Topic: Education and Child Policy

Arne Duncan

I don’t know much about Arne Duncan, President-elect Obama’s choice to be Secretary of Education. But I do note this: In seven years running the Chicago public schools, this longtime friend of Obama was apparently not able to produce a single public school that Obama considered good enough for his own children.

Bye Bye, Budget Witch!

Thanks to all the bailouts and stimuli, higher ed folks are singing “Hail, hail, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The Budget Witch!”

Yesterday, a whole slew of ivory-tower advocacy groups called on Congress to furnish big increases in Pell Grants and work-study as part of any upcoming stimulus package. And that’s probably just the beginning of the rampant Treasury-looting (or is it looting future generations?) in which they intend to partake. 

Explained Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers:

“I think everybody is going to fight for their fair share,” Nassirian says of the current budget climate.

As a result, long-time concerns about deficit spending and limited resources have all but vanished. “The budget always has checkmated many policy ideas we presented in the past,” Nassirian says. Of the abrupt shift in tone in Washington, he says, “It’s extraordinary.”

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

When Are “Poor Choices” a Good Thing?

When they are the educational choices made by the world’s poorest people.

By now, most people working in international development and education have heard that some of poorest people on the planet have given up on their failed government schools and started paying for ultra-low-cost private schooling out of their own nearly-empty pockets. But the experts have usually ignored the phenomenon, or deprecated these private schools and the parents choosing them. In the past few years, however, researchers like James Tooley have blow this story wide open, revealing that fee-charging private schools are enrolling the majority of students in many Third World slums and villages, and that they are significantly outperforming the much higher-spending “free” government schools.

In a new Forbes commentary, former U.S. assisitant secretary of education Chester Finn tells how he went from skeptic to convert by seeing these schools for himself in the impoverished Old City of Hyderabad.

Want to visit these schools, too, but are a little apprehensive about the air fare? Just stay tuned until next April when Cato publishes The Beautiful Tree, James Tooley’s first-person narrative account of his research, adventures, and discoveries from the shanty towns of Africa to the remote mountain villages of Gansu, China.

If the free education marketplace can more effectively serve families in some of the most disadvantaged corners of the globe, imagine what it could do in far wealthier nations such as our own.

Automakers Should Learn from Public Schools

The Big Three automakers seem ready to settle for a $15 billion bailout that will probably do very little good and considerable harm.

They’re thinking too small. Much too small.

If they model themselves on the public school system, as I suggest in a new Cato Commentary, they will have a truly risk-free business model in which they will be well protected from the rigors of competition and fickle consumers.

Update: It seems I’m not the only one to see the merits of modeling the auto industry on our famously efficient and successful school monopoly. Jay Greene proposes an NCLB act tailored to the automakers.

US Schools: Spending Leaders, Middling Performers

The latest international test results were released this morning, and the U.S. is getting favorable early coverage for scoring anywhere between the top 3rd and the top 6th of the pack, depending on the subject and the grade. But many poor nations participate in TIMSS (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) giving an inflated impression of how well we actually perform compared to our economic peers.

The picture changes when we consider only those nations that are among the top-30 in terms of gross national income per capita. Limited to those nations, the U.S. places 6th out of 11 at the 8th grade in both mathematics and science. At the 4th grade, we place 7th out of 16 and 6th out of 14 in math and science, respectively. That is despite the fact that we spend more per pupil than every country that outperforms us, and indeed more than any of the 48 participating countries except Norway.

The U.S. is also getting plaudits for rising TIMSS math scores since 2003, though our performance in science seems to have stagnated. It is inevitable that advocates of the No Child Left Behind law will claim credit for the math gains, but let’s not be too hasty in going along. First of all, the PISA international test results released last year show declines in both mathematics and science scores since 2003, and the math decline is statistically significant. So TIMSS is not the only word on the issue. Moreover, the 8th grade gains in student scores that occurred on TIMSS between the late nineties and 2003 – before NCLB could have had an effect – are larger than those that have occurred since (4th grade TIMSS scores are not available for 1999). The same pattern is true of America’s own National Assessment of Educational Progress.

So we’ve thrown $100 billion or so at NCLB and, at best, performance has improved more slowly than before the law was passed. At worst, it has declined. The Obama administration should give these facts serious consideration in deciding what to do with the law.

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.”


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!