Tag: failure

Girl Likens Public School Failure to Ban on Teaching Slaves to Read

A 13-year-old black girl from Rochester likens the pedagogical malfeasance of her public school to the deliberate prohibition against teaching slaves to read–as recounted by Frederick Douglass in his autobiography. And she is hounded out of the school.

We can do better than this. We need a free marketplace in education with financial assistance to ensure universal access. Scholarship donation and personal use education tax credits can do that.

Higher Education Subsidies Wasted

A study from the American Institutes of Research finds that federal and state governments have wasted billions of dollars on subsidies for students who didn’t make it past their first year in college. The federal total for first-year college drop outs was $1.5 billion from 2003 to 2008.

Due to data limitations, the figures are only for first year, full-time students at four-year colleges and universities. Community colleges have even higher drop-out rates, and part-time students or students returning to college are more likely to drop out. Therefore, the numbers in the report are “only a fraction of the total costs of first-year attrition the nation and the states face.” Moreover, it doesn’t include the cost for students who drop out some time after their sophomore year.

Federal policymakers from both parties are fond of lavishing subsidies on college students. Proponents argue that without federal subsidies, an insufficient number of future workers will possess the skills necessary to compete in a global economy.

However, a Cato essay on federal higher education subsidies argues that students wishing to attend college already have plenty of incentive to save or borrow from private sources:

Supporters of student aid subsidies argue that higher education is a “public good” that would be underprovided in a free market. However, that is probably not the case. People have a strong incentive to invest in their own education because it will lead to higher earnings. Those with a college degree will earn, on average, 75 percent more during their lifetime than those with just high-school degrees. That is a big incentive for people to save or borrow in private markets to pay for their own college costs. There is no “market failure” here.

In fact, higher education subsidies drive up tuition prices:

It is matter of supply and demand. More and more Americans have sought a college education, which has pushed prices higher. Ordinarily, such upward pressure would be restrained by consumers’ willingness and ability to pay, but as government subsidies have helped absorb tuition increases, the public’s budget constraint has been lifted. Peter Wood, a professor at Boston University noted that federal subsidies “are seen by colleges and universities as money that is there for the taking … tuition is set high enough to capture those funds and whatever else we think can be extracted from parents.”

But isn’t it great that Uncle Sam is helping put more young folks in college? Not necessarily:

Many of those additional students may not have been ready, or suited, for college. As evidenced by the rising shares of college students who require remedial work. Further evidence of the problem is that institutions have lowered their standards to adapt to the rise in second-rate students. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences reported that from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, college grade point averages grew steadily but Scholastic Aptitude Test scores declined. The share of entering college students who complete degrees has also fallen over the decades. In addition, while college attendance is up, overall adult literacy has barely budged over the last 15 years.

The essay also notes that college students devote 3.2 hours to education on an average weekday, versus 3.9 hours to “leisure and sports,” and that the six-year graduation rate for bachelor’s students is only about 56 percent, indicating that many students are not very serious about education.

Just as housing subsidies incentivized people to purchase homes that they otherwise shouldn’t have, higher education subsidies have incentivized people to go to college who weren’t ready or suited for it. In both cases, the cost to taxpayers has been substantial while the alleged benefits have proven illusory.

Does McChrystal Rhyme with MacArthur?

Apparently not. Unlike Douglas MacArthur, Stanley McChrystal has tendered his resignation. President Obama should accept it, and move swiftly to put this unfortunate incident behind him.

This story moved so quickly that I wasn’t able to keep up. In the early morning, we learned that McChrystal had been called to Washington for face-to-face meetings with President Obama (aka The Commander in Chief), and Robert Gates (the SecDef who has built a reputation for sacking generals). McChrystal’s press aide was fired. By early afternoon, others, including those sympathetic to the general, were predicting that he would step down, or that he should be fired if he did not (Eliot Cohen “This is a firing offense”; Peter Feaver “This is clearly a firing offense”).

I won’t repeat what Justin Logan, Malou Innocent, and I said in our statements this morning. It is obvious that Gen. McChrystal showed very poor judgment, and this is not the first time. When his assessment of what was required in Afghanistan (More Forces or “Mission Failure”) was leaked before the president had settled on a strategy, the White House was furious. They felt that he was trying to bully them. Strike one. When he challenged the chain of command with his remarks in London in October, dismissing Vice President’s Biden’s preferred counterterrorism approach as “shortsighted,” Obama summoned him for a private meeting on Air Force One. Strike two. There was more than enough material in the Rolling Stone story to constitute strike three. And four, five, and six.

I urge people to read the story. It might be remembered as the article that put an end to Stanley McChrystal’s storied career. I wonder if the article might serve a broader purpose: undermining the already wavering support for COIN. Look past McChrystal, a man who has given his life to the military, and has much to show for it. Look at the enlisted guys who are just beginning their careers, or the NCOs or junior officers who are in the third or fourth tours (in either Iraq or Afghanistan). They’re growing frustrated. They’re in an impossible situation. They are fighting a war that depends upon strong support here in the United States, and that aims to boost support for a government that no one believes in. And while they understand COIN as preached by McChrystal, they struggle with the rules of engagement that COIN requires.

One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. “Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force,” the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that’s like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won’t have to make arrests. “Does that make any [expletive] sense?” asks Pfc. Jared Pautsch. “We should just drop a [expletive] bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?”

I give up. What are we doing there?

Fannie Mae and Greece’s Problems Enabled by Basel

On the surface the failures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would appear to have little connection to the fiscal crisis in Greece, outside of both occurring in or around the time of a global financial crisis.  Of course in the case of Fannie and Freddie, primary blame lies with their management and with Congress.  Primary blame for Greece’s problems clearly lies with the Greek government. 

Neither Greece or Fannie would have been able to get into as much trouble, however, if financial institutions around the world had not loaded up on their debt.  One reason, if not the primary reason, for bailing out both Greece and the US’s government sponsored enterprises is the adverse impact their failures would have on the banking system.

Yet bankers around the world did not blindly load up on both Greek and GSE debt, they were encouraged to by the bank regulators via the Basel capital standards.  Under Basel, the amount of capital a bank is required to hold against an asset is a function of its risk category.  For the highest risk assets, like corporate bonds, banks are required to hold 8%.  Yet for those seen as the lowest risk, short term government bonds, banks aren’t required to hold any capital.  So while you’d have to hold 8% capital against say, Ford bonds, you don’t have to hold any capital against Greek debt.  Depending on the difference between the weights and the debt yields, such a system provides very strong incentives to load up on the highest yielding bonds of the least risky class.  Fannie and Freddie debt required holding only 1.6% capital.  Very small losses in either Greek or GSE debt would cause massive losses to the banks, due to their large holdings of both.

The potential damage to the banking system from the failures of Greece and the GSEs is not the result of a free market run wild.  It was the very clear and predictable result of misguided and mismanaged government policies meant to create a steady market for government borrowing.

Collecting Dots and Connecting Dots

As Jeff Stein notes over at the Washington Post, the declassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Christmas underpants bomber ought to sound awfully familiar to anyone who thumbed through the 9/11 Commission’s massive analysis of intelligence failures. Of the 14 points of failure identified by the Senate, one pertains to a failure of surveillance acquisition: the understandably vague claim that NSA “did not pursue potential collection opportunities,” which it’s impossible to really evaluate without more information. (Marc Ambinder tries to fill in some of the gaps at The Atlantic.)  The other 13 echo that old refrain: Lots of data points, nobody managing to connect them. Problems included myopic analysis—folks looking at Yemen focused on regionally-directed threats—sluggish information dissemination, misconfigured computers, and simple failure to act on information already in hand.

Yet you’ll notice that in the wake of such failures, the political response tends to be heavily weighted toward finding ways to collect more dots.  We hear calls for more surveillance cameras in our cities, more wiretapping with fewer restrictions, fancier scanners in the airport, fewer due process protections for captured suspects. Sometimes you’ll also see efforts to address the actual causes of intelligence failure, but they certainly don’t get the bulk of the attention.  And little wonder! Structural problems internal to intelligence or law enforcement agencies, or failures of coordination between them, are a dry, wonky, and often secret business. The solutions are complicated, distinctly unsexy, and (crucially) don’t usually lend themselves to direct legislative amelioration—especially when Congress has already rolled out the big new coordinating entities that were supposed to solve these problems last time around.

But demands for more power and more collection and more visible gee-whiz technology?  Well, those are simple. Those are things you can trumpet in a 700-word op-ed and brag about in press releases to your constituents. Those are things pundits and anchors can debate in without intimate knowledge of Miroesque DOJ org charts.  In short, we end up talking about the things that are easy to talk about.  We should not be under any illusions that this makes them good solutions to intel’s real problems. Hard as it is for pundits to sit silent or legislators to seem idle, sometimes the most vital reforms just don’t make for snazzy headlines.

How the Media Are Covering ‘Head Start’s’ Failure

A day after it was released, here’s a roundup of how the mainstream media are covering the HHS study showing that America’s $100 billion plus investment in Head Start is a failure:

[…crickets…]

Nada. Zilch. Rien du tout, mes amis.

That’s based on a Google News search for [“Head Start” study]. The only media organs to touch on this topic so far have been blogs: Jay Greene’s, The Heritage Foundation’s, the Independent Women’s Forum, and the one you’re reading right now.

Okay. There was one exception. According to Google News, one non-blog – with a print version no less – covered this story so far. The NY Times? The Washington Post? Nope: The World, a Christian news magazine. And they actually did their homework, linking to this recent and highly relevant review of the research on pre-K program impacts.

And for those other publications in the MSM still standing at the edge of the pool: the water’s warm folks, c’mon in.

What’s really interesting, though, is that the HHS had the moral fibre to actually issue a press release about this damning study. That showed courage – and a certain panache. I particularly liked this, from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children.”

Umm, yes Ms. Secretary, but the same research shows those effects vanish by the end of first grade. I guess that information is on a need-to-not-know basis. The public needs to not know about it or the administration hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Kauai of getting American tax payers to throw another $100 billion or so at government pre-K, as President Obama is so very keen to do.

Update:

In my original review of the coverage on this story I missed the blog that first broke the story: Early Ed Watch at the New America Foundation. One thing that distinguishes New America’s supporters of big government pre-k programs from those in the Obama administration is that the former have a good grasp of the implications of this study, writing that: “The next few weeks are probably going to be rocky ones for the Head Start community. Results released today from the Impact Study show that children’s gains from participating in Head Start, documented in a 2005 installment of the study, do not last through the end of 1st grade.”

But if the folks at the NAF recognize this reality, that begs an important question: will they now redirect their efforts to the support of programs whose benefits for disadvantaged children actually grow in magnitude the longer kids stay in school, or will they continue to push for programs like Head Start that have been proven costly failures?

Neither Standards Nor Shame Can Do the Job

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews has done it again: lifted my hopes up just to drop them right back down.

In November, you might recall, Mathews called for the elimination of the office of U.S. Secretary of Education. There just isn’t evidence that the Ed Sec has done much good, he wrote.

My reaction to that, of course: “Right on!”

Only sentences later, however, Mathews went on to declare that we should keep the U.S. Department of Education.

Huh?

Today, Mathews is calling for the eradication of something else that has done little demonstrable good – and has likely been a big loss – for American education: the No Child Left Behind Act. Mathews thinks that the law has run its course, and laments that under NCLB state tests – which are crucial to  standards-and-accountability-based reforms – “started soft and have gotten softer.”

The reason for this ever-squishier trend, of course, is that under NCLB states and schools are judged by test results, leading state politicians and educrats to do all they can to make good results as easy to get as possible. And no, that has not meant educating kids better – it’s meant making the tests easier to pass.

Unfortunately, despite again seeing its major failures, Mathews still can’t let go of federal education involvement. After calling for NCLB’s end, he declares that we instead need a national, federal test to judge how all states and schools are doing.

To his credit, Mathews does not propose that the feds write in-depth standards in multiple subjects, and he explicitly states that Washington should not be in the business of punishing or rewarding schools for test performance.

“Let’s let the states decide what do to with struggling schools,” he writes.

What’s especially important about this is that when there’s no money attached to test performance there’s little reason for teachers unions, administrators associations, and myriad other education interests to expend political capital gaming the tests, a major problem under NCLB.

But here’s the thing: While Mathews’ approach would do less harm than NCLB, it wouldn’t do much good. Mathews suggests that just having the feds “shame” states with bad national scores would force improvement, but we’ve seen public schools repeatedly shrug off massive ignominy since at least the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk. As long as they keep getting their money, they couldn’t care much less.

So neither tough standards nor shaming have led to much improvement. Why?

As I’ve laid out before, it’s a simple matter of incentives.

With punitive accountability, the special interests that would be held to high standards have strong motivation – and usually the power – to demand dumbed-down tests, lowered minimum scores, or many other accountability dodges.  The result: Little or no improvement.

What if there are no serious ramifications?

Then the system gets its money no matter what and again there is little or no improvement.

It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

So what are reformers to do? One thing: Take government – which will almost always be dominated by the people it employs – out of the accountability equation completely. Give parents control of education funds and make educators earn their pay by having to attract and satisfy customers.

Unfortunately, that still seems to be too great a leap for Jay Mathews. But one of these days, I’m certain, he’ll go all the way!