Topic: Education and Child Policy

You Can Get a Job Without a Degree?

It seems that everyone in the ivory tower is declaring that it will soon be almost impossible to get a good job without first buying their product. Perhaps foremost among these college salespeople are members of the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who in the most recent public draft of their proposal to create a “national strategy” for higher education declare that:

The value of a postsecondary credential for future employment and earnings is expected to rise. Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven market economy require some postsecondary education. Job categories with the fastest expected growth in the next decade require postsecondary education; those with the greatest expected decline require only on-the-job training.

That sure sounds like the best way to avoid a low-paying, dead-end career is to run, not walk, to your friendly neighborhood college or university and get that bachelor’s degree! But is the scenario accurate? According to a recent piece on CareerBuilder.com, maybe not:

Though it was once conventional wisdom that you needed to have a four-year college degree to be successful, many employment experts believe that maxim has become myth. While a college education increases a worker’s chances of earning more money, it’s certainly not the only reliable path to well-paid and rewarding work….[A]ccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, eight of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations through 2014 do not require a bachelor’s degree. And these jobs, which include health technology, plumbing, firefighter and automotive repair, are less vulnerable to outsourcing.

So which is it? In the oh-so-near future, will you or won’t you need a college degree to avoid having to live in a corrugated steel hut subsisting on saltines?

The truth is that no one knows: As politicians and economic forecasters have proven time and again, with billions of people worldwide conducting countless business transactions all the time, no one can predict with any certainty what the future will hold. We can, however, confidently predict one thing: Denizens of the ivory tower will themselves get better jobs when increasing numbers of people consume their products, and when politicians give them ever-greater amounts of taxpayer money.

These facts, more than anything else, should make everyone suspicious of ubiquitous college-or-bust predictions.

Subtlety Lost on Charter Schools

In Atlanta, a small charter school condemned to death yesterday by the board of education is providing one final lesson: While charters allow some of the nuanced accountability provided by the free market to work, too often it’s the wrecking ball of government that renders the final verdict.

The doomed school — the Achieve Academy in southeast Atlanta — started in 2003 as an affiliate of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a highly regarded network of schools known for their longer days, slavishly devoted teachers, strict discipline, and tremendous success at educating kids in some of the poorest areas of the country.

The KIPP name — like well regarded brand names in all kinds of industries — gave Achieve instant credibility. Over a few years, however, it became clear that Achieve was not living up to KIPP’s standards: It had enrolled too few students to fully implement the KIPP model, and it faced significant financial and leadership problems.

In December 2005, KIPP ended its affiliation with Achieve. It was essentially free-market accountability at work: By separating from Achieve, KIPP made it clear that the school was not up to the program’s high standards, while ultimately leaving it up to parents to determine whether or not they were getting the results that they wanted from the school.

KIPP’s actions, importantly, did not mean that Achieve was a failing school. At the very least, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Achieve’s test results were higher than scores at several of the schools to which its students would go if it closed. Moreover, many parents loved Achieve:

Marsha Ivey said she will try to home school daughter Michaela Bailey, 12, rather than enroll her in King Middle School, the traditional school in her neighborhood. Michaela has blossomed at Achieve from an average student who once struggled in math. “She’s been pushed to her limits,” Ivey said.

Unfortunately, unlike KIPP, in the final analysis the Atlanta School Board couldn’t tailor the accountability it meted out to fit Achieve’s track record. It couldn’t issue subtle punishments and rewards like a market would deliver through the free decisions of parents or organizations like KIPP. It either had to close Achieve, or let it stay open. Sadly for many Achieve students, it went with the former.

Boldly Buying Votes

Yesterday, at a news conference featuring New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) unveiled “a bold new plan” for American higher education. The American Dream Initiative would “award states $150 billion over 10 years to reduce tuition and increase graduation rates”; consolidate several federal tax breaks into “a single, refundable $3,000 college tuition tax credit”; and bolster “accountability” by instituting federal price controls.

What terrific, bold ideas these are! First, plow even more government money into a system that has grown obese on taxpayer funds, then throw government “accountability” on top of it, creating a groundbreaking socialist blend of wealth redistribution and government control!

Of course, in reality there’s nothing bold or new about anything in the DLC’s proposal; politicians have been dumping huge loads of money into higher education for decades, and proposing price controls for years. No, far from being “bold,” the American Dream Initiative is just another disgusting attempt to buy American votes by politicians who believe that a big enough dollar sign, wrapped in just enough lofty rhetoric, is the key to political power.

Wal-Mart Wins

Yesterday, a federal district court threw out a Maryland law requiring Wal-Mart to dedicate at least 8 percent of its employee compensation in that state to health care for its Maryland workers. The law was backed chiefly by the AFL-CIO, which has been attempting to get similar laws passed in 33 other states. Those efforts are now likely dead.

This will, no doubt, come as a disappointment to the National Education Association (NEA), which has had an anti-Wal-Mart campaign since last summer. “Huh,” you say? “What does Wal-Mart have to do with public education?” Well, all those NEA officials have to occupy themselves somehow during slow nights at the casino, or while riding around Hawaii in limousines.

Ivory Tower Blueprint, Take Two

On Monday, the U.S. Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education released the second draft of what will ultimately become a final report, most likely sometime in September. Unfortunately, all the authors seemed to do between draft one and draft two is tone down some of their criticisms of colleges and universities—apparently, ivory tower denizens are a sensitive lot—while keeping in most of their bigger-government proposals, such as creating a “national strategy” for higher education and, of course, spending a lot more taxpayer cash.

Without question, there are going to have to be major changes between draft two and draft three to make the commission’s final report even the least bit palatable. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen so far, the best we can probably hope for is the same rat poison, with just a little bit more sugar sprinkled on top.

Can Charter Schools Yield Market-Like Results?

That’s a question I was asked over at EdSpresso.com, to which I’ve just fired of the following answer:

Alas, no. In the short term, the charter schooling model lacks some of the essential characteristics of effective markets. I stressed competition in the cited op-ed [about Warren Buffett’s gift to the Gates Foundation], but there are others I couldn’t mention for lack of space. Free-floating prices and at least some direct payment of tuition by parents are two other crucial ingredients. Charters have neither.

Prices are the mechanism by which markets signal quality and encourage providers to offer the services most in demand. Without the ability to set high initial prices for effective innovations, innovation cannot be financed. Hence, the whole process by which markets drive improvements in quality is crippled. If there had never been $1,000 DVD players and cell phones, there would not now be $39 DVD players and “free” cell phones (when purchased with a service plan). On the flip side, when providers do not set their own prices there is no incentive for them to find ways of undercutting their competitors by offering similar quality services at a lower cost, eliminating a key incentive for efficiency. There are still other problems with charter schooling that I haven’t listed here (e.g. the likelihood of re-regulation over time, if history is any guide) so that they do not represent a promising path to market education.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong by the march of events, but that’s the way it looks to me now.

Why Federal Vouchers Are Still a Bad Idea

When president Bush threw the idea of a federal school voucher program into his budget earlier this year, few people noticed and those who did rarely took it seriously. Well, it’s now a bill, though only a bill, and it’s sittin’ there on Capitol Hill…

Many good people in the school choice movement think this is a wonderful thing. Reluctantly, I must disagree. As I wrote in response to the president’s original proposal: federal school vouchers are a bad idea.