Design Flaw in Texas Tests

The Texas Tribune is reporting (“Design Flaw Suspected In Texas Standardized Tests“) that there are serious methodological issues in the test the state has been using.

ThoseWhoCanTeach-Those Who Cannot Pass Laws About Teaching

This means that the standardized test are a bad idea and improperly implemented. Parents and students already understand how flimsy the facade of these tests are. What would it take for our state and federal government to finally abandon high stakes testing? We could end up paying $468 million over five years for the tests alone. That only begins to estimate the amount of time and money wasted.

Given the problems with the test it’s hard to say much about how much the state’s students have learned. However, standardized testing made it absolutely clear that our political leaders refuse to learn.



Republicans and Democrats roughly equally partisan

The Gallup poll has released some results (“Republicans Turn Against John Roberts, U.S. Supreme Court“) that suggest that Republicans and Democrats are roughly equal in how blindly partisan they are. According to Gallup’s results, Republicans turned against the Supreme Court in nearly identical numbers to Democrats embracing the Court.

If you were looking at the overall numbers you would only see that approval of the Supreme Court was the same before and after the decision on the Affordable Care Act (55%) while disapproval had gone from 40% to 45%. However, shifts on opinions on the court are evident once you look at people from each party.

Republicans and Democrats shift their opinions on the supreme court.

Republicans initially assumed that Chief Justice John Roberts was wonderful with 67% of Republicans holding a favorable opinion of him and only 4% having an unfavorable view. Now, the Chief Justice’s is viewed unfavorably by  44% of Republican and favorably by only 27%. Democrats started out more balanced on Roberts (35% favorable, 31% unfavorable), but have recently seen the light with 54% of Democrats now viewing him favorably.

Republicans have gone from their default assumption about anyone they know little about (“Any Republican must be okay”) to a new assumption based on the only court decision most of them are aware of (“Anyone who disagrees with me on health care is bad”). Neither view does John Roberts justice (pardon the pun).

Save Our Republican-Impeach Earl WarrenJohn Roberts has disappointed the base of the party that spawned him. That’s what justices do from time to time. If the founding generation wanted all of our decisions on rights based on public opinion they would have made judges subject to election and never bothered with the Bill of Rights.

I remember the signs up all over the south calling for the impeachment of Earl Warren. The Court will be dragged into the great issues of the day and sooner or later they make someone mad.

But the republic survives.

For me, the problem isn’t that John Roberts made an argument contrary to the base of his party. The problem is that other justices, President Obama, Mitt Romney, and a host of congressional leaders seem afraid to exercise leadership and try to persuade members of their party on a major issue. I may not agree with Roberts’ argument but I respect his willingness to make it.

Only time will tell whether Justice Roberts goes on to be a great leader of the court or a huge mistake. However, reaction of partisans to his vote on the health care decision tells us more about our partisan assumptions as the Chief Justice’s legal reasoning.

So, don’t take your opinion on the court’s decision too seriously. Chances are that it’s largely an echo of your partisanship.

Homeowners associations without those pesky homeowners

A story in the Forth Worth Star Telegram (“Keller homeowners say they’ve been shut out of association despite new state law“) is reporting how area homeowners associations have effectively barred residents from board meetings. That is, homeowners associations in Texas don’t have to associate with homeowners.

How can this happen in an era in which the Texas legislature claims to be committed to individual property rights? According to the story, several lawmakers were surprised to see this happen under the law. I understand that there will be oversights in the legislative process. However, you can’t help but notice that these oversights almost always benefit special interests with lobbyists.

This appears to be a good example of the kind of influence that organized interests in Texas enjoy. An issue pops up that angers millions of Texans (for a little background, check out a previous blog entry on what homeowners associations have been up to). The legislatures spring into action and addresses the issue. However, somewhere in the process a well-funded interest group gets their lobbyist to make a couple of little changes that protect their clients.

This how special interests win in the legislative process. They pay much closer attention to the details than the rest of us.

Legislators have either played a shell game with voters or are ignorant of the consequences of those little changes in wording that they let slip into the law. Whatever the case, legislators did not get the job done.

If the legislature insists on perpetuating this kind of arrangement they should change the legal term for associations whose boards are controlled by developers to “Corporate Kingdoms.” This would make clear that homeowners they are actually signing away some of their rights to self-government. The state places signs that tell us where our speed on the highway is limited. The least they could do is put up warnings for citizens entering areas where their rights are limited.

Spicing it up

And now a word from Stephan Pastis (who has his own blog):

Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip, July 14, 2012 on

Why are they so mad?

Statewide elected officials in Texas, 2012

While checking some facts I came across the Texas Tribune’s directory of elected officials.

The directory is an excellent reminder of voters’ loyalty to the Republicans since every statewide elected official is Republican. If you were to look back over the last decade you’d see the same distribution in statewide offices. You would also see the domination of the Texas legislature by Republicans.

The question is: Why are Republicans so mad? They are, after all, running things in Texas.

I think that part of the answer is that the tone of Republican leadership has changed since Reagan left the scene. Ronald Reagan was an optimist and took a positive outlook on politics (and life). His approach to a compromise was to claim victory if he got half of what he wanted. Today, Republicans don’t claim victory unless they get 100% of what they want (and you almost never get what you want in politics). So, Republican leaders always talk as if they are losing.

Reagan’s leadership style was somewhat unique–and not easy to pull off. George W. Bush tried to convey this tone. However, he was often ignored or was unable to drown out some of the more negative voices in his party.

There are a number of people in the Texas Republican party who can tell you every single bill they did not get in the last legislative session. Many fewer seemed to notice their victories.

The Texas Republican party has won a lot in Texas. What they haven’t done yet is convince themselves that they aren’t losing.

The Money Our Tax System Spends

I just came across an excellent article from Bloomberg on “tax expenditures” (“Tax System Is America’s Biggest Spender“). Tax expenditures are subsidies that government gives through tax breaks (rather than by grants or other payments). The heart of the article’s argument is basically this:

The tax system is also equivalent to a collection of individual mandates, like the one in the Obama health-care law, with penalties for Americans who fail to buy insurance. For many people, that’s how our system works. You and your neighbor might have the same income, but if, unlike your neighbor, you fail to have a mortgage or buy as much health insurance, then you have to pay higher taxes.

On one hand, people are up in arms over a mandate in law that will increase the tax liability of people who do not buy health insurance. On the other hand, most of us take for granted a tax code that decreases the tax burden for people who buy homes, pay for college, have children, give to charity, etc. Taxes on businesses have their own set of breaks.

Not only do we take the tax breaks for granted, we defend them vigorously. Some people are running around campaigning for a flat tax to “simplify the tax code.” That’s bogus. Computing how much tax you owe is easy–once you’re computed all the deductions and tax credits. It’s all these deductions that make things complicated. But you never see politicians talking about really simplifying the tax code because simplifying the tax code means getting rid of fun deductions that we all expect. As the article points out, even staunch conservatives like Grover Norquist aren’t ready to be this honest with the public about tax breaks.

The article’s recommendation is that we make the benefits of tax breaks as visible as other federal benefits:

Here’s our proposal: Let’s replace all tax expenditures with explicit subsidies — that is, with actual federal payments — so we can really see the costs and debate all spending programs on an equal footing. Doing so would help us answer crucial questions, such as whether we get more bang for our buck by subsidizing homeownership or by spending more on schools

This would help create an honest discussion. And, there are good reasons to keep these tax breaks. Someone who just took out a 30-year mortgage did so with understanding that they could deduct the interest they paid on that mortgage. Removing that deduction now would dramatically change the affordability of that loan.

The federal tax code doles out $1.3 trillion in tax breaks/tax expenditures every year. That’s too much money to ignore.

The Elusive Primary Winner

Check out this story from the Texas Observer (“Finding Marisa Perez: In Search of Texas’ Most Elusive Primary Winner“) about this little-known candidate for the State Board of Education. Most people are more public when then seek public office.