JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

America's report card: Which schools are making the grade?

Michelle Rhee weighs in on the national assessment

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 9, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," ObamaCare panic. The president gets an earful from Senate Democrats nervous that ObamaCare will hurt their hopes for re-election.

And Chris Christie's landslide, easily reelected as New Jersey's governor and winning the majority of women and Hispanics. But is he a model for the GOP?

All that, plus, America's schools get their report card. Find out who's making the most improvements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

As more ObamaCare problems plague the White House, President Obama now apologizes that Americans are losing their health care coverage when he originally promised that they would be able to keep it, period. Now even Democrats are admitting that healthcare.gov should be shut down until it's fixed, and made that proposal to Kathleen Sebelius this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-MONT., SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: You've indicated that delays health care for a lot of people, and -- and I appreciate that. But if you want more time, why not just get it done right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: And this week, 16 Democratic Senators met with the president at the White House to express their concerns about the health care glitches. 12 of those Senators voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and face re-election next year.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Joe Rago; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Dan, this is not a president who apologizes for much. Recently, he just said we're going to grind it out. I think that's a direct quote. We're going to grind it out on ObamaCare. Why the switch on the apology?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think after what are he's been through with ObamaCare the last two weeks and that meeting with the 15 Senators, he had to stop the political bleeding on this problem. He had to do something. So he's apologized to the American people. Problems remain that are going to be very difficult to reverse. First of all --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But do you think that apology's sincere? Is that just a tactical shift to try to say I feel your pain?

HENNINGER: I think it's a tactical shift, saying I feel your pain.

(LAUGHTER)

This is a president, as you just said, who said that you can keep your policy or your doctor's period.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: That statement was false, period, OK? He can't reel that back no matter how much they try to rewrite it. Speaking of rewriting, these 15 Senators I think are now themselves literally only discovering what was in the law. They knew the broad outlines but they didn't understand tht the law, to work, was going to require some people lose their policy or lose their doctors so that the costs saved there could be transferred over to the law's other provisions. If they understood that, they themselves might not have voted for it. They can't reel that back. That is the law, as the White House says over and over.

GIGOT: Kim, how much panic is there, if that's not too strong a word, among Senate Democrats?

(LAUGHTER)

Because there was a lot of hand holding. The president saying, don't worry, we're going to get this fixed by the end of November. This is temporary. This will all be over, just a short-term problem. But are they -- do they believe them?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Paul, you can smell the fear rising up off the pavement down here in Washington. There's a lot of nervousness.

That being said, there's a little bit of a double game going on here. You have growing numbers of Senate Democrats, House Democrats jumping on board with legislation to delay or change or make sure that people can keep their health insurance. On the other hand, they have been told by the White House that this website is going to be fixed by the end of November.

GIGOT: Right. Right.

STRASSEL: So I think some are stringing this out. They're hoping it does get fixed before they have to pull the pin on any legislation. If it doesn't get fixed, they're going to be in a much tougher spot. But the groundwork is being laid to actually make some big moves here.

GIGOT: That's the thing. I mean, I don't see them, any of these Democrats proposing real substantive changes to the bill or even, for that matter, a substantive delay in the bill. These are token gestures. Well, we'll just wait for six weeks before the enrollment period or something or we'll delay the penalty for a few weeks. But none of that addresses the real heart of the legislation. That's the problem.

STRASSEL: No, that's right. What you're going to see, next week, for instance, is House Republicans are going to try to actually put them on the spot, exert some pressure. So, for instance, House Republicans are going to have a vote on legislation, guaranteeing that people can keep their existing health coverage for another year if they want it. We'll see how many House Democrats vote for that. If that vote is big enough, there could be pressure on the Senate to do that as well.

GIGOT: Yeah, I would say there will probably be at least 20 or 30, maybe more House Democrats will vote for that as political cover.

But I want to ask Joe about a sentence the president said on his policy statement. He said, "Obviously, we didn't do a good enough job in terms of how we drafted the law -- crafted the law," unquote.

(LAUGHTER)

Wait a minute. They knew exactly what they were doing when they crafted the law. Am I wrong?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. Actually, if you look at the wording of his apology, he's not sorry that people are losing their policies. He's sorry that they're mad that they're losing their policies.

(LAUGHTER)

It's sort of I'm sorry you feel that way.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: "If I offended you at all, I apologize."

(LAUGHTER)

RAGO: This bill is designed to destroy those policies. That's why they're disappearing. This is what they wanted to do all along. They decided those policies were inferior --

(CROSSTALK)

RAGO: -- even if people preferred them, and they wanted to get rid of them and substitute in new policies that are government approved.

GIGOT: They wanted to destroy -- they have the individual insurance market, as it currently exists, fade away. That means to drive everybody in the exchanges. That was the point of all this. And we had a cancer patient this week, Edie Sundby, write in our paper in California that she may be in danger of losing her oncologist.

RAGO: Right, just very limited choices in the exchange's narrow networks. So Ms. Sundby wrote, for example, that in the exchange policy, she couldn't go to M.D. Anderson. The --

GIGOT: Houston cancer center.

RAGO: -- renowned cancer center in Texas. So it really just disrupted her care for a stage 4 cancer patient. And we're seeing that nationwide, state to state, not just California.

GIGOT: Dan, briefly, I think the Democrats, Senate Democrats have to break here before the president would even consider any substantive changes. You agree with that?

HENNINGER: Yeah, I think so. He's going to have to be under tremendous pressure. But really, Paul, as Joe is suggesting, this law is structured in a way that's going to make it very difficult to revise or break apart at this stage.

GIGOT: Yeah, it will either be a delay, I think, or nothing much is going to happen.

When we come back, New Jersey votes for Chris Christie again. What can the Republican Party learn from his re-election?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I know if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now, see how it's done.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he can work with opposing parties and get things done for his state, so why can't Washington? Christie won re-election by a wide margin and gained the majority of women and Hispanics, two key demographics that helped President Obama win reelection.

We're back with Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; "Political Diary" editor, Jason Riley; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

So, Kim, a lot of talk about Governor Christie now on the left and the right. Is he a model for Republicans, how to win?

STRASSEL: Aspects of what he has done definitely are a model for how Republicans want to win. Look, the idea for any party is you've got to expand the tent and Christie's way of doing that has been to -- inclusive - - a lot of it has been about tone and message, Paul. He's actually a fairly conservative governor but he is inclusive. He does attempt to sort of reach out to the other side. He talks to all voters. He had a good ground game up in New Jersey, went out to a lot of these different communities all during his first term --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- to make sure they knew what he had accomplished. As a result, you saw it in those final poll numbers. He did well with a lot of the community that the Republicans have struggled.

(CROSSTALK)

STRASSEL: So he made the tent bigger.

GIGOT: OK. But how much is this, Jason, is about Christie's personal -- unique personal political talents that aren't translatable nationally?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: He is a charismatic guy. But he also shows that -- you can go out and get minority votes. You can go out and get young voters. You mentioned Latinos and women. He also increased his numbers among blacks and among young people age 18 to 29 by double digits. This is what the GOP needs to do. And he did it he said, you know, you have to go to places where you're not comfortable, not just places where you're comfortable. You can't just show up six months before the election and start then.

GIGOT: Got to do it --

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: I think the mind-set of too many Republican candidates has been to write off large segments of the voting public. It's just lost to them, lost the GOP. And Christie shows, even in the era of Obama, you can go out and get minority votes if you're willing to go work for them, to go in those communities, introduce yourself and not let your opponent paint a picture of you.

GIGOT: Dorothy, you listened to the governor's victory speech. Do you think it suggested a man ready to go national?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think it suggested a man who is going to be hard to beat in terms of charisma, but also suggested a man who could use a little touchup and a little listening to.

GIGOT: How so?

RABINOWITZ: It was a very self-regarding speech. And it was shocking --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: A little too much about me, me, me?

RABINOWITZ: Me, me, me, yes. And it was a sense that you don't hear all that often in Christie. But this plays against an era where we have a president who does nothing but use the personal pronoun, I, I, I. I sent these troops.

GIGOT: That's right. You want to -- if you're running as a Republican, you don't want to sound like that.

RABINOWITZ: No.

GIGOT: You want to be a contrast.

RABINOWITZ: You want to be the guy who normally is, this down to earth fellow, instead of the symphony of exaltation about New Jersey --

(LAUGHTER)

RABINOWITZ: -- into which he falls now and again. This is a speech that he should be watching before he goes on the campaign trail. I have great hopes for Christie's capacity to learn.

GIGOT: So, Jason, what do you think? I've listened to the governor a couple of times and I -- one thing, he can be very compelling. He tends to go on and on and on and on.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: Politicians are not known for their brevity.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But it's a particular kind of indiscipline that I think can get you into trouble. Everybody thinks it's a great 20-minute speech. When it's a great 30-minute speech, they think, how can I get out of here?

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: Well, that's why we have the long primary process. He'll get tested. He'll learn how to tighten his game a little bit. I think he'll get better as he goes forward.

But I think he has a very compelling case to make here. This is a very blue state. This is a state Obama won by double digits.

GIGOT: Democratic state.

RILEY: And he came out -- he comes out of this race with a running start. I think, particularly, his ability to appeal to different demographic groups can go a long way.

GIGOT: The liberals, Kim, are already saying though that his appeal is he's a moderate.

STRASSEL: Right.

GIGOT: And that is not a conservative, like all those other crazy Republicans in Washington. So how does he bridge that in a Republican primary to be able to persuade conservatives, who are the bulk of the primary voters?

STRASSEL: Yeah. Christie's problem here -- and he is relatively conservative for the party -- but, you know, being from New Jersey and having to work in that environment, the reality is, you step back, some of the reforms he's done have not been as striking or as far reaching as, for instance, what a Scott Walker did in Wisconsin in terms of government reform. I think what you see happen as he settles into the second term, you're going to see a pivot from Chris Christie. He'll be more aggressive about putting out some things that really do resonate with the Republican base on taxes and government reform. Maybe some of these areas where he's been a little weaker, for instance, the environment, climate change --

GIGOT: OK.

STRASSEL: -- he might try to do something there --

GIGOT: OK. Well, we'll --

STRASSEL: -- and try to position himself.

GIGOT: All right, Kim, thanks.

When we come back, new education reforms in Washington, D.C., and Tennessee have taken effect. Find out how well schools in those regions have improved, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The nation's report card is out. The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows students in Tennessee and the District of Columbia made the biggest improvements in math and reading at the fourth and eighth grade levels. What are those school districts doing that sets them apart from the rest?

I'm joined by Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor and founder of studentsfirst.org.

Welcome back to the program. Great to have you here.

MICHELLE RHEE, FORMER WASHINGTON, D.C., SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR & FOUNDER AND CEO, STUDENTSFIRST.ORG: Thanks for having me.

GIGOT: So as you look at the results -- I looked at -- if you look at -- let's deal with top line, first, nationwide.

RHEE: Yes.

GIGOT: It looks like there's not as much progress between 2011 and 2013 as we would like, nationwide. Do you agree with that?

RHEE: That's right. The results were relatively flat. We saw a little bit of an uptick here and there, but overall the nation is not gaining ground in the way that we would want to see it.

GIGOT: OK. Let's focus in on where there was progress. Two of those states, well, District of Columbia, where you were the former school's chancellor, and Tennessee, what do you think explains their rather remarkable progress, with Tennessee catching up to almost the national average, and the district, as you know, having been one of the worst school districts in the country?

RHEE: Well, these are both jurisdictions that have struggled in the past pretty significantly with large numbers of kids in failing schools. And while we can't attribute directly any one policy to the gains we've seen, we have to look at these two places and say, what were they doing.

GIGOT: Right.

RHEE: And if you ask that question, it's very clear tht both of these states are places that, one, invested in teacher effectiveness. They really prioritized that by putting in place different pay structures that recognized and rewarded the best teachers in the classroom.

GIGOT: OK.

RHEE: They put in place rigorous teacher evaluation systems. And they also invested heavily in professional development.

The second thing that both of these jurisdictions did is put in place high standards. Both of them were early adapters of the Common Core standards, which are a set of internationally benchmarked national standards which will ensure that American kids are going to catch up with the rest of the world so that we're no longer 25th in math.

GIGOT: Let's dig into the teacher evaluations a little bit. Because the key to it seems to be -- at least one of the keys seems to be that you've got to link teacher evaluations to teacher performance. That is, you've got to link them to, actually, do you see progress on tests? Is that key in both states?

RHEE: That's absolutely right. When I was the chancellor in D.C., we had a circumstance where only 8 percent of our children in eighth grade were on grade level in mathematics. Yet, when you looked at the performance evaluations of the adults in the system, 98 percent of them were being rated as doing a great job.

GIGOT: Everybody was a genius, yeah.

RHEE: That's right. So you had this total disconnect. And D.C. and Tennessee were the two jurisdictions across the country that actually implemented the model first, which said we have to link how well students are doing, how much they're growing to a teacher's evaluation. And I think we're beginning to see the fruits of that.

GIGOT: You talked about rewarding good teachers with extra pay, but how do you weed out -- how did you weed out in D.C. ineffective teachers, which can be a big part of the problem for many students? How do you decide who stays and who goes?

RHEE: Right. Well, it's important to note that when you put in place a teacher evaluation system, you can't look at teachers through any one lens. You have to look at them through multiple lenses. What both D.C. and Tennessee did was implement teacher evaluation systems that looked, at one, student growth but, two, classroom observations, three, here in Tennessee, they're using student surveys to link to teacher evaluations. So you have to look through multiple lenses at a teacher's performance overall. But when teachers are not performing where they need to be, when they are rated as ineffective, then there has to be real consequences.

GIGOT: Right. Well, in D.C., you have -- if you were rated ineffective, the teacher was rated ineffective, you could be removed the first year. Then, if you were minimally effective, you got a year to shape up.

RHEE: Correct.

GIGOT: And then -- but you could be removed that second year. One of the things that's striking in D.C. is that many of those labeled minimally effective decided, well, I'll leave on my own.

RHEE: Right.

GIGOT: So that was a significant incentive for -- to sort the good from the bad.

RHEE: That's right. Stanford and the University of Virginia just did a study on the evaluation system and the paper performance system that D.C. put in place. And what it said was that because the higher performers were being paid a whole lot more money, the district was retaining them at higher rates, which is what you want.

GIGOT: You want to do.

RHEE: And for those at the bottom of the scale, ineffective teachers and minimally effective teachers, because they knew that it was -- you know, they had to either improve or leave, that you saw a lot of low performers sort of self-attriting, choosing to leave. But what you also saw was that the district invested money and resources and time into making all teachers better, ensuring there's good professional development options.

GIGOT: Right.

RHEE: So a lot of the teachers in the middle all improved their performance, which is exactly what you want to see.

GIGOT: I remember writing about your fight in D.C. to get this through. And a lot of the unions -- the teachers unions really fought it. How can we spread this success in D.C. and Tennessee, this model, elsewhere around the country?

RHEE: I think what you need is courageous politicians. Any time you are really disrupting the status quo, you're implementing significant change that people are not used to, you're going to get a lot of pushback.

GIGOT: Right.

RHEE: And in Tennessee, both Governor Haslem (ph) and Commissioner Huckman (ph) have been moving forward on aggressive reforms but they've also facing a tremendous amount of opposition. And you have to be able to push through that, as politicians, and say, you know what, even though some adults might not be happy with this, this is what is good and right for kids. It's what's going to produce better outcomes for children.

GIGOT: All right, Michelle, thanks so much for being here. And we'll be watching what happens.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, a miss to the National Football League, a miss to Miami Dolphins lineman, Richie Incognito, and his teammate, Jonathan Martin, who blew up the NFL by accusing Mr. Incognito of bullying him. I mean, give me a break. These are guys who spent all day Sunday taunting, whooping and whacking each other nearly senseless? Bullying? I can't believe it.

GIGOT: All right.

Jason?

RILEY: This is a miss for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who this week admitted to smoking crack cocaine while in office, Paul, yet he refuses to resign. He says his heavy drinking drove him to smoke crack, which, for some of us, is a second reason for him --

GIGOT: Yes, that's reassuring.

RILEY: -- to resign. In any case, there is no recall process in Toronto. The city council cannot remove him. So unless he grows a conscience, it looks like Toronto will be stuck with him until the end of his term next year.

GIGOT: All right.

Joe?

RAGO: Paul, the National Academy of Science reported this week that there's 8.8 billion planets in the Milky Way about the same size as earth, about the same distance from a sun-like star. That means you could sustain water, oxygen and maybe life somewhere else. So this is a hit for Al Gore, Paul Krugman and the other doomsayers out there. Maybe there's hope after all.

GIGOT: We've got a place to go.

All right. That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and all to you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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