Testing opt-outs; presidential campaign opt-ins; Iran deal maneuvering

Susan Greene: Hi Colorado. Welcome to this week’s installment of High Noon. Today, Colorado Independent news columnist Mike Littwin is going mano a mano against Dan Haley, former Denver Post editorial page editor and now hotshot political adviser to oil and gas companies and other beleaguered interests. Hey Dan. Thanks for joining us this noon hour.

Dan Haley: Beleaguered? And thanks for having me.

Greene: The State Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill on opting out of school tests while saying it’s not encouraging opt-outs. What’s going on here?

Haley: This bill has made strange bedfellows, where the left and right finally meet. I was surprised it passed by such a large margin.

Mike Littwin: This is, oddly, my favorite topic. As one who has never opposed testing, but who has always opposed the idea that so much testing would solve any of our educational problems, I think it’s hilarious that there is suddenly this revolution going on among those legislators who were so pro-test not so long ago.

Haley: I feel, at times, that my kids are taking too many tests. But is this the answer? How do we measure growth and achievement if we’re not testing what they know? I’m from the Bill Owens school of “we can’t improve that which we don’t measure.”

Littwin: One of the reasons it passed by such a large margin is that it doesn’t mean anything. This bill protects parents and teachers and students from opting out. At the same time, everyone is saying, we don’t want you to opt out, but if you do it’s OK, but please don’t because it’s going to cost the state millions of dollars, but we feel your pain and everyone hates the tests.

Haley: Maybe because it’s gotten out of hand. Back when it was CSAP, it was more manageable. There was still plenty of belly-aching but there weren’t as many testing days. And you also have the added angle of PARCC being federal testing.

Do you think some schools might encourage certain students to opt-out? Hey, no harm, no foul. Why don’t you go on a field trip while we’re taking the test?

Littwin: The real question on testing – that’s not addressed here – is that we’ve been testing for a while, and everyone got kind of bored, since it didn’t solve anything. I’m pro-test. But I’m anti-using-tests-as-punishment. The whole idea that the only “failing” schools were those in poor neighborhoods was appalling. No one can say, no matter how they fudge the results, that it’s an equal game. If you use tests to help improve individual kids and help teachers who aren’t getting results, then you’re onto something. The idea of tests as punitive is absurd. What’s punitive is that we have so many underserved children.

Haley: You’re a glass half empty guy. What if testing wasn’t punitive but a means to a better salary? That’s why it’s important to have testing that can determine student growth, not just comparing last year’s students to this year’s.

Teachers should be rewarded for moving students forward. And if they move under-served students forward, their reward should be higher. The idea that we should reward teachers by simply passing time in the classroom is from a bygone era.

Littwin: I agree. We should have testing. I’m pro-test. I disagree with how they’re used. I’m pretty sure I understood low-income schools were having problems even before the testing craze began.

Greene: The state Senate just passed the Parent’s Bill of Rights? Is there an opt-out movement building in Colorado? What’s next?

Littwin: I know Americans are opting out of buying newspapers. Does that count?

Haley: So we agree that there should be tests. And if we agree there are too many, then what’s the answer? It’s not everybody just opting out.

Haley: I opt my kids out of the new school lunch menu all the time.

Littwin: I know, how about a common core?

Haley: Yea! More “help” from the feds.

Littwin: Seriously, we should identify where the real needs are and then set up a system to help solve them. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. A one-state or one-country solution doesn’t work. I’ve got nothing against Common Core, but it’s a whole different issue.

Haley: Ah, so education as a local issue. Everything old is new again.

I still don’t know what was wrong with what the state was doing. Every time you change the system, you lose years worth of valuable data.

Littwin: It’s a local problem that the locals can’t seem to solve. So …

Haley: No Child Left Behind changed everything and gave the federal government a much larger role in education. And it passed the Senate 98-2, if I’m not mistaken in the days after 9/11.

Littwin: It can’t be that the only bad schools are in poor neighborhoods. That would be too great a coincidence. That’s what was wrong with what the state was doing.

Haley: Set statewide standards of what students need to know by each grade and let locals get them there.

They’re not. And that’s one thing NCLB did reveal. “High performing” schools in the burbs weren’t moving kids forward. In fact, some were sliding backward but it was masked by overall high scores.

Haley: And a stove pipe hat.

Littwin: Whatever happened to stove pipe hats? I’d wear one if you will.

Greene: Rand Paul threw in his hat for president yesterday. Ted Cruz already announced. Marco Rubio is set to announce next week. Does it matter that they all have no more experience than the community organizer did at the same stage of his career? All three seem to be touting their inexperience as a plus. Is it a plus against ultra-experienced Hillary? How would Jeb Bush — who spent his day in Colorado yesterday — fit into that model?

Haley: Not that a few years matter, but at least Rubio and Paul will have served one full term in the Senate. Obama was a senator for two years when he launched his campaign for president. #hubris?

Haley: Done. Would take me four score and seven years to grow one of those beards tho.

Or even a Littwin-esque stache.

Littwin: Those few years don’t matter. But I think a young person would have the best chance against Hillary. Republicans need a new look. Jeb Bush, who seems to be better prepared than his brother in nearly every way, is still a Bush, and we’re basically 0-for-2 on Bushes and maybe 1/2 for 1 on Clintons.

Greene: Dan, I spotted you at the back of the room during Jeb’s pow-wow at the Brown Palace yesterday. Could this mean you’re an early Jeb man? Bush 3.0?

Haley: I’m wide open to the possibilities but have always admired Jeb’s stance on education reform and tend to agree with many of his foreign policy views.

Littwin: Dan, that’s way more wonky than I expected. That it’s hard to say anything really interesting about Jeb is part of the problem. The really interesting candidate is Rand Paul. But as Dan Balz wrote the other day in the Washington Post, being the most interesting candidate may not be a plus. If Paul can’t run as a libertarian – because there aren’t enough votes to win as a libertarian – what is he exactly?

Haley: I think Rubio is interesting because of his youth and likelihood he could bring new voters to the GOP. Remember when the country hadn’t elected a senator in decades but know that’s all that’s running.

Although, if Jeb and Walker jump in there will be two candidates with executive experience as governors.

A pro-war and anti-pot libertarian? Yea, I’d say he’s interesting.

Littwin: I think Rubio is possibly the best candidate the Republicans have, except for the fact that Hillary is going to seem so much more experienced, particularly when it comes to Iran and the Middle East. She may have Benghazi, but that plays only in the GOP primary, not in the real election.

Haley: I don’t the Obama administration (or Hillary) should spend much bragging about foreign policy as the Middle East continues to unravel.

Haley: What foreign policy success will Hillary run on?

Greene: What do you two make of the Jeb-having-marked-a-box-that-he’s-Hispanic controversy? Does it have legs or does it end with his admissions that it was a “mistake?”

Haley: It’s a weird story. I don’t see what he could have gained by doing it on purpose? A special scholarship to college at 61 years old?

Littwin: Here’s the problem for Republicans. Tom Cotton, our famous letter-writing senator, said it would be no big deal to bomb Iran. Republicans are going to have to come up with an actual plan, more than just beating back the Obama deal, which is overwhelmingly supported by the people.

I don’t think Jeb was trying to fool anyone. I think we know who his family is. I make the same kind of mistake all the time. I often say that (like my daughter) I watch So You Think You Can Dance.

Haley: You’d think at this point we could all agree that it’s a big deal to bomb anyone.

Do you think Hillary will get any kind of serious challenge?

Haley: Should she?

Littwin: Personally, I’d love to see a challenge to her from the left. I think that stagnant income for the middle class and income inequality in general are huge issues, and I’d like to see them get a real hearing in a Democratic primary. That said, I don’t see a serious challenge coming unless she implodes, in which case real money would come forward. I don’t think it’s too late in what would essentially be a two-person race. I could see Warren coming in late – but only if there were a disaster. What about a Warren-Cruz race? That would bring a third-party candidate, I’d bet. I kind of love the whole scenario — but I don’t expect to see any of it.

Haley: Hillary, at this point in 2007, was seen as the presumptive nominee too so who knows? She was locking up money – and super delegates – then too. It does seem only someone like Elizabeth Warren could catch fire on the left like Obama did back then.

Greene: What do you make of Bob Corker’s bill, which would guarantee the U.S. Senate review of any Iran agreement and determine whether or not to lift U.S. sanctions. It may not be as bad a bill as many Democrats believe — unless it turns into a partisan bill designed to kill an agreement. If the bill passed, would it jeopardize the chance for a pact? Is someone like Michael Bennet, a co-sponsor, ready to take that risk?

Haley: Chuck Schumer has signed on to the bill as well. That seems like a pretty big deal. Is even Obama’s own party getting tired of seeing executive powers grow and Congress being left on the sidelines?

Littwin: From everything I know about Bob Corker, he’s a good guy. But the Corker bill is co-sponsored by Michael Bennet (running as fast as he can to the center of every issue) and Tom Cotton, who wants to bomb Iran and bomb the Obama agreement before it can even get to the Senate. It’s obviously a dangerous bill. The smart money in Washington says the bill that will go to Obama’s desk will be different enough that he can sign it. So that would put Cotton and Obama on the same page. We’ll see.

Haley: And from what I’ve read about Bob Corker, he seems to be a bridge-builder and someone who understands the gravitas of the Senate. Not a House bomb-thrower by any means.

Littwin: It’s got nothing to do with Obama and everything to do with the Israel connection. Schumer is a major Israel supporter. My guess is that Democrats will not vote in the end to turn back an Obama veto. But the Democrats are betting that Corker won’t send a bill to Obama that he has to veto.

We agree on Corker. But what to do you think about Bennet? I know he wants to run to the center, but he is putting himself in a precarious position when it comes to his base, much of which doesn’t like him. So he went against his base on the Keystone vote and now he’s going against his base on the Iran deal, which, according to the polls, is very popular among Dems. He’s walking a real tightrope on this one.

Haley: Let’s look back at 2014. Did Udall lose his base or lose the election because he didn’t run far enough to the middle?

Bennet’s base is going to turn out for a presidential election. He needs to win the middle.

Littwin: You’re right. Udall and kept his base and Gardner won in the middle. The Republican base gave Gardner a big pass on a lot of issues because they were in a win-first mode. But if you don’t hold your base, you don’t win. And this, remember, is a presidential-election year, in which more Democrats are likely to vote.

Greene: 2016 seems to be creeping up on us pretty fast. But now, High Nooners, it’s a wrap for this week. Thanks, Dan. Thanks, Mike. Thank you, readers, for joining us on your lunch hour.

And now for our weekly end-of-High-Noon musical selection. Our pick today comes in homage to spring — more specifically, to the hankering that is spring fever. Few singers ache better than Lucinda Williams. Here she is, in full longing, with “Essence.” Enjoy!

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litwin hnMike Littwin has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. A rapier wit.

dan haley Dan Haley is vice president of communications at EIS Solutions, a Colorado public relations firm and was Editorial Page Editor at the Denver Post, after being an editorial writer, assistant city editor and news reporter.

sgreeneSusan Greene is moderator today. She is a longtime Colorado journalist, a former Denver Post columnist and the editor of the Colorado Independent.

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.