my basement: my friend Michael stole one of my friend Gavin’s prized baseball cards. I didn’t tell Gavin or anyone else.

But Gavin realized something was wrong when he got home, and soon my parents were questioning me. I confessed to keeping quiet and was punished. Michael got his, too. The clear lesson was that the adults in our world wouldn’t accept dishonesty.

I wonder what lesson is being learned by the children at Venetian Hills Elementary School. Here is what some of them told the adults who investigated cheating on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in Atlanta Public Schools, as reported by the AJC last Sunday:

“One student, who spoke to investigators with his mother, said that during the 2009 CRCT, his teacher pointed to specific lines on his test sheet and then whispered that he should erase his answers. The student said he saw the same teacher using similar techniques to give answers to others. …

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