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Jason Stanford is Democratic political consultant living in Texas. He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush” and blogs at jasonstanford.org. Twitter: @jasstanford. He can be reached at stanford@oppresearch.com.
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Take the Win in Iran

Jason Stanford
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2014/7/20 17:02:51 (1489 reads)

Open in new windowOpen in new windowBy Jason Stanford
With Barack Obama's approval ratings getting dragged down by a floundering foreign policy, we might miss one of his biggest successes in a place no one expected—Iran. Whether we extend the interim anti-nuke deal or reach a longer-term agreement to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Obama has backed our enemy into a corner. But fans of cynicism, failure, and partisanship should take heart, because there's still time for congress to turn what should be a win-win for the United States into yet another loss.

What we call "the free world" agrees that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. What we disagree on is how to stop them. The Dick Cheneys and John McCains of the world believe belligerence, saber rattling, and bombings are the wisest course of action, while liberals prefer economic sanctions and diplomacy. And as much as negotiating with Iran seems foolishly naive, it seems to be working.

I've got a confession to make. I didn't think it was going to work, either. Because of the hostage crisis, I grew up hating Iran even more than the Yankees. Later, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's insane claim that Israel must be "wiped off the map" convinced me that the only thing that would bring that country to its senses was a crash course in smart bombs.

That's why I was among those Democrats who quietly thought Obama was foolish about foreign policy when he was running for president. It was one thing to want to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when he said he would meet with rogue states including Iran "without precondition," his reasoning came across like the lofty logic of an ivory-tower egghead with no chance of success in the real world.

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The Fallacy of Common Sense

Jason Stanford
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2014/4/29 11:33:48 (1535 reads)

Open in new windowBy Jason Stanford

It used to be common sense that the earth was flat. Then it was common sense that the earth was the center of the universe. Now it's common sense that you can use a student's test scores to measure a teacher's effectiveness. But that idea, called the "Value-Added Method" or VAM, came crashing to earth recently when Washington state became the first state to lose a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver—and the money that goes along with it—because it could not come up with a way to use test scores to judge teachers.

The reason Washington state couldn't do this—bear with me, this gets complicated—is because it can't be done. Wait. I guess that wasn't complicated. This month, the American Statistical Association released a statement about how VAM is junk science, it doesn't measure what you think it does, and offers no useful feedback. Other than that, it's a great idea.

But one statistician's snake oil is a policy zealot's common sense. Education reformers have rushed this product into the marketplace. And just as you can't prove the world is flat by sailing over the horizon, applying junk science to education policy has yielded predictable results.

Under VAM, ratings for individual teachers fluctuate so wildly that a teacher who earns an "effective" label one year has a 25 -50 percent chance of being tagged as ineffective the next. A teacher in Florida, long a hotbed for wrong-footed education reforms, found that she was being evaluated on the test scores of students she never taught in subjects she didn't teach. Michelle Rhee was so eager to implement this idea as DC chancellor that schools used test scores to rate custodians. This would be a lot funnier if your tax dollars weren't paying for it.

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Mainstreaming Radicalism in Texas

Jason Stanford
Posted by LewisvilleTexan on 2014/3/3 6:32:33 (2758 reads)

Open in new windowBy Jason Stanford

Hide your wallets and shield the children, because they're voting down in Texas. Texas Republicans will be testing the strength of the Tea Party as they pick their first post-Rick Perry slate of statewide candidates since the 1980s. But Texas Democrats might end up missing Perry, as there is a decent shot that Republicans will nominate not their best-qualified, most-electable candidates but an entire clown car full of crazypants.

Let's start at the top of the ticket, where incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, rated the second-most conservative senator in 2012, was apparently not conservative enough to escape a primary challenge. Into that breach leapt Steve Stockman, the congressman who once Tweeted, "If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted." This race should have been great fun, but Stockman has campaigned mostly by hiding from public view and skipping votes in congress. Going into the candidate protection program is working. One poll shows Stockman could force Cornyn into a runoff.

Below Greg Abbott on the ballot is a quartet of candidates for lieutenant governor, the most reasonable of whom advocates changing the 14th Amendment to prevent anchor babies from attaining citizenship. All of the Republicans seeking this office oppose abortion exceptions for rape and incest and supported keeping a dead woman on life support because she was pregnant. Even on this stage, state Sen. Dan Patrick, who faces good odds to advance to the next round, stands out for calling undocumented immigrants an "illegal invasion." What's smart in a Texas Republican primary can be politically fatal in a state that's 40 percent Hispanic.

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Cashing In On Pre-K Testing

Jason Stanford
Posted by LewisvilleTexan on 2014/2/18 6:20:00 (2150 reads)

Open in new windowOpen in new windowBy Jason Stanford
Sandy Kress, the controversial testing lobbyist, is leading a new raid on school taxes. This month he registered to lobby for Amplify, the company that wants to replace textbooks with tablet computers, positioning him to grab some of the hundreds of millions of dollars Education Sec. Arne Duncan is offering to create pre-K tests. Despite a nationwide backlash against high-stakes testing, your tax dollars are now going to developing standardized tests for 4-year-olds, and Kress is ready to cash in.

Kress was the architect of No Child Left Behind who then lobbyied for Pearson Education while simultaneously serving on several state advisory boards. Kress became so unpopular amid an anti-testing rebellion in Texas that the legislature made it illegal for him or any other testing lobbyist to make campaign contributions. Even registered sex offenders can give politicians money in Texas.

But now the Obama administration is pushing a new and (pardon the pun) untested theory that we can use student scores to measure teacher effectiveness. To compete for Race to the Top funds, states have to figure out how to use standardized test scores to measure the effectiveness of teachers, something education historian Diane Ravitch has called "junk science".

There are basic problems with using student scores to judge teachers. The tests don't measure classroom learning, school funding is unequal. Stress caused by high-stakes testing impairs thinking. Using test scores to judge teachers encourages teaching to the test. But for Duncan, the real problem was that there is no way to determine the effectiveness of a kindergarten teacher if that's the first year students take standardized tests.

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There's Good News on Income Inequality

Jason Stanford
Posted by LewisvilleTexan on 2014/2/9 19:40:00 (1166 reads)

Open in new windowOpen in new windowBy Jason Stanford

Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.

The issue isn't that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it's time to do something about it.

As was made clear in his State of the Union address, the problem Obama faces is that his potential governing partners believe in an economic ideology roughly equivalent to fairy dust but stand resolutely opposed to thinking happy thoughts. Herein lies the Hell that Republicans envision for the poor: Most Republicans (51 percent) believe that the poor are poor due to a "lack of effort"," that our economy is "generally fair to most Americans" (53 percent), and that "most people who want to get ahead can make it if they're willing to work hard" (76 percent). In other words, Republicans believe that income inequality is that fault of lazy poor people, which is why they want to put more money into the hands of rich people who are doing all the work.

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