Topic: Education and Child Policy

Meat Means Research!

Matthew Yglesias is less than impressed by the scientific rigor of my last post, pointing out that “if I wanted to be taken seriously as a researcher, I wouldn’t pretend to believe that the BLS-defined ‘Education and Health Services supersector’ of the labor market was identical to unionized primary and secondary school teachers.”

Ouch!

You know, come to think of it, if I’d wanted that post to be a major contribution to humanity’s understanding of American education, I probably shouldn’t have put a big picture of Meat Loaf on it, either! Heck, I probably shouldn’t have done it as a tiny blog post at all! What an idiot I am!

Fortunately, you’ll find a longer, more thoughtful explanation of the point I was oh-so-embarassingly trying to make here (though it, too, is on a blog), and then you can just take my little contribution for what it is: a quick bit of info suggesting that there could be some economic upside to being a public-school teacher.

Encore for the NEA!

Just like last month, while all other sectors of the economy were watching jobs disappear, health care, education, and government added positions:

The only sectors where jobs were created last month were in education and health services, which created 52,000 jobs last month, and in government, where 7,000 jobs were created last month as well. Education, health and government are considered recession-resistant professions and do not tend to shed jobs in times of economic slowdowns.

I read a lot of articles these days trying to scare people half to death about potential draconian cuts to government schooling, but at the very least it doesn’t seem any of our educators should have trouble finding jobs. I mean, you’d think that maybe a few jobs would be cut, not thousands added!

With that in mind, its time for another Meat Loaf power ballad! Our politicians will do anything for taxpayers but cross the NEA. No, they won’t do that!

Ohio Republicans Like Hollywood More than Taxpayers and Kids

What in god’s name is wrong with Ohio Republicans? There’s a party-line vote in the state House on costly and market-distorting tax credits for the film industry, and it’s the Democrats calling it out as fiscally irresponsible?

I know the Ohio Republican Party has done much, much worse over the years, but come on … when has enough damage been done?

The Dayton Daily News reports the government is facing “a budget nightmare for Ohio, which is now looking at a $640 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and as much as a $7.3 billion funding gap in the upcoming two-year budget.”

Perhaps Republicans could try to pass education tax credits before they leave. You know, the one and only tax credit that really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

A fiscal impact analysis of our Public Education Tax Credit shows that Ohio could save billions of dollars with school choice.

To give Ohio politicians a sense of the numbers we’re talking here, Illinois saves $5.1 billion in the first 10 years and $1.6 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years. Wisconsin saves $9.3 billion in the first 10 years and $3.2 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

But that probably makes too much sense. As an Ohioan, this pains me. But at least we’ll get to see what the Ohio Democratic Party wants to tax and spend on when they take over next year …

College Affordability Lamentations Don’t Measure Up

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has published another of its biennial Measuring Up reports, and once again the report itself doesn’t measure up. It has lots of problems, but the most glaring — and the one that regularly generates the most wailing and gnashing of teeth — is its insistence that only money students don’t have to pay back constitutes “financial aid,” and loans are the cruelest thing since Attila the Hun.

But student loans are hardly rapacious student victimizers. For one thing, federal student loans — meaning the vast majority of the nearly $86.7 billion in loans distributed in 2007-08 — have very low interest rates and generous terms. In addition, there are oodles of loan-forgiveness programs available. Most importantly, people go to college to vastly improve their earnings over a lifetime, and do so to the average tune of hundreds-of-thousands to perhaps even a million extra dollars. Yet for those students who leave college with debt — and roughly a third graduate debt-free — the average loan burden is only around $20,000. That’s a heck of a windfall profit, yet heavily subsidized loans apparently don’t count as useful aid!

Unfortunately, advocacy groups like NCPPHE are not alone in portraying students having to foot their own college costs as some sort of grave economic injustice. Just yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings gave herself and her boss’s administration a huge pat on the back for expanding taxpayer subsidization of student profiteering. Nonetheless, in Spellings’ opinion student debt remains an ugly stain on the country’s soul:

Today, the average college graduate is more than $20,000 in debt. That’s $20,000 farther away from buying a home and starting a family. And $20,000 less likely to give back through teaching or public service.

I’m going to address head-on the effects of student debt on potential teachers in an upcoming PA, but overall this woe-is-students whining is ridiculous and counterproductive. There is nothing unfair about students taking on debt for their own huge payoffs — especially in contrast to foisting the costs on the plumber, electrician, carpenter, or anyone else who hasn’t gone to college — not to mention that there is lots of reason to believe that aid just drives up costs. Unfortunately, there is no sign that either higher education advocates, or politicians looking to score points with students and parents, are going to stop their very public lamentations anytime soon.

This Time, Don’t Blame Court for Lost Educational Freedom

Florida’s First District Appellate Court has just ruled that only the state’s public school districts have the right to approve and oversee charter schools, striking down a 2006 law that had created an alternative state-level charter authorization body. Districts typically – and correctly – see charters as competitors for scarce public funding, and this ruling will allow them to once again protect their monopoly position by stifling the competition (the very problem the 2006 law was meant to address).

School choice advocates often blame biased or misguided courts for such unfortunate decisions. This time, the blame lies elsewhere: in Florida’s constitution. Unlike most state constitutions, which leave legislators considerable freedom in the area of education policy, Florida’s spells out how its public school system must be organized, run, and funded. Among its many stipulations is that each school board ”shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” Florida districts clearly have an absolute monopoly on how public school dollars are spent.

Monopolies aren’t exactly famous for innovation or responsiveness to their customers. So Floridians who want greater freedom and diversity in education will have to demand a constitutional amendment to that effect. Until they do, their elected representatives will remain helpless to provide them with meaningful alternatives to their assigned district schools.

We’ll Just Do It!

Andrew Coulson has already done a fine job of responding to former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner’s plea in the Wall Street Journal for nationalizing education, driving home the most important point: our problem is not too much decentralization, but that public schooling is a monopoly. That said, since Mike Petrilli over at Fordham thinks Gerstner’s piece practically begs for me to once again flog national-standards silliness, I should probably offer a little criticism of my own. So Mike, here’s a little something for you:

How the heck does anyone expect they’d get national standards for public schools – which Gerstner thinks are key to effective reform – even if they were a good idea?  Gerstner’s answer seems to be to “just do it!” (as if he were a former Nike CEO, not IBM) but in a pluralist nation where lots of people disagree about lots of different things, imposing a national standard can’t just be done. Indeed, in the 1990s Presidents Bush and Clinton – a bipartisan duo! – tried to establish national standards and tests and failed utterly. The proposed standards made scads of people very angry but no one better educated. But that’s pluralism for you – it’s so darn hard to organize!

Thankfully, there is a way to harness all that tricky pluralism and actually use it to transform education for the good, but it can’t be done from above. Quite the opposite: Allowing parents to choose where their children and the funds to educate them will go, and allowing autonomous schools to compete for them, would lead to specialization, competition between pedagogical techniques and schools of thought, and ultimately the best outcomes for everyone. Or, at least, that’s what I’m told by all my friends with Dells, Macs, HPs, Toshibas, Gateways…you get the point. Andrew made it too. 

Now, if only people like Gerstner and Petrilli would get it…

… or Maybe it Was THE ICEBERG!

Former IBM CEO Louis V. Gerstner has a piece in the WSJ today in which he laments the stagnation in educational outcomes of the past several decades. His solution? Reduce the number of districts nationwide to 70; adopt a single, homegenous set of nationwide standards and tests; and lengthen the school year.

This is not merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is rearranging, repainting, and reupholstering those deck chairs….

Back in the late 1920s, there were roughly 130,000 school districts. The reduction to the 15,000 we have today has not been associated with a surge in productivity. On the contrary, scores have stagnated while inflation-adjusted per-pupil costs have skyrocketed. Similarly, moving authority over testing from individual schools, to districts, to states did not solve our educational problems, so it’s unrealistic to believe that that moving that authority one rung higher, to the federal level, will offer a substantial improvement in achievement.

If the nation’s business leaders – current and former – want to know why there has been a staggering productivity collapse in public schooling at odds with the radical progress in other fields, they need look no further than the fact that public schools have a government-protected monopoly on $12,000 per pupil in taxpayer funding.

What would the computer industry look like today if, back in 1960, the government had given IBM a massive government funding monopoly? Would anyone have bought other manufacturers’ computers if they could get IBM’s for free? Could many other manufacturers even survive? Would IBM have bothered diversifying into laptops and services?

The reason public schooling is sinking is because a yawning gash exists below its waterline, cut by an iceberg named “monopoly.”