Two new speed cameras giving out $40 tickets near Baltimore County schools

The first two cameras--out of fifteen planned--are located in Dundalk and Halethorpe:
One focuses on westbound lanes on the 7000 block of Dunman Way near Dundalk Middle School and Dundalk Elementary School, while the other is trained on eastbound lanes of the 1200 block of Sulphur Spring Road in Halethorpe, near Arbutus Middle School. The cameras went into operation Monday.
If you're from District 42 and are wondering who is responsible for the speed camera law, you can blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) Del. Steve Lafferty and Del. Sue Aumann. Both of them voted for speed cameras last year.

I'm with Del. Bill Frank and Senator Jim Brochin. Both voted against the cameras.


Obama borrows from Nixon playbook in bid to lower health care costs

What is it with left-of-center public servants emulating Richard Nixon these days?

As Reason's Steve Chapman sees it, President Obama has hopped on the Nixon policy bandwagon in a big way:

So how does Obama intend to make health insurance affordable? He wants the federal government to regulate premiums from coast to coast.

This approach mirrors Nixon's disastrous wage and price control program. Chapman relates how it worked out for Nixon:
Nixon's own chief economist, Herbert Stein, admitted that the administration eventually had to give up because the program was "a total disaster." Among the unwanted side effects: "Cattle were being withheld from market, chickens were drowned, and the food store shelves were being emptied." Motorists had to wait in line for hours to buy gasoline. At one point, Americans faced a nationwide shortage of toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. Oh, and the inflation rate didn't fall. It rose.
I wonder what President Obama will try when he finds out that price controls don't work. Ford-style sloganeering?


A good article on AIM and Dr. Hairston's grilling in Annapolis last week

Here it is, from Bryan Sears:
Delegates and senators from Baltimore County said they didn't get a lot of answers out of Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston last week . . .
Not many people believe this:

Hairston told legislators Feb. 18 that the directive had been sent out without his knowledge, while he was on medical leave for a double knee replacement.

"While all of this was going on, I was not on duty," Hairston said. "I came back on duty and corrected all this."

This is accurate:

Much of the two-hour meeting with Hairston was fraught with tension. More than once, legislators indicated frustration or irritation as Hairston, who attended with Joanne Murphy and Ed Parker, president and a member of the Board of Education, respectively, declined to answer questions, citing confidentiality or personnel issues.

The hearing was filled with momemts like this:

That prompted Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat who represents the Towson area, to ask if Hairston could offer any specifics on the communications issue.

Hairston, Murphy and Parker sat mute. Brochin asked a second time, then moved on.

Del. Wade Kach, a former teacher, is doing some good things:

Kach said a majority in the House of Delegates is willing to ask Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to investigate AIM on two fronts. . . whether AIM's implementation represents a conflict of interest [and] whether a school system committee studying AIM violated the state's open meetings act . . .

"This is a big deal," said Kach, who taught for 30 years in the school system. "People are very upset."


How not to respond to angry parents and concerned legislators (the AIM saga continues)

[UPDATE: After getting some feedback this morning, I've changed a few words in the sixth paragraph. It's more accurate now. When someone points out a mistake in this blog, I try to fix it quickly. In this case, within three hours. If only Dr. Hairston and BCPS were so responsive and so concerned about truth and transparency. I submitted a long list of AIM questions to BCPS/Greenwood two or three weeks ago. I still haven't gotten a response.]

In the wake of Superintendent Joe Hairston's recent visit with the PTA, BCPS communications staffer Charles Herndon tried to smooth things over with a
letter to the Forge Flyer. It starts:
Dr. Hairston was gracious enough to meet with the [Baltimore County PTA] Council
Gracious? It was not gracious of Dr. Hairston to meet with the PTA. It's his job to meet with important constituencies of the school system. Maybe Mr. Herndon meant the least common meaning of gracious:
Condescendingly courteous; indulgent
Yes, that captures it. Dr. Hairston often treats key stakeholders, such as the county's top-level PTA, like ignorant kids. As Jean Suda put it after the PTA Council meeting with Dr. Hairston:
I left . . . with the impression of having watched an old episode of "Father Knows Best." [Dr. Hairston] was there to hear us, but not to listen in a way that might lead to any modification of his thinking. . . . If we don't agree with him, there must be something wrong with us.
Dr. Hairston, we don't like being treated this way.

Mr. Herndon continues:
Above all, Dr. Hairston tried during the meeting to bring two things to the discussion that have been sorely missing – context and accurate information.
Accurate information has indeed been sorely missing. Because, except for some Orwellian "straight talk" like this, Greenwood doesn't give us much information.

Parents [Many people, including parents and politicians,] were so upset by [after reading Jean's account of] the PTA council meeting that [according to a well-connected observer] state legislators [stepped up the] pressured [on] Dr. Hairston and two Board of Ed members (JoAnn Murphy and Ed Parker) to answer questions at a hearing in Annapolis last Thursday. After receiving a few hours of Dr. Hairston's "accurate information, " state delegates and senators responded with comments such as these:
  • "Was that a yes or a no, Dr. Hairston?"
  • "You sound like President Clinton parsing the definition of 'is'."
  • "I'm very disappointed that you've been pleading the Fifth all over the place."
  • "None of you [Hairston, Murphy and Parker] seem to want to answer our questions."
Something is wrong here--really, really wrong. I'm still not sure exactly what it is, but I hope to find out.


An assessment of AIM from an IT perspective

I emailed this letter six days ago (early on 2/15/10) to twenty or more people at BCPS. I got no responses.
Dear BCPS Board Members,

A parent's notes of the February 4th PTA council meeting with Dr. Hairston include this line: "most importantly, at the end of the discussion, the Superintendent revealed that he intends to implement
AIM this spring." I'm not sure whether this statement is accurate or inaccurate. Either way, it's an indication of a serious problem with the Baltimore County Public Schools.

I have been a BCPS parent for over eight years. I also have a decade and a half of experience in the information technology industry. In those 15 years I have not observed any IT project that was so consistently and seriously flawed as AIM. Here are some examples of what I mean:

1. CONCEPTION. Neither the superintendent nor his staff have ever, to my knowledge, communicated why we need AIM.

2. PLANNING. There is no evidence of planning, whether it be cost estimates or implementation plans.

3. DESIGN. The designers have fallen into one of the worst mistakes in the IT business: building a system to meet the vague wishes of management without taking time to understand the specific needs of the folks who enter the data. This is a guaranteed recipe for GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

4. USABILITY: The AIM application is clumsy and unnecessarily time-consuming. The user interface is very poorly constructed, even if one judges it based on 15-year-old pre-internet standards.

5. TESTING. BCPS claims that AIM has been "rigorously tested," but they refuse to divulge any details of test plans, benchmarks or test results.

6. IMPLEMENTATION. The superintendent sprang the implementation on unsuspecting teachers and parents in a December surprise. One teacher described it as "like Pearl Harbor."

In each of these phases, BCPS leadership has communicated poorly, failed to listen and demonstrated a disturbing lack of transparency.

AIM is the epitome of a poorly thought out, poorly designed and poorly implemented program. But it keeps rising from the dead like a zombie. Will you please help us kill it for good?


Dave Greene
BCPS parent
Member, "End AIM Now!" Facebook group

BCPS Board of Education:

Ms. JoAnn Murphy
Mr. H. Edward Parker
Dr. Joe Hairston
Ms. Jacqueline Camp
Mr. James Coleman
Mr. Earnest Hines
Mr. Rodger Janssen
Ms. Ramona Johnson
Ms. Margaret O'Hare
Mr. Joseph Pallozzi
Ms. Valerie Roddy
Mr. Lawrence Schmidt
Mr. David Uhlfelder


I wonder why this never happened to me.

Gary Jones, prefacing a post on eco-quarreling:
A woman that I'd been seeing once pushed me through a plate glass window in a rage due to my political views that Republicans were mean and Democrats were incompetent, or the reverse, I wasn't sure which.


Matthew Yglesias asks permission to opine

They were talking about this excellent story in the NY Times. It describes some grandiosely unethical habits of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mr. Yglesias timidly describes the story as "pretty great." He needs a tag-line for his blog. How about this:
"Self-censorship and a soupcon of opinion"
His temporizing is yet another indication that we're a long way from achieving a post-racial society.

Glenn Loury as usual is lucid, entertaining, informative and on point.

"It's the economic uncertainty, stupid"

Jim Geraghty at NRO:
Did he believe that the healthcare reform and related tax proposals, the proposed cap and trade legislation and the consequent increase in energy costs, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the agitation for higher taxes on the wealthy, the proposal to increase corporate tax rates, the proposal to increase capital gains taxes, the trial floating of ideas such as a national VAT and removal of the earnings cap on FICA, the more robust regulatory bureaucracy . . . did he believe any of these uncertainties were depressing hiring?

He stated yes, without a doubt and proceeded to relay a conversation he had with a local chemical company regarding their 2010 capital expenditure budget. When asked what the company intended to invest in 2010, the response was ‘nothing,’ not due to a paucity of good opportunities, but because it was impossible for the company to calculate a rate of return given all the uncertainty over cost of labor, energy prices, regulatory mandates and the like.

It’s obvious to me that the Obama administration has no grasp on what their 'flavor of the day’ tax and regulatory proposals do to business decision making,
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, are you listening? President Obama?

via Glenn


Social networking for sick people: PatientsLikeMe.com

[UPDATE: a formula stimulated by a friend's comment: social network + shared data = better patient outcomes.]


If you or a loved one is dealing with a major (or minor) health problem, you really MUST check out PatientsLikeMe.com.

My first reaction to the website: brilliantly conceived and wonderfully implemented.

I've only taken a quick look at it, but the site lets anyone with a disease or medical problem find others going through exactly the same ordeal. You can share your personal story and your opinions of the drugs and treatments you're going through and see what others think of theirs.

The site also lets you look at aggregate data. For example you can see which medicines and treatments are most commonly prescribed for your condition.

And that seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Watch the Jamie Heywood's inspiring TED video:

Then check out the PatientsLikeMe.com website.


Del. Wade Kach asks Maryland A.G. Gansler to investigate BCPS conflict of interest on AIM project

Here's the latest on AIM ethics and conflict-of-interest from the East County Times:

Retired county public school teacher Delegate Wade Kach (R-5B) is in the process of asking Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to look into possible conflicts of interest involving the Articulated Instruction Module (AIM) which was prepared for grades K-12. . . . One of Kach's concerns is that Dr. Barbara Dezmon, an assistant school superintendent and creator of the program, may be a recipient of royalties if AIM is purchased by other school systems in the future. "The person who developed this program is an employee of the Board of Education. The program should be the property of the Board, not an individual," Kach opined.

Thank you, Del. Kach.

Dr. Dezmon, Assistant to the Superintendent for Equity and Assurance, has been feeling the heat for months now. If she really believes in the AIM program for its own sake, she should do the right thing and sign over any AIM-related IP rights to Baltimore County.

Another issue: BCPS seems to be violating the open meetings law.

A third question came to mind when he learned that the meeting of the committee to review AIM, handpicked by Superintendent Hairston, was closed to the public. In addition, he was told by Cheryl Bost, TABCO president, who is not a member of the AIM committee, that she was escorted out of the room when she tried to listen in. "It appears that the open meetings law is not being followed," he noted.

Dr. Hairston's long-standing practice of secretive mushroom management* is fast becoming a major issue among BCPS parents. The inner workings of the Greenwood bureaucracy need a triple dose of sunlight. The Rx for BCPS: Transparency. Transparency. Transparency.

*Mushroom Management: When a company's staff [and other stakeholders] are treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark, covered with dung, and – when grown big enough – canned**.

**See, for example, AIM scapegoat and former BCPS Northwest Area Assistant Superintendent Bill Lawrence. Many BCPS teachers believe that Lawrence's transfer/demotion is Hairston's way of diverting AIM-related heat away from himself.


It's about freakin' time

The MSM starts to look closely at IPCC:

WASHINGTON – A steady drip of unsettling errors is exposing what scientists are calling "the weaker link" in the Nobel Peace Prize-winning series of international reports on global warming.

The flaws — and the erosion they've caused in public confidence — have some scientists calling for drastic changes in how future United Nations climate reports are done. A push for reform being published in Thursday's issue of a prestigious scientific journal comes on top of a growing clamor for the resignation of the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The work of the climate change panel, or IPCC, is often portrayed as one massive tome. But it really is four separate reports on different aspects of global warming, written months apart by distinct groups of scientists.

No errors have surfaced in the first and most well-known of the reports, which said the physics of a warming atmosphere and rising seas is man-made and incontrovertible. So far, four mistakes have been discovered in the second report, which attempts to translate what global warming might mean to daily lives around the world.

"A lot of stuff in there was just not very good," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of the first report. "A chronic problem is that on the whole area of impacts, getting into the realm of social science, it is a softer science. The facts are not as good."

Kudos to Seth Borenstein and the AP.

via Walter Russell Mead:
AP Story Breaks US Media Wall of Denial on IPCC Mess; Al Gore Still Silent

Pachauri FAIL

Walter Russell Mead sums things up.


"Breaking the Logjam: Environmental Protection That Will Work"

A new book by David Schoenbrod et al. Based on these two blurbs from Amazon, it it might be worth a look:
"Our environmental laws badly need re-thinking. This book makes that case and then charts a course for action. A straightforward, comprehensive, and persuasive case for reform."--William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1970-1973 and 1983-1985 (William D. Ruckelshaus )

"The authors remind us that a number of our environmental laws are not achieving their important goals. Breaking the Logjam documents the power of well-regulated markets to achieve significant improvements in air quality and challenges us to incorporate those lessons more broadly, hopefully provoking a valuable national discussion on these complex issues."-Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund


Spring training starts in 10 days!

To get in the spirit, here are some articles on strength training for baseball. I can't vouch for the quality, but some of them seem worth a look:

12 month baseball strength training program

Plyometric training

Forearm & rotator cuff exercises

Comprehensive baseball weight training

Seeing the Tea Party movement through the lens of guerrilla insurgency and "open source warfare"

John Robb thinks outside the box at Global Guerrillas.

The problem with Pell grants (and FAFSA, and Stafford loans, and ...)

Unintended consequences of course.

I know, because I'm knee deep in it these days.

Student aid programs created by the federal government have become bloated, complex nightmares that create all kinds perverse structural distortions in our educational system.

The government is hurting, not helping.


Pure wind: President Obama's unconvincing talk about jobs

When I hear Obama talk about jobs, his words remind me of a passage from one of George Orwell's essays:
political language ... designed ... to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Why is Obama so unconvincing on the topic of jobs? The Anchoress gives one of the reasons:
The president says he wants to create jobs, and to do that, he is surrounding himself with people who have never created them.
As evidence, she links to this chart from Investors Business Daily:

I don't know how accurate the chart is, but the message rings true.

As I've written before, politicians have little power to create jobs. But they can kill jobs very easily by creating uncertainty about what government will do next.


Rising AP failure rate reduces reliability of Newsweek's "top" high school ratings

Newsweek ranks the "top" high schools in the U.S. each year according a single criterion, the AP participation rate*:
Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by [WaPo edu-blogger] Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school . . . divided by the number of graduating seniors.
Newsweek's ranking don't consider the percentage of students who pass or fail the AP tests.

Because the failure rate is increasing (41.5% failed last year, up from 36.5% in 1999) Newsweek's rankings have become that much less reliable.

The single-criterion rating system has worked reasonably well so far. But at some point Newsweek will have to change it's formula to include pass/fail rates.

*It's actually called the Challenge Index, and it includes partipation in the AP and similar college-level tests.


Having hired Pachauri last year to run their new Climate Institute...

... you'd think Yale would have a better handle on their thermostat situation this year.

Last spring, Rajendra Pachauri was named head of Yale's new Climate and Energy Institute.

He has been under fire recently to the point where the head of Greenpeace UK is calling for his resignation as head of IPCC.

In a nutshell: Why teachers' unions kill merit pay

Megan McArdle* explains:
There is a reason that unions kill merit pay... [they] negotiate ironclad contracts to cover dozens, hundreds, or thousands of workers. Once they take effect, those contracts are rarely renegotiated, and they apply to every single worker no matter what the situation. So unions are always going to be looking for the simplest, least subjective metrics by which to measure their members. Furthermore, they will be looking for metrics which are not under the control of the other side. The school board cannot change how many years you have in service, or whether or not you have a degree. But it can change the curriculum, or the tests.

. . .metrics will not only tend towards simplicity and ease of measurement; they will also tend to reward mediocrity. Again, this is not an accident of history. A collective bargaining unit run by a "majority rules" system is always going to look for a system that rewards the median or modal worker, not the best.

A merit pay system can work in one of two ways. It can benchmark teachers against the average, and reward the people who achieve the most improvement. Or it can set some minimum standard and give a bonus to any teacher who bests that standard. (You could set three tiers, or what have you, but the concept is basically the same).
. . .

But compare either system to what now exists in our nation's schools. Every single teacher can stay on for years unless they do something direly wrong. . . They have a system that spreads benefits absolutely evenly among all their members.

. . . And of course, over time, teacher's unions select for the sort of people who prefer this arrangement to competitive merit pay for one reason or another. ...

Unions are set up to minimize frictions and maximize benefits for the bottom 55%. That's how they work everywhere--in schools, and out. That's how they have to work. No amount of cajoling, no number of white papers, is going to change that.
Megan is a pleasure to read and listen to [type "McArdle" in the search box to see a list of her appearances on bloggingheads.tv] . She consistently delivers clear insights on all sorts of real-world economic issues. When challenged, she backs her opinions with facts, examples and solid reasoning.

If she were a mean person, she could skewer most of her discussion/debate partners on Bloggingheads.tv. Instead she listens carefully to others and rebuts with respect and a beaming smile. Her opponents learn a few things, lose the debate, and go away feeling happy about the experience.

Update: More on education from Megan: national curriculum and vouchers.


What gets aligned in a "curriculum alignment"

This paper says three things get aligned:
  1. Curriculum (what is taught)
  2. Instruction (how it's taught)
  3. Assessment (the what/how of testing)

An early reaction to a PDK curriculum audit in Arkansas

From B Kisida at Midd-Riffs. You really don't want to pre-judge consultants because some of them are very good. It's just hard to find the good ones.

via Joanne Jacobs


A skeptic's view of curriculum alignment

From SaveSeattleSchools:
the question you should be asking [about curriculum alignment] is this one:

"We've tried this before without success. How will it be different this time?"

There are four necessary supports for curricular alignment which [might NOT be] in place. The people who are responsible for curricular alignment do not have control over these elements, so they can't make them happen.
The "four supports" seem to be:
  1. Resources for intervening with lagging (below grade level) students
  2. Assurance that teachers know what they are supposed to be teaching (depends on effective professional development)
  3. Identification of teachers who choose not to teach the curriculum (and getting them on board)
  4. Assurance that college-prep classes will be available at all schools
There's an analogy in automotive wheel alignments. These don't do a car owner much good if there's no gas in the tank and no air in the tires.

One definition of "curriculum alignment"

From Howard Johnston at PrincipalPartnership.com:
Curriculum alignment means assuring that the material taught in the school matches the standards and assessments set by the state or district for specific grade levels. It is a way of "mapping" the curriculum onto the standards to be sure that the school is teaching the content that is expected. In states that use tests to assess student mastery, schools may also align their curriculum with the content of the test to assure that students have studied the required content before taking the tests.
Why do it?

Increasing demands for accountability mean that schools must document that they are achieving the objectives mandated by state standards. In some cases, districts must submit curriculum guides that show how the instruction at each grade level is linked to state, national or local standards. In others, students are expected to pass tests that are based on the standards.

Whatever the mechanism, standards are deeply imbedded in public opinion and state law. They are not going away any time soon. Communities are insisting on strong performance, and, in some regions, teacher and administrator compensation is based on how well students perform on mandated tests. Standards have become a very high stakes issue in public education.


Pension reform in Maryland: The first step in a marathon journey

Del. Bill Frank is planning to sponsor a much-needed bill to reform pensions for state employees and legislators in Maryland.
I am working on a bill that would bring some significant reform to the pension plan for the Maryland legislators, including me. . .

Mayor Sheila Dixon’s $85,000
annual pension is outrageous, as is the lifetime pension payments for retiring Baltimore County Council members, who receive full annual pensions of $54,000 adjusted for inflation for life after serving just 20 years in an essentially part-time position!. . .

[I propose to] convert this defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, where legislators would be encouraged to fund their own 401(k) plans with a modest match from the State. In the end, this approach would save the State significant dollars.

This is a huge problem and it's about time someone took the lead on this in the Maryland General Assembly.

Kudos to Delegate Frank for getting it started.

Realistically though, most of the hard work is ahead of us.