Saturday, April 08, 2006

We jest because we care

Tom DeLay To Pursue Corruption In Private Sector

April 5, 2006 | Issue 42•14

STAFFORD, TX—Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is facing several ethics violations and felony charges, announced Tuesday that he will resign from Congress in order to concentrate on corruption in the private sector. "I can say with a clear lack of conscience that, after 21 years of public disservice, I have done everything I could to the American people," DeLay said in a televised statement to constituents. "I have a lot to offer the corporate world, such as money laundering and influence-peddling." DeLay added that, before assuming his new irresponsibilities, he looks forward to spending more time alienating his family and cheating on his wife.


The drug war sucks. But a dozen students in South Dakota just made a mil from it. Here's a more mainstream news article about the same unbelievable story.

That Fourth Amendment seems to be hanging on for dear life.

(Via Crooks and Liars.)

The new math

Kids need financial literacy. The rates of young people racking up credit card debts and declaring bankruptcy are going through the roof. And with the recent cuts in student financial aid, that problem will get far worse before it gets better.

So what's a school to do? Already cash strapped and struggling to pay teachers adequate salaries and buy textbooks for traditional subjects, many schools are accepting financial materials from banks and investment houses free or charge. This raises serious potential problems. It reminds me way too much of the Channel One fiasco that was part of the reason Mr Abramoff is looking at 5 to 10.

From the Wall St. Journal:

All of this is fueling a debate over the appropriateness of using educational material developed by banks, financial advisers and credit-card issuers, since they have a vested interest in getting their marketing message in front of future customers. "Teachers become suspicious when materials have a logo," says Robert Duvall of the National Council on Economic Education, a New York nonprofit, nonpartisan group for improving economic literacy.

Troy Krogman, a high-school economics teacher in Spearfish, S.D., didn't pass out any branded handouts when a Wells Fargo banker guest lectured last year about bad check-writing among college freshman, because he was concerned the company was trying "to involve itself in the lives of kids before they get banking assistance."

Companies like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch & Co. say they are sensitive about issues like these, but hesitate to remove their names from materials they invested time and money developing.

I can understand that, too. This isn't exactly charity but it can't be bald marketing either. There's a very fine line between the two. I think the companies -- and I'm sure this will sound out of character for me -- should be allowed to develop brand awareness by putting their logos on materials they develop and pay for, but I don't think they should be able to advertise particular products, like free checking accounts or no-fee mutual funds or whatever. Part of the reason I think they should be allowed to use their brand -- no, all of the reason -- is that I feel so strongly that this should be an absolutely necessary component of any education.

I like the compromise struck in the last graf of the WSJ article:

Companies and educators are starting to develop some solutions. The Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition asks corporate speakers to sign a so-called nonmarketing agreement, stating they will maintain a "nonselling approach" and "will not solicit clients" during presentations.

In a perfect world, schools would have all the money they needed to develop their own materials. Need I remind anyone, this is decidedly not a perfect world. And it'll be a lot less perfect for a lot of people without adequate financial education.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Student protests

Austin school officials are insisting that students not walk out on April 10. I can understand their position, but I think it's wrong. As an Austin Statesman reporter put it:

As the debate over federal immigration laws and the student walkouts continue around Central Texas and nationwide, school administrators and civic leaders are facing a conundrum: After years of telling young people they can change the world, what do you do when they try to prove you right?

It's a great point. Here's another from Drive Democracy, a liberal Texas blog:

We shouldn’t expect school administrators to just say, “Go ahead, skip school.” But, at the same time, effective civil protest must always be of a form that can’t be ignored. Peaceful? Absolutely. But rendered harmless, conducted in a way the authorities can simply ignore and smile weakly at, protests become invisible. These students are too smart for that. The invisible become easy victims.

Students should protest. Aren't we constantly teaching them that when we crack open the history books to the 1950's and 60's. Injustices, if ignored, will persist. So punish the students, but do it in a way that they understand that what they are doing is a vital part of American political life, not in a way that will scare them into the apathy that most Americans practice so assiduously.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Petition request

Some progressive Texas groups want you to sign a petition. Consider these three facts:

(1)Texas has declined from 32nd to 40th in spending on education in the last 5 years
(2)Texas now spends $1500 less per student per year than the national average
(3)Texas teachers now are paid $6800 less per year than the national average

If that doesn't make you mad, I don't know what will. Sign the petition here.

Turn 'em over... but to whom?

An article from Saturday's Baltimore Sun details the Maryland Legislature's vote to hold off on a plan to privatize 11 Baltimore public schools. Conspicuously absent from the article is any mention of who was going to take over the schools or what their plans for the perenially failing schools might look like.

This is symptomatic of so many education issues. At first blush, the solution sounds obvious: "What, only 5% of kids passed the algebra test? That's despicable. Shut 'em down. Turn the school over to someone else!" But then, who is that someone else? Why would anyone want to run a school with only a 5% passing rate? Do they expect to make a profit? Are they missionaries? What's their plan? Once these questions get answered, the obvious solution becomes anything but.

Charter problems

An excellent NYT piece today does an excellent job examining some of the underlying problems with charter schools. They don't recommend what would seem to be an obvious solution: more rigorous standards for applicants. Once these schools open, it is very painful for students, teachers, families -- whole communities -- when they shut down. And all too often, they do shut down.

Worse than Arkansas?

Texas will be coming back for a special legislative session to fix the mess some call "the school finance system." It's less a system than a patched-together hodgepodge of local taxes coupled with state sales tax. Added together, it equals significantly less than what school districts need to meet the standards required by the state.

In contrast to the image every has of us Texans, though, there is some awareness that there is a world outside of our borders. The Dallas Morning News ran an AP story about Arkansas' very similar problem:

The assembly's focus will be answering the state Supreme Court's 2005 ruling that Arkansas had not adequately funded education for the state's 450,000 students. The state faces a Dec. 1 deadline to address problems with the current funding formula.

Legislators are looking at an additional $132.5 million in funding over the next two years for the state's 251 school districts, plus a $90 million appropriation for repairing crumbling school buildings.

There is a significant difference though. In Texas, the Supreme Court warned that Texas schools were close to inadequacy but not there yet. The only aspect of the Texas system ruled unconstitutional was a statewide property tax -- and that appears to be the only thing the Texas Legislature wants to fix. Most of the Republican leadership down here has pledged whatever "fix" comes from a special session will be "revenue neutral." That is, no new money.

If you're a Texan, and you have any young children near the computer screen, please move them away because what I'm about to say is almost too horrible for even adults to consider:

If Arkansas invests in their schools and we don't, it is entirely possible that we might fall behind Arkansas. I shudder to think about it.
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