Choices Make a Difference

I have no problem if women want to spend four years at college studying (at their own expense) the role of indigenous women in the postmodernist Marxist movement of 1960's Paraguay, or whatever.  However, I do have a problem when these same folks later complain that their income is below average or they are under-represented in the board room.  Just peruse the top and bottom of this list at Carpe Diem

College degrees most dominated by women include library science, consumer science, social science, education, language, psychology, and gender studies.  Top college degrees most dominated by men include construction trades, engineering tech, transportation, military technologies, engineering and computer science. 

Sorry, but I cannot imagine any possible restructuring of society and the economy where the first list is more valuable and has higher income potential than the second list.

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Like GM Executives Buying Toyotas

I am not sure this chart from Mark Perry requires much comment, except to say the contrast on the same metric for the children of members of Congress would be even more stark.

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Private Schools for Me But Not for Thee

From Andrew Coulson at Cato:

After telling a gathering of the American Federation of Teachers that he opposes school voucher programs over the weekend, Senator Obama added that: “We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them.”

Senator Obama sends his own two daughters to the private “Lab School” founded by John Dewey in 1896, which charged $20,000 in tuition at the middle school level last year. Though he says “we” should not be “throwing up our hands and walking away” from public schools, he has done precisely that.

That is his right, and, as a wealthy man, it is his prerogative under the current system of American education, which allows only the wealthy to easily choose between private and government schools. But instead of offering to extend that same choice to all families, Senator Obama wants the poor to wait for the public school system to be “fixed.”

Posted on July 14, 2008 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Government Schools

I thought this was a very illuminating bit from Obama on education:

TAPPER: But…proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you’re going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I’ve said is let’s foster competition within the public school system. Let’s make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let’s make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don’t want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That’s going to make things worse, and we’re going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country.

Some responses:

  • I love it when my opponents make my argument for me.  One strong argument for school choice is that public schools put a governor on 80% of the kids' educations, forcing them to learn at the pace of the slowest students.  But Obama basically says this.  He acknowledges in paragraph three that most of the kids would take the private option (and the only reason they would do so is that they perceive it to be better) leaving only the "hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools."  I'm sorry Mrs. Smith, I know you want more for your kids, but we've decided that they should not have a better education than that demanded by the least involved parents.
  • If his fear in  paragraph #3 comes true, isn't that consistent with a leftish market failure model?  And if so, why wouldn't it be entirely appropriate for the government to focus only on this small segment not served by private schools?  Isn't that what the government does in, say, housing or transportation, providing services only to a small percentage of the market?
  • Obama parrots the "there are not enough private schools" objection.  Duh.  Of course there is not currently 20 million student-slots of excess private school capacity just waiting for school choice.  But capacity will increase over time if school choice is in place.  Or, if the capacity does not appear, then what's the problem for Obama?  Everyone will just stay in government schools.
  • The class warfare here is both tiresome and misplaced.  Most school voucher plans have explicitly focused on the poorest families and worst schools as a starting point
  • The statement that kids leaving public schools with vouchers would be costly is just wrong, at least from a monetary point of view.  I don't know of any voucher program where students are offered a voucher as large as the average per-pupil spending of that school district.  So, in fact, each student leaving public schools is a new financial gain, subtracting a $6,000 voucher but removing at the same time an $8,000 cost.
  • Finally, note the political mastery here.  Take the question of how many kids would leave government schools for private schools under a full school competition system.  Obama wants to be on both sides of this assumption, sometimes assuming the number is small (when discussing benefits) and then assuming the number is large (when discussing costs).  Obama is a master because he makes this switch back and forth from sentence to sentence.  First, the  number leaving public schools is low, since choice would just benefit "some kids" (Bad old rich ones at that) and leave our "a lot of kids."  He again in the next sentence implies the number switching must be low, because there are not many private school spots.  One sentence later, though, the number switching is high, since it would be a "huge drain of resources."  And then, in the third paragraph, the number switching is very high, since all that are left in public schools are a small core of the "hardest-to-teach kids."

Also note what was strategically left out of his answer:

  • "Even if school choice worked, I could never support it because my party depends too much on the teachers unions in this election."
  • "Just when I have a good chance to be the leader of this government, do you really think I want to abandon the government monopoly on the indoctrination of children and the power that brings to the government?"

Posted on June 18, 2008 at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

News You Can Use

I have noticed that my readership is skewing a little old, so to capture that critical males 18-24 demographic, I will, as a public service, provide this critical information that colleges seldom provide in trying to choose a major.  HT TJIC

Posted on June 10, 2008 at 07:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Power of Institutional Focus

Ilya Somin wonders why some top universities don't have law schools:

It recently occurred to me that there are several big-name universities that don't have law schools, even though a law school established at any of those institutions would probably do well. Princeton arguably heads this list, along with Brown, Johns Hopkins, Rice, and Tufts. Brandeis University also doesn't have a law school (ironically, for a prominent university named after a Supreme Court justice).

Why these universities haven't established law schools is a bit of a mystery (at least to me). Law schools tend to bring in net revenue for the university. This is even more likely to be true at a big-name institution that can quickly attract good faculty and students. If Princeton were to establish a law school tommorrow, appoint a credible dean, and provide adequate initial financial backing, they could very quickly turn it into a highly successful (and profitable) enterprise. Many good students would come just because of the Princeton name, and most outstanding scholars who are not already at top 20 or top 30 institutions might well be willing to move to Princeton if asked.

Princeton, by the way, does not have a law school or business school or medical school.  It really tries to hold itself up as primarily and undergraduate institution, and works hard to be the premier undergraduate school in the country.  It has graduate schools only in disciplines for which there is an undergraduate degree (e.g. math, economics, chemistry, history).  I have always suspected that they maintain these graduate programs mainly because they have to to attract top academic talent to be available for their undergraduates.  Unlike any other university with which I am familiar, and certainly unlike Harvard where I also attended, graduate students at Princeton feel themselves to be second class citizens.

Somin acknowledges this a bit when he says:

Various commenters suggest that these universities choose not to have a law school because of their desire to focus on undergraduate education. That may indeed be the right explanation, though several of these institutions (including Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and Rice) have other professional schools on campus. But it doesn't strike me as a very compelling reason not to establish a law school. If the law school were to drain resources away form undergrad education, there might indeed be a conflict between the two. In fact, however, a law school is likely to bring in net revenue that could be used to improve undergraduate education. Moreover, some law school professors (especially at elite schools) teach courses that undergraduates might be interested in taking, as sometimes happened at Yale, when I was a law student there.

Even if a law school adds resources to undergrad education instead of draining them, it's possible that its presence could detract from undergraduate education in some other, more subtle way. But it's hard for me to see how. If Yale Law School were closed down tomorrow, would undergraduate education at Yale improve? Are undergraduates at Yale currently worse off than at Princeton in some way traceable to the fact that Yale has a law school and Princeton doesn't? Possibly. But I remain skeptical.

I would argue that there is an important difference that you can't just get at through incremental analysis.  That is, that the management and faculty of Princeton have a culture and focus on undergraduates that universities like Harvard do not have.  Somin is right that grad schools bring in lots of money -- and so the sum of a med school and a law school and a business school and all that tuition and grant and consulting money (not to mention resultant faculty egos) is hugely distracting for an institution.  Particularly in the case of Princeton where it does not really need incremental money anyway.  Take my word for it, having attended both Harvard and Princeton, there are enormous differences in their institutional foci which have real impacts, both substantial and subtle, on undergraduate life. 

I would love to do a poll.  Ask the faculty of both Harvard and Princeton, "Which would you give up first, your university's graduate program or undergraduate program,"  I bet I know what the answer would be.

But what do I know - we Princeton grads are all nuts, anyway.

Posted on May 15, 2008 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Next Up: Book Burnings

Three trends on college campuses all came together in the case of Keith Sampson:

  • Rampant political correctness
  • A newfound "right" for protected groups to be free from being offended, a right that now seems to trump free speech
  • The fetishization of symbolism over substance, and the belief that other people's reactions to an act is more important than the nature of that act itself.

Here is an excerpt from his story:

IN November, I was found guilty of "racial harassment" for reading a public-li brary book on a university campus.

The book was Todd Tucker's "Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan I was reading it on break from my campus job as a janitor. The same book is in the university library.

Tucker recounts events of 1924, when the loathsome Klan was a dominant force in Indiana - until it went to South Bend to taunt the Irish Catholic students at the University of Notre Dame.

When the KKK tried to rally, the students confronted them. They stole Klan robes and destroyed their crosses, driving the KKK out of town in a downpour.

I read the historic encounter and imagined myself with these brave Irish Catholics, as they street-fought the Klan. (I'm part-Irish, and was raised Catholic.)

But that didn't stop the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis from branding me as a detestable Klansman.

They didn't want to hear the truth. The office ruled that my "repeatedly reading the book . . . constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers."

A friend reacted to the finding with, "That's impossible!" He's right. You can't commit racial harassment by reading an anti-Klan history....

But the $106,000-a-year affirmative-action officer who declared me guilty of "racial harassment" never spoke to me or examined the book. My own union - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - sent an obtuse shop steward to stifle my freedom to read. He told me, "You could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography to work."

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

These Are Trained Professionals: Don't Try This In Your Own Home

Three Duke professors, two of whom were members of the infamous group of 88 who advocated a presumption of guilt for the lacrosse players in the Duke non-rape case, have written their own self-serving version of history in an "academic" magazine.  The funniest part is where they claim that only trained experts like themselves are qualified to discuss any subject once the race card has been played:

“the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident — scholars of African American and women’s studies. Instead, administrators, like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case. Some faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race and gender) without being legitimate participants in it.”

Beyond the hilarity of such a claim on its face, how does such a self-serving discussion meet the editorial standards of any academic publication?  For though they claim to have "professional expertise,"  all they really accomplish is to reinforce my impression that the social sciences in general, and racial/gender studies departments in particular, have the lowest academic standards of any group on modern campuses.  KC Johnson goes on to sample some of the outright mistakes, outrageous (and unproven) claims, and general lack of sourcing and footnoting that would likely have gotten them laughed out of most any university department with actual standards.  As I wrote about the Ward Churchill affair:

And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings. I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 11:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Freedom from Criticism

I have argued many times on this page that there is a dangerous new rights theory gaining traction in today's college campuses.  That theory holds that there exists a freedom (mostly for people in "protected" groups -- women, minorities, etc) from being offended or even being criticized, and that this trumps free speech. 

For years I have supported the legality of what is called hate speech -- not because I agreed with it, but because I thought its expression, no matter how contemptible, should be legal.  Free speech should have no content tests.  I also argued that there was a slippery slope.  If making racist remarks is illegal today, perhaps just criticizing a woman or an African American might be illegal tomorrow.

Enter Priya Venkatesan, former English teacher at Dartmouth.  Ms. Venkatesan was hired by Dartmouth to teach all kinds of odd (but always trendy) socialist eco-feminist babble.  Such courses seem to be a staple of colleges today.  I remember a number of such professors at Princeton, but it was no big deal as long as the course were clearly labeled and one could avoid them.  After all, if people really were attracted to such drivel, it just left more spots open for the rest of us in classes that actually prepared us for the real world. 

The problems began, though, when Ms. Venkatesan's students refused to blindly agree with her  (apparently, they did not attend the University of Delaware indoctrination course that explained why you are not allowed to criticize anyone but white males).

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms. Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about "intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

Litigation, exposure of the names behind anonymous course evaluations, and email threats from Ms. Venkatesan follow.  More from Lubos Motl.

Postscript:  By the way, it is just astounding to me that anyone with an over-room-temperature IQ could passionately believe that technological progress is bad for women.  One might argue that way society is organized still under-utilizes women and/or puts artificial roadblocks up to a woman's progress, but get some perspective!

Pre-modern life for women was horrible.  Because of the biological complexities of child-rearing alone, they died young far more often than men and their physical vulnerability caused them to be marginalized in virtually every society of every culture of the world until at least 1750 and really until 1900.  The whole women's movement is built on a platform of technology that only begins with the pill and encompasses a thousand things from automobiles to computers that reduce the importance of size and physical strength in getting ahead in the world. 

Posted on May 6, 2008 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Selection Bias

I thought it was kind of interesting that upon reading this McKinsey & Co study (currently the top one in the list) on education, Kevin Drum and a number of other left 'o center blogs pulled out this one chart to highlight.  It shows starting teacher pay  (i.e. out of college) as a percent of the economy's average)


The author's of the study argue that the countries higher on this list also have better student results.  Now, I will confess that this is a pretty interesting finding in the study -- that starting teacher pay is more important than teacher pay in later years, because the key is to attract talented people right out of college away from other professions.  Interesting. 

But here is the quite fascinating selection bias by the lefty blogs:  I have read the whole report, and this is absolutely the only chart in the whole study that in any way, shape, or form might be interpreted as a call for higher government education spending.  Even more interesting is what these bloggers left out.  This is the other half of the starting teacher pay analysis Drum et. al. chose note to include, and makes clear that even this chart is not a call for more total spending:

South Korea and Singapore employ fewer teachers than other systems; in effect, this ensures that they can spend more money on each teacher at an equivalent funding level.  Both countries recognize that while class size has relatively little impact on the quality of student outcomes (see above), teacher quality does.  South Korea's student-to-teacher ration is 30:1, compared to an OECD average of 17.1, enabling it in effect to double teacher salaries while maintaining the same overall funding level as other OECD countries....

Singapore has pursued a similar strategy but has also front-loaded compensation.  THis combination allows it to spend less on primary education than almost any other OECD and yet still be able to attract strong candidates into the teaching profession.  In addition, because Singapore and South Korea need fewer teachers,  they are also in a position to be more selective about who becomes a teacher.  This, in turn, increases the status of teaching, making the profession even more attractive.

Whoops!  Don't want our friends at the NEA to see that!  Most of the study turns on McKinsey's finding that teacher quality drives student results, way ahead of any other factor, from class size to socioeconomic background:


Well, now the NEA might be getting really nervous.  Something like this might cause parents to do something rash, like demand that low-performing teachers get fired.  Gasp.

Anyway, to get back to the cherry-picking and selection bias issue, the study is pretty clear that it thinks that "more spending" is a failed strategy for improving public education

If school choice is off the table, then I would be very supportive of a program to increase starting teacher pay, funded by larger class sizes and substantial reductions in useless administrators and assistant principals.  Anyway, it is kind of an interesting study, though you may find the pdf file format really irritating to try to read.  Lots of funny formatting. 

Posted on April 3, 2008 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Update on the "Right Not To Be Offended"

Every decade or so, enemies of free speech adopt a new strategy for trying to curtail the First Amendment.  The current effort consists of attempting to define a "right not to be offended", and college campuses are a leading laboratory for this approach (see here and here).

Chris Robinson was recently brought up on trial at the University court for violating this right not to be offended of some of the women at Colorado College (you may notice that this "right not to be offended" seems to be enforced suspiciously asymmetrically, like all speech restrictions).  He has fired back with a marvelous editorial, of which I include one short excerpt:

Hyper-sensitivity in service to a purported greater good became the justification for an authoritarian lock-down on speech. It's the same logic every time: the state comes down hard on behalf of "community." Changing the rhetorical justification only masks the tyranny. The effect of this on citizens, in the words of John Adams, is "reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity."...

The simple fact that we were brought before a Soviet-style show trial has already sent a message to campus, and it is a clear one, namely that every other potential bearer of heterodox views should think long and hard about expressing them for fear of ending up in the same situation as us. In order to avoid even the possibility of offending one group or another, nobody outside the "approved" ideological categories will say anything.

This is precisely the chilling effect that the First Amendment is specifically designed to guard against, and to sanction it is a fundamental violation of the mission of this college. Transparently selective enforcement against ideologically disallowed speech is categorically the same as those abhorrent thought-control missions carried out by the Saudi Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a perfect example of what John Adams called "the most mischievous of all doctrines, that of passive obedience and non-resistance." It's Orwell and Kafka, together at last.

Bonus judos to Mr. Robinson for recognizing that as a private institution, Colorado College can legally implement whatever speech restrictions it likes, and so frames the question as an issue of "should it" rather than "can it?"

Posted on March 31, 2008 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Eww, Yuck, I missed this

Via TJIC, from that California homeschooling court decision, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue.

Posted on March 18, 2008 at 07:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

So I Guess I Got Caught Up In It Too

The Mises Blog, not one to give the government much of a break, argues that the decision on home education last week in California was narrow and has been mis-interpreted, and applies narrowly to the credentialing of home tutors, not parents performing home-schooling. 

Maybe, but the teacher's union certainly thought that was what the judge was saying and the judge went out of his way to say specifically "Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children" which is an overly broad statement that was not at all required had the decision really been intended to be narrow.  Jeffrey Tucker at Mises argues:

It comes down to a case of a judge who got carried away with his rhetoric and didn't understand the law.

Oh, OK.  I feel so much better now.

Posted on March 10, 2008 at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

More on the Cost of College

I don't know why I can't just move along from Michelle Obama's rant about the terrible cost of her Princeton / Harvard Law degree.  Maybe its because I attended the same schools (different degrees) and my reaction is just so different -- I had a fabulous experience and live in awe that I had such a unique chance to attend these schools, while Michelle Obama seems to experience nothing but misery and resentment.  Granted that I did not have to take on a ton of debt to get these degrees, but I have plenty of friends (and a wife) that did.

This analogy comes to mind:  Let's say Fred needs to buy a piece of earth-moving equipment.  He has the choice of the $20,000 front-end loader that is more than sufficient to most every day tasks, or the $200,000 behemoth, which might be useful if one were opening a strip mine or building a new Panama Canal but is an overkill for many applications.  Fred may lust after the huge monster earth mover, but if he is going to buy it, he better damn well have a big, profitable application for it or he is going to go bankrupt trying to buy it.

So Michelle Obama has a choice of the $20,000 state school undergrad and law degree, which is perfectly serviceable for most applications, or the Princeton/Harvard $200,000 combo, which I can attest will, in the right applications, move a hell of a lot of dirt.  She chooses the $200,000 tool, and then later asks for sympathy because all she ever did with it was some backyard gardening and she wonders why she has trouble paying all her debt.  Duh.  I think the problem here is perfectly obvious to most of us, but instead Obama seeks to blame her problem on some structural flaw in the economy, rather than a poor choice on her part in matching the tool to the job.  In fact, today, she spends a lot of her time going to others who have bought similar $200,000 educations and urging them not to use those tools productively, just like she did not. 

Ironically, two Ivy League schools have actually decided that they want their graduates to be able to afford any career they wish, without fear of student debt, and so endeavor to provide student aid nowadays in the form of grants rather than loans.  One of those is Princeton University, her and my alma mater.

Posted on March 2, 2008 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

I Wonder if This Is Related?

Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16 percent of middle-class white children

That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).

Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about).  But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race.  I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race.  This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere.  Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.

Update:  I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless."  Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth.  However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards.  The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.

In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study.  Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.

Posted on February 23, 2008 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Oops, There Goes Another Bridge

I probably shouldn't criticize a curriculum that I have not observed, but as someone who studied engineering the old-fashioned way (ie with lots of math and equations) this looks kind of worrisome:

Today’s Christian Science Monitor profiles Glenn Ellis, a professor who helped develop Smith’s innovative engineering curriculum, which emphasizes context, ethics, and communication as much as formulas and equations.

We know that when the goals in public schools were shifted from education to graduation and retention (e.g. social promotion), the results were disastrous.   So one has to be a little wary of a curriculum aimed more at retention than, you know, designing bridges correctly:

Smith, the first women’s college to offer an engineering degree, graduated its first class of engineers in 2004, and since the program’s creation, in 1999, has attained a 90-percent retention rate.

Hmm.  Well, if they are teaching the same material in a more engaging manner, fine.  But lower degree retention rates in hard core engineering programs is not a "female thing."  I know that we had a lot of attrition from the harder engineering degrees (mechanical, chemical) at Princeton even among Ivy-League-Quality students and even among the males. 

Hat tip: TJIC

Posted on February 18, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

I Don't Think He Understands

The Colorado faculty is going apeshit because the state has proposed making Bruce Benson, a Colorado oilman-Republican, who *gasp* only has a paltry BA degree, head of the University of Colorado system.  To a large extent, folks are going nuts largely because he has different politics than 97% of the faculty and because he has actually done something productive in his life.  However, not being able to say this out loud  (we're a government body so we are not supposed to have political tests, wink wink) his lack of an advanced degree has become the centerpiece of the opposition.

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school graduate, declared that Benson would be "the least educated president ever considered in modern history."

Apparently, his academic record does not live up to University of Colorado standards, which has gleefully employed academic titans like Ward Churchill.  (By the way, isn't it interesting that these folks respect a couple of years at the age of 23 getting a masters in petroleum engineering more than 50 years of demonstrated excellence actually practicing petroleum engineering.)

But here is my advice to Mr. Benson:  Don't take the job.  Mr. Benson, in the private sector, you were probably used to having employees who didn't like you or think you were the best person for your job.  However, you knew that they could either be persuaded by demonstrated performance over time, or else you at least knew that people would work for your goals despite their dislike for you, since they knew that their success lay in the success of the organization as a whole.

University faculty do not behave this way.  They have a completely different set of incentives.  With a job for life, and knowing that no matter how bad the university gets, it will still get state support, they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body.  There are many exceptions to this; in fact, the exceptions may number more than 50% of the faculty.  But these exceptions do not drive faculty behavior.  Those that drive faculty behavior are the ones that are out for either self-aggrandizement or the promotions of symbols over performance or both. 

There once was a dean at Princeton University I liked and respected named Neil Rudenstine (actually he was Provost when I was there, but who the hell knows what a Provost is?).   Rudenstine was named President of Harvard, and was a good fundraiser (like Benson) and was very hands-off in his management style (as Benson promises to be).  Neil was a good man, but he was broken by the Harvard faculty, driven to what probably was literally a mental breakdown.  And then there was Larry Somers.  He was a very different type of man than Rudenstine -- tougher, more politically experienced.  But he too was broken by the Harvard faculty in an attempt to move that institution perhaps 1% of the way towards where you probably want to move Colorado. 

Don't do it. 

Posted on February 13, 2008 at 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

More on Public School Spending

Bill Steigerwald has a great editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review dissecting per-pupil public school spending in Pittsburgh.  Generally, when I quote media articles about school spending, I have to do what should be the obvious analyses myself (as with this pathetic Washington Post piece on school spending).  However, this would be totally redundant for Steigerwald's column.  I encourage you to read it all, but here are some highlights for Pittsburgh schools:

  • Per pupil spending in the public schools is $18,719
  • Quality private schools in Pittsburgh charge from $7,000 to an elite level at $19,500.  Humorously, just over $12,000 will get you a year at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Barely half of this spending goes towards the classroom.  The rest, presumably, goes to funding a probably enormous corps of vice-principals.  (If you ever are at a school board meeting that allows public comment or Q&A, ask how many vice-principals they have in their system).  In Pittsburgh, administrative costs are 72.5% of teacher salary costs, meaning there are likely about 3 administrators for every 4 teachers.  Ugh.
  • Teachers make $86,000 in salary and benefits, or $114,667 if you adjust for the fact they only work 9 months of the year.  Kind of obviates the "teachers are underpaid" myth.

The only other thing I would have called the schools out on is their defense that they have to pay transportation, administration, and debt service out of these costs, as if somehow this made their numbers non-comparable to private benchmarks.  So what?  Do you think my kid's private school evades these costs somehow?  Their school charges about $6,500 for middle school, and they make a profit on this (and do not get any donations).  I am pretty sure they also have to pay for administration of multiple schools (they have a network of 5 schools) and for debt service on the capital costs to build the schools in the first place.  Our schools don't have transportation, but many other private schools do.

Posted on February 4, 2008 at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Like Bill Gates Complaining About Starbucks Prices

I thought this from

At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, parents fear cuts in Montgomery County’s proposed $2.1 billion budget will threaten the math-science magnet program.

Schaeffer puts this in perspective:

The desperate schools of Montgomery County will need to find some way [to] stretch the $15,246 they have to spend on each of the 137,745 students in their schools.

This is simply hilarious.  Sometimes it is hard to compare per-pupil spending on an apples to apples basis since each grade tends to be progressively more expensive than the last (high school is more expensive than middle school which is more expensive than elementary school).  Recognize that this is only partially because the education per se is more expensive at each step -- it is more because the expectation of extra-curriculars (sports, theater, etc.) go up at each level. 

However, taking 8th grade as a mean, I can say that my 8th-grader's tuition in a for-profit private school that receives no donations or outside scholarship money is less than half $15,246.  And the education he gets is generally considered the best in the city  (though his school is lighter than some rich-suburb public school on extra-curriculars).

If you have any doubt that local media generally act as cheerleaders for increased public spending, look no further than this.  Note the newspaper quote (from the Washington Post) and then Schaeffer's context:

I have saved the most touching story for last . . .

In Loudoun County, School Board members approved a budget 14 percent higher than last year’s to accommodate an expected 3,000 new students. The county faces a projected $250 million shortfall, and the 54,000 student system will probably have to look for new places for savings.

My heart goes out to the Loudoun County administrators. I can’t see how anyone can be expected to educate a child with just $15,000 or to cover a 6 percent enrollment increase with just a 14 percent increase in the budget.

Posted on January 31, 2008 at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

An Old Joke, But New To Me

The author says this is an old joke, but it was new to me.  It traces the evolution of math quizzes in our public schools:



A logger cuts and sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of that amount. What is his profit?

1970s New-math

A logger exchanges a set (L) of lumber for a set (M) of money. The cardinality of Set M is 100. The set C of production costs contains 20 fewer points. What is the cardinality of Set P of profits?


A logger cuts and sells a truckload of lumber for $100. Her cost is $80, her profit is $20. Find and circle the number 20.


An unenlightened logger cuts down a beautiful stand of 100 trees in order to make a $20 profit. Write an essay explaining how you feel about this as a way to make money. Topic for discussion: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?

He goes on to show how reality may have overtaken the joke.

Posted on January 10, 2008 at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

8th Grade, 1895

I thought this was pretty interesting. It purports to be (and I have no reason to doubt that it is) an 8th grade final exam given in 1895 in Salina, KS.  I have seen it in the context of "gee, look how much worse our schools are" and to some extent that is unfair.  Sure, I think we all can get a gut feel from the test that expectations on students were a bit more unyielding and rigorous back then. One gets the sense that the Salina school district has not had to defend the test in court against charges that it discriminates against ... whatever and that they would not really understand the current public mantra that self-esteem should somehow trump learning and achievement.

But the fact that you and I can't answer a lot of the questions doesn't really mean much. Some of it would be hard to pass because it asks for frameworks we don't necessarily ascribe to today.  For example, it asks for the epochs into which US history is divided.  I have no idea what such epochs would be and in fact they are probably irrelevant given we have twice as much history as a country today as in 1895.  And it takes a minute to remember that when they say the "rebellion" they are probably talking about the Civil War.  And as to "orthography,"  I am not losing much sleep at night over not being able to "Give four substitutes for caret 'u'."

In general, the test reflects a shift in teaching from a lot of technical memorization to the more conceptual.  Kids who passed this test in 1895 could probably spell oddball words and fill out a map better than my kids, but I would be curious how well they would do on a five paragraph persuasive essay, something my eighth grader spends a lot of time on. 

Math is one area where my kid's education would blow this stuff away.  The math on this 1895 test is pretty tailored to the needs of a small farming town:

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per m?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per are, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

But by the end of eight grade my kids will have had two years of algebra, not necessarily because they are smarter than kids in 1895, but because perceived needs change.  My kids are more likely to need complex math for advanced science and technical degrees than they are going to need to be able to figure out how many bushels of grain will fit in the silo.  Further, where is the science on the test?  How about a second language? 

My kids go to a private school, so maybe public school parents have a different perspective.  There are a lot of reasons to criticize public schools today, but I don't think this test gives us much insight into them.

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Creepy Big Brother Education at University of Delaware

You have probably seen the stories about the creepy, mandatory reeducation program for University of Delaware students.  If you have missed the story, or want more, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is all over it -- here is a roundup.

However, if you don't have time to go through it all, here is a couple of examples I took right from their curricula.  Note that the following goals for the program are set in the context of, as the university puts it, "treatment" for students incorrect beliefs and worldviews.   This is from the Central Complex residence hall:


Look at 2B and C for example!  Its coincident timing, but look at stuff above in the context of this post, which I wrote before I even saw this.  Could there be a more resounding confirmation of this:

I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own. Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

If you read through the whole document, which is nearly impossible because it is a classic example of academic mental masturbation, you will see the curriculum is dominated by this sustainability notion


Somehow none of the residence halls chose "the role of capitalism and individual entrepreneurship in creating wealth."  Remember that these are all areas that the university has declared that students require "treatment" if their views do not conform with the university orthodoxy.  They are expecting that all students must share all of these beliefs.  For real creepiness, read about the student that the RA conducting this curriculum actually felt the need to report to university officials because her attitudes were so "out of whack".  She was reported for saying obviously horrendous things like this answer:

1) When were you first made aware of your race?

“That is irrelevant to everything. My race is human being.”

Fortunately, the University of Delaware killed the program after a firestorm of national outrage.  If you have read the FIRE blog long enough, you will suspect that Delaware will find some way in the future to sneak it back in.

My post of the vacuousness of student activists, written before I even saw this, is here.

Update:  How did I miss this great quote, from the university’s Office of Residence Life Diversity Education Training documents:

“A RACIST: A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. ‘The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality. By this definition, people of color cannot be racists, because as peoples within the system, they do not have the power to back up their prejudices, hostilities, or acts of discrimination….’”

Posted on November 5, 2007 at 09:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wow! Megan McArdle on Vouchers

I won't even bother to try to excerpt the post.  Just read it if you are interested in vouchers.  Or Education.  Or just read it anyway.

OK, I lied, one excerpt.  She is refuting anti-voucher arguments.  Here is #11:

11)  There's no way to assure the quality of private schools Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously? The problem with private schools is that they can't match the same level of quality we've come to expect from our urban public school system? And what else have you learned in your visit to our planet?

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Giving to State Universities

A few weeks ago, I discussed how Ivy League schools came under fire from some leftist for not spending their endowments fast enough.  Obviously this guy has been a succesful adviser to Congress.

Anyway, one of the differences between private and state schools is not just that many private institutions get a lot more per alumnus giving.  Another big differentiator is how the money gets spent.  Here is a great example of private giving taking on the, uh, most critical challenges in public education.  Via Market Power.

Posted on October 29, 2007 at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Go, Megan, Go

Best thing I have read all week, from Megan McArdle:

I very rarely get angry about politics. But every time I see some middle class parent prattling about vouchers "destroying" the public schools by "cherry picking" the best students, when they've made damn sure that their own precious little cherries have been plucked out of the failing school systems, I seethe with barely controllable inward rage. It is the vilest hypocrisy on display in American politics today.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

This is Low?

A study finds that 17.6% of social scientists at American universities self-identify themselves as Marxists.  And the study's authors find this percentage to be "low".  By the way, had Coyote been responsible for assigning the Marxist label rather than just self-idntification, my guess is the number would have easily cracked 50%.

Posted on October 9, 2007 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

How Princeton Uses Its Money

Everybody is always trying to spend someone else's money.  This kind of thing would really make me sick, except it is a little funny to see the kind of class warfare and redistributionist economics preached by elite universities come back to bite them:

Dr. Gravelle points out that endowment wealth is concentrated in the upper ranks, much of it at 62 institutions with endowments larger than $1 billion. But just three years ago only 39 schools had billion-plus endowments. That’s a 38% increase in just a few years. In 2006, 125 schools had endowments over $500 million—a third more than in 2002. The number of schools that can count themselves as endowment-rich or super-rich is growing rapidly....

What the data shows is that endowment wealth is everywhere—except in the hands of the students who need it today. Last year endowments increased 17.7% on average—those larger than a billion increased 18.4%. Yet, despite double-digit increases stretching back a decade or more —endowment spending is at a nearly all-time low of 4.2%--down from 5.1% in 1994, 6.5% in 1982, and 5.2% in 1975....

Tuition has been going up so rapidly for so long it has reached nearly ungraspable levels. So let me put today’s tuition cost in concrete terms. Senators, what would your constituents say if gasoline cost $9.15 a gallon? Or if the price of milk was over $15? That is how much those items would cost if their price had gone up at the same rate that tuition has since 1980.

I believe that skyrocketing tuition is undoubtedly the biggest “access” problem in higher education. What can possibly be more discouraging to a capable student whose parents are not wealthy than a school with a $45,000 price tag on the door?...

Congress should not hesitate to consider a minimum payout requirement—and 5% should be considered a starting point. The 5% number is a dated one—even for private foundations. Many schools have been rolling over so much money for so long that they should easily be able to accommodate a higher rate of payout. Possibly the most significant challenge for policymakers will be to make sure that any newly directed monies actually go toward aid or tuition reduction and don’t become part of a shell game.

Seriously, is there no pocket of private money that socialists won't stick their hand into?  In effect, at the same time Americans get lambasted for saving too little, this guy is going after private universities for saving too much?  And note the implicit assumption about government intervention he holds and expects all of Congress to hold in the third paragraph above:  It is just assumed that if prices go up enough to upset the constituents, then it is Congress's job to act.

Far be it for facts to get in the way of good populism, but I do know what Princeton does with its 2nd or 3rd largest endowment:

  • Every student who gets admitted gets a financial aid package from the University that will allow them to attend, no matter what their finances are.  Yes, the student may have to work his butt off, but if he really wants to go to Princeton he will be able to go.  Princeton's wealth also allows it to be much more friendly in these financial assessments.  For example, many assets like the parent's house are taken off the table when assessing ability to pay
  • If a student graduates normally, then all of her debts are paid off at graduation.  Every student graduates debt-free, giving them far more flexibility in what jobs they choose our of college.  No longer must they eschew non-profit or low-paying jobs due to the burden of debt.
  • Princeton has accepted that applying more money to increasing the educational intensity of its existing 4000 students by an additional 0.1% is not the best use of its investment.  It has committed (in too small of a way for my preferences, but that is another matter) to using its fortunes to increase its size and bring Ivy League education to more people.  This year, it increased its entry class size by 250, which may seem small to those of you from large universities but is about a 20% increase for Princeton.

Since all Princeton students get whatever aid they need and graduate debt-free.  So the tuition number is irrelevent.  And statements like "I believe that skyrocketing tuition is undoubtedly the biggest “access” problem in higher education" are virtually meaningless. 

Posted on October 5, 2007 at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

More on Education and Expertise

A few days ago, I highlighted an article that argued that the problem with public education was that there was not enough expertise and, heaven forbid, enough state level bureaucrats managing the infrastructure.  I pointed out that this is often the argument of technocrats in favor of failing public institutions:  The problem is not the institution, they argue, or its incentives but it just needs the right people in charge.  I argued that, probably like GM, all the expertise in the world was not going to turn around an organization whose DNA had gone senescent.

Alex Tabarrok comes at this issue from a different angle, but with similar results.  Too many of the examples highlighted of successes in public education rely on a super-teacher or super-administrator who overcomes all the organization problems in his/her school to create a success story, one that is usually fleeting and tends to die when that individual leaves  (Jaime Escalante is a great example - most of his math program improvements died after he left).

Tabarrok argues that you can't just keep hoping for more of these unique individuals who can overcome a myriad of bureaucratic obstacles.  You have to reinvent the system so that average capability, poorly motivated workers can still get a good result for students.  I know some will be scared off by the analogy, but this is the kind of thing that franchise restaurants do very well -- plug low-skill, sometimes poorly motivated employees into a system that successfully provides consistent, predictable service for customers.

What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren't heroes. Even better if the method works when teachers are ordinary people, poorly paid and ill-motivated - i.e. the system we have today. 

In Super Crunchers, Ian Ayres argues that just such a method exists.  Overall, Super Crunchers is a light but entertaining account of how large amounts of data and cheap computing power are improving forecasting and decision making in social science, government and business.  I enjoyed the book.  Chapter 7, however, was a real highlight.

Ayres argues that large experimental studies have shown that the teaching method which works best is Direct Instruction (here and here are two non-academic discussions which summarizes much of the same academic evidence discussed in Ayres).  In Direct Instruction the teacher follows a script, a carefully designed and evaluated script. As Ayres notes this is key:

DI is scalable.  Its success isn't contingent on the personality of some uber-teacher....You don't need to be a genius to be an effective DI teacher.  DI can be implemented in dozens upon dozens of classrooms with just ordinary teachers.  You just need to be able to follow the script.

Contrary to what you might think, the data also show that DI does not impede creativity or self-esteem.  The education establishment, however, hates DI because it is a threat to the power and prestige of teaching, they prefer the model of teacher as hero.  As Ayres says "The education establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the evidence says."  As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that "Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school market."

I don't know anything about DI and haven't seen the data and so can't comment on its effectiveness.  But I can say that if it works, there is no way it will be adopted in public schools.  Public school systems are run first for the administration bureaucracy, second for the teachers, and only about third for the students.  Anything that serves the latter but reduces the power of the former will never succeed, again because the incentives are not there for better performance.  Only school competition will allow such new models to be tried.

Posted on September 28, 2007 at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

The Problem in Education Is Not Expertise

Via Kevin Drum, Mark S. Tucker and Kevin Toch make the argument, if I understand it right, that school districts and state education organizations simply don't have the expertise or the capacity to handle the changes required to meet the standards that are being applied by efforts like NCLB (they also argue the tests themselves suck, but I am not going to address that issue).  By the way, you know I'm going to get worked up when the title of an article is "The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats"

...we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding people with the data management experience to build and administer the very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting still others who can take those schools over if the current staff cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill, experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort: state departments of education.

Wow!  It's hard to even know where to start, but I guess my first thought is : What the f*ck have public schools been doing in the last 100 years?  Why, after an absolutely enormous spending growth over the last several decades, do districts still not have the ability to create world class curricula?  Why don't teachers know what they are supposed to teach?   Why is the system so talent poor, despite a huge increase in the number of administrators with various advanced education degrees at all levels of the system?  It's as if the highway department announced today that they didn't have the ability to design roads.

The first and last resort of every technocrat is to complain that the system is great, if only the right "smart" people could get put in charge.  These folks are making this same argument yet again.  Our public schools are fine, if we could just get the right experts in charge. 


The issue is not the lack of expertise.  The issue is one of incentives and senescence in the system itself.  In this context,  NCLB is completely off the mark.   I work with government employees all the time.  There is a very clear difference between the incentives they see and the incentives I see in the market.  For government employees, the biggest incentive is to avoid missing some bureaucratic check box.  They are much more concerned that they not be found later in some audit to have missed a procedure or a required approval authority than with actual performance or productivity.  NOT, I want to emphasize, because they are bad or misguided people, but because that is how their incentive system is set up.  Their actions are entirely rational in the context of their incentive structure, but the results are no less disastrous.

For example, government managers of recreation facilities get almost no credit for improving the customer experience, a metric my company lives and dies for.  I have seen a government park manager do a great job obtaining funds from private sources to add a new facility to their park that pleased guests, only to get criticized for having the slope of an access ramp be 1/4 degree off ADA standards and have a grievance filed by the union that park visitation had gone up, creating more work for the government employees.  I spent an evening having a beer with that manager, and you can bet they are never going to try to actually improve the customer experience again.  As another example, I went in to my government landlord last week and just blasted them for their lack of customer service focus, for the fact that they are blocking me from making improvements customers are begging for.  They yawned, gave me no response,  and handed me a notice that they were missing some of our water testing paperwork and please get it to them ASAP.

NCLB just gives government schools another government wammy to be managed and avoided.  The authors will probably get their wish, and huge bureaucracies will rise up to manage the numbers and reports without anything being done to really improve education.  The authors lament that the California state education department has "only" 1452 employees.  I have every confidence that this "problem" will soon get fixed by California, and the number will balloon up nicely, long before children see any better education.

A while back I wrote a plea to just let GM die.  I said:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as "management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot. You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix it. 

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to process to history to culture could better be called the corporate DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I don't think they would ever get there.  Its just too much change in the DNA.  Yeah, you could hire some ex Merry-go-round** executives, but you still have a culture aimed at big box low prices, a logistics system and infrastructure aimed at doing same, absolutely no history or knowledge of fashion, etc. etc.  I would bet you any amount of money I could get to the GAP faster starting from scratch than starting from Walmart.  For example, many folks (like me) greatly prefer Target over Walmart because Target is a slightly nicer, more relaxing place to shop.  And even this small difference may ultimately confound Walmart. Even this very incremental need to add some aesthetics to their experience may overtax their DNA....

Changing your DNA is tough.  It is sometimes possible, with the right managers and a crisis mentality, to evolve DNA over a period of 20-30 years.  One could argue that GE did this, avoiding becoming an old-industry dinosaur.  GM has had a 30 year window (dating from the mid-seventies oil price rise and influx of imported cars) to make a change, and it has not been enough.  GM's DNA was programmed to make big, ugly (IMO) cars, and that is what it has continued to do.  If its leaders were not able or willing to change its DNA over the last 30 years, no one, no matter how brilliant, is going to do it in the next 2-3.

I would say the exact same thing is true of public schools: Their DNA is senescent.  Most are the equivalent of alcoholics who keep falling off the wagon and keep asking for more chances.  At some point, you just have to give up.  At some point, it is easier to just start from scratch.  After 30 years of trying, Sears still can't change itself so there is Wal-Mart.  After 30 years of trying, GM still can't change itself so there is Toyota.  After 30 years of trying, United Airlines still can't change itself so there is Southwest.

The only difference in education is that the government has to date suppressed the emergence of Toyota and Wal-Mart and Southwest because, well, because it can.  I am sure that United Airlines would have liked to ban competition from Southwest, but it does not have the coercive power of government.  Fortunately, in most industries other than education, the public gets a choice of offerings, and companies that customers don't prefer tend to die.

It's time to give school choice a chance, and radically shift the incentives for public schools in a way that the government can't with bureaucracy-based programs like NCLB.  Some public schools will thrive, and many will die in favor of private options, but our kids will be far better off either way.  It's time to stop doubling down on failure.  It's time to stop giving the alcoholic one more chance.

Postscript:  One of the reasons that competition is important is in the very definition of "expertise."  An expert is someone who presumably has been succesful at a certain activity when others have been less so.  We call Herb Kelleher an expert on airlines and customer service because he designed a model that kicked everyone else's butt.  But would you have called him an expert in 1972, before Southwest took off?  Probably not.  He was just one of many voices with diverse, untested opinions of what would make a better airline.  What eventually made him an expert, and the others less so, is he went out and applied his ideas and they were succesful.

So the author's want to send more "expertise" to the schools.  OK, who are the experts?  Nearly every public school is using the same version of the same failed model.  Some succeed more than others, but these differences tend to be incremental rather than radical, like the difference between Sears and Montgomery Ward rather than between Sears and Wal-Mart (or even  So how can you even know who the experts are within the same failed system, where no one is really allowed to go out and fully test their ideas in practice?  What happens, in reality, is that "experts" in education are the ones that can best enthrall academics and politicians and think tanks with grandiose or politically correct visions.  I would argue that as of this moment there are no experts in education in the US and we have no hope of identifying them until we let entrepreneurs go out and start testing various new models.

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Trying to Hold Up the Ivy League's Honor

Scored 58 of 60 on the Civic's Quiz that apparently 40% of Ivy Leaguer students don't seem able to pass.  Missed the Jamestown founding date and Just War Theory.   Now I can be the crotchety old Princeton alum:  "Well in my day..."

Posted on September 19, 2007 at 06:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

...Or, You Could Choose Your College This Way

Last week, I pointed out that my alma mater Princeton had again topped the USN&WR college rankings.  But those college rankings were for those who wanted to invest their tuition money and four years of their life at the school that would, you know, educate them the best. 

If, however, you would rather choose a college based on how well it serves everyone else's interests rather than your own, you can use this ranking from Washington Monthly, presumably chosen with help from special correspondent Ellsworth Toohey.  Universities are chosen for social contribution and research and number of Peace Corps volunteers and the like.  No indicators of educational quality or student satisfaction are used.  Really, they don't seem to be joking:

U.S. News & World Report publishes its university rankings every year, and every year people complain about them. So starting in 2005 we decided to do more than just complain, and instead came out with our own rankings — based not on reputation or endowment size, but rather on how much of a contribution each university actually makes to the country.

Top universities on the list presumably teach important skills like:

  • How to find a job that helps lots of people but doesn't pay very much and provides no job satisfaction
  • How to find a boyfriend who beats you a lot and never can hold a job, but needs your financial support really badly
  • How to invest in companies with no prospects but who need the money very much (taught presumably by Eugene Lawson)

In this list, a Peace Corps volunteer is ranked to have made a larger contribution to America than say:  Jimmy Stewart, Meg Whitman, Jeff Bezos,  James Madison,  etc.  (Oh, and Pete Conrad, probably my personal favorite Princeton Grad, and first man on the moon after Neil Armstrong's dress rehearsal on a Hollywood soundstage with Buzz Aldrin and OJ Simpson.)

This is maybe a great list if you have a billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket and want to find a university to endow, but of what utility is this for prospective students?

Postscript: You do, though, have to give Washington Monthly props for putting Texas A&M at the top of their list, a university whose student body is probably least likely of almost any major state school to purchase very many copies of their magazine  [a comment on their political orientation, not their ability to read].

Update: OK, this is how people REALLY pick schools, from this list.

Posted on August 20, 2007 at 11:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tune Every Heart and Every Voice

We're number one, again.

              Tiger, tiger, tiger
              Sis, sis, sis,
              Boom, boom, boom, ah!
              Princeton! Princeton! Princeton!

Posted on August 17, 2007 at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

I Must Have Everyone's Verbal Response

This policy at Antioch College, which apparently will soon close its doors due to low enrollment, sounds like the speech I get when I sit in an exit row:

  • Consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity.
  • All parties must have a clear and accurate understanding of the sexual activity.
  • The person(s) who initiate(s) the sexual activity is responsible for asking for consent.
  • The person(s) who are asked are responsible for verbally responding.
  • Each new level of sexual activity requires consent.
  • Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is acceptable, but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before sexual activity occurs.
  • Consent is required regardless of the parties’ relationship, prior sexual history, or current activity (e.g. grinding on the dance floor is not consent for further sexual activity).
  • At any and all times when consent is withdrawn or not verbally agreed to, the sexual activity must stop immediately.
  • Silence is not consent.
  • Body movements and non-verbal responses such as moans are not consent.
  • A person can not give consent while sleeping.
  • All parties must have unimpaired judgement (examples that may cause impairment include but are not limited to alcohol, drugs, mental health conditions, physical health conditions).
  • All parties must use safer sex practices.
  • All parties must disclose personal risk factors and any known STIs. Individuals are responsible for maintaining awareness of their sexual health.

I don't know much about Antioch, despite the fact that I think my mother and father-in-law both attended (are there more than one?).  I will observe that for a private institution nowadays with decent name recognition, it really takes some effort to drive away all the students.  Today, good-but-not-Ivy-League schools like Rice and Vanderbilt get nearly as many great applicants as Ivy League schools did when I attended.  The US is virtually swamped with top-notch kids looking for a private university with a good rep.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Oh, the Irony

FIRE points out yet another university that is attempting to restrict speech it does not agree with, in the name of, uh, freedom or something.  The university's Student Union proposed to close down the campus humor magazine that made a joke about race relations.  The reason?

Specifically, in response to the “overtly racist, sexist, and generally offensive articles, statements, and images published in the Spring Issue of Gravity Magazine,” and because the publication of this joke had caused “members of our community to feel ‘unsafe,’ ‘powerless,’ ‘unsupported,’ ‘harassed,’ and ‘threatened;’”

Now, this university is private, so I suppose as a private body they can define acceptable speech in their private confines any way they want (just as my kids dropping F bombs is legal by the first amendment, but banned in my household).  However, I fear that the folks involved do not understand that they need to leave these attitudes behind when they leave their private little cocoon university, because speech that hurts your feelings is not illegal, thank goodness, in the rest of the country. 

Unfortunately, it is almost too much to ask nowadays that universities understand that, as Louis Brandeis wrote, the best response to speech you don't like is more speech.  The rich irony comes from the fact that this occurred at ... Brandeis University.  The freaking place was named after the man who wrote:

Those who won our independence believed… that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine…
They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly… To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced… [N]o danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression.   (Emphasis added.)

Check out the FIRE article to learn much more about the events in question, including what the original joke was.

Posted on May 14, 2007 at 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Great Moments in Monopolies

True monopolies, which are extraordinarily rare in the private sector but all too common when the government uses it coercive power, lose any incentive to provide good customer service.  Via Adam Schaeffer at Cato, here are your government monopoly schools at work:

In Montgomery County, beloved third-grade teacher Soon-Ja Kim was bounced on the word of one reviewer despite an outpouring of support from parents who knew what great work she had done with their children.  I can’t say it better than it’s reported:

But a panel of eight teachers and eight principals charged with reviewing Kim’s performance gave little weight to the parent letters when they considered her future in a closed-door meeting, according to panel members.

Doug Prouty, vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association and co-chairman of the panel, said in an interview that the strong parental support for Kim was considered only a “secondary data source.”

The good test scores of Kim’s students, he said, were also secondary. The primary sources for the decisions, he said, were the judgments of Principal Elaine Chang, a consulting teacher assigned to evaluate Kim and the panel members themselves that Kim was ineffective in the classroom and hurting her students’ progress.

“That’s a bunch of hooey,” said Elyse Summers, one of the multitude of pro-Kim parents. “Our children went to Mrs. Kim’s class every day, came home and are performing extremely well.”

“We take parent feedback, both good and bad, about teachers very seriously,” Edwards replied. But the Montgomery schools spokesman added that “the final decision about the effectiveness of teachers must come down to those with the professional expertise.”

So, it does not matter if you are a great teacher who gets good results, if you don't kiss the principal's ass enough, you are gone.  This is not to say that private employers can't be equally silly.  However, in the private sector, if a company is stupid enough to fire a good employee for petty political reasons, its competitors will snap that person up.  If it happens enough, company 2 will quickly begin to outcompete company 1.  When the government maintains a forced monopoly on schools, there are no such feedback mechanisms to force improvement, except maybe parental feedback, and you see how much that achieves in this case.

Posted on May 11, 2007 at 07:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

School Choice, But Only for the Most Irritating Parents

A while back, I wrote about wealthy, legally savvy parents exploiting disabled-education funds to get their high achieving kids into private schools, paid for by the state.  Apparently we can't get $6000 vouchers, but this is legally OK, if you are persistent enough in gaming the system:

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition, but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits. Total tab: $67,949....

Here is the mom, in this case, explaining her son's "disability" which justified this largess

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

Well, the good news, I hope, is that the Supreme Court is set to review this kind of legal abuse of the ADA and other disable rights legislation:

the Supreme Court has accepted for review a case in which, according to the New York Times's account, a former chief executive of Viacom did not even give a public school program a try before enrolling his son in a private school and demanding that New York City pick up much of the resulting bill. The New York Times's account is distinctly unsympathetic toward the parent, and quotes Julie Wright Halbert, legislative counsel for the Council of the Great City Schools, as saying: "Many wealthy, well-educated people are gaming the system in New York City and around the country.”

Let's have school choice for everyone, not just for the well-connected, legally savvy, or downright irritating.

Posted on April 23, 2007 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Statements I Never Expected to Read

"Arizona Republic gave an unqualified endorsement of school choice today"

From Adam Shaeffer at Cato.  The AZ Republic editorial is here.  It is really rare to see a local paper break with the established monopoly education interests.  However, before we get too excited, I will observe that the Arizona school choice plan discussed falls pretty short of full school choice, but it is a step in the right direction.

Posted on March 24, 2007 at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Freaking Luck

Harvard has a new president.  Good freaking luck.  That job chewed up someone I respected (Neal Rudenstine) and someone who tried to reform the institution (Larry Sommers).  I would rather try to bring good government to Haiti than try to run that dysfunctional organization in Cambridge.  Premiers of the Soviet Union had less power than the Harvard faculty wields.  I am one of many Harvard graduate students I know who appreciate the education we got but hate the institution.  My Princeton roomie Brink Lindsey helped start the NOPE campaign - Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

If you want a taste of why, below the fold I have included an excerpt of a chapter from my book BMOC (still at Amazon for those who have not used up their Christmas gift certificates yet).  This chapter is pretty autobiographical, except for the part where the character is, you know, a girl.

From the end of Chapter 8 of BMOC:

Susan looked around her small apartment in the nightmare that was the Peabody Terrace apartments, a pair of Harvard-owned hi-rise apartments located across the river from the business school.  Susan was convinced that these apartments were part of a 1950’s Soviet plot to undermine America’s youth.  The building design was right out of East Berlin, with its all cast concrete construction.  Even the interior walls were concrete, giving it the warmth and ambiance of a World War II German pillbox.  Her tower had an elevator, but it only stopped on every third floor, a cost saving measure also borrowed from the East Germans.  Of course, her floor was not one of the stops. 

She had dithered about whether even to apply to Harvard, and had applied in the last application group, after most of the spots in the school had already been filled.  She was not actually accepted into the school until well into June, leaving her just about dead last in the housing lottery.  Only a few foreign students from strange, lesser developed countries she had barely heard of were so far back in the room queue, which helped to explain why her entryway was always choked with the smell of bizarre foods cooking using unfamiliar spices.  Her walk to and from school involved crossing a lonely and poorly lighted footbridge, which was, coincidently, the coldest spot in New England on most winter days.

Whenever she walked into her building, she had difficulty fighting off a sense of despair and loneliness, even despite her generally sunny disposition.  The building was that depressing.  To make matters worse, she had spent most of the winter fighting with the Harvard administrative departments over the temperature in her room. She had complained nearly every day about the cold, and knew things were bad when frost started to form on the inside of her windows.  A worker from building services had finally come by, but instead of a toolbox he brought a thermometer, which he placed in the center of the room and just stared at for five minutes.  Then he picked it up, looked at it, and declared that the room was fine.

Fine?” she had screamed.  “How can it be fine?  It’s freezing in here!”

Mam, the thermometer says 54 degrees.  State law says we don’t have to do anything unless it falls below 50 degrees,” observed the housing guy.

State law?!  Who gives a shit about state law?  What about customer service?  What about the sixty grand I pay to this university?”

But she had gotten nowhere, at least until she started putting the oven on broil with the door open to try to keep the room warm.  Once the building services folks saw that, with all the implicit fire and liability dangers, her radiator had finally been fixed.

Looking around the cold and depressing room, she decided she definitely did not want to be here now.  She wanted to celebrate her new job, not stare at four bare condensate-dampened concrete walls.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Hilarious Calculus of Liberal Altruism

I had to say that this, from Janna Goodrich as quoted by Kevin Drum, is absolutely hilarious:

Education is one of the best engines for upward mobility and poor students cannot afford to pay for higher education on their own. Their families don't have the physical collateral to borrow money in the private financial markets nor the savings to pay for the tuition outright....But if we gave poorer students mostly grant-based aid we'd be asking for the rest of the society to subsidize those who are one day going to be wealthier than the average citizen. Two different concepts of fairness or equality are at play here and I'm not sure if both of them could be achieved at the same time.

Can you just see the liberals getting twisted in knots?  Oooh, helping the poor is good, but if we send them to college and they get rich, then we are helping rich people, and that's baaaad.  Its like that logic problem where a card says "the statement on the other side is false" and on the other side says "the statement on the other side is true."  Only a liberal could take the happy story of a poor kid going to college and getting rich and turn it into bad news.  I never thought about what a problem education was for liberal ethics, in that it converts sainted victims (e.g poor) into evil exploiters (e.g. rich).  Maybe that explains why they oppose school choice?

By the way, I have about zero sympathy for this whole grants in education discussion.  From an incentives standpoint, it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are getting public money for self-improvement to share the risk with the public through the debt and repayment obligation they take on.  A lot of people today already don't take good advantage of the opportunity they have while in college, and this is certainly not going to get any better if we give them a free ride rather than loans.

The second problem I have with public funding of grants for education is that colleges and their alumni groups can decide to fix this problem privately if they so desire.  My school (Princeton) makes a commitment that everyone who gets into the school, not matter how poor, will get a financial aid package that will make it possible to attend.  And, the financial aid is all in grants such that the student graduates from one of the most expensive schools in the country debt-free (and yes, the incentives problem worries me some).  All with private money.  We are able to do this because our school makes it a priority and our alumni give the money to make it happen.

I know what you are going to say -- Princeton is full of rich people, so they can afford this.  Yes and no.  First, our alumni do pretty well for themselves, but they also have to help fund financial aid for the highest tuitions in the country.  Other schools with lower tuitions have a lower bar to clear.  Second, while Princeton alums may be wealthier per capita, our alumni population, because we are a small school, is probably one tenth the size of a Berkley or a Texas.  As a result, schools like Texas almost certainly have a much wealthier alumni group in total.  But few of them give back.  It's not a priority for them to create financial aid money for incoming students (instead, T Boone Pickens gives $125 $165 million to the OU OSU football program).  So don't come crying to me that students at your schools need government grants -- you could have funded such a program at your school privately if you had made it a priority.

Postscript: My dad ran numerous fund raising initiatives at the University of Iowa for years.  After decades of effort, I think he has finally despaired of getting state school alumni to donate money for something other than the sports program.

Update:  OK, that's what I get for making a throw-away statement without fact-checking.  Boone Pickens actually gave $165 million to the athletic programs of Oklahoma State, not OU.  I got a bunch of aggrieved emails on this.  Sorry.  Being from Texas, I get all that stuff up in the trans-Red-River region mixed up.

Posted on January 18, 2007 at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The State of Academia

The reaction of the Duke faculty to the alleged "rape" by the LAX team has been eye-opening.  The reaction to the student's non-guilt is terrifying.  Far be it for academics to let facts get in the way of a really good chance to sow some race hysteria.  (HT Maggie's Farm).  One bit:

Karla Holloway has resigned her position as race subgroup chair of the Campus Culture Initiative, to protest President Brodhead’s decision to lift the suspensions of Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty. “The decision by the university to readmit the students, especially just before a critical judicial decision on the case, is a clear use of corporate power, and a breach, I think, of ethical citizenship,” said she. “I could no longer work in good faith with this breach of common trust.

I am not sure what "critical judicial decision" she is referring to, except perhaps Nifong's disbarment

Posted on January 14, 2007 at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Education Spending Myth

Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute: (via Maggies Farm)

This is the most widely held myth about education in America--and the one most directly at odds with the available evidence. Few people are aware that our education spending per pupil has been growing steadily for 50 years. At the end of World War II, public schools in the United States spent a total of $1,214 per student in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars. By the middle of the 1950s that figure had roughly doubled to $2,345. By 1972 it had almost doubled again, reaching $4,479. And since then, it has doubled a third time, climbing to $8,745 in 2002.

Since the early 1970s, when the federal government launched a standardized exam called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), it has been possible to measure student outcomes in a reliable, objective way. Over that period, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil doubled. So if more money produces better results in schools, we would expect to see significant improvements in test scores during this period. That didn't happen. For twelfth-grade students, who represent the end product of the education system, NAEP scores in math, science, and reading have all remained flat over the past 30 years. And the high school graduation rate hasn't budged. Increased spending did not yield more learning.

There is a lot more good stuff in the article, from class size to teacher pay.  I would observe that he misses one component of teacher pay -- that they tend to have higher than average benefit packages, which makes their jobs even more competitive with other professionals.  I covered much of the same ground 18 months ago in my Teacher Salary Myth post (which still earns me some good hate mail).

Posted on January 9, 2007 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Good for Oprah

I usually don't have much to say about Oprah.  I guess my perception of her has always been vaguely negative -- she's given a big leg up to some junk science causes in the past, and some of her recent attempts at charity have seemed to be more about self-promotion than about really helping people (the car giveaway comes to mind).  My real beef with her is probably more petty:  She once inspired my wife, in that way only Oprah seems to be able to do with women, to organize her closets just like Oprah.  What this meant in practice was that I had to go out and buy about 400 matching wooden hangers, and then we had to get rid of all the stuff on our shelves.  Yes, you heard that right:

Wife:  All that stuff cluttering up the shelves in our closet has to go
Me:  Why?  I mean, it's a closet.  It's for storing stuff
W:  It has to go somewhere else
M:  There is no place else
W:  Oprah's closet is beautiful - it has just clothes and nothing else in it.  That's the way our closet should be
M:  But we have no where else to store this stuff.  Why should that shelf sit empty when we have a use for it?
W:  Because it will look great
M:  Who cares?  It's a closet.  Besides, are we really going to take home decorating advice from a woman who has enough money to build a dedicated closet for each pair of shoes she owns?

Anyway, guys out there, you probably know the drill.

But I must say my opinion is changing a bit.  I was deprecating about her book club, because of some of the specific book choices, until I saw the stat that something like half the adults in this country never read a book again after they leave school.  If Oprah can get women as fired up about reading as my wife is about having a zen closet, power to her.

And, I have to defend her in her current endeavor, where she is giving $40 million to start a school for girls in Africa.  Good.  I don't know if it will work, but it is worth a try.  We know that giving direct aid into kleptocratic totalitarian African governments is worse than useless, so maybe education is an answer.

Amazingly, she is under fire for this program, as people across the political spectrum ask why she is giving this money to Africa when everything is not perfect in this country.  This argument strikes me as more Lou Dobbs-type nationalistic xenophobia.  Sure inner city schools in this country suck, but they are better than what is in Africa (nothing) and its not clear that money alone is going to fix government-run schools (besides, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are already taking a swing at that).  I personally would love to contribute to inner-city education, but until there is a framework such that someone other than the government controls the schools, I am not going to do it. 

There is no reason why Africans are less deserving of charity than Americans, and several reasons why they may be more deserving.  Recognize that most blacks in this country, even those in the inner-city, would be in the top quintile of wealth in Africa.  So good for Oprah.

Update:  Andrew Coulson of Cato argues that Oprah misdiagnoses the inner city education problem - its not the kids, its the schools.  I would argue its both.  School choice gives kids a chance to attend a better, more stimulating school.  But it also acts as a sorting process, separating kids and parents who want a good education and getting them away from the cancer of kids that don't.  I think Oprah (and Bill Cosby before her) correctly diagnoses that there is certainly a depressing number in the latter category.  However, all that is peripheral.  Oprah does not owe her charity to the US.  Africa is a perfectly reasonable target for her charity (and why does Oprah catch crap for focusing on Africa when no one gives Bono similar grief?)

Posted on January 5, 2007 at 10:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

How to Begin a Blog Post

I thought this was a great first line:

My nephew started Kindergarten this year, unfortunately in a government school.

He continues:

I fear for the future of this amazingly intelligent child, but at least his mother is determined to protect him from an environment that is overtly hostile to intellectual growth and achievement. And, he's got some of the same genes I got, and shows every sign of being the same arrogant, stubborn bastard I've always been, so there's hope for him. I just wish I was there to help.

Posted on January 3, 2007 at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Asymmetrical Racism

First, just as background, I can't get too worked up about a black professor named John Streamas at WSU calling a Young Republican a "White Shitbag."  As I have written many times before, speech shouldn't be banned in a public forum merely for being offensive  -- we don't have a right not to be offended, and even idiots can speak.  While I think that a number of observers are correct in saying that if the races of the protagonists were reversed, the reaction to the statement and the university penalties applied would have been much more severe, it really doesn't matter.  WSU might rightfully evaluate whether they would like its professors to be more eloquent in political discourse or better able to handle heated arguments with students with some self-restraint, but that is in the realm of employee evaluation and not punishment for speech.

That being said, this case does provide a useful insight into something many of us have suspected for years but few African-Americans have admitted:  Some blacks and black leaders would like to redefine "racism" as applying only to slights against blacks.  Professor Streamas comes right out and argues that blacks can't be guilty of racism:

Prof. Streamas "insists that he did not utter the phrase as an expression of racism, in part, because he argues that a person of color cannot be racist, by definition, because racism also defines a power differential that is not usually present when a person or color is speaking."

This is an asymmetrical definition of racism that I have long suspected is harbored by various folks on the left.  By the way, the "power differential" argument is just a distraction.  If he really believed this, it would mean that I could utter the foulest things about powerful men like John Conyers or Colin Powell with impunity from being called a racist, and I know he doesn't mean that.  What he means is that he wants to claim the title of victim all for himself, allowing for enormous restrictions on actions and speech of others vis a vis himself, while not in the least bit in any way restraining his own actions or speech.

This is a common theme nowadays, especially on campus:  Everyone seems to be looking for a way to say anything they want, while simultaneously silencing their critics.  You can't have it both ways.  Its much easier to let everyone speak.  Free speech should not partially be for your enemies, but especially be for your enemies.

Posted on December 20, 2006 at 10:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Ve Have Vays of Making You Conform

I am not sure this even needs an introduction.  Comparisons to "1984" are invoked in political discourse almost as much as those to Nazi Germany, and most are overblown, but the George Orwell novel is all I can think of when I see this:

It may be almost 2007, but it feels more like “1984” at Michigan State University. The university’s Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging Michigan State to dismantle this unconstitutional program, which presents a profound threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.

“Michigan State’s SAC program is simply one of the most invasive attempts at reeducation that FIRE has ever seen, yet it has been allowed to exist at the university for years,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “As bad as it is to tell citizens in a free society what they can’t say, it is even worse to tell them what they must say. Michigan State’s program is an immoral and unconstitutional program of compelled speech, blatant thought reform, and pseudo-psychology.”
According to the program’s materials, SAC is an “early intervention” for students who use such “power-and-control tactics” as “male/white privilege” and “obfuscation,” which the university cryptically defines as “any action of obscuring, concealing, or changing people’s perceptions that result in your advantage and/or another’s disadvantage.” Students can be required to attend SAC if they demonstrate what a judicial administrator arbitrarily deems aggressive behavior, past examples of which have included slamming a door during an argument or playing a practical joke. Students can also be required to attend SAC for engaging in various types of constitutionally protected speech, including “insulting instructors” or “making sexist, homophobic, or racist remarks at a meeting.” When participation in SAC is required, “non-compliance typically results in a hold being placed on the student’s account,” an action that leaves the student unable to register for classes and thus effectively expelled from the university. Students are required to pay the cost of the SAC sessions.
Once in the program, students are instructed to answer a series of written questionnaires. In their answers, students must specifically describe how they are taking “full responsibility” for their offensive behavior and must do so using language that the director of the session deems acceptable. Most students will be asked to fill out this questionnaire multiple times, slowly inching closer to what administrators deem to be “correct” responses.

PC indoctrination at our nation's universities is alive and well.  It just astounds me that a group of adults thought this was acceptable.

Posted on December 15, 2006 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Increase Ivy League Capacity

There have been a number of articles of late about college admissions and Asians.  For example, my alma mater Princeton is getting sued by a young man who says the school's admissions standards are discriminatory against Asians  (he was forced to go to Yale instead, which in my mind represents substantial pain and suffering).  David Bernstein at Volokh also had this:

Liming Luo is a high school senior who is both a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs.  New York Magazine asked Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions consulting company, about her [and other students'] prospects for admission to MIT, the college of her choice. The answer:

Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket. She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she’s a shoo-in—I’d want to see more evidence that she’s giving back to the community.

I don't know enough to comment on the Asian issues, but I wanted to make a couple of other points.  First, Bernstein is probably correct in wondering why there is such a focus on "giving back to the community" for an 18-year old girl who appears to be a math genius.  But his question is naive.  I can say from experience that everything on an application for college may be negotiable (e.g. good athletics allows for lower SAT scores) except for community service.  That has become inviolable.  Every college prep school I know have elaborate programs nowadays to make sure their kids get lots of community service hours.  My son, at the age of eleven, missed on his first shot at National Junior Honor Society because he only had about 20 hours of community service.  I can tell you that for college-bound high school kids, community service is longer about volunteering and giving back but about grimly checking off one of the most important boxes for college applications.

My other thought is that you don't have to be Asian to worry nowadays that near-perfect SAT's and grades are not enough to get one into the Ivy League.  As you can see here, placing in the 99th percentile on SAT's only gives one a 1 in 5 shot at getting in to Princeton.  The other thing you can see is that top Ivy's are being honest when they say they want more than just good grades -- you can see at Princeton and Harvard that moving from 91st to 99th percentile on SAT's does little to improve a person's prospect of getting in.  (On the Asian discrimination issue, that means that more than half of the kids in the top 1 percentile of SAT's will get turned down by Princeton, and some of these will be Asians.  Whether that is discrimination or just brutally tough admissions is hard to say).

Which leads me to my main point -- the Ivy League needs to find a way to increase capacity.  The number of kids that are "ivy-ready" has exploded over the last decades, but the class sizes at Ivy schools have remained flat.    For years I have been campaigning at Princeton for this, and I am happy to see they are increasing the class size, but only by a small amount.  Princeton has an endowment larger than the GNP of most countries.  To date, it has spent that money both well and poorly.  Well, because Princeton is one of just a handful of schools that guarantee that if you get in, they will make sure you can pay for it, and they do it with grants, leaving every student debt free at graduation.  Poorly, because they have been overly focused on increasingly what I call the "educational intensity" or the amount of physical plant and equipment and stuff per student.  In this latter case, we have got to be near the limit of spending an incremental $10 million to increase the education quality by .01%.  We should instead be looking for ways to offer this very high quality of education to more people, since so many more are qualified today.

By the way, one of the reasons Ivy League schools don't take my advice is because of the faculty.  The very first thing that the faculty wants is more endowed chairs, more equipment, more office space, etc.  The very last thing most faculty wants is more students that would force them to actually teach more rather than publish and do research.

Postscript:  OK, I will make one comment about the Asian kids thing.  I don't know if what Ivy admissions offices are doing is discriminatory or not.  But I do know that among the white parents of college-bound high school students that I know, there is real undercurrent of anti-Asian resentment.  I can't tell you how often I hear stuff like "Oh of course he does well, he's Asian" or "I don't know if my kid can get into X, all the Asian kids get the spots."  Its a strange, resentful sort of racism I see all the time from parents who would never be caught dead uttering anything untoward about blacks.  There is this funny feeling I get in some of these conversations that it's OK to dislike Asians in a way that would never be perceived as OK for blacks.


Posted on November 28, 2006 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Government Opposes Things That Work Well

As a follow-on to this post on public vs. private schools, I saw this via Neal McCluskey at Cato:

District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district’s magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

“I think it’s basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,” he said. “They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district.”

This last paragraph is hilarious on its face.   The average parent must wonder what Mr. Lauritzen is doing with the public school funds in contrast to focusing his entire budget at, you know, the schools, like those evil competitors do.  And what government official would ever be caught dead providing the type of serves that a particular community actually wants.  And this is all in the context that charter schools are, in McCluskey's words, a "pale shade of choice."

So, what does the teachers union and school board members do in the face of competition that they acknowledge works better?  Do they demand the same flexibility in spending and rules in their own schools?  No!  Of course not!  They demand that the schools that work better be eliminated:

It’s no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling’s defenders fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when an old, hopeless system is suffering?

Posted on October 27, 2006 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Public Schools Not Underfunded, Teachers Not Underpaid

The single post from way back that I still get the most Google hits from (and the most nasty email, I might add) was my post on the myth that public schools teachers are underpaid.  This was a follow-on post to my lengthy post fisking the NEA's school improvement plans and here too.  The premise in all these posts was that 1) Public schools actually spent more per pupil than private schools that do a better job and 2) Teachers, when you adjust their total hours to match other workers who don't get summers off, make a salary very competitive to other professionals, even before their hefty government benefits package.

The Goldwater Institute has just completed a study of Arizona private schools, and has come to many of the same conclusions.  The study's author, Andrew Coulson, summarizes the findings:

In a study released yesterday by the Goldwater Institute, I analyze the results of their most recent private school survey. Among the other fascinating findings is that public schools spend one-and-a-half times as much per pupil as do private schools. Or, looked at the other way, private schools spend a third less than public schools.

Some other fascinating tidbits:

Teachers make up 72 percent of on-site staff in Arizona’s independent education sector, but less than half of on-site staff in the public sector. In order to match the independent sector’s emphasis on teachers over non-teaching staff, Arizona public schools would have to hire roughly 25,000 more teachers and dismiss 21,210 non-teaching employees.

When teachers’ 9-month salaries are annualized to make them comparable to the 12-month salaries of most other fields, Arizona independent school teachers earned the equivalent of $36,456 in 2004 — about $2,000 less than reporters and correspondents. The 12-month-equivalent salary of the state’s public school teachers was around $60,000, which is more than nuclear technicians, epidemiologists, detectives, and broadcast news analysts. It’s also about 50 percent more than reporters or private school teachers earn.

My kids go to an absolutely fabulous private school here in Phoenix.  It is secular and (gasp) actually runs for-profit, so it has no endowments or sources of grants or charitable funds.  In exchange for a great education that far outstrips the quality of even the best local schools, it charges a tuition substantially less than the Phoenix-area per-pupil public school spending (and it offers a 20% discount for each child over one).  If you are considering a move to the area, email me and I will give you more detail.

More here on the virtues of school choice.  This is a sort of related post on the barriers to starting a private school.

Posted on October 24, 2006 at 08:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

My University in the News

"Shouldn't Princeton students have the same rights as their counterparts down the road at Mercer County Community College?"

Princeton is a private institution, and has a greater ability than state institutions to set its own codes of conduct for its students.  That being said, as one who wants Princeton to remain a strong institution, I don't understand what the university's interest is in limiting free speech.  Particularly booing at a play.  The only exception I might make to this are efforts to make sure that invited speakers or scheduled performances can actually be heard and aren't drowned out by protesters, but I don't get the sense that this is what is going on here.

This "unwanted verbal conduct" standard that a number of universities have adopted is absurd, and is only harming students by releasing them into the real world believing that the government will protect them from encountering any criticism.  In this sense, Princeton and other universities are creating students in the modern Islamic mold, teaching them they should somehow be immune to criticism and that they should react with rabid outrage at the first person who says anything negative about them.  The only difference is that these students are being taught to respond with lawyers rather than explosive backpacks, but the outcome in terms of stifled free speech is the same.

Posted on October 4, 2006 at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ignoring a Positive Cancer Test

Baseball Crank reports:

In ... Gulino v. New York State Education Department (2d Cir. Aug. 17, 2006), the Second Circuit reinstated a race discrimination suit against the New York State Education Department based on the theory that a test of "basic college-level content" that asks applicants to get just two-thirds of the questions right is racially discriminatory because it has a "disparate impact" on African-American and Latino teachers. The test, developed in response to a 1988 task force report on problems with teacher quality, is described at pages 11-13 of the opinion.

There is nothing surprising, really, about this.  This theory, that a test that shows African-Americans performing more poorly than whites is by definition racist, has been floating around by decades.  It is particularly popular with various African-American leadership groups.

I have no problem with various ethnic and racial groups bringing expertise to bear to weed out poorly worded questions on exams.  But making this their only reaction to the test - ie the test shows we as a group may have a problem so lets throw the test out - is insane.  By way of explanation, here is a little play to consider:

Doctor:  I am sorry to tell you that you have cancer.  If untreated, it can be fatal.  The good news is that it is treatable, but the treatment will take time and can be quite difficult and painful.

Patient:  Your test is bad.  If other people don't have cancer, then I don't either.  I am going to ignore the result and ask the government to make sure that no one else is allowed to take the test either.

Doctor:  But that's crazy!  The cancer is treatable, but only if we get to work on it right now.

Patient:  You will be hearing from my lawyer for the pain and suffering your bad test has caused me.

I fully believe that the average African American wants her kids to be well educated, and has deep concerns about the quality of the education her kids are getting.  So I will limit my comments to African American "leadership".  Is what these leadership groups are doing in trying to legally strike down tests that show that the education they are getting as a group is failing really any different than a patient ignoring a positive cancer test?

Postscript:  In the article I linked, I do not share the author's concern about political T-shirts at school.

Posted on August 31, 2006 at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Gee, at Least They Have Their Priorities Straight

I am trying to picture the discussion in the Colorado legislature.  Our public schools are struggling, what should we do?

A Jefferson County geography teacher was placed on paid administrative on the second day of school for hanging several flags from other countries in his classroom.

Eric Hamlin said the flags were part of a world geography lesson plan at Carmody Middle School and refused to take them down. The school's principal escorted Hamlin out of class Wednesday morning after he refused to remove the flags of China and Mexico.

The school district placed him on administrative leave for insubordination, citing a Colorado law that makes it illegal to display foreign flags permanently in schools.

"Under state law, foreign flags can only be in the classroom because it's tied to the curriculum. And the principal looked at the curriculum, talked to the teacher, and found that there was really no curriculum coming up in the next few weeks that supported those flags being in the classroom," said Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.

It all reminds me of this guy.  Colorado has elected a number of strong nativists to their public offices, and they have taken the lead in many anti-immigrant efforts (that's the nativists whose ancestors immigrated from Europe over the last couple of centuries, not the nativists who were actually, you know, here first).  I think its helpful to see where following these idiots will take us.  Anyone still want to argue that strong immigration opponents aren't xenophobes?

Hat tip: Reasons Hit and Run

Posted on August 25, 2006 at 12:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Guilt or Innocence is Irrelevant, I Guess

I thought this article by Robert Johnson (via Instapundit) about the Duke Lacrosse case was interesting in that it highlighted how many people on the Duke campus believed that the actual guilt of innocence of the players involved was irrelevant.

First, there was the Duke administration.  I don't think anyone can doubt at this point that the players' guilt or innocence was irrelevant to the actions of the Duke administration, since they meted out their punishments long before the investigation into the facts of the case had even really begun.  Duke was clearly worried most about its reputation and about protecting itself from lawsuits, a not unreasonable fear given this.

It is the actions of the faculty that are truly amazing.  Johnson shows us the thinking of a number of members of the Duke faculty, known as the group of 88, that came out with public statements about the matter.

[Duke Professor Wahneema Lubiano] was pleased "that the Duke administration is getting the point”: the banging of pots and pans had hammered home that a specific claim to innocence in this case mattered little. "Regardless of the 'truth' established in whatever period of time about the incident at the house on N. Buchanan Blvd.," she mused, "the engine of outcry in this moment has been fueled by the difficult and mundane reality that pre-existed this incident." To Lubiano, the "members of the team are almost perfect offenders in the sense that [critical race theorist Kimberle] Crenshaw writes about," since they are "the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus."

Professor Alex Rosenberg added:

The sole defenders of the lacrosse players in this case, the professor suggested, are extreme advocates of the economic status quo

Though its not really news nowadays, I guess, the article is a nice reminder that universities tend to have a hard core of faculty that see the world in terms of race, class, and gender rather than individuals and individual action.  Makes you wonder how they go about assigning grades.  In fact, their desire to see the Duke case cast in terms of race and gender apparently caused them to ignore outright political abuses one would normally expect them to decry:

Most stunningly, Rosenberg claimed that every member of the Group of 88 believed that Nifong was motivated not by the pursuit of justice but by the looming Democratic primary for D.A. If true, this breathtaking assertion means that the Duke faculty, despite recognizing that a local prosecutor was abusing his office to railroad their own institution's students, chose to go public instead with a mass statement denouncing the students targeted by that very same prosecutor.

Posted on July 19, 2006 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Harvard Paradox

Asymmetrical Information comments on Greg Mankiw by observing:

Harvard scores lowest in student satisfaction *and* enjoys the highest yield (% of students admitted who attend) of any leading American university. How can the same institution be so desirable and so disliked at the same time?

The data presented for is for the undergraduate school and my experience is with the graduate school of business, but I think some of my experience can still help answer this question.

At the time I attended, I was sure that the Harvard Business School (HBS) was the best place for me to attend.  I still think that is true.  First, it had (and has) a great reputation with both people hiring for jobs and the general public.  The Harvard diploma has power, power that hasn't lessened even 20 years later.  Second, it had a style that worked well for me personally.  I sat in on classes at other business schools, but HBS classes had an interactive, and often combative, style that I loved and thrived in.  Yes there was work, but the workload never was worse than my undergraduate school.  I would not change my decision.

That being said, while I have showered my undergraduate school with cash, Harvard has not gotten one dime from me.  Because as an institution, it sucked.  It had an incredible arrogance to it, often stating publicly that its customer was NOT the students, but was the businesses who hired its graduates and society at large.  And this was the attitude at the business school, which I was often told was the most student-friendly part of Harvard.  My college roommate Brink Lindsey apparently had a similar experience at Harvard Law, as he was part of a group that founded N.O.P.E., which stood for Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

At every turn, one ran into petty, stupid stuff that did nothing to contribute to the educational experience but were frustrating as hell.  The faculty was often arrogant and the administrative and housing staff uncaring. 

At the risk of sounding petty, I will share two examples.  These are small things, but are representative of hundreds of similar experiences over two years. 

  • At winter break the first year, we were all given a "gift" of a coffee table book about Harvard.  Then, next spring, we all found a $100 charge on our spring term bill for this "gift"
  • My Harvard dorm room had a broken heater in my second year.  It got so cold that ice formed on the inside of the windows.  After weeks of trying, we finally got a maintenance guy to come out.  He set a thermometer down in the center of the room and stared at it for ten minutes.  Then he picked it up and started to leave.  "Why are you leaving?" I asked.  He replied "Because its 53 degrees in here.  State law does not require us to fix the heating until it falls below 50."  I finally had to go to Walmart and buy several space heaters.  Several weeks later I was ticketed by the campus police for having a fire hazard -- too many space heaters.

I do not think it an exaggeration to say that had Harvard scoured every post office in the country for employees, it could not manage to provide worse customer service day-to-day.

And I think this is the answer to the paradox.  If you can tolerate the faculty arrogance, you can get a great education, but Universities are more than just a school.  For most students, Harvard is also their landlord, their only restaurant choice, their local police force, etc. etc.  And for all these other functions, they are terrible.

Posted on May 25, 2006 at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

A Bad Week for Public Schools

I am a bit late on this one, but a California judge has determined that giving kids tests that have consequences is unconstitutional:

A judge in Oakland struck down California's controversial high school exit exam Monday, issuing a tentative ruling suggesting the test is unfair to some students who are shortchanged by substandard schools.

If finalized, the unexpected ruling would block the state from carrying out its plan to deny diplomas for the first time to tens of thousands of seniors who have been unable to pass the exit exam.

Note that this standard essentially means that no tests with real consequences (e.g. denial of grade advancement or diploma) can ever be given, because with 1129 high schools in California, some schools will always be below par.  So his argument will always apply -- there will always be kids who can claim their school is on the low end of the normal distribution.  And even if every school were exactly the same, kids within these schools could, I presume, similarly argue to this judge that they had sub-par teachers or sub-par parents or a sub-par reading light or a sub-par dog that ate their homework.

By the way, doesn't this also imply that California can no longer name state champions among high schools in various sports?  After all, isn't that unfair to schools with lesser sports programs?  And couldn't I extend this ruling to say that California state run colleges shouldn't be using high school grades or SAT scores or any other test-based metric in selecting entrants since some of these folks came from low-performing schools?

This confusion of equal protection with equal outcomes is so absurd its not really even worth commenting on further.  I won't even bother, then, asking how the judge expects sub-par schools to be made to improve without testing-with-teeth, or even what objective standards the judge used to determine that any schools were "substandard" in the first place.

For those who support this ruling, and agree with the plaintiff attorney's language that sounds like students have a right to a diploma that can't be denied without due process, here is a question:  What is a diploma?  Obviously, you don't want it to mean that a student has demonstrated basic knowledge and abilities against an agreed upon standard.  Are we reduced to a diploma being a certificate of attendance, indicating that a student grimly sat through 4 years of classes and nothing else?

This same week, the Florida Senate was unable to rescue the very successful state voucher program in the face of last year's insane Florida Supreme Court ruling that vouchers were unconstitutional because the Florida Constitution's uniformity clause:

the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the voucher program violated the "uniformity clause" of the state constitution guaranteeing a high-quality system of public schools. Because the performance of the voucher kids was superior to those in public schools, the court ruled that education was not uniform -- or in this case not uniformly miserable.

The program in question that was struck down by the court awarded vouchers to students of schools that failed to pass state standards. 

The program at issue is Governor Jeb Bush's seven-year-old "Florida A+ School Accountability and Choice Program." For the first time, schools have been graded on the reading, writing and math progress made by the children they are supposed to be teaching. (Imagine that.) Any school that received an F in two of four years is deemed a failure, and the kids then get a voucher to attend another school, public or private.

One immediate impact -- according to researchers at Harvard, Florida State, and the James Madison Institute -- has been that the mere threat of competition caused many inner-city school districts to improve. The percentage of African Americans who are now performing at or above grade level surged to 66% last year, from 23% in 1999.

What is amazing about the court's decision is that every kid who got a voucher, 90% of whom are minorities, came from a school demonstrated by objective standards to be far below average.  But, according to the court, it is constitutional for these kids to be in schools that are far below average, but becomes unconstitutional when kids are moved to above average schools?  Does this make any sense?  I'ts sort of a reverse Lake Wobegone effect -- the system is constitutional as long as all the schools are below average but once any are above average then its unconstitutional.  LOL.

Here is the reason that the court's logic doesn't make sense:  The real thing they are concerned about with the uniformity clause is not uniform quality, but whether the schools are uniformly controlled by the government and uniformly populated with union rather than non-union teachers.

Note that both these decisions use the existence of flaws within the two states' educational systems (e.g. low-performing schools) combined with a "uniformity" or "equal protection" standard to strike down reforms aimed at fixing these very flaws.  Both are saying that you can't reform the schools until all the schools are equally good,  but of course the schools will never improve without reform. 

Update:  But good news in Newark.  It's depressing but not surprising to see my alma mater's own Cornell West out there fighting against school choice for African-Americans.

Update #2:  Walter Olson comments:

It would appear that from now on a high school diploma is meant to signify not a student's actual mastery of a certain body of material, but rather the mastery he or she would have attained had the breaks of life been fairer. Employers, and all others who rely on California high school diplomas in evaluating talent, would be well advised to adjust their expectations accordingly.

Posted on May 10, 2006 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

School Choice for the Legally Savvy Parent

It appears that at least one group of students in California get a school choice program:  Those with irritating but legally savvy parents willing to exploit special education programs  (Hat tip to Overlawyered)

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition, but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits. Total tab: $67,949.

How?  By having their child declared a special ed student and then shamelessly exploiting the legal process to force such settlements

Since 1993, the number of students in public special ed programs rose 27 percent, to 681,969 from 539,073. But special ed students placed in private schools at public expense rose nearly five times faster  --  128 percent, to 15,926 from 6,994....

Gross described the law's myriad requirements as "150 points of potential mistakes" for school districts.

Missing even one step can cause a district to lose its case if a hearing officer finds that a student's education suffered as a result. 

"There isn't an attorney who can't find us making a mistake on one of those things," Gross said.

So who is qualifying as "learning disabled"?   I bet you aren't thinking of this boy, who got special education funding from the state to go to a private boarding school:

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

And, uh, what learning disability does this describe, except perhaps the general category of "teenage boy?"  This is a clear case of the most irritating parents with the most aggressive lawyers getting over on the rest of us.  Read it all.  My guess is that most everyone will be irritated, perhaps most of all those with a child with a true learning disability that really needs special help.  And make sure not to miss the state funded "dolphin therapy".  (Update:  Last year we spent a fortune for our kids to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii.  Do you think I can charge that back to my local school district?)

Posted on March 29, 2006 at 10:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Please Stop

Jennifer Britz, the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College reports that she is sad to say that she is admitting boys who are less qualified than female applicants in order to maintain gender parity.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

I have four reactions.

One.  Yeah!  Lets take a moment to celebrate a victory for women.  Its great to see us talking about "too many" qualified women flooding colleges, just a few years after feminists were still writing books about schools failing girls.

Two.  I finally get to say something that I have wished for decades to hear from members of various minority groups that have been the benficiary of affirmative action:  Stop giving us men a special break.  Boys in high school are falling behind girls in their achievement, and are not going to get the message as long as you keep taking less qualified boys instead of more qualified girls.  The colleges I attended 20+ years ago survived fine with 2/3 men, they can do the same with 2/3 women.

Three.  This just reinforces my advice I have been giving to Ivy League and other great schools: Find a way to grow!  The new challenge for the 21st century is not to spend an incremental 5% more on the same top students, but to recognize that there are so many more great, polished graduates that are Ivy ready than ever before.

  In this article you can get a little peek at how the college admissions process has turned volunteerism from, well, volunteerism to a grim requirement.  Among eleven-year-olds in my son's class, I saw kids get turned down for an honor society despite having 4.0+ grade point averages, playing multiple sports at a very high level, and doing about 20 hours of community service over the year.  Apparently, this level of community service was not robust enough -- people with lower grades make it, people with no sports make it, people with no leadership activities make it, but NO ONE makes it without a lot more than 20 hours of community service - at the age of eleven.  Believe it or not, my son now keeps a log book of time spent on activities he can count as service -- we have better documentation of this work than we do of his grades!  Volunteerism has become nearly the one minimum requirement that of all the various components is never waived in college admissions.

Posted on March 24, 2006 at 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Taliban at Yale, and Advice for Princeton

Everyone seems worked up about Yale admitting an official of the Taliban as a student.  While I find the guy in question pretty bankrupt, I'm not sure I am very excited about starting down the path of vetting potential college applicants against some political extremism standard.  I am sure there are any number of Ivy League freshmen whose beliefs I would find horrifying, but I don't feel the need to start culling them out.  I do find it odd that Yale would have recruited this guy like he was some kind of rock star, and celebrated his choice of Yale as if he was some prize. 

As I have written to my Alma mater Princeton on any number of occasions, I think that Ivy League schools are making a huge mistake which is tangentially related to Yale's Taliban student.  If the University of Texas had accepted him as one of 10,000 or so in their freshman class, there would not be so much outcry.  But this is an Ivy League school, with 20,000 or more kids competing for 1500 freshman spots.  Every parent tends to think, "so my kid with straight A's and a 1350 SAT and 200 hours of community service got turned down at Yale so a misogynist fascist with a 4th grade education can attend?"

Instead of arguing about admitting one less Taliban guy, I urge Ivy League schools to find a way to bring their higher quality of education to many more people.  Princeton, Harvard, and Yale each have endowments over $10 billion each, and they use this money every year to increase the education intensity to the same 1500 people per class.  Every time I go back to visit campus, I see more buildings, equipment, facilities, professors for the same 1500 folks.  Enough!  At some point there has got to be a diminishing return.  It is time for someone in the Ivy League to take the leadership to redefine their mission away from the current facilities arms race with the other Ivy's and towards a mission to broaden their reach in the country.  Instead of yet more molecular biology equipment for the same 1500 people per class, lets find a way to bring a Princeton education to, say, 6000 people a class.  Lets quadruple the size of the Ivy League.

Of course, the Ivy League conservatives (which means, in this context, everyone who graduated before this year and all of the faculty) fear this change.  The last thing the faculty, who we know to be in charge of the asylum from the whole Sommers affair, want is to have more students to teach -- they want the toys.  And alumni fear that somehow the "essential essence" of the university might be lost, though everyone made that same argument when these schools went coed and few today would argue to reverse this decision.   Administrators argue that the freshman pool would be diluted, sort of like the argument about pitching in baseball after expansion.  But one only has to look at admissions numbers to see that quadrupling the freshman class size would cause the Ivy's to lower their standards to... about where they were when I got in!  (If your SAT scores are in the 98th percentile you still have only a 10% chance of getting into Princeton or Harvard.)  The fact is that the pool of high school students in the upper echelons and Ivy-ready has grown tremendously in the past few years, causing Ivy's to narrow their admissions qualifications to near ridiculous levels, with average SAT scores in the stratosphere, hundreds of hours of community service, multiple sports letters, and consultant-aided choices of special activities to differentiate students from the crowd (e.g. bagpipes or falconry).

I understand that this is difficult -- just the issue of physical space is daunting.  But these are the leading Universities in the world.  Surely there is enough brainpower to figure it out if the mission is accepted.  The University of California has of late been doing a lot of interesting things to bring college education to the masses, and dealing with the fact that the number of people who can afford the cost and time of a college degree has increased exponentially.  I think the Ivy League needs to work through the same exercise at the top end of the bell curve.  They need to address a similar near exponential expansion in the number of students who are "Ivy-ready."

Posted on March 13, 2006 at 05:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Static Analysis and School Choice

Below in my first post on the old 1968 edition of The Population Bomb, I said one of the key mistakes of these doomsayers was static analysis, which I described as:

blind projection of trendlines without any allowance for individuals actually doing something to alter those trends, particularly in response to pricing signals.  This leads not only to predictions of disaster, but to the consistent conclusion that only governments coercing individuals on a massive scale can avert dire consequences for humanity

A great example of the static analysis fallacy in action today in in the debate on school choice.  School choice opponents often bring out some or all of these arguments:

  • Private schools are often more expensive than public schools, so even with vouchers set at the state per pupil spending, many won't be able to afford private schools
  • Private schools have admissions requirements and testing, such that many students will not be able to meet the cut
  • Private schools are disproportionately religious, leaving few options for secular parents
  • There are no where near enough private schools for the potential demand

Do you see the consistent fallacy?  All the arguments assume that private schools, in terms of pricing, mission, supply, etc., will remain static and unchanged after a voucher program is instituted.  I hate to waste electrons stating the obvious, but the private schools that exist today did not evolve in a vacuum.  They evolved in a world of monopoly public schools, and their nature is based on that reality.  Change that backdrop, and the schools will change.

For example, take the cost issue.  Sure, many private schools are expensive.  The main reason is that private schools have been created in an environment where their customers must have the ability to pay for their kid's education twice.  My kids go to private school, and every month I pay their bill to go to a public school they don't attend (via my property taxes) and then I pay a second bill to the private school they do attend.  As a result, many private schools have high prices, because their customer base can pay.  If the government instituted a special tax so that everyone received a government-funded Yugo, don't you think that the number of inexpensive cars sold by private companies might dry up some?

But private schooling does not have to be expensive.  My kids go to a fantastic school here in Phoenix.  We have moved around a lot, and we have been lucky enough to be able to send our kids to some very good and sometimes very expensive private schools, and I can say with confidence that their school here is both the best and the cheapest!  In fact, the tuition I pay for an education far, far superior to the local public schools is less than what the state of Arizona spends as an average per pupil in the public schools.

The same type of rebuttal can be made to all the other arguments.  Private schools often have tough admissions requirements because the public schools have already staked out the niche for the lowest-common-denominator education, so private schools differentiate themselves by serving an intellectual elite.  But does anyone doubt that if millions of average kids suddenly had $6000 vouchers in their hands, someone would step up to serve the heart, rather than the tail, of the normal distribution?  And I addressed here the huge potential for private school to evolve to serve a diverse range of viewpoints.

Arizona Watch has a nice post on this same topic, including similar thoughts in response to criticisms of school choice:

The statist arguments against HB 2004 are more clearly spelled out in Mike McClellan’s blog on AZCentral in which he calls HB 2004 “tuition tax fraud.” Mike is (surprise surprise) a public school teacher. Indicative of the quality of public school education in Arizona, Mike’s arguments against HB 2004 are weak, but I’ll briefly refute them here.

1. Private schools can choose who they take – many have entrance exams that will block some students from entering the school.

Mike’s correct: private schools can choose the students they accept. Some students may not qualify for their first choice school. The real point he’s making here is that some students may not have access to private schools even with the corporate funding – that the bill would create a class divide in education. That’s absolutely incorrect. If private schools become affordable to a significant portion of the population, then more private schools will emerge. These schools will assuredly serve different market segments. There will be prep schools, technical schools, art schools, religious schools, atheist schools, and schools that just provide a decent basic education. There will even be schools that specifically serve challenged students – those students who Mike claims won’t have access to private schooling. The opposite is true. Schools will be better able to serve a variety of students in a manner far more effecting than the current one-size-fits-all public school system.

2. Even if they can attend the school, the tuition might not cover all the costs the student will incur – books, uniforms, other fees. If the schools won’t waive those costs – and many can’t afford to do that – the student’s family might not be able to make up the difference.

Certainly some private schools will be more expensive than the tuition grants can cover. However, many more will design their tuition structure specifically to stay within the limits covered by the tuition grants. It is absurd to think that schools would deliberately price themselves out of the market. If the demand exists, private schools are going to find a way to meet that demand and earn those tuition dollars.

3. And here’s the big one: Republicans apparently believe there are quality private schools everywhere. They oughta take a more careful look. While Phoenix and Tucson have plenty of private schools – some far too expensive for the Republican plan, by the way – that is not the case in the rest of the state.

Do you see a trend here? The answer to this last argument is the same as the answers to the previous two. Tuition grants will create demand for private schools. New private schools will emerge to meet that demand and collect that grant money. This is basic economics.

The one concern I have is that statists and choice opponents have many ways to block private schools.  Even with vouchers, zoning and land use laws in many areas have provided a powerful tool to block private school expansion.

By the way, here is one way to test whether people who make these arguments against choice really mean them or are using them to hide the true reasons that they object to school choice:  If they are right, then what are they worrying about?  No new schools will open, no publicly educated kids will be able to afford or meet the admissions standards of those schools that do exist, so nothing will change.  But they seem really worried about school choice, which makes me think that they don't even believe their own arguments.

Posted on January 27, 2006 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Alito and Princeton

I generally stay far away from the back-bench spitball fights that seem to go with Supreme Court confirmations (except for Harriet Meier's, but she was so spectacularly bad a choice I felt the need to chime in).  So I am late to the party in noting that apparently Alito came under some fire for being a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.  Apparently, he has been tagged as a racist, sexist, blah, blah, blah for being a member of this organization.

First, it is worth observing the the Republicans asked for this guilt-by-organizational association stuff.  Long before the Federalist Society membership attack by Democrats was the attack on Dukakis as "a card carrying member of the ACLU".  This is just as dumb as can be.  I, for example, support the ACLU in a number of their endeavors at the same time I have grave problems with certain aspects of their work, particularly their refusal to acknowledge property rights as on equal footing with speech and privacy (which I guess is not surprising since they were founded by a Stalanist).  I am sure it is possible that Alito supports some of the goals of CAP without wanting to make Princeton all-male again.

My second reaction is just to laugh.  While at Princeton, it was always fun to take a shot at CAP for being racist or sexist, since their most public positions always seemed to be about opposing women on campus or affirmative action or similar stuff.  Then and since, though, I have gotten to know a bunch of folks in CAP and have found its really just a bunch of very conservative (little c) folks concerned that Princeton isn't the same as when they were there.  I sometimes agree with them, for example when they oppose political-correctness driven speech limitations, and sometimes disagree with them, particularly when they oppose any sort of dynamism in the school.  In general, I classify them as humans were classified in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:  Mostly harmless.

My problem with CAP is that Princeton, like most of the Ivy League, needs to be more dynamic, not less.  Princeton has done a good job adjusting themselves to many challenges over the last 30 years:  Princeton has gone from no women to being majority women.  It has good representation from most ethnic groups, and it has all the money it could possibly need to make sure any student it wants in the University can afford to go.  Its got every building and piece of equipment a student could ever need, plus a few more.

But here is the real problem, as I see it:  Over the last 30 years, the undergraduate population at Princeton, as with all of the Ivy League, has hardly grown.  The University has become hugely wealthy over this time, has built tons of facilities, but it has all gone to increasing the educational and capital intensity for the same 5000 students.  The challenge as I see it is how do you make this same education available to say 15,000 people at a time instead of 5,000 without changing the heart of the institution. 

Because they aren't creating any new Ivy League schools, while an ever larger portion of the population has the wealth and basic education background and the drive and expectations to want an Ivy-League-quality college experience.  The result is that the admissions process has gotten to be crazy.  Ask any Ivy Leaguer who went to college 20 years or more ago, and ask them "Could you get admitted today" and they will probably answer "no" or at least "I'm not sure".  Education consultants - I have met these folks - are making fortunes coaching kids from the age of 9 or so on how to get a resume built that is Ivy-League-admittable, complete with an oddball hobby selection aimed at catching the admissions board's eye.  Everyone plays piano, so kids started trying the harp and banjo to be different, but even that is overdone so now its probably the bagpipes or something.  Football is out, and lacrosse is probably overdone now, so how about falconry?  Out west, private universities like USC are thriving by being able to offer top educations to much larger numbers of people.  The Ivy League needs to figure out how to do this as well.

Of course, every time I raise this idea at any Princeton forum, I get only negative reactions, being accused of trying to change the very fiber of the university.  You don't have to be born in 1930 to be conservative about the the university and change.  But I keep at it, noticing that the responses I get are identical to those heard when the University went coed.

update:  Well, Joe, I'm not really a big Joe Biden fan.

Posted on January 9, 2006 at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side. Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Posted on January 9, 2006 at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Follow-up on Segregation at ASU

Racially segregated classes at ASU may or may not still exist, and the University may or may not have ended them.  How's that for a follow-up.  FIRE does some more research here, and find:

In fact, there’s no reason to believe that the racial restriction on that class hasn’t existed for at least eight years. And unless ASU is a university at which students sign up for a class directly with the professor (which would be truly unusual), ASU’s administration had to be part of the effort to enforce the racial restriction.
So why didn’t ASU tell the truth in its letter to FIRE, especially if it was planning to abandon the racial restriction anyway (once it got caught, of course)? Probably because its administration didn’t believe that anyone would really do the research and find out that legal segregation has flourished on its campus for at least the last eight years. This brazenness is shocking, especially considering that a 2002 letter from FIRE got ASU to drop racial restrictions on a Navajo history class. Are there other classes with similar restrictions just waiting to be discovered?

Posted on October 21, 2005 at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Arizona State University Racially Segregates Courses

I am a big supporter of the work FIRE does to support openness and individual rights in universities.  Today, FIRE turns its attention on Phoenix's own Arizona State University:

State-sponsored racial segregation has found a home at Arizona State University (ASU).  ASU’s ironically named “Rainbow Sections” of English 101 and 102 have been advertised on flyers and on the university’s website as being open to “Native Americans only.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to the university to demand that the classes be opened to all students. Shockingly, this marks the second time in less than four years that FIRE has been forced to protest a racially segregated course at ASU.
“It is appalling that ASU would resurrect segregated classes five decades after Brown v. Board of Education,” stated David French, president of FIRE.  “The idea that a class can be ‘separate but equal’ was discredited long ago.”
The “Rainbow Sections” of English 101 and 102, ASU’s freshman composition courses, were advertised as “restricted to Native Americans only” on the faculty webpage of Professor G. Lynn Nelson, the course instructor.  A flyer addressed to “Native American Students” states that they “are invited to enroll in special Native American sections of ENG 101 and 102.”  It also discusses some of the differences between the special sections and the “standard First Year Composition classes,” making it clear that the special sections offer a different educational experience.

Anyone heard of Brown vs. Board of Education here?  I wouldn't have a particular problem with private groups offering such education with these restrictions, after all I have said many times that the right of free association implies a right not to associate with whoever you want.  But public institutions have different obligations in this regard.  Its actually not that hard to deal with, and even ASU knows what the solution is:

FIRE last wrote to ASU in April 2002 to protest a segregated Navajo history class that limited enrollment to Native American students. At that time, ASU simply dropped the racial restriction in response to FIRE’s letter.

Its OK to have different versions of the same coursework, and probably OK to advertise one version as specially targeted at a particular group, as long as you let individual students make the final decision on which of the University-sanctioned versions are right for them.

Posted on October 6, 2005 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

More on School Choice

A while back, I made a plea to the left to "come to the dark side" and consider school choice.  In this post, I didn't argue about quality or efficiency improvements, but about diversity:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side. Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Today, Jeff Jacoby, via Cafe Hayek, is making much the same argument:

From issues of sexuality and religion to the broad themes of US history and politics, public opinion is fractured. Secular parents square off against believers, supporters of homosexual marriage against traditionalists, those stressing ''safe sex" against those who emphasize abstinence. Each wants its views reflected in the classroom. No longer is there a common understanding of the mission of public education. To the extent that one camp's vision prevails, parents in the opposing camp are embittered. And there is no prospect that this will change -- not as long as the government remains in charge of educating American children....

Imagine how diverse and lively American education would be if it were liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description -- just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution unsullied by leaps of faith about an Intelligent Designer would be able to choose schools in which religious notions would play no role. Those who wanted their children to see God's hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Sounds good?  Well, unfortunately, as Cafe Hayek points out, Stacy Schiff in the NY Times recently went off on an anti-choice screed.  Not just anti-school-choice, but anti-all-choice, and readers were writing in in droves to agree!  Jeez, do people really want less choice? And just because you are too lazy to handle responsible decision-making, do you really want to limit my choice as well?  And by the way, who is going to be the official cull-er of choice, and what guarantees do you have that those officials will make the same decisions as you in culling choice?  Virginia Postrel has more thoughts on choice.

The bottom line of choice is that many of those in power do not trust you to make your own choices.  I wrote on distrust of individual decision-making here.  In my article on school choice, I ended with this caution:

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necessarily accept, and with values that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

Update: I feel compelled to include this quote from Radley Balko:

Critics of capitalism once predicted that free markets would wreak mass starvation, depletion of resources, pollution, and death.

They're now reduced to bitching about too many flavors of mustard.

We've won the debate.

Posted on June 15, 2005 at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Grade Inflation in the Ivy League

The Boston Globe has an article on John Kerry's recently released Yale grades.  Humorously, after all the sturm and drang of him supposedly being an intellectual titan to George Bush's dim-wittedness, his GPA was actually a notch lower than George's at Yale.  Personally, I could care less - grades are important for getting into grad school or that first job out of college.  I can't even imagine GPA coming up much in assessing one's suitability for a job in his forties or fifties.

Anyway, the point I take from this is more about grade inflation that suitability for the presidency.  Both Kerry and Bush got a selection of D's, C's, and B's, and no A's.  And while these may have not been standout grades, they certainly didn't seem to be out of the norm for the time.  My question:  Does any student today who can fog a mirror in the Ivy League today get grades this low?  My guess is no.

Postscript: By the way, Kerry released his military records (which were the source of the Yale grades) and there does not appear to be any ticking time bombs in it.  In fact, there are several pieces of information that would have helped him in the campaign, including commendations from several of his swift boat vet critics.  Why in the hell did he drag his feet on this and give the Republicans a free campaign issue?

Posted on June 7, 2005 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Advice to Graduation Speakers

This is the time of year that we get both good and bad reports about graduation speakers.  I think we had Maurice Sendak at my graduation, which was OK.  I also remember that the student body got to vote for one person to receive an honorary degree (rather than the usual criteria for giving the other honorary degrees, which seemed to involve donating a building).  We voted for our UPS driver, who really was one of the most important people in our lives at the time, being our main link to home and the outside world.

Anyway, Ace of Spades has some crude but funny advice for graduation speakers.

Posted on June 6, 2005 at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Getting Into Ivy League Schools

Since I went to two Ivy League Schools (Princeton undergrad, Harvard MBA), I get asked by parents a lot about how to get their kids into an Ivy League school.  My answer is the same one that I think many of my friends from college give:  "I'm not sure I could have gotten into Princeton if I did it today, rather than 20 years ago".  While the number of bright, qualified students seems to have gone up tenfold over the last decades, the number of admissions spots at Ivy League schools has hardly changed, and few new schools have emerged as Ivy League equivalents (if not in fact, at least in the perceptions of the public).

I have recently discovered this really nice blog by Kurt Johnson, who recently got accepted to attend Wharton business school next year.  He has several good posts about school rankings and admissions, including this one here.  The curves showing that only about 20% of applicants in the top 1 percentile of test scores get into Princeton is scary.  Yes, I had good SAT scores, somewhere in the 1500's  (I would never have believed at the time I would have forgotten the number, but I seem to have).  At the time, that was pretty much a layup for getting into the Ivy League, though I had some decent sports and activities as well.  Now, the odds are I wouldn't make it.

Today, parents are downright crazed in trying to figure out what it takes to get in.  For example, any of the 11 year olds at our elementary school do community service, which I guess is fine though it seems to be driven more by setting up early resume wins rather than saving the world.  Things like piano and violin are out:  Parents are pushing their kids into more unique, differentiated instruments like bagpipes or the xylophone.  My old college roommate, whose kids go to a college prep school in DC, joked that he planned to send the other school parents into a jealous hysteria by telling them his kids were competing in falconry.

Kurt also makes a good point about one of my pet peeves of performance measurement:  that is, measuring a process based on inputs rather than outputs.  You see this all the time, for example, when the department of homeland security talks.  They say things like we have xx thousand agents making xx checks with xx equipment blah blah.  Yes, but are we safer?

Postscript: By the way, after reading Kurt's work, he is basically going to Wharton for a piece of paper.  He already appears to be at least as thoughtful an analyst of business issues as most poeple I know with Ivy League MBA's.  OK, this is a bit unfair.  I learned a lot that was useful in my first year of busienss school, then I entertained myself in the second year with a lot of material that was interesting but I never used much.  My MBA was sort of a 1-year technical degree with an extra year in "business liberal arts".  I have talked to lawyers that say the same thing about law school.

Posted on June 3, 2005 at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Off To Princeton, With Some Good News

Posting will be light to non-existent the next few days as I head back to Princeton for reunions (my 21st reunion, not an even year, but we Princeton grads can be goofy that way).

I will leave you with this good news about my alma mater, via FIRE:

PRINCETON, N.J. -- After being initially rebuffed by a Princeton University official, a group of evangelical Christian students who wanted access to facilities and the chance to apply for funds has won a victory.

After the university's dean of religious life refused recognition for Princeton Faith and Action, the group appealed to a campus rights group that successfully lobbied the university to change its procedures.

"We found Princeton's quick and fair response very encouraging. We've found other colleges who haven't been particularly fair to religious groups, sometimes in an unconstitutional way," said Greg Lukianoff, an official with the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Princeton Faith and Action has now been recognized as a student group, religious groups are being treated that same as secular groups, and the university will conduct a review of procedures related to student organizations, said Princeton Provost Christopher L. Eisgruber.

"We need to be welcoming groups, even if their opinions are unorthodox, and that is the goal of our review," Eisgruber said.

After sending this to several people, I got the odd response "gee Warren, I didn't think you were an evangelical".  I am not, nor am I a conservative, and the PFA would not be my cup of tea.  However, I think this response is endemic of a major problem we have in this country, that of "free speech for me but not for thee." 

Its great to see Princeton working to stay open to all points of view, which I think will make it a better university and give it an advantage over time vs. the Harvard's and Dartmouth's of the world that still resist freedom of inquiry outside the bounds of political correctness.  Someday soon I will have to write a post on how "freedom of association" absolutely requires the converse:  freedom not to associate with certain people.  Anyway, in the mean time, I will leave you with some reunions photos. 

Prade   R66

R34   R37

Posted on May 25, 2005 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Great Moments in Mediocrity

Teachers at one school district in California chose not to select a teacher of the year this year, because it smacked too much of recognizing and rewarding competence (hat tip: best of the web):

The name of the winner was to have been announced at tonight's school board meeting. Instead, Leach will read a statement explaining why the union has decided not to pick a single winner this year....

That coincided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first pitch for merit pay for public-school teachers. His proposal has met with strong opposition from some teachers around California and from a key state education official.

"We decided that choosing one among us as the best is similar to merit pay," Leach said.

This reminds me of Bill Gates's Life Lesson #8:

Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades; they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Except, perhaps, teaching.  More on teachers and their union here and here and here.

Posted on May 19, 2005 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Teacher Salary Myth

"You took a teaching position, 'cause you thought it'd be fun, right? Thought you could have summer vacations off...and then you found out it was actually work...and that really bummed you out"

-- Carl to Vernon, in the Breakfast Club

If you go to the NEA web site, you will see that they argue that most of the problems in education boil down to either low teacher pay or overly high teacher productivity expectations (i.e. classroom size).  I fisked many of these claims here and here, but most media outlets still quote these assertions credulously when they write about education.

I have found (from some past emails I have received) that one of the ways to really irritate a teachers union rep is, when they lament their low salaries, to point out that they only work 9 months a year, and they should multiply their salaries by 1.33 to make them comparable to the rest of ours.  For example, per the NEA web site, teachers made a bit over $56,000 on average in California in 2004. Lisa Snell, in this month's Reason, estimates that benefits add nearly $16,000 to this compensation package, for a total of about $72,000 per year for California teachers.  Normalize this for the fact they work 9 months (or less) a year, and you get them making an equivalent of $100,000 a year.  Woe is me. 

Of course, California is high vs. other states on salary, and the "9 months" estimate is only approximate, and doesn't count the fact that teachers typically work a shorter work week than many other professionals.  Fortunately, Snell pointed me to this article in Education Next, which has a fantastic rebuttal to the "teachers are underpaid" myth.

A substantial body of evidence implies that teachers are not underpaid relative to other professionals. Using data on household median earnings from the U.S. Department of Labor, I compared teachers with seven other professional occupations: accountants, biological and life scientists, registered nurses, social workers, lawyers and judges, artists, and editors and reporters. Weekly pay for teachers in 2001 was about the same (within 10 percent) as for accountants, biological and life scientists, registered nurses, and editors and reporters, while teachers earned significantly more than social workers and artists. Only lawyers and judges earned significantly more than teachers—as one would expect, given that the educational training to become a lawyer is longer and more demanding.

Teachers, moreover, enjoy longer vacations and work far fewer days per year than most professional workers. Consider data from the National Compensation Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which computes hourly earnings per worker. The average hourly wage for all workers in the category “professional specialty” was $27.49 in 2000. Meanwhile, elementary-school teachers earned $28.79 per hour; secondary-school teachers earned $29.14 per hour; and special-education teachers earned $29.97 per hour. The average earnings for all three categories of teachers exceeded the average for all professional workers. Indeed, the average hourly wage for teachers even topped that of the highest-paid major category of workers, those whose jobs are described as “executive, administrative, and managerial.” Teachers earned more per hour than architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, statisticians, biological and life scientists, atmospheric and space scientists, registered nurses, physical therapists, university-level foreign-language teachers, librarians, technical writers, musicians, artists, and editors and reporters. Note that a majority of these occupations requires as much or even more educational training as does K–12 teaching.

Curious about the data she uses, I went straight to her source, which is here, and now has data through 2003 online that can be queried.  Sure enough, her conclusions are right there in the Labor Department data:

Professional or Technical Occupation 2003 $/hr
Technician $20.85
Avg. White Collar, ex. Sales $23.33
Avg. All Professional and Technical $28.37
Elementary School Teacher $31.74
Executive, administrator, manager $32.20
Engineer, architect, surveyor $34.34
Dentist $38.93
Lawyer $46.11
Doctor $52.91

Note that when corrected for hours worked onto a $ per hour basis, teacher salaries are higher than the average white collar or professional worker, and quite competitive with other professionals such as engineers and managers.  In fact, if you were to take out private school teachers (which mix the number lower, see below) the average for public school teachers is even higher.  Occupations making more than teachers such as doctors and lawyers require much more education and long-term commitment than the average elementary school teaching role.

By the way, the Education Next article linked above gives us another clue that is useful in understanding teachers salaries:  For the vast majority of professions, a government job in that profession pays less than an equivalent private job.  People accept the lower government salary for a variety of reasons --  sometimes for unique work (e.g. interning with the DA as a young lawyer), sometimes for the higher benefits and more job security, and sometimes just because the jobs require fewer hours and frankly have lower performance expectations than their private equivalent.  The one glaring exception to this public-private salary relationship is with teachers salaries, where the salaries of public school teachers are often as much as 50% higher than their private school equivalents. 

Wow!  Its no wonder that the NEA hates the idea of school choice and competition from private schools.  They have built a public employment gravy train, with premium salaries, no real penalty for under-performance, and double digit raises for a 180 day a year job -- all while selling the media on their woe-is-me-we-are-underpaid myth.

Correction:  Messed up the Breakfast Club quote - it was spoken from Carl the Janitor to Vernon, not by "Carl Vernon".

Update:  A lot of people ask "What do you have against teachers?" and I answer, "nothing."  I can't remember complaining about what any employee of a private firm makes.   In fact, for employees of private firms, I am happy to root for you to get all you can.  Go for it.  But teachers are not private employees -- they are government workers, just like every other government bureaucrat who gets paid by my taxes that are taken from me against my will.  If I pay your salary, and in particular if I pay your salary against my will, you can be sure I am going to demand accountability.

By the way, I send my son to a private junior high.  The school is widely acknowledged to do a much better job than any public school in the city.  And you know what - my tuition at this school is $2000 per year LESS than the average per pupil spending in Scottsdale public junior high schools.  And this school is 100% tuition supported (it is a for profit secular institution so it can't take contributions) and it turns a profit for the family that owns it.  You know how many principals, assistant principals, administrators, and clerks it has for a 300 person junior high school?   Two.  The number at a similarly sized public school would be ten times as high. At least.   

Posted on May 3, 2005 at 09:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

Phallocrats of the World, Unite

This letter to the editor at SIU about embattled professor Jonathon Bean is hilarious if parody, and even funnier if real.  The letter begins:

To the Editor:

My eyes were edged with tears as I read Caleb Hale's article in the Southern which exposed Southern Illinois University at Carbondale history ("His-Story") Professor Jonathan Bean as a racist hate-mongering phallocrat.

"Phallocrat" -- I love that term!  Great name for a new political party.  Stealing a joke shamelessly from one of the commenters:  "you are going to elect a dick anyway, so vote Phallocrat".

Backstory on the whole blowup at SIU is here, but the gist is that professor Bean is being excoriated for having the temerity to suggest one (1) piece of optional reading in his course (which has scads of required reading from African-American writers about white racism) about an incident of black racism.

Update:  Oh no!  The campus phallocrats are meeting stiff resistance in Rhode Island.

Posted on May 3, 2005 at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Princeton Speech Code

I could easily have chosen nearly any university in the country as the example for this post, but I will choose my alma mater Princeton

Like many universities, Princeton has a speech code.  Like many universities, Princeton's speech code is an affront to the First Amendment and an open license to selectively apply administrative punishments based on political beliefs.

The Princeton speech code says, in part:

Abusive or harassing behavior, verbal or physical, which demeans, intimidates, threatens, or injures another because of his or her personal characteristics or beliefs, is subject to University disciplinary sanctions...

And further defines sexual harassment as:

verbal or physical conduct [that] has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work, academic performance, or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

This is the worst kind of arbitrary legislation.  In no part of the guidelines are any of these terms defined.  In fact, both as written and as practiced, the definition of these terms is left entirely up to the victim, with outrageous consequences.  Basically we have gotten to the point where hurting someones feelings, or even disagreeing with them, is a crime. 

This would be bad enough if enforced even-handedly, but in practice, speech codes become a tool of the University faculty and administration to squelch speech they don't agree with.  One of my pet peeves is the term "hate speech", which is used frequently in political diatribes by both the left and the right.  While this term may have at one point had some utility in narrowly describing the most extreme racism, today in its common usage it has come to mean "speech I don't agree with".  In a similar manner, campus speech codes are effectively enforced as banning speech that the ruling orthodoxy of the university does not agree with.  If a gay rights activist and a conservative Christian get into an argument on campus and use similar invective against each other, you can bet only one is probably going to get sanctioned.  And, given the typical politics of universities today, you can guess what speech is protected and what is sanctioned. 

Here is my rule of thumb:  unless speech meets the (narrow) definition of libel, no legally or administratively actionable harm can be claimed as a result of it.  Or, as we were taught as kids, sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.  In the adult world, this should translate to:  Physical assaults are actionable, verbal assaults are not. 

The Princeton Tory has a nice article on these policies, as well as the really bad idea to extend this to a "social honor code".  And, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is the leading defender of free speech on campus and has a great web site.

Postscript:  Speech limitations are a very slippery slope.  So much so that I have never encountered speech or expression by adults aimed at other adults that I would limit.  Nazis, communists, birchers, pornographers, racists, revolutionaries, militia, muslims, atheists:  Have at it.  Even Congressmen.  And even this.

Update:  One other thought.  I have never understood why so many people think that the right approach to people who have stupid, awful ideas is to keep them from being heard.  This applies not only to speech codes but the increasingly frequent attempts to ban speakers from campus or, if that is unsuccessful, drown their speech out with chants and interruptions.  Why?  I have always thought that Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant not just for government proceedings but for bad ideas as well.  Let them be heard and ridiculed.  After all, Hitler "called his shots" more than a decade before he began his horrible reign.  The world would have been better off if he had been listened to carefully in those early years.

Posted on April 27, 2005 at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Academic Thought Police

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is finally able to tell his story of his academic inquisition at UNLV, all begun because one student in one of his lectures felt that his feelings had been hurt.  Kudos to the ACLU for supporting professor Hoppe.  Here was his crime (via this article comparing Hoppe's aggressive defense of himself with Lawrence Summers total capitulation):

Hoppe’s violation of thought control was the view that homosexuals, along with others who tend not to have children, have a higher than average time preference rate. They are willing to trade more future income for present gratification than others, such as parents.

Neither of these claims is at all unexceptionable – within economics. Both would be widely agreed to within this profession. Certainly, neither would raise any untoward number of eyebrows within this discipline.

By the way, I am officially declaring that the term "hate speech", as currently used, has joined the ranks of completely useless terminology.  This term is being used as a lever to attack the first amendment all over this country, and not just on campuses.  Like any assault on fundamental rights, it begins by defining a very narrow category of speech that is so offensive that people will accept an exception to first amendment protections.  Then, once that exception exists, the definition of hate speech is expanded to include, basically, "any speech I don't agree with".  That's why I am opposed to any exceptions to the first amendment, even for outlawing hate speech.  To be a true defender of the first amendment, you have to be ready to defend the speech rights of some of the most outrageous and grotesque people.

Posted on April 12, 2005 at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However, private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism. My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy. I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side. Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Posted on March 29, 2005 at 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

A Bit More on Academia

I have tried to resist the temptation to blog much on the whole Ward Churchill situation.  In part this is because it has been kicked around so thoroughly in other venues, and in part because I just knew I would get emails purposefully misunderstanding my point.  I have instead tried to focus some positive attention on emerging examples of scholarship where none existed before.  That said, I would like to try to add my own postscript on the whole Churchill fiasco.

First, while he has made some truly egregious statements that point to his moral bankruptcy,such as those he made about the 9/11 attacks and victims, I don't think that UC has grounds to fire him for these comments, at least based on the accepted rules and purpose of tenure.  One of the reasons for tenure is to give academics the freedom to pursue scholarship in any direction, without threat of political retribution.

However, Churchill should be fired for his complete lack of quality scholarship or principled academic research.  Churchill, through his poor scholarship, plagiarism, and outright fabrications have helped to set back historic studies about Native Americans and their tragic interaction with Western Civilization.  Churchill has become the poster boy for one of the leading problems in academia today, that is the ability of certain individuals to substitute vocal leftist politics and minority status for intellectual rigor and true scholarship in getting tenure at major universities.   A non-protected group white male of moderate politics with the same body of academic work as Churchill couldn't get a job teaching at any self-respecting university, but put the same work under the banner of radical leftist native American, and suddenly he has tenure at the University of Colorado.

Anyway, Victor David Hanson has a great piece in NRO summarizing why Ward Churchill represents what is wrong in academia today.

Posted on March 25, 2005 at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Can Entrepeneurship Survive at Harvard?

Its pretty clear that open academic discourse is on life support at Harvard in the wake of the recent Larry Summers vote of no confidence.  Now, there is a question about whether simple entrepreneurship can survive.   Via Cafe Hayek, several Harvard students created dormaid to provide maid services to dorm students that wanted to pay for it.  Seemed like a great idea to me, which I would have loved at school, but the Harvard student magazine has hammered the entrepreneurs:

By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity.... We urge the student body to boycott Dormaid

Socialism has been rejected by countries around the world.  It seems like it is still alive and well at Harvard.  Here is the angst coming through of a frustrated top-down Stalinist planner:

A service like Dormaid can bring many levels of awkwardness into this picture. For example, do two people sharing a double split the cost? What if one wants the service and the other does not? What if one cannot afford it? Hiring someone to clean dorm rooms is a convenience, but it is also an obvious display of wealth that would establish a perceived, if unspoken, barrier between students of different economic means.

Here is the Cafe Hayek response:

This episode is too typical. An enterprising soul perceives a need and creatively offers a product or service -- at his own financial risk -- to satisfy that need. Everything is voluntary. No one is forced to buy the service; no one is forced to work for it. But well-read ignoramuses, infatuated with their own imaginary higher capacity for caring for others, viscerally react against commercial exchange. In this case, those opposed to Dormaid worry that because some but not all students will find it worthwhile to buy maid service, "inequality" among the Harvard student body will increase.

Is the typical Harvard student so immature that he suffers envy when some of his fellow students buy maid service that he chooses not to buy? (Bonus question for economics students: Why did I say "that he chooses not to buy?" rather than "that he can’t afford?")  Is he so sensitive, so very, very tender, that he loses emotional stability at the sight of a friend’s dorm room freshly cleaned by maids?  Is he so intellectually and socially inept that he can't work out an amicable arrangement with his roommate if one wants to use Dormaid and the other prefers not to do so?

Read the rest - Cafe Hayek has links to the original Harvard Crimson article.  I will tell you that my roommates would have been fine if I had used this service in college.  In fact, I was such a mess that they might have paid for it for me!


Posted on March 17, 2005 at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Diversity at Princeton

When I attended Princeton about 20 years ago, it was always considered the most "conservative" of the Ivy League schools.  Once I attended the school for a while, I thought that was a hilarious description, given how leftist and socialist viewpoints seemed to dominate much of the campus discussion. 

Over the years since, I have come to understand that "conservative" in academia means that some non-leftist voices are allowed to remain on campus.  The line I used in the first paragraph accurately describes why Princeton was considered conservative - note that I said "leftists and socialist viewpoints seemed to domintate MUCH of the campus discussion".  In most academia, instead of "much" I would have said ALL.

LGF has a nice pointer to an article in the NRO on diversity at Princeton.  Again, the debate is not about how to balance the mix of professors.  The debate is whether there should be one conservative non-socialist non-hate-America professor on the Middel Eastern Studies staff, or zero.

Sam Spector, who wrote his senior thesis under Doran and also worked as a research assistant to him while an undergraduate at Princeton, explains that "the controversy really blew up because Doran's publications were seen as to some degree supportive of the Bush administration's policies, which are needless to say not popular with the majority of academics, particularly academics who specialize in the Middle East and who believe that the U.S is the single greatest force for bad and instability in the region."

Yet, while Doran's publications do challenge academic orthodoxies, they hardly reflect the work of a far-right ideologue, and he is generally well regarded among centrists. If anything, the overriding themes of his articles are a qualified defense of American power and a view that Arab politics, and Arab problems, are more about Arabs themselves than about Israel: As he argued in one essay, "Palestine" has become a generic symbol of resistance to the West. These may sound like fairly uncontroversial propositions to you, but in academic Middle East studies they're far from it. If, as Michael Young has suggested, the major dividing line in the field is where one stands on the "substance of Western power and its historical impact," Doran clearly takes a minority — and often-derided — position.

Note what the other academics really want - total intellectual conformity and therfore avoidance of any disagreements:

More recently, several anonymous history professors told a student reporter that Doran's getting tenure would create a rift between the NES department and theirs.

"We don't want him," said one professor, quoted in Princeton's daily student newspaper, The Princetonian, in December. In the future, the professor asked, are the two departments "going to be mutually supportive or are they going to be antagonistic?"

...Sethi continues, "Several history professors said they consider a decision to tenure or not to tenure [Doran] a litmus test for future cooperation between Princeton NES and the history department. If Doran is tenured, two history professors said relations between the departments could be severely damaged."

I am embarassed that my University has professors that appear afraid of intellectual challenge.  They want to create an echo chamber where they are surrounded by people who agree with them.  This is pathetic.  As an engineer, I was generally sheltered from all this professor-as-political-figure-rather-than-educator stuff, but one of my favorite liberal arts professors was Uwe Reinhardt.  In most every campus debate I can remember, Reinhardt was the token defender of free markets and private property against, well, most everyone else in the liberal arts faculty.  Reinhardt always seemed to revel in the challenge of pitting his ideas against others.  Today, academics seem to shrink from this challenge.


Posted on March 16, 2005 at 07:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Followup on Diversity

Last week I wrote that I was confused on this diversity thing:

For years, women at Harvard argued there needed to be more women on the faculty to support "diversity".  I have always thought that diversity meant that you had a lot of difference - in this case different kinds of people with different skills.  Now, Larry Summers is getting attacked by the female faculty for implying that women are, uhh, perhaps different from men.  Women are insisting that there is no justification for even studying the question of whether women are different than men.  They maintain that women are the same, no argument allowed.  But if they are the same, how is hiring more women contributing to diversity?

Fortunately, hat tip to James Taranto, the diversity term is clarified on the web site of an Oregon lodge.  The page begins:

Respecting the interdependence & diversity of all life.

Helpfully, they clarify what they mean by diversity a bit down the page:

No Smokers...No Pets...No Visitors...No Hummers, No RVs, No Bush Voters (due to his environmental destructive policies.)

Oh, and in the spirit of good customer service: no refunds for cancellations.

It can't be long before this same text appears on the Harvard web site.

PS- I would be curious to see a quality, thoughtful listing of GWB's war-crimes on the environment.  Not his "lack of commitment", but actual changes in regulation.  While I know environmentalists hate his rhetoric, in reality, he has not actually changed much, other than the Clear Skies Initiative, which I discussed here as actually reducing emissions.  Heck, he's actually a disappointment for those of us who would like to see a roll-back of some of the sillier environmental rules (e.g. ANWR drilling).

Presumably environmentalists dislike GWB's going along with the Senate's 98-0 rejection of Kyoto, but does this reaction really make sense for minimize-man's-impact-on-nature people like those quoted above?  Global warming hasn't been shown to hurt plants or animals or such - I am not sure many would notice.  Global warming primarily impacts man, and in particular, technological high-population-density coast-living man.  I would think that rising oceans swamping out civilization would be a positive outcome for these folks.  (update: more on Clear Skies here at Volokh)

Posted on March 8, 2005 at 12:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Problems at Harvard

Steven Metcalf has an interesting article in Slate on the state of Harvard University.  And, if you don't really care about what messes the twits from Harvard are making of the place (and I don't blame you) it is also a good look at problems in universities in general.  My favorite passage is this one:

From Bradley's descriptions—and from my own experience—academia has devolved into a series of now highly routinized acts of flattery, so carefully attended to that one out-of-place word is enough to fracture dozens of egos.

One only has to observe the shrill and over-the-top reactions to some of Lawrence Summers recent remarks to have this ring true.

I actually have several connections to Harvard.  As a high school senior, I was fortunate to have my choice of Ivy League schools, and I chose Princeton over Harvard, in large part because it was obvious even then that the Harvard's graduate schools and faculty egos took precedence over teaching undergraduates.  At Princeton I got to know Neil Rudenstine, then provost of Princeton and later President of Harvard.  Rudenstine was basically far too good a man to run Harvard, sort of like sending Mother Theresa in to run Haiti.  The faculty devoured him, and drove him to a breakdown.

More recently, I attended the Harvard Business School (HBS).  Many of you who are unfamiliar with Harvard would likely assume that the b-school was the snobbiest and most condescending arm of the university.  In fact, the opposite was the case -- the B-school was both isolated from and looked down on by the rest of the university, its isolation reinforced and symbolized by the river that separates HBS from the rest of the campus.  Many an outsider have commented on how approachable HBS students and faculty are as compared to the rest of the university, which is ironic since most of the rest of the university, busy polishing their egalitarian credentials, condescendingly denigrate HBS students for being, well, grubby capitalists rather than lofty intellectuals like themselves.  As a result, HBS crew teams were routinely booed through the entire Head of the Charles regatta, and HBS graduates are booed by the rest of the university at every graduation ceremony.

As a result, Princeton gets much of my time and love and attention and, well, money, while Harvard gets nada. 

Update:  I am reminded that this last feeling about Harvard is not limited to the B-school.  My good libertarian college roommate Brink Lindsey (I wish he would start blogging again) tells me that when he was at Harvard Law, a group of his friends formed N.O.P.E., which stood for Not One Penny Ever [to Harvard].

Posted on March 1, 2005 at 08:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I'm Confused by this Diversity Thing

For years, women at Harvard argued there needed to be more women on the faculty to support "diversity".  I have always thought that diversity meant that you had a lot of difference - in this case different kinds of people with different skills.  Now, Larry Summers is getting attacked by the female faculty for implying that women are, uhh, perhaps different from men.  Women are insisting that there is no justification for even studying the question of whether women are different than men.  They maintain that women are the same, no argument allowed.  But if they are the same, how is hiring more women contributing to diversity?

My guess is that the comeback of those involved is that women don't have a genetic difference from men, but they have a difference in perspective (political, philosophical, etc).  There are two obvious problems with this:

  • If what universities are really trying to achieve is a diversity of background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints then why don't they hire for and measure diversity based on background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints, rather than the imperfect proxy of black/white, man/woman, etc.
  • And, If what universities are really trying to achieve is a diversity of background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints -- they are doing a really crappy job, because universities are pretty dang homogeneous, at least in political viewpoint as compared to the population.

By the way, I was initially negative to Summer's comments myself here.  I still support my criticism that as a leader of a leading, in fact uniquely influential, educational institution, he has an obligation to his institution to be careful what he says.  A CEO today who speaks his mind on political issues is not only ill-advised, but may actually be violating his/her fiduciary responsibility by bringing public censure on the company's shareholders.

However, that said, the degree of hysteria over Summer's comments is mind-boggling, especially when you read what he actually said in context rather than just accept the media summary (basically, he did not say that men were better at math on average than women, he said that men MAY have a higher standard deviation in their skills, leading to a disproportionate number of men being both dolts and geniuses at math and science).  To some extent, the women driving this hysteria actually seem to be publicly reinforcing stereotypes of women being delicate (some silly woman actually said she almost fainted at Summer's remarks)  overly emotional (given their hysterical reaction) and, ironically enough, non-scientific (given the fact that no one has thought to take on Summers scientific query with facts rather than political intimidation).

In my experience, a confident mature woman can make the average man feel bumbling and childish, and have an ability to rise above the fray to bring sanity to a confused situation.  Why can't the grown-ups among the female gender be heard in such arguments? Never mind, the first sentence answers the second.  Besides, I think most confident intelligent women are giving up on woman's organizations anyway.

Posted on February 26, 2005 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Teacher's-eye View of the NEA

I have posted criticisms of the NEA, or teachers union, here and here.  I discussed the lack of accountability of the NEA to students and their parents, but the Education Wonks has a nice post here about the teacher's unions lack of accountability to... the teachers.

Posted on February 7, 2005 at 09:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Benefits of Private Schools

Mises Institute presents a study whose results are fairly unsurprising for any who is not a socialist or member of a teachers union.  The study

showed that private schools are more efficient -their students perform better at lower costs- than public schools and moreover that the presence of private schools in one locality improves the efficiency of government schools too, presumably because of the pressure from competition.

The only real surprise was the study's source:  the department of education in Socialist Sweden.  As you can imagine, the powers that be were not amused by the results:

The teacher's union became enraged at the results as was prime minister Persson and education minister Ibrahim Baylan .

The end result, though, was ENTIRELY predictable.  Did anyone in power change behavior or their opinion?  Nope, they just hid the report and moved on:

After [education minister] Baylan publicly blasted the report (needless to say without using any real factual arguments) the Agency for Education officially disavowed it and simply withdrew it from their web site and stopped giving out the printed version of it.

Posted on January 27, 2005 at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Check is NOT in the Mail

I have not asked my wife yet, but she certainly must be proud today to be a Harvard (B-school) alumna today, given recent comments by Harvard President Larry Sommers:

The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

My gut feel, though, without having talked to her, is that the annual giving check is probably not in the mail.

By the way, I do think there are innate differences in the sexes - it is almost impossible not to see this having raised kids of both genders.  It is also fun to joke about women and math skills - I joke with my wife all the time.  However, I am not speaking as the representative of the leading university in the country.  Mr. Sommer's remark is pure supposition, without any real research behind it (he admits as much).  That said, given that he is in charge of an educational institution whose job is to push people of both sexes up to and beyond their potential, it was a stupid statement from the wrong person.

Is this hypocritical on my part - criticizing Mr. Sommers for something I have done myself?  No.  Here is an analogy:  Its may be fun for all of us to joke about French military prowess, or lack thereof (Q:  Why are the streets of Paris lined with trees?  A: Because the Germans like to march in the shade) but it would be absolutely wrong for the president or the state department to do so in any public venue, because they are representing our country in an official capacity.  Mr Sommers is representing Harvard University, and to suggest publicly that half his student body is biologically incapable of being successful in a substantial part of his University's course work is stupid and irresponsible.


Virginia Postrel comes to Sommers defense here and here.  She argues that Sommers did indeed have quite a bit of good analysis behind him, and that those of us who criticize him are being politically correct and hindering academic inquisitiveness.    Hmmm, maybe.  I have a lot of respect for Ms. Postrel, so if she says I am missing something, I am willing to think about it some more.  However, I will say that all I saw in the write-ups was data that women are underrepresented in math and science related careers (duh) and speculation but no evidence that this may go beyond socialization to biology. 

I still have trouble buying the biology thing.  For two reasons:

  • The distribution of careers data is loaded with social factors that are really, really hard to control for.  Based on the same data, you might come to the conclusion that blacks are biologically less suited to be corporate CEO's or that men are less suited to being nurses or flight attendants.
  • We are in the middle of a radical change with women and education.  A wave of women more comfortable with educational and intellectual achievement in general is moving through the system.  It is therefore dangerous to read data ahead of the wave - say with 30 and 40 year olds, since everything will change when the wave rolls through. 

How do I know there is such a wave?  If you graduated high school 20 or more years ago, look at the picture of the honor society in the yearbook.  Likely as not, the picture will be mostly boys.  Now go to just about any high school and look on the wall.  Taking my kids to chess tournaments and the like, I have been in a lot of high schools lately, and it is not at all unusual that the pictures of the honor society are ALL girls - not more girls than before, but all girls.  Then, take a look at college enrollment and the huge influx of women there.  Yes, for various reasons, these women may still not be choosing careers in the sciences, but you can't tell me that they are somehow biologically less prepared to do math.

UPDATE#2:  I really did not intend for this to be such a long post, but there is another good defense of Sommers here at Asymmetrical Information.  Apparently most of the left is explaining the "gap" with bias rather than biology.  Which is funny, because I thought much less about bias but rather personal choice - that for a variety of reasons women were not choosing math/science careers.  Anyway, the post from McCardle had this humorous observation:

Interesting, isn't it, how many of the liberals proclaiming that it's utterly ridiculous to think that a department running 95% leftists might be, consciously or unconsciously, discriminating against those of a more right wing persuasion, find it completely obvious that if a physics department is 80% male, that must be because they're discriminating

lol, anyway, no more.  I have decided to cut Sommers some slack, in part because I obviously don't have all the facts, and in part because I am sympathetic to him since I know for a fact that Harvard University is somewhat less governable than, say, Haiti. 

Posted on January 19, 2005 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Might "Red Statism" Cause the Left to Embrace School Choice?

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.  My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.  I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.  Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with $7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids, particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will revitalize themselves in the face of comeptition, others will not. It may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome, though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education, is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necesarily accept, and with values that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?  Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school exclusively?

I honestly don't know how folks on the left would answer this question.  Is Kevin Drum hoping that all parents have the choice of a secular education available to their kids, or is he hoping that all parents are forced to have a secular education for their kids?  Is he trying to protect his kids from intrusive creationism supporters or is he trying to impose his beliefs on the children of those creationism supporters?  I can read the article and his fear of creationism either way. 

Posted on January 11, 2005 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Why Aren't There More Private Schools?

Why Aren't There More Private Schools?  This is a conversation my dad and I have had any number of times - as he has sat on the board of a number of public and private schools / districts and I have, given frequent moves, oven shopped for schooling for my kids.

The first, perhaps most obvious answer is that there is not that large of a market, because few people can afford to pay two tuitions for their kids (i.e. public school tuition via property taxes and then a separate private school payment).  But, I think that that answer is wrong.  This country is tremendously wealthy, both on average and at the top end.  Most really good private k-12 schools are oversubscribed -- with competitive entry requirements and long waiting lists.  We have all heard stories about New York City schools where you have to practically go straight from the act of conception to the admissions office to have a chance to get the kid in.

I have my own experience with this, in many cities, but take Seattle for example.  In the east side suburbs, their are 3-5 high quality private elementary schools, and for the most part, they are all way oversubscribed.  One of them admits something like 6% of applicants.  And charges $10,000+ a year for kindergarten and more for later years.

What other industries are there where 94% of the demand for a $10,000+ product goes unmet by new entrants?  And unmet for decades, not just in a short period of mismatched capacity?  Just look at iPods - how many people jumped into the market with copycat products when they saw the popularity of this product, and Apple's inability to keep up with demand?

But what really got me thinking about this problem was when I moved back to Phoenix.  Despite having my kids in some of the best schools in every city we have lived in, the absolute best is, of all places, here in Phoenix.  How do I know it is the best?  Well, my son went to kindergarten at this Phoenix school, and then we moved to Seattle for two years.   In Seattle, we went to what was supposed to be about the best elementary school on the east side -  Gates sent some of his kids here, as did the McCaws, and many other people who could afford any place they wanted.  At the end of second grade, the school told me my son could have skipped second grade, which means he could have skipped first grade there too.  In two years, he never learned anything more than he learned in one year of kindergarten in Phoenix.

There are two other interesting things about this Phoenix-area private school, beyond just its excellence:

  • It is by far the cheapest we have ever attended, less than half what we paid in Seattle and well under the average per-pupil spending in public schools
  • It is for profit - not a charity or foundation.  It has no donations, government grants, endowments, etc.  It runs itself for profit, it is inexpensive, and the education is great.

The school is not perfect -- it has a strong focus on academics, without the big theater programs or art programs or photography classes you might find in a large public school, so we have to supplement that stuff outside of school.  But my point is, why aren't there more schools like this?  Why aren't people jumping in to fill this market?  This is more than of academic interest to me.  I am a big supporter of school choice, but to support choice you have to believe that private schools will be created to meet the new demand vouchers would open up.

Thus it is with great interest that I saw this post at Marginal Revolution about the barriers to starting a private school.  They link this article from the Reason foundation.  The Reason Foundation argues that a lot of micro-regulation, particularly zoning, limits private schools, especially when zoning boards are dominated by people who have an interest in protecting public schools from competition.

In the context of my Seattle story earlier, by the way, note this proposal that came out a while back to actually ban private school (and church) construction in large parts of the county that Seattle is in. 


There were several responses to this along the lines of 'so what - everyone has to navigate basic permitting processes'.  That may be, but my experience is that zoning is stacked against private schools, even before you consider the proposed total ban on private school construction described in the article I linked above.  For example, in the Seattle eastside suburbs, one private school that needed to move to larger quarters was unable to find a site within a 20 mile radius where they were allowed to build a private school.  Residential zoned tracks did not want more traffic from a school, and they were not allowed to have a school with little kids in most commercial zoned tracks.  The point is that private schools face permitting hurdles that go beyond what most businesses face, and, as I mentioned earlier, most zoning boards are packed with people who have a vested interest in not allowing new private schools to be built anywhere.

Posted on December 23, 2004 at 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Almost to Satirical to be Real

I hope this is a joke, but fear that it is true.  BlogCritics is posting on a Boston Globe article that teachers (presumably not in the red states!) are moving away from correcting papers in red ink because they fear it hurts self-esteem.  It sounds eerily similar to this, which actually is a joke.  I called that story "Almost to Real to be Satire", thus the name of this post.

I wonder if red ink hurts self-esteem more than, say, graduating high school and not being able to read.

Posted on December 19, 2004 at 04:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

This is Almost Too Real to be Satire

This "memo from the school superintendent" via Alphecca is almost too true to be satire.  Here's a sample:

6) Not all students have good handwriting and this could cause them to have low self-esteem if it is pointed out to them. From now on, student papers no longer have to be legible or even written using the letters from the alphabet. Assignments and tests written or answered using symbols or pictures will now be acceptable. Just mark them "Fabulous!".

Posted on December 14, 2004 at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Zero Tolerance means Zero Responsibility

I am up to here with zero tolerance policies in public schools.  Zero Tolerance policies are not designed to make rules enforcement better or safer -- the are designed to relieve school administrators of all decision-making responsibility.  Now, I am sympathetic to school districts that are constantly getting hit with all kinds of lawsuits for about any decision they make, but the answer is not to stop making decisions.  Zero Tolerance is a way to cover bureaucrats backsides from criticism while trashing the lives of individual students.  There are many many examples, but this is as good as any:

A 10-year-old fourth-grade girl at Holme Elementary School in the Far Northeast was pulled out of class, handcuffed, and taken to the local police station in the back of a police wagon earlier this week after a pair of 8-inch scissors were found in her book bag, according to authorities and her angry mother.

I have a ten year old - I can't imagine how nuts I would go about this if it happened to my kid.  You can find more examples at Zero Intelligence.  This is yet another reason why, while I might be willing to invest more public money in education, I would no more likely give more money to the current management of most public schools than I would give money to a Nigerian emailer.

Posted on December 13, 2004 at 04:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fisking the NEA's Improvement Ideas

In my previous post, I took a look at the absurdity of the metrics in the NEA's recent schools report.  In that post, I ran out of room to Fisk the NEA's suggested areas of improvement for better school performance (keep scrolling).

Here are their improvement areas with my comments.  I always try to differentiate the NEA as a group from teachers individually.  The rants in this post are aimed at the NEA as a group.  Many teachers as individuals have my fondest regards.  Note I have helpfully put a big green dollar sign by every recommendation that boils down to "spend more money":

$ 21st Century Schools for 21st Century Learning: Due to either aging or outdated facilities, or severe overcrowding, 75% of our nation's school buildings are inadequate to meet the needs of school children. The average cost of capital investment needed is $3,800 per student, more than half the average cost to educate that student for one year. Since 1998 the total need has increased from $112 billion to $127 billion.

I have no doubt that there are schools out there that are in need of repair - though 75% seems overblown (what does "inadequate" mean - if they are one locker short, does the NEA call it inadequate?  Probably).  I will bet any amount of money the job can be done for less than $112 billion, but the number is surely greater than zero.

However, let's accept this for a minute and ask ourselves two things.  What organization has been fighting to soak up every available dollar in the public school system and more to fund teacher pay raises?  How many school capital improvement and maintenance projects have been cut to fund raises for teachers and bloated administrative staffs?

Second, remember this argument when the NEA lashes out at school choice.  The NEA loves to make the argument that by allowing kids to leave the current public schools, all the current infrastructure will go to waste.  To which I say, if it all has to be replaced anyway, now is the perfect time to let students migrate to private schools.  Let private investment rebuild the capital plant, and shut down the most crumbling schools and consolidate publicly run schools into fewer, better facilities.

$ Helping All Students Meet High Standards: Title I funding for disadvantaged children is the primary federal vehicle for meeting our commitment to help all children meet higher standards. Poor and at-risk children need extra resources and individual attention to achieve at the high levels demanded in today's classrooms. To provide all eligible children across America with Title I services would require $24 billion, almost three times the current funding level.

This is classic NEA.  The title uses all the words the public wants to see - student performance and meeting standards.  But the meat of the proposal is "spend $24 billion more".  I do not begrudge the fact that the poorest districts may need more spending, but I am no more likely to give the current mismanaged districts more money than I would be to give money to Worldcom or a Nigerian emailer.  Get new management first, then I will give more money if it is necessary.

$? Meeting High Standards with Solid Support and Resources: To help every child meet the highest standards in history, we must insist on rigorous alignment of standards, curricula, and assessments. Standards need to be connected to classroom learning and assessments. We must also match this commitment with resources and demand quality teachers, safe and modern schools, and extra learning support for students in need. Currently, too many state standards are unconnected to curriculum and tests and students do not receive adequate tools and resources to reach them.

This statement is the same kind of mixed bag.  Who can be against matching curriculum to the standards?  If this is the entire point, then I agree wholeheartedly. 

However, there are a couple of code words to be aware of.  The most important is "highest standards in history".  This is an odd phrase, and I struggle to believe it is true since many test scores are at an all time low.  I will accept that they are the highest standards actually implemented formally in public schools since the government began to destroy the public schools with low expectations in the 1960s.  My suspicion is that if the NEA can sell the fact that these are the highest standards in history, then the follow-on is that they need more resources, ie dollars, than ever before in history -- thus the "adequate tools and resources" at the end.  My fear is that this is the real point here, not the curriculum.

$$$The United States Trails Many Countries in Resources Devoted to Public Education. A recent comparison of 30 democratic countries shows that the United States ranks 15th in total direct public expenditures for education as a percentage of the gross domestic product.

I hardly know where to begin.  My first response is, so?  How do we compare in how well people are educated to other nations?  If we trail, which we do in some categories, then that's what's important.  Lets take this statement and put it in another industry.  Suppose we were talking about the US auto industry.  What if we had a statistic that said the US auto industry is in the middle of the pack as to how much it spends on car design.  You would say, so what?  Tell me how it ranks on quality, or design appeal, or market share, or something that matters.

If we dig into this stat, it is terribly disingenuous and the NEA knows it.  There are at least two fundamental flaws with it.  First, it refers only to public expenditures.  The US spends far more private dollars than any other nation on education.  If you added in private dollars, the US would rank much higher on total spending (and if spending matters as a measure, shouldn't it be total spending, not just a part of the pie?)   Everything in the US is far more privatized than the rest of the world - the US is always going to trail on public expenditures in any industry (thank God).

The other problem with the statistic is that they very artfully choose to compare spending as a percent of GDP.  Why, when the NEA always shows spending stats as dollars per student do they suddenly switch from that metric to percent of GDP?  The reason is that on a $ per student basis, the US ranks much higher, because our GDP per capita is much higher.  As the wealthiest nation in the world per capita, if we are spending about the same amount as other nations per capita, it will be a lower percentage of GDP than other nations.  This is called economies of scale - as you get richer as a nation, you SHOULD be spending less as a percentage of the total on necessities.   A person who makes $30,000 a year might spend 20% a year on food.  Does that mean that a person who makes $1,000,000 a year should also be spending 20%, or $200,000 a year, on food?  Of course not.

Update: courtesy of Powerline, here is a chart from the OECD confirming what I said above, that when compared on a $-per-student basis, the US is nearly the highest in the world. 


Therefore, where the US is trailing other nations in student performance, it is a productivity and effectiveness issue, not a spending issue.

Preparing Teachers to Boost Student Achievement: The quality of classroom teachers is the primary predictor of student success. It is imperative that teacher preparation efforts produce real results that meet the needs of the future. We must insist on solid entry-level standards, mentoring for new teachers, and peer assistance to ensure parents and the public that America's teachers are current in their knowledge and competent in their skills. We must practice zero-tolerance for the hiring of non-certified teachers and out-of-field teaching.

This is the NEA demonstrating that they are no more than a classic guild.  This is all code for the fact that teachers should have education degrees and be certifies by the guild, err the NEA.  Certification is the way any guild cements their monopoly and ensures their virtual control of an industry.  As Milton Friedman says about certification and liscencing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

(update:  a related post about how certification mainly boosts salaries is here)

Growing up, I went to a couple of private schools.  Four of the five best teachers I ever had in high school were not certified, did not want to be certified, and probably would have had trouble getting certified because all they really studied in college was what they actually taught, rather than getting the mish mash of crap they serve up in teaching programs.  The Heartland Institute writes here about more problems with certification.  The NEA cleverly creates a certification process that drives good people away, and then blames the lack of good teacher candidates on pay scales.

Also note - when the NEA talks about certification, it has nothing to do with testing teachers about their subject knowledge.  Oh, no.  The NEA stridently opposes setting standards for and testing teachers on their subject matter.  They only want to test on the arcana and philosophical mumbo-jumbo that is taught in education programs.

If the NEA really was interested in maintaining the quality of the teacher pool they would enthusiastically support enhanced pay for the best teachers -- but in fact they oppose pay for performance vociferously and only want mindless seniority systems.

Finally, if the NEA certification process is so great, how do you explain this:  Home schooled kids on average hit between the 80th and 90th percentile on test scores, even in cases where their parents do not graduate high school.  High school dropout mothers who home school their kids on average have their kids hit the 83rd percentile on scores.  So if high school dropout moms do 30 percentile points better than the average public school certified teacher, how can certification be that important?

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: The number of teachers leaving the profession is exceeding the number of teachers entering the profession by 23%, and turnover in the teaching profession is 32% higher than it is in non-teaching professions.

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Approximately one-third of America's teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching, and almost one-half leave during their first 5 years.

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Teacher turnover and teacher shortages are not due to retirement. By almost 3 to 1, teachers are more likely to give reasons other than retirement for leaving their jobs (e.g., low pay, lack of professional support, poor school leadership).

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Teacher salary and school conditions-such as poor administrative support, a lack of influence, classroom intrusions, and inadequate time-are cited most often by teachers as reasons for leaving teaching.

Though it does not say it here, the NEA has one major recommendation from these --- raise salaries.  I certainly agree that public school administrations are bloated, bureaucratic, unhelpful, and intrusive, and would love to see the NEA say so and fight to pare down these bureaucracies.  I would gladly give to teachers in higher pay all the money any school saved by cutting admins and assistant principles, but the NEA never says anything like this.  These useless admins are probably in the union too, and therefore immune from criticism.

I am sure there are places where teacher pay is inadequate.   However, RAND did a study through regression analysis of the best ways to spend money to improve schools.  They found no correlation between teacher pay and education quality.  Zero.  Nada. (pdf)

If the NEA really was concerned with retaining the best quality teachers, then we would give pay raises preferentially to the best teachers.  But of course, they oppose pay for performance.

By the way, the turnover problem reminds me of a line in the Breakfast Club from Carl to Vernon: "You took a teaching position, 'cause you thought it'd be fun, right?  Thought you could have summer vacations off...and then you found out it was actually work...and that really bummed you out"

We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Too many states and districts are unwilling to do what it takes to attract qualified and certified teachers and choose instead to bypass or ignore their own laws and hire teachers on "waivers" or "emergency" certificates. A recent federal study found that 6% of all public school teachers are teaching without full certification or licensure--despite the existence of 3 million people trained to teach who have chosen to leave the profession.

This is the guild protecting itself again.  See above.

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: In 1970, when many of today's senior teachers entered the workforce, female teachers were paid approximately 10% more than the average woman with a four year college degree. Today, the average woman with a four year college degree makes 10% more than the average female teacher, even though many teachers have master's degrees and are much better educated than their higher paid counterparts. The pay gap for men is even more pronounced.

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Overall, teacher salaries are about 20% below the salaries of other professionals with comparable education and training.

Umm, this is called supply and demand. I have a masters degree.  I know people from the same university with the same degree who make more than 10x what I do a year, and I know people with the same degree from the same school who make half what I do.  By the way, if we correct for total number of hours worked, how would the analysis look?  Why does the NEA never correct for the fact that teachers on average work 10 months a year or less.  If their annual salary is 20% less, but they work 30% fewer weeks, aren't they actually making more?

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: Teacher salaries are not keeping pace with wages in other occupations. Since the early 1970s or even the early 1990s, the average teacher salary has increased only $100 a year (taking inflation into account).

First, the statistic does not match the statement - they have no data on other occupations.  Second, gaining on a real basis is still gaining.  Third, real cash salaries are flat for the same reason real hourly wages have fallen in the US - most of the compensation increase since 1970 in most jobs has been in the increased value of health insurance, in more lucrative retirement accounts, etc. which are not counted in the salary number.

$We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: The teacher shortage is not due to a shortage of people who are trained to do the job. Right now at least 3 million people in the United States have been trained to teach but have chosen not to do so.

Um, OK.

We Need to Do More to Attract and Retain Qualified Teachers: America has no shortage of idealistic and competent people who want to teach. Far from it: the nation's 1,300 schools of education have more than enough teachers in training to meet the need. However, out of every 600 students entering four-year teaching programs, only 180 complete them, only 72 become teachers and only about 40 are still teaching several years later.

See all of the above

We Must Improve Conditions and Support for Learning Outside of School: During the course of a calendar year, only 14% of a student's time is spent in school. Any effort to improve student learning and performance must recognize the importance of a student's life outside of school-and the need for that life to be a healthy, supportive learning environment.

Greater Attention to Reading in the Home: Our children need to have access to reading materials and should be encouraged to read at home.  Students who live in households with newspapers, encyclopedias, magazines, and more than 25 books score much higher on NAEP writing and NAEP reading tests.  However, only 34% of 4th graders, 51% of 8th graders, and 53% of 12th graders report having all of these materials at home.

We Need to Encourage our Children to Spend More Time Reading for Enjoyment: Although more American public schools lead the world in hours they devote to reading instructions and American students are among the leaders in the world in reading literacy. Yet international comparisons show that American students do not read for enjoyment outside of school. American 8th graders rank last in a comparison with 38 countries in the number of hours per day spent reading for enjoyment, and American 4th grades in comparison with students in 35 countries are the most likely to say the never read for enjoyment outside of school.

We Need to Do More to Encourage Richer Literacy Environment for our Pre-School Children: Research clearly demonstrates that children with richer home literacy environments demonstrate higher levels of reading skills and knowledge than do children with less rich literacy environments.

Children Should Be Encouraged to Read at Home on Their Own:  The proportion of 17-year-olds who say they read for fun at least once a week has decline by 17% since 1984.

And Their Parents Are the Best Examples:  The proportion of 17-year-old students who say they saw their adults reading at home on a daily basis has decreased by 19% since 1984.

In other words, the real problem is parents, not the rest of us.  Actually, parenting is important and I think a huge performance differentiator for students.  However, I am not sure this is going away - wishing it were not true will not help.  Teachers and schools need to find ways to still get kids to make progress despite this.  Also, schools need to find ways not to hold back kids who are really trying to learn to match the slow pace of those who are not. 

By the way, what is not on this list?  How about:

  • Continuing to raise low expectations for student performance
  • Weeding out bad teachers and rewarding good ones
  • Strictly enforcing standards for promotion to the next grade
  • Increased writing in the curriculum
  • Separating slow and fast students into multiple tracks
  • Reduced administrative beauracracy

Okay, sermon over.  You can find a related post on the NEA's latest schools report and some thoughts on school choice here.

Posted on December 6, 2004 at 11:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Latest NEA School Report is Absurd

Today, on NPR, I heard my state of Arizona getting bashed by some young reporter at the local affiliate based on Arizona's rankings in the latest NEA state rankings.  So, I thought I would check the report out myself.  The cover of the report tells us what we should expect to find:

This report is an update of data from NEA Research’s report, Rankings & Estimates: Rankings of the States 2003 and Estimates of School Statistics 2004, based on the latest information provided from state departments of education. NEA Research collects, analyzes, and maintains data on issues and trends affecting the nation’s public education systems and their employees.

OK, so lets open the report and see what statistics the NEA thinks are the best measures of public education.  Here are all the stats in the report, in the order they are reported (presumably their importance):

  1. How much, on average, did teachers in each state earn per year?
  2. How many students were enrolled in each state?
  3. How many teachers were working in each state?
  4. What was the student–teacher ratio in each state?
  5. How much money, on average, did each state spend per student?
  6. How much money did each state spend for operating schools, including salaries, books, heating buildings, and so on?
  7. How much money did each state spend in total for schools, including operating expenses, capital outlay, and interest on school debt?
  8. How much revenue did school districts receive from state governments?
  9. How much revenue did school districts receive from local governments?
  10. What were school districts’ total revenues?

Thats it.  That is the entire sum total of performance metrics they have for states and their schools.  So, what's missing?  How about any dang measure of student learning or performance!  I know that the NEA wants to criticize every test out there, and in fact resists standardized testing at every turn, but is it too much to think that we might measure the quality of education by the, um, quality of education, and not by how much the employees make? 

To be fair, the NEA does talk about NAEP test data on their web site, to the extent that they point out that some test scores are improving (they don't mention that this is improving off a disastrously low base).  This NEA web site section on student performance reminds me a lot of the environmental protection section on the Dow Chemical web site -- it's there because it's important to public relations but its not really a topic that dominates their priorities. I have a related post here that fisks the ideas for improvement on this NEA page, but if you don't want to read that post suffice it to say that they boil down to 1) spending more money; 2) hiring more teachers; 3) paying teachers more money ; 4) testing less or putting less emphasis on tests and measurable performance; and 5) more certification and protecting the guild.

Look, I don't begrudge the NEA's role as the union and collective-bargaining agent of the teachers, and as such, they should be very concerned with salary levels (more on that in a minute).  However, the NEA and their supporters constantly try to piously position the NEA as not a union - oh no - but as a group primarily interested in the quality of education.  I hope this report and its contents effectively dispels that myth once and for all.  The NEA today as an institution cares no more about the quality of education than the UAW cared about the quality of GM cars in the 70's (by the way, I am careful to say the NEA as an institution-- many individual teachers care a lot).

In their glory years of the 1970's, when the UAW was competing with incompetent management to see who could do the most damage to the US auto industry, the UAW typically had a number of major goals: 1) increase the number of workers per car produced, 2) increase the pay for each worker, 3) substitute seniority systems for performance pay and 4) get the government to protect the US auto makers from any competition.  How are the NEA's prime goals of decreasing class size, increasing teacher pay, fighting testing of teachers, and stopping school choice programs any different?  I am sure UAW leaders in the 1970's tried to make the argument that to produce a better quality car, you needed to spend more labor hours on it.  In the end, though, the recovery of the US auto industry came when they figured out how to make better quality cars with less labor input.  Why should education be any different? 

OK, so the NEA is indeed a union and its primary concern is teacher pay.  Fine.  Lets look at teacher pay.  Their table one shows average teacher pay by state, with CA, CT, DC, NJ, and MI as the five highest and AL, OK, MS, NS, SD as the five lowest.  The NEA likes this kind of ranking, because by putting blue states at the top and red at the bottom, it supports its political goals of electing Democrats.  However, something else should also strike one pretty quickly about these states -- the top five have very high cost of living, and the bottom five have low cost of living.  So basically, the NEA has proven nothing more than the fact that salaries are higher in high cost of living states.  Without correcting for cost of living, the table is meaningless.  The NEA repeats this mistake in every single chart, never correcting for cost of living variances which can be substantial state to state.  So not only are they looking at the wrong metrics, but the stats they are keeping are measured incorrectly.  This is probably the result of requiring their statisticians to have teaching degrees rather that statistics degrees.

I didn't mean to take so much time with such a side issue of statistical quality, but I was curious if not correcting the data changed the results much, so I did a quick cost of living correction using the cost of living indices here.  When you apply these, you find CA moves from 1 to 37! DC moves from 3 to 32 and NY from 4 to 30.  Corrected for cost of living, Hawaii goes from above average to last by a long way.  Oops.  So why doesn't the NEA correct salaries for cost of living?  Since the NEA uses this report as a bludgeon on states in the bottom half, the report if corrected would still be just as useful (since there would still be a bottom half)-- and in fact it should be more useful as the list corrected for cost of living moves a number of very populous states like NY and CA into the bottom half (i.e. they can now be bludgeoned).  My only guess why the NEA doesn't make this obvious improvement to the data is that it would put several red states, including the Great Satan (Texas) in the top 10, and move several hardcore blue states (VT, HI) into the bottom five.

No matter what, though, some states are always at the top and some at the bottom.  The question is, should we pay teachers more money?  The easy answer is, we should if we need to attract more or better teachers in a particular market.  This means yes in some places (Hawaii really does look bad, and their public schools have a reputation of being awful), and no in others. 

Since there is no real teacher shortage in this country, the NEA has to be careful - it wants to argue that we need higher pay to attract and retain high quality teachers but it must be careful with the "high quality" issue.  If the issue was really about quality (and not just about across the board pay for all union members) the NEA would supported higher pay for the higher quality teachers.  Of course, just like the UAW always favored mindless seniority over performance-based systems, the NEA systematically resists all efforts to measure teacher performance or to pay/promote based on performance.  The NEA tiptoes around this issue by saying we need to pay more to retain more "qualified" teachers, a word which they would say applies to everyone in their union, so really they are just asking for across the board pay increases that have no bearing on teacher quality.

I was going to do some regressions and scatter plots here between teacher salary and spending and overall student performance.  The results tend to dramatically refute a lot of correlations (for example, CA, which has the highest teacher pay, consistently is in the bottom 5 of test scores). It turns out that this regression analysis is hard to do well.  To be fair to states, you need to correct not just for cost of living but for such things as number of new immigrants and education background of parents. Fortunately RAND is already way ahead of me with this report.  RAND defined a certain fixed amount of performance improvement on NEAP tests, and ranked the relative cost of reaching that improvement from increased spending in each of these areas based on regressions of performance vs. inputs across the states:

(All numbers are cost per pupil increase to achieve fixed NEAP score improvement.  Lower numbers mean the action is more efficient at improving student performance)

  • Shifting teacher support resources from low to adequate:    $170-260
  • Shifting teacher support resources from medium to adequate:   $190-280
  • Decreasing student teacher ratio in grades 1-4:   $230-320
  • Adding public pre-kindergarten:   $240-400
  • Decreasing student teach ratio all grades:   $750-1030
  • Increase per pupil spending across the board:   $1020-2380
  • Increase teacher salaries:   $2900-infinite  (no substantial correlation with test scores)

Their results (and similar results have been obtained by other neutral third parties) is that teacher salaries have virtually no correlation with student performance and that across the board spending increases are about the least efficient way to improve performance.  So what does the NEA measure in their report - teacher salaries and across the board spending. 

By the way, I would argue that RAND misses several even cheaper ones

  • Fire a whole sackful of assistant principals and administrators that infest large city public education systems and do nothing but draw salary and make education harder rather than easier
  • Change the standards for teacher hiring to deemphasize teaching degrees and reemphasize subject matter fluency
  • Change curricula away from least common denominator expectations, particularly in early grades
  • Strictly enforce standards for grade to grade promotion
  • Increase the amount of writing in high school and cut way back on multiple choice.  Teachers hate this suggestion because it creates a lot more grading work, but the amount of writing required is the single biggest difference, in my experience, between private and public high schools.
  • And of course, my favorite, lets abandon the government monopoly on education and allow students and their parents real choice.

Let's stop kowtowing to the NEA on education issues and start thinking for ourselves about how to fix education.  Public education for most people in this country ranges from mediocre to terrible.  I am flabbergasted that African-Americans in particular put up with the awful education they are offered today.  Seeing their test scores and admission rates in college (as well as college drop-out rates), they should be in the streets protesting the raw deal they get on K-12 education, but instead the only response from their leaders is to ask for lower admission standards in college and to blame the tests as biased. 

There are certainly school districts out there in poor areas that need more money.  There are two problems, though, that groups like the NEA never address, or even mention, that are going to stand in the way of getting poorer districts extra resources:

  1. Many of these districts have absolutely no credibility in terms of self-management or fiscal responsibility.  I would probably rank Haiti higher than many urban school districts in terms of management ability and I would sooner give money to someone in a Nigerian email than I would one of these districts.  They are populated with strutting prima donna's with no sense of fiscal responsibility and hugely bloated administrative and bureaucratic ranks.  Many of these districts are totally untrusted by the populace at large, and until the management of them is completely flushed out, no one is going to trust them with more money
  2. Rich neighborhoods suspect (probably rightly) that funding equalization measures will do more to bring down their level of education than it will to raise the level in poorer districts (see Rush, "the trees").  While many would be willing to pay more to help other people's kids (this is a country that puts a high value on education) they will fight to the death any proposal that makes their kid's education worse.

I am fortunate enough to have the means to send my kids to a great private school, and I would love to see more voucher programs to give poor kids the same chance at choice.  I honestly believe school choice programs are the answer:

  • The system lets parents make choices that fit their kids, rather than having one size fits all and lowest common denominator programs
  • Over time, choice systems shift money away from mismanaged and inefficient schools and districts and into schools and districts that are innovative, productive, and get results.
  • Rich neighborhoods will be more likely to accept equalization under voucher systems, because they can still pay more for education by supplementing the voucher with additional $.
  • One happy side effect is that choice programs would just about eliminate all the heated arguments over religion in schools - if people want religion, they will go there, if they want secular, that can be their choice.
  • Yes there are transition issues, and some private schools will do poorly - but can it really get much worse for places like East St. Louis?  This post has gone on too long (sorry) but the NEA and others raise up a lot of bogymen to scare people about school choice.  I will have a post later responding to some of these, but keep asking yourself - for the worst school districts, can it really get worse?  What is the downside of trying something new?

By the way - for those of you who think the problem is only money - I will give you one other fact.  My kids get an absolutely fabulous private school education, and in Junior high school the tuition I pay for them is far, far less than $8208 a year the NEA shows as the average per pupil public school expenditure and their student teacher ratio is higher than the 15.7 the NEA shows as the national average.  Note that there are no endowments or private donations subsidizing this school's tuition -- our private school is for profit (gasp) and so our tuition is low because the school's costs are low.

You can find further thoughts on the NEA, including a fisking of the education recomendations on their web site, here.


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Posted on December 4, 2004 at 10:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)