Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's That Time of Year - Law Schools Are Asking for Money

So you were accepted into your law school of choice, thanked your parents, recommenders, and whichever random strangers were near your mailbox as you tore open your acceptance letter - now what? It's time to figure out how to pay for it all. This podcast may help. Law School Podcaster delves into loans, grants and scholarships for law school.

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Arne Duncan on the Student Loan Overhaul

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talks to the USA Today about the significance of the federal government disbursing money for government-backed loans as opposed to just guaranteeing the funds.

Q: What does the overhaul of student lending do?
A: Basically, it cuts banks out of the government-backed student loan business. Money for the loans has come either directly from the government or through private financial institutions, which have collected billions of dollars in federal subsidies to protect against default.
Under the changes, banks will no longer act as middlemen, and all colleges and universities must switch to the direct lending program by July 1. Many already have made the switch in anticipation of the new law.
Private lenders can still make student loans that are not backed by the government, and they will continue to have contracts to service some federal loans. But the new law represents a significant change in what has been a multibillion-dollar business for the banking industry.
Q: How much money will the government save?
A: Taxpayers will save $68 billion over the next 11 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Q: What will Obama do with the money? How will this affect students and their parents?
A: A chunk of the savings will go toward Pell Grants for college students — to award more grants and to provide larger amounts. Community colleges and institutions with predominantly minority populations also will receive funding.
Q: Will the changes bring down college costs?
A: Sorry, no. Obama acknowledged as much before signing the bill when he urged colleges and universities to "do their part" to hold down costs.
Q: OK, what exactly is happening to Pell Grants?
A: More than $40 billion will go toward the grants, which are targeted toward students from low- and moderate-income families. Between 2013 and 2017, the maximum award will increase to $5,975 from $5,550. The administration also expects more than 820,000 additional awards to be made by the 2020-2021 academic year because of the changes.
Some of the money will address shortfalls in the Pell Grant program that developed because students were qualifying for more and larger grants. More than 6 million students received such grants in the 2008-09 academic year, an increase of about 50% from a decade earlier, according to the College Board.

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How Did Delaware and Tenn. Win?

Congratulations are certainly in order for both Delaware and Tennessee for their first round victories in Race to the Top. Ed Week gets into the nuts and bolts of how both states put together effective plans by formulating state-wide coalitions.

Ed Week writes about Delaware:
Delaware pulled away from the pack and ended up with the highest number of points—454.6—after the live interviews with Race to the Top judges, improving on its position when the 16 finalists were announced. (Delaware originally was second, behind Tennessee, which ended up with 444.2 points.)
Delaware, which requested $107 million to pay for its reform plan, brought a delegation that included Gov. Jack Markell, Education Secretary Lillian M. Lowery, Diane Donohue, the president of the statewide teachers’ union, a district superintendent, and a leader from the state’s business community. Every school district and every local teachers’ union in the state signed on to the plan, which also helped put the state in first place.
“We know now that the interview was a huge piece for us,” said Daniel Cruce, Delaware’s deputy secretary of education. “We were able to successfully demonstrate that the governor and all of our panelists were intricately involved and committed to the plan. We had the union president present the piece around teacher accountability, which is one of the most controversial parts of the application.”
Delaware’s teacher-effectiveness plan includes a new law that allows teachers with tenure to be removed from their jobs if they are given “ineffective” ratings for two to three consecutive years, and teachers can only be given an “effective” rating after demonstrating adequate growth in their students’ academic achievement.
Through new regulations, the state’s education secretary can order any of Delaware’s lowest-performing schools to participate in the state’s “partnership zone,” which effectively forces the leaders in those school districts to choose one of four turnaround models outlined by the Education Department.
If district leaders and their union counterparts either disagree on how to overhaul a particular school or submit a proposal for turnaround that the state education secretary deems as too weak, the secretary can override it. In the event that a chosen turnaround model doesn’t deliver improved results within two years, the secretary can force the school to start over with a new approach.
And on Tennessee:
Tennessee, where lawmakers passed legislation that mandates using student achievement as half of a teacher’s annual evaluation in every district, stood out for its mature “value-added” data system that has been around for nearly two decades. All of the state’s teacher-preparation programs, whether traditional, university-based ones, or nontraditional programs like Teach For America, must train their candidates in how to use the data system.
Teacher candidates will have to demonstrate that they can use the system before they can be licensed. At the behest of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, lawmakers held two special legislative sessions over the last year on education to enact a series of Race to the Top-related changes that included making the state’s cap on charter schools less prohibitive and overhauling teacher evaluations.
The governor, who will leave office next year because of term limits, also secured the signatures of all seven major gubernatorial candidates who vowed to back all of the changes outlined in Tennessee’s Race to the Top plan. He said in a conference call with reporters that his state clearly distinguished itself from most of the other finalists because its overhaul of teacher evaluations will be done statewide, not just in a limited number of willing school districts.
So what can other states learn from these two? Ed Week focuses on local buy-in and nearly universal support (at least in Tennessee's case) among the unions, districts and other stakeholders. So the competition basically valued teamwork. But the competition may be able to do much more than that. It's limited time frame, out-sized payoff, focus on teacher preparation and better measures of teacher effectiveness may lead to all stakeholders - unions, districts and states - making the necessary compromises that strengthen K-12 education.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not So Fast

New York City recently lost a case that would have allowed them to close 19 schools due to poor performance.

The NYT reports:

The city has closed 91 schools since 2002, many of them large high schools, replacing them with clusters of smaller schools and charter schools in the old schools’ buildings. Mr. Bloomberg credits the closings with significantly improving graduation rates, which average over 70 percent at the small schools and 63 percent citywide.
When a school closes, current students are allowed to stay until graduation, but no new classes are admitted.
The moves have always generated controversy, particularly when schools proposed for closing had shown some progress. For example, 12 of the schools scheduled to close this year received a grade of “proficient” on their last city quality review, and hundreds of students and alumni citywide spoke out in favor of effective programs at the closing schools, like one devised for mothers and pregnant teenagers at Robeson that offers day care and teaches parenting skills.
The judge wrote that the impact statement for Robeson, for example, did not say where young mothers in Brooklyn could find similar programs. This year, for the first time, the mayoral control law required a significant public role in closing decisions, requiring hearings, detailed statements of how the closings would affect the communities and a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy before the decisions were final.
On Jan. 26, the panel, which is controlled by the mayor, affirmed all 19 closings after nine hours of angry public comment from hundreds of teachers, students and parents.
Justice Lobis, who voided the panel’s decision, said the new law “created a public process with meaningful community involvement regarding the chancellor’s proposals.” The entire mayoral control law, she wrote, “must be enforced, not merely the portion extending mayoral control of the schools.”

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New Additions to the Blog Roll

Laura Bergus: Law student and social media expert.

Jeremy C. Wilson: JD/MBA student.

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Articles of the Day

The numbers don't add up.
Gangs are retaliating.
Health care reform didn't hurt Democrats...yet.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

More on Donald Berwick

More on Donald Berwick, who was recently appointed director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Maggie Mahar writes an excellent article detailing some of Berwick's accomplishments and explaining why he's a good fit for the position.

Mahar writes: 
Berwick stands at the center of a health care movement that would reform the system from within. In 2005, Modern Healthcare, a leading industry publication, named him the third most powerful person in American health care. In contrast to others on the list, Berwick is “not powerful because of the position he holds,” Boston surgeon Atul Gawande noted at the time.  (Former Secretary of Health and Human Services ranked no. 1, while Thomas Scully, the head of Medicare and Medicaid services captured the second slot.) “Berwick is powerful,” Gawande explained, “because of how he thinks.”
Listen to some of the clips below, from the film Money-Driven Medicine, produced by Alex Gibney, and based on my book, and you’ll understand what Gawande means. Soft-spoken, and charismatic Berwick is as passionate as he is original. His style is colloquial, intimate, and ultimately absolutely riveting. He draws you into his vision, moving your mind from where it was to where it  could be.
Berwick isn’t just another ivory-tower philosopher. He’s “an extraordinary leader when it comes to inspiring people and creating the will to move forward,” Dartmouth’s Dr. Elliot Fisher told me in a phone conversation Friday. “And he can teach people how to do it. He has demonstrated his ability to teach people how to implement change in a complex system.”

That is precisely what the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), the non-profit organization that Berwick co-founded in 1991 does, spearheading pilot projects aimed at “continuous quality improvement.” IHI targets problems like asthma care or safety in coronary surgery and then invites teams of medical workers from hundreds of hospitals to collaborate in what Berwick describes in his book Escape Fire, as “results-oriented, clock-ticking projects, which may last six months or a year.”

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Honorable Mention From Clear Admit

Thanks to Clear Admit for mentioning the roundtable interview I conducted with four law students last week. The post was entitled, "What's the First Year of Law School Really Like" and was very well received. Clear Admit states: 

First-Year Reflections, Advice Offered from Blog Post Interviews
Building off our Fridays From The Frontline post earlier, we wanted to pass along another source of law student input, as a blog interviewed four current students for their thoughts on law school’s first year.
In a post entitled, “What is the First Year of Law School Really Like?“, the blog, Policy Diary, gathered four from Yale Law School, Columbia Law School, Harvard Law School and the University of Texas School of Law, respectively, to discuss their 1L experiences.
Within the post, the law students relayed their first-year expectations and definitions of success, study habits, strategies for engaging with peers and professors, summer hiring revelations and general advice.  Two of the interviewed students are also transfers, and subsequently discussed their strategies in that regard.
The interviewees found some general consensus pertaining to their expectations of 1L year, as by and large they had heard about the year’s difficulty but found it manageable after committing to working hard.  Additionally, the interviewees generally stressed the importance of learning one’s strengths and weaknesses and adapting one’s approach based on those self-evaluative steps.
“Know what works for you, and know what doesn’t,” said Harvard 1L Katy.  “I am someone who is really sensitive to quality study time over quantity.  If I start to feel like I’m not being productive, I tend to take a break and come back to what I’m doing later; for me, I think it would have been a terrible strategy to try to spend as many hours as possible in the library.”
(Thanks to Ann Levine for passing on the Policy Diary post.)

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Grassley Screams 'Hypocrisy!' Eh, Not Really

The GOP is frothing at the mouth regarding a supposed double standard embedded in the health care reform bill. "The new health care law creates two double standards. The congressional staff who wrote the new law exempted themselves from the new health care system, while other staff will be in it,” claims Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

To correct this Grassley wrote an amendment that would, "force all congressional staffers, as well as the president, vice president, cabinet members and top White House staff to buy coverage through the [health insurance] exchanges," reports Politico.

Certainly seems like Grassley has a point...until you realize he doesn't. First, who is covered under the exchanges in the first place?

Second, it was Obama himself who, when speaking about insurance that people already had and were happy with, said, ‘if you like what you have you can keep it’. But Grassley is saying that staffers shouldn't have that freedom? Why not?

No one else is going to be forced into the exchanges. The only way for an employee to end up in one is if their small business employer chooses to enter the exchange. (Which would really be no different than an employer choosing a different insurance company to offer plans for their employees pre-health care reform.) Grassley needs to move on. Because there is certainly nothing to see here.

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Articles of the Day

Google News serves it up.
The doughnut hole is now closed.
Sin vs. crime. Leave it to Andrew Sullivan.
Health care reform by the numbers.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Technology, Please?

Education Week chats with Christopher Dede, Cathleen A. Norris and Elliot Soloway about mobile learning and the challenges ahead.

Article Tools
How widespread is the use of mobile technology in school?

DEDE: There’s a sharp contrast between students’ use of cellphones outside of the school setting and how many schools are taking advantage of that infrastructure. Even students from relatively impoverished families have cellphones of different types. They’re not getting the cellphones for learning neccessarily, but they can be repurposed for education in powerful ways. Cellphones today, even relatively inexpensive cellphones, are very powerful compared to prior models and are approaching what laptops could do just a few years ago. It’s exciting that students have this kind of technology at their fingertips.

That said, typically the response on the part of schools has been avoidance rather than adoption. Most schools have been very wary of the educational impact of having cellphones that are active during school hours.

How can schools tap in to technology that students already have?

DEDE: Where we are today with mobile devices is similar to where we were with laptops at the very beginning of laptop initiatives, when the operating systems were very different and software applications were very different, and they weren’t interoperable. You either had to specify that every student had the same device or you had a nightmare with a kind of Tower of Babel problem with all the devices not able to communicate with one another effectively. Just as that changed in the laptop industry, it’s now changing in the mobile-device industry. There are very powerful market forces at work that have nothing to do with education that are going to make these mobile devices interoperable. The story will be different even three years from now because of these market forces at work.

Why should a school consider using a mobile device?

SOLOWAY: You want technology to be essential. It has got to be 1-to-1, and it has got to be affordable. We’ve got all these [budget] cuts all the time in these districts. The one device that’s really going to be affordable for 1-to-1 is a [cellphone]. You are putting literally hundreds of computers in a school. The [budget] impact on a school is almost nil compared to trying to roll out 1-to-1 infrastructure with laptops or even netbooks.

NORRIS: For the most part, the cellular providers are providing the devices at little or no cost to the school, so the handset is practically free. When you look at the cost of building out a robust infrastructure—one that can handle every child in every classroom hitting that network during the day at the same time—we’re talking about a serious network that will handle that kind of traffic. The cost to the schools is between $75,000 to $100,000 to build out that infrastructure. Why would you build it out when you can outsource it to someone else whose business is networks, and you don’t have to pay the personnel to set it up, maintain it, and to keep updating it?

Give me some examples of things educators are using these devices to do.

SOLOWAY: Word processor, animation program, spreadsheets, concept math. All that range of software that is available can be turned into learning activities. Because it’s mobile, if you’re carrying a 30-ounce cellphone computer you are now in the world and relating the abstract concepts to the real world. That’s the profound change that you can do with a mobile device [like a cellphone] that you really can’t do with a laptop or desktop.

Do these devices extend the learning experience and the school day outside the classroom?

NORRIS: Learning truly is 24/7 now. We’ve seen examples of that over and over, particularly when asking students to document things they’ve done. You’re studying leaves, so find me examples of these leaves; photograph mold; take video; interview people in this situation. If you see someone you think perhaps was in World War II, or if you encounter Vietnam veterans, you’ve got MP3 players so you can use the device to do an impromptu interview to bring back to class. If you’re visiting a nursing home and there are people you think have some expertise in a particular area, you have in your hands the ability to do an impromptu interview to be part of your lesson and bring back and share.

Medicare and Medicaid Services Gets New Director

Obama is set to appoint Donald Berwick, health policy expert and head of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Housed within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers play a vital role in administering both programs, as well HIPPA regulations, and will also be relied upon to oversee pilot programs on quality and comparative-effectiveness research, that are funded by the health care reform bill.

The former director of the centers was Mark McClellan, who recently in an interview with Ezra Klein, called passage of health care reform "an important first step." 

The best profile on Berwick can be found here; and the best bio here.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Addition to the Blog Roll

Brendan Nyhan: Political scientist and media critic.

O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law: Legal issues in health reform.

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Jeffrey Toobin on Health Care Reform

Toobin covers a few simple nuggets on why the bill won't be repealed or ruled unconstitutional. Great piece, as always. Worth a full read.
2. Constitutionality. Various states have threatened to go to court to assert that Congress acted outside its authority in passing the health-care reform bill. Even with a conservative Supreme Court, these challenges seem bound to fail. For decades, the Court has upheld the extensive federal role in health care through such programs as Medicare and Medicaid. This new law is a change in degree, not in kind, and courts will likely stay out of the way.
However, it’s also worth noting that the courts, including the Supreme Court, will be interpreting the new health-care-reform law for many years to come. Any new law raises a multitude of questions for interpretation, and this one will raise many. What’s covered? Who pays? How does the transition to the new system work?
It’s often been noted that the Supreme Court decides many fewer cases than it did twenty or so years ago. (The docket has gone from about one hundred and fifty cases a year to about seventy-five.) In defense of their relative lassitude, the Justices often point out that much of their business comes from the interpretation of federal laws - and Congress doesn’t pass so many laws anymore. Well, this is a big new law, and it will generate lots of business for the Justices.
3. The future. Liberals in particular have noted with frustration that the Senate has become a tremendous roadblock to legislative progress. Now that filibusters are routine on almost all Senate business, it takes sixty votes to do almost anything. That sclerotic process may look pretty good to liberals now, because it means that this piece of legislation is almost repeal-proof. It would take sixty-plus Republicans and a Republican President to get the job done (or undone). That’s not happening soon (or maybe ever). This law may turn out to be popular or detested, prescient or misguided—but it is here to stay.
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A.J. Duffy Leading the Union

The LA Times interviews A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, one of the biggest teachers' unions in California.

The lousy economy has landed some punches on schools and teachers, but UTLA just scored a knockout: Of 30 schools up for new leadership in a district reform, 22 of them were awarded to groups of teachers to fix, not to outside charters.

I'd characterize that as a victory, wouldn't you?

Very much so, because in part it gives us what we've been asking for: control over the schools, along with other stakeholders. Let us create the curriculum; let us create the professional development and decide how to use the money. We get blamed for everything, but we've never been in control.

Sounds like put-up-or-shut-up time.

It is, definitely. Now we have to transform public education.

Is there such a thing as a good charter school?

There's some really good charters. The reason they're excellent is because there is a true collaboration between teachers and administrators. As long as [a charter] has a union which protects teachers' rights and helps teachers be true partners with administrators, then I have no problem.

Everyone's frustrated with the state of public schools -- aren't charters generated by frustrated parents?

Charters are really generated by private enterprise that offers parents another alternative, which is a good thing, but they don't generate the community ties that public schools do. At the same time, the playing field is not level. I'd like to see charter schools having to operate [as public schools do]. Let them come up with a plan on how they're going to deal with second-language and special-ed and students they don't want.

The bottom line: We've gone as far as we can with charters. If you really want to strengthen this country, you have to fix public education, and it shouldn't be on the backs of so-called bad teachers. Bad teachers should be fired -- I got it. But if you let teachers and other stakeholders at schools hire teachers, you won't get bad teachers. Because teachers are teachers' most severe critics.

But at the end of the day, bad teachers should no longer be teaching, right?

I agree. What we're missing is the criteria. How do we help those people who are not doing a good job to get better? How do we give them guidance? Then, how do we create a system to counsel them out of the profession? We're beginning to look at programs around the country.

Your family in Brooklyn was well-off, but you struggled because of a learning disability. How did you manage?

For me to get help, the only classification at that point was brain disorder, and my parents weren't having it. My father was very successful; I grew up in wealth, but I was out on the streets. I was a heroin addict for many years. It wasn't a great childhood. One of the things that bothers me is the fact that [my father] never got to see me as a success, and that kind of weighs on me.

Between the ages of 25 and 30, I taught myself how to read. I chose five or six books that I read over and over again with a dictionary next to me. Ancient history -- I love that whole thing between Carthage and Rome; I'm a fan of Carthage. And every time I saw a word I didn't know, I'd look it up in the dictionary. When I got to college, I began to become successful. I wasn't a good test-taker, but a lot of good professors would let you do papers [instead].

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Are We Reaching a Tipping Point on Foreclosures?

The NYT profiles some innovative programs around the country, particularly in the northeast.

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More on the Individual Mandate

Tim Jost, professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, details on how the mandate is both legal and necessary. Included in his argument is why the lawsuit that thirteen states have filed is meritless.

Jost writes:
The challenge to the individual insurance mandate is simply not legally credible. First, it is not clear whether the federal courts even have jurisdiction to hear the claim. Under Article III of the Constitution, courts may not decide hypothetical questions but rather only actual cases and controversies. The states are in no way injured by the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, and thus should not be able to challenge it.
But the mandate is clearly constitutional. The mandate requires people who have household incomes above the tax filing limit ($18,700 for joint filers) and who are not covered by their employer or a public program to buy health insurance.
Those who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty level will get tax credits to help pay for it. People who are subject to the mandate but choose to remain uninsured will have to pay a tax, which will increase with their income up to the cost of a high-deductible insurance policy.
Under the reform legislation, insurers must take all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions. The insurance market can only function if healthy people buy insurance, helping to share the cost burden with those who get sick. We cannot simply let people wait until they are sick to purchase it.
But more fundamentally, people who can afford insurance and don't buy it are simply being irresponsible. An auto accident or serious disease can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why should the taxpayers or health care providers have to finance the care of those who refuse to buy insurance?
The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states.
The Supreme Court has long held that this authority reaches all economic activity. The court has recognized as legitimate exercises of the Commerce Power the authority of Congress to prohibit the growing of a few marijuana plants on a window sill for personal medical use or to outlaw a doctor's performing of a partial-birth abortion. Choosing whether to buy insurance or impose your health care costs on others is economic activity subject to that authority.
Virginia has passed a law purporting to nullify the federal law. But the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution provides that federal law is the supreme law of the land. Virginia's law is no more enforceable than were its laws attempting to nullify federal desegregation laws in the 1950s.

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Articles of the Day

Why passing the bill matters.
North Carolina's schools resegregate.
From BlackRock to Brown Soil.
Yale Law advocates for education.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mitt Romney and the Individual Mandate

Here's a blast from the past. In 2006 Mitt Romney took to the opinion pages of the WSJ to shout from the fiscal conservative's proverbial mountaintop that he had found a way to deliver universal coverage insurance to all in Massachusetts. Ironically, not only does Romney not support the current reform efforts, but he also had a hard time convincing conservatives that the plan he created (affectionately dubbed Romneycare, sound familiar?) was, in fact, conservative. Op-ed after the jump.

What is the First Year of Law School Really Like?

 I decided to have a roundtable interview with four current law students to find out. Frequently prospective law students are intimidated and feel unprepared for what lies ahead, especially during the first year ("1L year"). Our four guests talked about their definition of academic success, how to study and prepare for exams, the transferring process, and how the current legal market has affected summer hiring.

Articles of the Day

New changes to child custody? 
Alternate reality: Women running Wall Street.
Romney tries...Romney fails.
What is public opinion worth?

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Apple's Game-changer (And I'm not Talking about the iPad)

Appleinsider notes that:
Apple is expected to join the lucrative home entertainment market, estimated to be worth $31.8 billion in the U.S. alone, in the next two to four years by offering a $2,000 Internet- and content-connected HDTV.
Check out more after the jump.

Did Obama Match His Rhetoric?

Courtesy of Think Progress:
In just a few minutes, President Obama will sign a comprehensive health care reform bill into law. On March 24, 2007 — nearly three years ago to this day — then-candidate Obama attended a health care forum in Las Vegas sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and SEIU. At the forum, Obama delivered this pledge:
More after the jump.

New Additions to the Blog Roll

Ross Douthat: Times' conservative opinion writer.
Marc Ambinder: Holds court at The Atlantic.

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Remember Haiti?

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How the Individual Mandate Will Affect the Newly Unemployed

CNN does a great job at looking at some of the cost cutting measures that were included in the health care bill. They also broke down how the individual mandate will work. More after the jump.

Articles of the Day

Should college stop being financed with loans? 
Technology meets education. 
How to choose a nursing home. 
Too much management in NYC education? A perspective on Joel Klein's leadership.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Republican Afterthoughts on Health Reform

I posted this back in December, but it's as relevant now as it was then. Check it out after the jump.


Feel free to let me know what you think of the new redesign. It's by far the biggest change since the blog was started. The goal was to make it cleaner, less cluttered and easier to find information. Hopefully, all of that has been achieved without sacrificing anything important.

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Health Care Reform and You

Kaiser Health News gives a great, concise rundown on how the reform bill will affect the average individual. Check it out after the jump.

Obama's Reaction to Health Care Vote

Articles of the Day

Bringing business skills to prisons (without the felonious CEO).
Does it take a recession to rethink our criminal justice system?
What happens when doctors' visits get too cheap.
Educators embrace iPod.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care Vote Underway

Currently watching the health care vote take place.

New Additions to the Blog Roll

Institute of Education Sciences: This division of the Department of Education focuses on all manners of educational research. It includes "the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Special Education Research."

At the Chalk Face:  Professor Shaun Johnson of Towson University dishes on elementary education. His blog is "entirely a discussion and dialogue about education. I’ll bring things up from the news, from education blogs, and from my reading and experiences." I'll be interviewing Professor Johnson later this week.

American Educational Research Association: The Association focuses on "improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results."

Sanjay Gupta on Chemical Risks

Postracial -- Trying to Leave Black Behind, but Still Have a Black Behind

Professor Michelle Alexander has an excellent post on the "postracial" narrative and how it is not reflective of life for far too many.
During this year's Black History Month, like last, we will be treated to celebrations of Obama's presidency -- the ultimate symbol, we are told, of America's triumph over its ugly history of discrimination, exclusion, and racial caste. This is a time to rejoice, it is said, though we still have a long way to go.
That is the dominant racial narrative today among those who claim to care about racial justice: Look how far we have come, but yes we still have a long way to go.
Here are a few facts that run counter to that racial narrative:
* There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
* As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
* If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas, like Chicago, have been labeled felons for life. These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- a group of people who are permanently relegated, by law, to an inferior second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits -- much as their grandparents and great-grandparents once were during the Jim Crow era.
There is a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. But crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the past few decades -- and currently are at historical lows -- but imprisonment rates have soared. Quintupled. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation's prisons and jails, which are overflowing with black and brown drug offenders.
The clock has been turned back on racial progress in America, though scarcely anyone seems to notice. All eyes are fixed on people like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey who have defied the odds and achieved great power, wealth and fame.
But what if Obama, who has admitted to violating our nation's drug laws, had been treated like a common criminal -- what if he hadn't been insulated by growing up in Hawaii and attending a predominately white university -- where would he be now? Most likely, he would be cycling in and out of prison, trapped in the parallel social universe that exists for those labeled felons. Far from being president of the United States, he might be denied the right to vote. He would be subject to many of the same forms of discrimination, stigma, and social exclusion that we supposedly left behind. How many black men and boys are trapped in this undercaste who might have been president of the United States? We will never know.

Articles of the Day

The age-old debate on unions' significance (or lack thereof) in schools.
Are the uninsured who you think they are? 
The recession tampers down least a little.
Can green homes bringer greener cars?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking Insurance Out of Health Care Reform

In Newsweek a veterinary oncologist looks at the similarities and dissimilarities that exist with health care for pets and health care reform. 
A breathtaking $66.8 billion each year—almost a third of all Medicare dollars—is spent treating patients in the last two years of their lives. Too often, expensive procedures are tried simply so medical providers can cover themselves against potential lawsuits from bereaved family members who want to make sure everything possible was done. The fact that insurance generally covers all of this makes it more likely that doctors and patients pile on excessive and nonessential tests and procedures.

About 90 percent of my animal patients are geriatric—and, as odd as this sounds, the veterinary world may hold lessons for the broader health-care system. While pet insurance exists, only roughly 3 percent of owners carry it; even then, clients pay a substantial portion of costs themselves. That means they usually want to know the rationale behind each test. I explain what I think is going on, what I want to look for, and which tests I need to perform to find it. I rank the diagnostics from most to least essential and lay out approximate costs. My clients then choose what they want done, with an understanding of the relative importance, risk, and cost of each option. This step-by-step approach may seem time-consuming, but it dramatically reduces the number of expensive, unnecessary tests. And the process is more gratifying.
When facing the death of a loved one—human or animal—the real challenge is coming to grips with the reality of the situation. Since my approach draws me closer to families, it's easier to suggest that the best course of treatment may be relieving pain rather than fighting a disease. Owners are less likely to fear that you're giving up on their beloved pet if they trust you. When I'm asked about performing tests, and I know the results won't change the outcome, I say so. If your golden retriever's cancer is too far advanced for surgery, getting a biopsy may be a pricey—and superfluous—exercise.
No family wants to subject its already sick pet to uncomfortable tests or dump thousands of dollars into dead-end diagnostics. So why do we do that to our grandparents? Clearly the stakes are different: we're talking about the people who brought us into the world. Vets, also, are not saddled with the threat of career-ending malpractice lawsuits. While most pets are treated like children, legally animals are property—I can't be sued for more than their face value. We're also not buried under paperwork, which accounts for our ability to spend more time with clients.

I'm not advocating that people and their families be allowed to dictate their care entirely. But there is something to be said for inviting them deeper into the process. In some ways, veterinary practice today is not that different from the practice of human medicine before insurance companies dictated policy and the threat of lawsuits guided decisions. Which might explain why the question I'm asked with the second-most frequency is "Do you think I could be treated in this hospital?"

Choosing a School for Your Child - Public vs. Private

EbonyJet looks at 10 things that parents should consider when looking at public vs. private. Not so much which system a parent should choose, but more so which questions must be asked of each individual school that is under consideration. The article is worth a full read.
Let’s get to the bottom line here. Arguing the merits of one educational system over another – public vs. private, suburban vs. urban, parochial v. home schooling, is a road to disaster and the setup for a decision based on absolutely the wrong set of questions. The fact is, your child will not attend a school system, he or she will attend an individual school, with individual teachers and individual administrators, and the effectiveness of that combination can vary wildly from school to school.
In every city there are pockets of excellence in public schools and hotbeds of hype in the private world. The act of paying tuition is no more a guarantee of quality than free is a promise of mediocrity. It’s far more complicated than that.
A careful parent should be looking at any number of factors before making such an important decision. To be sure, some factors fall to the favor of one system or the other, but it is the sum total you must evaluate and determine what makes the most sense for who your child is, and who you want your child to be.

Much more important that public, private, grades or reputation is a school’s philosophy of education, and whether that philosophy matches yours. In a nutshell, you should ask and expect a clear answer to the question: “How do you think children learn best?”
Most of us are trained to expect a mastery of fundamentals early on and judge a school’s effectiveness by that standards. But increasingly there are highly effective schools who believe a mastery of concepts and meaning should come before the standards. In other words, knowing what “2” and “4” really are is more important than just remembering 2 + 2 = 4.  Other schools think play is a critical learning tool. Others get down to the basic right away.  Know which camp you’re in.

Teacher Ratio
A lower number of students per teacher (for example, less than 20-1) is not an absolute determination of a school’s strength, but it does mean your child is likely to get a bit more personal attention if they require it. Better schools will enforce a limit on this ratio.

Parent Involvement
Does a school welcome parents into the classroom as active partners in education, or do they just want you to sign the homework and give a gift to the auction? Sure, you may not have the time make costumes, build volcanoes and babysit a hermit crab. But if you’re not being asked frequently, there may be trouble afoot.
Likewise, how aggressively do parents involve themselves? Are parents working to make the school better or battling over distractions like parking spaces and drop-off rules? Can you attend a parents’ meeting before deciding?

Handling Extremes
How does a school assess whether some children are either ahead of the curve or behind it? What is their action plan once those children are identified? Does a school adjust or supplement curriculum based on achievement levels, or will it stick to the standards, leaving advanced children unchallenged and children who need assistance out of the loop?

Boys/Boys of Color
If you want to make a school really nervous, ask them what their record is regarding boys. Then specifically ask about Black boys. Boys of all stripes have off the chart energy levels that if not addressed actively can result in class disruption at best and at worst, kids being pegged as troublemakers or troubled learners unfairly. This a particular issue when the boys are black.
Look for male role models in the school, particularly outside of PE teachers and the head janitor. Ask teachers if they are parents who have boys. Ask for a list of past parents  or check Mommy listervs to see what experience people have had on the issue. If you’re at a majority white school, you may not want to seem like the potentially angry Black parent, but asking the question up front puts administrators on notice that it’s a concern and your child will not be considered a disciplinary case for being a normal boy.

If you’re looking at a school that goes K-8 or K-12, don’t limit your visit to the lower school. Pay special attention to grades 6-8, the hormonal years. Are the kids in the classrooms still engaged, or do you see the dull eyes of pimple angst? If children at this age appear to still be excited about learning, you’re in a good place.

Knowledge of Students
Insist on a school tour, preferably with the principal or admissions director,  and while school is in session. Watch closely. Does your guide know students’ names? Are the kids speaking to the principal unprovoked, or is there fear in their faces? Schools are reflections of their leader. When walking the halls, does the school’s leader seem like the head of a family or a herder of cats?

Don’t be shy about asking a school to explain how they correct disruption and conflict, whether initiated by your child or others. Ask also about bullying. A school should be an oasis from a crazy world, not a reflection of one.

How do teachers communicate with parents, and vice versa. What’s the system they have in place to facilitate that communication? E-mail? Newsletters? A note that will get lost in a backpack? You also want to know what information is being communicated. Preferably teachers are using most of the communication to give you guides to reinforce what’s being taught in class.

Culture and Community
How does a school’s culture facilitate the building of a concerned and active parent community. At one school I know, it is standard for parents to walk children to their lockers each morning and not leave until they are safely greeted by the teacher.  Cellphones are also banned.  It forces parents to stop, slow down and make a final, sometimes critical connection with childen before they start the day. It also provides time to bond with other parents, see how children interact with classmates, stay informed and address any concerns with teachers face to face.
On the student level, do kids seem safe, happy and well adjusted? Are children in the lower schools exposed to older children and difficult concepts too early or are kids encouraged to remain kids as long as possible?

The Path
A school is not a destination but part of a journey. Where does the school you pick lead your child toward a desired goal? What middle schools or high schools does it feed into? Where have its graduates been accepted? Beyond the fundamentals, what kind of broad experiences and values will your child be exposed to on their journey.
Those questions are a good start, but ultimately a child’s education is your responsibility. If you plan to drop your child at the door and get back a genius at the end of day, you will be disappointed in any choice you make. The best education begins – and continues – at home.

Attorneys Are Getting in the Kitchen looks into the restaurant business boom. 

Charlie Hallowell learned the hard way that a lawyer comes in handy in the restaurant business. The East Bay chef, an alumnus of Berkeley, Calif.'s Chez Panisse, opened Pizzaiolo in Oakland five years ago. He was 28. It was his first business, and he negotiated with investors and landlords without a lawyer by his side. Looking back, he says, it cost him. 
"I could be making another $25,000 a year if I'd had a really good lawyer negotiating that lease for me," Hallowell said. "The landlords are making by far the most money at Pizzaiolo." 
For his second venue, Hallowell said, he paid lawyers to do it right. To help with the December opening of Boot & Shoe Service, an upscale pizzeria on Grand Avenue in Oakland, he called on Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean senior partner Richard Waxman to deal with start-up issues, including partnership agreements, lease negotiations, sellers permits and a liquor license.
"You'd be amazed how hard it is to get permission from the city just to cook somebody dinner -- I'm not developing weapons or anything," he said. "You have to jump through so many hoops and fill out so many forms." 
Chefs and restaurant owners like Hallowell have been opening new eateries in Oakland right through the recession, and lawyers have been eager for a seat at the table. Wendel Rosen and other local firms are stepping up their marketing efforts and plumbing their personal networks to raise their profiles. In the restaurant business, profit margins are slim, especially in the early phases. More than in other practices, restaurant lawyers have to overcome the perception that they are overpaid and unnecessary. "That is one of the biggest problems," said Paul Caleo, an Oakland, Calif., partner at 50-lawyer Burnham Brown, another firm angling for business from new dining establishments. 
Chef Daniel Patterson, who owns San Francisco's Coi and plans to open Bracina in Oakland this spring, says word of mouth is invaluable in the tight-knit culinary community. "Restaurateurs are not very lawyer-savvy," Patterson said. "They'll use whoever their friend uses and not interview around very much." Patterson is married to Wendel Rosen associate Alexandra Foote, and his legal work goes to the 60-lawyer Oakland firm.
Industry observers say Oakland's borough-style revival is buoyed in part by the development dollars the city has been funneling into areas like Jack London Square and the Fox Theater neighborhood. Jo Lynne Lockley, a recruiter working with restaurants, bars and hotels, likens Oakland's buzz to that of Brooklyn, N.Y., several years ago. "The parallels are absolutely the same," Lockley said, noting that both are a bridge or underground ride away from a major city, that each has interesting living possibilities, and both have attracted arts communities fleeing more expensive areas. "The question," Lockley said, "is how many locals will patronize restaurants in their neighborhood, and will the demographics grow with the restaurants."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Charlie Rose Interviews Nancy Pelosi

BusinessWeek has the full interview.


Many say health reform is on your shoulders; it depends on your ability to convince Democrats. You've got the President campaigning like crazy, but you have to deliver the votes.


Well, I take responsibility for whatever the outcome is, but we're at a place now where I think reform is definitely within reach.
Do you have the votes at this moment?
We don't have the bill yet.
Would you be in a better place if the President started doing what he is doing now—out there speaking with the passion he had during the campaign—a year ago
One year ago on Mar. 5, President Obama called Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate to the East Room of the White House. In that room he had all of the stakeholders—children's health, public hospitals, private caregivers, insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, you name it, every stakeholder in health insurance reform was represented. On that very day—only about five to six weeks after his inauguration—the President began to reach out to the Republicans. It was important to him to strive for bipartisanship, and in fact the health-care bill we will pass has over 150 Republican amendments. It may not have a bipartisan vote, but it has bipartisan amendments.
The rise in health-care premiums in California seems to have set him off.
It certainly did. That [Anthem Blue Cross] increase in California—39%—lit the flame, and that's only one example of the outrageous increases and irresponsibility of insurance companies. What emerged from the recent health-care summit is that Democrats want to regulate the insurance companies; Republicans do not. Left to their own devices, the insurance companies have done harm to the economic well-being of the American people.
Didn't all the talk about a public option hurt the possibility of health-care reform?

Well, I myself was a very strong supporter, but yes. If you are an insurance company, you want to take down the public option, right? You want to get rid of that. But as you do it, you want to confuse the issue of health-care reform. As long as people are talking about the public option, they are not talking about what is in the bill for the American people. But you know what? In some ways it's water under the bridge. It's unfortunate because I think if we had a bill much sooner, all of its merits would be better known, and it would not have been a piƱata for six months.
When history is written about health-care reform in the first year of the Obama Administration, it is said by many people that we will find out the Speaker was telling the President he was wasting his time trying to get Republican participation.
Hmm, really? Who said that?
Two Nobel laureate economists—Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz—are saying the stimulus wasn't big enough and it didn't create enough jobs quickly.
Obviously the package was bigger in the House, but the President wanted bipartisanship so we got a smaller package coming out of the Senate. But having said that, it was an excellent initiative. And I think it's important to note the following: The health-care bill is a job creator. It will create 4 million jobs over the life of the bill, and several hundred thousand very soon.
How long will it take you to create enough jobs to get back to an unemployment rate that's at 6%?
Well, it will take some time.
Four or five years, right?
Do I have to remind you of the mess President Obama inherited from President Bush, who refused to make these investments in America's infrastructure and job creation?
What do you think unemployment will look like by the end of this year?
Well, it will look a lot better than it would have if we hadn't passed the recovery package.

Why Young Adults Aren't Insured

Kasier and USA Today look at the 'young invincibles,' those of us under 30 who lack health insurance.
Matusiak, 33, estimates that people in their 20s would pay $138 a month for a catastrophic plan, compared with $190 for the cheapest conventional policy on the exchanges. He wants to raise the premium on the catastrophic plan by a few dollars to improve coverage.

The Young Invincibles say 4 million people between 19 and 29 — and another 3 million older adults — likely would buy these plans, which could not be purchased with the health subsidies.

Paying a penalty

Without the low-cost alternatives, Norwalk says, young adults might forgo coverage and pay a penalty for not buying insurance. Under Obama's plan, individuals would pay penalties of up to $695, or 2.5% of their annual income, whichever is higher.
Jordan Watts, an uninsured 24-year-old waiter who is Ouellette's roommate, said a low-premium, high-deductible plan sounds like a good idea. "If the price is right, it would be good to have," he says. "It's better than nothing."

But Ouellette, who was covered by his parents' insurance until he turned 21, says it's impractical for a policy to require the enrollee to spend a lot before getting benefits. "I don't understand what the point is," he says.

A recent trip to a hospital emergency department underscored his concerns. After cutting his thumb on a broken glass while washing dishes, Ouellette ended up with eight stitches — and a bill for several hundred dollars. A catastrophic policy wouldn't have covered any of it.

For more on this issue, see Young Invincibles, an advocacy group that focuses on getting youth to engage in the health policy discussion.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Cost of Health Care Reform - A Roundtable

Atul Gawande and other experts discuss reducing costs through reform.

Alleviating Spinal Cord Injuries

Frank Reynolds, holder of 750 patents, thinks he's on to something.

One of the Reasons Why Law School Tuition Has Increased

The National Jurist reports that faculties are 40 percent larger than they were just 10 years ago. That accounts for "accounts for 48 percent of the tuition increase from 1998 to 2008, the study shows. Tuition increased by 74 percent at private schools and a 102 percent at public institutions from 1998 to 2008."

The article goes on to note:

The increase in staffing does not take into account the increase in support staff, which most law school administrators acknowledge has also increased. But no reliable data is available for that. Law school observers say the dramatic increases are related to two things — an increased need for specialization and the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools.
“Law schools tend to believe that their faculty reputation is driven by scholarship and they are very interested in U.S. News,” said William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University Mauer School of Law. “Lowering your faculty-to-student ratio improves your [U.S. News] ranking and increases time for scholarship.”
Henderson said the typical teaching load has dropped from five courses a few generations ago to three courses today.
“Professors are spending less time in the classroom,” he said. “Now whether that is a smart use of a social resource is another question. It is very expensive to pay for faculty research.”
From 1998 until 2008, the number of law faculty at 195 ABA-accredited law schools grew from 12,200 to 17,080 — a 40 percent increase. A subset of that total, the number of deans, librarians and other full-time administrators who teach more than tripled — from 528 to 1,059.
While part of this increase was in part-time faculty, that category grew at a lower pace— 33 percent — than full-time faculty. All of this has lowered the average student-to-faculty ratio from 18.5-to-1 in 1998 to 14.9-to-1 in 2008. It was an estimated 25.5-to-1 in 1988 and 29-to-1 in 1978. In other words, there are twice as many law professors per student today as there were 30 years ago

Need a Law School Expert? Meet Ann Levine

­­­­Interview with Ann Levine
Today I’m glad that Ann Levine could join me to talk about her law school admissions consulting business Law School Expert. Ann will shed some light on application strategy and answer a few questions from current applicants.
Ann attended the University of Miami for both her BS and JD degrees. She worked as Director of Admissions at California Western Law School and at Loyola Law School. Since founding Law School Expert in 2004, Ann has ushered over 1,400 law school applicants through the law school admissions process, authored the Amazon bestselling law school guide book The Law School Admission Game: Play Like an Expert, and created a blog that reaches over 100,000 readers.  

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Time is It?

Applying to Law School as an Underrepresented Minority

(This article is cross-posted at and was written and shared by an intern there.)

Applying to Law School: Questions and Answers for Under Represented Minorities (URM’s)

We believe that diversity improves legal education. It provides a broadening, more stimulating, and thought-provoking environment for everyone; enhances our students’ ability to see problems from different perspectives; teaches students how to represent clients who are different from them; and prepares students to succeed in the increasingly diverse world in which they will practice.
- University of Wisconsin Law School Diversity Statement

Though frequently discussed on the discussion forums, the URM (Under Represented Minority) admissions process remains relatively unclear and poorly understood. Among the varied admissions literature, there is little comprehensive information available to minority applicants. The information that can be found is often scattered, vague, and contradictory. This article is meant to clarify and streamline application information to assist current and future law school applicants.

A Little West Indian Humor

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