Thursday, April 28, 2005

Faith-based Policy

President Bush "answered" questions today about many issues affecting his popularity, among them: Iraq quagmire, weapons programs in the hands of rogue states, No Child Left Behind. Little details or conclusive assertion were given. Mainly, Bush has asked Americans to put faith in policies that are meeting difficulty because they are a means to a desired end, or they sound nice. That's how he sells most of the policies he champions.

Here's a review of a few topics that were given attention...

When asked about a strong insurgency in Iraq, and a recent report that states how terrorist attacks increased in frequency between 2003 and 2004, Bush resounded his claim that freedom is on the march. American-driven democracy is the cure-all for the sectarian conflict in the Middle East and disputes between Islam and the West.

The recent forming of a cabinet and organization by Prime Minister Jaafari, Talabani, etc. all make a semblance of Democracy, and Jan. 30th elections showed a willingness of the Iraqis to participate, but does that make local ideology more tolerant of the West? Of course, one will only know by reading future history books. But rallies against the "Great Satan" taking place in Saudi Arabia and Syria make one skeptical.

Sum Bush response: Have Faith!

When asked about NEA lawsuits over the No Child Left Behind act and their claim of inadequate federal funding, Bush dodges the issue of funding and talks about the principle of the law which requires testing. He says blatantly that he doesn't know about the lawsuit, then goes on describing how its good that kids are measured on their ability to read, write, and do math.

The NEA isn't really taking issue with testing and agrees that kids ought to know how to read, write, and do things like "add, subract, multiply, and divide." However, Bush insists that the NEA rejects testing, and have a bad attitude, that they should change. I think Bush should really read up on that lawsuit.

Sum Bush Response: You better change your attitude!

Also, Bush sheds his great perpective on Putin's Russia,.
A reporter asked Bush about how Putin's willingness to sell short-range weapons to Syria and "nukular" materials to Iran reflects on Putin's willing to enact democratic reform.

Bush responded in a broader sense, reflecting on his talks with Putin in Slovakia about democracy. "he (Putin) stood up and said he strongly supports democracy. I take him for his word." Little reassurance there.

In regards to Syria, "we're working closely with the Russians on the issue of vehicle-mounted weaponry to Syria. We didn't appreciate that, but we made ourselves clear."

Sum Bush Response: shrug

In regards to Iran, "What Russia has agreed to do is to send highly enriched uranium to a nuclear civilian power plant and then collect that uranium after it's used for electricity, power purposes...I appreciate that gesture."

Sum Bush Response: Let's let the guys who are selling the Syrians weapons deal with regulating Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Bush ends his conference leaving more questions than answering those that he dodged, adding a quip about how he doesn't want to "cut in on TV show that are ready to air." One would rather have a distraction than to understand much of Bush's policy, such is the mass response his presidency.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

NCLB and then some...

The National Education Association and eight school districts in Texas, Michigan, and Vermont are suing the Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act. The NEA decries that the DEA violated a provision in the law that states cannot be forced to spend their own money to meet federal requirements (NYTimes). Additionally, Connecticut's Attorney General and Utah's republican-dominated state legislature are threatening legal action on the same terms.

The act orders that students in every demographic must score higher on standardized testing than the previous year in order to ensure funding to the school district. If the school fail to meet the standards, they face sanctions such as school closure and loss of funding.

Early critics on the law found standardized testing to be a useful tool in determining the effectiveness of school districts, but found its punitive provisions to be not useful in ameliorating the problems of poor-performing districts. Detractors also found that federal money towards the districts was inadequate for enhancing performance, and that decisions over how to deal with the delinquent districts should be left to local authorities. It seems that all these criticisms are now assimilating into a joint legal action among states.

The DEA asserts that the Bush Administration is spending more on education than previous administrations, citing four studies that find the law to be accurately funded.

Concerned districts still persist that passing standardized tests is a major problem. Perhaps a solution would evaluate said tests' ability to measure academic achievement. For comparison, many studies have found standardized tests such as the SAT and GRE to be ineffective at measuring intelligence and academic proficiency. Tweaking the standardized tests may make them more effective.

Another problem is that federal standards may be inapplicable to local districts. Perhaps it would be better to have individual states create there own tests. That way, states with differing standards and demographics could administer more relevant testing.

Cutting funding to failing school districts is another provision that makes little sense. An inner-city school that handles at-risk children likely need more support than less. The No Child Left Behind Act would drain such schools of further resources to improve and advance social mobility.

The debate over the No Child Left Behind Act is a complex one. It's a pity that Congress has not had a more serious debate over its effectiveness, or lack thereof. Until now, it's been partisan bickering about who is a greater supporter of educational accountability. Educational accountability as a goal is understood. How we proceed from there should be reviewed.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tom Delay is still blabbering on about how activist judges have a broken moral compass when it came to the Schiavo case, going on and on about how the judges will have to answer to God when it comes to aiding in America's conspiracy against conservatives.

If republicans consider themselves conservatives, they'd be hard-pressed to find a hostile American attack on their ideals given the fact that America voted for their majority in the first place.
Flocks of evangelical Christians would love to support Delay in his "plight" against the "liberal majority."

Tom Delay is a liability for Republicans in 2006, and moderate republicans (typically more authentically conservative) have been calling for his resignation. Bush still defends him though. Not surprising, he needs Delay to aid in the "great struggle" to "save social security," to assist with the new Bankruptcy bill, and rally many Christian fundamentalists.

Bill Frist is also getting psycho, portraying democrats as "against people of faith (NYTIMES)" because they object to Bush's judicial nominees. Democrats have criticized nominees because of stances on abortion and public religious expressions, but its more of an issue of church-state separation and sticking with traditional democrat stances on the right to choose. It's a wild generalization that doesn't aid the debate.

There are many Democrats of faith, and I don't believe democrats ever took issue with people of faith, let alone faith itself. His comments are akin to labeling an entire political group as anti-american. It's as bad as saying republicans hate poor people. Throwing labels blatantly disregards an accurate description of either perspective.

That said, his words, however misguided, will rally support from fundamentalist groups. Though we will likely see that psycho accusations will distance himself from voters who are conscientious.