- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Evansville Courier & Press. April 21, 2014.

GOP’s lack of plan makes replacing ACA a difficult sell

“Repeal and replace.”

That has been the Republican mantra since President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010.

The “repeal” part is not a problem for the GOP, at least in the House, where Republicans vote to repeal the law almost as often as the chaplain gives the daily invocation.

If Republicans pick up six Senate seats in November, giving them a majority, repealing it shouldn’t be a problem there, either.

The stumbling block - and why Republicans may be reluctant to force a repeal vote in the Senate even with a majority - is that they have nothing to replace it with, more than two months after the party’s leadership promised to have an alternative plan ready for a vote.

Pressed on why there is no Republican bill to rally around, GOP congressional leaders are telling their members they are waiting for a “consensus” to build. At this rate, it could be a long wait.

The drop-dead date for a vote on a replacement bill in the House is July 31. Congress is gone all of August. September and October will be devoted to campaigning and, in any case, Congress plans to be in session only 12 days during those two months.

And, once the congressional elections are held Nov. 4, it’s tough to get a lame-duck Congress to do anything.

Moreover, time appears to be running out on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Where once it seemed nothing could go right for the law, Obamacare now seems on a roll.

The president made a special appearance before the White House press corps Thursday to hail the fact that 8 million citizens had signed up under the act, well above the White House’s arbitrary goal for success of 7 million. The administration is stockpiling heartwarming anecdotes about people the act has helped.

The Republicans’ favorite punching bag for Obamacare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is gone and her replacement, budget director Sylvia Burwell, is unknown outside of Washington. Obama’s popularity or lack of it won’t much matter since he isn’t running.

The ideas Republicans have been floating - vouchers, health care savings accounts, high-risk insurance pools, letting people buy insurance across state lines - have yet to set voters’ pulses racing. And the GOP is increasingly confronting the political reality that once you give something to the American people it is extremely difficult to take it away.

Thus, Republican strategists have been coaching candidates on how to explain why the really popular parts of Obamacare - no limits on coverage of pre-existing conditions, for example - are such bad ideas.

It’s a hard sell and getting harder with each passing week.

___

The Times, Munster. April 20, 2014.

Indiana needs open primary elections

Indiana’s primary election system is dysfunctional. What the state really needs is an open primary system.

This month, the Lake County election board argued about the procedures for recruiting high school students as poll workers for the May 6 primary election. Should they be recruited separately by Republicans and Democrats? Together?

It’s a reminder that Indiana goes to the expense of running these elections to winnow out the contenders for the two major political parties, not necessarily to get the two best contenders for the job.

In an open primary, voters don’t have to declare themselves to be either Democrat or Republican. Instead, they get a ballot that lists all the candidates, as well as nonpartisan decisions like referendums or school board races. The top Republican and the top Democrat vote-getters advance to the general election.

Indiana’s primary splits Republicans and Democrats into separate ballots. It’s as if each party is holding its own function, under government supervision, at the same place and time.

Voters shouldn’t have to ask for a Democrat or Republican ballot, in effect declaring their party allegiance. Indiana’s existing system excludes voters who don’t want to be identified with a party - often, the moderates - and yields extremists who curry favor with the party faithful rather than moderate candidates who stand a better chance of being elected in the general election.

Switching to an open primary, in which the top vote-getter for each party is placed on the ballot in the general election, would help ease the gridlock in Washington that comes with polarization.

Sure, open primaries would weaken the grip each political party has on the electoral process, but this should be about governance for the people, not about political gain for the parties.

Elect candidates capable of compromise who will represent the vast middle rather than the extremists in either party.

Stop disenfranchising voters who don’t want to declare a party allegiance. Stop restricting their ability to vote for the candidate of their choice in every race.

___

Journal & Courier, Lafayette. April 18, 2014.

Ritz off-base on raises for weakest teachers

Glenda Ritz is doing Indiana’s teaching ranks no favors by trying to protect pay raises for the weakest in the field. How can anyone take her seriously when she’s willing to pay for mediocrity and failure?

Here’s where Ritz, Indiana’s superintendent for public instruction, and Statehouse school reformers agree: The percentage of teachers who need improvement seemed a bit light in the first round of state-mandated evaluations.

The results of district-by-district evaluations, released April 7 and part of Indiana’s school reform agenda, showed a vast majority of teachers were “effective” or “highly effective” in their jobs. Fewer than 3 percent were ranked in the “needs improvement” or “ineffective” categories.

Here’s where Ritz and Statehouse school reformers don’t agree: Ritz says teachers in the “needs improvement” category deserve raises, too.

Really?

Granted, exactly what this first round of evaluations tells parents and policy makers is up in the air. Teachers say the process proves what everyone should have already known - that the majority of teachers were doing their jobs well. Some in the Statehouse have hinted that changes might be coming, implying that administrators might have used a softer hand the first time through the process.

Ritz joined with skeptics, to a point, wondering whether administrators were reluctant to put teachers in the lowest two categories, knowing that state law blocks pay raises for those teachers. Questions about raises, Ritz figured during a state Board of Education meeting last week, “should not be a barrier to putting teachers on a ‘needs improvement’ rating.”

Teachers have a real ally in Ritz, who won in a surprising upset two years ago by questioning the speed and direction Indiana was taking on school reform. That campaign included questions about how new teacher evaluations would be used. Teachers were at the core of her victory over Tony Bennett, the former state superintendent.

But pay raises for teachers who fare so poorly in evaluations? That’s not doing anyone, including students, any favors.

___

The Indianapolis Star. April 18, 2014.

Indiana’s approach to teacher evaluations is much too soft

Indiana’s system for evaluating how well its 55,000 public school teachers are doing their jobs smacks of absurdity on multiple levels.

Absurdity No. 1: The ratings released by the Indiana Department of Education this month are clearly inflated. About 97 percent of teachers who were evaluated landed in the highest two categories — “highly effective” and “effective.” Only about 2 percent were rated as “needs improvement.” And less than one-half of one percent — about 200 teachers statewide - received the lowest rating of “ineffective.”

In fact, 60 school districts in the state claimed that they have no teachers who are ineffective in the classroom or even any who need to improve their job performance.

The tendency for managers to overrate employees’ performance is common across many professions and industries. It’s so pervasive, in fact, that a decade or so ago, some businesses adopted rating systems that forced managers to put as many as 10 percent of workers in the lowest performance category.

Critics have pushed back against that approach as too arbitrary and harmful to employee morale. But Indiana’s system for ranking teachers’ performance takes the opposite approach — almost everyone, according to the state, is doing a good job - and as a result doesn’t reflect reality.

“Clearly the system failed,” State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry said. “We have to find a new way to get accurate, fair results for our teachers so we can continue to improve our schools and our students’ experiences in the classroom.”

Absurdity No. 2: The ratings don’t match results. A lot of data measuring student achievement is available, some encouraging and some deeply discouraging, but there’s a bottom line statistic that can’t be ignored: Indiana ranks 42nd in the nation in the education level of its workforce. That’s a fatal flaw for a state that must compete in a global economy where a good education is increasingly an essential commodity.

Educators argue, and rightly so, that they’re not fully responsible for that statistic and other key indicators. Education attainment has been undercut by Indiana’s long history as a strong manufacturing base, which for decades inadvertently weakened the value of an education; growing poverty rates in the state; and in many cases, a frustrating lack of parental support.

But taxpayers invest so heavily in schools — 53 cents of every dollar in the state budget goes to K-12 education — precisely because state leaders and the public recognize the importance of education to Indiana’s future. The problem is that taxpayers’ aren’t getting sufficient return on their investment.

In short, the results need to improve. But how do we do that when 97 percent of teachers have been told that their job performance is satisfactory, or better?

Absurdity No. 3: Some state leaders want to reward performance that’s less than satisfactory. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz floated the idea that even those 2 percent of teachers saddled with “needs improvement” rankings should receive pay raises.

What a terrible message that would send to the teachers who push themselves to excel. And what a mixed message it would send to teachers who aren’t meeting expectations.

Let’s reward great teachers with strong compensation. But don’t dilute limited resources by handing out more money to those who aren’t getting the job done.

Indiana, without doubt, can boast of many great educators. Yet, it’s also evident that student achievement and school performance need to improve if our state is to better compete in the global marketplace. We won’t get better, however, if there’s not an accurate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of our frontline educators.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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