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Published: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

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Success Academy Charter Schools Are a Big Success

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 00:15:00 -0500

Kids who attend New York City's Success Academy charter schools do remarkably well. "We are No. 1 in student achievement in the state," says founder Eva Moskowitz, "outperforming all the wealthy suburbs." They do. Although they teach mostly poor kids, 95 percent pass the state math test, and 84 percent pass the English test. Pass rates at government run schools are 38 and 41 percent. How does Success Academy do it? For one thing, she keeps kids in class longer. Middle schoolers stay until 4:30 p.m. Is that too much stress for kids, I ask? "China and India are not worrying about the length of the school day," she replied. "We have to toughen up." From what I saw, "toughening up" doesn't make kids hate school. Many told me they "look forward" to going to Success Academy in the morning. One called school "rockin' awesome!" "Kids like succeeding," explains Moskowitz. Despite this success, or because of it, the education establishment hates Moskowitz. When she tries to open new schools, activists protest. New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio complained, "It's time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place!" "Why do they hate you?" I asked. "What we prove is that there's nothing wrong with the children," she replied. "There is something wrong with a system, a monopolistic system that is not allowing kids to succeed." Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) got his political start as a socialist, has praised Cuba and Venezuela, and isn't fond of competition. To protect New York City's taxi industry, he tried to block Uber and Lyft. He doesn't understand that competition helps more people than it hurts. Some specific criticisms of charters like Success Academy: Criticism No. 1. They are "a scam," says "Young Turks" TV commentator Nomiki Konst, "better funded—by these hedge funders—and they're performing worse than underfunded schools." But Konst is wrong. Charters like Success Academy do more with less. New York City's regular public schools get $20,000 per pupil. "I only get $14,500," says Moskowitz. Criticism No. 2. They get better results because they just accept better students. They skim the cream off the top. "Simply not true," replied Moskowitz. "We admit by random lottery." That's also true. But one educator who watched my YouTube video on Success Academy emailed me with Criticism No. 3: "Only certain parents enter lotteries. You don't have the homeless kids, foster kids, kids whose parents are in jail." Fair point. I asked Moskowitz about that. "Most of our kids are from very poor families," she replied. "Yet they significantly outperform kids from suburbs ... where the average household income is eight or nine times what our families earn." And even some homeless kids flourish at her schools, she says. "About 1 in 10 of our scholars are homeless, yet 97 percent of them passed the state math exams and 84 percent passed reading." Criticism No. 4: Charters kick out problem kids or "counsel them out." They demand so many meetings with parents that parents eventually withdraw their kids. But "our retention rate's higher than the city schools'!" answered Moskowitz. She's right. Only 10 percent of kids leave her schools, while 13 percent leave regular schools before completion. Criticism No. 5: Some charters turn out to be worse than government-run schools. That's true. But the beauty of choice (a market) is that the good schools grow while inferior ones close. For years, bad government schools never closed. In her new book, "The Education of Eva Moskowitz," she explains that she's a Democrat who didn't always believe in school choice. "I was blinded, I think, by a belief that big government was a good thing." Now she knows better. Many families also now know charters may be better. Parents line up for lotteries where government rations out the small number of admissions. Kids who don't get picked sometimes cry. It's cruel and unnecessary for government to limit choice this way, but many politicians have an investment in maintaining the power of bureaucrats and teacher unions. Thankfully, some kids will have better lives bec[...]

West Africa's Libertarian Moment

Sat, 10 Feb 2018 06:00:00 -0500

In December 2017, after 10 years of delays, Senegalese president Macky Sall finally unveiled the brand-new Dakar airport before a crowd of supporters waving posters of his face. With a cost of roughly $600 million, and a footprint five times the size of the previous airport, nothing about the project was small—including its ambitions. The presidents of Gabon, The Gambia, and Guinea Bissau joined Sall for the launch, underlining the dream: Blaise Diagne International Airport, they hope, will become a regional transport hub that jump-starts local economies and symbolizes the bright West African future. As it turns out, the airport inauguration did symbolize West Africa's shifting climate. Just not in the way any of the politicians planned. A new airport needs a new airline, so the Senegalese government launched one of those, too. Air Senegal, the new state-owned national carrier, replaces its predecessor, Senegal Airlines (shut down in 2016), which itself replaced Air Senegal International (shut down in 2009). Everyone hoped that Air Senegal could succeed where those before it failed. Aviation Minister Maimouna Ndoye Seck insisted a national airline was "a necessity." Government officials wanted the airline to claim the honor of operating the new airport's first commercial flight. But it was not to be. Air Senegal couldn't get all of the necessary flight licenses together in time for the launch, so its inaugural flight was symbolic only. Instead, the honor of the new airport's first commercial flight went to Transair, a privately owned local carrier. As the government airline watched from the ground, burdened by gravity and the weight of unfinished paperwork, the private airline took off. Enter Africapitalism For decades, West Africa was inhospitable soil for the seeds of libertarianism. Léopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal, famously argued that socialism is an inherent fit for the region, saying: "Africa's social background of tribal community life not only makes socialism natural to Africa, but excludes the validity of the theory of class struggle." Along with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Modibo Keita of Mali, Senghor designed a model of West African governance in which social development would be guided by a large public sector. Driven by this vision (and considerable financial support from the USSR), state participation in regional economies was taken to extremes: in Ghana, for example, Nkrumah nationalized all foreign companies, imposed price controls, collectivized agriculture, and established state-run industries in everything from cocoa processing to pharmaceuticals to metallurgy. But George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist who has argued that "Africa is poor because she is not free," says private business and free enterprise have deep—albeit misunderstood—cultural roots on the continent. Visit any market and it's plain to see: West Africa is an energetic hive of entrepreneurship. "One can be communalistic or socialistic without being a socialist," Ayittey writes in Defeating Dictators: Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the World. "In peasant societies, the means of production are owned by the clan, [which] acts as a corporate body or unit. However, the clan is not the same as the tribal government; it is a private entity and, therefore, the means of production are privately owned." He describes West Africa's history of socialist experiments as a rejection of colonialism: After all, Lenin said imperialist colonialism is the highest stage of capitalism, so it makes sense that the Lenin-reading survivors of imperialism would reject its alleged economic roots. But that rejection (and the pillaging legacy of colonialism) has resulted in a paradox: At the turn of the 21st century, Africa was the richest continent in the world in terms of natural resources, but the poorest in terms of socio-economic development and inclusive growth. But after decades of heavy-handed government regulation, something new is happening across West Africa. Privatization, deregulation, and free mark[...]

This Sociology Professor Insists Australia Isn't a Country and Failed a Student For Saying Otherwise

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 12:43:00 -0500

(image) A 27-year-old stay-at-home mom taking an online sociology class was shocked to get a failing grade on her final project. She was even more shocked at why she failed: Her professor was convinced that Australia is not a country.

The project required the student, Ashley Arnold, to compare a social norm in America with one in a different country, according to BuzzFeed. Arnold chose Australia. Her instructor, an unidentified professor at Southern New Hampshire University, denied that this was a valid selection.

"Australia is a continent; it is not a country," the professor wrote in an email to Arnold. "That error made it nearly impossible for you to accurately complete your week 2 research outline correctly."

As most people who completed the fifth grade are no doubt aware, Australia is both a continent and a country. It says so on Australia's official website. If you Google "Australia is a..." the search engine's most popular autofill terms are "continent" and "country." (The third most popular, unfortunately, is "hoax.")

Arnold wrote back to her professor, sharing some of this evidence. Finally, she filed a complaint with the university. After initially doubling down, the professor eventually conceded the error. But then she warned the student, "Please make sure the date, the facts, and the information you provide in your report is about Australia the country and not Australia the continent." This remark does not inspire great confidence that she understands her mistake.

Arnold is only mildly better informed about Australia than her professor, according to BuzzFeed:

When asked why she thought her professor might have been confused, Arnold said her older age might have been a factor.

"When did Australia become a country? Maybe she thinks it's still part of England," she said.

After being told by BuzzFeed News that happened some 117 years ago, Arnold said, "Oh, she's not that old, so there's no excuse."

In a tweet sent this morning, Southern New Hampshire University apologized to both Ashley and the sovereign nation of Australia. The professor has been fired:

What's most notable about this incident isn't the professor's ignorance. It's that it took several rounds of emails and a formal complaint to force the professor to do the easiest thing in the world: Google it.

Blame Binge Drinking for Tulane University's 2-in-5 Female Sexual Assault Rate

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 08:40:00 -0500

Tulane University has a serious rape problem, if a recent survey can be believed: Nearly 2 in 5 female students reported being sexually assaulted. If that number is indeed real, the most likely culprit would be the university's binge-drinking problem. Keep in mind that the infamous 1-in-5 statistic, which supposes that between a quarter and a fifth of female university students will become victims of sexual assault, is controversial; critics point out that the pollsters who arrived at this number often ask broad questions and count as victims people who never described themselves in such terms. Such high rates of sexual violence strike many people as self-evidently ludicrous. But Tulane, a private university in New Orleans, appears to have an even more staggeringly high sexual assault rate. I've parsed the data and found no obvious flaws—sexual assault was defined fairly unambiguously as "unwanted sexual contact," "rape," or "attempted rape." Unwanted sexual contact was further defined as "fondling, kissing, or rubbing up against a person's private areas of their body (lips, breast/chest, crotch, or butt), or removing clothing without the person's consent by incapacitation or force." Without consent was further defined as "taking advantage of me when I was too drunk or out of it to stop what was happening." What's more, the survey is extremely comprehensive: 47 percent of the school's students participated in it. According to the survey, 41 percent of undergraduate female students experienced sexual assault while at Tulane. That includes off-campus violence, and it includes violence committed during breaks and holidays. Still, it's an incredibly high number. For undergraduate men, the sexual assault rate was 18 percent. Sexual assault rates were significantly higher for LGBTQ men, 44 percent of whom experienced violence, compared with just 13 percent of straight men. Students of color were less likely to be victims than white students. In all cases, the perpetrators were overwhelmingly male students; the violence was just as likely to have occurred on campus as off. What can explain these bafflingly high rates of sexual violence? The statistics relating to alcohol abuse on campus start to suggest an answer. "Seventy-four percent (74%) of women and 87% of men who experienced any form of sexual assault reported they were incapacitated by alcohol at the time of the incident," according to the survey. Perpetrators were also more likely than not to be drinking alcohol, respondents said. How many students were drinking, and how often? Quite a lot: 43 percent of undergraduate men and 39 percent of undergraduate women reported drinking alcohol three or more times each week. That's a whole lot of 18- to 20-year-olds drinking regularly. Their consumption levels were also telling. For women, the most common number of drinks to have in one sitting was between three and six. A third of the men were consuming between seven and 11 drinks. To my mind, these numbers indicate a significant drinking problem: Many students, both male and female, are regularly and illicitly consuming copious quantities of alcohol. A few things are worth bearing in mind. First, a 120-pound woman who consumes more than three drinks in two hours is typically going to be very drunk. The same goes for a 180-pound man who consumes five drinks. Second, most of these students are under the age of 21, and thus are not allowed to drink at all. They can't drink at bars, and they are less likely to consume alcohol in the presence of authority figures. They may not know their limits very well. They might not have much experience taking care of themselves, or other people, while under the influence. Third, people who frequently drink to excess are taking risks, even of a non-sexual kind. Very drunk people impose obligations on others to take care of them. As Emily Yoffe said in the December Reason: You cannot do something to someone else's body without their permission. But when you get[...]

New Mexico Considers Forcing High-School Students into State-Approved Post-Graduation Plans

Sat, 03 Feb 2018 12:00:00 -0500

At least two New Mexico lawmakers don't want students to be able to collect a high school diploma unless they have a state-approved post-graduation plan. To be clear, the students can't simply tell their school counselors what their plans are. The bill—HB23, introduced by Nate Gentry, a Republican, and Daniel Ivey-Soto, a Democrat—gives teens a small menu of approved choices. To get their diplomas, students have to commit to one of the following: Attending college (either four-year or two-year) Participating in a trade or vocational program Getting an internship or apprenticeship Military service Note the gigantic, important option missing: getting a job. The original draft of the legislation did include that among the choices, but it's been crossed out in the current version. Chicago recently implemented a similar program, but that one included a job offer among the government-approved futures. In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Gentry made it clear that the purpose of this bill is try to get more students to go to college. "This is a politically easy thing to move the needle," he said. Let's just set aside for a moment (just a moment) that high school seniors are not the property of the State of New Mexico, and it's morally repugnant for them to withhold a diploma just because someone won't comply with a list of government-approved futures. There are other problems here too. New Mexico already has the second-worst high school graduation rate in the country, at 71 percent. Certainly another barrier to graduation is not going to help. And no, the proposal doesn't provide a way to cover costs for low-income students essentially being forced to apply to college in order to earn their high school diploma. Nor do the legislation's sponsors seem to care whether students are able to succeed in college or even have access to the apprenticeships the bill mentions. A legislative analysis warns that the plan requires students to apply to college, but does not address college-readiness or completion. It is imperative to ensure students are prepared for success as 39.1 percent of New Mexico high school graduates (graduated in FY16) enrolled in remedial coursework as first time freshman at New Mexico public postsecondary institutions.... HB23 does not address the quality or availability of internships and apprenticeships available to high school graduates. Apprenticeships are most often part of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, and may only be available to select students who took CTE dual credit coursework that articulated into a certificate or degree. More than a third of New Mexico high school students arrive at college unprepared and unable to actually take college-level classes. Perhaps the state's schools would be better off focusing on teaching students what they need to know to survive in college. Let the families figure out the best way forward. One rationale the bill's sponsors offer for their plan is an estimate that by 2020, two thirds of all jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education. That's a strange explanation for a couple of reasons. First of all, if students are able to get a job with just a high school diploma, this proposal will not let them. Essentially, it's telling students that they aren't allowed to pursue those jobs that don't require postsecondary education. Second, let's not forget one big reason we've seen a dramatic increase in postsecondary education requirements in order to hold a job: occupational licensing. The same government that wants to force students into postsecondary education is also creating legal barriers to keep people from getting jobs unless they get that additional training. The consequences are bad for the economy and for the poor. Just this week, there was an absolutely crazy fight in Arizona where cosmetologists are trying to defend a licensing regime that requires more than 1,000 hours of training to get state permission to blow-dry so[...]

Is Spending $1 Trillion on Education a Waste of Money? Bryan Caplan Says Yes.

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 20:00:00 -0500

"It's absolutely true that school makes people show up, sit down, shut up and that these are useful skills for people to have in adulthood," says Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, a blogger at EconLog, and the author of the new book The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. "So the real question is if all we're trying to do is prepare people for a job, why not prepare them with a job?"

Caplan argues that schools are not only overpriced, but that traditional education fails to prepare students with job skills that reflect the needs of the labor market. Even worse, he says, most school is boring for students.

I sat down with Caplan to discuss his book and what, if any, value he sees in traditional K-12 and undergraduate education.

For a video version of our conversation and a full transcript, go here.

For an audio podcast version, go to iTunes and subscribe to the Reason Podcast, or click below to listen via Soundcloud.

We release three episodes a week, including one that is a rousing roundtable with Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Matt Welch, and me discussing the news of the day. For a full archive, go here.

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Are Microschools the Next Big Thing?

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500

Portfolio School looks and sounds like a Silicon Valley tech firm's rec room—except that almost everyone is under the age of 10. The building's walls double as whiteboards, with nearly every inch covered in colorful, hand-drawn diagrams of constellations and planetary orbits. Along one side, kid-sized scissors and glue sticks are piled neatly next to a 3D printer and laser cutter. During my visit, a boy with an explosion of brown hair skidded up to me. "We're making movies!" he announced. Around the room, other students were reading, completing lessons on educational software, working on tinker toys. Without the unconscious kid-adult barriers that traditional schools often create, the chatty boy felt free to talk my ear off about how he and a group of his classmates had created characters for a science fiction film about a trip to Mars. He seemed particularly interested in the editing process, where they would get to add Martian backgrounds and other special effects. Portfolio School is part of a growing movement of "micro-schools." Coined by British education blogger Cushla Barry in 2010, the term refers to educational institutions that emphasize interdisciplinary project-based learning, building social skills such as communication and critical thinking, and tailoring instruction to the needs of each individual student. The schools tend to focus on teamwork, and they're small by design—with student bodies ranging anywhere from half a dozen to roughly 150 students. The size limitations, informed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar's now famous research on the maximum number of relationships most human beings can comfortably maintain, help the employees stay better connected with their students' individual needs. Portfolio, located in Manhattan's upscale TriBeCa neighborhood, is one of the most elite (and expensive) microschools, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. The movement, which grew from scrappy homeschool roots, has been taken up by nerds who want to hack primary education. Like all startups, the microschool model will rise or fall on its ability to meet customer needs at the right price. Success is far from assured. But could tech-savvy tiny schools be the future? 'Factories in Which Raw Products Are To Be Shaped' Ken Robinson is the star of the most popular TED Talk ever. More than 50 million people have clicked to hear an education consultant with a British knighthood ponder the question "Do schools kill creativity?" (Spoiler: Yep.) "We have built our education system on a model of fast food," Robinson explains in a follow-up TED Talk delivered in 2010. But there are at least two ways to ensure a good meal when you're cooking for a crowd: "One is fast food, where everything is standardized. The other [is] catered to local circumstances. We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it's impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies." The roots of America's education system were transplanted from the German kingdom of Prussia, where eighteenth century monarchs such as Frederick the Great established schools with the goal of molding a disciplined citizenry of dutiful soldiers and civil servants. During the next century, state-run schools played a crucial role in manufacturing a homogenized German identity. In 1807, nationalist philosopher Johann Fichte argued that forging this identity meant that "schools must fashion the person…in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will." American education pioneer Horace Mann visited Prussia in 1843. Convinced that what he found could benefit the United States, Mann reformed Massachusetts' school system along Prussian lines, and the model ultimately spread cross-country. Mann believed that standardized public institutions could deliver quality education on a wider scale than [...]

"Micro-Schools" Might Be the Next Big Education Thing: Podcast

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 10:30:00 -0500

One-room schoolhouses are making a comeback in the "micro-schooling" movement. While a typical public high school might cram 2,000 students into a single grade, micro-schools cap out at 150 (and often far fewer) students for all grades. That allows students to mix across ages and interests while building skill-based knowledge and proficiency. Teachers function more as guides than instructors and learning is intensely personalized, individualized, and task-oriented. Think of micro-schools as "Montessori meets Silicon Valley." Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Tyler Koteskey, an education analyst at Reason Foundation, who has a story on the micro-schooling movement in the March issue of Reason (subscribe here). They discuss the personalized approach of micro-schooling, the militaristic, Prussian origins of American factory-model education, and the costs and benefits of different modes of learning. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Reason is a proud media partner of National School Choice Week, an annual event promoting the ability of parents and students to have greater options in K-12 education. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice—charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more—is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. For a constantly updated list of stories about school choice, go to Reason's archive page. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: This is the Reason podcast, and I'm your host Nick Gillespie. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to us at iTunes, and rate, and review us while you're there. Today we are talking with Tyler Koteskey. He's an education analyst, and researcher for Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes the Reason podcast as well as Reason magazine., and basically everything else with the Reason brand. This is also National School Choice Week, which is an annual event that celebrates the depth, and breadth, and just variety of school choice around the country. Reason is a national media partner with School Choice Week. The people who celebrate this are literally 10's of thousands of events happening all over the country. If you go to you can find a list of events in your state, and probably even in your own town. There is well over 20,000 events happening during the course of school choice week. Tyler, thanks so much for talking with me today. Tyler Koteskey: Pleasure to be here Nick. Gillespie: You have in the current issue. The new issue of Reason magazine, a story that is called micro-schools. Are micro-schools the next big thing? The promise, and peril of tiny, private schools. Let's talk about that during School Choice Week especially. What are micro-schools, and why should we be excited about them? Koteskey: So I think the best way to describe micro-schools is probably just thinking about them as kind of a revived one-room schoolhouse stuck into the 21st century. There's not really a hard, and fast definition, but some of the features that you usually see are that it's a small size. You have anywhere from maybe even just half a dozen kids to under 150 is the upper limit a lot of people use. The kids tend to learn amidst age groups. There's no age-based grades usually, and the teacher's kind of function more as these guides [...]

Donald Trump Supports School Choice. Here's Why You Should Too.

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 13:30:00 -0500

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump did something good: For the second year in a row, he issued a proclamation supporting National School Choice Week, an annual event that promotes interest in and discussion of ways to bring more options to K-12 students and their parents. The full proclamation is after the jump, but here's a snippet: Communities that provide academic options — traditional public, public charter, private, magnet, parochial, virtual, and homeschooling — empower parents and guardians to select the best educational fit for their children. School choice helps alleviate common hindrances to success and creates the space necessary for students' aspirations to flourish. Families that participate in school choice programs are not the only ones who benefit from expanded educational options. Children in traditional public schools benefit as well. In fact, 29 of the top 31 empirical studies on the topic find that freedom of school choice improves the performance of nearby public schools. I disagree with Donald Trump on many, probably most, issues. But he's absolutely correct in insisting that parents should have more choices on where to send their kids to school, curricula to choose from, and how to individualize learning. America is a post-industrial country and we no longer put up with standardized food, clothing, lifestyles, or housing. Why should something as fundamental as education—"Life in the United States starts with a 13-year mandatory minimum K-12," quips's CEO Balaji Srinivasan—be as ossified and stratified as it is? Across the United States, per-pupil spending averages over $13,000, which is up from about $6,000 in 1970 (in constant dollars). I'd wager there is no other area in our lives where costs have skyrocketed by more than double while the underlying good or service has not radically improved or been completely superseded by something else. Yet the most basic measure of outcome, scores on standardized tests for graduating seniors on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has not improved: So we're spending tons more money per student and yet getting the same basic result. There are, of course, many ways to dispute this. Kids today are more disadvantaged (not true), schools are expected to do so much more (not really true, or, same thing, schools choose to prioritize all sorts of stuff over learning), teachers are underpaid compared to the past, so the current crop is simultaneously less good and unmotivated (not true, not true). Beyond anything related to test scores, which are at best a bad proxy for knowledge and achievement, we might ask whether that $13,000 per K-12 student could be spent in ways that make learning more interesting for kids. The answer here is: Of course it can be. There's a reason why school choice—whether in terms of charters, vouchers, Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), scholarship programs, and more—is growing and it's not because traditional residential-assignment schools are popular. As University of Arkansas researcher Jay P. Greene has put it, the move toward broadly defined school choice has "reached escape velocity" because parents and students are demanding the same sort of flexibility, personalization, engagement, and attention from education that we take for granted in all other parts of our lives. Here is Trump's full proclamation: All American children deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams through hard work and personal integrity. Our Nation's education policies must support them on their journeys, recognizing the diverse career goals and academic needs of students in communities across our country. During National School Choice Week, we honor those dedicated educators, administrators, and State and local lawmakers, who promote student-focused academic options for all families, as we increase[...]

The Case Against Education: Economist Bryan Caplan Says Government Spending of $1 Trillion a Year on Schooling Is a Waste

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 15:45:00 -0500

"It's absolutely true that school makes people show up, sit down, shut up and that these are useful skills for people to have in adulthood, " says Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, who blogs at EconLog, and is the author of the new book The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. "So the real question is if all we're trying to do is prepare people for a job, why not prepare them with a job?" Caplan argues that schools are not only overpriced, but that traditional education fails to prepare students with job skills that reflect the needs of the labor market. Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Caplan to make the case that the government needs to spend so much on education if it isn't relevant to our success in getting a job and earning higher wages. Reason is a proud media partner of National School Choice Week, an annual event promoting the ability of parents and students to have greater options in K-12 education. Go here [] to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice--charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more—is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. For a constantly updated list of stories on education, go to Reason's archive page on "school choice". Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Mark McDaniel. AM Trans by Podington Bear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: Mimas by Sounds Like An Earful is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason and today we are talking with the author of what is almost certainly going to be the most controversial book of the year. Bryan Caplan is an economics professor at George Mason University, and his new book is The Case Against Education. Bryan, thanks for talking with Reason. Bryan Caplan: Thanks for such an exciting introduction. Gillespie: Well, let's get right to it. Early on you say flatly, you write flatly, 'This book argues that our education system is a big waste of time and money.' And now you're not simply saying that our schools are overpriced and uneven in quality, you are actually making the case that much of our traditional education system, especially higher ed, is literally a waste of time, right? Caplan: Absolutely. Gillespie: What do you mean by that? Caplan: What I mean is that people are going there to get a higher income, but they're actually not getting much in the way of job skills, which raises a big puzzle for an economist. How can they be getting a higher income if they're not getting much in the way of job skills? And my answer comes down to something called the signaling model of education that says that a lot of the reason why education pays isn't that you learn useful skills, but that you distinguish yourself. That you're getting stamped or labeled. You're getting a sticker on your forehead, Grade A worker. Gillespie: So it's kind of like you come out as a piece of steak. You're USDA prime, but you haven't been cooked yet. Well, you haven't ... Caplan: Precisely. And the the key thing about this is, selfishly speaking, it doesn't really matter why you're getting more money. But fro[...]

The Case for School Choice Is Overwhelming From Every POV Except One

Sun, 21 Jan 2018 21:00:00 -0500

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week (NSCW), an annual event designed to promote awareness of and interest in K-12 educational policies that give parents and students more ways to personalize and individualize their primary and secondary learning experiences. Reason is a proud media partner of NSCW, which has helped to organize over 30,000 events around the country this week. NSCW is agnostic on the form that choice takes—could be charter schools, voucher programs, private-school scholarships, homeschooling, education savings accounts (ESAs), you name it. All that matters is that it put the needs of students front and center. Go here to find out information about events and activities happening in your area. Throughout the week, Reason will be publishing articles, commentaries, videos, and podcasts on education policy. Tomorrow, for instance, we'll release an interview with George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, whose forthcoming book on school policy literally makes the case against education (seriously: His book is called The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money). On Tuesday, Reason's policy analyst Lisa Snell will host a panel discussion in Los Angeles with Matthew Ladner of the Charles Koch Institute and Jason Bedrick of EdChoice tacking the "most persistent arguments against school choice and why they're wrong." That event will be livestreamed via Hit and Run and Reason's Facebook page at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time. John Stossel will be interviewing Eva Moskowitz, whose Success Academy is leading the way in charter-school success in New York City. Later in the week, we'll release a video expose of New York City's practice of paying millions of dollars in tuition to send kids with learning issues to private schools; we'll also publish a fascinating magazine story about the "microschool" movement. Consider it Shark Week, but for education policy. For past School Choice Week coverage, go here. For the latest education policy work from analysts at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, go here. The title of this post makes the claim that the case for giving students and parents more options for K-12 education is overwhelming. Here's some evidence about choice programs that get students into private schools from A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, by Greg Forster (Fourth Edition, 2016): Eighteen empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the gold standard of social science. Of those, 14 find choice improves student outcomes: six find all students benefit and eight find some benefit and some are not visibly affected. Two studies find no visible effect, and two studies find Louisiana's voucher program—where most of the eligible private schools were scared away from the program by an expectation of hostile future action from regulators—had a negative effect. Thirty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice's effect on students' academic outcomes in public schools. Of those, 31 find choice improved public schools. One finds no visible effect. One finds a negative effect. Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice's fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools. Of these, 25 find school choice programs save money. Three find the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact. Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation. Eleven[...]

Throw Your Kid in the Scorpion Pit

Sat, 13 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500

"He has a class on race and emotional safety," an old friend of mine squealed with delight about her son's public school schedule. I am equally delighted to report that my own kid receives no such lessons. When it comes to Anthony's education, my goal is to de-emphasize, not ratchet up, the importance that race plays in his interpersonal dealings. I also don't think that focusing on emotional safety—whatever that is—is likely to build the kind of strong, resilient people who can handle life's curve balls. But I'm also glad that my friend is free to feed her offspring whatever nonsense she sees fit. The worst-case scenario is a world of homogeneous groupthink. Instead, if enough families do their jobs right, our kids will grow up in world of differing opinions and contending values—the sort of intellectual scorpion pit that fuels a free and open society. "An important part of critical thinking is being able to give reasons to support or criticize a position," argues Joe Lau, a philosopher at the University of Hong Kong who specialized in metacognition. "The proper functioning of a liberal democracy requires citizens who can think critically about social issues to inform their judgments about proper governance and to overcome biases and prejudice." Critical thinkers "strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society," writes educational psychologist Linda Elder of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. "They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always to consider the rights and needs of relevant others." To support or criticize a position and consider the rights of others, you first have to be aware that ideas beyond your own exist, and that it's important to engage them. There's not enough of that right now. Echo chambers arise when children are raised in an environment kept scrubbed of disagreement. Many college students today never learned to defend their positions because they rarely encountered contrasting views. Given that, headlines about speakers being chased off campus, while troubling, are hardly surprising. In her May 2017 commencement speech, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust addressed the obvious disconnect between the students and faculty at elite universities, including hers, and recent political developments in the country. Too many people were simply blindsided by the degree to which a large percentage of Americans disagreed with them, and were willing to support a presidential candidate and policies that university dwellers overwhelmingly rejected. "From at least the time of Galileo, we can see how repressing seemingly heretical ideas has blinded societies and nations to the enhanced knowledge and understanding on which progress depend," Faust said. "We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them." To avoid fueling this problem, I try to give my son contrasting viewpoints on controversial subjects in our home-school lessons. When he studied the Progressive Era, we worked from video lectures by a college professor sympathetic to the progressives' cause, alongside lectures from a broadly conservative point of view, readings from Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States, and excerpts from Illiberal Reformers by Thomas C. Leonard—which is to say, a group of sources with very different takes on the same topic. My son knows where I'm coming from, but he also knows that a lot of people strongly disagree with me, just as he inevitably will on some topics. As a result, he's already better prepared at 12 than most of those Harvard students to engage with somebody with different views, such as my old friend's son. And t[...]

Misguided Preschool Mandate Will Cost D.C. Parents and Teachers But Won't Help Kids

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 09:00:00 -0500

Hundreds of workers at day cares and preschools in the nation's capital will have to get a degree in early childhood education or a related field by 2020, thanks to a mandate approved last year by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE). The rule jeopardizes workers' jobs if they don't comply, and it creates a new barrier to entry for the child care business. It's also likely to hike costs for parents in a city where child care is already unusually expensive. The OSSE is now thinking of postponing the degree requirement until 2023. A public comment period on the possible change ended this week, and a decision is expected sometime early next year. Instead of merely postponing the new mandate, the OSSE should "scrap it entirely," says Jill Homan, whose 1-year-old daughter attends a day care program in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. "If you can push it out a couple years, then why not 2043? It becomes a very arbitrary date," she tells Reason. "If they're lacking a specific skill...teach them whatever they are missing. But if you can't articulate what skill they are lacking, then why require this additional degree?" Washington already has nearly universal pre-K programs, and teachers in those programs (aimed at four-year-olds) are already required to have a degree in early childhood education. The OSSE's new mandate covers those who provide care and basic education to children between birth and age three. The OSSE says it wants day care providers to have skills rivaling elementary school teachers. But the mandate's supporters haven't identified any specific deficiencies in the current child care workforce. Instead they focus on the supposed benefits of having trained early childhood educators working with children as young as 18 months. "This is a real opportunity to build the profession and set our young children on a positive trajectory for learning and development," Elizabeth Groginsky, the district's assistant superintendent of early learning, told The Washington Post in March. Apparently, "building the profession" may require pushing some qualified people out of it. Dale Sorcher has worked with children aged 18–24 months for more than two decades at the Gan HaYeled preschool in D.C. She has masters' degrees in education and social work, but those don't count for the OSSE's mandate, which requires a degree specifically in early childhood education. She has no intention of going back to school to take the 24 credits for an associates' degree—"which, quite frankly, I could teach," she says—on top of the continuing education requirements for her social work license. If the OSSE absolutely must implement mandatory education for existing teachers and day care providers, the regulatory board should provide it as part of teacher in-service training, Sorcher suggests. "Then it's done on-site during the day when your workforce is there," rather than forcing current workers to attend night school or otherwise a degree program into their lives. The requirement could also have the perverse consequence of exhausted caretakers watching the kids. Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a lengthy look at the consequences of the new mandate. One preschool teacher, Debbie James-Dean, talked about getting up at 4:15 a.m. each day to finish homework before working a full day and then taking classes until after 9 p.m. "After working a full day of caring for our daughter, now they have to go to night school," says Homan. "The last thing I want is her teachers and caregiver to be stressed or tired." The mandate's advocates claim that early childhood education is essential to success later in school and life, echoing the arguments used to expand pre-K programs across the country in recent[...]

Graduate Instructor Who Showed Gendered-Pronoun Debate to Class Is Basically Hitler, Says School

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:30:00 -0500

As Lindsey Shepherd was pleading her case before Wilfrid Laurier University faculty and staff, the 22-year-old Canadian grad student and teaching assistant seemed caught off guard by their demands. Her superiors weren't saying she couldn't show a televised debate over gender-neutral pronouns in the context of a classroom discussion on language—they just needed her to condemn one side of the debate first. To do otherwise, they said, was "like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos." Shepherd neither endorsed nor decried either side of the TV Ontario showdown between controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a professor in the Waterloo University women's studies department. In the clip that Shepherd played for first-year communications students, Matte and Peterson argue over whether it's appropriate for professors to address students by pronouns other than "he" and "she"—something Peterson refuses to do. The clip was shown in the context of a class discussion on how language shapes culture and how gender-specific pronouns have caused controversy. "I was not taking sides," Shepherd—who does not agree with Peterson's position—would later tell school authorities. "I was presenting both arguments." After an anonymous student complaint was filed, Shepherd was called into a meeting with her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana, another communications school professor, and the university's manager of gendered violence prevention and support. They claimed that Shepherd was "transphobic" and that she needed to keep her "problematic" views out of the classroom. Shepherd pushed back, insisting that she didn't share in Peterson's pronoun point-of-view but thought it was important not to bring her own views into the discussion. "This is basically like playing—not to do the thing where everything is compared to Hitler—but this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos from Gamergate," Rambukkana said in the meeting. "This is the kind of thing that, departmentally, in terms of critical communications studies, and in terms of the course, of what we're trying to do, is diametrically opposed to everything we've been talking about in the lectures." In a Monday interview with CTV News, Shepherd said she was told "that you can't debate something like this because it causes an unsafe or toxic learning environment. I ended up being called transphobic and someone who causes harm and violence." Going forward, she would have to file all lesson plans in advance and expect random drop-in reviews, the tribunal told her. Shepherd said she was speaking out because situations and attitudes like these hurt the core mission of college education. "I think it's dangerous to say that a topic is off the table just because it might be a little bit controversial," she told CTV. When Shepherd first went public with her story in early November, the Ontario-based university was both dismissive and defensive. In an initial statement, Wilfrid Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy said that "as a responsible employer," the university is "obligated to abide by government regulations, human rights legislation and our own university policies"; "to this end," it had hired a third party "to gather the facts of the situation and assess them in a deliberate, fair and respectful manner." The bizarre statement went on to suggest there are some ideas that may be worth discussing, but can't because of bureaucracy. "I believe that as a university community we need to have more conversations about how academic expression happens throughout our institution," wrote MacLatchy. But "to be focused and constructive, these conver[...]

Fearing 'Terrorism,' Middle School Cancels D.C. Trip

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 10:15:00 -0500

A middle school in Ohio has cancelled its 3-day student trip to Washington, D.C. Why? Because of terrorism, say school officials.

What the officials don't mention is their own inability to process the idea that just because the world is not perfectly safe does not mean that it is terribly dangerous. Not to mention their misguided sense that adults can control the entire world in all of its complexity simply by clutching kids closer.

As The Washington Post reports:

School officials told parents of the 320 eighth-graders at the beginning of the year that the trip would be canceled "if at any point we felt that the safety of our students and staff may be compromised," according to the letter sent Nov. 8 by North Ridgeville Academic Center Principal Amy Peck, trip adviser Brittany Cioffoletti and Jim Powell, the school district's superintendent.

"Sadly, we have reached that point," the letter continued. "Since our parent meeting, we have mourned with many across the country at the loss of lives in Las Vegas, Manhattan and Texas. [Recently,] a man was arrested near the White House after he made threats to the lives of our capital's police force. All of these incidents at 'soft targets' and public places have led to our difficult decision to cancel this year's trip . . . As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our main priority, and we feel that the risk of travel to Washington, D.C., is not worth the potential for tragedy."

Is allowing parents to drive their kids to and from school worth the potential for tragedy? Because the number one way that kids die is as car passengers, not as terrorism victims. As one Washington Post commenter asked, "Are there no math teachers at this school?" The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are astronomically low. So are the odds of being able to predict where the next "soft target" will be. What if the administrators cancelled the D.C. trip and said, "Instead, we're going someplace really safe: a small church in Texas"? We cannot predict everything that is going to happen.

It is not prudence at work here; it is the feeling that if anything terrible did happen, it would be the school's fault. Many parents can relate to that feeling. As the Post story continues:

"As a superintendent, every time we send kids on these kind of trips, I worry about it the whole time they're gone," [Powell] said. "It's a lot of responsibility."

But worry and responsibility are two different things. Responsibility is what you take to make the variables under your control safer. As superintendent, you put a stop sign in front of the school. You run some fire drills.

But it is not any human's responsibility—or ability—to predict and avoid the rarest and most random of fates.

Nonetheless, when something bad happens to a child outside the home, it is often framed as negligence—Why did the parents allow it?—though if a child falls down the stairs at home, it is usually framed as an accident.

That's why so many people are so scared to let their kids do anything, from playing outside to visiting D.C. They know that if something should go wrong, however unpredictable it may be, they are likely to be blamed.