Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Whither Kentucky Education?

Perhaps it was by design that the Lexington Herald-Leader, monopoly newspaper in Lexington, Ky., ran two articles on 27 November by education-establishment pooh-bahs, one by Richard Day, a former high-school principle and the other by Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an independent, nonpartisan group of volunteers dedicated to improving education in Kentucky, founded in 1980 in behalf of improving higher education and reconfigured in 1983 to affect all education, according to its self-identification.

The usual statements were made in the articles about improvements made in recent years, the need to do better, the need to close the learning gap between blacks and whites, and a warning that districts are not progressing rapidly enough to meet by 2014 the goals set by the legislature in 1990 (Kentucky Education Reform Act). Day did mention that home atmosphere plays an important part (as he knows, the MOST important part) in a student’s achievements, but placed prodigious blame on Presidents Reagan and Bush for somehow torpedoing educational effort.

Therein lay the main complaint in both articles, to wit, that stingy conservatives have waylaid education both nationally and locally by not adequately funding it. Embodying the largest tax increase in Kentucky’s history (also incorporating an inordinately huge “pork” component), the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 was meant to “fix” Kentucky’s education system once and for all, its main thrust being that all students realize self-esteem and be proficient in their subjects by 2014.

The 1990 legislature bought into the “outcomes-based” concept and attempted mistakenly to mandate pedagogy, thus seriously damaging KERA, but subsequent legislatures have dismantled much of the Act, though it is still terribly flawed. For instance, while testing is standardized throughout the state, each school council has almost absolute authority over everything, including curriculum, meaning there is no standardization with regard to subject matter or treatment.

Results are mixed. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Kentucky 4th- and 8th-graders, respectively, rank 16th and 19th nationally in reading for 2005. According to the NAEP, they rank 45th and 40th, respectively, in math, making them average in reading and terribly poor in math, after 15 years of KERA.

According to the Kentucky Performance Reports provided by the Kentucky Board of Education, 27.45% of high school seniors in 2006 were proficient in total writing-trend data, a drop from 2005, while 4.6% were ranked as distinguished. Regarding on-demand writing-trend data, only 13.23% were proficient and less than one percent distinguished, a drop in scores of 30% from 2005. It has been clear for years that achievement levels drop significantly as students progress through the grades, middle school level being a quagmire.

According to the state Council on Postsecondary Education, 53% of freshmen at Kentucky universities and colleges had to take one or more remedial courses in 2004. These students were part of a whole generation of KERA-educated classes. Remediation is a term referencing the fact that students had to take courses involving what they should have learned in public schools. Indeed, 25% had to take a course in reading. In a recent year, 40% of the graduates of Kentucky State University who planned to teach could not even pass the “teacher’s test,” and therefore were automatically barred from immediate teaching positions.

The student-per-teacher ratio nationally is 15.5-1. In Kentucky it’s 16.1-1, 33rd in the nation and not a significant difference. The statistics can be interpreted many ways, depending often on the desired outcome. Kentucky was 37th in per-pupil spending in 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and 37th in ACT scores (20.6) in 2006, according to the ACT Institute, which pegs the national average at 21.1. According to the Kentucky Department of Education, per-pupil spending in 2005 was $7,513, up from $6,661 in 2003, an increase of 13% in two years.

Clearly, the state is doing well financially by the education establishment; but just as clearly, the system, if not broken, is badly bent. The answer likely is not in finances and most likely is not because of poor teachers, notwithstanding the inevitable handful of incompetents in every system. It perhaps is time to step back and look at the “outcomes-based” approach adopted in 1990, as reconfigured several times since. Plainly, the KERA goals will not even be approximated at the current achievement-rate, though some schools/systems will far exceed them…but they most likely would have, anyway.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Sunday, November 19, 2006

COMMENT Commentators

In the Al Smith KET clambake COMMENT ON KENTUCKY (which I almost never miss) on 17 November, the consensus among the news-worthies (Hebert, Cross, Ellison, Bartleson) was that the democrats are up a tree without a ladder in the matter of fielding a credible candidate in the 2007 gubernatorial circus, since they seemed to think that State Auditor Crit Luallen and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who have respectfully declined to run, were the best bets. A lot of names were thrown around – former governors Carroll and Jones (old guys), Terry McBrayer (another old guy one of the panelists said would split the party), Attorney General Stumbo, Congressman Chandler.

Former lieutenant governor Steve Henry was mentioned and probably made the most poignant pronouncement via a video presentation in which he called Jones the worst governor in the state’s history…or something like that. He brought up the health insurance fiasco during the Jones administration that eventuated in nearly all health insurance companies simply pulling up stakes and leaving the state. Jones had help from the legislature, of course, but a number of legislators, including Speaker Blandford, were being trucked off to the big house during his tenure (though Jones was not involved in their shenanigans) and many of the remaining solons might have been too worried about “other shoes dropping” to get their minds on the business at hand. If memory serves, Jones and gang tried to force the companies to take customers they wouldn’t risk…and so it goes…and so they left.

The panelists mentioned the difficulties facing the republicans, also, sort of writing off Governor Fletcher’s chances and giving the most attention to Billy Harper of Paducah, who has the money to buy the seat, the voters willing, of course. There’s an attractive “Harper for Governor” Web site, on which Harper states that he’s in the race for good. The panel said a lot of good things about Harper, not least among which were mentions of things he quietly does to help a lot of people. Nobody could seem to remember anything about Harper’s running mate, a man named Wilson, and I couldn’t (or at least didn’t) find any information about him on the Web site.

There was concrete consensus that Ben Chandler could walk away with the prize with one hand tied behind his back, a chance he would never have again. They were probably right on that, given the troubles Fletcher has had. TV newsman Mark Hebert gave a vivid description of the grand jury’s report concerning the merit business – a scathing bit of stuff, though one wonders how much of the material was jurors-generated and how much was Stumbo-generated.

Stumbo is on the record as being interested in running if Fletcher should become unpopular, a condition he’s tried in spades to bring to pregnant fruition. In a COMMENT program last year, after all the merit stuff hit the wall, the panelists sort of shrugged it off – old hands, at that, who’d been around a while – as just the same stuff democrats had been doing for decades. They and a lot of the rest of us got fooled when the matter that should have gone the ethics/personnel route wound up like solid gold in the AG’s office. What was perfectly okay for the good-old-boy democrats simply wouldn’t do for the nasty republicans.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Kelo," SCOTUS and the Water Company

In its “Kelo Decision” of 2005 approving the right of a local government to condemn a private citizen’s property (power of eminent domain) in order to give it to a private group for purposes having nothing to do with a public enterprise, the Supreme Court (pre-Roberts and pre-Alito) opened a Pandora’s Box of problems accented most recently in Lexington, Ky., by a referendum vote overwhelmingly defeating a resolution occasioned by a petition drive to allow the local governing body to exercise eminent domain with regard to the company that provides the delivery of water to the city and surrounding counties. The citizens said a resounding “NO” to the proposition.

The system, owned by Kentucky-American Water Company and in place for 118 years, was sold in 2002 to RWE AG, a German industrial giant that bought the entire AWC system of more than 800 local systems in the United States and Canada. A group of distinguished, moneyed citizens, including a former governor, a former Lexington mayor, and prominent business folks, didn’t like that idea and formed an organization to either force a sale of the local company to the city or institute eminent domain, whichever became necessary. RWE made it plain that the system was not for sale.

That was also an election year and the successful mayor-candidate campaigned on the issue, favoring the “whichever became necessary.” The governing body went along with the idea, but there was no ready cash to instigate the proper proceedings. Enter the prominent citizens with a “loan” of $750,000 to start things, and the council, exercising terrible judgment, accepted it. The city lawyers went to work and about $1.3 million was used up in a hurry.

In the 2004 council-elections, things changed, the result being that the process was officially stopped by a majority against the “taking.” It needs to be mentioned that none of the water could be delivered without electricity, and that the company delivering electricity to the city was also foreign-owned then (by a British concern), and today is owned by or part of another German giant, E.ON, headquartered in Dusseldorf, Germany. It’s hard to imagine such an example of “getting the cart before the horse,” but that’s what happened.

The aforementioned prominent citizens and others exercised successfully their right to petition for a referendum on the matter, but it could not be on a ballot in 2005, since that wasn’t an election year. It was resoundingly defeated in the latest elections, even though RWE plans to sell the entire system next year, but not in a piece-meal manner. If and when the system is sold, the performance of the new owner can be evaluated. Under the present management, the system has been operated quite satisfactorily, so performance has never been an issue.

Nothing could be plainer than the Fifth Amendment: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The keyword is PUBLIC! In the New London, Conn., 5/4-decision (Kelo), the SCOTUS opened the door for any covey of corrupt politicians or other officials to take private property in behalf of those private entrepreneurs who claim that the taking is in the best interests of the community, in this case (Kelo) allowing for construction that will eventuate in much higher property taxes – that being for the good of the “public.” A fifth-grader can see through this.

Notwithstanding its fallacy, the Lexington group did not even have the Kelo argument, since the water rates were/are not inordinate and, in any case, are statutorily governed by the Kentucky Public Service Commission. Taking the company would have induced the opposite effect, in any case, since properties, worth millions, would be deleted from the tax rolls, thus hugely affecting tax-receipts collected by the city. In the bargain, the city now faces the payoff of the $750,000, plus interest, no doubt, but it would have taken millions of dollars over at least seven years to effect condemnation and then fight the appeals.

If there had been a public need for the property at issue in Kelo, such as the building of a highway, there would have been Constitutional grounds for condemnation. The same is true of Lexington. Perhaps the main lesson to be learned in this matter is that the Supreme Court, while it is now more constructionist than before Roberts/Alito, should be composed of justices who understand property rights.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Democrats Jockey for Top Spot

The Kentucky governor’s race in 2007 becomes more interesting as the days go by, at least for the democrats. With the pronouncements of Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and State Auditor Crit Luallen that they will not make the race, attention is naturally turned to Attorney General Stumbo, who is definitely interested, and Congressman Ben Chandler, who has chosen to sit on the fence and either view the carnage caused by all the democrat wannabes engaging in internecine cannibalism or dispel it by simply announcing that he wants the job and won’t even have to buy it.

Former lieutenant governor Steve Henry is officially in the hunt, but it remains to be seen for how long. He, like some others, carries a bit of baggage. Having to settle out of court with the feds in a tax matter involving a lot of money gained either fraudulently and by design or, as he says, through a clerical error (take your choice) is not good advertising. Strangely, according to information in the Lexington Herald-Leader, he says his wife, a former Miss America, will work in his administration for $1 a year. That conjures up the vision of the Bill-and-Hillary two-for-one disaster in 1992, so Henry might do well to run for the office and let his wife do what good wives do, part of which is to let hubby do his thing and not be foisted off on the public as a campaign tool (or fool?).

The three wannabes with the best name-recognition are former governors Brereton Jones and Julian Carroll and Lexington lawyer and 1979 governor-wannabe Terry McBrayer. These guys will be ages 68, 75, and 70, respectively, next year, so they might have a bit of an energy problem, for starters. The guy with all the money and who has run unsuccessfully in other races, Louisville businessman Charlie Owen, could be a factor, though he will be 68 in 2007.

Jones’ tenure will be remembered by many as the one in which 15 legislators and six others were convicted of a number of crimes as a result of a federal probe into Frankfort shenanigans, though Jones was never implicated. He’s remembered for the “DeZarn” fiasco, in which his adjutant general, Robert DeZarn, was trucked off to the big house for 15 months for perjury accruing to testimony concerning solicitation of campaign funds for Jones among National Guard officers, many of whom were relieved of their duties later. He’s also remembered for the fact that all but one health-insurance companies left the state during his tenure, though maybe the following administration of Paul Patton, as well as the inept legislatures, had a hand in the carnage. His protracted campaign to recoup the campaign funds he loaned himself is legend.

Carroll’s tenure was loaded with bumps. His right-hand man, a former legislator and state party chairman, served three years in a federal pen for workmen’s-compensation-insurance shenanigans, and Carroll himself was under federal investigation while in office. This is what Carroll said last November, “I’m assuming a position of leadership in the party as a result of being reelected to the Kentucky State Senate.” (In that process, he defeated incumbent Governor Fletcher’s brother, though an alert democrat orangutan would beat a republican human genius in the state-capital district where that happened, without even swinging from limb to limb to campaign.) So…was that another way of announcing a 2007 candidacy, or do pigs have wings?

So…is it back to Stumbo and possibly Henry? Stumbo carries heavy baggage, not least because of all those years he was majority leader in the House and sort of ran the show (lots of enemies). He’s also had serious patrimony problems, being the father of a child without being married to the mother, who has given him fits concerning child-support payments. All those years ago he was apprehended drunk in his stopped pickup, but seems to have noted that his “designated driver” had disappeared…or something like that. Then, there’s the matter of unrelenting pressure on the present administration over what in other administrations has occasioned only a blip, a bit of correction (committee stuff), and ’nuff said treatment.

Perhaps Chandler will declare himself soon. After all, filing for the May primary must be done before the end of January. This makes the election cycle months too long, but it will give the hopefuls all the time they need to tell the public how unfit for office all their fellow democrat/opponents are.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, November 03, 2006

Changing Demographics - Good...Bad?

Seventy-five percent of the U.S. population is white today but by 2050 it will be hardly more than 50%, according to the experts, with Hispanics the second largest minority group, and African Americans third. Not long after, whites will become a pronounced comparative minority. This is precisely the same situation that obtains in Europe with respect to a demographic shift of significant proportions.

Item: The Associated Press reported Sunday, October 29, that marauding youths in Clichy-Sous-Bois, France, torched hundreds of vehicles on Friday night and Saturday in observing the first anniversary of the riots of 2005 that began there, spread throughout the country, and lasted for three weeks, ostensibly set off by the accidental deaths of two Muslim teens. Three public buses and 277 vehicles were burned in other locations throughout the country in the latest violence, but Interior Ministry officials described the night as relatively calm, since up to 100 cars are torched by youths in “troubled neighborhoods” on an average night.

The riots in 2005 took the form mostly of burning autos and buildings. Some 9,000 cars were destroyed in France alone, for instance, but during that period Muslim riots spread to Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Spain, and even Switzerland. Much of Europe is becoming “Islamicized,” mostly by low-income immigrants or progeny of immigrants who have formed an economic underclass that is becoming more militant even while governments try to find work for its members. Germany, for instance, invited Turks to come and work there after World War II, owing to a manpower shortage, and expected their “guests” to leave eventually. They didn’t, but, instead, became fruitful and multiplied.

According to a Brookings Institute reading of 2003,Today, the Muslim birth rate in Europe is three times higher than the non-Muslim one. If current trends continue, the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim population will shrink by 3.5 percent.” According to a BI report of January this year, France experienced a “birth boom” in 2005, meaning that the Muslim problem is intensifying there. Therein lies the framework for a Europe rapidly departing its “Western Civilization” roots and replacing them with the Islamic influence, often driving a fanaticism that is fueling death and destruction on an unprecedented scale today throughout the world.

In both France and Germany, the birth rates accruing to “European” babies are not high enough to sustain even a “European” population holding its own. Instead, the countries are moving toward a Middle East culture that by most standards today is inferior to that of Western Civilization, at least as traditionally conceived with respect to the technology area. As for the arts, culture is a regional matter, while in the realm of the spiritual/religious Judaism and Christianity mark Western Civilization. Muslims worship Allah, an invention of Mohammed in the sixth century.

There is a lesson here. The birth rate in the United States is hardly sustainable with respect to the nature of the founding (European) families, mostly conceived of as Caucasian (white), the predominant identity of the settlers and earliest immigrant-settlers and thus the product of Western Civilization, defined as a term used to refer to the cultures of the people of European origin and their descendants.

According to the Population Resource Center in its May 2000 report, “Hispanics have the highest fertility rate of any U.S. minority, with the average Hispanic woman giving birth to three children in her lifetime. The African-American fertility rate is 2.2 lifetime births per woman. Non-Hispanic whites have the lowest fertility rate of 1.8, about 14 percent below the "replacement rate" of 2.1. Little has changed.

What is to be extrapolated, if anything, from these observations? The keywords in academia and the liberal community today are diversity and multiculturalism. Interpreted, this means the glorification of groups that have emerged from backgrounds totally different from that of Western Civilization. Is this what America needs, in light of the position it has carved out in this world? Certainly not! The beginning point is the selective barring of Muslims from immigration. The continuing point is the sealing of the southern border and the deporting of all illegal aliens. This has nothing to do with prejudice, bigotry, discrimination or anything else. It’s just plain common sense, and the sooner the country gets with it the better off it will be.

Besides the population factor, the salient threat in both England and France is that Muslims born in those countries are committing terrorist acts against the citizens of those countries – in France the ones noted above and in England the recent bombings of trains and a bus. Islamic fanaticism feeds on hate and impels its terrorist adherents to do violence against the innocents who simply live next door, no matter who they are. William B. Milam, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, stated in 2001 that there were seven million Muslims in America. Listed in the National Council of Churches 2005 yearbook is the figure 4,657,000. The constant question facing this country has to do with whether or not some U.S.-born Muslims, either individually or in small “sleeper” cells, are attempting to emulate their counterparts in Europe.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark