Education in Maryland: why I trust Republicans more than Democrats

The postman delivered an attack mailer to me two days ago. It was from Oz Bengur, a Democrat in Baltimore County, District 42.

Bengur says that Republicans such as Bill Frank -- a man I know and trust -- are going to "ruin" Maryland’s top rated education system.

That got me so steamed, I had to write this.

I’m tired of Democrats – from state delegates to Martin O’Malley -- crowing about Maryland’s “top rated” education system.”

I’m a ten-year BCPS parent. When I look at our schools, I don’t see a top rated system. I see problems. And things are getting worse. And by the way, the schools my kids have gone to are supposedly among the best. Blue ribbons all over the place.

If you don’t believe me, talk to any BCPS parent whose child is a little bit different, whether a special needs child or a gifted one. Ask them about their experience dealing with the school bureaucracy. Ask if they got a good response to a complaint. Ask if they got any response.

And if you think this is limited to Baltimore County, ask the folks in PG County about Andre Hornsby.

Our superintendent in Baltimore County is a genius at self-promotion. He loves to talk about accolades. But here’s one “accolade” he doesn’t mention. Forbes magazine looked at 100 or so of the largest public school districts and ranked them on bang for the buck-- the value we get for school spending. Baltimore County was in the bottom 10 percent.

If you want details for other problems, look in the upper right hand corner of this blog and click on some of the education topics.

Click on curriculum, or Race to the Top, or service learning.

But most of all, click on AIM. A – I – M. The Articulated Instruction Module. To understand the huge problems in the Baltimore County Public Schools, all you have to do is look at last year’s AIM fiasco:
  • Lack of transparency
  • Insulation from criticism
  • Ignoring complaints
That’s the big thing about AIM. They ignored everyone. They ignored teachers. They ignored parents. [See below for actual video of them ignoring a parent. The superintendent does shift uneasily at the 2:00 minute mark. But that's about the only response you can expect to get, other than stony silence.] Just the other day in the Sun, they were ignoring Democratic legislators Steve Lafferty (D-42) and Jim Brochin (D-42). The superintendent is refusing to cooperate with an ethics probe relating to AIM.

During the AIM hearings last year, Brochin got so frustrated with Dr. Hairston and the two school board members, he compared them to Bill Clinton splitting hairs about the definition of "is." A few months later, Lafferty told me with disgust that Joe Hairston was a “master manipulator.”

But these Democrats haven't fixed the problem.

With few exceptions, Democrats have been in control at every level of government for 40 plus years in Maryland. Our schools are in decline and they’re bragging about our ratings?

Isn’t it about time we gave someone else a chance? Someone who will give us more than happy talk?

In his attack piece, the Democrat says about Republicans, “You just don’t get it.”

No, Oz Bengur. No, Martin O’Malley. You don’t get it.

Please don’t talk to me about Maryland's #1 schools. School administrators and the Democrats who put them there have heard me and others like me for years. They’ve heard us and they’ve ignored us.

But after November 2nd, they will ignore us no more.

We have an especially strong ticket of Republicans this year in Baltimore County, from the top of the ballot to the bottom. Please vote Bob Ehrlich for governor. I trust him on education. I don’t trust Martin O’Malley. Please vote Ken Holt for County Executive and Steve Bailey for State’s Attorney. Please vote Republican for state senator, state delegate and county council.

It’s time for government to start listening in Maryland. It’s time for some change.


Is Joe Hairston going to fritter away $17M in "Race to the Top" funds for BCPS?

Veteran BCPS-watcher and parent Laurie Taylor-Mitchell seems to think so:

Commentary: Isn’t there a better way to spend $17.4 million in Baltimore County Schools?

by Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

... BCPS has presented how they wish to spend the "Race to the Top" funds in the school system. ...

Within one category of $5 million dollars, the BCPS proposals include another major expenditure on virtual learning at Chesapeake High School. Didn't this school receive a multi-million dollar virtual learning center last year? ...

Why are thousands of other dollars being spent on developing a virtual high school and games? ...

Part of the $5 million would be spent to develop a data tracking system. Data tracking systems exist all over the country - why are they spending millions on this at the local level? Who is going to get this huge amount of money -- what BCPS department or office? ...

What stakeholders were included in the process by BCPS? On page 11, Exhibit N from the Board meeting states that the projects were devised with "input from the community." Who exactly within the "community" gave input? Were they parents, students, or teachers? What did they say?

Finally, given the wording for the two positions described on page 19 of Exhibit N, it appears that BCPS is proposing to spend $460,000 to pay a Director and Fiscal Assistant to manage spending these funds.

According to Ms. Bowie, not a single Board member asked a question about how these funds were to be spent at the meeting.

Parents of children in County public schools ... should consider calling BCPS and ask if any funds are slated for their school ... These proposals will be submitted to the State Department of Education on November 3. Please consider contacting Mr. Earnest E. Hines, President of the Baltimore County Board of Education, if you are concerned about the proposals for Race to the Top funds in Baltimore County, at 410-887-4126. The Project Manager for the Race to the Top funds is Dr. James Foran, Maryland State Department of Education, 200 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, Phone: 410-767-0589.
Emphasis added.

It sure looks like AIM all over again.


Del. Bill Frank's response to Oz Bengur's attack mailer

Oz Bengur and the Maryland House Democratic Committee recently sent three attack mailers to female Democratic voters in District 42 targeting Del. Bill Frank. The mailers were misleading and unfair.

I view them as a sign of desperation on the part of Mr. Bengur.

Here is Bill's reply:

October 22, 2010

Dear Editor,

We’re certainly in the midst of the political “silly season.” How do we know? Just turn on the television and watch the distorted, overblown, negative political commercials that come at you one after another.

Or go to your mailbox and read the over-the-top, inflammatory mailers that are stuffed inside. Or answer the telephone and listen to a recorded phone message filled with half-truths and innuendo.

Elections are important, and critical differences exist among the various candidates. It’s fair game to talk about a candidate’s record, as long as it’s done in a factual, accurate manner. Recently, my opponents mailed information to voters that grossly distorted my vote in 2003 on a bill dealing with absolute divorce and child abuse, suggesting that I have a lenient position on the serious issue of child abuse. In fact, 29 delegates voted against final passage of the bill – Democrats and Republicans alike – because we believed the bill had deeply flawed and troublesome provisions. One of these provisions was the requirement that children as young as six years old would be forced to testify in criminal court against an allegedly abusive parent, obviously a path fraught with all kinds of red flags. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and several other advocates for children opposed this bill.

My record on protecting children is strong and clear. I helped lead the fight in 2010, for example, for the passage of Jessica’s Law, which significantly toughened
penalties and mandated long prison sentences for violent sexual offenders.

When you see, hear or read political ads that don’t seem to ring true,
be appropriately skeptical.
Remember, we’re in the political “silly season.”

Delegate William J. Frank
District 42

A significant majority of key environmental legislation since WWII was passed during Republican administrations (Part 6 of 6)

[For the first entry in this series and pointers to the five follow-up posts, go here.]

Matt Dernoga writes:
Four more years of O’Malley will allow advocates in the state the opportunity to pass environmental laws […] Electing Ehrlich will mean no opportunity for progress
He is flat out wrong here.

He’s wrong at the federal level and Bob Ehrlich proved him wrong at the state level with the Bay Restoration Act, which the Chesapeake Bay Foundation described as one of the best things to happen for the bay in decades.

Significant environmental legislation happens more often when control is split and the two parties must confer and compromise.

When Democrats control all the levers of power, landmark environmental legislation is less likely to pass. Sometimes it’s because Democrats take environmentalists for granted and sometimes it’s because they push legislation that oversteps and fails to pass.

This is the last post in a series of six.

Dave Greene has worked as energy/environmental policy analyst in DC, helped build a large waste treatment plan in Boston, sat on a Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategies Team and served on the board of a local watershed group in Baltimore County. He also supports Bob Ehrlich for governor of Maryland.

Republicans look more closely at the effects of environmental legislation on business and the economy (Part 5 of 6)

[For the first entry in this series and pointers to the five follow-up posts, go here.]

I don’t think many will argue with me on this one.

But there is some subtlety here that most people don’t consider.

Tom Horton used to write a column in the Baltimore Sun called On the Bay. About five or six years ago he wrote a piece about the legislative scorecards put out by business groups and environmental groups.

He concluded that it is virtually impossible for a legislator to score highly on both types of scorecards.

As a voter and free-market environmentalist, I want my legislators to consider both business issues and environmental issues and find a reasonable balance. Any legislator who scores 90% to 100% on either type of scorecard is probably not getting that balance right.

And they probably won’t get my vote.

In Maryland, too many Democratic legislators seem to vote for any bill with an environment-friendly title without considering how much it will cost or how effective it will be.

From what I can see, legislators who consider both business and environmental concerns -- and find a sensible balance between the two -- are just as likely to be Republicans as Democrats.

Republicans are less likely to impose technology mandates because they know government has a terrible track record (Part 4 of 6)

[For the first entry in this series and pointers to the five follow-up posts, go here.]

Two examples of ill-considered tech mandates come from the Carter administration: the failed Synfuels Corporation initiative (a big waste of money) and corn-based ethanol subsidies (harmful to the environment and a big waste of money).

The difference between the parties is this: when Republicans impose technology mandates –as George W. Bush unfortunately did when he increased Carter's ethanol subsidy – they are swimming upstream against their core principles. But when Democrats do it they’re going with the flow of their party, which is biased toward government intervention.

Dernoga cites several technology mandates enthusiastically supported by Martin O’Malley. Here’s one:
the Renewable Electricity Standard - [in] which [O'Malley] pledged that 20 percent of the state's energy would come from renewable energy sources by 2022.
“Renewable energy” sounds at first like a wonderful, win-win kind of thing. I would bet my 401(k) that voter focus groups love the term.

Nevertheless, many people are beginning to point out problems with renewable energy. Matt Ridley writes in his recent book, The Rational Optimist:
It is an undeniable if surprising fact, often overlooked, that fossil fuels have spared much of the landscape from industrialization. . . To get an idea of just how landscape-eating the renewable alternatives are, consider that to supply just the current 300 million inhabitants of the United states with their current power demand of roughly 10,000 watts each would require:
  • solar panels the size of Spain
  • or wind farms the size of Kazaakhstan . . .
To label the land-devouring monsters of renewable energy ‘green’, virtuous or clean strikes me as bizarre.
Here we go again with the unintended consequences.

This is one of the biggest sins of green Democrats: using peer pressure and faith-based marketing techniques to hurry us into supporting poorly thought-out technology mandates.

Such mandates are strait-jackets. They don’t encourage innovation. They strap down the innovators.

Republicans are more skeptical of the environmentalist agenda. Democrats often accept it as an article of faith (part 3 of 6)

[For the first entry in this series, and pointers to the five follow-up posts, go here.]

Matt Dernoga writes approvingly of a long list of concepts and programs touted by Martin O’Malley such as “clean energy jobs” and Smart Growth.

In my view, the concept of clean energy jobs (a.k.a. “green jobs”) is useful to Democratic speechwriters and hardly anyone else. PERC makes this case convincingly in its pamphlet The 7 myths about green jobs. If anyone can poke holes in their work, I’d love to hear about it.

As for Smart Growth, I’ve found that when you question these folks about their programs, they talk hazily about fighting “sprawl.” It soon becomes clear that they can’t define sprawl except to say that they know it when they see it. Nor are they clear about the practical details of their “smart” solutions.

So they can’t explain, but they sure do believe.

Which is why people like Michael Crichton, Joel Garreau and Alfonzo Rachel keep talking about “environmentalism as religion.”

Republicans are right to be skeptical. Environmental policy should be based on facts, not faith.

Research, analysis and reporting done by green Democrats is often shallow and misleading (part 2 of 6)

[For the first entry in this series and pointers to the five follow-up posts, go here.]

Matt Dernoga exemplifies my charge of "shallow and misleading" when he writes:
Ehrlich … appointed inexperienced industry insiders […] An auto-industry lawyer was head of the state Department of the Environment!
First, Lynn Buhl (the “auto-industry lawyer”) was never confirmed as head of MDE. Second, Buhl spent years working for both the US EPA and Michigan’s version of MDE. But green Democrats like Dernoga didn’t seem to consider her job description or accomplishments at Chrysler. They just clobbered her because she worked there.

When progressives take career paths like Buhl’s, they are often lionized by fellow Democrats as noble “sector switchers.” But conservatives with long records of public service are commonly demonized by the left as evil corporate tools.

My experience contradicts this stereotype. I’ve worked in all three sectors, and know that you can find good, ethical people in all of them. But when I think about the most talented and ethical people I’ve worked with, the list is dominated by folks from the private sector.

Many of them have worked at places like Chrysler.

John McPhee illustrates this in his environmental classic Encounters with the Archdruid. In it, the most competent, likable and ethical person was not the environmentalist David Brower but the corporate mineral engineer Charles Park. As I remember the book, Park had logged more time in the wilderness and understood it better. He revered nature as much or more than Brower, and was meticulous about protecting it.

Brower, on the other hand, was abrasive and admittedly dishonest.

I think it’s about time green Democrats like Matt Dernoga stop auto-dumping on people just because they’ve worked in private industry.


Democratic candidates in District 42 delegate race rev up the direct mail attack ad machine

A Democratic friend of mine has received two attack mailers in the past week from backers of Oz Bengur, Lori Albin and incumbent Del. Steve Lafferty. And one attack mailer from Oz himself.

To Oz and friends: These ads just make you look desperate. Voters who know your opponents well don't like seeing the sleazy results of your PhotoShop work.

UPDATE: For Bill Frank's response to the mailers, go here.


The looming "education bubble": not on radar screen for Towson U. prof or D42 state senate candidates

At the District 42 state senator debate tonight (Jim Brochin vs. Kevin Carney) there was a question about the higher education bubble. Neither candidate was familiar with the term. Nor was the moderator, Towson University political science professor James C. Roberts.

For them, and anyone else who doesn't read Instapundit, Michael Barone summarizes the concept nicely:
Higher education bubble poised to burst

Imagine that you have a product whose price tag for decades rises faster than inflation. But people keep buying it because they're told that it will make them wealthier in the long run. Then suddenly they find it doesn't. Prices fall sharply, bankruptcies ensue, great institutions disappear.

Sound like the housing market? Yes, but it also sounds like what Glenn Reynolds, creator of instapundit.com, writing in The Examiner, has called "the higher education bubble."

Government-subsidized loans have injected money into higher education, as they did into housing, causing prices to balloon. But at some point people figure out they're not getting their money's worth, and the bubble bursts.
Here's video of Glenn talking about the subject: The Higher Education Bubble, and What Comes Next.


5 reasons why a green Democrat's endorsement of Martin O’Malley is off-base

I recently published a piece on why environmentalists should vote Republican. Shortly after I wrote it, Matt Dernoga of the Diamondback endorsed O’Malley in an article titled, Voting green: the choice is obvious.

His article, though short, supports almost all of my points very nicely. Thanks Matt!

And by the way, it’s not as obvious as you think. Here are five reasons why:

1. Research, analysis and reporting done by green Democrats is often shallow and misleading.

2. Republicans are more skeptical of the environmentalist agenda. Democrats often accept it as an article of faith.

3. Republicans are less likely to impose technology mandates because they know government has a terrible track record.

4. Republicans look more closely at the effects of environmental legislation on business and the economy.

5. A significant majority of key environmental legislation since WWII was passed during Republican administrations.

Dave Greene has worked as energy/environmental policy analyst in DC, helped build a large waste treatment plan in Boston, sat on a Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategies Team and served on the board of a local watershed group in Baltimore County. He also supports Bob Ehrlich for governor of Maryland.


Just back from the District 42 debate at Towson U.

I expected Bill Frank and Sue Aumann to perform strongly, and they did.

But the story of the night for me was John Fiastro. Someone told me recently that Steve Lafferty was feeling a little nervous about the race. After tonight I can see why.

This was the first time that I had heard John speak at length in public.

He had an easy presence on stage and I got the feeling that he could talk equally well with new immigrants (he majored in Spanish at Towson), business people, college professors and just plain regular folks.

Some of his opponents sounded like they were reading from PowerPoint slides. John had more of a storytelling style, mixing in humor and literate references to good effect. He was clear, with few wasted words.

Even though he was strong on the budget and Maryland's spending problem, it will be very hard for Democrats to paint John Fiastro as a heartless conservative.

In other words, Fiastro cleaned Lafferty's clock.

But don't take my word for it. Watch it yourself. The camera guy said the debate should be up on the Towerlight website soon.

UPDATE 1: Oz Bengur was the best of the Dems. But I had expected him to be more dynamic than he was. He said some good things about his private sector experience with Papa John's.
[UPDATE 3: Now that I have seen two of Mr. Bengur's sleazy attack mailers I am downgrading him to worst of the Dems. His ads led me to consider which circle Bengur belongs in. I think it's the 8th.]

I had heard some good things about Lori Albin from a friend, but she came across as the worst of the lot. Too much bland "I'll be fighting for you" stuff. She talked a lot about how she was going to work hard and read all the bills. Sounded like a bureaucrat.

UPDATE 2: Four video excerpts from the debate here.

Truth in advertising: I've been coordinating with the "CAFF" slate (Carney/Aumann/Frank/Fiastro) during this campaign because of my volunteer work for Bob Ehrlich.


Why you should vote to re-elect Del. Bill Frank to the Maryland General Assembly (District 42)

This is a very important election coming up. I've been active in the campaign for governor of Maryland, supporting Bob Ehrlich.

But this election isn't just about the big statewide offices. All of us need to pay attention to races at
all levels, up and down the ballot.

Below is a letter I wrote recently. This past Saturday I hand-delivered it 150 of my neighbors. If you live in District 42, please vote for Bill. If you don't live in our district, please consider writing a similar letter for
your favorite local candidate.

Dear neighbor in central Baltimore County,

When you're hiring a person, one of the very best words you can hear from their references is "respected." When people use this word, it’s a strong indicator of character, savvy and effectiveness.
I’ve known Bill Frank for eight years, and can tell you that he is widely respected in our community. He’s also widely respected in Annapolis on both sides of the aisle.

When I first heard Bill at a candidate forum in 2002, he stood out in a large group as the most poised and articulate. Later that year we knocked on doors together for the Ehrlich campaign.

I’ve also logged many hours on the sidelines with Bill. Our boys play baseball and were LTRC teammates for several years.

Here are some things I like about Bill
  • He has a clear, consistent belief system.
  • He works hard.
  • Of all the legislative updates I get (from DC, Towson and Annapolis) his are the best.
  • He treats others with respect, allies and opponents alike.
  • He's responsive to constituents.
Please join me in voting for Bill on November 2nd.

p.s. I hope you’ll also support Bob Ehrlich for governor on November 2nd.

I have volunteered many hours of my time for Bob this year because Maryland needs change and he is the right governor to make it happen.

But he will need help. Fortunately, the GOP has an especially strong slate of folks running this year.

We need state legislators with private sector experience who understand how job creation actually works. People like John Fiastro (restaurant industry), Kevin Carney (home-building) and Sue Aumann (accounting).

I’ve also been very impressed with Steve Bailey (running for State’s Attorney in Baltimore County), and Ken Holt, (running for County Executive). The more I talk to these two and see them in action, the more I like them.


Baltimore County Public Schools in a nutshell

Peggy Noonan has an excellent article today called Revolt of the Accountants.

This paragraph -- if you replace "American" with "BCPS" -- captures the vibe I often get when I speak with school bureaucrats or attend a school board meeting:
there is a growing sense—I should say fear—that the weighty, mighty, imposing American government [BCPS bureaucracy] itself, whether it meant to or not, has for years been contributing to American [BCPS] behaviors that are neither culturally helpful nor, as we now all say, sustainable: a growing sense of entitlement, of dependency, of resentment and distrust, and an increasing suspicion that everyone else is gaming the system. "I got mine, you get yours."
That's what I see at BCPS: lots of people gaming the system. It's not healthy and it's not sustainable.

And these bits from Noonan's piece remind me of last year's big controversy/fiasco at BCPS: AIM*:
Washington is turning America into Paperwork Nation.
No matter what level of life in which you operate, you are likely overwhelmed by forms, by a blizzard of regulations, rules, new laws. This is not new, it's just always getting worse.
The more I learn about the inner workings of Greenwood, the less I like it.


A thought-provoking analysis of the "diversity" and "sustainability" movements

You can count on Muck & Mystery to sniff out the good stuff, like Peter Wood's recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I liked Gary's opening bit:
Two of the nastier [words] in the current lexicon are diversity and sustainability. I have argued for and against both of them depending on which definitions are used. They can both be used to mean just about everything.
Wood's whole piece is well done, but two parts stood out for me. First, his superb condensation of the argument against the "diversity movement":
Diversity authorizes double standards in admissions and hiring, breeds a campus culture of hypocrisy, mismatches students to educational opportunities, fosters ethnic resentments, elevates group identity over individual achievement, and trivializes the curriculum.
Next, Wood sums up his take on the "sustainability movement" in eight words:
sustainability is the triumph of hypothesis over evidence
Say what you will about his arguments, but the dude can write.

FWIW, one of the better discussions on sustainability that I've seen asks an excellent question: Can we afford sustainability?

The discussion starts with two useful definitions of sustainability. First Robert Mendelsohn's:
Economists have a very clear idea of what they mean by sustainability, but it's not always consistent with what you might see in the natural sciences. For an issue like pollution, a sustainable pollution control is one where the marginal cost of abatement is set equal to the marginal damage of pollution. It would be nice to get rid of all pollution, but it turns out it's very expensive to eliminate it entirely. So this idea of balancing the abatement costs against the damages is a critical way that economists would look at sustainability in trying to minimize the total cost to society.
Then Kevin Curtis's:
The definition of sustainable development has provided a big step forward. There are multiple definitions, but the version I like best is one that says economic growth, environmental protection, and social justice are all important — and sustainable development is about doing all three.
I like Curtis's three elements, but wish he had used a politically neutral term in place of "social justice."

Richard Kauffman had many good insights from a businessman's perspective including the problem of regulatory uncertainty.

Finally, there's this delicious bit, where Mendelsohn seems to leave Curtis speechless:
Mendelsohn: You can't just wait for everything to be perfectly clear. But some decisions have a lot more uncertainty around them than others. And I think climate change, with all the long-range implications to it, is probably one of the most uncertain things that I've seen. In the short run, it's pretty clear, but the long-run consequences of making different choices today isn't very clear at all.

Curtis: But the consequences seem to range between some negative impact to lots of negative impact.

Mendelsohn: No, I'd say they range from being beneficial to being very, very harmful. And that's a pretty big range.
[Emphasis added.]
I don't think I've ever heard a respected academic use the words "beneficial" and "climate change" in the same sentence. I don't think Curtis had either, as he had nothing to say in response.

I suspect that Mendelsohn is correct about the level of uncertainty and the huge range of possible outcomes. We just don't really know.