Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tax Rates

I get the arguments on both sides of the '01/'03 tax rates. Lower tax rates can have a stimulative effect and they should be able to limit government spending in some way. At the same time, they were not asked for and were sold as both "refunds" from a government surplus and "stimulus" for a struggling economy. And the Tax Policy Center has pretty accurately explained how they are the predominant cause of both the expanding deficit and the astronomical debt.

So, here's an idea:

Extend all the tax cuts for exactly twelve months, and then let all of them expire, or "sundown," as they were supposed, but to with this caveat: Sundown the sundown of all the tax cuts after another eight years. Since this debate tends to swing back and forth with the decades, and tax rates go up and down as we seek "optimum rates," let's make that policy. The Dems agree to extend them for a year. Then the GOP agrees to let them expire, as they were intended. But the Dems agree to allow them to fall again in eight years - when the economy is in better shape and the deficit has been closed and the debt paid down.

Seems like a pretty damn good Ronald Reagan-Tip O'Neill compromise to me.

What do you think?

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Congressional Rep

The following is a letter I wrote which was published in my local paper about Rep. Mike Coffman, my representative for the Sixth Congressional District in Colorado:

After hearing Rep. Mike Coffman’s recent comments about furloughing federal workers and using tax cuts to “grow the economy,” I fear he’s become too comfortable in his safe Republican district. While I supported Mike in 2008 because he was a rational, pragmatic fiscal conservative, his lack of any real ideas for limiting the deficit and lowering debt casts doubt on his credibility as fiscally responsible.

It’s not simply about tax rates and public employees. Since campaigning to reign in spending and debt, Coffman has cut no spending, only recently proposing furloughs for federal workers. Prior to that, Coffman’s only significant stand had been to campaign for continued spending on NASA programs to the Moon and Mars. Clearly, those programs equal jobs in the 6th CD; however, they are simply “stimulus” based on government spending. One man’s “pork” is another district’s job. Does Coffman’s furlough proposal include private sector workers on government contracts? Does the proposal include suspending government payments to private companies with government contracts?

Additionally, despite concerns about jobs, debt, and deficits, Coffman seeks continued marginal rate tax cuts that produced no jobs in the last decade, but radically increased the debt and deficit. At the same time, he voted against tax cuts for small business and a stimulus plan that was 40% tax cuts. If Coffman wants to represent fiscal conservatism, he needs to cut spending – including his district’s projects – as well as pay down the debt by replacing lost revenue. At this point, I’ve not completed my ballot, as I am curious about candidate John Flerlage’s ideas. While Flerlage isn’t a guarantee on lowering the debt, Coffman’s recent commentary indicates he certainly isn’t.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thoughts on Teachers and Knuckleballs

I ran across a few interesting thoughts today, mostly on teachers and public employees. First, was this sarcastic sentiment from Thomas Friedman, whose latest column criticizes the current campaign of recycled bad ideas:

I confess I find it dispiriting to read the polls and see candidates, leading in various midterm races promoting many of the very same ideas that got us into this mess .... [Why don't we] kowtow even more to public service unions so they'll make even more money that the private sector workers, so they'll give even more money to Democrats who will give them even more generous pensions, so not only California and New York [and Illinois] will go bankrupt, but every other state, too.

Not what we normally hear from Friedman, and granted, much of the column dismissed the GOP's desire to recycle the same old policies of unpaid for tax cuts and economic policies. But a valid point nonetheless for anyone seriously worried about debt and deficits.

Additionally, a letter from to the Denver Post echoed a sentiment I've long had about this idea of "great teachers" and the mantra that we need a "great teacher" in every classroom. A wonderful utopian idea, but not very practical. Hell, we've all seen Stand & Deliver - how many truly great teachers like Jaime Escalante [and me :-)] are there? The letter finished with a joke: A factory owner was giving a tour of his plant and was asked, "How many people work here?" He replied, "about half."

Finally, a great baseball quote from Willie Stargel:

Throwing a knuckleball is like trying to throw a butterfly that has the hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's the Literacy

A recent blog posting posed the following idea: "It can't be a good thing when your child's math homework requires more writing than use of numbers."

I'm not sure I agree.

If you have followed one of the bigger stories in reform these days - the successful turnaround of Brockton High School in Massachusetts - you might consider the impact of improved literacy on all classes. This teacher-led reform centered around the basic concept of literacy in all classrooms.

If literacy skills are low, nothing else matters. And too many teachers in the content areas simply assign reading rather than teach it. English teachers in lower grades teach how to decode, then read. After that it becomes about content. Thus, at the upper levels, they teach the kids how to read various genres. Social studies teachers should do the same. And same with math and science. Once students have memorized the times tables and the formulas for basic math, it's about problem solving. That's why story problems matter - it's application of the abstract concept.

There is much to consider in reforming schools, and no single issue or reform is the panacea. However, the importance of all teachers "teaching reading" in all classes is pretty high on my list.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Parade Magazine this week features an interview with Bill Gates about education reform. Needless to say he offers a lot of condemnation of teachers - notably lacking any sense of student accountability or consideration of decreased student motivation in the stagnation of "test scores."

Parade also features a poll question: "Should teachers be judged on their students' test scores?"

Obviously, teachers shouldn't be absolved of any responsibility. Yet, most discussions of this idea outside of people in education ignore the responsibility of the students, parents, and communities.

In some test formats, such as AP and IB, it is certainly reasonable to consider teacher performance. The key is that the test must have buy-in and accountability for the students, as well as the teachers. That is often the key for charter school success as well. If the student has some incentive, or more importantly, something to lose, the test will certainly have greater validity.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Job Growth in the Last Three Years

I'm not entirely sold on the argument being made here; however, it seems like it has data that is definitely worth discussing, debating, considering, arguing, weighing, etc.

I'm not committed to anything that is going to exacerbate the debt or deficit. But, I am certainly not committed to any policies which fueled a decade of zero job growth and ballooning debt.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oligarchy and MLB

It doesn't matter who the opponent is, I have to oppose the Yankees every year in the post-season because they simply aren't good for baseball. It's not enough to say the Yankees simply buy their championships - for in many ways, all teams are seeking the same goal. But the Yankees symbolize something far more serious, far more sinister.

The Yankees represent oligarchy - rule by a dominant, wealthy elite. They marginalize the common man, blue collar, raise-yourself-up by your bootstraps spirit that is integral to America's game. Walt Whitman once said, "I see great things in baseball." This man of the people would be nauseated by the undemocratic spirit of the game today.

Granted, success by smaller market/payroll teams like the Twins and the Rockies and the A's are testament to a degree of parity. And Michael Lewis effectively argued this in his excellent baseball treatise Moneyball. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. The Yankees' dominance is the rule, and the size of their market and their exclusive TV rights and their merchandizing and their payroll rule the post-season year after year.

MLB can and should learn a lot from the NFL, and I still can't fathom why the bottom 2/3 of MLB teams that never compete simply don't demand some parity and revenue sharing in a market that depends on them. It seems logical that the next time the contract comes up, the owners in Colorado and Kansas City and Toronto and Oakland and Pittsburgh and the others should simply say "No. We are not going forward and we will not play in a league where the Yankees can always outbid us for players we have brought up through effective farm systems and skilled management."

Let the Yankees go play with themselves.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Education Funding Silliness

Former Education Commissioner of Colorado William Maloney published an op-ed in the Denver Post in which he called for a review and change in the way public education is funded. As evidence he argued that parochial schools educate their students for 2/3 the cost of public schools and Asian schools cost about 80% of what American schools do. The following is my response, a shortened version of which was also published in the Post:

While William Maloney correctly asserts that Colorado needs to re-think the way it funds education, his reasoning behind the need for change is fundamentally flawed, and his naïve comparisons to private and foreign systems will produce no practical solutions. Certainly, there has been incredible growth in funding and staff in the past thirty years. Yet that mostly reveals expanded mandates and an increased efficiency in reaching under-served populations that were long neglected.

Mahoney notes that parochial systems operate on 2/3 of public school funding. However, he fails to mention that they do not provide any special education or English to non-native speakers. In fact, they use the public system to meet those needs, and the public schools are mandated to provide the services. Private schools don’t struggle with the same discipline and security needs as public schools, and they don’t require the cost-heavy administration that comes with meeting requirements under NCLB legislation. Additionally, parochial schools aren’t mandated to accept all students regardless of ability. Thus, you won’t find any Catholic schools educating many, or any, autistic children or mentally/physically disabled students. Parochial schools also aren’t required to assign caseworkers and establish specialized education programs for students of special needs. Thus, while Catholic schools are successful with the students they admit, there is much they don’t do.

Additionally, Maloney’s praise for the lower costs in Asia ignores the fact that foreign systems don’t compare to America’s in many areas. They do not have large immigrant populations, and thus do not have to provide any native language instruction. They do not provide special education on the level of the United States, and they are not under mandates to provide fair and equal access to all students. They do not optimistically seek to educate all students for college, and thus a considerable majority of their students are graduating and entering trades or vocational schools by the age of sixteen. Maloney also seems to target PERA pensions as a conflict for funding. Yet, he ignores the high taxes and retirement systems that are prevalent through the foreign systems he praises. Clearly, those systems provide more benefits, national health care among them, not less.

Most education researchers are acutely aware of the flaws of comparing the U.S. to foreign systems, and I would have expected Maloney’s tenure as education commissioner to provide him with a wider and more credible understanding of the problems. Perhaps having such misinformed people in charge is indicative of America’s problems. Yet, Maloney is correct in a need to review funding. Colorado should follow the lead of education reforming states like New Hampshire and Louisiana by allowing students to graduate at sixteen and enter vocational training or associate degree programs. In a state that has large numbers of students successfully completing college-level classes – AP and IB programs – state schools should expand dual credit courses to allow advanced students to begin college early and complete bachelor degrees in less than four years.

Clearly, the system has a considerable degree of cost inefficiency, and the reason is the public’s unrealistic and fragmented understanding of the goals of public education. We need to re-think our obsessive focus on “seat time” and a K-16 system that seeks bachelor degrees for all students regardless of interest or ability. Mandates for individual and specialized education and expensive accountability testing are not going to change. But Colorado can change its preconceived notions of what education means, and that can lead to a more cost-efficient, productive, and high quality system.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten Yards for Holding???

The NFL has to change the rule on holding.

Ten yards for holding is absolutely ridiculous. Always has been, always will be. Ten yards is an absolute drive killer, and it completely slows down and decreases enjoyment of the game. And I get that the O-line has the benefit of knowing the count. But defense has too much advantage these days when the offense can barely touch these incredibly big quick defensive players who are infinitely more athletic.

Certainly, defense wins games, and I love impressive defensive stops. But killing a drive on a holding call is not good defense. It's handicapping the excitement of the game, and it's just boring. Five yards is plenty. Or create two levels of holding. Five for the basic hold, and ten for the ridiculous tying up of opposing players.

And I'm not just saying this because Denver has had three drives killed - including a thirty-five yard pickup - today versus Baltimore for almost nothing.