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August 31, 2004, 6:30 P.M.

The following note was posted by former New Hampshire State Senator and lawyer, Peter Hutchins, on the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association listserve, and is reprinted here with Peter's permission.

WORDS FROM THE POLITICAL CRYPT:

This is the first and only time I'll weigh in on a political topic on this listserve.

First, I would like to echo Tim's thoughtful and "right on" comments, and further applaud people like Jimmy Craig who run (particularly successfully) for office, and Tommy Craig who busts his butt and puts his money where his mouth is for those who do run.

As you are probably aware, I undertook my first AND LAST!) run at political office during the Democratic trainwreck otherwise known as 2002. I ran for State Senate here in Manchvegas. Unfortunately, Hooksett and Candia (bastions of progressive political thought) were also in my District. I lost 64-36 (although I did get over 7,000 votes which was amazing, although they were probably all straight tickets!). While batting .360 in the majors gets you a multi-million dollar contract, .360 in politics pretty much causes you to repress the memory (ask Al Drukteinis about that one...).

While I learned a lot from the experience, I can say, without hesitation, that it was the most difficult, nerve-racking, and stressful 4 months of my life. Many sleepless nights of self-doubt layered on top of many long days of walking door to door and going to events (like Olde Home Days!) that previously someone would have had to pay me to attend. I will never do it again. Running unopposed for Bar President was MUCH better, and paid only slightly less than State Senate.

What I would like to get across, however, is how important it is to the candidate for fellow lawyers (who legitimately like and support him or her) to support them. Financial support is important, but in the end (and in hindsight from this one time loser's perspective) not the most important thing (it did take me over $30,000 to run the campaign I though necessary to get signs out, newspaper ads, etc etc.). Sometimes just a note, email or phone call of support followed by even a small contribution of $25 means so much - especially if received during one of those many down or depressing days of a campaign. While contributions of $100 - $250 and more are often solicited (we are instructed to ask for outrageous amounts by the people running our campaigns), you should not feel obligated if you can't afford it. It can be very difficult if 5 or 6 people you like are running. Don't be ashamed in those circumstances, if all you can afford is $25-$50, to give that, and perhaps offer to put a sign on your lawn, hold an after work gathering, or even just write a note of personal support. That means so damn much I can't tell you. Being blown off completely by people you know and thought liked you hurts just as much.

So if you truly like a candidate running for office who is a fellow lawyer (regardless of party), I would urge you to do something to support them - even if all you can do is a small check or a kind note or a sign on your lawn. That fellow lawyer who is going through these grinding days of personal, professional and family stress caused by these campaigns will remember you forever, and will appreciate it always. It will also pick them up more than you can imagine.

NOW, BACK TO THE CRYPT.

PS - and no, I do not own a dog named Checkers, just a cat named Slick. And yes, the cat's a Democrat.

We agree that there are too few who are willing to stick their necks out or support someone who does. As a two-term veteran of the Laconia School Board, I echo Peter's sentiments.

August 29, 2004, 5:00 P.M.

On August 25, 2004 60 Minutes aired a follow-up story on the so-called Texas Miracle. Citing unprecedented “improvement” in student performance in the Houston School District, George W. Bush proclaimed himself the “Education President.” When elected, Bush appointed former Houston Superintendent Rod Paige as education secretary and launched his national version of the Texas program and called it “No Child Left Behind.”

It now turns out that the Texas Miracle more closely resembles Enron than education reform. In order to demonstrate dramatic increases in student performance, Paige’s district cooked the books. Then Texas Governor George W. Bush used the false information to stake his claim as the education candidate, and to support his election bid. Does this have a familiar ring to it yet?

What was done to make the Houston schools look better than they actually were was partly fancy accounting. The worst part of the scam, however, manipulated the lives of actual students, denied them a fair shot at an education and swept their records, and their lives, under a bureaucratic carpet.

In the first instance, students who dropped out of school were not reported in order to create the illusion of a low dropout rate. Records were created to show that students had left school for “acceptable reasons” such as transferring to another school, returning to a native country or leaving to complete a GED program. Under the state’s education system, these students were not considered dropouts. This practice came to light when Robert Kimball, principal at the Sharpstown High School, one of the schools in the Houston district, noticed that his school’s record indicated that there were no dropouts in a particular reporting period. There were actually 463 students who left that year and only a small portion of those actually left for “acceptable reasons.” The rest were in fact dropouts. Kimball reported this discrepancy to his superiors and was removed from his post and reassigned as a second assistant principal in the district and given a letter of reprimand.

Even more disturbing than misreporting the dropout numbers was the district’s practice of manipulating student 10th grade test scores. The district accomplished dramatic improvements in its test scores by keeping students who were not likely to score well on tests away from taking the tests. In some instances, individual students were held back in 9th grade for several years and then promoted directly to the 11th grade without ever being enrolled and thus required to be tested in, 10th grade. In many instances, these students had in fact passed their courses or made them up in summer school and they were eligible for promotion. They were simply not promoted because of a subjective determination on the part of the school officials regarding the student’s potential performance on the test.

One might reasonably ask why teachers and administrators would go along with this type of chicanery. The reason is economic. Teachers and principals whose students performed well were given a bonus. Some of these bonuses were substantial. On the other hand, all teachers and administrators were given one year contracts and if their school or students did not perform in a way that made the district look good on annual tests, they were put on probation or not renewed, regardless of their past performance or the length of their service.

A Texas state audit, instituted after Robert Kimball blew the whistle on the practices of the Houston School District, found 3000 unreported dropouts and 9th grade classes bulging with students who were eligible to be promoted, but who were held back because of their possible inability to perform well on the test. Kimball, it turns out, was correct. As a result of a settlement in the Federal Whistleblower suit filed by Kimball, his letter of reprimand was rescinded, he was paid $90,000, and several school board members resigned their positions.

The Houston School District, it turns out, is just like every other urban district in the country. It has its strengths and its weaknesses. What is different is that powerful and unscrupulous politicians used kids to promote their own ideas and policies and caused harm along the way. The so-called Texas Miracle was a lie, and it was just another lie perpetuated by the Bush campaign. The Texas Miracle wasn’t and the Education President isn’t.


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