Tag: Neal McCluskey

No Big Deal. Just Taxpayers Getting Clobbered

According to Ben Jacobs at the Daily Beast, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will soon be introducing legislation to allow holders of federal student loans to refinance at lower interest rates. There’s no indication that the new rates would be in exchange for longer terms, or anything like that. Just lower rates because someone might have borrowed at 7 percent, rates for new loans are now at 3 percent, and, well, paying 7 percent is tougher.

According to Jacobs, the proposal “seems to encapsulate…free-market principles” because recent changes to the student-loan program connect rates on new loans to broader interest rates. Apparently, pegging interest rates to 10-year Treasuries is very free market-y.

Perhaps more concerning than the questionable use of the term “free-market principles,” however, is the article’s handling of my reponse to the author’s request for comment. Apparently, I was fine with Warren’s rough idea, except for one little thing. Writes Jacobs:

In fact, Neal McCluskey, a higher education expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, had difficulty finding objections to the concept of Warren’s bill though he cautioned that was without any legislation for him to read. Instead, he was agog at the issues involved with reducing government revenue through lowering interest rates because the lender has to pay for it and, in this case, the lender is the American taxpayer.

How much bigger an objection could there be to “the concept of Warren’s bill” than that such a move would leave taxpayers holding the bag? As I often try to emphasize, taxpayers are people, too. There are lots of other concerns – most centrally, easy aid fuels tuition inflation – but to gently paraphrase Vice President Biden, reducing revenue that’s already been budgeted is a big deal!

Let me rephrase that: It should be a big deal. But as proposals like this indicate, it’s not nearly as big as it ought to be.

 

National Standardizers, Time to Speak Out against Federal Coercion

Maybe because it’s now hitting schools, or because it’s gotten high on the radars of Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck, or because national science standards have raised a ruckus, but for whatever reason the Common Core is finally starting to get the national—and critical—attention it has desperately needed. Indeed, just yesterday Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the Senate appropriations subcomittee that deals with education urging members to employ legislative language prohibiting federal funding or coercion regarding curricula. That follows the Republican National Committee last week passing a resolution opposing the Common Core.

It’s terrific to see serious attention paid to the Common Core, even if it is probably too late for many states to un-adopt the program in the near term. At the very least, this gives new hope that the public will be alert if there are efforts to connect annual federal funding to national standards and tests through a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act. And there are certainly some states where nationalization could be halted in the next few months. Perhaps most important, the Grassley letter gives Common Core supporters who’ve said they oppose federal coercion a huge opening to act on their words—to loudly support an effort to keep Washington out. They can either do that, or substantiate the powerful suspicion that they are happy to use federal force to impose standards, they just don’t want to admit it.

Bad Stuff in Obama Ed Budget

Details are still emerging about the Obama Administration’s 2014 education budget proposal, but from the overview there seems to be a lot of bad stuff. Here are the hi – or low – lights, and links to some important context:

  • Increase Department of Education spending to $71.2 billion, up 4.6 percent from 2012 enacted level: This is neither constitutional nor effective.
  • “Invests” in preschool: Head Start, Early Head Start, and state programs either are shown to fail, or have little to no good evidence supporting them.
  • $12.5 billion in mandatory funds to “prevent additional teacher layoffs and hire teachers”: We’ve been getting fat on staff – including teachers – for decades, and it hasn’t helped.
  • $1.3 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Federal studies have found these have negative effects.
  • Race to the Top for higher education: So far, RTTT has been big on promises, small on outcomes, and huge on coercion to adopt national curriculum standards.
  • $260 million to scale up higher education innovation: MOOCS and other innovations have been developing pretty well without federal “help.”
  • Maintain “strong” Pell Grant program: Pell is part of the tuition hyperinflation problem, not the solution.

There will no doubt be more-detailed analyses of specific education proposals to come. Stay tuned!

Look at No Child Left Behind. See, No Federal Control. Wait…

In what is either a case of blinders-wearing or just poor timing, today the Fordham Institute’s Kathleen Porter-Magee has an article on NRO, co-written with the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern, in which she and Stern take to task national curriculum standards critics who assert, among other things, that the Common Core is being pushed by President Obama. Yes, that’s the same Kathleen Porter-Magee whom it was announced a couple of days ago would be on a federal “technical review” panel to evaluate federally funded tests that go with the Common Core.

The ironic timing of the article alone is probably sufficient to rebut arguments suggesting that the Common Core isn’t very much a federal child. Still, let’s take apart a few of the specifics Porter-Magee and Stern offer on the federal aspect. (Other Core critics, I believe, will be addressing contentions about Common Core content).

Some argue that states were coerced into adopting Common Core by the Obama administration as a requirement for applying for its Race to the Top grant competition (and No Child Left Behind waiver program). But the administration has stated that adoption of “college and career readiness standards” doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core. At least a handful of states had K–12 content standards that were equally good, and the administration would have been hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

Ah, the power of parsing. While it is technically correct that in the Race to the Top regulations the administration did not write that states must specifically adopt the Common Core, it required that states adopt a “common set of K-12 standards,” and defined that as “a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.” How many consortia met that definition at the time of RTTT? Aside, perhaps, from the New England Common Assessment Program, only one: the Common Core.

Saying Common Core Not Federal a Joke, but Joke’s on Us

Last week I posted video from an American Enterprise Institute conference featuring supporters of national curriculum standards—the Common Core—dismissing concerns that implementing the standards might cost lots of taxpayer arms and legs, and laughingly brushing aside concerns that the Common Core might lead to federal control of school curricula. The latter emanated largely from Chester “Checker” Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose organization is a leading national standards supporter.

Yesterday news came out that made clear just how serious—and unfunny—concerns about a federal takeover are. According to Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education will start a “technical review process” for the Department-selected consortia creating the national tests to go with the standards. And what will that review look at? Not compliance with accounting standards or something administrative, but test “item design and validation.” That means, most likely (in-depth information from the Department was off-line as of this writing) reviewing the specific questions that will go on the tests. And what is tested, of course, ultimately dictates what is taught, at least if the test results are to have any concrete impact, ranging from whether students advance to the next grade, to whether schools gain or lose funding. Since the ultimate point of uniform standards is to have essentially uniform accountability from state to state, they will have to have some concrete impact, rendering this a clear next step in a major Federal incursion into curricula.

Now, maybe Finn wasn’t aware of any of this last week when he blew me off with knee-slapping zingers about the U.N. taking over the Common Core, but I doubt it: according to Education Week, one of Fordham’s employees, Kathleen Porter-Magee, will be on the federal review team, as will frequent Fordham collaborator William Schmidt of Michigan State University. So either Finn is an extremely hands-off manager, or as he summoned his inner Don Rickles last week he knew very well that federal tentacles were inching even deeper into America’s schools.

Ha, ha, America. Joke’s on you.

Beware the Data, II

A couple of months ago I warned about the dangers of having government gather and publish growing reams of information in the name of making education better. Sure, it sounds great – help people get as informed as possible! – but the dangers are legion. You can read about several such pitfalls in that old post. You can also get a sense of the great wealth of data already out there in this op-ed. What I haven’t discussed – and what might concern many Americans more than anything else – is the threat that massive data collection poses to our privacy.

Articles over the last week or so have started to draw significant attention to the growing education-information complex and its connection to long-standing efforts – especially federal – to accumulate information on Americans from birth to boardroom. Gaining particular traction has been a story about how student data collected in New York could be sold to companies or other entities outside of school districts. Even more concerning is a story by Joy Pullmann in the Orange County Register about lots of data collection and mining that is either already happening or under consideration nationwide.

What’s especially troubling to some people, including Pullmann, is that not only is there ever-growing centralization of curricula such as the federally backed Common Core, as well as centralized testing of knowledge, but there are also moves to assess students’ “affect” that could include wiring them to “facial expression” cameras and “skin conductance sensors.” Contemplating such things, it’s hard not to conjure up images of A Clockwork Orange.

When you read the federal report that proposes using “affective computing methods” such as skin sensors, it doesn’t appear that the authors have nefarious, big-brother intentions. The object of the report is to examine how students’ “grit” and perseverance can be improved, and that is a reasonable goal. Similarly, furnishing information about the academic status of incoming freshmen at a college, the amount they learn while in school, and how well they fare after graduation, is driven by good intentions.

But we must never feel content with good intentions. We must care primarily about the effects of the policies stemming from our golden goals, and as I’ve written previously, there are likely big, negative, immediate effects that would go with empowering more government data collection. There are also potentially even worse long-term consequences, including that government would begin to try to adjust students’ feelings and attitudes if doing so might produce better test scores or some other, politically determined, outcome. Indeed, such affect-engineering arguably already takes place with huge increases in ADD and ADHD diagnoses that lead to personality-altering drug-taking.

It’s easy – and almost always innocent – to say that we need more information so that we can make things work better. But with that comes very big potential dangers we must never ignore.

Cross-posted at seethruedu.com

Only Doom Without the Denominator

The Obama administration tried to turn the doom-and-gloom up a notch over the weekend, releasing reports on how many employees each state could lose if sequestration isn’t stopped. Teachers were prominently featured, of course, because nothing scares people like the prospect of their kids not getting educated.

“Could” is a crucial word here, because it is entirely possible that savings could be found that would negate the need to dismiss people. For instance, unnecessary purchases could be cancelled, or all employees could take small pay cuts. But suppose worst-case firings did come. How horrific would the education damage be?

It turns out, once you look at the overall staffing picture, not very. Using a compilation of the state reports put together by the Washington Post, as well as Digest of Education Statistics staffing data, we assembled the following table calculating how big a percentage of public school employees in each state would disappear in the worst-case scenario. Unlike the administration, we included the numerator and the denominator.