Friday, October 08, 2004

Looking Forward to Next Debate?
A Bit of Proactive Fact-checking

By now, I'm sure everyone is wondering what will come up during the next debate, as it has become clear that the debates are having an effect on voter attitudes.  On Friday, we will see the the two major candidates for the Presidency debate in front of a town-hall type of meeting.

There is no way of knowing what topics will come up. Given the recent unfavorable reports out of Iraq, that is certain to be one topic.  The economy, health care, and education are other likely topics.  In fact, you may recall that Mr. Bush previously referred to himself as an "education president," based in part upon the changes he directed in the public school system in Texas.  That may be eclipsed somewhat, though, because the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative is now the centerpiece of his education initiative.

Granted, education it is not thought  to be the most important topic.  Although it makes the list  of top voter concerns, it is only number six.  Therefore, it is not likely to influence many votes.  Only five percent of people ranked it as their highest concern.  Most recent polls indicate the "the economy" is the highest priority.  This is short-sighted, but true. 

The reason I say that it is short-sighted (to rank economic issues ahead of education) is that a strong economy actually depends upon good education -- as does national security, health care, and any other issue you might care to consider as a priority for our political system. 

How about if we do a little fact-checking before  the debate?

If education is discussed in the debate, Mr. Bush is sure to mention that he increase funding for schools.  He may neglect to mention that the costs necessitated by NCLB, and the declining income to school districts resulting from overall economic decline, have together eaten up any funding increases. 

Is the Education Prez Making the Grade?
Richard Dunham

[...] As he decried the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that limited the horizons of inner-city children, Bush did more than appeal to moderate voters. Once in office, he pushed for passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in early 2002 -- an achievement that helped Republicans wipe out the Democrats' traditional advantage on support for schools.

But Bush's advocacy of education reform has proved to be a mixed blessing. Local school boards around the country -- joined by top Democrats such as John Kerry -- are howling about the tough new law. NCLB requires schools to meet performance standards by 2012. But critics, including many local officials, contend the Administration hasn't provided the funding or the flexibility for school districts to clear the bar.[...]

Juanita Doyon, a Spanaway (Wash.) mother of four who is running for state school superintendent as an independent, has staked her bid on eliminating her state's exam. "[The test] has destroyed teaching and academic freedom," she says. Besides the testing issue, many localities are raising property taxes to pay for what critics call the largest unfunded federal mandate of recent times.

Mr. Bush also might mention the effects of school reforms in Texas, under his direction, when he was governor there. 

A Public Policy Failure

PUBLIC policy experiments rarely produce complete successes or total failures. They usually leave room for people with different goals or values to keep arguing.

Occasionally, however, there's a policy disaster so catastrophic that everyone agrees that something has to change. California's convoluted attempt to deregulate electricity was one example. Texas's decade-long experiment in school finance equalization - universally referred to as Robin Hood - is another.

"In less than a decade, the system is approaching collapse; it has exhausted its own capacity," write Caroline M. Hoxby and Ilyana Kuziemko, economists at Harvard, in a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. "We show that the collapse was predictable." (The paper, "Robin Hood and His Not-So-Merry Plan: Capitalization and the Self-Destruction of Texas' School Finance Equalization Plan," is available at http://post.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers.html.) [...]

The article by Virginia Postrel also appears on her blog.  The reason this is important is that it shows that, not only is the Texan plan failing, but that the failure was predictable. 

A gradual failure could be forgiven, perhaps, if there were some kind of good to show for it.  Indeed, Mr. Bush spoke of the "Texas Miracle" when he was campaigning for president last time.  But the "miracle" actually was a fraud. 

The 'Texas Miracle'
Aug. 25, 2004

[...] All in all, 463 kids left Sharpstown High School that year, for a variety of reasons. The school reported zero dropouts, but dozens of the students did just that. School officials hid that fact by classifying, or coding, them as leaving for acceptable reasons: transferring to another school, or returning to their native country.

"That's how you get to zero dropouts. By assigning codes that say, 'Well, this student, you know, went to another school. He did this or that.' And basically, all 463 students disappeared. And the school reported zero dropouts for the year," says Kimball. "They were not counted as dropouts, so the school had an outstanding record."

Sharpstown High wasn't the only "outstanding" school. The Houston school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent. But educators and experts 60 Minutes checked with put Houston's true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

"But the teachers didn't believe it. They knew it was cooking the books. They told me that. Parents told me that," says Kimball. "The superintendent of schools would make the public believe it was one school. But it is in the system, it is in all of Houston."

Those low dropout rates - in Houston and all of Texas - were one of the accomplishments then-Texas Gov. George Bush cited when he campaigned to become the "Education President." [...]

There is more information about these topics at factcheck.ORG. They seem to be having server problems, which I assume result from the tremendous number of hits they must be getting.  But you can see their fisking of the Bush education ad, using the Google cache here.  (Original reference courtesy of Madeline Begun Kane, who incidentally has written a poem about NCLB.)

Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, has a much more distinguished record on the subject of education.  His record on education (as well as many other subjects) can be found at www.vote-smart.ORG.  A summary of his statements and actions pertaining to education can be found at www.issues2000.ORG.  His campaign website has a summary of his education platform.  This includes a few talking points about Mr. Bush's education record:

  • Under-Funded No Child Left Behind by $27 Billion. Bush’s last four budgets have cumulatively provided $27 billion less than what was pledged under NCLB. [President’s FY 2005 Budget, www.ed.gov; historical data at www.ed.gov]
  • Cut Funding for the School District He Praises Today. In today’s radio address, George Bush praises a school district in Asheville, North Carolina. Yet George Bush cut Title I funding for that district by more than $100,000. North Carolina has been one of the nation’s leaders in education reform since the era of Jim Hunt, North Carolina’s “Education Governor.” [Center for American Progress, 04/06/04]
  • Proposed Cutting 500,000 Children from Afterschool Programs. In his 2004 budget, George Bush proposed cutting afterschool funding by 40%, cutting off afterschool opportunities for 500,000 children. [www.afterschoolalliance.org; ed.gov, FY 2004 Budget data]

There are many objections to NCLB.  My personal objections are documented in a previous post.   Reading that old post now, I am struck by how vociferously I attacked NCLB.

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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