Pre-K Pushers Don’t Know and Don’t Care About the Evidence

Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell have a great article in the Wall Street Journal that argues we should be very concerned about the current mania for preschool.

In response, USA Today editorial page editor and president of the Education Writers Association Richard Whitmire pens this gem on Eduwonk:

I don’t see the need to defend the research behind the benefits of preschool, but here’s the latest I wrote on this.

You’d think his link would take you to a definitive statement revealing the indisputable benefits of preschool. That is, something substantive containing actual analysis.

Unfortunately, his “analysis” consists of a breezy and factually incorrect USA Today editorial swooning over Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program:

Oklahoma educators credit their decade-old preschool program with pushing up reading and math scores in the lower grades, and with raising achievement by low-income children.

In reality, Oklahoma lost substantial ground compared to the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, AKA “the nation’s report card”) during the 1990’s at the very same time the state was aggressively expanding preschool access, increasing attendance, and building a system that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) rates 9 out of 10 on quality.

  • Oklahoma slipped from one point above the national average in 4th grade math in 1992 to two points behind in 2007.
  • Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s 4th grade reading scores plummeted. In 1992, 4th grade reading scores were 5 points above the national average and in 2007 they were 3 points behind.

The one finding Witmire cites — from the High/Scope Perry Preschool project — included home visitations in addition to preschool and had serious methodological problems.

Our Convoluted, Less-than-open Immigration System

If you think the United States has an “open border” policy toward immigrants, check out this immigration flowchart put together by our friends over at the Reason Foundation.

In one graphic sweep, it explains better than mere words why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Of course, if you are one of those people who like to read the articles and not just look at the pictures, you can check out Cato research on immigration at the Center for Trade Policy Studies web site.

Phi Delta Kappa Scared to Ask About Education Tax Credits

The new 2008 PDK/Gallup poll on education is anti-school-choice advocacy masquerading as responsible research.

In 1999, the last year PDK/Gallup asked about education tax credits, 57 percent of the public supported credits to cover the full cost of private school tuition and 65 percent of the public supported tax credits for part of the cost.

Instead of asking clear and informative questions about vouchers and education tax credits in 2008, however, the survey recycles a generic, biased, and discredited question they introduced after support for vouchers began to climb in their own surveys.

The PDK/Gallup poll now asks about a respondent’s support for “allowing students and parents to choose a private school at public expense.”

This loaded and abstract language is meant to lower what other more balanced polls have shown is deep and widespread support for school choice and for education tax credits in particular.

That’s one reason Georgia passed a new tax credit program this year and why Arizona, Rhode Island, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Florida all recently passed or expanded education tax credit programs with crucial bipartisan support from Democrats.

The Democrats and Free Trade

If and when trade and globalization come up at the Democratic National Convention next week, I can almost guarantee that the take will be negative. It has become part of the party’s core message these days that free trade favors the rich at home and our unfair trading partners abroad. Just yesterday, in a tour of southern Virginia, Democratic hope Barak Obama took an indirect swipe at trade when he told a crowd in Martinsville, “You’re worried about the future. Here people have gone through very tough times. When you’ve got entire industries that have shipped overseas, when you’ve got thousands of jobs being lost… . That’s tough.”

Not all Democrats share the pessimistic view of trade. In the latest edition of the Cato Journal, hot off the presses, I review a new book by pro-trade Democrat Ed Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute. In my review of Freedom from Want: American Liberalism and the Global Economy, I wrote:

Although it is easy to forget today as Democratic candidates rail against NAFTA and globalization, but for decades it was the Democratic Party that championed lower tariffs. Democrats opposed the high tariff wall maintained by Republicans from the Civil War to World War One, arguing that tariffs benefited big business at the expense of poor consumers. Under President Woodrow Wilson, Congress drastically lowered tariffs in 1913 and replaced the revenue with an income tax, only to see Republicans raise tariffs again in the 1920s, culminating in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 and the Great Depression that followed.

The Democrats should think long and hard before they give up that legacy altogether.

You can read the full review here.

The Role of NATO Expansion

My buddy Matt Yglesias takes up Thomas Friedman’s NYT column yesterday pointing out the role that NATO expansion played in creating the climate of tense relations between Washington and Moscow.  Matt concludes “you can’t draw a straight line from the initial NATO enlargement decision to war in the summer of 2008.”

Well, fine.  It’s true, you can’t draw a straight line.  But it certainly played a big role.  Moreover, Matt’s contention that the positive side of the NATO expansion ledger (“helping to consolidate democratic norms [especially in the field of civil-military relations] in a swathe of countries that’s now pretty big and prosperous and somewhat important”) balances out the negative (setting the stage for the situation in which we find ourselves today vis-a-vis Russia) just doesn’t hold up.

First, the perception that NATO is an engine of democratic enlargement has some fairly significant problems with it, as Dan Reiter pointed out in International Security in 2001 (.pdf).  (Follow up debate in IS here.)

Moreover, while the Clinton administration was making this quasi-Wilsonian argument about spreading democracy out of one side of their mouths, out of the other side they were blustering as Strobe Talbott did in 1997 that “there is no more solemn commitment the United States can make,” pointing out the implications of Article V–the part of the NATO charter that says an attack on one member shall be viewed as an attack on all.  Talbott conceded further that the American nuclear arsenal would be used to back up those obligations, and that such commitments were “serious stuff.”  In the New York Review of Books, Talbott had taken to making outright machtpolitik-y statements like his idea that the first argument that should be presented to Russia about NATO expansion was

Enlargement is going to happen; fighting it with threats will only intensify the darkest suspicions about Russia’s intentions and future.

So we’re going to do it anyway, we don’t care what you say, and you’re weak and can’t do anything about it, so you’d best shut up.  Clear enough.  Rest assured the Russians heard declarations like these in addition to the Wilsonian claptrap that the Clinton people rolled out to concerned domestic audiences.  That, in part, is why Putin today says things like he did to NATO in Bucharest, that

Russia viewed “the appearance of a powerful military bloc” on its borders “as a direct threat” to its security. “The claim that this process is not directed against Russia will not suffice,” Mr. Putin said. “National security is not based on promises.”

Either NATO is a binding military alliance against Russia, or it’s not.  It could be other things at the same time, but we shouldn’t be confused about what it was that made NATO membership so attractive to a country like, say, Poland.  It was Article V.

It ought to go without saying that Putin is far from blameless in all this, and the emerging narrative–that he laid a trap for Saakashvili–seems to me to be right.  But it ought not to be denied that the ill-advised bipartisan consensus on expanding NATO as much and as rapidly as possible helped set the backdrop for the ambiguous, fumbling, and dangerous American involvement in this conflict.

Also, even accepting the argument about promoting democratic norms as ironclad, is the status of civil-military relations in Hungary or Lithuania really worth this?  NATO expansion and the outside-the-Security Council recognition of Kosovo have been sacred cows for liberals for a long time, but it’s well past time for them to admit that they share some of the blame for the disastrous state of U.S.-Russia relations today.

Tantamount to Corruption

I’ve blogged previously about how Medicare avoids administrative costs by permitting waste and fraud.  Now it appears that Medicare avoids public scrutiny about fraud by covering it up.  Today’s New York Times reports:

Medicare’s top officials said in 2006 that they had reduced the number of fraudulent and improper claims paid by the agency, keeping billions of dollars out of the hands of people trying to game the system.

But according to a confidential draft of a federal inspector general’s report, those claims of success, which earned Medicare wide praise from lawmakers, were misleading.

In calculating the agency’s rate of improper payments, Medicare officials told outside auditors to ignore government policies that would have accurately measured fraud, according to the report. For example, auditors were told not to compare invoices from salespeople against doctors’ records, as required by law, to make sure that medical equipment went to actual patients.

As a result, Medicare did not detect that more than one-third of spending for wheelchairs, oxygen supplies and other medical equipment in its 2006 fiscal year was improper, according to the report. Based on data in other Medicare reports, that would be about $2.8 billion in improper spending.

That same year, Medicare officials told Congress that they had succeeded in driving down the cost of fraud in medical equipment to $700 million.

Some lawmakers and Congressional staff members say the irregularities that the inspector general found were tantamount to corruption and raise broader questions about the credibility of other Medicare figures.

The article discussed the extent of Medicare fraud:

Equipment sellers have submitted counterfeit documents, forged doctors’ signatures and filed claims on behalf of patients who were dead or had never been seen by the prescribing physician, according to many reports by government oversight agencies.

For example, a Florida businessman was sentenced last year to 37 months in prison for submitting more than $5.5 million of fake claims to Medicare. The businessman operated for months, despite giving the agency an address that was actually a utility closet…

Medicare reported to Congress that, for the fiscal year of 2006, AdvanceMed’s investigations had found that only 7.5 percent of claims paid by Medicare were not supported by appropriate documentation. But the inspector general’s review indicated that the actual error rate was closer to 31.5 percent.

For instance, according to the report, the Office of Inspector General examined a claim for an electric wheelchair that AdvanceMed had said was appropriate. The inspector general’s investigation revealed that the physician who was listed as having prescribed the wheelchair had no knowledge of the prescription.

The person who received the wheelchair said that he had never met with the physician, that he did not need a wheelchair and that he had never used it, according to the report. His wife had also received a wheelchair that she had not asked for and never used.

Equipment sellers can pocket more than $2,500 every time they send a powered wheelchair to a patient and bill Medicare.

Don’t worry, though, because your congresscritters are on the job:

On July 1, Medicare instituted a new competitive bidding system that officials said would reduce both fraud and costs for medical equipment.

On July 15, however, Congress suspended the program, after equipment manufacturers and sellers began an aggressive lobbying campaign.

A leading congressional watchdog was outraged:

“This is outrageous,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who has repeatedly credited the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services with reducing improper expenditures. “If heads don’t roll, you can’t change the culture of this organization,” he added.

To clarify, Grassley was of course referring to the culture of Medicare, not Congress.

Another congressional watchdog had seen it all before:

“This report doesn’t surprise me,” said Representative Pete Stark, Democrat of California and a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. He has pushed to cut improper Medicare spending. “To look better to the public, you cook the books,” he said. “This agency is incompetent.”

Of course, Pete Stark’s solution for Medicare’s incompetence is to force you to enroll:

There is a road map laid out for us…Medicare. Medicare has lower administrative costs than any private plan on the market…Medicare has shown us the power of simplicity; we need only expand its promise to the rest of our population.

Medifraud for all!