MoveOn Obama Budget

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

The mail arrived.  It was from  Overwhelmed with work, I thought to delete it.  I noticed the surname of the sender was the same as a friend of mine.  Only that [cosmic] coincidence led me to open the message and peruse.  I read Daniel Mintz’s words with interest, for he spoke of what I miss in the news.  Mister Mintz did not focus on the folly of a few executives at American International Group, Incorporated (AIG).  The representative  from MoveOn offered what is more real to me, an average American.

As we’ve seen with AIG this week, the powerful don’t give up their special treatment without a fight.  They’re spending millions on lobbyists to quietly kill the provisions that would make them help pay for America’s priorities. 1 And despite all the posturing in Congress over AIG’s bonuses, too many senators are still listening to the banking and insurance lobbyists on the issues that aren’t in the headlines.

So we need to speak louder than the lobbyists . . .

Today’s Washington Post calls it “a populist budget” 2 because it cuts taxes for most Americans while ending unfair tax advantages for the richest among us.  The best part is that it takes all the money we’ll save and invests it in critical national priorities that will help build and strengthen the middle class.

Obama’s budget gives tax breaks to working families instead of CEOs.  And it closes the tax loopholes for special interests that cost us billions, like:

  • The loophole that lets companies take tax breaks for sending jobs overseas.  This will save us more than $200 billion over the next decade. 3
  • The loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a 15% tax rate on their income, instead of regular income tax like the rest of us.  That will save us more than $20 billion. 4
  • The loophole for big oil companies that gives them huge tax breaks even when they’re posting record profits, saving us more than $30 billion over the next decade. 5
  • The loophole that gives the richest Americans bigger tax breaks for their deductions.  Right now, a teacher who contributes $1,000 to the Red Cross gets a $150 tax break.  A Wall Street executive making the same contribution gets a $350 tax break. 6

Quality references were offered for each claim.  Research for me is more real than rhetoric.  Almost as an automaton might, as I read, I reached for the telephone.  I smiled at the thought that I might respond as directed.  I called my Senator in Washington, District of Columbia.

I was surprised when I heard a ring.  Too often, when I have attempted to connect with this individual Senator I receive a busy signal.  Bill Nelson is frequently busy, but it seems he does not always speak on my behalf.  His record on the issues that are most meaningful to me is as inconsistent as is my ability to speak with someone in his office.  I am; however, thankful that Senator Nelson, is at least closer to my truth than Senator Mel Martinez, of Florida is.

As the phone rang and rang, I wondered, would I only have an opportunity to leave voice mail.  No; a man answered.  He said, “Senator Nelson’s office.”  I shared with the gent as I later did with  Now, I offer what was said with any reader who might wish to consider.

In my conversation with Senator Bill Nelson’s office, I shared my name, address, and my serious concern for the constant distractions.  Rather than attend to substance, the need for green jobs, health care for all, quality education provided equally for our children, America cries of a discontent for bonuses.  While the ten percent of the AIG bailout bestowed upon the privileged in additional benefits may be important, for me, it is not the cause for my greater apprehension.  

Tax loopholes, the levees unpaid by the wealthy, the money held back without an approval of the Obama budget, I believe these are far more significant, if we are to create other than the economic crisis we now have.  I reminded the office worker, the last Bush budget proposed was for $3.1 trillion.  That submission did not include the supplemental costs of war we all knew were coming!  In truth, I am fascinated by a fixation that promotes falsehoods.  I think the Obama financial plan is far more restrained than George W. Bush’s expenditure ever were.  

The Senate associate listened, or so I hope.  He was extremely quiet.  He closed the conversation by saying he would pass my message on.  A perceived lack of enthusiasm on the part of the gentleman I spoke with leads me to wonder; can I or we believe much will change.

Please, if you have not already dear reader, as a concerned citizen, would you too call your Senators, Congresspersons, anyone and everyone who might have the power to help pass the Obama budget.  I offer a few ways to locate your Representatives.

References . . .

Where is the restraint in spending?

Republican Response to Obama Budget Request – Bloomberg

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

On this fine day in February 2009, President Barack Obama submitted his budget blueprint.  For  the first time, in near a decade, transparency is built into a national financial plan.  The tremendous costs to wage the two wars America is engaged in are no longer hidden.  Outlays for military offenses have been written into the ledger, and not in the traditional invisible ink.  While one might think fiscal and political Conservatives would be pleased, upon receipt of the document, Republicans immediately pounced.  Senator Judd Greggspoke on the Grand Old Party’s behalf when he asked, “Where is the restraint in spending?”

Interestingly, Senator Gregg and his fellow Republican Legislators did not solicit answers to this inquiry when the last Administration reigned.  For all those many years, the Conservatives did not concern themselves with the price the American people paid.  None on the “Right” worried of what might be when “unnecessary”wars are fought The monetary debt left to American children was not a consideration when combat was paid for on credit.  Then, as now, the greater trepidation was expressed for higher taxes.

America attacked its adversaries with borrowed money and on time borrowed from the brood.

As long as parents did not have to pay, or see the billions of bites taken from fruits reserved for their offspring, war, or supplementary spending was wonderful.  What is not so glorious for the wealthy are the words of President Obama, or his plan to pay as we go.  

“Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that will take a long time for us to close, we need to focus on what we need to move the economy forward, not on what’s nice to have,” Mister Obama said.  This statement did not make sense to Conservatives who rather do as the previous Administration had allowed them to do, trade common “cents” for an economic crisis.

Comfortable with artificial caps or spending, repeatedly supplemented, Republicans reacted poorly to the introduction of fiscal responsibility in the Obama Recovery Plan.  Intermittently the “Right” expresses concern for the children.  Nonetheless, each rant raises what seems to be the more real issue, taxes.  

Indeed, in the past, Progressives pondered levees.  Most Democrats wondered why Americans were not asked to sacrifice for two wars fought on credit.  It all began early in President George W. Bush’s first term.  The date, September 11, 2001 will live in infamy.  The Council on Foreign Relations explained this in a report.

Following 9/11, the United States launched new military endeavors on a number of fronts, including in Iraq.  Estimates for the total costs of these efforts remain sharply politicized.  Costs have consistently outpaced government predictions.  In September 2002, White House economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey estimated the cost of invading Iraq could amount to between $100 billion and $200 billion.  Mitch Daniels, who at the time headed the White House budget office, called Lindsey’s estimates “very, very high” (MSNBC) and said the war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion; shortly thereafter, Lindsey left the White House.

In January 2004, a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the total costs of Iraq’s reconstruction would land between $50 billion and $100 billion.  But in October 2007, the CBO said in a new report that the United States had already spent $368 billion on its military operations in Iraq, $45 billion more in related services (veterans care, diplomatic services, training), and nearly $200 billion on top of that in Afghanistan.  

American initiated battles blazed abroad.  No money was allocated to pay for the combat.  Billions were kept off the books.  American babies were blinded from the truth.  Their parents placed a financial burden on them that could not be calculated.

Each year, with hat in hand, Commander-In-Chief George W. Bush came to Congress and said, cost cannot be a consideration.  We must protect our borders.  The compassionate Conservative Bush assured Senators and Representatives alike, inclusive of Judd Gregg who now reels over the cost of the Obama fiscal plan.  The country must be made safe for your brood and mine.  

Although the past President knew the battles would be protracted, and said so often, he never accounted for the projected expenditures in his budgets.  Very early on, the Bush Administration was asked to design a plan for war-related costs.  However, the White House ignored such silly suggestions.  Congress too did not comply with a request to consider the cash flow.

Iraq Supplemental Requires Transparency

Revenue Watch Institute

Legislative Action

Congress must insist that clearly defined standards of transparency are incorporated into the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq.  Congress must require the President to submit at minimum a quarterly report, detailing the processes by which US funds are disbursed in Iraq, under the conditions elaborated below.

Recommended Legislative Language:?

No competitive or non-competitive contracting or purchase activities may be undertaken using any of these funds unless the President certifies that the International Advisory and Monitoring Board mandated by Resolution 1483 has been established, and submits a quarterly report detailing:

  • The extent of Iraqi consultation and participation in the contracting and purchase agreement process.
  • Actions taken to be in compliance with the transparency obligations of UN Resolution 1483.  ?An independent cost and capacity estimate of the activity in question.
  • In cases where non-Iraqi sources are awarded contracts, an explanation demonstrating that Iraqi companies lack the necessary resources and experience to perform the service at the independently estimated cost, and/or within a reasonable time frame.
  • In cases where a no-bid contracting process is employed, a detailed justification for the non-competitive tender, including a demonstration that this justification was made available to the Iraqi public.

(An Iraqi Public Finance Oversight Board should be established as a formal channel to achieve an acceptable level of Iraqi consultation for all large-purchase contracting activities undertaken with these funds.  The International Advisory and Monitoring Board, as mandated under Res. 1483, should be empowered to audit all aspects of Development Fund for Iraq. . . .  

None of these possibilities were put in place.  No one believes the proposal was even taken under advisement.  Instead, the Bush Cheney Administration moved into foreign terrain ready for a fight.  Documents that might help determine the dollars needed to do these deeds were not sent to the House or Senate in advance.  Budgetary reviews for defense spending were deliberately shortsighted   More was left out than included in ledgers.  Emergency Supplemental funds were requested each year.  

In 2001 and thereafter, no one complained, at least not loudly, certainly not the Republicans who now demand we attend to our children’s inheritance.  How might one argue against the need to protect the country, care for its citizens, and pay for the soldiers who keep this country safe?

Conservatives, in the early years of combat were gleeful with Congressional control.  They coalesced.  Democrats, defeated, chose to forfeit dignity and duty.  Progressives no longer believed they had the power to do what was right.  Resigned to the will of the President and his “people,” the Left relented.  Legislators looked the other way when the economic experts strongly stated more money is needed.  Supplemental funds, off budget show support for the soldiers.

On September 8, (2003) the White House requested an additional $87 billion of funding to cover the continued occupation and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004.  Of this $87 billion, $66 billion will be for military operations, and $21 billion will be for reconstruction in Iraq.

Congress caved.  Trillions trickled out of the country.  A few at home profited from the Shock and Awe plan.  However, no one wished to speak of Halliburton, the ties that remained to Vice President Cheney, or the off-the-book expense of wars.  

For persons affiliated with the Administration, defense contracts, no bid agreements to facilitate the folly known as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the monetary Mission was Accomplished.  However, for the majority of Americans, the loss of credibility, lives, limbs, and cash was a failure.

Citizens feel the calamity in an economic crisis.  Yet, Republican Representatives wish to blame Barack Obama for a budget, which will not hide such outrageous costs.

Total cost of the Iraq and Afghan Wars

The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] now estimates the costs of the Iraq war, projected out through 2017, might top $1 trillion, plus an extra $705 billion in interest payments., The total cost of Iraq and Afghanistan combined could reach $2.4 trillion.

Some experts say even those figures underestimate the true price tag.  Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, projected in a 2006 paper (PDF) with another economist, Linda Bilmes, that the total macroeconomic costs of the Iraq war itself would surpass $2 trillion.  This analysis differs from that of the CBO, which measured only the war’s budgetary impact.  Stiglitz and Bilmes also predict a somewhat higher budgetary impact than the CBO did, though the CBO responds at the end of its 2007 report that some of the difference may be accounted for by factors like inflation and standard pay increases that have little to do with the Iraq war itself.

More recently, a group of Democrats on the U.S. congressional Joint Economic Committee released a report estimating the total long-term cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would range between $2.6 trillion and $4.5 trillion, depending on how quickly forces are drawn down.  These figures drew pointed criticisms from congressional Republicans, who released a statement (PDF) citing dozens of errors in the report’s findings, some of which were subsequently changed.

Yes, the Republicans actively repute all claims of cost overruns.  For them, money spent on military actions were  and are justified.  The real issue, for the “Right” while subterranean, was revealed; as long as taxes were not raised on their personal wealth “fiscal Conservatives” felt fine.  

During the Bush years, Republicans had reason to feel content.  Those who want no new taxes had a friend in the White House who would hide the costs of combat.  Thus, then, concern was not expressed for the children, the credit crisis, or what these irresponsible parents caused.

Republicans would rather be critical of the Democrats for too many dollars spent and the way the Obama plan proposes to reduce the deficit.  “On the backs of the rich,” those who think themselves “Right” rage.  Perchance it is important to peruse the books.  Republican rants may not reveal what detailed reports do.  Today, if the government continues to fund its fights on credit, as the Bush White House did, our progeny will inherit what prosperous parents refused to pay for with cash.  

Comparing the Defense Budget to the Total Economy

The U.S. defense budget has risen over the past decade but remains substantially lower than historical levels when considered as a percentage of U.S. GDP.  President Bush requested $481.4 billion in discretional spending for the Department of Defense’s 2008 budget.  That figure does not include any of the spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been paid for primarily through “emergency supplemental requests” that are not included in the federal budget’s accounting. War spending is expected to tally to roughly $193 billion in 2008, an increase of $22 billion, or roughly 13 percent, over 2007 expenditures . . .

Allocations toward the “Global War on Terrorism,” which exceed $145 billion for 2008, also fall outside the U.S. defense budget, and do not include the war-budget supplements. . . .

In a global context, U.S. spending on military-related endeavors ranks high.  According to 2005 data from SIPRI (PDF), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spends substantially more on military endeavors than any country in the world.  If war spending and allocations to the “Global War on Terror” are excluded, the U.S. military budget is still more than seven times that of its next closest competitor, China. If you include those other expenditures, U.S. military spending surpasses that of all other countries in the world combined.  

That thought alone is awesome.  Rather than build a better world, engage in diplomatic talks with other nations, provide for peaceful negotiations, prepare American children for careers, prevent illness, care for the injured, or maintain the infrastructure . . . all of which would better the world for our offspring,  the Bush Administration spent trillions on destructive warfare.  

In the early years, the White House depleted a budget surplus for much of the money.  Some of the dollars came from the taxes paid by poor and Middle Class.  The super-rich Republicans were asked to contribute a lesser percent of their income.  When dollars from duties were exhausted, the Bush White House sought more funds from creditors.

Grand Old Party politicians, with the help of weakened Democrats, allowed the last Administration to squander more money than is possible to fathom on an unnecessary war.  No thought for the future of our children was mentioned.

Yet, today, with the introduction of a budget that calls for a reduction in troops and defense allocations, Republicans rage.  They do not wish to recognize that  the previous White House  already sacrificed the safety and fiscal sanity of the Seventh Generation.  

Until today, the Grand Old Party could not be bothered with war costs written into the budget.  Republicans did not ask, “where is the restraint in spending?”  Those on the “Right” played with the people’s money as though it or they were mad, and now, on this fine February day, with a transparent plan delivered, Conservatives clamor, what of the children.

Cost of War Off Budget . . .

Bush Presidential Priorities, Debt and Defense ©

Never was there a doubt. President George W. Bush said, “Bipartisan education reform will be the cornerstone of my Administration.”  Yet, it never was.  It is not that the Democrats did not wish to work with Mr. Bush to improve our schools and to set a standard of excellence for the nation’s children.  It is that Baby Bush had a truer mission, that of spreading Democracy throughout the world.  This goal has always distracted King George.

This President has “war” on his mind.  For him, “conflict” is the definition of the democratic process.  He promotes it in his daily travels.  He may speak of erudition; however, he acts on combat.

George W. strives to be the one that unites nations; however, he divides them.  He destroys nations aboard and at home.  He battles, blames, and builds walls, not bridges.

This President speaks of being a “compassionate conservative,” and just as his father, he envisions himself as “kinder and gentler;” however, the truth is he is leaving millions, billions, and trillions behind.  The rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer; and the children . . . they are left behind.

• Please Read, Children Left Behind, Washington Post and The Children Left Behind The Institute for Women’s Policy Research

According to the Congressional Budget Office, “The government will spend $217 billion on interest on the debt this year. By contrast, federal spending for the Department of Education is $83 billion.”

These numbers are staggering, as are all the statistics as they relate to the bully, Baby Bush.

Prior to this Bush presidency, the federal budget experienced four years of surplus; these were during the Clinton reign that our budget was well balanced.  The recent extended period of “excess” was the longest since before the Great Depression. Then there is GW.  Under the authority of George Boy Bush, the debt level was increased four times!

As of today, March 16, 2006, the debt ceiling has been raised.  At the behest of this President, our debt can legally be 70.3 percent of our gross domestic product.  This is the highest since the 1997 increase.

As high as the maximum amount now is, under Bush it could go higher. Last month Bush sent Congress a $2.77 trillion budget request for fiscal 2007 that calls for a deficit of $354 billion.  When considering this we must remember, much of what is spent on defense is not included in the budget.  Then there are disasters, natural and man-made.  These cannot be planned for; yet, they too need funds.  Thus, we finance these as they occur.

We plan and we do not. Bush budgets for defense, though never fully.  He requests more as needed and there are always needs.  Thus far, the unnecessary Iraq war is expected to cost $9 billion a month.  This price is thought to be a stable.  It is not.

Initially, to deploy the troops, Americans spent more.  Originally, we were spending $13 Billion per month.  In the last few days a novel operation has begun, an air attack.  This endeavor will also add to the cost of the war.  No matter, for fighting can always be funded.  Afterall, it is the Bush priority.

What of the children and their education?  Well.  Imagine how many children might be served with dollars such as these.  Think of the minds that might be fed and the bellies; then consider this.  According to the United States Census Bureau, 13 million American children go hungry each and everyday.  War spending can be $13 Billion per month; 13 million American children go hungry daily.  This is an interesting correlation.

Yes, it is well known, a starving body does not allow for the feeding of a famished mind.  Nevertheless. There are priorities, at least for this President.  His is not education, nor is it our children, though he says these are.  Numbers $peak! The cornerstone of the Bush 43 presidency is filling fields with headstones.

For your reference . . .
No Child is Left Behind speech
Spreading democracy, By Tod Lindberg. The Washington Times
Children Left Behind, Washington Post
The Children Left Behind The Institute for Women’s Policy Research
Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2007
United States Census Bureau
Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry
National Security Strategy 2006. President George W. Bush, Letter Introducing The National Security Strategy. March 16, 2006

Literacy and The Bush Legacy ©

© copyright 2005 Betsy L. Angert

I am baffled by the Bush budget, by the Bush family legacy, by Barbara, by Laura, and by the manner in which each of these mesh.

I remember a time when Barbara Bush was First Lady.  She was outspoken in her strong support of programs that promote literacy.  She was quite concerned for the youth of this country; she feared that many young people were growing up in homes where reading and writing were not habits.  Mrs. Bush was troubled by the realization that parents were not reading to, or with, their offspring.  She concluded that if children did not have literate parents, they were less likely to become literate themselves.  She staunchly suggested that America needed to become academically competent, that this must be a priority, a priority within our homes, and a priority for our Nation.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush was consumed in her concern, so much so that she decided to publicly promote policies that encouraged families to learn together.  Ultimately, she founded The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  Thus, the Bush legacy for literacy began.

Laura followed Barbara.  Laura Bush is a teacher, a librarian, and a woman committed to the idea of advancing knowledge.  She says her “whole life has been devoted to the advocacy of children.”  Laura looks at reading and writing in manners that seem more expansive than those of her mother-in-law.  For Mrs. Laura Bush the focus on literacy extends beyond the family; our current First Lady speaks of the need to teach reading and writing in our schools.

This Thursday evening, February 10, 2005, Jim Lehrer of The News Hour interviewed Mrs. Bush.  He and the First Lady discussed her most pressing concern, improving the lives of boys.  Throughout the dialogue, she mentioned that much of what is true for boys is also applicable to girls.

In sharing her thoughts, Laura Bush stated that today, many parents are not fully literate.  Frequently, parents cannot read or write and therefore they are not able to model these for their children.  She offered that countless numbers of our young Americans live with single parents, working parents, non-English speaking immigrant parents, parents that cannot or do not actively have the time or ability to teach their children erudition.  Mrs. Bush asserted that schools and communities are often a child’s only resource, hence, role models and mentors are, or must be, found outside the home.  It is for this reason Laura looks beyond the family in her desire to facilitate literacy.  Thus, the legacy continues and grows.

President George W.  Bush may be following Laura or as he said at a recent event, they may actually be walking hand-in-hand. In the text of a speech made by the President and reported in The Washington Post, Mr. Bush stated that he and his wife share “the same passion . . . and that is to put systems in place to encourage every child to learn to read.”  He went on to say, “You cannot achieve in America if you cannot read.  And yet too many of our children cannot read.”  Mr. Bush, along with his wife, and mother, chooses to carry the torch of literacy, and the legacy marches on.

"Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit."
Aristippus [Founder of Cyrenaic School of Philosophy 430 B. C.]

Our current President considers himself a champion in the arena of education.  He believes that his program, “No Child Left Behind,” is the shining light of his career; and he desires to expand it, placing the plan in our Nation’s high schools.  His proponents often offer that NCLB is among the thousand “points of light,” those mentioned by his father, Former President Bush.  The intention of this plan is to emphasize school “accountability”; for George W. Bush believes that if schools can prove that they are accountable than we can validate with certainty, that students are learning.

Says our President, “If you believe every child can learn, then it makes sense to measure to determine whether every child is learning.”  He continues, “That’s called accountability, accountability for results. Accountability is so crucial to achieve our goal for every child learning to read, write, and add and subtract.

In his efforts to ensure that our Nation’s schools are answerable for student learning and literacy, the President constructed this program [NCLB], one that standardizes education, educational policies, and practices.  He professes that standards will result in proficiency. The plan imposes identical criterion for all schools; measures must be met, or schools will suffer the consequences.  There is little to no consideration for the culture of the community; the variance within a student population does not alter this uniform testing structure.  Rural, urban, suburban, and home schools are all assessed as though they are the same. All are treated equally.

Schools are expected to improve. There are rewards for increasing tallies and penalties for other results.  Pupils’ test scores determine success. Students’ progress, portfolios, and overall performance are not examined.  This plan and the President’s ponderings do not consider that better test scores do not necessarily give rise to better schools; nor do they guarantee superior student aptitudes. An idea that is lost in the shuffle, the shuffling of paperwork, is that high test-scores do not reap literacy or authentic learning.

However, this idea is not lost among educators.  In a report titled "No Child Left Behind,” Comments and Concerns, published in October 2002, School Administrators of Iowa addressed this concern.  They stated, “extensive testing doesn’t make students smarter, more knowledgeable, or more likely to succeed.  What it does do is detract from educators’ legitimate efforts to do so.”

Nonetheless, the President continues in his quest, he is expanding his horizons.  No matter what experts in education present, no matter the volume of dissent from districts, diocese, corporations that deliver instructional services, and even from students, Bush continues to believe that incentives for improving scores are incentives for improving schools.

Mr. Bush believes that high-test scores do validate student learning. Thus, President Bush is now asking Congress to increase the funding, the breadth, and scope of “No Child Left Behind,” he is also asking to increase spending for many other school initiatives that measure “success.”

Therefore, my befuddlement; it is my experience that outstanding scores do not truly reflect scholarship and. or literacy. When others share their personal experiences, I discover they are similar to my own.  As I read research and pedagogical presentations, I discern an understanding for my confusion.  There seems to be an agreement, assessing comprehension, and a curriculum is important.  There is also a shared acknowledgement, validating these can be quite a challenge.

Rachel B. Tompkins, President of the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) in Washington, wrote, “No one argues with the lofty goals of this legislation.  No one argues that accountability is not a good thing.  What is wrong with the No Child Left Behind Act is that its cookie- cutter approach, like many other well-meaning, one-size-fits-all education policies, will almost certainly leave rural schools, and rural children behind.”

This opinion is echoed throughout the land; it is not heard only in rural communities, the same distress is voiced in urban, suburban, and home schools.  Students and staffs are among the protestors, each protesting the limitations of this policy.  Yet, their shouts are as silence, they fall on deaf ears.  It seems to me that many of us are so saturated in a world of statistics, that we have become comfortable with the concept of calculating success.  We believe that statistics represent truth.  As adults, we deal with data.  When we deliberate, we state that we want, “Just the facts.”  We forget that what might be fact for one many be fiction for another.

A concept is stronger than a fact.
Charlotte P. Gillman [1860-1935, Writer]

We forget what we once experienced.  We do not vividly recall the struggles we had as a student.  Therefore, I offer the subsequent scenarios in hopes that they will evoke much reflection.  I believe that these tales are ones that we all, or at least most of us, can relate to.  I also provide theory.

After ruminating on your own experiences of authentic learning and digesting pedagogical principles, please read and review the proposed Bush budget 2006.  Once done, assess for yourself.  If you too experience that “education,” “evaluation,” and “effectiveness,” are all unique entities that they must work together if we are to ensure maximum benefits, if you find it as fascinating as I, that President Bush advocates literacy and learning and then focuses solely on “accountability,” then possibly, you, I, and we as a society can act together; we can choose to truly empower our culture, our classrooms, our communities, and our children.  I hope that we will.

Here is the first of two scenarios that I am presenting.  Please recall a time when you took a test and failed though you knew the material well.  Were you distracted by our own life?  Were you possibly ill?  Did you not sleep well?  Were you experiencing excessive stresses?  Was the exam written in a manner that was less than compatible with the way that you learn?  Were the directions vague or at least, did they seem so to you?  Was the evaluation or the evaluator objective?  Were there other possibilities that caused you to perform poorly?

Perhaps, you are among the rare ones that never failed an exam; therefore, you cannot relate to this tale.  If so, I offer another.  I ask you to remember a time when you studied for an exam; you jammed and crammed your skull full of what you might have thought to be meaningless facts, figures, formulas, and findings.  Possibly, you slept with your head on your books; you may have hoped that the data would diffuse into your brain.  As you walked or drove to class, you continued to force-feed your mind. You wanted to meld with the material. Then, you took the test, and you did well; you did very well. You scored a grade of “A+” and yet, minutes, hours, days, months, and years later you can recall little if any of that information.

The reason: memorization is not learning.  What we commit to memory if not personally real and relevant will not be ours.  We will not and do not retain what we cannot relate to deeply.  We do not incorporate and internalize information that we experience as repetitive, unyielding, or rehearsed.

It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.
Alec Bourne, From A Doctor’s Creed, Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Therefore, I propose that accurate evaluations must consider the process and progression of learning; they must consider that understanding does not occur in an instant.  It is vital to accept that what is effective teaching for one student can be a terrible trauma for another.  There must be awareness for the uniqueness of students, staffs, schools, and subjects.  We must acknowledge that “accountability” is a nice idea in the abstract; however, people and pupils are not abstractions.  They are concrete, complex, and the manner in which they achieve comprehension differs.  We must be willing to admit that competency cannot be determined in a single moment.  Nor can the results of a test or two establish true scholarship.  However, “No Child Left Behind” and other Bush proposals for education in 2006 consider none of these.  They focus on “accountability” rather than literacy or learning.

Let us look at the limited perspective of our President and his ideas on literacy.  Mr. Bush focuses on a credo of facts and figures; he muses that these must be delivered, and studied with diligence.  He banishes the likelihood that learning is as Benjamin Bloom offered in his Taxonomy: findings and formulas are only a foundation for knowledge.

A fact in itself is nothing.  It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or the proof which it furnishes.
Claude Bernard [1813-1878 Leading French Physiologist]

To cement these we need to analyze, assimilate, synthesize, and evaluate the material. Then, after engaging in these practices fully, we need to use the information and tools to create anew.  The Bush proposals acknowledge none of this.  As stated earlier, as expressed by the President, and as evident in his plans for education, he only address accountability.  There is no consideration for the stability of scholarship.

Mr. Bush is correct, the groundwork is important; the need to confirm comprehension is vital.  However, he seems to forget that there are ways to present information and to confirm comprehension that are expansive and flexible.  Can we not choose to adopt forms that are more fluid?  Might we think through all the possibilities and probabilities?  Might we also be cognizant of how individuals differ, how schools differ, how situations differ?  Might we modify our methods, and attend to the differences?  Might we prepare for the uniqueness of pupils, of people, of populations, and acknowledge these in our policies?  Might we accept that learners and learning do not simply fit into a box of “standard,” sub-standard, or superior?

Academicians and others acknowledge that there are pedagogical principles that speak to the significant difference in students, the difference in their learning styles?  Educators such as Howard Gardner offer his work with Multiple Intelligences.  These theories provide us with possibilities for improving our schools.  Daniel Goleman speaks of Emotional Intelligence; he presents incredible insights into the process of learning.  Then there are the concepts of Authentic Assessment and Portfolio Reviews.  Each of these addresses the truth of literacy and learning.  Literacy is more than merely being able to read, write, and compute at a basic level.  Literacy and learning are substantive concepts and cannot be scored simply.   Accountability is one part of the taxonomy of evaluation.

I believe that before we assess accountability, we must first, consider our definition and our vision for education.  Do we want to fill the minds of our children with facts, figures, and formulas, those that have little depth and meaning, or would we prefer to cultivate curiosity, creativity, innovation, invention, and imagination?

Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own. – Confucian text

In defining education, I wish to offer two thoughts from a man that most of us experience as a genius, Einstein was a great man, a scientist, and a scholar, though notably, he was a poor student.  His grades did not account for his learning.  Many of his teachers assumed that young Albert was therefore not absorbing information; his understanding was not visible in a conventional sense.  Now, in retrospect, we know that he was grasping all that was placed before him.  He captured the concepts of arithmetic, reading, and writing skills.  He also retained his ability to imagine.  This exalted man, in his later years was often heard to say,
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education, He also expressed that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

I wonder how many of us feel much of what Einstein expressed. How much of what we learned in school was a help, how much a hindrance, how much added to our scholarship and to our success?  Did teachers encourage us to think for ourselves?  Did our schooling foster curiosity, creativity, and a flourishing imagination or were these quelled in favor of following the lead of a mandated curriculum?

Did we, as Einstein, receive grades that were not reflections of our learning?  How often did we feel that attempts to calculate our competency were inaccurate?  Did our scores properly evaluate all that we learned?  Did our grades truly assess our achievements?  Were our assignments or the tests we took tailored to the manner in which we learn or were they rote and routine.  Did examinations ask us to regurgitate information just as it had been delivered to us?  Were these appraisals offered only in written forms?  Were we ever evaluated on what we said aloud?  Were our creations a substantial consideration? Is anyone able to objectively calculate our capacity or our creativity?  If exams offer only rigid forms of evaluation, will the results really reveal the acquisition of knowledge?

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.
Ignacio Estrada, Administrator, National University of Colombia

I offer these perspectives and ask each of us, as persons that have been pupils at some time in our lives, and as people that can choose to be either part of the problem or part of the solution, and as voters to consider the possibility that assessing accountability through testing and statistics is extremely limited.  Rarely do these methods accurately determine the quality of scholarship or that of our schools.

When we evaluate literacy strictly through test scores, we are often estimating the ability of students to memorize, to mock, or mimic their mentors.  I believe that education differs from accountability, just as memorization differs from learning.  The two are not synonymous.

I believe that means and medians do not genuinely measure learning, nor do scores and statistics authentically evaluate the effectiveness of an educator or the education.  Assessments do not accurately analyze the credibility of a curriculum.  Often they calculate only the strategy a student uses in test taking or their ability to guesstimate, estimate, and merely memorize material for a moment.  Though test taking is a skill, it does not correlate to problem solving in the “real” world.  Therefore, I ask Mr. Bush, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Members of Congress, Barbara, Laura, parents, former, and present pupils to consider the policy that dictates “accountability” and consider one that creates authenticity in learning and in literacy.  I ask them to also think through their wants and the true Bush legacy.

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society, Board Editor for Encyclopedia Britannica]

I beg of you, please ponder the scenarios that I presented.  Reflect upon your own education, and if you are able, acknowledge that there were times that you “knew your stuff’ and yet received scores that did not show this; if there were times that you tested well and yet, now, you recall little if any of what you “learned,” then look at proposed Bush budget 2006 and consider the contrast.  Spending for 2006 focuses on “accountability,” measurements, and means testing.  Monies for literacy, learning, and imaginative lessons were removed.

For your review, I offer the specifics of the Bush budget 2006 as it applies to education, literacy, and “accountability.”

According to the National School Boards Association, in his recent 2006 budget submission, Mr. Bush is requesting $1.5 billion for high school reforms, $1.2 billion to finance a High School Intervention Initiative, and an endowment of $250 million.  These later funds will be used to measure student performances in the areas of reading, language arts, and high school math.  Each of these proposals demonstrates that the President is truly committed to our schools, to literacy, and to the need for greater accountability.

While Mr. Bush wishes to expand and endorse programs that improve our educational system, he also desires to reduce our Nation’s deficit.  The afore-mentioned endorsements are costly, and therefore, the President feels a need to “consolidate, reduce, or eliminate” other programs, even other educational programs.

In his effort to balance the books, he intends to merge, moderate, and purge programs such as . . .

  • Vocational Education [$1.19 billion]
  • Upward Bound, Smaller Learning Communities [$94.5 million]
  • Even Start [$225.1 million] literacy grants
  • Safe and Drug Free Schools State Grants [$437.4 million]
  • Education Technology grants [$496 million]
  • Teacher Quality Enhancement [$68.3 million]
  • Comprehensive School Reform [$205.3 million]

    Among the other programs slated for termination is the Title V, plan.  This is a State Grant for Innovative Programs.  For 2006, the President is requesting an allotment of $100 million.  This contrasts with the 2005 distribution of $198.4 million.  The Administration states that this discrepancy is dictated by the need to address priorities that they consider more serious, mainly, the priority of “accountability."  They offer, “The reduced request reflects a decision to redirect funding to higher-priority activities that are better targeted to national needs and have stronger accountability mechanisms.

    The President is also choosing to eliminate financial support for Teacher Quality Enhancement initiatives.  Currently, these benefits [$68.3 million] are used to “recruit, prepare, license, and support teachers.”  The Administration suggests that the activities initiated within this program can be accomplished through the auspices of other federal programs.

    In total, 150 programs will be impacted.  In a report released by Oxford Analytic report, and published in, “Forty-eight of these are administered by the Education Department.”

    You may wish to read other commentaries on the Bush Budget and its affects on Education.

  • BuzzFlash features, “Bush Budget’s Hit List Includes Children
  • Here’s What’s Left writes of Bush’s Budget Cuts: Education
  • International Reading Association offers a discussion on the Issues in Literacy