Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vanderbilt Study Confirms the Obvious

I apologize to readers for my infrequent posting of late. It's the crazy season for me because I work in politics.
Last week on September 21st, 2010 Vanderbilt University released the results of a three year experiment with teacher pay for performance. The conclusion is that teacher pay for performance does not raise student test scores. Congratulations to Vanderbilt on a timely and courageous study. However, considering that teacher pay for performance has been attempted off and on for about 100 years, each time without success, maybe a simple review of history would have sufficed.

The pay for performance folks evidently believe that teachers are holding something back, just waiting for that cash bonus to bring out their true effort. Perhaps that's the way it is in the corporate world or in the world of finance. It's not that way in the world of education.

If the "reformers" want to do some economic good for education they should consider the following: We need educators to have good starting salaries and to reach maximum earning potential in 10 years instead of 25 years. These changes to salary schedules will, to use the common expression, attract and retain quality educators. Also, save the benefits of educators. One of the reasons we have managed to keep quality people in spite of the pittiful wages is that health care and pension have been adequate. How is it that we can now talk about financial incentives for educators in one breath, and about cutting their benefits in the next?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To Thine Ownself Be True

What more can be said about Delaware's Primary Election night? After all, every national media outlet in the nation has been talking about the O'Donnell victory over Castle in the Republican primary for US Senate.

O'Donnell will get a great deal of media play. She is just the type of entertainment/news that has become the mainstay of what passes for political discourse. Love her or hate her, throughout the campaign she has remained true to her own values and probably will do so even with a camera in her face from now to November 2nd.

Chris Coons, the Democrat for US Senate will pick up his share of attention as well. Coons is now positioned to be the reasonable choice to represent Delaware not only for Democrats, but for moderate Republicans and Independents as well. His candidacy will be viewed by the Democratic National Committee as a hedge against a Republican take over of the Senate...and therein is both the solution and problem.

The Coons Campaign has not lacked for a great candidate with big ideas. It has lacked money. Now will come the opportunity for money and with the money, the consultants. Consultants for Democrats have had one game plan for candidates over the last 30 years; run to the middle. The gist of the idea is that your base has no where to go and you pick up Independents and moderate Republicans. You stand in the middle of the road and hitch a ride from voters all the way to DC.

As someone who has followed American politics since I was eight years old when RFK was running, and who has worked professionally in politics for more than a couple of decades, I would give two points of caution about this strategy. First, candidates always run better when they run true to themselves. If Coons is a progressive, he should run with those ideals, explained in a populist way. Second, given the choice between a real Republican and a faux Republican, Republicans will choose the genuine article; and there is an old joke that Independents are Republicans with an identity crisis.

Please, take my second point above as about 85% jest. Republicans and Democrats in Delaware often cross Party lines when voting because we do not have the same political polarization as most of the nation. Moreover, more people in Delaware choose to be Independents because of this unique practice of politics in the state.

The point is, both candidates should be who they are and let the voters decide on the merits of their positions. Neither O'Donnell or Coons should let someone from DC in a $2,000 suit tell them who to be.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Speech to Remember

This weekend there were many tributes to the 9/11 victims and heroes. At the best of these remembrances our own mortality is acknowledged and our own morality is inspired.

However, I can not stop noticing that for a few people the slogan, "Remember 9/11" has become what "God bless America" is for the same few. These phrases which should be prayerful and thoughtful are more like pugnacious challenges: "By-god, I'm all-American, I remember 9/11 and I know that God blesses America, but I have my suspicions about you, and what you believe."

On the opposite side of this example Delaware's Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn gave a fantastic speech on September 10th in Georgetown to commemorate Patriots' Day. Nothing more needs to be written by me. I have simply copied his speech below, enjoy and learn:

"Tomorrow, September 11th, is Patriot Day. We have commemorated it every year since 2002, and as President Bush said when he declared the first Patriot Day, it reminds us to “always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our Nation was founded endure.” Some facts about September 11th are self-evident. The heroism of the men and women who died that day was profound, and it will be remembered by my grandchildren and their grandchildren. The lesson it taught us about the need to increase our vigilance in a world where two oceans no longer protect us has also taken hold.

To take only those lessons from September 11th, though, is too easy. We should also strive to be a people, to create a country, of which those who gave their lives on 9/11 would be proud. The drafters of our Constitution began by saying “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” They did not use language lightly. When they said “a more perfect union,” they recognized that even the nation they were creating would not be what it ultimately could be. The framers would be proud of the nation we have become.

From a nation that declared black Americans to be 3/5 of a person and denied women the right to vote, we have become a nation that has enshrined in its Constitution the equal treatment of all Americans regardless of race or gender. The framers would think—and more importantly, the men and women who have given their lives to defend this country would think–that a nation where personal differences are not punished is a more perfect union.

So how can we continue to make a more perfect union, to honor the memory of those who gave their lives on September 11th? One way would be to heed the words of past presidents of both parties, and past religious leaders of many denominations, to also become a kinder nation.When President George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, he eloquently invoked the Bible when he said “I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.” Exactly a quarter of a century before him, President Jimmy Carter began his own inaugural address by using words of the prophet Micah that are central to the Jewish faith: that we should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

In some ways this goal, of a kind and compassionate nation, is harder to achieve, because it can’t be legislated and it can’t easily be measured. But to strive for it would honor Salman Hamdani. Salman Hamdani died on September 11th. He was a police cadet with the NYPD, and a trained emergency medical technician, an American citizen who had immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when he was one. When he heard about the attacks on the towers, he rushed there immediately, even though he was off duty. Because he was Muslim and disappeared without a trace on September 11th, he was publicly identified as a suspect in the terrorist attacks. On March 20, 2002, his remains were finally found at Ground Zero, the Mayor of New York and chief of the NYPD eulogized him as a hero at his funeral, and his heroism was recognized by the United States Congress. Striving for a kinder, more compassionate nation would honor Salman Hamdani in deed as well as in word.

To strive for it would honor Father Michayl Judge. Father Judge was the New York Fire Department’s chaplain on September 11th. He had been the chaplain for nine years, and some time during that nine years he had told the Fire Commissioner and other friends that he was a celibate gay man. Father Judge also raced to the towers when he heard of the attacks, and administered late rites to those dying on the scene. He turned down pleas that he leave the area, and instead went back into the north tower to be with his men just before the building collapsed, killing him. His body was carried from the scene by firefighters and laid at the altar of a nearby church, designated by the city as victim number one of the World Trade Tower attack because his body was the first removed. Striving for a kinder, more compassionate nation would honor Father Judge in deed as well as in word.

We can honor the deaths of these patriots, and all the others who perished on September 11th, by continuing the work started over two centuries ago to make this nation a more perfect union. In this more perfect union we will recognize our differences not as a burden to be borne, but as a strength to be cherished. And we will carry forward the tradition of constant progress toward perfection that has allowed America to continue to be a beacon for the world through generations. On this September 11th, let us honor its patriots by rededicating ourselves to making the country they died for, already the finest nation in the world, finer still."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Big was the Spill?

The DSEA-Retired group had their annual picnic today at Pizzadilli Winery in Kent County. About 100 retired educators attended the event. In this population, much discussion continues around the incident in which thousands of retirees had personal information compromised by Delaware's State Benefits Office and their consultant, AON. For a period of four days the gender, dates of birth and social security numbers of 22,000 individuals were posted to an open website.

AON and the state were posting information as part of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for vision care. The Social Security numbers were not supposed to be in the posting.

The DSEA retirees are demanding that the compromised individuals be given a minimum of five years free credit monitoring, and that the State Benefits Office establish a policy that will prohibit this type of vendor mistake from happening again.

There are three critical questions that either the state or AON should be able to answer given available technology: How many "hits" were registered on the infamous website? Who looked at the data? Who downloaded the data? The answer to these questions will tell us the magnitude of the damage and the resources needed for the clean up. It is the equivalent of BP telling the public how much oil was spilled.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

The annual Labor Day parade in downtown Wilmington had a big turnout this year, and participants were rewarded with perfect autumn walking weather. Once again, the Delaware State Education Association was in the parade. All attending members and guests received a tee shirt from DSEA with the new "Great Schools, Great Communities" theme. DSEA gave away apples and pencils to those gathered along the parade route.

Elected office holders and candidates often walk with the various union groups. Walking with DSEA this year were Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Governor Matt Denn, US Congress candidate John Carney, and State Representatives John Kowalko, Earl Jaques, and Bryon Short. Also, walking with DSEA was Abe Jones, who is both a DSEA member and a candidate for state representative in House 24.

Two great marching bands kept things moving this year. A special thanks goes out to the Cab Caloway marching band from Red Clay School District, and the Christiania High School marching band from Christina School District.

This Labor Day, remember the "Labor" in the day. Labor Day was originally celebrated on May 1st as International Workers Day. A few of Labor's accomplishments through collective bargaining and political action include: weekends, the eight hour day, child labor laws, public school education, overtime pay, workers compensation (job injury insurance), and the duty free lunch...just to name a few.