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Editorials
The demonizing of national education standards PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 16:58

An enlightened move to elevate America’s public schools with rigorous common goals may be the latest hostage of ideology-driven politics

What is Common Core?

    One of two correct answers is: a set of voluntary standards for student achievement in math and English in all grades.     

    The other is: the subject of a conspiracy theory featuring the evil of federal control of local education.

    The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Education Officers and were adopted with little fanfare or controversy by 45 states, including Wisconsin, starting in 2010.

    Three years later, Common Core has become the threat du jour of federal government take-over of life as we know it in America, no matter that the federal government did not create the standards or force states to adopt them. Political talk-radio performers find Common Core, which some have dubbed Obamacore, a useful alternative when a break is needed from ranting about the Affordable Care Act.

    The education standards were barely noticed in Wisconsin when they were first adopted, but since national groups identified with conservative political agendas began criticizing them as a federal curriculum forced on local school districts, Republican legislators have been busy in efforts that seem designed to limit or end Common Core in Wisconsin.

    The efforts included hearings around the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that several out-of-state speakers who criticized Common Core at hearings in Fond du Lac, Eau Claire and Wausau were paid by the American Opinion Foundation, which is affiliated with the John Birch Society.

    The Senate and Assembly committees that conducted the hearings are considered hostile to Common Core, and it is widely expected they will recommend legislation to change or eliminate the standards.

    And so a set of teaching standards developed by a bipartisan governors group and a non-political education organization and intended to elevate the quality of education in American schools is starting to look like the next hostage taken by ideology-driven politics.

     The Common Core standards are an unlikely candidate for that fate.

    Wisconsin State School Supt. Tony Evers explained what they are and are not: “The Common Core State Standards are a set of expectations in English language arts and mathematics for what students should know and be able to do in every grade.” They are not a federal curriculum because “a district’s curriculum, textbook adoption and instructional choices all stay at the local level.”

    PolitiFact, the newspaper fact checking project, confirmed that Common Core is totally voluntary for states and found that the only involvement of the federal government is that it has included adoption of Common Core Standards as one of several ways for states to qualify for grants under the No Child Left Behind law signed by President George W. Bush.

    The standards are rigorous. They have to be to better prepare students to succeed in college and in careers that will inevitably be impacted by global competition. Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Wisconsin public school students will have to take standardized tests based on Common Core Standards. Teacher evaluations may be based on the results.

    No doubt, the standards put pressure on students and teachers, but that’s not what bothers most of Common Core’s critics. They have something a lot scarier to worry about—federal control of local education. It’s a conspiracy, you know.



 
Judges and justice PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 15:07

With a just ruling that kept an offender out of prison, a court case revealed that the qualities required of local judges go far beyond being on the popular side of political issues

Ozaukee County voters chose a circuit court judge last spring in a bruising contest that saw raw politics trumping the usual judicial election issues of experience, knowledge of the law and philosophy of the administration of justice. The challenger ran on a single negative issue—that the incumbent, as a private citizen, had signed a petition calling for a recall election for Wisconsin governor and was therefore no longer fit to serve as judge. Joe Voiland, a lawyer with little trial experience, easily defeated Tom Wolfgram, who in 19 years on the circuit court bench had earned a statewide reputation for judicial excellence.

    Regardless of whom they supported in the election, the citizens of Ozaukee County should now be hoping that Judge Voiland proves to be a wise and effective jurist and that if he runs for a second term it will be not on partisan political issues but on his record of service on the branch two bench.

    If a reminder that judicial elections are too important to be decided on emotional political issues was needed, it was provided last week by a case that showcased with high-definition clarity the role of local judges in ensuring that justice reaches the troubled and powerless among us, no matter their guilt before the law.

    The example was provided by another Ozaukee County circuit judge, Paul Malloy, who prevented a classic miscarriage of justice by refusing to be persuaded by a prosecutor and a state bureaucrat to send a 50-year-old mentally-ill Port Washington resident to prison for painting graffiti on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail while on probation for a similar offense.

    Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Sisley asked Malloy to follow the recommendation of a state parole agent and sentence Dale R. Ziegler, who had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for the graffiti offense, to one to two years in state prison plus two years of extended prohibition.   


    Malloy minced no words in rejecting the outlandishly severe sentence recommendation: “We’re talking about sending someone to state prison for graffiti. Prisons are reserved for people who earned their way there. A person with cognitive disabilities who becomes a town nuisance by spray painting the bike trail...I have a hard time correlating that behavior with prison.”

    The job of prosecutors is to get lawbreakers convicted and punished. Concern for the perpetrators is not high on their list of priorities. (Probation agents, on the other hand, are expected to consider the offender’s interest as well as the public’s. What the prison-for-graffiti agent was thinking is anyone’s guess.)

    Prosecutors tend to be zealous in carrying out their mission; sometimes overzealous. Judges are the counterbalance. Had Malloy taken the easy way and rubber-stamped the sentence recommendation, the case would have closed with a failure of justice.

    Though Ziegler was found competent to stand trial after a psychological exam, his mental disabilities have been well documented. “You’re competent,” Malloy told him in court, “but not by much.”

    He was arrested last year for painting references to Hitler and Ku Klux Klan on the bike trail and the parking lot of St. Peter of Alcantara Church. The district attorney chose the harsh alternative of charging Ziegler with felonies for the latter on the ground that it was criminal damage to religious property.

    He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months in jail, but was released after serving 30 days, contingent on probation rules requiring him to stay away from the bike trail and church parking lot and not possess graffiti materials.

    He violated those conditions earlier this year with the bike trail painting, and has been in the county jail ever since.

    And there he will stay for a while. Instead of prison, Malloy sentenced him to another year in the less threatening environment of the county jail and said the court would ask the county Human Services Department to find a group home for Ziegler to move into after serving his sentence.

    The group home “sounds like the best idea,” Malloy told him. “You don’t belong in prison.”

    What it really sounds like is justice. Finding judges who know how to recognize it and dispense it has nothing to do with politics.




 
DNR missfires on rifle rule PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 14:35

This urbanized county’s abundant deer need to be hunted, but the DNR is wrong to say it should be with long-range arms that increase risks for non-hunters

Like all political organizations, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources endeavors to please a few influential constituencies. High on that list are deer hunters. Low on the list, or not there at all, are people who live near deer-hunting areas. That is evident in the DNR decision to allow rifles to be used for deer hunting everywhere in the state, including in urbanized areas like Ozaukee County.

    The decision overturns the wise rule that has been in effect since deer hunting was first allowed in Ozaukee County: Hunters must use shotguns that fire slugs (or muzzle-loaders in a special season) rather than rifles.

    The intent of the rule requiring short-range ammunition was to limit the chances of an errant shot traveling far enough to endanger people living near hunting grounds. Because Ozaukee County is not “up north” with vast unpopulated areas of deer habitat, there are many homes, even neighborhoods, within a rifle shot of places where deer are hunted.

    Slugs fired from shotguns start losing velocity rapidly after 60 yards, according to the National Rifle Association, and travel only several hundred yards. The range of a typical .30 caliber deer-hunting rifle is 4,457 yards, or nearly three miles.

    The DNR gave two reasons for its decision. One was that the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an organization that advises the DNR and is made up of five elected delegates from each county, voted in favor of it.

    The other was statistics showing that shotguns were involved in 42% of hunting accidents in the decade ending in 2008, which a DNR official told Ozaukee Press “shows rifle hunting is no more dangerous—in fact it may be less dangerous—than hunting with a shotgun.”

     We don’t fault the DNR’s data, but its interpretation seems skewed. The great majority of the victims of hunting accidents are hunters. It stands to reason that shotguns could be as dangerous to other hunters as rifles. But the shotgun deer-hunting rule was intended to protect non-hunters. It defies logic to say rifles would not be more hazardous to distant bystanders not taking part in the hunt than shotguns.


    The county official in charge of Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, where deer hunting is allowed by permit, understands the hazard. Andrew Struck, director of planning and parks, said the county will continue to prohibit rifles in the park and may seek an ordinance to lend more authority to the rule.

    “Clearly the neighbors would have some serious concerns if we lifted the rifle prohibition,” Struck said.

    A number of other deer-hunting areas in the county have neighbors as close as those clustered around Lion’s Den. Fortunately, there is a way to give them piece of mind too. The DNR rule allows towns to pass ordinances countermanding the new rifle regulation; town officials should take advantage of this before the Nov. 23 start of the deer-hunting season.

    By way of perspective, it should be pointed out that, based on statistics, deer hunting is not dangerous. Hunters, with few exceptions, take seriously the fact that their recreation requires the use of lethal weapons, and they are careful. The numbers of hunting accidents have been steadily declining, and involve but a tiny fraction of the more than 800,000 deer hunters afield in Wisconsin.

    Ozaukee residents should hope that deer hunters here shoot not only safely but accurately. The exploding deer population is a full-fledged nuisance, laying waste to farm fields, gardens and home landscaping, while making roads more dangerous, all at significant cost. Hunters are the only means available to counter the nuisance.

    They can do that effectively with shotguns, especially those purpose-made for deer hunting, which have evolved into sophisticated hunting arms that are as accurate and deadly as rifles at moderate ranges.

    On that note, we have to wonder why the DNR, instead of causing anxiety for rural homeowners by allowing rifles in areas once restricted to short-range arms, has not been more creative in giving hunters opportunities to harvest more of the deer that plague developed areas of the state.

    Why is the deer hunting season here only nine days long?


 
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