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Views from across Iowa

Oct 03, 2013

Quad-City Times, Sept. 27

‘No Child’ continues its miserable failure


Education is evolving at lightning speed. High school students are earning college credits before their graduation. Students are blogging homework assignments so their work can be evaluated by peers as well as teachers.

Many school districts are putting laptops and tablets in the hands of every student, allowing access to online instruction, video production and global research.

More students than ever are enrolled in public preschool. Common Core curriculum is sweeping the nation.

Still, American schools are mired in the mess of No Child Left Behind, a failed reform that keeps on sharing its failures with students and faculty. The latest round of scores shows that 64 percent of Iowa and 66 percent of Illinois public schools do not meet “average yearly progress” scores.

This meaningless stat measures the percent of students whose scores cannot keep up with a moving target of progress. Since No Child began, school districts have been required to report a larger and larger percentage of students meeting the program’s phony standards. Last year’s target was 80 percent of students. This year it is 94 percent. Next year, it’s 100 percent of students.

The concept of yearly progress suggests that educators are doing a better job with the same students. The reality is that each year brings a new class expected to perform significantly better than the class before them.

Broken down to the classroom level, No Child presents an impossible standard. Last year, 24 children in a 30-student third-grade class had to pass to meet the standard. This year, 28 different third-grade students must pass to meet the higher standard. Next year, each one of the 30 new third-graders must pass.

The system requires different students with different backgrounds and abilities to perform better than the batch of students who preceded them.

Consequently, the rate of No Child school failures grows each year. And so do the consequences.

Each failure launches a new round of expensive interventions that may benefit individual students, but does nothing about curbing the rate of building failure. More than $13 billion in federal funds still flows each year through this widely discredited No Child program, mostly in the form of aid to help schools achieve the average yearly progress goals that few are reaching.

The obvious solution is for Congress to retool the federal government’s education role. But Congress is making zero annual progress on a budget, farm bill, energy plan, immigration and almost everything else. So the Obama administration is allowing states to ignore the most onerous parts of No Child if they adopt better measurements, and particularly, tie teacher evaluations to classroom outcomes.

All but two states have applied for waivers, and 41 states, plus the District of Columbia, have received them. Iowa’s waiver request was rejected last year because test scores weren’t sufficiently included in teacher evaluations. Illinois has been waiting since February 2012 for word on its waiver request.

Congress isn’t simply an obstacle to progress. It is an anchor sinking the future of schoolchildren struggling in a majority of American schools that now carry the No Child “failure” label.

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Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 29

Attorney General’s Office must get out of way of other agencies


In the right, upper corner of www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov, there is a picture of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller with a quotation that reads, “Our mission is to use the law to serve the people of Iowa. We’re glad you visited and we hope you find exactly what you need.”

And when you scan through the page’s list of “What We Do,” you’ll see a number of important ways the Iowa Attorney General’s office is supposed to be representing the interests of individual Iowans: protecting consumers, working with farmers, helping victims of crime, protecting the environment, protecting charitable giving, raising child support awareness, enforcing tobacco laws, protecting utility customers and issuing attorney general opinions.

But amid all the other important information and helpful links provided on that homepage, there is no mention of how the AG office’s responsibility for “representing state government” often presents an irresolvable conflict of interest for Miller and his staff: When individual Iowans need protection from public officials/employees accused of violating state law and procedures, the attorney general’s office represents the general public making the accusation as well as the state government being accused.

Over the past decade, we’ve found that Miller’s office, when faced with this conflict of interest, typically tries to resolve it to the benefit of state government. This has been especially true when it comes to ensuring government officials and institutions abide by both the letter and the spirit of Iowa’s open government laws. And it’s why we pushed for years for the Iowa Legislature to create an independent Public Information Board that could hear and evaluate such cases without facing the conflicts faced by the AG’s office.

So we can’t say we were surprised earlier this month to hear Iowa’s ombudsman, Ruth Cooperrider, tell The Des Moines Register that Miller’s staff is increasingly attempting to interfere with her office’s independent authority to investigate complaints about state and local government.

Nor were we surprised to learn that Miller’s office was arguing that the University of Iowa shouldn’t be required to provide details about a settlement claim to one of its former surgeons. (Although, given how the AG office’s previous “Sunshine Advisory” held that government settlement agreements are public records, we were somewhat surprised the office would so blatantly ask a judge to ignore its own earlier advice.)

Nor were we surprised when newspapers like the Storm Lake Times responded by editorializing that, after 28 years in office, it’s time for Miller to retire.

If Miller and his staff are going to use the law to serve state government over serving the people of Iowa, then they need to get out of the way of those independent agencies who are working to ensure the public’s interests are represented as well.

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Telegraph Herald, Sept. 29

Know what’s ahead with Obamacare


Ready or not, here it comes.

Obamacare, that is.

Well, actually, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is already here. Some provisions are in place, some have been postponed and other deadlines are on the horizon. But a major checkpoint toward full implementation came Tuesday, Oct. 1, when open enrollment began for health insurance exchanges in each state.

It is hard to measure these things, but Obamacare might well be the most controversial federal benefit program since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal relief programs of the 1930s, including work programs, unemployment insurance and Social Security.

At least the Americans who disliked the New Deal — it was considered socialistic — understood it. When it comes to Obamacare, Americans have a pretty low level of comprehension. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll last week, three out of every five Americans surveyed say they do not have the information necessary to understand the changes the law will bring. Nonetheless, in other polls, Americans say they disagree with the law.

In other words, people don’t understand it and they don’t like it.

All this should not be terribly surprising. After all, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been mired in myth and misinformation. (Enter “Obamacare myths” into an Internet search engine, and nearly 90,000 results turn up.) Further, it has had some provisions postponed and remains under attack by its opponents, including some Republicans in Congress and several statehouses.

Remember, some 11 months ago, American voters returned to the White House the candidate responsible for Obamacare and rejected his challenger, who said he would do away with the program.

There are those who would rather do away with Obamacare, and there are those (including this editorial board) who question whether the program, as promoted by the president, will really work in the manner described. But the fact is that, like it or not, another element of the program kicked in Oct. 1.

Faced with that reality, Americans would do well to bone up on Obamacare, to do their homework, and act and react accordingly. (The best website sources we have found are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com.)

This new health insurance program is bound to impact every American at some time in some manner. It would serve everyone well to know what’s coming.

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The Hawk Eye, Sept. 29

Fast forward: Governor’s SUV stopped again for speeding


Apparently not everyone read the memo from Gov. Terry Branstad about following Iowa’s traffic laws.

The governor went out of his way to say the troopers who chauffeur him around Iowa must abide by the state’s speed limit. That it had to be said was unfortunate. The statement came after a Division of Criminal Investigation agent — with an exemplary 25-year record of working on the state’s behalf — was fired after he complained the governor’s vehicle was routinely speeding down the state’s highways.

The agent, Larry Hedlund, spotted an SUV doing 84 mph in a 65 zone. He radioed it in, and when another officer came up behind the car and discovered it was the governor’s vehicle, he let it go about its speeding business.

That was in April. When it became public in July, the Department of Public Safety issued the governor’s driver a speeding ticket. Yet Hedlund remains out of a job. The trooper who didn’t stop the governor’s speeding SUV was cleared.

But now, we read another driver of the governor’s SUV was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy in late August for speeding on Iowa 3 near Hampton. The driver was given a warning because, according to Franklin County Sheriff Larry Richtsmeier, the driver was going less than 10 mph over the speed limit.

Yet the sheriff said he doesn’t know how fast the driver actually was going, and there is no indication of the speed on the warning ticket.

C’mon, do you expect the people of Iowa, especially those who’ve had to pay speeding tickets, to believe that? Of course the deputy knew how fast the vehicle was going. If he didn’t, he would have had no business stopping it.

“The governor has made clear that his security detail is to obey all traffic laws, and he does not tolerate any exceptions,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said of this latest incident.

That’s getting harder and harder to believe with each new revelation to the contrary.

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