Archive for September, 2009

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Chamber of Commerce = delusional extremists?

September 30, 2009

You don’t say!

Flying Whale

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The right to compromise

September 23, 2009

Though smaller than it should be, there is an ongoing debate in the non-profit community about whether or not non-elected advocates have the right to make compromises during the legislative or regulatory process.

Whether its land conservationists compromising on CAFE standards at the national level or wildlife enthusiasts at the state level promising not to object to the next site chosen as long as the military moves away from this migratory bird nesting site, advocates cut deals on our behalf all the time.

The only thing is, unlike elected officials, we didn’t elect them.  And worse, they aren’t really accountable to us in any way.

It’s a problem for a supposedly democratic society that currently houses much of its policy expertise in the non-profit sector.

Jonas

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When big agriculture gets really, really big

September 23, 2009

20070615_corn_seeds74115193_18It creates crazy contracts that take away farmers’ rights to privacy, legal action in their own state, and damages beyond the price of the seeds themselves.

And it counts opening a bag of seed as a signature.

Pretty damn unbelievable.

Jonas

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Rural education: and what in the world are we going to do about it?

September 23, 2009

dirt road farm landLately, I’ve been having the same conversation over and over again.  From concerned parents to stressed out Initially Licensed Teachers (ILTs) to grassroots activists to state level decision makers, I’ve been listening, learning and talking about the challenges of rural education.

Not that we’ve arrived, but we are making real progress on urban education (see New Leaders for New Schools’ Urban Excellence Framework).  There are smart, thoughtful folks figuring out how to turn chronically low performing schools around, engage the community, synch high school prep programs with local employers, and feed students directly into institutions of higher educations.  But for all the excited momentum around these urban models, we have yet to find ways to address the poverty, geographic isolation and constant staff turnover that plague rural communities.

One of the ILT’s I talked to this week pointed me towards a segment on North Carolina Public Radio about rural schools, using Warren County as a case study.  It’s nice to see someone else drilling down into a community to begin understanding what these challenges look like on the ground.

There are a million subtleties, but from what I know, Dave DeWitt gets it about right:

  • Urban Tier 1 schools get more money per pupil than rural Tier 1 schools.  Secretary Duncan has gestured toward changing that, but don’t hold your breath.
  • Because school budgets in most states are comprised of formulaic money from the state supplemented by local money, rural communities with weaker or more dispersed tax bases have fewer resources to spread (literally) farther.
  • Because of this reality, rural school districts are usually unable to raise teacher salaries above the (relatively low) state level.  Unable to compete, they lose their good teachers to the nearest urban school system (DeWitt’s comparison to baseball’s minor league feeding their best into the major leagues is a good one).
  • In addition to being unable to compete on salary, rural school districts often struggle to provide housing for young teachers (take Warren County which has not a single apartment in the entire county) and/or job opportunities for the partners/spouses of teachers.
  • In Warren County’s case, you end up with a superintendent admitting that he would be unable to staff his schools if it wasn’t for the constant influx of Teach for America Corp members.

Add on top of these the preference at the national level for competitive grant money for innovation in the form of charter schools and merit pay for teachers (changes more easily–though not exclusively–managed in districts with more concentrated resources and population) and you can see why this is often a discouraging conversation.

It’s a long row.  We’re working on it.  But in the meantime, we should all say a blessing over TFA.

Jonas

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The Atlantic 50

September 20, 2009

Based on influence, reach, and web engagement, they are the “all-star team.”

These are the most influential commentators in the nation, the columnists and bloggers and broadcast pundits who shape the national debates.

We conducted surveys of more than 250 insiders – members of Congress, national media figures, and political players – asking respondents to rank-order the commentators who most influence their own thinking.

I clicked on the link.  I was curious to see how mainstream my sources of information and commentray are.  As I skimmed through I found it to be more or less the list you’d expect.

But by the time I got to twenty, I was paying attention to something else.  You have to scroll down to number thirteen before you find someone who isn’t a white man.  Among the fifty, there are only nine women to be found, and only two men of color.  There isn’t a single woman of color in the list.  Not a single one.

I don’t mean to overstate the importance of this list.  And demographics certainly aren’t everything.  But to those who think equal opportunity has been achieved, I’d ask what the chances are that the overwhelming whiteness of the group is merely coincidental.

Jonas

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Double bind

September 18, 2009

Turns out, being a victim of relationship violence counts as a pre-existing condition in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you’re more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it’s a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

Economic and healthcare consequences if you stay.  And often, economic hardship if you leave.

And that, dear readers, is a double bind.

Jonas

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Teabaggers in DC

September 12, 2009

Sometimes RedState is my favorite website ever.

Today, a whole lot of people marched in DC against, uh, government. They weren’t anarchists, they were teabaggers. Most media outlets are citing estimates that there were probably between 50 and 100 thousand of them. But RedState goes off the deep end and declares, TWO MILLION march on Washington! On the other side, Josh Marshall accepts a figure of 60 to 70 thousand and writes a post titled, “Small Protest Against Big Govt.”

Come on. Can’t we agree that 70,000 people is a lot, and more than many of us would have expected? It’s not small, and it’s certainly not two million.

Anyway, I also love RedState for posts like this one, with a slew of photos of signs from today’s march. My favorite sign in this whole mess is right near the beginning: “If Abortion Had Not Killed 53,000,000 Babies We’d Have Plenty Of Money For Medicare and Social Security.” I believe it’s important to understand where people are coming from, but sometimes, as here, one is confronted with utterly nonsensical statements and such a good-faith effort is bound to fail spectacularly.

Flying Whale