- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on teacher evaluations under the Common Core standards.

April 8

“Parents can now exhale, students can now exhale, the test scores don’t count,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo proclaimed Tuesday regarding a provision in the state budget that will keep the results from this year’s Common Core tests - which were given last week - off students’ transcripts until 2018. It was good news for third- through eighth-grade students, who, at least judging from last year’s dismal test scores, have been slow to catch on to the state’s controversial new curriculum.

But what about the teachers? Are they supposed to keep holding their breaths? Common Core test scores are currently one of the criteria used in teachers’ annual performance reviews, and remain so even though the results don’t count for students. It hardly seems fair to hold teachers accountable for test results when their students have no incentive to take the outcome of the tests seriously.

How will students, who know the tests are essentially practice exams, respond? Will they try to figure out the right answer to every question, or just blacken in “C” or some other arbitrary letter straight down the page? Will they even bother showing up to take the long and arduous tests? Some students (and parents), knowing the exams won’t count, may simply say, why bother? Boycotts were already cropping up this year, even before the issue came up in this year’s state budget.

So the question becomes: How can tests that stand a good chance of being taken lightly by students be taken seriously by administrators when it comes to evaluating teachers? Students’ standardized test performance is supposed to account for 20 percent of a teacher’s Annual Professional Performance Review. So a poor showing on Common Core tests could very well sink some teachers.

Reversing an earlier position, Cuomo acknowledged last Tuesday that he and the Legislature need to address this issue before the end of the current legislative session.

He’s right that they should, and they need to do so without delay.




The Times Union of Albany on campaign finance reform in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

April 6

For those who favor ratcheting back big money’s increasingly influential role in election campaigns, it was a bad week.

First, the long-advocated plan to establish a system of public financing for New York’s statewide races got dropped at the last minute from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s final budget and replaced with an almost farcical one-year program that will apply to only one race. It’s a careless response to a serious problem.

Then came the U.S. Supreme Court’s much-anticipated ruling in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, in which an Alabama businessman and the Republican National Committee challenged federal campaign contribution limits. The court’s 5-4 ruling essentially threw out the current limits on the total amount an individual donor may give in an election cycle.

Now a wealthy donor could contribute up to $2,600 to every single U.S. Senate and House of Representatives race in the nation - estimated to be as much as $3.6 million per election cycle. That same donor could then give millions of dollars to political action committees, too.

Who’s going to do that? Only rich people who want to influence government. It’s naive to think campaign donors don’t expect a quid pro quo, and that candidates, once elected, don’t deliver.

On the state level, there’s still a chance that Mr. Cuomo and legislators could set up a system in which public dollars would be allocated to match small donations, thus giving ordinary donors a bigger voice in campaigns. But it’s a longshot, since it’s not in incumbents’ interest to give outsiders more of a chance.

Even more troubling is the Supreme Court ruling, which represents a further chipping away at reforms enacted in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal. It comes four years after the court’s Citizens United decision, which bolstered the ability of super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

In the McCutcheon ruling, the court again equated the right to contribute money to a politician to free speech protected by the First Amendment. While there’s a certain intellectual clarity to that argument, in practical terms it’s repugnant. It enhances the speech of wealthy people at the expense of everybody else.

Free speech? Money isn’t speech, of course, and it’s certainly not free. The ruling could only be justified if every citizen had an equal pot of cash. Instead, it further exacerbates the growing divide in America between the haves and have-nots, effectively offering enhanced citizenship status to the rich.

So elections now will be even more the playthings of those who can draw on their hefty bank accounts, like the billionaires Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the left.

In his dissent, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer said the decision “eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

It’s an outcome that can’t be what the founders imagined the First Amendment would protect.




The New York Times on frivolous patent lawsuits and the U.S. Congress.

April 6

Abusive and frivolous lawsuits brought by holders of patents are costing the American economy billions of dollars. Fortunately, Congress is on the case. A large bipartisan majority in the House approved a bill last year that would reduce such litigation; the Senate, where a similar bill is being negotiated, may soon follow.

The patent system encourages innovation by giving inventors a temporary monopoly over their creation. But in the last two decades, as the number of patents issued by the Patent and Trademark Office has increased significantly, businesses are increasingly using patents to sue or threaten to sue other companies to get them to pay licensing fees. The number of patent cases increased 29 percent just in 2012, to nearly 5,200, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Various studies have shown that the cost of litigating these cases and paying licensing fees and damages amounts to billions of dollars a year, even though many of the patents at issue are so broad and vague that they should never have been granted in the first place.

Lawmakers are particularly concerned about cases in which patent owners sue small businesses like cafes and hotels for their use of technology - for example, Internet routers made by Apple or Cisco Systems. The firms that bring these suits sometimes also sue the manufacturers of the equipment, but they often sue the users of technology since they know that many small businesses would rather settle than fight costly court cases. The Senate and House bills would allow manufacturers, which are in the best position to defend these cases, to step in and fight claims on behalf of their customers.

The two bills differ on one important issue: legal fees. In an attempt to raise the cost of bringing frivolous lawsuits, the House bill would require plaintiffs who lose a patent case to pay the legal fees of the defendants unless a court determines that the case was “reasonably justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.” Current law allows judges to award legal fees to defendants only in “exceptional” cases, which courts have interpreted very narrowly.

Some lawmakers in the Senate, notably Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, are pushing for legislation that would give judges more discretion than the House bill would. Granting judges more freedom to award fees in patent cases can reduce the number of abusive cases. But Congress should be careful not to adopt a standard that is so tough that it effectively closes the courthouse door to small inventors, universities and other patent holders.




The Gloversville Leader-Herald on the deadline for signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

April 7

It is not really amazing what a combination of coercion and giveaways can accomplish in a year.

Obamacare has been a stunning success, President Barack Obama and others assured Americans recently. Why, they bragged, 7 million people had signed up for it.

Even knowing whether the White House is telling the truth about Obamacare is difficult. It has become the biggest shell game in political history.

Assuming the government is being honest with its numbers, an enrollment of 7 million is hardly impressive. That amounts to about 2.2 percent of the U.S. population.

Many of those who signed up during the past month - about 2.8 million, according to the administration’s numbers - clearly did so out of fear, not a sense of opportunity. The Obamacare law stipulates that eligible Americans who had not signed up by last Monday will pay a new tax to the Internal Revenue Service, of 1 percent of family income or at least $95 per family member.

Millions of those enrolled for Obamacare have been coerced to do so, even if they do not view the insurance as a good deal.

On the other half of the equation, Obama bragged in March his signature law had ensured another 7 million people “have access” to the Medicaid program. Obamacare requires states to expand Medicaid, which provides free insurance to low-income and disabled people.

Fact-checkers in the press quickly pointed out “access” is not enrollment in Medicaid. Estimates of the number of new Medicaid clients vary between 1.1 million and 2.8 million. Only about half the states have actually begun taking new Medicaid enrollees.

Contrast the numbers and the current boast with what Obamacare proponents pledged a few years ago: Then, they said the expanded Medicaid program could cover 21.3 million Americans.

Again, what do their numbers represent? Millions of Americans either forced to accept Obamacare insurance or told they could have it entirely free of charge.




The New York Post on disparities in the pay of men and women.

April 7

Today is Equal Pay Day.

In the American political tradition, it’s an occasion for spreading dubious statistics that downplay the achievements of women. President Obama and his White House will be doing their part, by once again spreading a much-discredited factoid designed to suggest the need for more government intervention: that women make 77 cents of every dollar men make.

In reality, the 77 cents figure obscures more than it tells us. Over at IWF.org, our good friends at the Independent Women’s Forum offer their own, more sophisticated guide to the wage gap. They point out that when apples are compared to apples - i.e., when women are compared to men with the same education levels, experience and work hours put in - it turns out the pay gap reduces dramatically: Women earn roughly 97 cents on the male dollar.

Even more striking, when single, childless women living in cities are compared with single, childless men in cities, turns out the former earn $1.08 for every dollar earned. As for getting ahead, the IWF also cites a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study noting that men favor majors that lead to more high-paying jobs.

That’s important, because new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics point to another area where women are ahead: college degrees. According to the BLS, American women born after 1980 are now 33 percent more likely to have college degrees than their male counterparts.

So here’s a question: When can we start celebrating the victories women have achieved in the American market instead of always presenting them as victims?




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