A Victory

Respecting Teachers in the Sunshine State
A new law largely dismantles Florida’s unfair, tenure-based system in the public schools.
by Marcus A. Winters @ City Journal

Last week, the Florida state legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s law for employing public school teachers. The new regime effectively eliminates tenure for newly hired employees; requires districts to evaluate teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests; abolishes the rule that seniority determines teacher layoffs; and lets districts establish performance-based salary schedules. Former governor Charlie Christ vetoed a similar bill last year, which is one reason that he’s not a public official today (he lost in a bid for the Senate last year). Newly elected governor Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Not surprisingly, public school teachers in Florida have vigorously opposed the changes, as have teachers’ unions in other states considering similar, if less comprehensive, reforms.

In short: the current system makes no meaningful attempt to distinguish between great and not-so-great teachers. Its underlying premise is that anyone who becomes a teacher is doing just fine.

But everyone knows that not all public school teachers are good at what they do. Empirical research finds wide variation in teacher quality, and further, that the difference between being assigned to a high-quality or to a subpar teacher means as much as a grade level’s worth of achievement for a student over the course of a school year. Any education system that ignores the obvious variation in teacher quality devalues teaching. Treating teachers as if they’re all identical, as the union prefers, is ultimately no different from treating them as if they don’t matter.


Obama’s Speech on Libya

Obama made what I believe was the best speech of his career to date this evening at 7:30.

I’ll let my sister break it into pieces and dissect it if she wants, but here is my reaction in a nutshell.

The Basic Premise:

The United States must be a moral beacon and stand for the inalienable rights of oppressed people when they seek liberty and ask for our aid.

The US cannot afford to turn a blind eye to uprisings like the ones in Libya and Egypt and forsake those who would follow in our footsteps…the cost of doing so cannot be measured in dollars and lives.

However, we cannot afford to commit ourselves unilaterally to a just cause and not force our allies to pay their share of the price for sustained western freedom…we went down that road in Iraq (a direct quote there) and it cost us thousands of lives and roughly a trillion dollars and success is not guaranteed even at that price.

Can you spot the contradiction?

What we have here is a logically very correct and reasonable message that is nonetheless COMPLETELY wrong. A solid (at least for now) outcome to a prickly problem in Libya that is nonetheless completely unsettling going forward. A diplomatic victory and a grave moral defeat. A brilliant speech and a bankrupt speaker.

Obama correctly pointed out, for example that he is often presented with a false dichotomy when a situation like this arises. To the congress, there are two choices – do nothing because we can’t get caught up in everyone’s business…it’s bleeding us dry; or do everything you possibly can to ensure victory if you do act (and in this case, you should). There are of course other options. You can equivocate. You can take measured action and seek the approval of the “broad coalition” (which, BTW, is considerably smaller than the coalition Bush secured for the earliest days of the Iraq conflict, but that’s neither here nor there). You can play a supporting role. And you can achieve some measure of short term success by doing this. It does save you money this fiscal year. It does keep our casualties down. And we don’t need to do a lot militarily to cripple a man like Ghaddafi. That’s all true.

I’m quite certain Obama feels very satisfied with the outcome of this sequence of decisions. He can claim he took decisive action to save lives in Libya. He can claim he sided with freedom fighters over a tyrant. He can claim he got his allies to help us considerably more than Bush did in Iraq. He can even claim that he took this more measured, safer path because he was concerned for the lives of American soldiers, and maybe that’s even true to some extent. But when all is said and done, he cannot claim that he has made America appear strong in the eyes of the international community, and he cannot claim that his actions are those of a powerful commander. In essence, what he’s done here is cede morality to NATO. America doesn’t fight your battles anymore, lovers of freedom…you’d better hope the French will. Or Canada. Or, if you’re lucky, Great Britain…at least they have a few military victories under their belt. 🙂

And I think Obama has presented us with a false dichotomy of his own. To hear it from Obama, we spent a trillion dollars going to war with Iraq and the alternative was free. There were no lives at risk, no threats to national security, no economic costs of being forced to continue to do business with a despot on his own terms (since the UN clearly had no influence on him). Of course we know that the choice in Iraq wasn’t a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives or no cost at all. It was the marginal cost of fighting the war vs. the marginal cost of allowing Saddam to continue to wave two middle fingers at the U.S. and get away with it. When other despots see guys like Saddam Hussein bite their thumbs at the U.N. and the U.S. standing by silently…or bowing to the despots as Obama did to the dictator of China (I will not call that man President…to be President, you must preside over a government…not run one unilaterally…that’s why they call them Presidents), they get bolder…they become more aggressive, and it costs us lives and resources…and worse…it costs us allies. The Iraq war may have been started on false intelligence, but that doesn’t mean it was unintelligent. Nor does it mean you get to rewrite history and claim that Operation Iraqi Freedom was entirely needless.

And I haven’t event touched on the moral question (because Bush, unfortunately, didn’t touch on it his entire two-term reign). Obama hypocritically praises himself for standing for freedom and saving lives in Libya and ignores the lives we saved in Iraq by stopping an evil dictator from murdering his own people just as Ghaddafi was preparing to do this month.

Having said all of that…I do think that, at this time, a limited response in Libya is reasonable. I’m not saying Obama’s choices were entirely wrong here…I think I’d rather see the U.S. take point in NATO military operations with significant financial and military support from our allies…but the bottom line is that, for now, things are moving in a positive direction in Libya…or at the very least, it could be a heck of a lot worse. I just fear that the media will report this as the only correct approach to foreign policy and draw the same false dichotomy re: Operation Iraqi Freedom that Obama himself drew. And I fear that will have consequences the next time a tyrant thumbs his nose at the U.N. and they continue to prove how useless they truly are.

Book Rec: The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order

The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order
by Daniel J. Mahoney
Intercollegiate Studies Institute

I supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq for several reasons. First of all, I – like everyone else – believed that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I also took into account Iraq’s history as an aggressor nation. When we entered the first Iraq War, we did so to stop Hussein from conquering neighboring Kuwait — and the cease-fire which prevented a complete regime change at that time was predicated upon Hussein’s living up to the terms outlined by the U.N. This Hussein repeatedly failed to do, so on those grounds alone, we had a right to relaunch the conflict. Lastly, it did matter to me that Hussein was a dictator who tortured, raped, and murdered his own people. We may have been mistaken in concluding that Hussein had a viable WMD program, but only a mendacious idiot would declare that this –

– was preferable to what the Iraqi people have now.

The merits – or lack thereof – of the second war in Iraq will surely be debated for years to come, but I think Daniel Mahoney is right to declare in his latest that one of the major flaws of George W. Bush’s foreign policy was its democratic triumphalism. Though it may be true that all men desire liberty, it is manifestly not the case that they all wish to have it in the post-modern Western style — and it would behoove us to remember that top-down impositions of “democracy” may not always be wise.

As it is, the West itself is having trouble maintaining the old small-l liberal order because, as Mahoney writes, “democracy” has breached its bounds and bled into areas of life where it has been damaging rather than salubrious. It is not enough for today’s antinomians that our governments are democratic. No – instead, we must have a radical democratization of everything. The old authoritative institutions – organized religion and the family especially – must be knocked down.

Our Founding Fathers were quite congnizant of democracy’s tendency to democratize in the manner described above, so while they often wrote in the radical cadences set by the Enlightenment, they practiced the art of government in a manner that was more conservative. John Adams, for example, once famously opined that our U.S. Constitution would remain adequate so long as the American people remained religious. These men, in other words, counted upon the continued existence of pre-democratic institutions to moderate their political project. And this model worked — for a time.

Unfortunately, Western society now looks upon “authority” with distinct suspicion. Consider, for example, the constant negative coverage of the Catholic Church. When you combine its various projects, the Catholic Church turns out to be the largest charitable organization on the planet. The Church also educates more children than any other private group, and it often does so in areas where resources are severely lacking. Its hierarchical structure, however, is positively medieval; outsiders often regard the Holy Father as a quasi-king and the cardinals as quasi-lords, and the terrific pageantry of a High Mass in Rome certainly does nothing to dispel that impression. And the Magisterium? The fact that we Catholics can’t decide for ourselves what we believe about God or about the moral law is seen as an absolutely unconscionable offense against the democracy project. Thus, many seek to destroy the Church by magnifying its flaws at the expense of honest reporting.

Consider too how the usual suspects approach the military. The military is also a hierarchical organization in which respect for rank is considered an absolute necessity. A good commander will often seek the input of his subordinates, but once he has made his final decision, that’s it — a soldier is obligated to follow that commander’s orders tout de suite. And there’s a good reason why the military is run in this fashion: On a battlefield, disobedience can result in death. Our post-modern anti-authoritarians don’t understand this, however, and so they demonize the military as blood-thirsty and stupid at every opportunity.

Ironically, in tearing down these pre-democratic institutions, our radicals have ushered in an era of declining liberty and greater state control. Once, a man’s faith was expected to restrain his avarice; now, we must discourage greed via government fiat. Once, it was considered hideously impolite to whistle at a woman on the street, and men were taught to honor female chastity and modesty; now, we have draconian sexual harrassment rules which, again, are imposed from above. Once, families were put in charge of the moral education of our children; now, we must write legislation to discourage schoolyard bullying. We are losing sight of the principle of subsidiarity because we have radically weakened those small, local, and frequently non-democratic institutions which once took up a lot of the social slack.

In reality, Mahoney points out, the boundaries that were formerly delineated by conservative institutions like the family and the Church were part of what allowed our democracies to remain stable in the years before the “culture of repudiation” came into vogue. To pull down those boundaries, as many post-modern Westerners have done, is sheer folly.

Don’t Forget to Celebrate Human Achievement Hour 2011!

Human Achievement Hour 2011

On Saturday March 26, 2011, from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, some people will shut off their lights and spend an hour in darkness as a symbolic vote against global climate change. Observers of Earth Hour want world leaders to “do something” about pollution and energy use. What this means is that they want politicians to use legal mandates and punitive taxes to prevent individuals from freely using resources, hindering our ability to create the solutions and technologies of the future. Instead, the Competitive Enterprise Institute asks you to spend that hour with your lights on in celebration of Human Achievement Hour.

In all seriousness, I do hope we will one day transition to cleaner forms of energy — and I certainly don’t object to individual efforts to conserve resources. However, these Earth Hour celebrations have such an air of left-wing self-righteousness about them that my inner contrarian feels compelled to stand in opposition to the whole spectacle. If you want to sit in the dark for an hour, that’s your prerogative. Me? I’m turning everything on.

In Egypt, Skeptics Vindicated

Islamist Group Is Rising Force in a New Egypt
by Michael Slackman @ the New York Times

CAIRO — In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.

It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.

At the Times, of course, reporters still hold out hope that the Muslim Brotherhood will help usher in a tolerant, pluralistic democracy. The rest of us know better, though. We may indeed end up with a “one person, one vote, one time” scenario when all is said and done.

The Case Against Quality-Blind Teacher Lay-Offs

Jerry Pournelle has alerted me (by way of the Wall Street Journal) to the existence of this policy brief (released last month by The New Teacher Project), and I think it’s worth a look:

The Case Against Quality-Blind Teacher Lay-Offs

Given decades of research showing that the quality of education a child receives depends more on the quality of his or her teacher than any other school factor, one might assume that schools would do everything possible to protect their best teachers from being cut. Unfortunately, most layoff decisions will completely ignore a teacher’s performance.

In fact, in 14 states, it is illegal for schools to consider any factor other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions. The newest teachers always get cut first, even if they are “Teacher of the Year” award winners. Ignoring teacher performance in layoffs is a prime example of the “widget effect” –treating teachers like interchangeable parts.

Quality-blind layoff policies threaten to make this year’s layoffs catastrophic. Talented new teachers will lose their jobs while less effective teachers remain. More job losses will be necessary to meet budget reduction goals, because the least senior teachers are also the lowest-paid. And, as is all too common, the most disadvantaged students will be hit hardest, because they tend to have the newest teachers. These outcomes are intolerable.

Indeed they are.

Oh Lord

This is something I’ll probably want to see at some point just to satisfy my sick curiosity:

The Book of Mormon:
South Park Does Broadway

by Kurt Loder @ Reason Magazine

The show might have been nothing more than a riot of Christian-bashing, but there’s more to it than that. The writers clearly have no use for the myths and homilies of brand-name religion; but in the end they conclude that even the most unbelievable of gods can be a force for good in the world, bringing comfort and hope to millions, and impelling them toward a higher moral plane. Parker, Stone, and Lopez have clearly given this subject considerable thought, which, amid all the savage laughter, is one of the show’s most striking elements.

I think Parker and Stone frequently miss the boat when it comes to their treatment of organized religion, but their writing is pretty damned funny most of the time regardless.

Dana Loesch Has Nailed It

As she writes in her most recent post at Big Journalism:

With all of this awareness, how can bullying possibly still be a problem? We must need MORE awareness!

No, there is plenty of awareness — it’s just that the adults aren’t aware of the bully tactics they employ daily which are witnessed by thousands and thousands of youth across the country every time they happen by a news broadcast or the paper. The media is proving to be a stronger PSA campaign than any of the above-mentioned initiatives.

Bullying is a problem amongst youth because it is a problem amongst the adults and it is sanctioned by the White House and Hollywood and even carried out by the media.

See, it’s OK to bully, so long as your victim is a conservative — better yet, a Christian, Jewish, or black conservative. (And especially if your victim is a female conservative.)

Whatever your opinion may be regarding Sarah Palin’s fitness for executive office, you have to admit that her loudest detractors haven’t exactly outgrown middle school. Exhibit A: Bill Maher.