Monday, February 23, 2009

Bertosa the Brave

By John Bertosa

So, there I was perusing the Internet last week trying to pin down what I would blog about for Monday. I had some ideas but nothing that was really stirring the passion or anything that seemed pressing.

And then Eric Holder spoke.

For those who don't know who Holder is, he's the new Attorney General, and therefore a member of the "Hope and Change" Administration. And on Wednesday he declared the United States was "a Nation of Cowards." (I'll give President Obama credit for keeping one campaign pledge, he is changing the tone in Washington.)

Now Holder believes we are cowards because we don't candidly talk about race, and we don't go home and hang out with people differing skin color.

Now, I was shocked at these words at first since I thought there was no need to have a discussion. I thought we should simply say what whites have done wrong and what whites need to do to fix things. And that wouldn't be considered a discussion.

But I will take up Mr. Holder's challenge and start a frank discussion on race.

I believe that the best way to combat racism and such prejudice is to be colorblind in our thoughts as well as actions. To treat every one the same despite their skin color and more importantly to react to people in ways that have nothing to do with their skin color.

Think back to the last three strangers you saw at the grocery store, or the bar or the movie theater. Can you recall if they were right or left-handed? Or if their ear lobes were attached or detached?

We don't notice those physical attributes because we don't think about them, and I believe conditioning society to think about skin color in this way is the only way that we can truly eradicate racism.

Others will counter that a lot of horrible things were done to people because of their skin color, things that were never done to the left-handed or those with detached earlobes. Skin color was used to separate people in society and put some in a very much worse situation while others benefited.

And those who say this are absolutely right. That has been going on in our modern day society since the Dutch first discovered Africa.

They also will say that since our society looks at skin color, the best solutions are ones that take skin color into account. But in this they are absolutely wrong.

Because by using such methods (i.e. affirmative action and quotas) it sends the message that it is OK to take skin color into account if it is beneficial to a group. And in a society that is taught two wrongs do not make a right,that becomes a conflicting message.

It also creates a resentment among some whites, not necessarily the college-educated ones who have access to quality jobs, but the poorer ones whose families never owned slaves or owned a southern restaurant with segregated bathrooms.

These poor whites ask why should the government set up beneficial programs specifically for poor blacks when they are in the same financial situation?

So, setting up programs like the one in Ohio where a certain percentage of government contracts have to go to minority firms treats the symptoms of racism but it merely masks the true disease -- defining people based on the color of their skin. And when you don't treat the disease, it will spread.

Yes, I know getting more than 300 million people to stop seeing skin color as a defining characteristic is a tall order and will take generations. But that time will come sooner if government stops endorsing race-based policies out of the goodness of its heart.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Money -- the root of all good?

By John Bertosa

In Northeast Ohio, just like in other parts of the country, there are school districts that are the envy of parents everywhere and are just miles away from districts that are pitied by parents everywhere.
Two of those top-rated districts are Chagrin Falls, to the east of Cleveland and Bay to the west. And in between is the woeful Cleveland school district.
Liberals look at the situation -- affluent households supporting districts in which kids go to newer buildings and do excellent on test scores while poorer household have to go to crumbling buildings and are given educations that result in low test scores.
And these liberals cry unfair and demand an equal amount of funding goes to the poorer districts. Because, as was perfectly illustrated in the quote chosen by Dan, they believe the key is government money, aka redistribution of wealth, aka making people do the right thing.
Standard & Poors School Evaluation Services, with its Web site, has culled state and federal reports and created a database covering every school district. It found that Chagrin Falls spent $12,594 per student in 2006 while Bay averaged $11,215 per student, both way above the state average of $10,561.
And as for Cleveland, are you ready for this? The Cleveland School District spent $13,390 per student!!
How can this be so? Well because the industrial base in Cleveland, as deteriorating as it is, still has a higher tax base than mostly residential Chagrin and Bay.Chagrin took in an average of $12,590 per student and Bay took in $11,533 per student while Cleveland brought in $15,270.
There is not a direct correlation between districts spending more money and students learning more. Despite what Aaron Sorkin believes.
Still in shock, well lets look at some other numbers.
In Chagrin Falls, the number of single-parent households is 8.3 percent, in Bay it's 8.4 percent. And Cleveland again tops these numbers (only not in a good way) with 20.5 percent.
Having two people in a home increases the chance of supervision after school so that kids will be compelled to study instead of play Playstation 3 or just hang out.It also improves the odds that there is a parent who appreciates a good education.
But, the number that I think is most compelling is this, the number of households in which an adult has at least a bachelor's degree is 64.5 percent in Chagrin and 53.2 percent in Bay while in Cleveland it's 15.7 percent.
Parents or older siblings who have navigated the course to the finish line know how to get there but even more importantly they know what it takes to get there. They can tell the child this is how much you have to study and this is why this certain school subject is important.
It's family and hard work that offer the best chance to giving a child a good education, not a bright new building or high-priced teachers.
So, my solution to the education situation is to emphasize the charter schools so that kids in tougher situations can earn that degree and then serve as a beacon for others in their neighborhoods who might not have that good example at home. Boost scholarship opportunities for the same types of kids who have blindly scratched and crawled their way to great grades. Get them to college so they too can be a good example in their community.
It needs to be targeted since the numbers show throwing money at a school district does not have the desired effect.
As for the argument about getting the best teachers, that is irrelevant as long as the belief holds that "every child learns in different ways" and that "some students just aren't good test-takers." Because that means you can't create a true standardized test and if you don't have a test to compare the learning of students you will never gauge the teaching of students.
After all, if there was a way to gauge a teacher's abilities, (put sarcasm here) don't you think the teachers' union would have unveiled it already?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Silver Bullet

By D.T. Holt

“Mallory, education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don't need little changes. We need gigantic monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. School should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.”

Actor Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn in the West Wing episode “Six Meetings Before Lunch,” written by Aaron Sorkin.

It feels a little odd to start off a piece on education with a quote from a television show, but I’ve never run across a statement that comes closer to my own beliefs. For as long as I can remember, politicians, education professionals and ordinary citizens have talked of the dreadful state of our education system but we have never made it a national priority to improve the sad state of our schools. Politicians from the local level to the Presidency regularly give lip service to the idea of improving our schools but I have never seen a concerted effort to address the problem of a “separate but equal” system for funding education which insures that the schools that are in trouble will have little or no chance to improve.

I use the phrase “separate but equal” in reference to the landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were, in fact, not equal and that the black students in racially segregated schools were not being given the same opportunity as their counterparts in the white schools. While our schools are no longer segregated along racial lines, the common practice of funding education through local property taxes has effectively created a scenario in which a child born in a lower income community does not have the same opportunities as one born in a more affluent district. Although the two school systems are required to adhere to the same standards and are therefore, in theory, “equal,” the difficulty in improving schools which are perpetually under funded due to low property values and a community unable to afford even the smallest of increases on their property taxes creates an educational experience which is far from apples to apples.

Some would say that this problem is best addressed with a voucher system, which gives parents the opportunity to send their children to the best of the available schools in their community, and in same cases even private or parochial schools. While this system is probably a good option for the parent of the child going to the better school, it does nothing to address the problem of the failing school. It sets up what is basically a competition, funds are awarded to the school that is performing better which punishes the children still attending the poorly performing school by withholding necessary funds that could help to turn the tide of a worsening situation. The No Child Left Behind act of 2001 sets up a similar situation by awarding federal funds to the schools with the best test scores while leaving the underachieving schools and more importantly the students who attend them to continue to fall behind.

I am not suggesting that there is no place for accountability in our schools or that we should withhold money from those that are performing successfully. However, funding that is based on this accountability gives students who are lucky enough to be born in a community with strong schools access to the greater level of opportunity that a good education provides while doing nothing to help the child who is unlucky enough to be born in a lower income, chronically under funded inner city school district.

The only way to insure that all of our children have access the same opportunities is to insure that all schools have an equal access to funds. Obviously, this is far easier said than done and, much like the Sam Seaborn character in the West Wing, I am not sure exactly how to do it. I believe that the answer may lie in education that is funded on a national level and be paid for by a progressive income tax. We are currently paying for schools based on the property values in our communities which is in effect a progressive tax system - those who’s home are of higher value are paying more for education. Collecting funds on a national level instead of locally, gives greater opportunity to disperse the funds proportional to all school systems based on the number of students in a given community.

Am I certain that this idea will work? Absolutely not. However, I am certain that good schools equal strong communities, lower unemployment, lower crime rates and greater opportunities all of which make solving this problem of equal importance to all of us. Only a willingness to make education a national priority on the level of national defense will give us the chance to achieve the “silver bullet” of a well educated populace.

Check back on Monday February 9 for John Bertosa's rebuttal to "The Silver Bullet."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What now?

By John Bertosa
For the past eight years liberals followed the rule to never praise President Bush unless you do so quickly and quietly and then follow up loudly with 10 criticisms. But sometimes, Bush would make a proposal that not even liberals could immediately criticize so they would instead fill their voices with immense doubt and skepticism and in almost a singsong voice say "It sooouunnds gooood but weeee'lll seeee...."
And give them credit, it worked. Bush was so villified that during the campaign Obama could simply say that he's not Bush and he didn't have to get his hands dirty in a personal fight with McCain. And even liberals like Dan who didn't resort to such nonstop hateful vitriol would still benefit from it in the form of a Democratic President.
So, I would like to start doing my part to help the Republican nominee in four years by only grudgingly complimenting President Obama on the most minor of things while heartily voicing my criticism of everything he does or, more easily, fails to do. Instead of the GOP candidate having to get in a nasty fight that would lessen her standing, she will just have to say "I'm not Obama." while staying above the fray.
But, like any inauguration there isn't really anything to criticize here. After all, on a president's first day he can promise to be everything to all people and he is surrounded by people who voted for him and media outlets who can't resist the feel good vibe.
So to use the tactic right out of the Liberal Playbook...
I hope President Obama uses this wave of popularity as evidenced by the crowds at the Inauguration and soaring approval numbers to bring this country together and not tear it apart. But weeee'lll seeee.
Following the inauguration attended by well over a million people, possibly two million, the Washington DC police reported absolutely no arrests. People of all races and ethnicities happily mixed that day. I hope President Obama will continue this era of good feeling and not pursue actions that lead to one race or another being upset, but weee'll seeee.
In his inauguration speech, when President Obama said "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed," I hope he was including liberals' interests and decisions that would be unpleasant for Democrats and not just those involving Republicans, but weeee'll seeee.
And in his Inauguration speech, when he says "And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account" I hope he will follow through. But weeee'll seeeee.
I hope that President Obama's promise of bringing change to Washington will lead to the elimination of the bitter partisanship that has been nonstop since the Bush-Dukakis race 20 years ago. That there will be a breath of fresh air for all. But when I see all the ties to the Clintons coming into the Obama Administration, I'll just have to say weeee'll seeeee.
But I am full of hope because this president not only has a mandate but his party controls both the House and the Senate (just like Bush) and he has the smartest and most able advisers that the Democratic Party can field. He does not have to rely on simply trying as he has the power of the greatest country in the world to do what he has promised. If Reagan and his callous idea of "a rising tide lifts all boats" could get us out of an even deeper recession while the opposing party controlled the House, then surely Obama and his more compassionate economic policies will make short work of this one. Everything appears to be in place for a wonderful eight years and the only thing that would prevent that is if the Democrats' ideas are not a true guideline to success.
Weeee'll seeee.

Time To Put Away Childish Things

By D.T. Holt

I’ve witnessed many of those moments in history that cause us to remember where we were or the circumstances of our lives when they occurred. Richard Nixon’s resignation of the Presidency in 1974, John Hinkley Jr.’s attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986 or more recently the impeachment of Bill Clinton and Hurricane Katrina all spring to mind. The element that all of these events have in common is that they were inherently negative moments in the history of our nation. Watching Barack Obama take the oath of office and become the 44th President of the United States, I was overwhelmed by the historical significance of the moment and overjoyed to realize that this too is a moment that will be an indelible mark in my life. Only this time, the event is positive.

There are those, mostly pundits on the far right, who seek to downplay the historical significance and positive nature of the Inauguration. Unable to put aside their political differences long enough to celebrate the image of an African/American being sworn in to the highest office in the land, they are left with nothing but bitter resentment for an election lost and a nation seemingly at odds with their political ideology. I am not expecting conservatives to forgo their ideals and embrace Obama’s political agenda, in fact I would lose respect for them if they did, but to ignore this moment or worse yet to pretend that it’s significance is being overstated to further the agenda of the so-called “liberal media” is to ignore how far we have come as a people, a nation and a democracy.

It has been less than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Less than 50 years have passed since the Voting Rights act of 1965 brought millions of disenfranchised black Americans equal voting rights in the South. It has been less than 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka brought an end to the “separate but equal,” racially based segregation of our public schools. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a mere 40 years ago. It is not possible to overstate the significance of how far we have come in a relatively short span of time. To suggest that the focus of the media on the sheer magnitude of this event is somehow politically motivated is to pretend that racism no longer exists in America.

None of this is to suggest that we all should have voted for Obama because of his race or skin color. His success or failure as a President will rightly be based upon the merits of his accomplishments and he will not be a great or even good president because of the historical significance of his having been elected. Those who have pointed out that he is a relatively inexperienced newcomer on the national scene and has yet to prove himself are correct in their assessment. President Obama has before him the task of earning his place among the important leaders in our country’s history and his achievements as a community organizer, Senator and Presidential candidate do not automatically make him a great President any more than does his race.

I do believe that President Barack Obama will be a great President but not because of some knee jerk reaction to the importance of his achievements thus far. It is because he is the first leader in my memory who uses words like “us” and “we” far more often than “I” or “me.” He neither has nor pretends to have all of the answers but his single minded focus on uniting our country behind the ideal of forming that more perfect union that the Preamble of our Constitution so eloquently calls for makes him the type of leader that we need in this time of fractured politics and angry rhetoric. We have approached our government as a spectator sport and let our differences paralyze us for far too long. It’s time to move forward and, as President Obama quoted from the Bible, “put away childish things.”

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

From the Inaugural Address of President Barak Obama, January 20, 2009