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Proviso Probe

Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel has died

Studs Terkel died today.

In 1992, in a Navy Exchange (Okinawa, I think) I bought Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession.

At that point I'd been overseas since 1989 (minus a trip home for Thanksgiving in 1991).

I didn't know who Studs Terkel was when I bought the book, but I recognized the name from my time growing up in the Chicago area.

I don't think I was a blank slate about race issues when I read the book. I had liberal sensibilities from my family and time in Oak Park. And being stationed on a ship homeported in Japan and visiting various places, including Korea, Okinawa, Hong Kong and the Philippines one can't avoid the issues of race and culture. Race played an issue on the ship too.

During the LA riots of 1992 (after the acquittal of the police officers video taped beating Rodney King) my commanding officer decided to censor the news. When a ship was at sea we got periodic news bulletins with brief summaries of the top stories. Captain Jack Londot decided that to avoid racial unrest on the ship he'd just keep people ignorant about the riots in Los Angeles. The first I knew of the riots was from reading the sports news (a separate message) that matter-of-factly mentioned that NBA playoff games in Los Angeles were being rescheduled.

Terkel got real people to disclose feelings. The book was probably the first book explicitly discussing race that I read.

I also appreciate that Terkel's book connected me to Chicago. While I enjoyed my time overseas, I did intend to return to Chicago and make a difference. Terkel hardened my commitment to make the world a better place through working for social justice.

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you should appeal your property tax assessment

Last night I attended a meeting with Proviso Township Assessor Michael Corrigan and a representative of Larry R. Rogers, Jr., one of the three members of the Cook County Board of Review. The meeting was at the Forest Park Public Library and organized by Citizens United in Forest Park.

First the news you can use: Rogers is pushing to have a policy of automatically reducing property assessments to the 2006 level. If this policy is adopted you will lose out if you do not appeal your assessment to the Board of Review.

Each property in Cook County gets assessed a value. This value is based on the value of the property.

From the assessed value, the “equalized assessed value” (EAV) is calculated. The EAV takes into account the homeowner exemption, senior exemption, senior freeze and other special programs that are connected to the specific owner.

The EAV is then used to determine how much of the bill for local government the owner is responsible for. The cost of the taxing body (high school district, elementary school district, village, county, park district, library, etc.) is spread around based on the EAV. If the taxing body is entitled to one million dollars in taxes and you property is 1/100,000th of the EAV for the area covered, you owe $100 to that taxing body.

Reducing one's assessment indirectly reduces one's EAV. However, for middle-class, single-family homeowners there are already programs to limit the year-to-year increase of the EAV. So, reducing the assessment to the 2006 levels isn't quite as good a deal as it might be, but it will probably reduce your tax bill at least somewhat.

And remember since the taxing bodies are going to get their money, you are at a disadvantage if you don't apply for the reduction and your neighbors do.

And to reiterate, the automatic reduction has not been approved as policy, but Rogers is pushing for it. And it may be worth your time and effort to appeal your assessment to the board of review whether the automatic reduction is made policy or not.

Other news you can use: Proviso property owners have until November 24th to appeal assessments to the Cook County Assessor. There are multiple stages to the property tax assessment appeals process. First the Cook County Assessor sets a value on the property. The first level of appeal is to the Cook County Assessor. The next level of appeal is to the Board of Review. The final level of appeal is to the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).

Recommendation: If you are appealing because your property is assessed more than comparable properties I recommend you file an appeal with the Cook County Assessor. After the Cook County Assessor grants and denies appeals for Proviso Township I recommend you do a new search for comparable properties. If the Cook County Assessor reduces the assessment on properties similar to your property you want that data include in your appeal to the Board of Review. You should submit a further appeal to the Board of Review. They are elected officials and they like to make people happy by granting at least small symbolic reductions.

If you are merely hoping for the automatic reduction Rogers is advocating, don't bother with filing an appeal with the Cook County Assessor.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Advice from the Great Communicator

(h/t MyDD (Jonathan Singer))

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

one week to Election Day

[UPDATE: A Roosevelt Democrat explains why he's volunteering for Obama.]

[UPDATE: Forest Park resident and Proviso East grad Jeremy Horn is also encouraging people to vote.]


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama and McCain debate education

The New York Times has posted a transcript of last night's debate between the major party presidential candidates, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Because the Commission On Presidential Debates is controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties the following candidates who have qualified for the ballot in Illinois were excluded: Charles Baldwin (Constitution), Bob Barr (Libertarian), Cynthia McKinney (Green) and Ralph Nader (independent).

Having a ringside seat to one of the most screwed-up school districts in the country, I thought I'd comment on the portion of the presidential debates that had to do with education.

I categorize District 209 (Proviso Township High Schools) has one of the most screwed-up in the country for a couple reasons. Test scores are abyssmal. Last ranking I heard was 90th of 90 districts in northeast Illinois.

But, getting lousy test scores is even more shameful in D209's case because it's not serving students that exclusively come from impoverished families or immigrant families. In the aggregate the families the students come from are not poorly educated. Proviso doesn't have the highest level of students walk through the door, but it's a long way from the lowest too. District 209 takes students who should be doing at least so-so and turns them into low test score machines.

Obama said a couple things that made sense in his initial response. Getting better results is going to require we invest money. People who claim there are money-for-nothing solutions are usually fudging or outright lying. Obama also emphasized getting children on-track early, “early childhood education”.

Then Obama talked about higher pay for teachers, especially in math and sciences. I don't agree that raising pay by itself will improve the situation. I would reduce barriers to people with math and science skills getting into education. Also, the quality of life for teachers is an issue.

I read somewhere, perhaps The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, that to get good teachers to work at challenging schools it helped to bring a cohort of good teachers together and also bring in good administrators at the same time.

It's hard to convince people who have the math and science skills that they should go into teaching if they are going to be supervised by people who are mediocre and worse managers.

What management training do education administrators receive? The career path seems to be that they get certified as teachers and then get an additional degree and shazam! the people are now managers.

So, if schools want to retain teachers who are talented enough to get other forms of employment the schools need to treat teachers better in the workplace.

Obama scolding parents rubbed me the wrong way.
But there's one last ingredient that I just want to mention, and that's parents. We can't do it just in the schools. Parents are going to have to show more responsibility. They've got to turn off the TV set, put away the video games, and, finally, start instilling that thirst for knowledge that our students need.

It's not that there's not some truth there, but it's not a prescription to do anything useful. Does Obama want to create a program to prepare parents to do something? Does he want to issue a checklist of things parents should be doing? Or does he judge want to encroach on Joe Lieberman's turf of being the national scold.

McCain started off completely full of shit.

There's no doubt that we have achieved equal access to schools in America after a long and difficult and terrible struggle.

But what is the advantage in a low income area of sending a child to a failed school and that being your only choice?

Which is it, Senator? Have we achieved “equal access to schools” or do we have large swaths of the country with “failed schools”? If we have families who are forced to use “failed schools”, how is this equal? Or are all schools failing equally?

Both McCain and Obama seemed to buy into the notion that there are people who good teachers and bad teachers and that the bad teachers should be identified early and transitioned to something else.

Here's what I suspect is a more accurate model.

Most teachers start as middling teachers. They haven't become skilled yet, but they bring the energy of a newbie. All of them get at least a little better; some get significantly better. Eventually, almost all of them become less effective than they were at their peak. This is called "burn-out".

The problem is partially the salary structure. By the time teachers lose effectiveness they have enough seniority that it's very difficult for them to transition to something else and get paid as much money. The teachers feel they have to stay for the retirement benefits.

The problem isn't teachers who were bad from the beginning, but teachers who have significantly declined in effectiveness.

Neither Obama nor McCain seemed to understand the problem of ineffective teachers.

McCain touted the idea of rewarding good teachers. How would this work at District 209? Would the teachers with the best students (PMSA) get most of the rewards? Aren't they already getting the easiest students to educate? Let's say someone did come up with a formula that took into account where the students were at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. There were no questions about fairness. (This assumption is completely unrealistic, but ignore that.)

How does rewarding good teachers fix a dysfunctional and corrupt school board? How does it fix incompetent administrators? How does it get better prepared students to start at the district? How does it get families to be a more constructive part of the process?

McCain's idea about rewarding good teachers won't accomplish much in the real world except to cause teachers to spend time and energy criticizing the formula for determining who is a good teacher.

No Child Left Behind. Two of the most useful insights I've gotten on NCLB have been at the local level.

Randy Tinder, the former superintendent of District 91 (Forest Park elementary schools) said that NCLB is a rigged evaluation system that will label every public school in the United States a “failing school” in a few years.

I will add to Tinder's thought process (and perhaps he already thought of this, but declined to say it publicly), that the Republican Party wants to cut money going to public schools and send it to private schools, especially religious schools. Labelling public schools as “failing” is part of a strategy to shift public money from public schools to private schools.

Barbara Cole is a local voice that defends NCLB. Cole reasons that by testing and including categories and subcategories that there's no way for schools to overlook when they are providing lousy education to minority groups and special needs students.

Obama criticized NCLB as an unfunded mandate. McCain wanted to renew it, but was reluctant to spend more.

McCain and Obama differed on vouchers. Rachel Cooper discusses the definitions of "vouchers" and "charter schools". Ryan Grim (CBS/The Politico) sorta criticizes Obama on the details of the DC schools. And Steve Benen (Washington Monthly) rips McCain's explanation of the DC program and cites research that says vouchers are ineffective.

Here are the links I found for the minor party candidates' education policies.

Charles Baldwin (Constitution) wants to disband the Department of Education.

Bob Barr
(Libertarian) wants to privatize education and speaks favorably of homeschooling.

Cynthia McKinney (Green) calls education a right and decries the disparities in U.S. education.

Ralph Nader (independent) begins his statement about education by say,
Education is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments. The federal government has a critical supporting role to play in ensuring that all children -- irrespective of the income of their parents, or their race -- are provided with rich learning environments, equal educational opportunities, and upgraded and repaired school buildings.

Nader sees the two greatest threats to education as being commercialism and vouchers.

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