Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Rather Apalling Display

This link speaks for itself. That every Democratic presidential candidate paid homage to that website (Daily Kos) and it's influence by appearing at their convention gives one pause. Keep in mind these quotes come from their site's writers, not just any old people dropping by and leaving nasty comments.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Education Degradation IV (Parts I-III start way at the bottom)

Is it smart to put 14-year old girls in closed environments with 18-year old boys?

That question, tossed around previously on WLIP, came back to me upon hearing the details of the brutal sexual assault recently perpetrated in Lincoln Park.

Everything is wrong with that incident, but it stuck out that the attackers spanned from 14 years old all the way to 17. 12th graders hanging out with 9th graders?

When Kenosha switched to the middle school model, 9th graders, who’d in my day have been "little junior high kids", found themselves in close proximity to older students with drivers licenses, money, sex drives, and occasionally gang affiliations and drug connections. They would now share the same locker rooms, go to the same dances, often attend the same parties, however they would not possess the same maturity or judgment. Not surprisingly they haven’t adapted well.

It’s jaw dropping, but would you believe that Wisconsin 9th graders have had the highest rate of drug and weapons suspensions of any grade for eight years straight? What’s more Kenosha’s 9th graders not only consistently have the highest drug and weapons suspension rate in the district, but in the last available year (‘05-‘06) their rate was 117% higher than the state average.

There’s more to this than just complaining. See the move to the middle school system jammed an extra grade into high schools not built for it. Predictably we’ve arrived at the present junction where the same people (teachers’ unions and “progressives”) who pushed for the middle school system are bemoaning the crowding it caused and demanding you pay $50-60 million to build a new high school. That’s the wrong thing to do, and it’s not just about the money.

As the previously mentioned suspension statistics illustrate, 9th graders have simply been ravaged by the move to high school. I’ve seen it firsthand and most teachers will admit as much, but there’s also comparisons to show this resulted from the move to high school and not “society”.

You see there are still a few districts in the state with traditional junior highs (7th-9th). Wisconsin Rapids, Menomenee Falls, and Manitowoc are the three I’ve found. While these districts have slightly lower drug and weapons suspension rates than the state by roughly 16%, there’s a huge difference in their 9th graders who collectively have a 69% lower suspension rate than the state average and a rate almost four times lower than Kenosha’s 9th graders! Yes, they’re ahead academically too.

Now also consider this: Elementary school students in the U.S. compete equally against other countries’ elementary students on standardized tests. When they get to middle school they lose ground, and by the time they're in high school they're testing worse than Bangladesh. Our different school environments obviously matter. So if kids do their best in the elementary format why not keep them there for 6th grade? The same logic applies to keeping 9th graders in junior high with the added behavioral benefits as a huge bonus.

Returning to the original junior high system makes a lot of sense. Firstly students do better both socially and academically that way. Secondly, it would be better to build a few smaller elementary schools than one huge high school. Elementary schools serve as anchors of their neighborhoods and don’t require hugely expensive extras like swimming pools, auditoriums, mega parking lots, athletic facilities, weight rooms, showers (what would Al Gore say about the carbon footprint?) and these days police officers.

Still, in February the teachers’ union will implore you to vote for a new high school to ease overcrowding. However as I’ve previously noted there are fewer students in the youngest four grades than the oldest four, indicating that today’s high school crowding is a temporary bottleneck not a dire emergency.

The obvious motive of the teachers’ union is clearing classroom space for the 4-year old kindergarten Jim Doyle supports and Hillary says she’ll offer nationally. “Progressive” thinkers cheer such developments, as the brave new world they envision requires socializing children their way as young as possible. Hopefully though you recognize that 4 year olds should be allowed to just be kids and that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for what I know firsthand to be indistinguishable from daycare.

So I urge you to vote against the proposed high school and talk seriously about restoring the junior high system. High school has been shown to unnecessarily strip from 9th graders a degree of both innocence and opportunity at a very crucial point in their development. The same is no doubt true for 6th graders shuttled to middle school prematurely. They’re not old enough to miss that those things yet, but as adults with the benefit of hindsight, not to mention now statistics, we have an obligation to reverse that past misstep.

Socialized Medicine-Lite in Wisconsin

'The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.' -- Winston Churchill

If only Mr. Churchill had kept that thought in mind when he advocated “universal” health-care for all British citizens. He mistakenly assumed that the disaster socialism wrought everywhere else would somehow make an exception for health-care.

Unfortunately economic realities don’t care about being fashionable, thought “compassionate”, or spoken highly of by anchors and editors. Britain’s universal health system was and is a failure in all categories except equality. The damage has been spread rather equally.

Yet some still think themselves more clever than the sum of human history. They include our local state senator Bob Wirch as well as all Democratic Presidential frontrunners.

I recently watched State Senators Wirch and Jim Erpenbach try selling their $15 billion Healthy Wisconsin plan to a Gateway audience. They gradually conceded more problems with their plan. For instance they acknowledged that big business would benefit greatly from Healthy Wisconsin while small businesses would hurt the most.

They also admitted that healthy people would be most penalized while the unhealthy would benefit the most. So for the record we have Bob Wirch advocating a competitive disadvantage for small business and lowered incentives for healthy choices. It’s a wonder that didn’t make his talking points.

Now while their plan for Wisconsin isn’t textbook socialism, it’s a huge step in that direction. Proposals on the national level though go the whole way. So how does socialized medicine match up anyway?

I’ll start off by assuming that you’ve all heard much about our “uninsured” and statistics placing the U.S. behind so many countries in life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.. They’re true, but only half of the story.

Firstly, while they exist, specifics about the uninsured are wildly exaggerated. Over 17 million of the uninsured live in households with above-average incomes. Many, like myself some years ago, simply weigh the risks and decide to chance it. Even then 45% of all uninsured at any time become insured within four months. As for life expectancy, if you were to adjust for our sky high rates of “fatal injury” (suicide, auto-deaths, and murder) our life expectancy standings greatly improve. This even leaves aside our astronomical rate of obesity related deaths for which our healthcare system bears little or no responsibility.

The superiority of our health care is best illustrated by noting survivability rates of illnesses. For instance my father is a cancer survivor. Considering the US has the highest cancer survivability rate in the western world, how would you begin convincing me to scrap our system.

Over 64% of all cancer patients in the US survive more than five years. In the UK under “universal” healthcare less than 50% survive. They largely die waiting their turn.

That’s not an exaggeration, but simple economics. Artificially lower the cost of a service and you’ll get shortages, which in health care terms translates to waiting lists. I urge every open minded person to visit (Ontario’s official health ministry site) to get a feel for just how long you’ll wait for care in a “universal” system. People simply use more when costs are indirect. Like any bureaucracy socialized systems are also terrible at translating priorities. For instance, since 1987 all of Canada (pop. 26 million) spent less money on hospital improvements than the city of Washington D.C. (pop. 618,000). And the state of Washington now has more MRIs than all of Canada. Not surprisingly the average wait for an MRI in Canada last year was over ten weeks. Here it’s a matter of days. We pay more and get more. When getting more means life or death that’s a good deal.

Still though costs could be lower in the U.S.. Back in 1940 only 10% of Americans had health insurance yet we lived to tell. What’s changed? The government got involved that’s what.

Today government directly pays for 45% of all health-care spending. That’s 45% of people who don’t shop around and 45% of the health-care industry that doesn’t need to compete. College tuition costs have risen similarly since the government got involved with student loans.

In our misguided quest for arbitrary equality via government we’ve caused all kinds of havoc. In the end if it’s equality you want the best way to achieve it is through raising others up rather than bringing everybody else down. But unfortunately envy of the successful is as much an animating factor for liberals/progressives as concern for the poor will ever be.

For those of you who are truly concerned with raising people out of poverty, then census data for the 90’s should be instructive. The ten lowest taxed states saw a greater than 10% average reduction in their poverty rates during the 90’s. The ten states with the highest taxes saw more than a 7% average increase in their poverty rates. Taxes hold the poor down and create a disincentive to ingenuity and therefore competition. Government out = prosperity in.

Considering that the $15 billion dollar tax hike for Healthy Wisconsin would make Wisconsin far and away the highest taxed state in the nation let’s hope Bob Wirch is taking note.