Entries by Scott W. Graves

Stack em high

What level of concentration of poverty is the right amount? Is it right for the state to create destination cities for the poor? As it stands, the state will, whenever possible, place the poor it is “helping” in areas of cities where housing values are extremely low in order to maximize their own ability to give people shelter. Seems to be right from the immediate bean-counting standpoint, but if you think about it, it can create a death spiral for cities, which are already deep in the trough fiscally. Let’s start with the numbers.  In Massachusetts, the following Middle Cities have easily met their “state target for affordable housing”: Holyoke – 21% Springfield – 17% Lawrence – 15% Worcester – […]

46 years ago and still true

Jane Jacobs was the maven of public input, but she is also in many respects a common sense proponent of organic, private market growth in our cities. Try this on for size, from The Death and life of Great American Cities, published in 1961 when Robert Moses still held the marionette of New York in his hands: There is a wistful myth that if only we had enough money to spend — the figure is usually put at a hundred billion dollars — we could wipe out all our slums in ten years, reverse the decay in the great, dull, gray belts that were yesterday’s and day-before yester-day’s suburbs, anchor the wandering middle class and its wandering tax money, and […]

Radiohead and Pioneer for infrastructure improvements

In Radiohead’s latest, In Rainbows (buy it here!), there is a cut called House of Cards about love gone awry… (Already, stop with the carping! I know it’s a been-there, done-that kind of theme. After all, what else does love do?) But Pioneer demonstrates its impact across the globe when Thom Yorke quotes in House of Cards that “infrastructure will collapse.” And to think that the band wrote the song before the Minneapolis tragedy. Prescient, though I have a sneaky feeling that the line was lifted directly from Pioneer’s A Legacy of Neglect, which was equally prescient. We are looking forward to the new release from Radiohead, perhaps a follow-up to Kid A that will support school choice and some […]

Democrats for Choice

Choice. For most Democrats it rings as a clarion call… except when it comes to education. When school choice is mentioned, most D’s line up with the usual suspects, as was the case in Arizona this summer, when a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Arizona’s voucher program for foster children and children with special needs. The usual suspects in this case were the Arizona Education Association, People for the American Way (ugh), and the ACLU Foundation of AZ. In AZ, children placed in foster care can receive a scholarship of $5,000 to cover tuition and fees for a school of their choice. Kids who have received an Individualized Education Program by the state can receive an amount equivalent […]

American Exceptionalism

Joseph Stiglitz was spot on about the costs of the Iraq War. But, like many Nobel Prize economists, he’s gained a tendency to believe he has a pulpit from which to preach. Sort of like being an economist and a New York Times columnist, except that Stiglitz still is an economist. I enjoy Stiglitz less and less, I admit, but being cooped up in an airplane for 20 hours does something to you. You read what you brought or you watch the Transformers. (On that score, god, please let the Screenwriters strike stretch on –at least this year we will have fewer lousy movies.) In one of the articles, Stiglitz, taking a page out of the John Edwards-Mike Huckabee-Barack Obama […]

Science giveth and science taketh away

The ethical controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells engendered by the scientific use of stem cells may now be at an end. Dr. Maureen Condic and Dr. Markus Grompe write in the Wall Street Journal (11/23/07): Two major scientific papers published this week in Science and Cell magazines unveil a proven way to generate patient-matche, human pluripotent stem cells without human cloning, and with the use of human embryos or human or animal eggs. Exciting stuff. And, one hopes, a way past what many considered a slippery slope of giving ethical “easements” on the basis pure hope (and as we are not sure of the potential yet, perhaps even hype). Science has provided a resolution to the ethical and political debate, […]

Life support for the Globe?

Been traveling so catching up on some items. In case you missed it, the Globe‘s circulation is down 6.66% (to 361,000) and the Herald‘s 8.7% (to 186,000). I loved the November 6 Globe’s headline: “Newspaper circulation still on decline.” All true, though the numbers for the Globe and the Herald were decidedly steeper than for all newspapers except for the Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While it might be interesting to understand why the circulations of Boston papers are headed in the opposite direction from that of the Philadelphia Inquirer (up 2.3% to 338,000), the broader, more important question is why the decline in newspaper readership is steeper in Boston than elsewhere? Other cities and regions have Metro […]

Some ugly numbers on deficient bridges

The Reason Foundation has posted up some data on the number of deficient bridges across the nation. The feds track this stuff for obvious reasons (mobility across states, an understanding as to how states are doing and what they are doing with fed money, and also because bridges that are rated ‘deficient’ become eligible for federal funding for repair. Overall, Reason notes that The condition of the nation’s highway bridges continued to improve from 2004 to 2005. Of the 596,980 highway bridges in the current National Bridge Inventory, 147,913—about 24.52 percent—were reported deficient for 2005 (see table), a slight improvement from 2004. In 1998 about 29.0 percent were rated deficient. However, progress is slow; at the current rate of improvement, […]

People v Place

In the High Court of Common Sense, the people will always win. Consider Youngstown or Buffalo. Both have seen a complete collapse in their populations. Youngstown is half the city it once was in terms of population. As Ed Glaeser points out in the Autumn 2007 City Journal, Buffalo hit a ceiling of 580,000 in the 1920s and has gone to 300,000. Noting the “billions upon billions” spent by the feds since the 50s on Buffalo and other failed “middle cities”, Ed lists out the usual suspects–Urban Renewal funds, HUD money, and lots of dough for the metropolitan rail system, even as ridership went down, down, down, as people left, left, left. Ed’s money quotes: All this spending aimed at […]

To gas tax or not to gas tax

Kathleen Hunter’s piece, The Long and Taxing Road, in the July 2007 Governing magazine has some good information on Oregon’s experiment to understand the ability to replace or supplement the gas tax with technology (also a big theme here at Pioneer, see the transcript from our 2006 event Creating Mobility). Hunter notes: Every time [motorists’ odometers] blipped up by a mile, they owed the state of Oregon a tax of exactly 1.2 cents. The trip to Eugene from Portland, a 100-mile journey on Interstate 5, would cost $1.20. And that’s not counting for gas. The technology in place outside Portland counts miles traveled, avoids counting roads outside of Oregon, and can charge different amounts based on where in Oregon the […]

Hats off to the land of the Yanks

New York may have fast fallen off the playoff charts. But the drumbeat of school reform is incessant these days, as incessant as the creaking rails and sounds of truck deliveries in Times Square. The Times, again this morning, brings glad tidings from a Mayor who is, as far as I am concerned, pitching fast balls as Mayor Menino and all of our mayors stand there with bat still firmly stuck on their shoulders. There are dozens of new charters, there is a Deval-style merit pay system, a focus on AP… And so it is this morning, where the Times reports on the Mayor’s new accountability system which gives an easy to digest grade to each school. The idea is […]

Fixin for a fight

The Governor has frequently talked about his openness to lifting the cap on charter schools, but only with a financing fix, which certainly means reducing the funding to charters below the average per-pupil expenditures within the district school system. Say community X spends $10K per student in the traditional district schools, the new formula would halve that amount for parents of kids in the district who choose to go to a charter school. That’s what the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and Mass Association of School Committees want. The Governor has shown openness to this view, which of course makes charters financially unviable. I’ve often wondered about this proposal given all the court cases out there pushing for equitable funding […]

Dear critic, Do you or don’t you

support the Massachusetts Health Care Reform? We get the question all the time, especially from other think tanks and national press outlets trying to figure out what this all means as the presidential election starts to show signs of life. (When presumed frontrunners of each party start hammering on each other, you know the line-up is soon to winnow down.) At the end of the day, Pioneer supports whatever will lead to better health care outcomes and contain the rising cost of care. It’s an empirical question, or to put it more colloquially, the proof is in the pudding. And anyone who’s been an in-patient knows it’s hard to be patient with what passes for dessert in the hospital. (Do […]

Brunch in Boston

Brunch in Boston – or anywhere really – is a time to get caught up and let the conversation meander. No policy or politics this morning. Just some thoughts on kids, grey hair and Engelbert Humperdink. My brunch partner has an issue with America and its cultural decline. I know this is a broad and ugly topic, and it has gotten to the point where some blame our cultural loss for the Islamic Fundamentalist movement’s fire. Guys, I don’t get it. I mean, my sausage, yogurt and fruit (not a traditional mix, I know) was accompanied by Tom Jones over the wire. First we got the oldies-but-goodies like “What’s new pussycat?” with its deep refrain of Pussycat, pussycat, I love […]

Merit pay gaining steam

As AP and the New York Times reported, New York Mayor Bloomberg is intent on throwing everything and the kitchen sink at education. Charters, AP-specific programs, testing and accountability, and now merit pay. I know Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier don’t think much of Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein’s reforms, but from afar we would give our left and right hands for the kind of can-do attitude and willingness to stake out big, structural changes. The lack of a new generation of education leaders on Beacon Hill is having its impact. Note the departure now of Mike Duffy of City on a Hill to, yup, New York City. The merit pay plan in New York is reminiscent in part of […]

Three choice selections on educational options

In the Sunday Globe, Jim Peyser had a terrific (and hopeful) piece on the transformation of the New Orleans public school system. You think New Orleans is so different from many of our Middle Cities? Think again — and review Pioneer’s Rehabbing Urban Redevelopment. Failing schools, deep and troubling crime trends, and no economic opportunity. All that’s missing is Katrina. Then we can say how shocked we are at the “appearance” of a permanent underclass. Money quote from Peyser: The public schools in New Orleans were under water long before the levees broke. What has happened since the disaster, however, is redefining urban public education. Instead of simply rebuilding the old district, based on the old institutions, policy leaders in […]

Not rocket science – competition works

The Sunday Globe ran a great story on the dawn of a new industry – the space rocket business. No, it is not some George Jetson (“with Jane, his wife”) cartoon. Burt Rutan, Jeff Greason, and Dave Masten are all hanging out in the Mojave desert designing, engineering and building rockets. As the Globe noted, Fifty years after the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik into space, Mojave has found itself at the center of a private space race that boosters say is as important – and risky – as the nationalistic race between the Soviets and the United States.This time, a group of ambitious entrepreneurs is leading the competition to launch regular Janes and Joes into space. So why the […]

DiMasi Rex

Ready, AIM, fire! Call it what you want–line in the sand, declaration of war, shot across the bow. Can it be that, a few years into his reign as Speaker of the House, DiMasi is morphing into Amicus Consortii, the grown-up in the room, DiMasi Rex ready to brandish the sword of fiscal discipline? To push this overwrought string of descriptors further than it ever ought to have gone, is he the “salvatore” of business? OK, if you read on, I promise to cut that junk out. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts event on Friday showcased House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, and as the State House News noted he asserted that state government does not need ‘new revenue sources’ and proposed […]

Tired, cynical – Them is fightin words

At Tuesday’s hearing on charter schools, the Mass Association of School Superintendents (MASS) trotted out their “tired” and “cynical” attempt to snuff out charters. “Tired”, “cynical”? Well, don’t ask me, read today’s inspired Globe editorial on charter schools, which opens by calling the supes’ bill “shifty” and not “merit[ing] serious consideration.” There is a lot of speaking truth to power, or at least to the MASS Protectors of the Status Quo. EACH YEAR opponents of state-supervised charter schools in Massachusetts perform the same tired dance steps on Beacon Hill in an effort to stamp out these distinctive examples of education reform. It’s a cynical exercise and an insult to the families of roughly 19,000 young people waiting for an opportunity […]

More quotes on charters

The challenge to the reign of the education establishment is showing all kinds of crevices among Democrats and those positions that had once protected the status quo. From James A. Williams, Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools: “I’m not afraid of charter schools. I want to learn from them.” And from Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools: “[Creating charter schools] is about a lot more than education. It’s really about a movement for social justice. Our kids desperately need to have the best education possible.” “I’m not an ideological person but I like the competition and choice [charter schools] provide.” Again, thanks to M. Goldstein for forwarding these.

After the charter hearing, more quotes

Paul Vallas, Superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District “I have said over and over again that if charters are performing, they should be expanded” “I think charters provide an excellent tool for school districts to expand educational choice. But I like charters that work. The great thing about charters is that if the school is failing, you don’t have to try to reconstitute it. You can just shut it down” Thanks again to Mike Goldstein of the MATCH School for passing these on.

After the charter hearing, some quotes

I hope our legislators are open to understanding the wisdom of these statements from Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools: “Our parents are on the waiting lists and it seems to me unconscionable, quite frankly, when we have parents who want these opportunities and these choices, and they’re being denied them.” “Giving people choices is always empowering and almost always will lead to better outcomes for kids… You want people to vote with their feet and then take appropriate action (as the district).” “To me it’s unimaginable that we wouldn’t be allowed to create more charter schools. It’s not like you’ve got a whole bunch of high-performing schools in the South Bronx or Central Brooklyn. What […]

Ed Policy Schizophrenia

A great press release from the Mass Department of Education notes: For the second time, Massachusetts has outscored every other state in the country on three of four National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, and has tied for first on the fourth, Governor Patrick announced at the Aborn Elementary School in Lynn on Tuesday.The only other time one state has ever ranked first on all four NAEP exams was when Massachusetts outscored the nation for the first time in 2005. So the grand bargain of the 1993 Ed reform Act (more money, more accountability and more innovation) is working. But the press release suggests that the administration’s “left” hand does not know what the “right” hand is doing. Makes […]

Deb Meier v. The Powerful, Dark Phantom that Pioneer is

I can see it now: The heavy-footed, giant, unforgiving Dark Phantom of Pioneer up against meek, never-attacking Deb Meier, who is only armed with a sling-shot to take on her powerful adversary. On the blog she shares with Diane Ravitch, Bridging Differences, Deborah laments again the oh-so-powerful Pioneer. She continues to show hurt: You suggest I needn’t worry about annoying those “with more power”. But I felt badly recently when (as I mentioned) somebody took after Mission Hill school as a way to attack me on another issue altogether. So they can “touch me”—but not stop me! Alas, my travels remind me that others have less wiggle room—even for saying what’s on their minds. Deb, you wrote in a letter […]

News flash – healthcare costs are rising fast

Thought I would remind you of that just in case you forgot. The April Governing magazine notes that State and local spending for health care is rising significantly. Medicaid accounts for the bulk of those expenditures, especially as the costs of long-term care continue to rise. Pointing to a recent study published in Health Affairs policy journal, Governing goes on to assert that fallout from Medicare Part D, the federal government’s prescription drug program, is also contributing to the increase. Private payers are covering fewer health care costs, thus increasing the need for state and local governments to step in. “We are,” the study noted, “moving incrementally away from traditional sources of insurance, such as employer-based coverage, to a system […]

Who will train Portland to love transit?

So, back to Randal O’Toole’s Debunking Portland. Everyone would have to admit that a key goal of the whole Portland effort was to reduce the use of cars. So a couple of decades, if not more, into this experiment and how are we doing? Overall Transit Usage is Down “More than 97 percent of all motorized passenger travel (and virtually all freight movement) in the Portland area is by automobile.” “Portland transit usage grew faster than driving in the 1990s,” but “transit’s share declined in the 1980s, when the region’s first light-rail line was under construction. In 1980 more than 2.6 percent of motorized passenger travel in the Portland area used transit. By 1990, that had fallen to 1.8 percent. […]

Portland is a City that Doesn’t Work?

I walk to work, and I cannot for the life of me understand how people can sit in traffic for hours. I love cars–especially fast cars. Schizophrenic? No, just a pretty even-handed observer of the Smart Growthies’ passion for mass transit and walkable cities and the car-lovers’ and business’ passion for get up and go. I have given up on seeing an absolutely objective narrative of how well or poorly Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary/transit-oriented development experiment has gone. I would note that Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, long-time resident of Portland and author of the about to be released The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook and Your Future, is as systematic an […]

Questionable ties

From a website providing “the history of the necktie” come several hypotheses re: M. Day’s refusal to provision himself of a necktie: He is anti-Chinese: The first neckties, it seems, date back to the China B.C. He is anti-Croat or anti-French. Per the above-mentioned site: “The Sun King,” Louis XIV of France, was intrigued and delighted by the colorful silk kerchiefs worn around the necks of Croatian mercenaries. A crack regiment, the soldiers were presented at court around 1660 so the King could thank them for a victory against the Hapsburg Empire… Many experts believe the French word for tie, cravat, is a corruption of “Croat.” Or he is a revolutionary. Per the same: In fact, French kings maintained an […]

McKay is increasingly OK

Florida’s McKay scholarship program is increasingly a model to other states (but, no, not Massachusetts). The McKay program provides nearly 20,000 scholarships to Florida special-needs students to attend private scools, if that is the preference of their parents. In May Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia signed a similar bill into law. The state senate in Nevada, which is not especially known for educational experimentation, passed a bill calling for a McKay-style program earlier this year. On October 5, Pioneer is holding an event marking the release of a report on the use of tax credits and tax deductions to promote scholarships for students in failing schools or other select groups such as students who have special needs. Boston University School […]

PACho Libre?

OK, I swear to god this is true. Friends at the Mackinac Center passed this on. The Michigan Education Association PAC has a wonderfully revelatory video they released in the spring. It’s called PACho Libre and, yes, you can see it for yourself by clicking here. A dark day in the future pro wrestlers have wrested control of the public schools and given a body slam to thinking and learning (and of course to funding). Up steps a teacher, who, uh, wearing a Nacho Libre mask, courageously takes on the wrestlers and then goes toe-to-toe with the equivalent of Vince McMahon, the real enemy, who is “The Legislator.” Gulp. The suspense is too much. Now this 21-minute piece of nonsense […]