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December 2nd, 2012:

Weekend link dump for December 2

Insert standard plaintive cry about where the year has gone here.

Help the Waltrip High School Band travel to play at President Obama’s inauguration.

Here’s a comprehensive list of people who are paid to pontificate about politics saying dumb things about the 2012 election.

“Tastes like dinosaur”. Sure, why not?

More Congressfolk like Dr. Raul Ruiz would be a good thing.

IBM is retiring the Lotus brand. A moment of silence, please, for those of us who cut our teeth on Lotus 1-2-3.

“Our findings very clearly demonstrate that investing in employees at the bottom can be an advantage both in times of economic growth and during a recession.”

A bit late for Thanksgiving, but How To Make A Schadenfreude Pie is a classic so I’m linking to it.

Would you let your insurance company monitor your driving to get a cheaper rate?

Why banking your frequent flyer miles is a bad idea.

Two words: Antediluvian plushies.

“A cell phone is not a pair of pants”. That may sound silly, but it’s actually pretty important.

Funny how stories about fewer “moderates” making it harder to legislate only get written after Democrats win.

Before you discard or pass on personal technology, make sure your personal information is purged. Or else it may wind up in some artist’s book.

Risk of robot uprising wiping out human race to be studied. Thanks, I’ll sleep much better tonight.

The difference between 2010 and 2012 in re: the Bush tax cuts.

“Don’t be racist” is good advice in general.

Just how old are The Rolling Stones, anyway?

Diversity fail, Republican House style.

The IT industry is strongly Democratic. This explains a lot.

“Within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car, and even if you are allowed, it would be immoral of you to drive, because the risk of you hurting yourself or another person will be far greater than if you allowed a machine to do the work.

New flash: Bill O’Reilly makes stuff up. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

“The evidence presented in Thomas Friedman’s column today would lead readers to believe that the economy’s biggest problem is that companies are being run by executives who are so ignorant of economics that they don’t know that the way to attract more workers is to raise wages.”

Bo Jackson is now 50 years old. How old does that make you feel?

RIP, Jeff Millar, creator of the “Tank McNamara” comic strip and longtime Houston Chronicle writer.

“Look, the easy thing to do here is to just have Congress pass a $100 quadrillion debt ceiling.” Assuming you can find anyone who knows what a quadrillion is.

Some sanity on STAAR

This is a welcome development.

A requirement that the state exams count toward 15 percent of a student’s course grade sparked a backlash last spring over the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, among parents whose ninth-graders were the first to take the more rigorous exams. A statewide parent group emerged out of the controversy and is calling for major changes to the testing system.

In a nod to the influence of the parents, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, unveiled legislation that would strike the mandate and allow school districts to decide how much a student’s end-of-course test score should figure into the final grade.

High school students must take 15 end-of-course exams to graduate, and parents feared that including the test scores in the course grade might affect a student’s grade-point average and, in turn, college admissions.

“This is about local control. The school districts, and the parents, should have a voice on whether the end-of-course exams should count towards a student’s final grade,” said Patrick, who plans to propose other modifications to STAAR in coming weeks.

“Local control” is one of those concepts that Republicans tend to invoke when it’s convenient and ignore when it’s not. It’s being used in service of something sensible here, so I’m not complaining, just noting the flexibility. The initial results from the STAAR test were not encouraging, and there has been considerable pushback from parents and school administrators over it. This is a breakthrough for them, but the fight is far from over.

Dineen Majcher, an Austin lawyer who helped form the parent group, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, welcomed Patrick’s willingness to take the lead on an issue that had worried so many parents.

But she added that it wouldn’t quell the parents’ concerns over the testing system. They want legislators to reduce the number of tests that must be taken to graduate and modify the complicated method for determining if a student is on track for graduation.

“The 15 percent issue awoke us to a system that is bad for kids,” Majcher said. “Changing the 15 percent requirement is only a start. Thus, while this is an important step in the right direction, there are still significant revisions that must be made. Simply addressing the 15 percent is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a major hemorrhage.”

Business leaders that have been the most vocal proponents of the 15 percent provision were resigned Thursday to the about-face by lawmakers.

Bill “Hostage Taker” Hammond wasn’t quoted in this story, so I would not be too sure about business leaders taking this lying down. If Hammond throws a hissy fit over this, it will set up an interesting dynamic for the session, since he’ll be in opposition not just to Sen. Patrick but also to Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and now Texas Education Agency head Michael williams, who has agreed to defer the 15% rule for now.

As I said, this fight is far from over. One vocal critic of Texas’ high-stakes testing regime is SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, and he has plenty to say on the subject.

Is the test really the problem? Personally, I don’t think so. Testing is a form of accountability and measurement. It’s always been a part of an education and it always will be. Despite what the Texas Association of Business wants you to believe, parents ARE NOT against testing or accountability. What parents ARE against are the stakes riding on the outcome of those tests and the fact that those tests are currently the only way a student, teacher, campus or district is deemed to be a success or failure in the eyes of the Legislature, the TEA and the public.

What’s the solution to this situation?

As you might expect, I have a few ideas.

1) We need the Legislature to repeal the 15% grade requirement. Simple enough.

2) We need the SBOE to start reducing the length of the TEKS as they come back up for renewal. TEKS are supposed to stand for the Texas ESSENTIAL Knowledge and Skills. They go well beyond what’s essential in my opinion.

3) We need an accountability system that contains elements that have nothing to do with the standardized test. Graduation rates, UIL participation, National Merit Scholars, CTE participation, service hours, dual credit enrollment are just a few suggestions. We also need to stop grading campuses and districts on their lowest performing sub-group. I know Commissioner Williams and the TEA are working on this and they are headed in the right direction. I just hope they go far enough to make meaningful change.

4) We simply have too many state-mandated tests. Massachusetts, which is supposedly the envy of all public schools systems in the United States, has 3 state-mandated standardized tests. Finland, which is supposedly the envy of all public school systems in the world, has one. That’s right, one. This reminds me of an old saying, “The cow doesn’t get heavier just because you weigh it more.”

So, I’d like to conclude with another farming analogy. It’s time to put the high-stakes testing regime out to pasture.

The Statesman story notes that Rep. Dan Huberty filed a bill to eliminate the 15% requirement altogether. I don’t expect that to pass, but it’s out there. I’m also reminded of one of Scott Hochberg’s proposals from last session to exempt students who did well on the STAAR in one year from taking them the next since they’re statistically almost certain to pass. If nothing else, that could be a good compromise. We’ll see how it goes.

Parties split on waiting for SCOTUS

Texas Redistricting:

Lawyers for the Justice Department and intervenors in the Texas voter ID case told the court yesterday that the court should put off consideration of Texas’ claim that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional until the Supreme Court decides the pending Shelby County v. Holder case next year.

That case involves a challenge to the statute by Shelby County, Alabama, contending that Congress acted without sufficient evidence in 2006 in extending section 5 coverage for another 25 years and that the formula for determining what states and sub-divisions are subject to section 5 is outdated.

The State of Texas disagreed and told the court that it should go ahead and decide the constitutional question being raised in the Texas case or otherwise its voter ID law “will be stuck in limbo until the end of the current Supreme Court term.”

The state told the court that “while Texas’s constitutional claims overlap with Shelby County’s to some extent, they may present distinct arguments (such as a challenge to the “non-retrogression” doctrine) whose resolution will not be affected or informed by the opinion in Shelby County.

In the alternative, the state asked the court to enter a final order denying preclearance so that the state could go ahead and separately appeal the ruling on that portion of its claims to the Supreme Court.  The intervenors told the court the state had missed its window to request such relief.

Here are the parties’ position papers:


State of Texas


I had thought that both sides would want to wait for SCOTUS, but clearly I was wrong. Now the DC Court has to decide which course of action to take, and as yet there’s no timeline for that. I would guess there may need to be a hearing for oral arguments before they make up their minds, but we’ll see about that. In the meantime, briefs are due tomorrow to the San Antonio court for the same should we wait or should we proceed question regarding new redistricting maps – more on that here. There I thought the intervenors would want to go ahead while the state wanted to wait, but now I’ll have to rethink that. PDiddie has more.

This is what a full-scale Latino outreach program looks like

This is what I’m talking about.

Why not us?

President Barack Obama’s campaign team realized even before Romney was nominated that the growing Latino vote was the key to a second Obama term. And they acted to sew it up with an early, sweeping and persistent effort. It paid off, and it’s not clear that Romney even saw the under-the-radar operation coming.

The Obama campaign began aggressive Latino outreach early, setting up a team even before the GOP primaries began.

“Essentially, we started a year-and- a-half ago,” an Obama campaign official told POLITICO. “Previous presidential campaigns really brought in their Hispanic team three months out to do GOTV, but we had a lot of voter education to do.”

“It was by design that we created such an ambitious program. I don’t think that it’s that surprising.”

In the middle of 2011, Obama’s team built a Spanish-language media list of more than 700 thought leaders — from the smallest Spanish-language paper in Iowa to talk-radio hosts who lure millions of listeners.

At that point, very few Hispanic media leaders were paying any attention to the election — and a few even asked to be taken off the list. But Obama campaign aides began aggressively working to nab free media to highlight the popular parts of the president’s health care overhaul, and the administration’s “Race to the Top” program awarding innovative state education programs.


The campaign went on the air on April 17 — right after Romney had effectively clinched the GOP nod — in Spanish media in Nevada, Colorado and Florida and never came down. Closer to the election, the campaign expanded its efforts to Ohio and Virginia. Their first flight of ads used real people, including volunteers and staff members, explaining how Obama had helped them. The ads featured students talking about getting Pell grants, for example. Further ads touted popular elements of the health care law. The third wave of ads focused on small business. The campaign cut a lot of state-specific ads on Spanish TV and radio, including about Medicare in Florida.

“We weren’t putting a Mexican up in South Florida. We were putting a Cuban up in South Florida,” said one aide.

It was a priority at headquarters to add a Latino dimension to press roll-outs. For example, when attacking the auto bailout in Ohio, the campaign found a Spanish-speaking autoworker who was comfortable talking to the press. In Colorado, they made sure a Latino was at every press conference.

“It was a lot of work, but at the beginning, Hispanics couldn’t tell you a thing Obama had done,” the official said.


To push their message to Latinos constantly and effectively, Obama’s camp had a parallel regional structure in the media department — two bookers for Spanish TV, three regional press secretaries in Obama for America and at the Democratic National Committee another six regional spokesmen focused on Spanish media.

The president did an off-the-record conference call with Latino DJs from Air Force One. Some on the call were from Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia — “Latinos that never, ever in their wildest dreams thought they would speak with the president.”

Read the whole thing, then ask yourself the same question I’ve been asking over and over again: What do we have to do to get this kind of operation in Texas? Note, too, that where Team Obama did GOTV in general, turnout was about the same as it was in 2008, but it was down in most other states. That wouldn’t have been enough to tip Texas, of course – at best, it would have made the result about the same as 2008 – but I can think of a few downballot races where it would have mattered. sigh Next time, if only, next time…