Topic: Education and Child Policy

A Fine Day

Today, U.S. News and World Report released its annual college guide, and I for one think it’s great. Sure, the rankings offer far from the definitive, final word about what college any given student should choose, and there could be thousands of credible methods used for evaluating schools other than what U.S. News does, but the magazine’s guide is still a valuable, market-driven tool to help parents and students choose from among thousands of U.S. colleges.

And, despite the complaints of opportunistic politicians about a supposed vacuum of data to help parents and students navigate higher education, if one is unhappy with U.S. News there are sundry other resources available, including the Princeton Review, the Kaplan College Guide, the College Prowler, the Gourman Report, and many, many more.

And so I say, “Hooray, the U.S. News rankings are out! Viva la U.S. News rankings!”

He Who Pays the Sociologist Calls the Tune

Sociologists from around the country have gathered for the annual American Sociological Association conference, and apparently they’re running scared. At least, according to an article appearing in Inside Higher Ed, many are running from research described best using such words as “sex” and “incestuous.” Apparently, having such words in the description of one’s research has been known to draw the ire of conservative activists, and has occasionally placed National Institutes of Health funding in jeopardy.

The problem, of course, is that as much as sociologists might love free money, NIH funding ultimately comes from taxpayers, and – surprise! – some taxpayers actually want a say in how their money is used. And, no, just because someone’s a scientist doesn’t give him the right to do whatever he wants with someone else’s hard-earned ducats. Of course, it can be very hard to examine really controversial issues if everyone gets a say in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Which leads to the only logical solution to the problem: If social science work – or any controversial scientific work, for that matter – is going to be done right, it cannot be conducted through the wallets of taxpayers. Just as scientists need the consent of human subjects to conduct experiments on them, they must have the consent of their funders if they want to be left alone. Which leaves sociologists with an important decision to make: Do they want to conduct science free of political interference, or sell out for the promise of abundant government grants? Unfortunately, right now the latter seems to be the more popular choice.

…or Sometimes as Tragedy and Farce

“History repeats itself: first as tragedy then as farce,” according to Karl Marx. Not to be outdone, Congress and the president have gone Karl one better by managing both at once.

The “America Competes Act,” signed into law today by President Bush, is pungently reminiscent of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, passed during the techno-existential crisis that followed the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite.

The impact of the NDEA was slight. Adoption of new federally-sponsored curricula and teaching methods was slow and uneven, and the bureaucratic process through which the money was allocated did a predictably bad job of weeding out good scientific instruction programs from bad ones — so it isn’t clear that faster or broader adoption would have been desirable.

In addition to repeating that earlier mistake, the “America Competes Act” is also deeply ironic — its methods run precisely counter to its motivations. Spurred by the necessity of keeping up with foreign competitors in our global economy, Congress has decided to resort to central planning. What they have given us, in other words, is the “America Competes Via Central Planning Act.”

There is a painfully obvious, irony-free alternative: We can increase our global competitiveness in education by forcing all schools to compete for the privilege of serving each and every student. America, more than any other nation in history, has proven that market competition drives up quality and drives down costs across the entire economy. And yet, in the area of education, we remain unconsciously but inextricably wedded to a Marxist approach, despite overwhelming evidence of its inferiority.

It is as though Congress, like “international man of mystery” Austin Powers, has just awoken after sleeping in suspended animation since the 1960s, unaware of how the Cold War turned out.

Basil Expedition:  The Cold War is over!
Austin Powers:  Well!  Finally those capitalistic pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?
Basil Expedition:  Austin… we won.
Austin Powers:  Oh, groovy, smashing!  Yay capitalism!

Uh, Congress? We won, and market forces work as well in education as in every other field.

A Lot of Kids Aren’t Alright

The WSJ editorial board looks at recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores for American students and sees a glass half full:

Pop quiz: Which has been most important in reducing poverty over time: a) taxes, b) economic growth, c) international trade, or d) government regulation?

We know what our readers would say. But lest you think American young people are slouching toward serfdom, you’ll be pleased to know that 53% of U.S. high school seniors also answered “b.” The latest version of NAEP asked this question, among others on economics, and the results will not please members of the Socialist International, or for that matter the Senate Finance Committee.

Good news, I suppose, considering that our kids are mostly taught by employees of a government monopoly. But 53% is only a bare majority.  Even if you add in the 8% of students who picked trade, you only get to 61% of students giving an answer that’s remotely plausible. 

So here’s the half-empty analysis: Some 38% of high school seniors think either that taxes or government regulation has been the most important factor in reducing poverty over time.

That’s just plain scary.  Add it to the very, very long list of reasons why we need to reform our government-mandated system of government youth indoctrination and support educational freedom through tax credits.

Even Public School Employees Love Education Tax Credits!

This recent Education Next/ Harvard (PEPG) survey of U.S. adults’ opinions on education issues has been out for a bit, but everyone seems to have missed some really interesting results. 

In this poll, like so many others, there is significantly more support for tax credits (53 percent) to offset private education costs than for school vouchers (45 percent), and much greater opposition to vouchers (34 percent) than to tax credits (25 percent).  That leaves a 28-point margin of support for tax credits compared to just 11 points for vouchers. 

And before you object that “the voucher label has been trashed by the unions!,” the possibly tainted word “voucher” doesn’t appear in the relevant survey question.

But that’s not all; most current/former employees of the government school system support tax credits, by a decisive margin of 22 percent!

I have to repeat that, because it just feels so flippin’ good: Most of the people who have worked for the government school system support education tax credits.

This is truly remarkable.  Even vouchers are only narrowly opposed by public school employees, by a close two-point margin. 

It is clear that using tax credits to effect school choice is much more popular and less objectionable to the general public, and even to public school employees, than are vouchers.  It is also clear that the word “voucher” appears to have relatively little to do with the tax credit advantage in public support. 

I just wish they had asked about broad-based programs, not just ones targeted to low-income families.  Polls show that the public is much more supportive of universal policies.

Education tax credits are a political win — and we in the school choice movement need to do a much better job getting politicians to see that fact.

Good News for D.C. Schools

The Washington Post reports:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that most of the District’s public schools will start the academic year this month stocked with required textbooks, although more than half of the schools lack the requisite number.

Most of the schools will have textbooks when they open. Cool. A few years ago the school superintendent was boasting that most of the schools would open on time. So this is an improvement. Not only will they open, most of them will have textbooks.

My former colleague Casey Lartigue told the sad story of the D.C. government-run schools five years ago. Then-School Board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz sharply rebuked him — without pointing out any errors in the study — at a Cato Policy Forum.

Does America Need a Training School for Bureaucrats?

Investor’s Business Daily comments on Hillary Clinton’s proposal for a national school to train “public servants.” But does America need a West Point for bureaucrats? The IBD editorial touches on some of the obvious shortcomings of the scheme, but it also is worth noting that such a school sounds frighteningly similar to France’s infamous l’Ecole d’Administration, the elitist institution that produced a long string of statist politicians such as Jacques Chirac:

Sen. Hillary Clinton says she wants to establish a national academy that will train public servants. Why do re-education camps come to mind? … Somehow we doubt there will be many lectures in making government smaller, deregulating business, cutting taxes or increasing individual freedom. Is there a chance that this “new generation” attending the academy will hear a single voice that isn’t hailing the glories of the nanny state? Will students being groomed for public service ever hear the names Hayek, von Mises or Friedman during their studies? … Government at all levels is already overflowing with bureaucrats who suck up taxpayers’ money and produce little, if anything, of economic value. More often, the bureaucracy actually gets in the way of economic progress.