Going after the stimulus

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR

WOLF BLITZER: Should South Carolina take the money?
GRAHAM: I think that, yes, from my point of view, I — you don’t want to be crazy here. I mean, if there’s going to be money on the table that will help my state….

                — CNN, Wednesday

LINDSEY Graham said that in spite of his strong opposition to the stimulus bill as passed. His aide Kevin Bishop explained the senator’s position this way: “South Carolina accepts the money, future generations of South Carolinians are responsible for paying it back. South Carolina refuses the money, future generations of South Carolinians are still responsible for paying it back.”
    Good point. And now it’s time to think about how South Carolina gets its share.
    A number of local leaders were already thinking about, and working on, that issue while debate raged in Washington. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble and University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides led a group of local leaders who came to see us about that last week. (It included Paul Livingston of Richland County Council; Neil McLean of EngenuitySC; John Lumpkin of NAI Avant; Tameika Isaac Devine of Columbia City Council; John Parks of USC Innovista; Bill Boyd of the Waterfront Steering Committee; Judith Davis of BlueCross BlueShield; Ike McLeese of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce; and attorney Kyle Michel.)
    The group, dubbed the “Sustainability and Green Jobs Initiative,” sees the stimulus as a chance to get funding for projects they have been promoting for the advancement of the Columbia area, from Innovista to riverfront development, from streetscaping to hydrogen power research.
    The idea is to make sure these local initiatives, which the group sees as synching perfectly with such national priorities as green energy and job creation, are included in the stimulus spending.
    Mayor Coble, who had already set up a “war room” in his office (President Pastides said he was setting up a similar operation at USC, concentrating on grant-writing) to track potential local projects and likely stimulus funding streams, saw little point in waiting around for the final version of the bill, saying we already knew what “90 percent” of it would be, whatever the conference committee came up with.
    Some specifics: Mayor Coble first mentions the North Main streetscaping project, which is already under way. President Obama wants shovel-ready projects? Well, says Mayor Bob, “The shovel’s already out there” on North Main. Stimulus funding would ensure the project could be completed without interruption.
    He said other city efforts that could be eligible for stimulus funds included fighting homelessness, extending broadband access to areas that don’t have it, hiring more police officers and helping them buy homes in the neighborhoods they serve.
    But the biggest potential seems to lie in the areas where the city and the university are trying to put our community on the cutting edge of new energy sources and green technology. With the city about to host the 2009 National Hydrogen Association Conference and Hydrogen Expo, Columbia couldn’t be in a better position to attract stimulus resources related to that priority.
    The group was asked to what extent Gov. Mark Sanford’s opposition to stimulus funds flowing to our state created an obstacle to their efforts. “There’s no use arguing with the governor,” the mayor said. But the local group’s efforts will be focused on being ready when an opportunity for funding does come — whether via Rep. James Clyburn’s legislative end-run, or through federal agencies, or by whatever means.
President Pastides says, “The governor has deeply held beliefs and philosophies and I respect him not only for having them,” but for being straight about it and not just telling people what they want to hear. At the same time, with the university looking at cutting 300 jobs and holding open almost every vacancy, “there are almost no lifelines for me to turn to” to sustain the university’s missions. An opportunity such as the stimulus must be seized. He sees opportunities in energy, basic science and biomedical research.
    As big as the stakes are for the Midlands regarding the stimulus itself, there are larger implications.
    A successful local effort within the stimulus context could be just the beginning of a highly rewarding partnership with Washington, suggested attorney Kyle Michel, who handles governmental relations for EngenuitySC. He noted that many provisions in the stimulus are the thin end of the wedge on broader Obama goals. This is particularly true of the effort toward “transitioning us away from… getting our energy from the people who are shooting at us,” which he describes as the administration’s highest goal. “What are we going to do over the next four years to play our part in that goal of the Obama administration? Because this 43 or 49 billion is just the start.”
    He also said what should be obvious by now: “If we don’t draw that money down… it doesn’t go back to the taxpayer. It goes to other states.”
    President Pastides said, “This is almost like someone has announced a race with a really big prize at the end,” and you don’t win the prize just for entering; you have to compete. That appeals to him, and he’s eager for the university and the community to show what they can do.
    This group is focused less on the ideological battle in which our governor is engaged, and more on the practical benefits for this part of South Carolina. It’s good to know that someone is.

For links and more, please go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.

58 thoughts on “Going after the stimulus

  1. Weldon VII

    Lapping at the trough,
    Lapping at the trough,
    We shall come rejoicing,
    Lapping at the trough.
    What is a liberal arts school like USC doing in hydrogen research? Chasing grant money or just throwing money away duplicating Clemson’s mission?

    Reply
  2. Lee Muller

    There are no “shovel ready projects without funding”. In order for a major project to be ready to begin implementation, it would have already been approved, budgeted, and funds allocated, and a significant amount of those funds already spent for analysis and design.
    All this money pouring out of Washington is going to new projects, or old projects without funding. That is why only 15% of the deficit spending will be done in 2009, and 37% in 2010. It is not timely, not targeted, and not necessary.

    Reply
  3. T

    The folks at USC are professional money-wasters. Working with the city of Columbia, they’ll be able to burn through the stimulus money quickly.

    Reply
  4. Doug Ross

    I was waiting for a plane last week and sat next to a woman who was reading a book called “Dummies Guide to Writing Grants”.
    That captures the process in a nutshell.
    Brad, I hope you internalized what President Pastides said about the Governor. Having a firm set of beliefs and being honest and open about them is not a negative character trait.
    Will the Mayor sign a pledge to provide complete and open accounting of every stimulus dollar received? From the moment the money arrives down to every nickel spent, every transaction related to the funds should be posted on the internet for everyone to review. That would be the most accountable way to spend other people’s money.

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  5. Faust

    Billions upon multiplied billions of dollars have been thrown recently by Obama/Pelosi/Reed in order to “mop up” toxic assets…meaning to essentially buy banks out of bad loans. Similar bailout billions have been extended to the auto manufacturing and mortgage industries, and others.
    And yet there is remarkably little in the Porkulus Bill for Joe Sixpack. Some have pointed out that Obamas’ high and lofty promises of tax cuts during his campaign have been almost completely and unceremoniously abandoned, now the the Great Promiser is in office ~ and that his tax cuts now amount to roughly ten bucks a week on average for those that actually get tax cuts.
    So. How could our wonderful and magnanimous government get some of the bailout money in the Porkulus Bill into the hands of Joe Sixpack?
    How about issue a governement credit card to every tax payer this year with which he can pay his fed income taxes? Of course he’d never pay the card back…he wouldn’t really be expected to…bailout money to cover his default has already been extended to his bank. And voy la! He avoids paying his taxes this year!
    Beauty!
    This plan gets bailout money working for average people AND is perfectly consistent with mentality of Obamas’ bailout philosophy!
    Hat tip: American Thinker
    David

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  6. Lee Muller

    Brad’s argument is that the crime has already been committed, the money stolen from future taxpayers, so why no join in dividing the loot and partying until it is gone?
    Jim Clyburn dropped of the car in SC Alley.
    Somebody is going to take the wheels and CD player. It might as well be Bobby Coble and the USC Gang, right?

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  7. orange

    Lee,
    Does USC pay taxes on all that property they have gobbled (coble’d) up downtown or are they like a church? I’d like to know.
    If they just shut down that worthless “medical” school off garner’s ferry that plays doctor over at the VA (socialized medicine in action folks, ever been? ) maybe they could save some money. Instead of bleeding it all over town.

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  8. David

    The media will not fall out of their love affair. Even once Obamas’ ridiculous bailout/pork spending orgy is clearly shown to be a huge and disastrous failure (and it assuredly will be), the Dinosaur media has been so disgustingly in the tank for Obama that they will never characterize his abject ineptitude as such.
    The media have way too much invested in O to be honest about his horrible presidency.
    I wish there had been some people who saw this lunacy coming. Oh wait! There were.
    David

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  9. Concerned for my kids' future

    Let’s get this straight. USC just spent almost $110 million of taxpayer money on Innovista buildings they can’t find any tenants for and $36 million on a stadium that will be used 30 days a year for playing baseball. So now they whine they are on the verge of laying off staff?
    I know what will help….let’s borrow billions more money from the Chinese that my kids will have to pay back so that these clowns and others like them around the country can take more property off the property tax roles and build more underutilized, overpriced government buildings.
    That’s change I can’t believe in.

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  10. Lee Muller

    USC does no pay property taxes, even on the retail office space it owns. It pays a fee in lieu of taxes.
    They even recruit businesses by helping them avoid property taxes.
    “Need a partner on your side during your expansion into South Carolina? … The University of South Carolina’s fuel cell research center, … Property tax reductions under a fee-in-lieu program; Corporate income tax and job development …”
    http://www.businessfacilities.com/bf_06_05_special1.php

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  11. Lee Muller

    Medical care for soldiers, during training, on base, during combat, or afterwards in a VA hospital, is not socialized medicine. Those are medical facilities for the employees.
    Textile mills, tire, and automobile factories used to do the same thing, operating clinics at work, and building hospitials for their workers, and even the entire town. Self Memorial Hospital in Greenwood is example of this.

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  12. Lee Muller

    This CBO graph is really good. It shows how the $50 Billion stimulus package grew to more than $800 billion, while tax relief kept shrinking to only 15%.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2009/02/01/GR200902010015
    4.html
    I downloaded the CBO report, about 219 pages, but the bill kept changing.
    Some database people dissected the bill with Unix text tools and put it into a
    searchable database, by state, city, type of projects, but the Democrats changed it some more and them put it into a locked PDF format so it could not
    be searched by database tools.
    http://stimuluswatch.org/
    List of projects in the stimulus package. Searchable by city/state. Note how
    many have listed “0” as number of jobs created.

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  13. murraywood

    No wait, the cat is on a well deserved 3 day Valentine’s Day weekend in Chicago with his lovely, dining out at one of Chi-town’s more exclusive 3 stars.
    Madam Pelosi is jetting her way to Rome, for an 11 day vacation, hopefully seeking absolution from the Pope.
    Mr Reid is probably checking on the progress of that porky rail system from Calif to Las Vegas.
    Gloom and Doom people. The sky HAS fallen.
    I like my kool-aid green and my bbq dry. Hold the sauce.

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  14. Rich

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that USC has wasted taxpayer money on useless prestige projects while allowing tuition to rise and class sizes to become ever larger. Instead of hiring professional staff to fill the ranks of full-timers needed to cope with a burgeoning student population, USC relies on an army of adjuncts (I know because I used to be one) who are paid no more than $3000 a course. Approximately 37% of all USC courses are taught by adjuncts–many of whom would make great full-time professors able to give time and attention to today’s frequently underprepared undergraduates.
    USC used to be a teaching university with a small research mission on the side. Instead, it has now become a major research-university wannabe with a huge and out of control athletic department. The result is that programs have had to be cut and undergraduate education in particular has suffered.
    The public schools don’t begin to have the kinds of prestige projects that waste money at the university level. Dorman may have a beautiful stadium, but Ridge View and Blythewood share a stadium that, while well appointed, is by no means extravagant. The district office in RSD2 employs a fraction of the people found in other districts at the district level (e.g., Richland One–now there’s a jobs program! Too much administration and too many small schools that should be consolidated to realize economies of scale).
    The State Dept. of Ed. could easily dispense with our incredibly wasteful testing program (we really don’t need an exit exam or middle-school testing when we already have the SAT, the ACT, and AP testing programs that are in effect bought by the consumers who need them with the exception of the AP program, which is paid for by the state).
    We could easily lose TERI, which, however much I would like to have it when I am ready to retire in four years, results in expensive double-dipping followed by more expensive years for “retirees”–some of whom in my experience need to be retired in order to make room for younger talent.
    We could also lose the various expensive specialist programs that shadow teachers and principals in allegedly marginal schools. Then there’s the EOC. It should be abolished and the school report card program ended.
    You want to improve public education?? Hire more teachers, give them reasonable class sizes, and pay them professionally. Talent will gravitate toward good working conditions. It’s just that simple.
    Reduce administrative overhead, prestige projects, overspending on athletics, and, at the school level, make certain that the principal and his/her assistant principals actually do the work of administration rather than just supervising. To use an old metaphor, in S.C. schools there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians! The CEO model of school administration is expensive and wasteful. Every principal should do discipline, duty, busses, textbooks, and the master schedule.
    But for real waste, you have to return to USC!! I love USC as my alma mater, but I have no mercy for her research emphasis, prestige projects, out-of-control athletic programs, and overcrowded, needlessly expensive classes and tuition.
    We would be able to get more bang for the university dollar if USC were to return to a core teaching mission at both the graduate and undergraduate level while leaving the research to Harvard and Stanford.
    What good is expensive research when so many of our citizens cannot qualify for the 40,000 positions open in this state that require education and training in technology as well as good verbal skills?
    Excuse the rant. But I have been in education for 27 years, 24 of which have been in this state. I am so sick of the nepotism and administrative waste–you just do not know!

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  15. Ralph Hightower

    Since Governot Sanford is leader of the Republican Governors Association, he should browbeat his fellow Republican governors into rejecting Obama’s stimulus package to their states:

    • Alabama – Gov. Riley
    • Arizona – Gov. Brewer
    • Alaska – Gov. Palin
    • California – Gov. Schwarzenegger
    • Connecticut – Gov. Rell
    • Florida – Gov. Crist
    • Georgia – Gov. Perdue
    • Guam – Gov. Camacho
    • Hawaii – Gov. Lingle
    • Idaho – Gov. Otter
    • Indiana – Gov. Daniels
    • Louisiana – Gov. Jindal
    • Minnesota – Gov. Pawlenty
    • Mississippi – Gov. Barbour
    • Nebraska – Gov. Heineman
    • Nevada – Gov. Gibbons
    • North Dakota – Gov. Hoeven
    • Rhode Island – Gov. Carcieri
    • South Carolina – Gov. Sanford
    • South Dakota – Gov. Rounds
    • Texas – Gov. Perry
    • Utah – Gov. Huntsman
    • Vermont – Gov. Douglas

    “Cal-E-forn-A” is also having a severe budget crisis. Their unemployment is fourth in the nation, behind South Carolina. California is delaying tax refunds to their citizens.

    Do ya think that “Ahnold” is going to reject federal money destined for California?
    Palin was for the “Bridge to Nowhere” before she was against it. She probably has “Grant Writing for Dummies” in her bookshelf.

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  16. Faust

    Teaching as a core mission?
    What a quaint little idea.
    Make no mistake, the core missions of liberal elitists who run higher educational institutions are personal enrichment and the increase and consolidation of power in the hands of liberal elites.
    The provision of an education to paying students long ago ceased to be a core mission, and the way these students are routinely bitch-slapped with higher tuition costs and fees proves it.
    The cat IS out of the bag, and it has had kittens.
    David

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  17. Karen McLeod

    It seems apparent to me that if the government does not attempt a “stimulus” the entire financial structure of this country is going to crash. If the “stimulus” doesn’t work the entire financial structure of this country is going to crash. I prefer trying to avert disaster. Most people will receive tax breaks. $10 a week may not seem like much but it can go a long way toward buying enough beans, rice, macaroni, and oatmeal to keep your kids from being hungry. To those who won’t get a tax cut, I have a feeling that they possess enough assets to where they needn’t be too dependent on dried beans and oatmeal. At least we’ll get repaired roads and bridges out of this deficit spending. What have we gotten from the previous administration’s deficit spending of billions to power the Iraq war, other than dead soldiers, a middle east that almost uniformly despises us, and a broken country that we can’t afford to fix?

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  18. Ralph Hightower

    Amen Karen,
    Spending money on infrastructure projects such as roads, water, sewer, and electricity helps improves the “soil conditions” for businesses to come to South Carolina or expand.
    Governot Sanford is all about improving the “soil conditions” for businesses within South Carolina. But without adequate roads, businesses won’t be able to ship their products. Without water, sewer, or electricity, businesses won’t expand or move to South Carolina.
    Sanford is not following through with his promise to improve the “soil conditions” for businesses in South Carolina.

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  19. Ralph Hightower

    Oh, I profited from the Iraq war.
    I knew that we were going to war against Iraq.
    I bought stock in an avionics company at $22 and sold it at $70.

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  20. Faust

    The profligate expenditure of borrowed money by a bloated, supremely innefficient and immoral federal government is NOT the way to stimulate the economy! All it does is grow government and the number of citizens who become dependent upon it. When boiled down to the irreducible minimum, the pork spending orgy Obama, Reed and Pelosi are presently embarking upon has nothing to do with stimulation of the economy, it is about creating democrat voters.
    And I call bullsh*t on the notion that $10 is in any way what Obama was promising during his campaign. Ten bucks a week is bait and switch, pure and simple.
    The Great Promiser lied, and it is obvious to anyone willing to see truth.
    Hope and change indeed.
    David

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  21. David

    The only ways to stimulate the economy are to reduce taxes on individuals and to tear down governmental impediments and bureaucratic red tape that strangle business in this country.
    Do these two things and watch the economy take off like a rocket.
    Or, do as Karen suggests and look to the governent which caused most of our current problems for the solution.
    And watch the problems grow.
    And convince yourself that a paltry $10 a week really isn’t that bad, in spite of the wonderful promises we heard just last fall.
    David

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  22. Weldon VII

    “If the ‘stimulus’ doesn’t work the entire financial structure of this country is going to crash.”
    Actually, WHEN the porked-up “stimulus” fails, the American economy will hit a tailspin that will make the Depression seem like a Sunday school picnic, an event much more catastrophic than had Pelosi, Reid and Arlen “RINO” Specter merely sat on their hands.
    Ten bucks a week won’t come close to countering the inflation the “stimulus” will cause.
    At most, one stinking fifth of the “stimulus” is targeted for infrastructure.
    But one billion dollars is targeted for — with absolutely no further explanation — “science.”
    The “stimulus” is a Democrat deception the likes of which, since the Trojan horse, the world has never seen before.
    And it is just the beginning of deceit for Obama, who in less than one month has already broken every pledge of transparency and bipartisanship he made for the sake of completing the transaction on the votes his fancy words bought.

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  23. Lee Muller

    Only 3.3% of the spending bill is for highways and bridges, about $25 billion.
    The Bush administration increased highway, bridge, and airport construction dramatically. Total US highway construction in 2008 was $241 billion, about 10 times what is in this Democrat spending bill of mostly social welfare programs. In addition, There was $52.6 billion in spending for railways in 2008.
    Sources:
    Reed Construction Data
    McGraw-Hill bid and contract data

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  24. Randy E

    Senator Specter stated that republicans are not going to support the stimulus because of political reasons – scared of their next primary.
    Republicans are demonizing stimulus as “spending.” As Obama pointed out, that’s what stimulus is! One repub trashed the high speed rail between Las Vegas and LA. Clyburn had to ensure money by-passed Sanford so crumbling schools could be rebuilt. The GOP chairman dismissed stimulus jobs as “work but not jobs.”
    Graham and McCain are whining about the partisanship with McCain actually stating “I know this is what we republicans did, shutting out democrats but now we need to change things.” Obama meets with them repeatedly, more than W met with democrats in 8 years and this is bipartisanship?
    Demint goes on a rant about some provision to prevent stimulus from being spent on churches, the same caveat that is used in all spending. He claimed it was an attempt to undermine Christianity, or something to that effect.
    After the Washington GOP was crushed in the 08 election for being out of touch with the 70% of America that exists outside of their “real America” they’re running to the right even faster. With Joe the Plumber and Rush as their power brokers, 2010 will be more of the same.

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  25. KP

    Rich: How, exactly, could the State Department of Education eliminate the state testing program? Which state and federal accountability requirements would you like the Department to flaunt?

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  26. Yahoo

    Take a welfare queen that knows how to beat the system. Bump the Queen’s IQ by 40 points, and give her a “public mission” and you have a University President or Mayor of Columbia.
    They are wasteful fools that are building their kingdoms at the public’s expense.
    I gave up my sports tickest, quit sending them money, and no longer do business in Columbia becasue of the waste and corruption. I hope you consider the same.

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  27. Ken

    Biggest news story of 2009. (And remember you heard it here first).
    City of Columbia discovers millions STOLEN over 5 year period.
    (And just think…now they get this stimulus cash that comes with little or no strings) A match,as they say, made in heaven!

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  28. Bart

    Of course the high speed rail system to Las Vegas will need a place to stop. So, one of the projects in the stimulus bill is a new city hall for Las Vegas. Valuation: $1 billion. And its just in the schematic stage. Do I hear $1.5 billion anyone?
    Source: McGraw Hill Economic Stimulus Special Section.

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  29. bud

    Medical care for soldiers, during training, on base, during combat, or afterwards in a VA hospital, is not socialized medicine. Those are medical facilities for the employees.
    -Muller
    This illustrates the lunacy of the right. Because the VA serves the needs of the military. And since military costs are NEVER regarded as government spending the VA cannot be classified as socialized medicine. That reasoning is akin to the intelligent design crowd who simply cannot grasp the concept that faith is not the same as science.
    Of the course the VA is socialized medicine. It meets the definition because it is a form of production controlled by the government. Generally speaking the military is also a form of socialism. The only requirement is that the government controls it. Defend military spending if you like but just remember it’s just a form of socialism.

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  30. Lee Muller

    The VA hospital only works because it serves a very tiny segment of the population with very special needs, many due to severe combat injuries. It is employer-provided medical care, no different than that of Greenwood Mills, Cannon Mills, US Steel, or Ford Motor Company. Those receiving the care EARNED it as part of their employment contract.
    True socialized medicine, like Medicare, gives care to those who DID NOT EARN IT, by taking money at gunpoint from taxpayers.
    Socialized medicine on a large scale is unaffordable, because recipients will cheat and overuse something which is free or underpriced to them.
    America is being bankrupted by Medicare and Medicaid right now. This new spending bill has $50 billion to put in place a system to ration and deny care, as the first part of socialist national health care. Let’s see how it works on Medicare and Medicaid, and how well people like being told they have to die.

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  31. Rich

    KP,
    We need to revise No Child Left Behind and pull from it all of the “accountability” mandates. Accountability has become an expensive industry within education that sucks dollars from the classroom and puts them in the hands of test-makers and bureaucrats whose task it is to take as much time away from the classroom as possible engaging in fruitless assessment exercises.
    Get rid of the state testing and teacher/principal specialist programs, and you will save MILLIONS that could be better spent shoring up the state salary schedule and reducing class sizes.
    Unfortunately, we’re in for a period of retrenchment that, in the short term, may bring talent into teaching from the private sector only to lose it again when the economy improves.

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  32. KP

    I don’t necessarily disagree with what you say about reducing testing, although I think some amount of state-specific testing is neccessary. What’s the use of having standards at all if you’re not planning to measure whether students are learning them?
    My point, though, is the State Department of Education is not the governmental body that requires testing — Congress and the state legislature mandate it. Like SCRG and the Voice for School Choice and other anti-public education groups, you’re demonizing the Department for something over which it has very little control.
    We love to bash the bureaucracy, but the fact is that the SCDE doesn’t do very much at all that the legislature doesn’t require it to do.

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  33. Rich

    Agreed. But the legislature has created, on the advice of the State Department, a monstrous testing regime that is quite expensive and which puts our kids at a disadvantage compared to other states with more reasonable, less expensive tests.
    I know it’s a federal mandate (unfunded, by the way) to maintain a full panoply of tests, but I reject the notion that we need state government testing when private services can be purchased as needed, or when federal tests such as the NAEP already exist.
    The kids are tested to death under time-consuming, legalistic, clinical conditions that take away from instruction almost an entire month on some grade levels. The end-of-course tests, the exit exam, the new PASS–none of this crap is necessary.
    Far better it would be simply to rely on SAT scores, ASVAB (the military basic skills test provided free by the DOD), the Adv. Placement Tests, the ACT, etc., that can be purchased or obtained for free by those who need them.
    Individual school districts could decide what test was appropriate to buy to assess their students’ progress in reporting back to their communities, much as used to take place when I was a kid.
    I remember taking the Iowa test of basic skills in elementary school, the PSAT, and the SAT. That was it. My parents and the college I went to were far more interested in my teachers’ grading of me than the often impenetrable data provided by standardized test reports.
    Standardized testing is a lucrative racket that feeds like a vampire on the body of education.
    Get rid of it!!

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  34. Doug Ross

    Rich,
    Never thought I’d say this but I agree with you 100%.
    Unfortunately, there are people out there (like Brad) who believe testing = accountability. Brad thinks that implementing tests is a great achievement no matter what the results show.
    Let teachers teach. And pay the best ones the most money.
    Wondering how all those bond rerendums in the Midlands recently can be justified in light of the supposed economic downturn that will force teachers to be fired. The school construction companies always get their money. Wonder why that it?

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  35. Brad Warthen

    No, Doug, I believe that the Legislature decided that the schools would be held accountable for meeting certain standards, which the bureaucracy was directed to develop, and that the method for making sure schools met those standards would be testing, which the bureaucracy was also directed to develop and administer. (Do you have another way of doing it? If so, I’d like to know about it.)
    We supported the accountability act that made all that happen. We supported it in spite of all those teachers and others out there who said the whole thing was bogus, that it was really about beating up the schools so the anti-school people could push vouchers.
    So what has happened? Well, it’s complicated. We instituted the standards, and the tests tailored to those standards, and the schools made progress in some areas and not in others. And meanwhile the voucher drumbeat got louder, which would tend to make the critics of accountability say, “Told you so.”
    Doubt that it’s complicated? Well, consider this: Some of the biggest voucher advocates cite the testing required by the EAA as evidence for why we should abandon the public schools. Seriously. A lot of the same people who push vouchers also complained the loudest about PACT. But then, they complain about anything having to do with public schools, whether it makes sense or not.

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  36. Doug Ross

    > A lot of the same people who push vouchers also complained the loudest about PACT.
    Because a supposed “accountability” system was in place for a decade and the schools that did the worst based on that system saw no real accountability.
    An entire group of kids in grade 1-12 has passed through those failing schools without any difference. Any minor progress is hailed as heroic, any deficiency is blamed on the test or the home environment.
    Accountability means doing something when the results are bad, not continuing to measure and do nothing.
    Bottom line – PACT was scrapped because it didn’t improve education in South Carolina. PASS will follow the same route.
    And a decade from now, you’ll still be blaming non-existent vouchers as the reason. No teacher goes to school today worried about vouchers. The day we see one dollar go to vouchers is when you can blame vouchers for public school performance.

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  37. Doug Ross

    Brad doesn’t like it when I post facts off the web, but here goes:
    Allendale District
    Algebra 1 / Mathematics for the Technologies 2
    End Of Course Test:
    Results (2004):
    A: 4.3%
    B: 5.7%
    C: 22.9%
    D: 35.0%
    F: 32.1%
    Results (2008):
    A: 1.4%
    B: 0.7%
    C: 9.7%
    D: 31.7%
    F: 56.6%
    This is after a decade of PACT testing. The results show significant decline. And the numbers for English and Science are even worse! 60% failure in English. 80% failure in Science!
    Brad wants to blame some politicians talking about vouchers as the cause and won’t even consider for a second giving any of those kids a different option. Because it might work.

    Reply
  38. Rich

    I remember applying for the principalship of Allendale High in the spring of 1997 after I had just gotten certified as an administrator in S.C. I remember laying out for the school board the following approach to curriculum and instruction at Allendale High:
    1) a seminar approach to English and social studies instruction based on Adler’s Paidaea proposal (1982) with an emphasis upon building up verbal skills through discussion, research, and considerable writing practice.
    2) a laboratory approach for math and science with an emphasis upon the student as mathematician and scientist (cf. Bruner, 1960).
    3) a strong foreign-language program with four years of Spanish.
    4) emphasis upon getting as many kids into challenging courses leading to AP testing as we could possibly get
    5) a de-emphasis upon rote learning which too often transpires in the schools of this state.
    6) firm but fair discipline
    7) a culturally appropriate milieu that would value and respect the majority African American heritage of the students of the high school.
    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. S.C. was moving toward the establishment of specific content standards with standardized, multiple-choice tests as the primary means for assessing “mastery.”
    We’re not going to move students from point A to point B educationally unless they see the relevance to their lives of what they are learning and come to a point where they sense empowerment through the education they are receiving.
    I am not against throwing in a healthy career and technological component into the educational mix, as well as good PE, athletic, and arts programs. But the fundamental process skills of reading information at a high level, being able to digest it and understand it, and then being able to use it in dealing with other adults in real-world applications (such as we do on this blog when we grapple with ideas) must be our educational centerpiece.
    Oh, by the way, I have since earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction and have published several things based on my dissertation at USC. One thing you would discover about all S.C. schools is that education and experience are virtually meaningless when it comes to choosing our educational leaders. There is much too much back-scratching.
    I had a friend–a former football coach–who was hired by the state as a high-schooll curriculum specialist. He is intelligent and he has a doctorate from USC in administration, but he knows virtually nothing about the curriculum.
    I remember after he got his job he called me up: “Hey, Rich, what’s this sh*t about differentiated instruction? What is the Advanced Placement program? Never heard about those things!”
    As long as educational administration remains one of the few fields in which educators are not required by federal law to be “HQ”–highly qualified, we’re going to continue to have a situation in which much better qualified teachers still in the classroom are passed over for promotion to work in curriculum leadership so that the current leadership can continue to hire their friends and relatives.
    Ever has it been thus, and probably ever shall it be.
    State and federal money should be specifically targeted to the classroom to avoid administrative waste.

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  39. Weldon VII

    Here’s a model for what will work:
    Families with two parents who care about their children’s education.
    No matter what the state does to make up for the shortage of concerned parents, be it PACT, PASS or MXYZPTLK, it won’t work.
    As the exchange teacher from India said when I asked her what surprised her the most about America, “That the students here don’t care.”

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  40. Doug Ross

    Amen, Weldon…
    ? As the exchange teacher from India said
    ? when I asked her what surprised her the
    ? most about America, “That the students here
    ? don’t care.
    My daughter is entering the survey results regarding her high school’s summer reading program for the school’s literacy coach. Out of several hundred surveys, a large majority of them have written comments like “Reading is stupid.” or “This program sucks” or “I don’t read”.
    These are high school students. They had to read ONE book over the summer from a long list of possibilities.
    How many public dollars are we going to continue to waste on kids with attitudes like that? How much testing is required to identify that kids like that won’t ever succeed?

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  41. KP

    Actually, the State Department of Education led the push for academic standards, but it had no input at all into No Child Left Behind and precious little influence over the Education Accountability Act of 1998, which is what created the testing requirements.
    And you can’t make kids have two parents, or even one parent who cares, so you either try the best you can or write them off. If you dcn’t think that’s immoral, you could at least agree that it’s short-sighted.

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  42. KP

    Well, Doug, instead of wasting public education dollars on kids with “attitudes like that,” would you rather us waste juvenile justice, adult prisons, and welfare and Medicaid dollars?

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  43. Doug Ross

    > Well, Doug, instead of wasting public
    >education dollars on kids with “attitudes
    >like that,” would you rather us waste
    >juvenile justice, adult prisons, and welfare
    >and Medicaid dollars?
    We’re already doing both.

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  44. Doug Ross

    And my point, KP, what kind if test is necessary to point out that a kid who doesn’t want to read will likely have poor outcomes in school? How much do we need to spend to come up with that analysis? And why do we bother testing kids for reading literacy in grades 3-8 if we are going to continue to do social promotions of those who cannot read?

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  45. Brad Warthen

    Except that we’re not, Doug. One of the main contributors to our horrific dropout rates is that we DO have standards, and relatively stiff ones, for graduation, so that kids aren’t just passed along. If you don’t meet them, you don’t graduate. So a lot of kids, knowing they won’t graduate, drop out.
    But we’re not going to get anywhere with this. I say we’ve had successes and failures, and you just want to talk about the failures, as evidence for a idea that makes ZERO sense. And you make like you don’t understand why I oppose your idea, and maybe you don’t. But it should be clear enough. Vouchers are always, ALWAYS presented not as some “let’s try this” pilot as you keep suggesting, but as something we must do because the entire IDEA of public schools is a bad one that voucher advocates don’t want to see any more money spent on. It’s not about experiments (and it’s DEFINITELY not about trying to help the poorest kids; any political momentum the idea has in the legislature is a function of middle and upper-income people wanting the break on tuition they’re already paying); it’s about WHETHER we want to have public education or not.
    South Carolina has never fully committed to the idea of universal education; the voucher movement is about making sure it never does. It’s about white flight on steroids. We’ve already seen the horrific effect that middle-class disinvestment in the system can have in poor, rural areas like Allendale. And of course, vouchers and tax credits offer NOTHING to those kids in those rural areas. Nobody’s going to build an excellent private school, open to all, in towns that can’t support a supermarket. You just don’t have the population density for the business model to work.
    As for what I blame the voucher movement for — I blame it for wasting time and political energy that could be better spent on many things, not the least of which actually working to improve public schools.
    There is only one thing that a private school can do that a public one can’t — teach religion. That’s it. No, wait, two things — it can also turn kids away.
    Anything else that a private school can do, a public one can do. And the public one is the ONLY one that you the taxpayer can hold accountable for what it does with the money. So let’s talk about what we want public schools to do that they’re not doing. But the voucher people don’t want to do that; it might actually help. They just want to pay people to desert the schools, to make damned SURE that the public schools will fail (which they will surely do once the middle-class kids who will be the only ones to take advantage of the choice exercise it), so that they can demand that NO public funds are spent on them.
    Now, would anyone like to go back to talking about the stimulus?

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  46. Rich

    It is indeed sad but true that a lot of kids hate reading and do not do nearly as much schoolwork as they should, but that does not mean we should stop trying to educate them. I am under no illusion that what I would have tried in Allendale given the chance would have worked gloriously, but it would have been a whole lot more engaging than teaching to deadly content standards followed by multiple-choice testing.
    Some kids will turn on to the kind of liberal arts education envisioned by pioneers like Dewey and Adler–education in which experience and thought are at the heart of what students experience in the classroom. Projects of various kinds, papers, reports, creative productions–things other than paper-and-pencil tests to measure learning have always been the kinds of achievements in which students learn by doing–and they are the ones they remember the most when they leave high school.
    If we weren’t so distracted by testing, we could do these things, but they are too bulky, cumbersome, and subjective to be measured by standardized testing.
    We’ve got to stop thinking about accountability as a process of measurement and testing, but rather as one in which teachers work together with professors and administrators to craft and implement an experiential curriculum that would respond to students’ needs for certain knowledge and skills.
    For instance, the solution to Americans’ evident inability to recall basic knowledge about their country when asked in such informal and entertaining venues as Jay Leno’s jaywalking is not to create table after table of small-print “content standards” specifying bits of information to know and then regurgitate on a test on command, but rather to put together courses in which students research, write, discuss, debate, question, watch and critique documentaries and historical films, as well as do things such as put on mock elections or act out various dramas in US history.
    I think one of the things about District Two schools is that we do so much of this already, and it shows in our standardized testing. Do we therefore need the testing? I believe we would do even better if we had the time and were not shackled to mindless standards and tests written to assess mastery (or the ability to guess on bubble sheets).
    The United States is notorious for having nearly the worst student achievement levels of all the world’s democracies; we are also the most test-happy country of the lot.
    True, we will still have many kids who hate to read. I see it all the time. But don’t despair yet. Some of the kids who come through my office and tell me they hate to read are the same ones doing really well in a technology course, in our fine electricity program, in one subject but not necessarily another, or in the many student activities that we have from which they may eventually draw the inspiration to learn.
    I didn’t like or see the value in every subject area to which I was exposed in high school. That did not mean that what I needed was nose-to-the-grindstone drill-and-kill for “achievement” on standardized tests. No, instead I found my way in English, foreign languages, and social studies. I loved the school paper and I played some sports (not with much distinction).
    Oh, speaking of the latter. My high-school gym teachers emphasized fitness over athletics. As such, I am 52, still trim, careful about what I consume, and never have lost the habit of weight-training. Sorry, but I got all that in high school, even though I struggled in math and still have no desire to solve for X ever again.
    My teachers were not guided by standards in the early 70s, nor did they have a raft of tests to administer to take away literally a month from my school year. We just had teaching, learning, and a little creativity.
    Oh, one more example, because I tend to be prolix and this is getting long: when I was a ninth-grader, my English teacher threw out the book in the fourth nine weeks and spent the entire time in a workshop approach to teaching us to write a research paper. I produced a 15-pp. DS document in APA style and got an A. It was the most useful thing I ever did and it laid the foundation eventually for my success in writing a dissertation at USC.
    Talk about practical.
    Get rid of the standards; get rid of the tests. Reduce class sizes; hire more teachers; partner more with university education departments; take a creative, experiential, differentiated approach to instruction solidly based on the liberal arts.
    That’s what the kids need. Good districts find themselves working around the state and the feds to do it. Poor ones like Allendale barely have the resources or the freedom to work outside of the box.
    If the state’s intervention in Allendale, expensive as it has been, truly was the answer, then why after ten years are the results truly so abysmal??

    Reply
  47. Doug Ross

    Brad,
    If a kid makes it to high school and can’t read and then drops out, what was the purpose of testing his reading skills?
    A test without a response to a negative result is worthless.
    A diabetic doesn’t just say “Oh, that’s interesting” when his sugar levels are out of whack. He does something about it. Your position is that he should just buy a better blood sugar monitor.
    Let’s see – how do we tie this discussion to the stimulus? Oh, I know. The stimulus is like public education in South Carolina. When things go badly, you throw more money at the problem and expect a different result.

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  48. Rich

    Brad,
    I don’t want us to spend one red cent from the stimulus on more of the same crap that has been mandated from on high at the state and federal levels. It’s pointless to talk about a stimulus in education if all it’s going to do is buy the same nonsense we have endured for a generation.
    Your newspaper has rightly supported the schools, but you have relied too much on what the bureaucrats say the schools need rather than what the teachers in the trenches say they need and want for their kids.
    Standards and testing have played right into the hands of the anti-public school crowd who say, “Look, the schools are failing!!”
    No, the kids are bored to tears with the standards and the stupid tests based on them–neither of which has much to do with education.
    Go to a really good private school–say Sidwell Friends where Obama’s children are going–and see how much drilling those kids get for a raft of standardized tests! I betcha ZERO would be the right answer on your bubble sheet!

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  49. Doug Ross

    Rich,
    My fight against PACT began in 2002 when I ran for school board. My point then (as it is now) is that testing isn’t necessary for good schools (Richland Two) and/or good students. It’s a waste of time.
    But if we are going to test and the results show either failing schools or failing students, then something must be done. Passing a student along who scores Below Basic in 8th grade math or English is a complete failure on the part of the school system. When the student drops out, why are we surprised?
    Teachers are trained professionals who should be able to know whether their students are learning. Give them freedom to teach, let the best ones mentor the others (and reward then for doing so), and then stay out of the way.

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  50. KP

    Doug, do you have reason to believe that there’s no response in our schools to negative test results? My school has an early grades reading program in place specifically geared toward children who score below basic on PACT, to try to bring them up to grade level. In addition to having a professional who works with the children in small groups, around 20 volunteers (we are a small school) spend an average of two hours a week working with the children individually.
    And Rich, do you have reason to believe that South Carolina’s standards don’t support the kind of instruction you advocated for in the interview for the position you didn’t get? Rote learning has never been what the standards were aiming for. In fact, I am struck by the similarity between what you hoped to accomplish and what’s written in the standards.
    Sorry to divert the thread. Go back to the stimulus. I’m with The State: the money’s there, someone will get it, it might as well be us.

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  51. Brad Warthen

    Someone WILL get it, and it might as WELL be us, which is where I started. Actually, another way to put it is that if there is any benefit to be had from this bill, I want to make sure South Carolina gets as much of it as the rest of the country. I want to make sure that our people don’t suffer for having the bad luck of having a governor who doesn’t want the stimulus, and who is on a high of publicity for being the guy running about the country saying “Don’t help my state!” and really, really meaning it.
    The time is way past for arguing about whether there will be a stimulus or not (and overwhelmingly, the nation disagrees with our governor on that point) or what sort of stimulus it will be (unfortunately, Lindsey Graham and others lost that one). This is the stimulus we’ve got. Let’s see what benefit our state can get from it.

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  52. Lee Muller

    If we take $8 billion of our children’s money from the feds, then we should reduce state spending and taxes by $8 billion to make up for it.
    But the last thing the statists want is for people to get a taste of lower taxes and prosperity.

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  53. Weldon VII

    “Let’s see – how do we tie this discussion to the stimulus? Oh, I know. The stimulus is like public education in South Carolina. When things go badly, you throw more money at the problem and expect a different result.”
    Thanks, Doug. That just about says it all.
    But as long as there is a stimulus, we might as well take our share, because we, and our grandchildren, will pay for it.

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  54. Rich

    You might not be familiar with the social studies standards. Yes, there are some good things in the standards, but the idea of standards implies that knowledge can be reified into a concrete canon that must somehow be absorbed.
    I reject the absorption theory of education. Education is not about how much knowledge you possess but what you can do with it concretely.
    The standards are all about acquisition of knowledge and demonstrating knowledge. I am all about using knowledge. There’s too much to know. We should instead be teaching kids how to think so that they can mine the world’s fund of information and make sense of it.
    That’s SO not in the standards.

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  55. Lee Muller

    You can’t use knowledge until you have knowledge. Schools have to teach the basics first, and less fluff and indoctrination.
    The people who really know how to USE knowledge are in business, either as managers, scientists, engineers or technical workers.
    Schools just need to prepare students for work and college, nothing else. The next phases are not within the capabilities of the schools.

    Reply

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