Topic: Education and Child Policy

Preparing Children for Adulthood

From the Washington Post:

Recess is dangerous. There’s all that name-calling, roughhousing and bullying. And the fast running! Why a child might trip, fall, even – and perhaps more important – sue.

Given such perils, Willett Elementary School, south of Boston, has cracked down on tag and other “chasing games.” Pia Durkin, the district superintendent, told the Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., that children’s energies should be better directed toward “good, sound, supervised play.” 

So they’ll be prepared for good, sound, supervised lives.

“Dumb” Is the New “Smart”

What’s wrong with this conversation?

“Smart” Person: I just bought a car, and I way overpaid for it!

Admirer: You did? Brilliant!

OK. You know what’s wrong. Unless the admirer is being sarcastic, what kind of idiot congratulates someone for getting ripped off? Actually, this kind of idiot.

That’s right, the professional rankers at Morgan Quinto Press have produced a “Smartest State” report for 2006 (their full education report is available for only $59.95!), and have deemed Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut their three “smartest” states.

There is, actually, some logic to the rankings, which consider students’ proficiency on a few standardized tests – hardly enough on which to base a designation of “smart,” but at least there’s some connection to actual knowledge. It’s after that, though, that we really see who’s not so smart: In addition to test results, the rankings give positive credit to the states that spend the most money on their schools, the most on their teachers, and have the largest portion of their population in public schools (apparently kids in private schools can’t be that smart).

Now, maybe I missed something (and there’s no way I’m paying for the full report to find out), but it sure as heck seems that Morgan Quinto is telling us that the smartest states are the ones where kids maybe get decent scores, but where they definitely spend the biggest wads of cash.

There’s a term for that, of course, but it isn’t “smart.” I believe, in fact, that the word is “dumb.”

Watch Your Libertarian Language

Colleges often have to decide what their rules are about language that offends people. Is a professor’s criticism of affirmative action offensive to black students? Is a gay-rights group’s advocacy offensive to Christian or morally conservative students? And people can debate how to weigh free speech versus a nurturing atmosphere in a particular college.

But Marquette University seems to have reached new heights, or depths, in what it considers offensive. A graduate student there posted on his office door a pithy quotation from humorist Dave Barry:

 “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”

A strong opinion, to be sure. One that I’d bet is shared by many but certainly not all Americans. Apparently Barry’s sentiment is not shared by the chairman of Marquette’s philosophy department, who took it upon himself to take down the quotation and sent a department email declaring it “patently offensive.”

Offensive to whom? Surely not to any of the usual identity groups, ethnic or religious or sexual-orientation or gender or whatever. Nor does it use the four-letter words that might be inappropriate for a public space. Perhaps it’s offensive to employees of the federal government, or to those who have a great deal of respect and admiration for the federal government. But one would think that at a university it falls within the parameters of debate. And while Dave Barry writes more effectively and memorably than most philosophers, his statement still qualifies as humor or political commentary or both.

Marquette is a private university and is thus free under the First Amendment to regulate speech as it chooses. But if libertarian jests are “patently offensive” and subject to censorship at Marquette, it might want to note that in a new paragraph of its academic freedom guidelines and perhaps in the catalog provided to prospective students.

Private Schools Now 33% Off!

There’s a common perception in this country that public schools are underfunded, and that if they could only spend as much as private schools do, they’d be in clover. When it is pointed out that the average private school tuition is around half of total public school spending per pupil, defenders of the status quo counter that tuition only covers a fraction of total costs.

So wouldn’t it be interesting to know how much private schools actually spend, in total, per pupil? Well now we do, at least for the state of Arizona.

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.

I wonder what effect these numbers will have on the flood of education stories about how desperately underpaid public school teachers are… given that those teachers are earning the equivalent of 50 percent more than the journalists who cover them.

There are many other gems in the full report, including a comparison of the condition of physical facilities between public and private sector schools. Public school lobbyists claim they need loads more money to repair and maintain their buildings, so it’d be interesting to know how private schools cope with this issue on a fraction of the public sector’s budget, hmm?

School Vouchers on the Way in India?

According to an article in The Hindu, an education planning commission in India has recommended the creation of pilot voucher programs in its final “Approach Paper.”

I have no doubt that the impetus for this recommendation comes at least in part from James Tooley’s work in India and Africa over the past decade, including his most recent study showing the effectiveness and efficiency of private schools serving the poor in the city of Hyderabad.

A particularly interesting aspect of the article is the extent to which the Union Human Resource Development Ministry (in charge of education) misrepresented the facts in its statements to the reporter, Anita Joshua. I just fired off an e-mail to Ms. Joshua, setting the record straight. Some highlights below the fold…

Most notably, the Ministry claims that “the average cost of schooling in private unaided schools [in India] is much higher than in government schools.” The converse is true. I summarize the evidence from a variety of public/private sector comparisons of Indian schools in pages 6–10 of a book chapter that is available online here: http://www.schoolchoices.org/roo/How_Markets_Affect_Quality.pdf

In one of those studies (of Uttar Pradesh), for example, Oxford University professor Geeta Gandhi Kingdon found that unaided schools spend roughly half of what is spent by government schools, per pupil. (Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, “The Quality and Efficiency of Private and Public Education: A Case-Study of Urban India,” Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 58, No. 1 (1996), pp. 55–80.) Interestingly, the same is largely true in the United states, where the average private school tuition fee is about half the total public school per-pupil expenditure. 

Also, a recent study published by the Cato Institute, conducted by University of Newcastle professors James Tooley and Pauline Dixon, found that personnel costs in Hyderabad’s unaided slum schools were a small fraction of those in nearby government schools — and personnel costs represent the lion’s share of school expenditures. Furthermore, Tooley and Dixon found that students in the private slum schools significantly outperform their peers in the more expensive public schools. 

Nor is there any validity to the Ministry’s claim that private schools are unavailable in rural areas. An extensive 1999 report found private schools in many rural areas across northern India, and also reported that they were providing better facilities and more actual teaching than their public counterparts. (Anuradha De, Jean Drèze, Shiva Kumar, Claire Noronha, Pushpendra, Anita Rampal, Meera Samsom, and Amarjeet Sinha, Public Report on Basic Education in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.)

Let’s hope Ms. Joshua brings this ammunition to her next interview with the Ministry.

University Lockdown Costs You Plenty

Gallaudet University, the only university in the world focused specifically on deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is locked down. Some students — though it’s never clear how many or what percentage of the overall student body — have barred the entrance to the school to protest the pending installation of a new president, Jane K. Fernandes.

The complaints against Fernandes are myriad, ranging from displeasure with her purported top-down management style to accusations that the presidential search process was not racially inclusive. No one issue, though, appears to be an overriding concern, nor do the reported issues, together, seem to justify students taking the school over Taps style, with football players providing muscle at the gates and even Gallaudet’s elementary and high schools shut down.

As overblown as all this seems, though, it shouldn’t be of much concern outside the university, right? After all, isn’t Gallaudet a private college, meaning that whether or not students shut it down should ultimately be a matter between the students, the school, and maybe a few parents who’d like to know what their tuition payments are going for?

If only.

For one thing, almost all American institutions of higher education receive substantial funds from taxpayers, whether it’s state money going directly to public colleges or federal dollars going to research grants, student aid, or just plain pork at public and private schools. As a result, almost any college shutdown not only costs students and schools time and money, but taxpayers as well.

The Gallaudet situation, however, is even worse. Two universities in the nation receive huge, direct appropriations from the federal government every year, and Gallaudet is one of them. (Howard University is the other.) For FY 2006, Gallaudet received a direct federal appropriation of more than $104 million, plus another $3 million in government grants and contracts. That same year, the school’s total revenues were slightly less than $149 million, meaning that 71 percent of Gallaudet’s money came directly from federal taxpayers. That makes Gallaudet, for all intents and purposes, a federal university.

Who knew? 

Unfortunately, now you know, and what seemed to be just Gallaudet’s problem, it turns out, is yours as well.  

“An expensive, time-consuming indignity”

Jefferds Huyck is not a “highly qualified” teacher according to the federal No Child Left Behind law. Sure, he’s got a doctorate in classics from Harvard, and his students bring home boatloads of awards for Latin proficiency, but being highly qualified in reality is not at all the same thing as being “highly qualified” under the NCLB. Under that law, “highly qualified” is almost universally interpreted to mean “possessing a four year degree from a state-approved teachers’ college.”

Mr. Huyck views this requirement, quite correctly, as “an expensive, time-consuming indignity.” The ubiquitous teachers’ college degree requirement means that Lance Armstrong cannot teach phys. ed., Bill Gates cannot teach business or computer science, and Johnny Depp can’t teach drama. That’s not to say that they would all make excellent teachers, but simply that they would never be given the chance.

As Cato Adjunct Scholar Marie Gryphon so ably explains in her recent Policy Analysis (and in the current issue of Business Week), public schooling’s hiring and personnel system is broken. There is, furthermore, no way to fix it within the confines of existing state school monopolies.

The way to ensure that the Huyckses of the world are not only allowed but encouraged to teach is to introduce market forces to the field of education. Anyone with Huycks’ abilities and results would be much sought after in a free education marketplace. Conversely, untalented, poor-performing teachers would be forced to improve or leave the profession, no matter how many ed. school degrees they had accumulated.