St Louis Councilmen Dodging Red Light Camera Tickets?

ST. LOUIS — When the push to install red-light cameras came to City Hall in 2005, the Board of Aldermen enthusiastically backed the plan as a boon to public safety.

But now, three years later, aldermen have themselves been caught on tape — and some have avoided the $100 fine.

In total, at least eight St. Louis aldermen have been sent camera citations, about a quarter of the board. The lead sponsor of the camera legislation went months without paying $500 in fines until questioned about it recently. Two other aldermen got their citations dismissed under ambiguous circumstances.


Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

City Council Broadcast Upgrades

Guy Midkiff

One of my campaign pledges was to push for an upgraded Audio Video system for City Council and Planning and Zoning meetings. It has been a long road (almost 1 year) but we are nearing a resolution.

The Problem: The technology currently being employed is 70’s technology and has substantial reliability issues. Some nights people have to adjust their TV sets volume because the broadcast volume can vary dramatically. Other nights the video is of such poor quality that the user is relegated to audio only. And then some nights there are no broadcasts at all.

The Solution: We have looked at several vendors through the public bid system. We will upgrade the audio/video portion, first. Also, we will burn the meetings onto DVD’s that will probably be available in the library or city hall. This should restore the system to a minimally acceptable level. My suspicion is this will be as far as we go until we get a better idea on where the economy is headed.

The Controversy: There always has to be a controversy – its government. The problem I have pointed out is that the proceedings are only broadcast on Charter Channel 10. If you are like me, I don’t use Charter, instead I use Dish. So residents like myself are out of luck. I have suggested we use a vendor called Granicus. They are a nation-wide provider of web casting. Webcasting allows the user to watch public proceeding live on their computers, or down load them at a more convenient time. Granicus specializes in this new technology, that is currently used across the country. St Charles is now using this system. (Go Here to see it.)

The reason I like the system is because it is not a boot-strap operation, as would be a youtube broadcast (more on this later.) The system uses key wording and agenda-by-item to index the broadcast. What that means to the user is that instead of have to sit through a 3 hour presentation, you can type in your key word, i.e. “red light camera” and presto, it will take you to that exact portion of the broadcast. This is a very powerful function.

The cost would be the initial set-up charge and about $550 per month. Granicus would house our content, so it would not burden the city’s computers. Granicus would handle upgrades and maintenance. Some are arguing that this system costs to much. While I am a devout fiscal conservative, I can think of no more important duty for me than to ensure “all” citizens have access to public proceedings. In my view, it is almost a sacrilege to put a price on transparency in government. I agree we have to be prudent in all expenditures, but to say .0003 of our budget, spent on a broadcast system that can be viewed by anyone that has access to a computer (and remember, the library has free computers with internet) is ridiculous. The same story is true for the argument that only “x” amount of people will actually use the service. This blog, you are reading, gets on average, 40 hits (views) per day. I suspect the viewership will slowly ramp-up over time. The key is availability, though, and government should do all it can to make sure all government proceeding are in the full view of the public. We are spending your money, folks.

Some have emailed me suggesting we put the proceedings on youtube – that is free. Ok, who is going to do that? We will have to pay for someone to compile and upload the meetings to youtube and also link them to the city website. All of which takes time, all of which is not free. And at the end of the day, you are left with a boot-strapped operation that is not professional, is not user friendly, and is not free.

The Missourian has written against the use of webcasts and no doubt, they do a yeoman’s job consistently reporting on all city meetings. But they do get it wrong from time to time. With a webcast it would be 100% accurate for obvious reasons. Webcasts would also present a clear and present danger to any newspaper that has about 50% of its content consisting of local and area government issues. Webcasts would clearly compete with the Missourian. (See ” An Unnecessary Cost?” eMissourian, 11/18/08.)

John Adams spoke to us directly when he wrote to Abigail in April of 1777: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.”

Transparency in government should not be taken for granted. We are the “Posterity” he was speaking of. An informed citizenry is the first step in preserving democracy.

Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 11:51 am  Comments (2)  

Lessons From 40 Years of Education ‘Reform’ – WSJ

Let’s abolish local school districts and finally adopt national standards.


While the economic news has most Americans in a state of near depression, hope abounds today that the country may use the current economic crisis as leverage to address some longstanding problems. Nowhere is that prospect for progress more worthy than the crisis in our public education system.
[Commentary] Martin Kozlowski

So, from someone who realized rather glumly last week that he has been working at school reform for 40 years, here is a prescription for leadership from the Obama administration.

We must start with the recognition that, despite decade after decade of reform efforts, our public K-12 schools have not improved. We can point to individual schools and some entire districts that have advanced, but the system as a whole is still failing. High school and college graduation rates, test scores, the number of graduates majoring in science and engineering all are flat or down over the past two decades. Disappointingly, the relative performance of our students has suffered compared to those of other nations. As a former CEO, I am worried about what this will mean for our future workforce.

It is most crucial for our political leaders to ask why we are at this point — why after millions of pages, in thousands of reports, from hundreds of commissions and task forces, financed by billions of dollars, have we failed to achieve any significant progress?

Answering this question correctly is the key to finally remaking our public schools.

This is a complex problem, but countless experiments and analyses have clearly indicated we need to do four straightforward things to bring fundamental changes to K-12 education:

1) Set high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.

2) Greatly improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms, supported by substantially higher compensation for our best teachers.

3) Measure student and teacher performance on a systematic basis, supported by tests and assessments.

4) Increase “time on task” for all students; this means more time in school each day, and a longer school year.

Everything else either does not matter (e.g., smaller class sizes) or is supportive of these four steps (e.g., vastly improve schools of education).

Lack of effort is not the cause of our 30-year inability to solve our education problem. Not only have we had all those thousands of studies and task forces, but we have seen many courageous and talented individuals pushing hard to move the system. Leaders such as Joel Klein (New York City), Michelle Rhee (Washington, D.C.) and Paul Vallas (New Orleans) have challenged the system, and elected officials from both sides of the political spectrum have also fought valiantly for change.

So where does that leave us? If the problem isn’t “what to do,” nor is it a failure of commitment, what is stopping us?

I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.

Therefore, I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation’s governors and seek agreement to the following:

– Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.

– Establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum. I would suggest we start with four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.

– Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.

– Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000 per year, and allow school leaders to remove underperforming teachers.

– Extend the school day and the school year to effectively add 20 more days of schooling for all K-12 students.

I can predict that three questions will be raised about these measures:

First, how can we set national standards when we have a strong tradition of local school autonomy? The answer is that the American people are way ahead of our politicians here: Poll after poll shows they support national standards.

Second, won’t this take many years to implement? No, if we follow a focused, pragmatic approach. While ideally we want all 50 states to participate, we can get started with 30. The rest will be driven to abandon their “see no evil” blinders by their citizens as the original group achieves momentum and success. Moreover, we do not have to start from scratch on the national standards. Experts can quickly develop an initial set just by drawing on existing domestic and foreign programs.

Third, how do we pay for all of this? In three ways: We will save billions by consolidating the operations of 15,000 school districts. The U.S. Department of Education can direct all of its discretionary funds to this effort. And we need to drive into the consciousness of every American politician that education is not an expense. It is, rather, the most important investment we can make as a country.

H.G. Wells remarked that “history is a race between education and catastrophe.” For the first time in America’s history, we may be losing that race. We can win, but we have to act quickly and decisively.

Mr. Gerstner, a former CEO of IBM, was chairman of the Teaching Commission (2003-2006), which reported on ways to improve the quality of public school teaching.

Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 10:31 am  Comments (2)  

5 Half Truths about Recycling

Recycling Myths: PM Debunks 5 Half Truths about Recycling
Is chucking a soda can in the trash an unforgivable sin? That depends who you ask: You’ll find plenty of people on both sides of the great recycling debate, each equally convinced the other side is ill-informed. The truth is that opponents and proponents alike often rely on facts that are outdated, oversimplified or simply untrue. We tackle five of the biggest myths about recycling. For more, check out the December issue of Popular Mechanics.
By Alex Hutchinson

1. We have to recycle because we’re running out of landfill space.
That was the rallying cry for recycling advocates back in the 1980s, when the Mobro 4000 garbage barge wandered up and down the East Coast searching for a place to dump its moldering load. It’s a bit of a red herring, though. After all, we have pretty much unlimited space to dump garbage—if we’re willing. In practice, for every town that refuses permission to build a landfill, there’s often another town eager for the revenues that a landfill site can bring.

According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), the United States has about 20 years of disposal capacity left in existing landfills. There are, however, places where space is getting tight: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all have less than five years capacity, and the northeastern part of the country in general has the least available landfill space.

These regional variations point to a different motivation for the “recycle to save landfill space” argument. The average tipping fee at landfills in the Northeast region, according to the most recent NSWMA figures, is over $70 a ton, compared to a national average of just $34. In other words, even if the scarcity of landfill space turns out not to be a strong environmental argument for recycling, there can be powerful economic incentives to reduce landfill intake.

2. The trucks that collect recycling burn more energy and produce more pollution than recycling saves.
Collecting recyclables isn’t cheap—it eats up about 50 to 60 percent of the budget of a typical curbside recycling program, according to Lori Scozzafava of the Solid Waste Association of North America. And the trucks burn gas and emit pollution as they go. That said, “You’re going to collect waste one way or another,” points out Jeff Morris, a Washington-based environmental consultant. A recycling program should allow garbage collection to become less frequent (or to use fewer trucks), offsetting the cost and energy involved. Plus, new truck designs can collect both recycling and garbage (at different times), avoiding the huge capital expense of an extra fleet. They can also self-dump specially designed bins, saving time and manpower.

But all that turns out to be pretty much irrelevant to the question of whether recycling makes environmental sense. Scientists have conducted hundreds of “life-cycle analyses” to compare recycling with other options like landfill and incineration, following the entire chain of events from the manufacture of a product (using either virgin or recycled materials) to its disposal. The dominant factor in virtually every case is the enormous amount of energy required to turn raw materials into metals and plastics compared to the energy needed to reprocess products that already exist.

A study by Morris found that it takes 10.4 million Btu to manufacture products from a ton of recyclables, compared to 23.3 million Btu for virgin materials. In contrast, the total energy for collecting, hauling and processing a ton of recyclables adds up to just 0.9 million Btu. The bottom line: We don’t need to worry that recycling trucks are doing more harm than good.

3. Thanks to the sky-high prices of raw materials, cities are getting rich by selling recyclables.
Over the summer, prices for almost every kind of recyclable hit record highs, sparking a frenzy of activity in the recycling industry. “If you’re wondering where all the used-car salesmen have gone, they’re rushing into recycling,” Jerry Powell, an industry veteran who edits Resource Recycling magazine, said in August. That translates to profits for many players—in fact, Powell says, “if you can’t make money in recycling right now, you should get out of the business.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your local city council is getting a cut of the action. “Some cities are still locked in unfavorable long-term contracts and paying tipping fees,” says Ed Skernolis of the National Recycling Council. That means that these cities have to pay to collect and sort their curbside recycling—and then pay someone to take away these now-valuable materials instead of being paid for them.

Given how much the price of recyclables has fluctuated in the past, these contracts made sense for cities when they were signed: Locking in costs allows municipalities to budget properly. But now, global contracts ensure a large fraction of U.S. recycling ships to China, so the recycling market has less volatility as well as higher prices. As municipal recycling contracts come up for renewal, cities like Chicago are finally able to turn their piles of cans, bottles and newspapers into a stable revenue stream.

Note: The turmoil of the last few months has hit recycling markets hard and dramatically reduced demand from China, so the outlook right now is considerably less rosy than it was over the summer – which is precisely why cities try to lock in long-term contracts with recyclers. They give up some revenue when prices are high, but protect themselves when prices are low.

Is Your Recycling Sorted by Hand? >>>

4. All the paper, plastic, metal and glass dumped in recycling bins has to be painstakingly (and expensively) sorted by hand.
When municipal recycling was first catching on in the 1980s, it wasn’t clear how carefully people would sort their recyclables. “Some towns used to have a dozen different boxes for different types of bottles, cans and so on,” recalls Richard Porter, a University of Michigan economics professor who authored The Economics of Waste. Not everyone was eager to devote that much effort to sorting up front—but it was either that or pay people to do it by hand at the end of the line, which was prohibitively expensive.

These days, processors are beginning to move toward “single-stream” material recovery facilities, which allow homeowners to dump all their recycling in one bin and rely on machines to do the dirty work. According to Eileen Berenyi, a consultant who studies solid waste management, the number of single-stream facilities in the U.S. jumped from 70 in 2001 to 160 in 2007.

Such state-of-the-art facilities now feature magnets to attract steel, eddy currents to deflect aluminum, infrared spectrometers to identify different types of plastics, and a host of other sorting technologies. These plants are expensive, so they only make sense if 100 to 200 tons of recyclables are being processed daily, and they still require some human sorters to oversee the process. But the collection costs of picking up a single bin, rather than multiple ones, are much lower—and because it’s easy for homeowners, the recycling rates are higher—so the overall economics of mechanized sorting pays off.

5. Most of the plastic put in recycling bins ends up in the garbage.
This one is true now, but changing quickly. Sorting plastics is tricky for recycling processors. Bottles can’t be separated out with a magnet; small pieces like coffee-cup lids get flattened and mixed into paper bales; bags get caught in the spinning disks of sorting equipment, forcing frequent shut-downs. Trying to decode the recycling numbers on plastic products is also a pain for consumers.

As a result, it’s true that most of the plastic we use does end up in landfill sites. Less than 1 percent of polystyrene containers (e.g. yogurt pots) are recycled, and even well-established recyclables like PET (e.g. soft-drink bottles) end up in the trash more than two-thirds of the time. But the problem isn’t that recycling programs are dumping recyclable plastic into the trash—it’s that they don’t accept the plastics in the first place.

That problem is on the way out, though. This spring, San Francisco announced that its pioneering recycling program would begin accepting all rigid plastic, including anything from yogurt pots and clamshell containers to plastic toys and buckets. Other cities are also expanding the range of plastics they accept. New technology makes this feasible: Optical sorters use infrared light to instantly identify the chemical composition of a container, then a puff of air directs it into the right pile.

Recyclers also have to find a market for plastics once they’re sorted—and that’s starting to happen, too. San Francisco recently signed a deal to sell rigid 5-gal buckets, common in construction, to a company that will turn them into artificial lumber for landscaping.

Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 8:03 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Failing our children – WSJ

Failing Our Children

Posted By WSJ Staff On November 23, 2008 @ 6:28 pm In Uncategorized

Three education experts on what needs to be done in our schools, and why we haven’t done it

Most people agree: Our education system isn’t working. Too many of our kids aren’t getting through high school. Our students score poorly on international standardized tests. The teaching profession does not attract — or retain — enough of our brightest minds.

The trick is getting a consensus on how to fix it. To talk about solutions, John Bussey, the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, sat down with three people who have spent a lifetime thinking about education: James Comer, a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center; Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; and Louis Gerstner Jr., former chairman and CEO of IBM Corp. Here are edited excerpts of that discussion.

[1] JOURNAL PODCAST: Lou Gerstner, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of IBM Corporation, gives an overview of the priorities and recommendations made by the task force on education.

JOHN BUSSEY: Lou Gerstner, we have a multitude of school districts spread out over counties, cities, states, over diverse demographies. The federal government doesn’t have a lot of levers that it can pull. What should President Obama do? What would you recommend?

LOUIS GERSTNER JR.: The first thing I want to ask the president-elect to do is to ask the important question: Why? Why have we failed to reform the public schools after all this time?

The first possibility is that we don’t know what to do. Well, let me assure you, we know exactly what to do to fix the public schools. We need high, rigorous standards, we need great teachers supported by high compensation for the very best teachers.

Louis Gerstner Jr. Louis Gerstner Jr.

We need more time on task, we need a longer school day, we need a longer school year, and we need accountability and measurement in the system so we can constantly adjust what’s going on. That’s it, it’s all we need. So, the problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do.

Next possibility is, Well, maybe we didn’t work hard enough on it. Well, my God, have we worked hard enough on it. We have had millions of pages of reports, thousands of task forces, they just come out like the spring flowers. We have every kind of report, and we’ve studied it to death.

And by the way, along the way we’ve had some great successes. We’ve had some great heroes. People like Joel Klein are heroes in our country. The woman who’s running the public-school system in Washington –

MR. BUSSEY: Michelle Rhee.

MR. GERSTNER: — is a great hero. The guy running the school system in New Orleans is a great hero today. We’ve had lots of things that show that when we do it right, it works, but systemically, the system continues to fail.

Change the Model

MR. BUSSEY: How would you alter that system?

MR. GERSTNER: I’m going to say to the president-elect that the fundamental thing we have to do is change the governance model and accountability and execution model for education in this country. And what I’m going to suggest is that he convene the 50 governors, and the first thing they do is they abolish the 16,000 school districts we have in the United States. Sixteen thousand school districts are what we’re trying to cram this reform through.

Now, when I took over IBM I found I had 81 profit centers. Oh my God: How am I going to create change with 81 profit centers? How’d you like to create change with 16,000 profit centers? These organizations stand in the way of what we want to do.
Now, the governors could decide, we’ll keep them as advisory, we can keep them as community support, but they will not be involved in the fundamental direction of public education in America. Second, this group of governors will then select 50 school districts, plus I’d say 20 major cities, so we got 70 school districts. Seventy instead of 16,000.

They will within one year develop a national set of standards for math, science, reading and social studies. Twelve months after that they will develop a national testing regime, so that there’ll be one day in America where every third, sixth, ninth and twelfth grader will take a national test against a national curriculum.

Third, these governors and mayors will come together and develop a program of national certification for teachers. Teachers must have the capacity to teach, they must prove that they can teach, they must be tested that they can teach, and then we’re going to put a program in to pay the best teachers incredibly higher salaries — $40,000 to $50,000 more than they currently can make for the very best teachers.

And finally, we’re going to then allow all the school systems in the U.S. to innovate, to go out and figure out how to get it done. Let those principals and teachers in those schools figure out all the possible ways that they think they can meet those standards, and stop choking them with regulations and requirements. And so, we will do what we would do if we were trying to create a change in an organization. We would set very clear goals, and then we would free up our people to go and deliver, and if they don’t deliver we change them.

Those Who Can’t

MR. BUSSEY: Dr. Comer, it’s a business model for the school systems, you see economies of scale, standardization, reducing the profit centers. Does this work?

JAMES COMER: I agree with much of what was said. What’s missing, I think, is a focus on preparing teachers and administrators to be able to support the development of students, to create the culture that allows them to support the development of students. That’s not what they’re prepared to do right now. I don’t think we will reduce or improve the graduation rate in inner cities and in difficult environments unless teachers and administrators are able to do that.

We don’t prepare them to support the development of children in part because we have a model that is inappropriate. We’re using what is essentially a business model in schools, a manufacturing model. That works well if you’re dealing with inanimate objects, but when you’re dealing with children, young people, who are immature, underdeveloped, who must be moved from that underdeveloped state to well-functioning adults capable of learning, applying that knowledge at work, family members, citizenship, it’s a more complicated process.

MR. BUSSEY: How is it done? Is it through the training of teachers?

James Comer James Comer

MR. COMER: To get systemic change, you’re going to have to change the way teachers and administrators are trained in schools of education. And wherever they’re prepared, they will have to know how to support development, and how to create cultures where you can support development and help children grow. And how you embed the academic learning and material in the activities that you create to support their development; and simultaneously improve academic learning, to the point that they can meet the standards that we’re talking about. And at the same time improve the kind of non-academic learning that’s necessary to be successful in school and in life. And the kind that employers keep calling for — the education that will give them imagination, curiosity, personal discipline, responsibility, all of those things need to be built into the curriculum and instruction.

MR. BUSSEY: Does standardization work with this process?

MR. COMER: Sure it does. But in addition to standards, you have to focus on preparing teachers and administrators to be able to help the kids grow, so that they can meet standards.

The Federal Role

MR. BUSSEY: Joel Klein, what can the feds do to help?

JOEL KLEIN: There’s a reason why we’re still stuck in the same ditch. That doesn’t happen by accident. There are strong and powerful forces that maintain the system, because it works well for lots of people, just not the kids.
And if the president were to ask me, I would tell him there are two things that he ought to focus on, both mentioned by Lou. The first is national standards and national assessments. The tragedy is not simply how many kids aren’t graduating. The tragedy is how many kids are graduating wholly unprepared for anything that follows. The easiest way to improve the graduation rate in America is to lower the standards. And lots of people have done that, and as long as we keep doing that, we’ll delude ourselves into thinking we have a decent graduation rate, but in fact our kids will be wholly unprepared.

In New York City, and this is highly controversial, we put a letter grade on every school, based on progress. And we do that to make the system transparent and actually allow people to bring the house down on us. Because you put a letter F or a letter D on a school, and even middle-class schools that think, because they have a lot of bright kids there, they’re doing a great job, but they’re not remotely doing a great job.

Our kids in Ohio are not going to compete differently in a global economy than our kids in New York. It’s sort of silly to have all of these different standards and assessments. And also, it makes the attack on assessments easier because by having 50 different ones, you’re not really investing in getting the economies of scale.

The magic ingredient in the game I play is high-quality teaching. We don’t remotely have enough of it because we don’t reward it properly, we backload the pay scale. The real money goes into the people who are in the system a long time, gets rolled up in a defined-benefit pension plan, makes it very hard to attract new talent. We don’t reward excellence, we don’t give hardship pay, we pay the same thing for a science teacher and a math teacher that we do for a physical-education teacher. If any university did that, they’d go under.

I would repurpose almost all of the federal dollars that are now in it. That’s a lot of money, $30 billion to $40 billion. I would repurpose that to teacher excellence.

MR. BUSSEY: Is the system that exists now too cumbersome to remove teachers who are underperforming? Is that issue high on your list?

MR. KLEIN: I don’t think you’re going to get that until you have meaningful, widely accepted accountabilities. And then you tie it to teacher value added. But you can’t do everything from Washington. There are massive collective-bargaining agreements out there. But what you can do is make transparent how underperforming the system is.

And then let the cities, let the states, whoever’s going to be responsible, do the innovation, partner with the people that Jim is talking about, and others. And don’t try to micromanage from, much less from D.C., but not even from a large central school district. Give the people the accountabilities, make it based on progress. Don’t base it on what ZIP Code you’re in because those kids may start at a different level. Base it on progress.

MR. BUSSEY: Do you buy this idea of shrinking the number of school districts so that you can standardize the 50 state districts and maybe 10 or 20 of the big cities —

MR. KLEIN: It may be a good idea, but that seems to me the least politically feasible right now. On the other hand, national standards, done with governors, done with experts, benchmarking against what’s going on, that will set the framework. If you don’t have the right horizontal and the right vertical axis, it’s very hard to do the measurement.

Why Teachers Leave

MR. BUSSEY: Dr. Comer, back to the teachers for a second. Why is it that 46% of teachers parachute out of the plane before five years?

MR. COMER: Well, the No. 1 reason that they give is that the administration of the programs and schools that they’re in, there are problems there. And second is that they have no ability to influence what goes on in their buildings.

But the third reason is that they weren’t really prepared to work with children. And that is the one that I’m most concerned about. Learning really takes place in that interaction between the teacher and the child. And we can do all we want beyond that. If we don’t make it possible for that teacher to influence the development, promote the learning, then it doesn’t take place.

The teacher and administrators have to be able to create the culture that will support the development of children. Last month, I was in a school, a high school in Virginia, that had had five principals in seven years. Total failure. The last principal has now been there four years and has a terrific school. So when we talked about what went on, this was someone who believed in development, who brought in a staff that believed in development, and they created interactions among the teachers and the students that helped them grow. And because of that, they were motivated to learn and they were able to achieve at a higher level.

MR. GERSTNER: I think there’s something very important to understand here. Up until 1960-65, we had a captive labor force in our schools. Any bright, ambitious woman who wanted a career went into teaching or nursing. We had this incredible group of people that we underpaid and they taught our kids.

What have we done since then? We have to compete now to get teachers. And what’s it like to be a teacher? Well, first of all, you go to a teachers college, which are the backwaters of a collegiate place. They are awful. If you don’t get into any other things, you go to the teachers college, where they teach you teaching math. You don’t get math from the math department in the university, you get teachers math. And they don’t get the support, they don’t get the kind of training that Dr. Comer’s talking about.

And then what do they look forward to? They look forward to, on average, 20 years later they’re going to make $46,500 in the United States. And that’s the good news. Because the bad news is, they’re going to make $46,500 regardless of whether they’re good or bad, because everybody’s going to get the same. So which half do you think leaves in that first five years? The half that has choices.

And so, we have got to start what Dr. Comer said, to change the way we train teachers. We’ve got to make the profession one that’s respected again. We’ve got to pay them, the best ones, a lot more money. And then we’ve got to hold them accountable so that the teachers that are not performing get moved out of the system.

Joel Klein Joel Klein

MR. KLEIN: The countries that succeed, they tend to draw their teachers from the top quarter, top third of their graduating college classes. These are people who have been academically successful, who believe in assessment, because they’ve lived under it and it’s served them well. In the United States, we draw teachers from the bottom quarter of our college graduates, and our kids in high-poverty neighborhoods get the bottom quarter of the bottom quarter.

And all the incentives are misaligned. You wait for the 20 years, because then it’s actually when it starts to get good, because you’re getting across-the-board pay hikes. So whenever I pay a three-year, 10%, across-the-board pay hike, the people who are locked into the system are getting $8,000 and $10,000 and $12,000 raises, all rolled up in a defined benefit, which means that I’m not getting any return on that money. Whereas the people I’m trying to attract, the young kids who I want to stay in the earliest years, they’re getting the same 10% on $40,000 or $38,000.

So, in effect, we’re rewarding the wrong things. That’s why I think if the federal government were to come in, tied to a real accountability system and said, “This is what we want to reward in teacher performance, we’ll use federal dollars, and if you go to our most challenging schools, it’ll be 1.5X; and if you do it in math and science, it’ll be 2X.” And if it were to use the federal billions in a way that started to create excellence, you’d attract different people, they would be incentivized in different ways, and you would begin to create a culture of excellence.

MR. BUSSEY: You mentioned Michelle Rhee. She’s the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system. And she has approached the union with an idea of virtually doubling the pay of those excellent teachers, so long as the union was more willing to allow for firing of those teachers who fell below standards. And the union reaction to that was, “Look, you know, is it really fair to judge teachers who are performing poorly without considering the lack of resources that the school system provides them? And the lack of training?” So, there was immediate resistance there, and a kind of a regression to the status quo. Wouldn’t you run into that same problem with a broader — ?

MR. KLEIN: Sure, sure. But in the end, the same two teachers with the same kid get entirely different results. It’s no different at IBM, it’s no different at Yale, it’s no different in the New York City public-school system.

I will show you the same kids in two different schools, the very same kids, getting entirely different outcomes. The key feature of that is the quality of the teaching, the engagement with the students, the personalization, all of those things. And what we need to do is start rewarding that. So what Lou says, which half do you think is leaving: We want the people who are hitting the ball out of the park to play for our team.

MR. GERSTNER: We’ve got to do it. Thirty-eight percent of middle-school students in the United States, in urban settings, are taught a subject by a teacher that hasn’t even minored in the subject, let alone majored in the subject. Can you imagine? The American people go to an airport, and over the PA system comes an announcement, “Well, we don’t have any qualified pilots today, but we found these guys out here who have agreed to fly the airplane.” That’s what we do to our kids every day.

MR. KLEIN: And make no mistake, that’s directly correlated to poverty. The kids with the greatest needs don’t remotely get their equitable share. So, I have middle-class schools that find it quite easy for every vacancy to attract lots and lots of talent to those schools. And we have some of the best middle-class schools in the country in New York.

On the other hand, I’ve got high-poverty schools where each year I’m sending in 15-20 new people, and it starts this downward cycle that Lou is describing, and that’s another reason people leave, because they find it demoralizing. People want to be part of a successful culture.

MR. COMER: I want to make one more point about when we start trying to weed out the unsuccessful teachers: I don’t think we should wait until they’re teaching. We should be eliminating people who aren’t good teachers, or don’t have the potential to be good teachers, long before they ever get to the school. I’ve always said that about a third of the people are prepared to be teachers; about a third could, with better training, be teachers; but about a third should sell used cars, maybe, or something. But they just shouldn’t get in there in the first place, because they don’t relate to children well.

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 11:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Red Light Camera missing link found?

Guy Midkiff


My Alma mater, Texas A&M University, recently issued the following report on red light camera efficacy:


by Troy D. Walden, Ph.D.

These “scientific findings” presented by Dr. Walden have become the missing link, the piece de resistance, the eureka piece for local and state municipalities looking to desperately justify the relentless on slot of red light cameras.

“Because any study where a single team plans the research, carries it out, supervises the analysis, and writes their own final report, carries a very high risk of undetected bias. That risk, for example, would automatically preclude the validity of the results of a similarly structured study that tested the efficacy of a drug.” Michael Crichton

The 80th Texas Legislature enacted House Bill 1052 and Senate Bill 1119 giving local communities the authority to install red light camera enforcement systems. The Texas Transportation Code requires the Texas Department of Transportation to annually publish the reported collisions that occur at local community intersections that are monitored by red light camera enforcement systems.

Executive Summary:

This Based on the pre and post-installation crash data, there were 586 annualized collisions across all intersections. In contrast, 413 annualized crashes were reported during the same time period following installation which evaluation considered 56 separate intersections in the data set. Each community reported pre and post-installation crash data that was annualized for a 12 month period of time resulted in an average decrease of 30%.

Let me make it clear, I am not a scientist. My formal education was in economics with the requisite courses in quantitative analysis and statistical methodology.

Even as a layman, I have substantial problems with this scientific study. I would like to begin by applying the Crichton logic to Dr. Walden’s findings. Michael said this about scientific methodology, as he was giving scientific testimony, regarding global warming:

“Science is nothing more than a method of inquiry. The method says an assertion is valid—and merits universal acceptance—only if it can be independently verified. The impersonal rigor of the method means it is utterly apolitical. A truth in science is verifiable whether you are black or white, male or female, old or young. It’s verifiable whether you like the results of a study, or you don’t.”

Clearly, this study was motivated by political forces hell-bent on validating red light cameras. Politicians are under enormous pressure to prove the virtue of the cameras. They have relied repeatedly on studies that were contaminated by corporate influences such as: Red Light Camera Companies drive to turn a profit, same for Insurance Companies and same for municipalities looking to add revenue to their general funds.

Sadly, this study shows many of the characteristics that render the results useless. The first hint can be found from the study generator, the Texas Legislator. The legislator has made their bias clear on the matter and can explain the motivation to short-change many of the methods used in statistical determination. Also, please pay particular attention to the sampling data. Sample sets consisted of 12 month annualized reports generated from 56 sites. Small sample sets are notorious for their “noisy” determinations.

By way of comparison, researchers at the North Carolina Urban Transit Institute were unsatisfied with the overly simplistic methods used in prior insurance industry funded studies of the effects of red light cameras on accidents. So they conducted a U.S. Dept. of Transportation funded study that looked at a 57-month period and accounted for dozens of variables such as weather and traffic ignored in previous studies. All told, 17,271 observations went into their conclusions.

Mark L. Burkey, Ph.D. and Kofi Obeng, Ph.D., concluded: “The results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.

The graph, found on page 2 of the Burkey-Obeng study shows a clear positive trend in the decrease in injuries caused by red light running in Florida. That data points start at about 50 per 100,000 in 1995, reducing to about 34 by 2006. To lay claim to the last 12 months of this graph and conclude red light cameras were the miracle cure is beyond ridiculous

[CORRECTION 1/4/09: “You suggest that we discussed data in Florida in the mid-1990’s.  Our data was in NC in the 2000’s.” Dr. Mark L. Burkey]

Why is there such a seismic difference between Burkey-Obeng and Walden? One can only guess. To be sure, though, the sample sizes used by Burkey & Obeng dwarfed the A&M study.

[And now a moment of silence: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley]

If you want refined and accurate statistical results, it has long been understood by scientist that robust sample sizes combined with numerous confounding variables, will paint a true picture.

Finally, accidents at intersections can be broken down into those that are and are not sensitive to Red Light Cameras. Those that are in a rush and try to beat the red are sensitive to RLC’s and for those very few, RLC’s will no doubt have a deterrent affect. Drivers that cause the vast majority of intersection incursions, though, are not sensitive to RLC’s. They include: Those that misjudge time versus distance, drivers that don’t see the signal, and those that are impaired.

But the best and most persuasive argument against Red Light Cameras is what is known as countermeasures.

Such measures should include:

* The adoption of a national standard and uniform code for determining yellow length intervals. (In my city, the approach speed is 45 mph and the yellow light interval is 3.0 seconds. the 2003 TN Traffic Design Manual recommends 4.5 seconds.)
* Similar standards for all red intervals.
* Reducing approach speeds.
* Intersection re-engineering such as coordinated signals and improved marking such as decision point markings.

If your community jumps to Red Light Cameras before they even consider counter measures, don’t be fooled into thinking it is for safety.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 11:25 pm  Comments (3)  

Parochial-School Lessons

A solution to a 19th-century problem finds success in a 21st-century setting.

The efficacy of Catholic schools in urban neighborhoods has been documented time and again, beginning with James S. Coleman’s landmark studies in the 1980s. His findings were so devastating at the time that the public-school establishment panicked. School officials heatedly claimed that Mr. Coleman’s results were flawed because public schools had to take everyone while Catholic schools could select more talented students — or at least those who came from more stable homes. But the economist Derek Neal exploded that myth in the 1990s, showing definitively that Catholic-school methods are both class- and color-blind. The stereotypical product of a poor, single-parent home generally does better in a Catholic school than a public one.


As Patrick J. McCloskey notes in “The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem,” urban Catholic schools in the U.S. have a long history of serving the poor and the rough. In the 19th century, the “social pathologies of the Irish,” he writes, “were seen simply as evidence of their genetic and cultural inferiority.” New York Archbishop John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864), when asked what he was going to do about the “Irish problem,” replied: “We are going to teach them their religion.” These Irish were largely from Ireland’s south and west, where the English severely restricted the teaching of Catholicism. Mr. McCloskey writes that “most Irish Catholics arrived in America with a hodgepodge of beliefs and religious practices that were more superstition than religion. They were Catholic in name only, more as a badge of honor against the hated English than as an identity they understood.”

The primary engine for the transformation of the Irish in America was the parochial school, established to turn poor Catholics into productive citizens without losing their religious identity. While Mr. McCloskey acknowledges this religious purpose, especially of early Catholic schools, he wisely distinguishes another characteristic. Citing Anthony Bryk, a professor at Harvard and later Stanford, he refers to “the common school effect.” That is: “All students, regardless of their ethnic background, social class, family problems, or future plans and regardless of their scholastic level before entering high school, are taught basically in the same way.”

Catholic apologists have argued that this approach is rooted in their theology, with its central belief in the dignity and worth of every human person, but it is an approach that was developed by 19th-century educators in both the Catholic and public systems. And while theology might have kept it vital in the Catholic schools, finances also had some influence.

The Street Stops Here
By Patrick J. McCloskey
(University of California Press, 456 pages, $27.50)

At Rice High School in Harlem, where Mr. McCloskey focuses most of his book’s attention, the per-pupil cost of an education is pegged at $5,800 a year. The cost of a public-school education in that same neighborhood is at least twice that and probably higher, depending how much debt service and pension cost is included in the estimate. The “common school” model, with its one-size-fits-all, liberal-arts focus, is simply more economical than the sprawling, desperate and failing public enterprise.

Mr. McCloskey obviously feels sympathy for the many hardworking and dedicated teachers and administrators in the public system. “The Street Stops Here” is not a polemic by any means. One of his principal arguments is that the public schools should adopt the best practices of the Catholic institutions — without the religious content. (After all, most of the students at the Harlem school and other similar institutions are not Catholic, and the schools make no effort to proselytize.)

Although he clearly believes that the success of these schools, especially in the inner city, merits some kind of state support or encouragement, the purpose of the book is not to advocate for vouchers or any other specific policy. At one point he estimates that Catholic schools in America save the taxpayers about $20 billion a year and wonders whether a little of that savings might not be plowed back into their entirely laudable efforts. But as a product of the Canadian Catholic schools, where taxpayer support is taken for granted, Mr. McCloskey also wonders whether the dead hand of government, with its mandates and work rules, are worth the price of admission.

Mr. McCloskey promises a warts-and-all portrait of one year in the life of Rice High School, and he manages for the most part to deliver. In Orlando Gober, the dynamic but flawed principal, he has a memorable and heroic central character. A former Black Panther, Mr. Gober defines himself and his mission in part through occasional conflicts with authority (in this case, the Christian Brothers who operate the school), but he also has obvious respect for the religious order, which was founded in Ireland to serve poor children.

Mr. Gober’s boss, Brother J. Matthew Walderman, also comes alive as Mr. Gober’s patron (over opposition, Mr. Walderman installed him as the school’s first black principal). When Mr. Gober’s demons, and diabetes, finally separate him from Rice, he has left behind a thriving culture of learning and authentic pride. But in the end it is the kids that merit the author’s keenest attention, and ours. Predictably, the wash-outs are the ones remembered best — Prince Youmans, who lives with his grandmother because both of his parents are dead from AIDS, and Yusef Abednego, who is expelled for drug dealing. This would be something of a downer if Mr. McCloskey didn’t note that Rice enjoys a 70% to 80% graduation rate — at least double that of New York public schools.

This is a first book — with a gracious foreword by Samuel G. Freedman, Mr. McCloskey’s former professor at Columbia University — and occasionally it shows. The narrative wobbles when the author moves back and forth in time, the writing style sometimes falters and even disappears, and some chapters can read like homework. But this is homework of a high caliber, and it should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the welfare of our kids.

Mr. Willcox is a writer in Ridgefield, Conn.

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 9:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Mo. wineries popping corks

2008 crop has Mo. wineries popping their corks
Dec 8 07:30 AM US/Eastern
Associated Press Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – A year after a freak spring freeze nearly derailed the Missouri wine industry, the grape gods have been kind to vineyard owners like Sarah Schmidt—perhaps too kind.

A cool, wet spring and summer produced enough grapes to fill the storage tanks at Schmidt’s Baltimore Bend Vineyards with juice, fulfill all of her contracts to supply fruit to other wineries and still leave grapes hanging in her 7-acre vineyard.

“We had an outstanding crop this year,” said Schmidt, who operates in Waverly, about 60 miles east of Kansas City. “We even had more grapes than we could sell, which is not a great place to be for a grape grower. The quality was very good and we had an abundant crop.”

Last year, a warm March and April followed by subfreezing temperatures during the Easter weekend claimed about half the 30 tons of fruit Schmidt’s vineyards produce, she estimated, wiping out about three-fourths of her white varietals and a quarter of her reds.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Missouri vineyards produced only 2,500 tons of grapes in 2007, a 40 percent drop from the previous year despite the state gaining an extra 100 acres of production capacity.

That left the state’s more than 80 wineries scrambling for fruit to make their products. Many vintners, such as Tim Puchta, owner of Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann, had to go as far away as New York to buy grapes.

“Ninety-five percent of my growers got hammered. That allowed us to bring in as much as we could from out of state last year,” said Puchta, who is chairman of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. “The freeze pretty much changed my business plan for the next five years.”

Missouri wineries produced around 900,000 gallons of wine last year, ranking it 11th in the nation and far behind California’s 566 million gallons. But the industry is an important economic engine for communities in the wine-producing region, generating an estimated $700 million in taxes, tourism, salaries and other benefits.

This year’s crop is much larger, but Puchta said wine enthusiasts shouldn’t expect much of a price break when the vintages begin hitting shelves next year.

“It’s going to be a little difficult with the economy the way it is,” Puchta said, noting that the price of grapes hasn’t changed and wineries are paying more for bottles, corks and fuel. “Our cost of production was still what it was and has been for the last few years.”

But the wines coming out of this year’s crop could be better than average because the abundance of fruit allows producers to be more selective, said Cory Bomgaars, owner of Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport.

“On a short year, you have to take your best wines and some of your things that aren’t your highest grade and mix them,” Bomgaars said. “Now we can make a good product and a reserve product this year.”

Bomgaars estimates he went 40 percent over his previous maximum harvest this year, compared with being 60 percent under a year ago.

“It was a pretty intense harvest because it was very heavy and pretty drawn out because it was a cool harvest as well,” he said, noting he completed his harvest a month later than normal.

Experts said while the weather contributed to a good harvest, the freeze itself played a part as the vines in some cases came back stronger and more vigorous.

“It may have done something physiologically to the plants that gave them a jump start this year,” Puchta said. “The full outcome of what happened last year and this year may not be known for a year or so.”

The cooler, wet weather has caused some headaches for vineyard owners who had to work harder to prevent mold and fungus and some of the fruit has come in with less sugar content and higher acidity, requiring careful analysis in the wine cellar, said Jim Anderson, executive director of the Wine and Grape Board.

“This year it’s a little more challenging because of the rainfall and cloudier weather, the grapes are coming in at different levels,” Anderson said. “So you’re really earning your money this year being a wine maker.”

Anderson added that Missouri wineries also have had to struggle with a decline in visits from consumers, who were chased away by rainy weather and high gas prices. But with prices coming down, he said a turnaround could be near.

“We’re working harder for the offseason,” he said. “It would be nice to see a milder winter so people will be more likely to spend on wine.”

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment