Monday, October 25, 2010

Council agenda skirts voter approval for new pump station

Cindy's regular Monday story on the Council agenda highlights the puffy Tourism Director presentation, while relegating to the middle grafs consideration of 600K clams to buy land from Ron James for a new pumping station for the eventual water pipeline from Big Chino.

It was the clear intent of voters with Prop 400 to require a public vote on expenditures related to the pipeline project. I said at the time that the measure's $40-million threshold was a loophole that the City could drive a truck through at the first opportunity, and that appears to be coming to pass. The $30 million pumping station has been "separated" from the pipeline project as a capital project, so no vote. I expect there'll be some words about that in Council tomorrow.

I'd have also expected to see some mention of this angle in the news coverage. I'm pretty confident that Cindy didn't miss it.

Editorial: Not the way to analyze teachers

In another deadly fail, the hapless Courier headline writer inadvertently warns the reader correctly about the content of today's editorial.

Our "local, local, local"-ly focused Courier editor sees something on his teevee about a proposal for teacher performance evaluations in New York City, and through some trick of logic (or lack of a better idea) decides it's relevant to his readers. I suspect it's just because the teachers union doesn't like it, and the editor likes pretty much anything a union doesn't.

Two things about this piece stand out for me: the editor's disdain for teachers, and an inflated image of his own competence in judging their expertise.

The editor wants to see teacher "ratings," simple labels he can use to determine whether a teacher is "deserving" or "undeserving." He calls this "transparency," even as he runs down a few of the ways such systems can do more to obscure than elucidate. He imagines that with public pressure based on ratings, "Deserving teachers get raises. Undeserving teachers get fired or reassigned."

Out here in the reality-based community, even the best teachers get little more respect in their profession than fast-food counter workers, and similar pay. They're expected to fill out acres of state- and federally-mandated paperwork daily, make unpaid time for regular required "trainings," pay for their own continuing education as well as classroom supplies to support the curriculum, and in their small slices of remaining time turn your spoiled little monster into a model citizen this week.

Now you want them to wear ratings on their chests so that parents can decide they know who's a good teacher and who isn't. That sounds to me like a great way to quickly drive more smart, self-respecting people right out of the profession.

At some point we have to realize that there is no single most effective way to teach anybody anything, and that each unique individual teacher has her own strengths, just as each student has his. What every parent wants is to find the teacher that will do the best job with her own kid right now, and that depends entirely on how those two personalities interact. It's not something you can possibly rate with a number or statistics. The highest-rated teacher in the world won't necessarily be able to reach your kid.

If we hope to be more effective at educating our young people, what we really need to do is turn the whole argument on its head. If you haven't done it yourself professionally, don't presume to judge a highly skilled and artful job. Find ways to help rather than hinder, and stop treating teachers as if they're trying to hurt your kid just because they're better informed than you are. Stop being suspicious of the teachers, instead start being suspicious of ourselves and demand that we're providing as much support and respect for this vital profession as we can. That attracts better people to the job, and that makes better teachers.

Editorial: Mixed bag of prop endorsements

Editorial endorsements of election issues and candidates are a very old tradition in the press, so much a part of public dialogue that a paper pretty much has to do them. Given the unusual length of this year's proposition list and the Courier's 750-word editorial block, there's not a enough room to build cogent arguments for these endorsements in a single column. Since the unnamed Courier editor didn't spread the topics out to provide the space to be clear, this quickie crib sheet from Sunday tells me that he didn't really have his heart in the job. It's like he sent out an email to his people asking for a show of hands on the issues, then dashed this off during his coffee break. Such treatment doesn't demonstrate much respect for the electorate, his readers, or his own job.

In any case, let's run down the editor's text-bite arguments. There are a couple of unexpected positions.

On 106, the editor says, "we believe 'choice' is important" and so votes yes, which tells me that he's bought into the doublespeak on a measure designed specifically to prevent the choice of government-backed health-care. No surprise here.

107 gets an editorial no vote because "discrimination still exists," demonstrating that the editor is still capable of grasping the obvious, which on this issue surprises me.

Another surprise is the no vote on 109, the constitutional right to slaughter defenseless animals for fun. This is the best evidence yet that Ben Hansen has left the building.

It appears that no one in the state has much problem with 110, involving state land swaps and military reservations, or 112, moving back the deadline for initiative filings, and neither does the editor.

The Courier likes 111, creating a lieutenant governor and joint ticketing of gubernatorial candidates. No surprise, it's easy to miss the negatives here.

The yes vote on 113 is another case of parroting the propaganda, this time against one of the editor's favorite bugbears, labor unions. Expected.

As one commenter pointed out, many readers will be aghast to see the editor endorse 203, the medical marijuana system. I'm not quite so surprised, given the editor's libertarian posturings, that we've passed this out before, and that there's been negligible negative effects in other states that are doing it. Many Republicans can smell the money involved as well.

The editor's negative reaction to 402, citing fear of a "trash monopoly," indicates that he doesn't understand the measure. Again, libertarian thinking plus ignorance equals reactionary bunk. But the City deserves this reaction for its laziness about explaining itself. You can't expect the editor of a local daily paper to actually go and ask a question, after all.

The editor's reaction to 403, the residency requirement for ballot eligibility, shows that parochialism trumps libertarianism in the editorial suite. No surprise.

404-409 all codify practices that already exist or should have existed, so the editor, as a good conservative, passes them all out without thinking much about them. Again, no surprises.

You can see my full take on all the measures here and here.

It may be that the editor feels little need to speak about these issues on the op-ed page because he's done most of his editorializing on these issues in the news pages, via sneaky characterizing headlines and the injection of irrelevancies and misleading propaganda in quotes.

What most interests me about this piece is the editor's reference to the Courier Editorial Board, which as I've said before is most likely the thing on which Tim makes his sandwiches. No one who regularly reads the editorials with half a brain can sincerely believe that a real board process guides editorials on a daily basis. I think it could, and it should, and the editor who writes them up could be a lot more careful with the product.

If there is a genuine process behind the decisions described in this piece and in general for determining editorial positions, the Courier editors would do well to name names and describe it in detail, thereby setting up a contract with readers that the process will be handled with integrity. Own it publicly, editor, and it will make you better at your job.