January 29, 2007

Caucus Poll of the Week: January 29-February 3

OPTIONAL: What makes this the most important of our missions? What can we do to best advocate for this specific mission in our caucus?

To answer these questions, please click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this box with the little pencil next to it. Feel free to share your email address. Thanks.

CLICK HERE TO SEND YOUR ADVICE: What do you want to discuss? What do you want to know? What should our next question of the week be?

January 27, 2007

George W. Bush--Seeing Double?

Sit back and relax for 11 minutes. No matter what your political persuasion is, you'll get a laugh out of this. It is funny. It's also nice to see the President in a different light.

January 26, 2007

The Cost of the War in Iraq

In April, 2003 an intergenerational team of Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD created costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts. If you'll direct your attention to your immediate right, you'll see what we're spending on this war.

The Calculator
Last Revised: September, 2006

To find more information about the cost of the Iraq War, see NPP's latest publication.The Cost of Iraq War calculator is set to reach $378 billion March 31, 2007, halfway through fiscal year 2007. The Cost of Iraq War calculator is occasionally reset based on new information and new allocations of funding. The numbers include military and non-military spending, such as reconstruction. Spending only includes incremental costs, additional funds that are expended due to the war. For example, soldiers' regular pay is not included, but combat pay is included. Potential future costs, such as future medical care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war, are not included.

It is also not clear whether the current funding will cover all military wear and tear. It also does not account for the Iraq War being deficit-financed and that taxpayers will need to make additional interest payments on the national debt due to those deficits. The media (and others) sometimes cite a figure that is in excess of our estimate. However, the number cited by the media may include the war in Afghanistan and enhanced base security abroad. Our figure is only covering the cost of the Iraq War as it relates to the U.S. federal budget (and does not include costs to others or other countries or any economic impact costs to Americans). This number is based on an analysis of the legislation in which Congress has allocated money for war so far and research by the Congressional Research Service.

An article offered by the Strauss Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information offers greater insight into the problems of truly knowing how much has been spent on the Iraq War or other military operations. Other NPP information on the cost of the Iraq War includes

the NPP Database Trade-offs Page; and the Local Costs of the Iraq War which includes the total cost allocated to date for numerous towns and counties across the country. This list is also more regularly updated with new locations than the list of the C ost of Iraq War calculator. See also

the NPP Charts page which offers comparative cost and casualty information on wars Funding
for the Iraq War has been initiated by the Bush Administration in supplementals (with two exceptions):

FY2003 Supplemental: Operation Iraqi Freedom), made in March 2003, was for $74.8 billion. Passed within a month of the request, the final allocation amounted to $78.5 billion, at least $54.4 billion of which was for the war in Iraq.

FY2004 Supplemental: Iraq and Afghanistan Ongoing Operations/Reconstruction, for $87 billion, was submitted in September 2003 and passed Congress in November 2003. The final allocation amounted to $87.5 billion, of which $70.6 billion was for Iraq.

Budget Amendment: $25 Emergency Reserve Fund (Department of Defense - Iraq Freedom Fund) was made in May 2004 and was passed by Congress as part of the Department of Defense appropriations bill in July 2004. Based on Iraq War spending, of the $25 billion appropriated, about $21.5 billion was for the war in Iraq.

Estimate #1 - Emergency Supplemental (various agencies): Ongoing Military Operations in the War on Terror; Reconstruction Activities in Afghanistan; Tsunami Relief and Reconstruction; and Other Purposes - 2/14/05 was made in February 2005 and passed by Congress in April 2005. The final allocation amounted to $82 billion, of which about $58 billion was for the Iraq War.

Department of Defense appropriations for fiscal year 2006 (i.e. war funding not initiated by a supplemental request) included $50 billion in a 'bridge fund' for war funding. Based on past Iraq War spending, approximately $40 billion of that can be counted for the Iraq War.

Estimate #3—FY 2006 Emergency Supplemental (various agencies): Ongoing Military, Diplomatic, and Intelligence Operations in the Global War on Terror; Stabilization and Counter-Insurgency Activities in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Other Humanitarian Assistance—2/16/06 was for $72.4 billion, of which about $60 billion war for the Iraq War.

Department of Defense appropriations for fiscal year 2007: War funding was initiated by a "placeholder" of $50 billion in the administration's budget released in February. Congress passed $70 billion in a 'bridge fund' for both Afghanistan and Iraq. We have included $59.5 billion of that for the Iraq War.

Please note that the Department of Defense was also permitted by legislation to transfer funds from other operations (peacetime, Afghanistan, etc.) to the Iraq War, and so estimating war costs based on Congressional legislation is not enough.

Comparative Costs Until the calculator's coding is revised, the numbers used are national and not state specific. For state specific numbers, please visit the NPP Database Trade-offs page.

Head Start

We calculated cost per child numbers for each state based on state numbers from the Administration of Children and Families' Head Start Bureau for 2003. These numbers have been adjusted for inflation to provide a 2004 estimate.

Children's Health Care
The state numbers are based on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Data Compendium. They represent the average Medicaid outlays per child in each state for 1999 and 2000, and then are forecasted for 2004.

Affordable Housing
The number for each state is based on Census 1990 and 2000 housing values. We have taken the average of the median and lower quartile values, and forecasted for 2004. This may be a fairly rough estimate of what is would cost to build affordable housing, but does constitute a good estimate of an inexpensive housing unit in each state.

Elementary School Teachers
Each state's number is based on the average amount of annual pay an elementary school teacher receives, plus 25% for other expenses associated with employment such as benefits. These numbers were forecasted for 2004 from data for 1999 through 2003 from the Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates.

Four-Year College Scholarships
The number for each state is based on the cost of tuition and fees at that state's flagship university for the 2003-2004 academic year. Data on tuition and fees are available at the National Center for Education Statistics' College Opportunities On-Line (COOL). The national figure is an average of all the states.

World Hunger
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003 estimates that over 800 million people worldwide are hungry and undernourished. The FAO has also stated that an annual increase of $24 billion in anti-hunger efforts would reduce world hunger by half (to 400 million people) by 2015.

AIDS Epidemic
In remarks to the World Bank on November 20, 2003, Dr. Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAIDS, spoke of the need for "a minimum $10 billion needed annually to mount an effective, comprehensive response in low- and middle-income countries." In reporting to the UN General Assembly in September, 2003, on the proceedings of the high-level interactive panel on HIV/AIDS, Secretary-General Kofi Annan also spoke of the "$10 billion required annually by 2005 to stem the tide of AIDS."

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has estimated the additional monies needed to immunize every child in the developing world at $2.808 billion annually. The report (Table 8) calculates that 3 million children die annually from vaccine preventable diseases. To account for inflation and provide a margin for error, the Cost of War calculator uses a figure of $3 billion to calculate the number of years that the war in Iraq could pay for the immunization of all children in the developing world.

State and City Calculations
We calculated each state's share of taxes paid into federal funds revenues (based on IRS data). This includes individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, excise, gift and estate taxes. Each state's share of taxes was then multiplied by the total amount of the war.
The city and county calculations are based on the population and median household income of the city relative to the state. For more cities and counties, go to NPP's Local Costs of War

Midwest Peace & Justice Caucus Minutes

January 19-21, 2007 Chicago,
Illinios Sheraton Hotel & Towers
Superior Room

Midwest Regional P&J Summary: At this year’s Midwest Regional Caucus in Chicago, the Peace & Justice Caucus had a table, sold a lot of materials which raised money for the caucus, and added ten new memberships: three from Indiana, four from Iowa, and three more from Wisconsin. In addition, we held a scheduled caucus at the ungodly hour of 6:15 a.m. on Saturday, January 20 where 23 sleepy people appeared, and an unscheduled one at 4 p.m. that day where ten people attended. We canceled the one scheduled for early Sunday morning. The agenda used for both caucuses is printed below, followed by notes from our presiding secretary, Nancy Porter.

Tom Wolfe,
Midwest Peace & Justice Director

Midwest Peace & Justice Caucus Agenda

I. Introductions

II. Our blogsite: http://midwestpeaceandjustice.blogspot.com/

III. Military Opt-Out Program Updates.

IV. Review Peace & Justice Executive Board Focus.

A. The Iraqi War (Read the Farr bill.)

B. Human Rights and civil liberties

C. NCLB (Our Executive Committee believes we should call for the repeal of the Bush part of ESEA, but he NEA leadership opposes it.)

D. The rest of the Jonathan Kozol program printed in the fall newsletter, such as the following:
  • "To halt and to reverse the rapidly increasing pattern of resegregation of black and Hispanic children. (Most Americans are not aware that the proportion of black children who attend an integrated school has reverted to its lowest level since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. In California, New York, and other major states, nearly 7 out of every 8 black children not attend a segregated public school. The legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education has been shredded and abandoned: the most alarming change in social policy in more than 50 years.
  • To defend the institution of the public school itself against the privatizing interests that hope to dismantle public education through the instrument of vouchers.
  • To open a national debate about the funding mechanism for our public schools, which relies primarily upon the worth of local property and guarantees a basically hereditary meritocracy by the organized short-changing of the children of the poor."

Peace & Justice Caucus Minutes

Tom Wolfe brought the meeting to order as Midwest Regional Director of the Peace & Justice Caucus in the Superior Room.

Caucus Attendance & Introductions

Twenty-three members and two guests were in attendance for the morning session. Some of whom included the following: Linda Alloway, IA; Jason Ewing, IL; Sharon Frazer, IA; Chris Jordan, IA; Carol Kula, IA; Tom McLaughlin, IA; Nancy Porter, IA; Kim Schroeder, MI; Bill Rogers, IN; Saul Simon, WI; Melissa Spencer, IA; Carolyn Walker, IA; Sherry Watkins, IN; Jill Willey, IA; Jill Wright, IN; Tom Wolfe, IA.

Ten additional members were in attendance for the afternoon session.Jason Chapman; John Kealey, IA; Barb King, IN; Rebecca Menard, IA; Nancy Porter, IA; Andrew Rasmussen, IA; Deborah Sernus, IN; Peggy Smits; Rich Toohill, IA; Tom Wolfe, IA.

Special Guests in the Morning Session

Paula Monroe, NEA Exec Board Candidate, a member of our caucus, ESP asked for our support in her upcoming election.

Mark Cebulski, NEA Executive Committee, was a guest in attendance for the morning session.


Mark Cebulski discussed how bipartisan NCLB was when it passed. Our efforts to address this, then, are complicated in the politics of bipartisanship that were rampant when it passed. According to Mr. Cebulski, this Bush administration has 2 agendas: NCLB and Iraq. Cebulski further stated that Secretary of Education Spelling stated that schools had no discussion of passing students to different grade levels until NCLB. This is interesting information to us! Mark Cebulski reminded us that there has to be a better way than testing until they (students) fall over...and drop out.

There was a limited discussion that we should move for lack of authorization within the House Ed committee Tom McLaughlin shared concerns that we exercise message discipline and provide our leaders with these tools. Let's make our message united.

Huge cross section of folks represented on the NCLB message from NEA: nuance, beef it up.

Linda Alloway reminded us that our message is important.

The War in Iraq

Carolyn Uhlenhake-Walker reported that the Iraq war has been mentioned at Executive Board level of the NEA. Our own NEA Vice President Dennis Van Roeckel said, “War and education are intertwined: no meaningful education questions concerning the war...next elections we need to make sure those education questions are asked.”

The Peace & Justice RA focus will be to get the United States out of the war in Iraq. NEA President, Reg Weaver, (in accordance with a directive from the 2006 RA) has written a letter of support of getting out of Iraq war. U.S. Representative Farr introduced a bill (that was read aloud in the afternoon session and available at the Peace & Justice Caucus Booth) that has garnered some support from notable leaders. Several other U.S. Senators have joined as sponsors of this bill including Barak Obama.

Military Opt Out Program

The military and government have access to all records of those who register and enroll in schools by way of a clause of NCLB/ESEA. As a result, recruiting is easier for the low social economic and at risk students who have fewer options.

It was the Peace & Justice Caucus who demanded that schools and districts have opt out information delivered to parents so their children can “opt out” of having their records so freely shared.

Peace & Justice Caucus Work at the State Level

Wherever possible the local delegates to the RA and state delegate assemblies should intro NBI to state assemblies and get state support on these items:

The repeal of NCLB/ESEA as a law in the United States.Our desire to have NEA adopt Jonathan Kozol’s program which examines the alarming trends of resegregation and savage inequalities within our public schools. Resegregation is more than troubling than ever: Shame of the Nation by Kozol, is worth a read as it outlines reasons for the achievement gap and provides some welcome suggestions to reverse the trend.

We need strong anti-vouchers language in each of our states (which is timely considering President Bush’s attempt to sneak this through in his NCLB Reauthorization).We need to re-examine school funding. TEF section has some good information, research and data on funding session and the use of a more equitable formula of funding for public education than property taxes.

Additional Concerns from the Floor of the Caucus

Jason Ewing shared his concerns that we need to advocate for full funding of early education and preschool programs. He also shared that we also need PELL grants for ALL students.

Mark Cebulski, mentioned that we need to represent all of our students and their future work lives including all ends of the spectrum in the job market are not being met. Mr. Cebulski spoke of the “dignity of working with one’s hands.”

Carolyn Uhlenhake-Walker shared her concern that we need to be advocates for a mandatory education through the age 18 with no dropouts allowed until after then. We need to work to make sure that we do whatever it takes for our students to become educated.

Tom Wolfe has presented to ISEA resolutions/NBI concerning these items which will be published in our Iowa Delegate Handbook and presented at Delegate Orientation, with the exception of the Kozol idea which is a little hard to deal with in Iowa. Respectfully submitted,

Submitted respectfully,

Nancy Porter
NEA Peace & Justice Recording Secretary

Action Items Submitted by Iowa's Peace & Justice Caucus for the 2007 Iowa Delegate Assembly

New Business Items

Iowa Peace & Justice Caucus New Business Item 1: The ISEA calls for the NEA to petition the U.S. government to remove all American troops from Iraq as soon as possible.


Our Iraq war has been flawed since its inception, both in its underlying premises and as well as in its execution. Our treatment of some prisoners has been shameful, and our continued presence there further exacerbates an already untenable situation. We cannot continue putting our honorable soldiers at unnecessary risk, creating the conditions which increase, not quell threats of future terrorism, and harming our nation’s ability to serve as a respected leader in the world.

Iowa Peace & Justice Caucus New Item #2: The ISEA calls for the NEA to petition Congress for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.


This new law eliminates Habeas Corpus for those our government wishes to have “disappear.” They can be arrested, held indefinitely without trial, and treated in any manner the President or his designee determines, even if it violates generally accepted treatment of prisoners.

Iowa Peace & Justice Caucus New Business Item # 3: The ISEA calls for the NEA to lobby Congress to seek an end to American torture of prisoners presently under our government’s control.


As one of the signers of the Geneva Convention, the U.S. Government continues to violate prisoner guidelines it once agreed to, and, by its actions, it continues to shame Americans, harms our relations with other nations and puts our nation and military at increased risk for retaliation.

Iowa Peace & Justice Caucus New Business Item # 4: The ISEA calls for the NEA to lobby Congress to completely overhaul the current, fundamentally flawed “No Child Left Behind” version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.


The basic premises behind NCLB are fallacious. We must have an ESEA that moves beyond a top-down, simplistic accountability framework to a framework based on shared responsibility, trust, equity, and quality teaching and learning, with federal support not control, that empowers youth to thrive in a democratic society and diverse, changing world. We must have an ESEA that tries to help public schools, not hurt them.


First Tier, Part I, Adequate Financial Support for Public Education #6.

e. The ISEA supports developing a funding mechanism with a greater reliance on income taxes rather than property taxes and other forms of taxation.


The present system of school funding relies heavily on property taxes as a source for funding and gives a tremendous advantage to those school districts already rich in property taxes. The 1971 funding formula was meant to correct that but has not been allowed to operate properly; thus we have a significant disparity in funding from district to district. There must be equity.

January 24, 2007

Death Watch in the Persian Gulf and Washington

Death Watch in the Persian Gulf and Washington
January 24, 2007

by Dave Lindorff

Watching the slow-motion march to war against Iran is a bit like watching a terminal cancer patient in a hospice. We know how it's going to end. We know it's going to be tragic and ugly. But we are powerless to stop it.

There is a difference of course.

For the cancer patient, there really is no alternative.

For us, there is an alternative to the catastrophe which President Bush and his regent, Dick Cheney, are preparing for us all.

We could rise up as a nation and demand that our elected representatives pass a Boland-type amendment banning any use of the military in Iraq. We could demand that a resolution be passed revoking the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq. We could demand the revocation of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force which the president has improperly cited as giving him extra-Constitutional powers. And we could demand that Congress tell the president and vice president that if they attack Iran without explicit congressional authorization they will both be immediately impeached.

The votes could be there for such an action, as even some Republicans are clearly opposed to this insanity, but the courage to call the president's hand and lay down the cards is not.

And so the horrible march to disaster continues.

The cynicism of this administration is beyond belief. We have the supposedly "straight talking" defense secretary Robert Gates telling Congress that there is no plan "at the moment" to attack Iran--even as he sends two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Persian Gulf and stockpiles Patriot anti-missile batteries in the region (of what use are carriers and anti-missile rockets in a counter-insurgency in Iraq?). We have the president authorizing a blatantly illegal and clearly provocative attack on an Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraq, and violating international law by arresting six people in that raid.

Let's be clear. An attack on Iran, which poses no immediate or imminent threat to the United States, would be the most heinous of international war crimes--a "crime against peace" violating the UN Charter and the Nuremburg Charter. It would also be a strategic disaster that would dwarf even the president's collassal strategic blunder in invading Iraq.

There are no more troops left to fight in Iran, so all the U.S. could hope to do would be to bomb that country. But bombing that country would do nothing to stop Iran from retaliating in myriad ways that could bring the U.S. to its knees.

Take sappers. Iran, which has a sophisticated and well-equipped espionage apparatus, could set out on a campaign of sabatoge, blowing up U.S. chemical plants, petrochemical refining and storage facilities, and power plants. Since these are all known to be on the target list of U.S. bombers in Iran, Iran would be well within its rights retaliating in kind inside U.S. borders. If the U.S. were to follow its usual criminal practice of also attacking Iranian hospitals and other civilian targets, Iranians could and likely would follow suit. I wouldn't be surprised, given how long the administration has been talking about attacking Iran, if its military strategists hadn't already smuggled bombs into place in shipping containers, ready to blow if we attack.

Feeling safer?

Iran has other options too, to hurt us. The Shia militias in Iraq, which have largely ignored U.S. forces unless harassed, are tight with the Iranians, having received shelter and support from Iran during Hussein's brutal rule, and sharing, as they do, a common religion. If Iran comes under attack, it is hard to believe that the Iraqi militias will not turn their substantial firepower on outnumbered US forces in Iraq.

When you think of it, attacking Iran would be a wonderful way of doing what the U.S. claims it has been wanting to do for several years now: uniting the Sunni and Shia forces in Iraq and ending their fratricidal conflict. The only problem is that they will be joining hands the better to attack U.S. troops! How clever this administration is!

And then there's the economic costs of an Iran War. Here Iran really has to do nothing, though it could make things all the worse by using one of its high-tech anti-ship missiles to sink an American naval vessel or even just a civilian tanker in the gulf. Even without such an action, an invasion of Iran would lead to a shutdown of oil coming from the Persian Gulf. That's one quarter of all the oil supplies in the world. Even if Iran never fires a missile, the insurance industry will make it financially impossible for any ship-owner to sail into the gulf.
So forget $80/barrel oil. Crude oil would quickly soar past $100 a barrel, past $160 a barrel, probably. Some analysts have even talked of $200 a barrel. No matter - after $100 a barrel, the world economy would grind to a halt. And the American trade deficit would go through the roof. We're not talking slowdown here - we're talking global depression.

All this is clear.

But it is also clear that the Congress doesn't have the guts and principle to halt this march to madness.

And so we just continue to watch the patient die.

January 20, 2007

Was the War a 'Bluder" or Was It Treason?

Published on Saturday, January 20, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
Was Iraq War a `Blunder' or Was It Treason?
by Dave Lindorff

New Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), is calling President Bush's invasion of Iraq a "stark blunder" and says that his new scheme to send 21,500 more troops into the mess he created is just digging the hole deeper.

I wonder though.

It seems ever more likely to me that this whole mess was no blunder at all.

People are wont to attribute the whole thing to lack of intelligence on the president's part, and to hubris on the part of his key advisers. I won't argue that the president is a lightweight in the intellect department, nor will I dispute that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and that whole neocon gang have demonstrably lacked the virtues of reflection and humility. But that said, I suspect that the real story of the Iraq War is that Bush and his gang never really cared whether they actually would "win" in Iraq. In fact, arguably, they didn't really want to win.

What they wanted was a war.

If the war they started had ended quickly with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, that would have served their purposes, at least for the short term. Bush would have emerged from a short invasion and conquest a national hero, would have handily won re-election in 2004, and would have gone on to a second term as a landslide victor. But if it went badly, as it has, they figured he would still come out ahead. He would be a wartime president, and he'd make full use of that role, expansively misdefining his "commander in chief" title to imply authority over the Congress and the courts, to grab power heretofore unheard of for a president.

This, I suspect, was the grand strategy underlying the attack on Iraq.

If I'm right, there may have been method to the madness of not building up enough troops for the invasion to insure that U.S. forces could occupy a destroyed Iraq and help it rebuild, method to the madness of allowing looters free sway to destroy the country's remaining post-invasion infrastructure, method to the madness, even, of allowing remnant forces of Hussein's to gather up stockpiles of weapons and even of high-density explosives, so they could mount an effective resistance and drag out the conflict.

So many apparently stupid decisions were made by people who should clearly have been too smart to make them, from leaving hundreds of tons of high explosives unguarded to cashiering all of Iraq's army and most of the country's civil service managers, that it boggles the mind to think that these could have been just dumb ideas or incompetence. (L. Paul Bremer, for instance, who made the "dumb" decision about dismantelling the Iraqi army, prior to becoming Iraq's occupation viceroy, had headed the nation's leading risk assessment consultancy, and surely knew what all the risks were of his various decisions.)

I mean, we expect a measure of idiocy from or elected leaders and their appointees, but not wholesale idiocy!

This disaster has been so colossal, it almost had to have been orchestrated.

If that's the case, Congress should be taking a hard look at not just the latest installment of escalation, but at the whole war project, beginning with the 2002 campaign to get it going. Certainly throwing 21,500 new troops into the fire makes no sense whatever. If 140,000 of the best-equipped troops in the world can't pacify Iraq, 160,000 aren't going to be able to do it either. You don't need to be a general to figure that out. Even a senator or representative ought to be able to do it. So clearly Congress should kill this plan.

Since it's not about "winning" the war, it has to be about something else. My guess would be it's about either dragging things out until the end of 2008, so Bush can leave office without having to say he's sorry. But of course, it could also be about something even more serious: invading Iran.

We know Bush is trying mightily to provoke Iran. He has illegally attacked an Iranian consulate in Iraq (an act of war), taking six protected consular officials there captive. He is sending a second aircraft carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf, and is setting up Patriot anti-missile missile bases along Iran's western border. This buildup has all the earmarks of a pre-invasion. All that's needed now is a pretext--a real or faked attack on an American ship, perhaps, ala the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" that launched America into the Vietnam War.

The way I see it, either way the president is committing treason, because he is sending American troops off to be killed for no good reason other than for aggrandizing power he shouldn¹t have, and/or simply covering his own political ass.

Treason is the number one impeachable crime under the Constitution, and we're at a point where Congress is going to have to act or go down in history as having acquiesced in the worst presidential crime in the history of the nation.

Dave Lindorff is co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, June 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net and Counterpunch.org

January 16, 2007

A Letter to the Full Congress

Letter to the Full Congress
Reg Weaver, NEA President Reg Weaver

January 8, 2007
Dear Senator/Representative:

The more than 8,000 delegates to the National Education Association's (NEA) annual Representative Assembly have asked NEA to weigh in with the United States Congress on the war in Iraq. NEA, representing 3.2 million educators across the nation, believes Congress and the President should work toward an appropriate exit strategy to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. In addition, we believe that Congress and the President should ensure that veterans returning from the war have adequate support systems, including employment and educational opportunities and health care.

Educators are deeply concerned about the impact of the war on our nation, particularly on students whose parents have been deployed. In addition, they are concerned that expending billions of dollars on a war for which no specific exit strategy has been designed is draining resources from other priorities, including public education.

Our members' concerns are well-founded. According to the Iraq Study Group report released last month, the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating." The report recommended a radically different approach from current policy, including the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008. We are hopeful that the upcoming Congressional hearings result in a bipartisan strategy that moves us closer to an appropriate exit plan.
We thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues.


Reg Weaver,
PresidentNational Education Association

January 7, 2007

Growing Resistance to "No Child Left Behind"

Growing Resistance to "No Child Left Behind"
by Dr. Monty Neill,

The upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now named "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB), offers the new Congress an opportunity to repair the worst aspects of the federal law and turn it into a tool for supporting school improvement rather than punishing schools serving our most disadvantaged students. Though NCLB’s serious deficiencies didn’t rise to the top of the list of voters’ concerns in the recent elections (there was a lot of competition!), there has been no shortage of voices in the growing national chorus calling for NCLB reform.

For example, Communities for Quality Education has catalogued efforts in all 50 states to take action to fix NCLB since 2003. Many of these proposals focus on NCLB’s inadequate funding, but others seek substantive revisions or call for a state to opt out of NCLB entirely.

Parents, students and community leaders have spoken about the problems they see at forums around the country, including some sponsored by the Public Education Network. Surveys, such as the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, show that the more people know about NCLB, the more they disapprove of the law. NCLB's prescriptions are rejected by large majorities. In poll after poll, educators overwhelming oppose key NCLB requirements, finding the consequences more harmful than beneficial.

Nearly 100 national education, civil rights and religious groups have endorsed the “Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind Act” calling for major changes to the law. Many of the signers have also offered detailed proposals to amend the law. Congress should listen carefully to these many critiques and act on their recommendations when it comes time ESEA reauthorization.

Signers of the Joint Statement agree that NCLB's goal of narrowing achievement gaps and improving achievement for all students is a worthy one. But they have seen mounting evidence that its mechanisms for forcing improvement are harming those who most need help. Indeed, FairTest's review of the evidence shows that NCLB is actually undermining efforts to improve schools (documented and analyzed in Failing Our Children).

Key problems with the law include over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding or retaining in grade low-scoring children to boost test results; and inadequate funding. The law not only punishes schools, it damages educational quality, particularly for those the law purports to help – low income children, children of color, those with learning disabilities, and those who are just learning English.

What is a better roles for the federal government to play in improving education, particularly for low-income and minority-group children? The Joint Statement concludes, "Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement."

In future posts I will present concrete proposals for overhauling the federal law, based on the Joint Statement. For now, I will close with five guiding principles from a recent FairTest article in Rethinking Schools:

First, the goal should be high-quality teaching and learning to benefit the whole child, not drill-and-kill to artificially inflate scores on mostly multiple-choice tests in a few subjects.

Second, a new law should focus on the capacity of schools to improve, including adequate resources, professional development, and stronger parental involvement.

Third, any accountability structure must use multiple forms of evidence, not just scores on standardized tests, as the basis for making decisions.

Fourth, sanctions must be a last resort and tailored to meet specific problems, not arbitrary actions using one-size-fits-all formulas. They should also be designed to build capacity for improvement, not punish schools and districts.

Fifth, the new law should effectively empower educators, parents, and communities to work together collaboratively, rather than move responsibility ever further from local decision-making. It should also include equity and civil rights protections to ensure that local empowerment does not allow majorities the power to ignore low-income, racial minority, English-language learning, or disabled children.

Deja-vu All Over Again: National Test Plan Resurfaces
Thursday, January 25, 2007 5:38 PM

Many have observed that the farther you travel from the classroom, the stronger the support for No Child Left Behind becomes. Still, it is disheartening to see new policy proposals from on high that are more likely to worsen than solve NCLB’s many flaws. The latest example is a resurrected campaign for a national exam. Proponents cite discrepancies between state test results and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as evidence that such a test is now needed more than ever. Similar proposals have previously been soundly defeated, and some pundits think the idea will gain little traction beyond a limited set of policy elites. Proponents, however, brim with confidence, calling such policies “inevitable.”

As with NCLB, the lack of evidence that a national exam based on national standards will help improve schools does not dampen political enthusiasm for these quick fixes. Like NCLB, a national test would be costly and irrelevant to many real educational needs and distract attention from developing real solutions -- such as high-quality professional development to help teachers create and use high-quality classroom assessments. And like NCLB, they perpetuate the illusion that education can be improved if only there is a "good test" to define educational outcomes and control curriculum and instruction.

Leading the charge, former U.S. Education Secretaries Rod Paige and William J. Bennett co-wrote a Washington Post commentary in the fall titled “Why We Need a National School Test.” They argued that NCLB is not working because “most states have deployed mediocre standards, and there's increasing evidence that some are playing games with their tests and accountability systems.”

While plugging pet theories such as school choice and the notion that more money does not improve education (at least for public schools), they argue that the only way to make NCLB work is for federal officials to impose a consistent standard via a national exam, publicize all results down to the school level, then “butt out.”

These arguments may sound familiar. In fact, they rehash previous efforts to implement a national test. President George H.W. Bush proposed such an exam, which was defeated in Congress primarily by Democrats. (FairTest played a key role in marshaling education and civil rights groups to block that scheme.) President Bill Clinton's administration began to use general Education Department appropriations to develop a national exam, until Congress barred anything more than item development. That prohibition was initiated by a coalition of conservative Republicans and African American and Latino Democrats.

The right-wing Fordham Foundation, headed by former Education Department officials Chester "Checker” Finn and Michael Petrilli, has been a major supporter of NCLB (despite some recent reservations) and is on board the latest bandwagon. Fordham released a report in August entitled To Dream the Impossible Dream: Four Approaches to National Standards and Tests for America's Schools. The four possibilities:

1. Mandatory federal standards and assessments to replace the state-by-state system.

2. A voluntary version with federal incentives to states (e.g., more money, fewer regulations) to opt into such a system.

3. Federal incentives for groups of states to collaborate on developing common standards and tests.

4. More “transparent” state standards and tests, made easier to compare to one another and to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

But conservatives are not alone in the new push. In January, liberal Senator and NCLB loyalist Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who chairs the Senate's education committee, introduced a bill encouraging states to peg their proficiency levels to those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). He proposes that NAEP would be updated to set "a national benchmark that is internationally competitive."

Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Dodd (R-CT), the second-ranking Democrat on the education committee and now a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, joined with Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, (R-MI), in proposing legislation to reward states that adopt voluntary "American education content standards." The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, would supervise development of the standards. To obtain the awards, a state's test would have to be aligned with the standards. A common test probably would follow.

Treating the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as the gold standard, would be a terrible mistake. First, like state tests, NAEP exams are only limited measures of what students ought to be learning. Second, researchers from the National Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office, among many others, have found the NAEP levels ("proficient," etc.) to be flawed and inappropriately difficult. Third, only a minority of students in the highest-scoring nations would reach "proficient" on NAEP. Would everyone else – and their schools – fail? What then?

Rather than set things right, making NAEP the national standard would likely exacerbate NCLB’s negative consequences, bringing even more teaching to the test and less hope of offering all students, whether advantaged or not, a education that addresses the needs of the whole child.
- For more information, see FairTest’s fact sheet on national testing at www.fairtest.org/facts/ntfact.htm

- At press time, Kennedy's legislation, S. 164, was not available through Congress; his press statement about the bill is at kennedy.senate.gov/newsroom/press_release.cfm?id=62ced8ab-9b4a-4c04-9f6db46b8a3026d1

- Similarly, Dodd's presentation about his bill S.224 is at http://dodd.senate.gov/index.php?q=node/3699

- When printed, the bills will be posted at thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.html.

- Monty Neill is Executive Director of FairTest http://www.fairtest.org/. A earlier version of this article appeared in the January 2007 FairTest Examiner (available via email for free, from the website).