Published: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 22:48:53 -0500
Tue, 03 Jan 2017 10:45:00 -0500New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is about to announce plans to gift tuition at State University of New York (SUNY) schools to members of in-state households that make less than $125,000. That hefty income level is the same one that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton pledged to while running for president last year. Who makes less than $125,000 in New York state? A vast majority of households, it turns out. Out of about 7.2 million units (circa 2015), around 5 million make less than that sum. Statewide, New York households have a median income of about $61,000, which is $5,000 higher than the national average. Tuition at four-year state schools averages about $6,470 (far below most other states in the region) and less still for community colleges (room and board at the four year schools will tack on another $10,000 or so to annual costs). The New York Times reports that the program, which adds on to existing programs, will cost somewhere around $163 million a year, though "though the administration acknowledges that estimate could be too low — or too high — depending on participation." That's very...comforting, as is the funding for the program: "It was not immediately clear how the program would be paid for," writes the Times. As it happens, New York already regularly tops most rankings of combined state and local tax burdens (the Tax Foundation figures the total bite at 12.7 percent of income while Wallethub says it's 13.12 percent). So while there is apparently no ready money for this program, perhaps New Yorkers won't notice or care when their tax bills go up a bit more. So, why not make all in-state college tuition-free for kids unlucky enough to come from households making less than the 2X the median household income? I write as a SUNY-Buffalo grad (Ph.D. '96), who also has two other degrees from state schools (Temple and Rutgers, M.A. and B.A., respectively). I can think of at least three immediate concerns. First, as long as you're redistributing income, that $125,000 income figure is way too high, as is plain from the income distribution to the right. There's no question that New York, particularly the closer you get to New York city, is more expensive to live in, but there's no rhyme or reason to naming a six-figure-plus income as the cut-off point (this is even more true in states with lower costs of living). New York doesn't need greater tax-supported burdens that ultimately are going to help middle and upper-middle-class people the most, which is how this will inevitably shake out. The sons and daughters of more-educated, more-remunerated folks are more likely to go to college in the first place and a lot more likely to graduate in four or six years. If we believe that helping the least-advantaged among us is a good thing, then it would be far better to narrow the focus of the program to, say, students coming from the bottom 20 percent of households by income and giving them the sorts of support (intellectual and social) that might help them make it all the way through. As it stands, only about 20 percent of students from the bottom fifth of households have a college degree by age 24. That's the same rate as in 1970. (And of course, educational reform should start at the K-12 level first and foremost, by making charter schools and vouchers more widely available to the students who would gain the most from them.) The fact is that middle-class (much less upper-class) kids do just fine, so if you're trying to increase opportunities for the least privileged among us, it makes sense to start with people who need the most help. Here are at two other points to consider: All students, regardless of who their parents are, should always have skin in the game. A college diploma raises average lifetime earnings by between $250,000 and $1 million (depending on many factors and assumptions) and it makes sense to ask the person who will cash that premium to pay for at least some part of it, doesn't it? Even a small amount will also dissuade people who are not really committed to college, which is also a good thing. That leads[...]
Mon, 02 Jan 2017 08:30:00 -0500A recent New York Times story that slams the free market approach to education policy is rife with inaccuracies. Amazingly, the author of the piece misrepresents the very data she is using to build her erroneous case against school choice. "Free Market for Education? Economists Generally Don't Buy It," claims Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, public policy, and economics at the University of Michigan, in The Times. This is a betrayal of expectations, according to Dynarski, because economists generally understand that free markets produce better outcomes than central planners (much to the chagrin of education professors). Economists are usually the ones calling for less regulation and more unrestricted capitalism; if they're super conflicted about markets in education, that would be a serious indictment of the school choice approach. Dynarski writes: You might think that most economists agree with this overall approach, because economists generally like free markets. For example, over 90 percent of the members of the University of Chicago's panel of leading economists thought that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft made consumers better off by providing competition for the highly regulated taxi industry. But economists are far less optimistic about what an unfettered market can achieve in education. Only a third of economists on the Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice. That does sound bad for school choice—it suggests that two-thirds of surveyed economists disagree that students with vouchers would be better off. But Dynarski is applying spin. Here is the survey: A chunk of economists—37 percent—couldn't say for sure whether vouches would improve educational outcomes. That's not so surprising: education reform is a complicated issue and economists are thorough, cautious people. Moreover, it's true that vouchers don't always make things better for every kid—providing more choices is not the same thing as magically reversing decades of poverty, racial inequality, and bad incentives. But among economists who did take a position on the issue, school vouchers were a big winner. As Slate Star Codex explains: 36% of economists agree that vouchers would improve education, compared to 19% who disagree. The rest are unsure or didn't answer the question. The picture looks about the same when weighted by the economists' confidence. A more accurate way to summarize this graph is "About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn't." By leaving it at "only a third of economists support vouchers", the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is "Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don't Buy It". But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher. (note also that the options are only "agree that vouchers will improve education" and "disagree that vouchers will improve education", so that it's unclear from the data if any dissenting economists agree with the Times' position that vouchers will make things worse. They might just think that things would stay the same.) I think this is really poor journalistic practice and implies the opinion of the nation's economists to be the opposite of what it really is. I hope the Times prints a correction. I would also note that I read through most of the surveyed economists' comments, and it seems pretty clear that those who were "uncertain" did think school vouchers would improve outcomes for a lot of kids; they just thought it was hard to quantify the overall effect. "I think the majority of public school students would be better off, but certainly not all," wrote one economist. "The question is ambiguous about the percent." You can judge for yourself whether the responses should be further weighted toward the pro-voucher position. But that's not[...]
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 07:00:00 -0500Anti-vaccine activists are sounding the alarm about a California bill that should trouble you even if you have nothing against immunization. The bill, S.B. 18, would codify the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California, a philosophically confused hodgepodge of false assertions and blatantly unrealistic aspirations that could be disastrous as a guide to policy. The bill was introduced this month by Richard Pan, the pediatrician and state senator who sponsored the 2015 law that eliminated "personal belief" exemptions from state immunization requirements for children enrolled in school or day care. Critics of the new bill, who seem to consist largely of alternative medicine advocates, portray it as a threat to parental authority, gun rights, homeschooling, and health freedom. Snopes rejects those claims, noting that the critics have a grudge against Pan and that the bill does not give state officials any new authority to interfere with child rearing. Although Snopes is right on both points, Pan's seemingly anodyne bill does reflect some creepy and insidious moral premises. As far as I can tell, Pan's seven-point list of rights—which among other things declares that "all children and youth" have a right to "appropriate, quality health care," to "social and emotional well-being," to "appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood," and to "opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical, and social development"—would have no immediate practical effect. It builds on a 2009 concurrent resolution that likewise did not create any new programs, authorize any new spending, or give state or local officials any new powers. Instead of doing something, S.B. 18 would declare the legislature's intent to do something: develop and fund "research-based policy solutions that will ensure the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth of California, in its totality, is applied evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state." Toward that end, the bill declares a legislative intent to "enact appropriate legislation" by January 1, 2022. Legislators would decide what's appropriate, which could involve all manner of mischief and boondoggles but also could amount to nothing at all. All of the "rights" declared by Pan's bill are vague, and several of them involve claims on other people's resources. In Pan's view, the decision to reproduce gives people a license to raid the wallets of total strangers who had no say in that decision. Furthermore, there are no clear limits to that license, since it's anybody's guess what "appropriate, quality health care" or "appropriate, quality education" might entail, what it takes to achieve "social and emotional well-being," or how the government can guarantee "optimal cognitive, physical, and social development." The most contentious "rights" in Pan's list are the ones that imply second-guessing of parental decisions and interference with family relationships. S.B. 18 says children have a right to "live in a safe and healthy environment," to have "parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest," and to "form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being." Since it's not clear what happens when a parent's idea of a healthy environment, healthy attachments, or a child's best interest conflicts with a legislator's or a bureaucrat's, you can start to see why the bill's opponents call it "an attempt by power-hungry California legislators to further degrade the rights of parents," argue that it "will eventually make the State the top-dog controlling force over all children in California," warn that "it's extremely problematic to allow a very small group of people to decide what constitutes 'best' for...millions of families," or worry that Pan's dubious, undefined rights "could easily be manipulated to make a case for confiscating your child." While these dangers are theoretical at this point and might remain so even if Pan's bill passe[...]
Wed, 28 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500America's socialists—I mean, progressives, are enraged that President-elect Trump chose Betsy DeVos to be his secretary of education. "Not a good appointment," yelled Al Sharpton. A "proponent of a for-profit institution! She does not believe in the public school system!" complained CNN's Bakari Sellers. Wait. Is your for-profit local supermarket less "public" than your kid's school? No! For-profit institutions serve the public and usually do it better than governments do. Let's stop calling government schools "public." Call them what they are: "government-run" schools. Anyway, the charter schools DeVos supports are public. They're just not controlled by the usual crowd of education bureaucrats. That's why the education establishment hates them. The establishment has had total control for a century and doesn't want to lose it. They complain that DeVos: —Doesn't have a degree in education! —Has no teaching experience! —Didn't attend government schools! —Didn't send her kids to "public" school! But that was also true about Arne Duncan, President Obama's education secretary. We didn't hear the same complaints about Duncan. Perhaps avoiding government-run education helps people become successful. For 50 years, the education establishment said that government schools struggled because they didn't have enough money. So America tripled spending per student. That brought zero improvement. Again, today, they say, "Just give us more time, more money!" No. Time is up. Children have suffered enough. My consumer reporting taught me that things only work well when they are subject to market competition. Services improve when people are free to shop around and when competitive pressure inspires suppliers to invent better ways of doing things. DeVos understands that. That's why she wants to allow parents to choose the schools their kids attend. Schools that do a better job will attract more students. Better schools will grow, while some inferior ones will close. Inferior schools, like any failing business, should close. It's a disservice to students to keep them open. Educrats and teachers unions refuse to look at it that way. They don't want kids escaping their grasp. Unions don't want to lose dues-paying members. They prefer that kids stay trapped while bureaucrats decide what improvements, if any, need to be made. Progressives are also upset because DeVos gave $200 million of her own money to the "wrong" schools, Christian schools. A smear in The New Yorker suggests that DeVos will have government-run schools teach creationism: "DeVos is a fundamentalist Christian with a long history of opposition to science ... She could shape science education decisively for the worse, by systematically depriving young people, in an era where biotechnology will play a key economic and health role worldwide, of a proper understanding of the very basis of modern biology: evolution." That would be bad—were it true, but DeVos' critics don't quote anything she says that shows "opposition to science." DeVos once told me that in a free society that shares her philosophy of education, "some religious schools might teach creationism, but not in science class." Reason's J.D. Tuccille points out that DeVos "was instrumental in enacting Michigan's and Detroit's charter school program." Progressives say this was "tragic for Michigan's children ... Detroit's charter schools have shown themselves to be only incrementally stronger ... than traditional public schools." Hello? Stronger is better, even if the difference is just "incremental." A Stanford study concluded that charter students achieved "two months of additional gains in reading and math." That suggests DeVos has already done more to improve American education than most government education bureaucrats have. DeVos won't have much power over your kids' schools. K-12 education is mostly locally and state run. In fact, the wasteful $90 billion education department should be abolished altogether. But DeVos' appointm[...]
Tue, 27 Dec 2016 09:45:00 -0500Last week a federal appeals court ruled that requiring incoming students at a state college to surrender their urine for drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches. The decision is a welcome departure from a body of case law that usually defers to the government's perception of "special needs" that supposedly justify analyzing people's bodily fluids without a warrant or any evidence that they pose a threat to public safety. Linn State Technical College, now known as the State Technical College of Missouri, started demanding incoming students' urine in 2011 because members of its advisory council thought it was a good idea, not because there was any reason to believe the school had any special drug-related safety problems. "Accidents are not common at Linn State, and the college has not attributed any accidents to student drug use," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit notes in its decision upholding a federal judge's injunction against the college's drug testing program. "Linn State had no reason to believe that it had a student drug-use problem greater than any other college's." But better safe than sorry, right? Although that sort of reasoning seems to prevail more often than not in drug testing cases, the 8th Circuit ruled that a general interest in discouraging drug use does not justify suspicionless urinalysis by government agencies. The majority opinion, written by Roger Wollman and joined by eight other judges, emphasizes that Linn State's drug testing requirement applied to all students, whether or not they were enrolled in "safety-sensitive" programs such as aviation maintenance or industrial electricity. Why should a student learning design drafting have to pass a drug test, Wollman wonders, when "the district court found that, based on Linn State's evidence, the greatest danger the program presented was 'that a student might accidentally trip and fall while navigating uneven ground during a site visit'"? The 8th Circuit says the lack of category-specific safety concerns distinguishes this case from Supreme Court decisions upholding drug testing of railway workers after accidents and people seeking U.S. Customs positions that involve carrying guns or interdicting drugs. The appeals court adds that adults attending a college with no special history of drug problems are constitutionally distinct from minors attending high schools facing a real or perceived substance abuse "crisis," a context in which the Supreme Court has approved testing of all students participating in sports or other competitive extracurricular programs. "Linn State's drug testing policy was not developed in response to any crisis," the court notes. "Most significantly, Linn State's students are not children committed to the temporary custody of the state." The two judges who dissented from the decision, by contrast, argue that a drug problem confronting society in general is enough to justify an indiscriminate drug testing program like Linn State's. C. Arlen Beam, joined by James Loken, describes the Supreme Court's rulings in this area as "generally validating the suspicionless drug testing and screening being carried on by America's government, business, service and educational institutions, saying there is no dispute, 'nor can there be doubt, that [illicit] drug abuse is one of the most serious problems confronting our society today.'" Beam cites the recent surgeon general's report on drug addiction, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, and the large share of criminal cases in the 8th Circuit that involve drug offenses (34 percent) as evidence that Linn State faces "substantial health, safety and security problems, all of which are specifically ameliorated by the College's well-conceived drug-testing and screening program." Beam seems almost outraged by the American Civil Liberties Union's involvement in challenging Linn State's policy. He complains that "the organization, wi[...]
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500There's a lot to worry about in the coming presidency of Donald Trump, but a few bright spots appear for those of us who want to run our own lives with minimal government interference. In particular, the naming of Betsy DeVos as the president-elect's pick for Secretary of Education holds a lot of promise for parents who want to move past decades of crappy politician-directed schooling to gain more say in how their children learn. To go by her enemies, DeVos offers promise, indeed. DeVos is "best known for her anti-public education campaigns" the National Education Association fulminates in its official response to her nomination. The NEA goes on to take her to task for supporting "vouchers—which take away funding and local control from our public schools—to fund private schools at taxpayers' expense." Oh, horrors. "It is clear that DeVos, like the President-elect who has chosen her, is comfortable applying the logic of the marketplace to schoolyard precincts," complains Rebecca Mead at The New Yorker. Encapsulating the nominee's sinister vision for America, Mead draws a quote from an interview DeVos gave to Philanthropy in 2013 summing up her educational dream: "That all parents, regardless of their zip code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children. And that all students have had the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential." Can't you just taste the evil? Well, if supporting vouchers and other means to choose the best educational settings for children constitutes the oncoming headlights of America's educational doom, I say we throw ourselves right into 'em. Actually, when it comes to real doom, public schools are already doing a hell of a good job. "The performance of 17-year-olds has been essentially stagnant across all subjects since the federal government began collecting trend data around 1970, despite a near tripling of the inflation-adjusted cost of putting a child through the K–12 system," a 2014 Cato Institute study found. Not only did spending triple in that time, but public school employment soared, so more money and personnel were available over those decades to achieve absolutely zip--no improvement in education outcomes. Likewise, "U.S. students are stagnating in reading and science proficiency while their math performance declined slightly," The Atlantic's Emily Richmond noted just weeks ago of the results from the latest Program for International School Assessment (PISA), which compares students from around the world. The U.S. hovers near the middle of the pack in reading and science, and toward the bottom in math. "Stagnant" is also a good term for Americans' take on this situation, with Gallup consistently reporting since 1999 that more than half of Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of education their kids receive. The polling company notes that the lowest level of regard is reserved for public schools, with only 37 percent of Americans saying government institutions provide "good" or "excellent" education—lower scores than reported for private schools, religious schools, charter schools, or homeschooling. Which is where Betsy DeVos comes in. She and her husband have personally funded scholarships allowing low-income children to attend private schools. She chairs the American Federation for Children, "promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers, scholarship tax credit programs and Education Savings Accounts." She was instrumental in enacting Michigan's and Detroit's charter school program. That last achievement has proven a bit controversial, with Tulane University's Douglas N. Harris insisting in the pages of the New York Times (after DeVos's nomination) that Detroit represents "the biggest school reform disaster in the country." But "the 'well-regarded study' Harris cites actually finds that Detroit charter schools are producing significantly greater gains than t[...]
Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500Before they took a turn toward the psychedelic in the mid-1960s, the Beach Boys were about as uncontroversial as you could get in American pop music. But what was acceptable for teenyboppers in the early '60s may be too sexually taboo for today's college campuses. University of Kentucky (UK) journalism professor Buck Ryan claims he was sanctioned for singing the Beach Boys' 1965 single "California Girls" while in his official capacity as a UK representative. The university's Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity found Ryan violated federal Title IX guidelines against sex-based discrimination and harassment by using "language of a sexual nature." "If my case is any indication, then everyone concerned about discrimination and sexual harassment should be alarmed," wrote Ryan in a letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan also pointed out that he has never, in a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, "faced a complaint of sexual misconduct from a student." Ryan, a tenured associate professor with an impressive resume—including an array of international awards, eight years as director of the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications (from 1994 to 2002), and the 2003 recipient of UK's Provost's Award for Outstanding Teaching—said he was reported to Title IX officials for conduct that occurred while he was a visiting professor at China's Jilin University. Ryan claims it was singing the Beach Boys song at a closing ceremony that got him reported by fellow UK faculty on the trip. But the school disputes Ryan's characterization of the complaint against him. "In short, Professor Ryan's account is manipulative of the facts and, unfortunately, not based in reality," says UK spokesman Jay Blanton. "Faculty who accompanied him on the trip in question were deeply concerned about his conduct." An October 2015 letter from Patty Bender, UK's vice president for equal opportunity, to the dean of the communications school states that "more than a preponderance of the evidence" revealed Ryan to be "in violation of the discrimination and harassment policy prohibiting inappropriate touching and language of a sexual nature." The Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity reccommended that Ryan "not be funded by the University of Kentucky to represent UK in any travel abroad," that a recent award which would require overseas travel be forfeited, and that Ryan be required to attend equality training. According to the letter, Ryan's transgressions did include causing "concern and embarassment" amongst his colleagues by singing a modified version of "California Girls" at a closing cermony while "inserting the names of Chinese cities" into the lyrics. He is also accused of having an "inappropriate," albeit non-sexual, relationship with a Chinese student. Evidence of this inappropriate relationship includes the fact that the student was seen wearing one of Ryan's sweatshirts as they were walking together and that he spent time in the student's suite. Ryan allegedly responded that he was helping the student with her English, that there were always other students coming and going from the suite, and that he didn't see anything inappropriate about the relationship. The heavily redacted letter does not say how old the student was, nor whether she was in Ryan's classes, though it does make clear that it was UK faculty who complained about Ryan's relationship with the student, not the young woman herself. Blanton says the school offered Monday to make all documents related to Ryan's case public if he would permit it, a move Ryan declined. The University of Kentucky is currently involved in a legal battle with student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel related to Title IX records, specifically those involving former UK professor James Harwood. The trouble started last spring, when student journalists sought redacted copies of "any reprimands and any commendatio[...]
Tue, 29 Nov 2016 16:15:00 -0500What exactly is to be done when a charter school appears to be extremely successful at teaching students, but also appears to be funneling spending toward friends and family of its founder? For Chino Valley Unified School District in California, the decision was apparently to shut the school down, despite a crowd of parents begging them to keep the school open. On Monday the district's school board voted unanimously to reject the bid to renew the charter for Oxford Preparatory Academy. Oxford Preparatory ranked as the top K-8th grade school in San Bernardino County according to state testing and was the highest-scoring charter school in the county. But it had been plagued by accusations that founder Sue Roche had set up a series of companies with friends and relatives to "launder" money to them in exchange for services so that she could profit from her school. The school has since cut ties with Roche, but the superintendent declared that the school "cannot be saved, and should not be saved. It is forever tainted," according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Without downplaying whatever sort of financial improprieties might have happened (Roche's lawyer denies misconduct), could anybody out there imagine that a school board would ever declare a public school "forever tainted" due to bad behavior by a principal and simply vote to shut it down—despite excellent test scores and despite parents begging for it to remain open? It would never happen. It's both a strength and a weakness of charter schools: They're easier to close when they perform poorly, but the system is susceptible to manipulation by public school system administrators with an agenda. Charter schools often have to fight the local school district to open in the first place, and then they will have to fight the system every step of the way as powerful public school interests will keep trying to find reasons to shut them down. By the media accounts, the rest of the administration of Oxford did not what know what Roche was doing, so the idea that it's "forever tainted" now makes no sense. And that's particularly true given that whatever financial corruption might have been happening obviously did not interfere with the school's performance. It's going to be more and more important to pay attention to stories like this given President-Elect Donald Trump's selection of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. DeVos is a supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, so there's going to be a significant effort to paint school choice in the worst possible light, as though families and poor people are being preyed upon. Take a look at this Washington Post "worst-case scenario" analysis of what DeVos might do as education secretary that simply asserts that charter and private schools are "unregulated" in several spots. No doubt the upset parents at Oxford Preparatory wish that were the case. Charter schools are, in fact, heavily regulated and face tremendous amounts of bureaucracy and oversight. The Oxford Prep example shows that, in reality, they are even more accountable to the government that the schools the government itself operates! To get another perspective of the challenges facing people who attempt to start charter schools, read this interview with Gloria Romero, a Democratic former state senator in California who just opened her own charter school this year. That she had to put her own credit at risk and mentions other charter schools having to take out short-term loans while the state drags its feet forking over the money (despite claims of profiteering, charter schools usually get less funding than their public school counterparts) serves as an interesting alternate explanation as to how family and friends end up involved in providing goods and services to charter schools. As we see more attacks on charter schools, keep an eye out for weighted words like "unregul[...]
Thu, 10 Nov 2016 11:01:00 -0500
"Trump has been good on these issues in a very vague, 100,000-foot level," says education reformer Lisa Graham Keegan. He's made statements in support of expanding school choice and giving more control to the states. And two of the rumored candidates for U.S. Department of Education secretary—Gerard Robinson, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former education official in Florida and Virginia, and Williamson Evers, a fellow at the Hoover Institution—would be great picks, says Keegan.
On the other hand, former presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson—another rumored candidate—is a head scratcher.
Keegan is a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and head of the education consulting firm, the Keegan Company. She'd like to see Trump appoint a secretary who can "manage [all the regulations on the books] to the benefit of freedom...and the people [on the local level] who are actually doing the work."
Nick Gillespie caught up with Keegan for an interview yesterday afternoon. Click below to listen to that conversation, or better yet subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.
src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/292394782&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0">
Don't miss a single Reason podcast or video! Subscribe, rate, and review!
Wed, 09 Nov 2016 04:00:00 -0500
(image) An elementary school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has canceled a planned "wax museum" after several third-graders said they were going to dress as Adolf Hitler. According to local media, other "controversial" figures students planned to portray were Donald Trump and Christopher Columbus.
Thu, 03 Nov 2016 09:20:00 -0400Overpaying for a low-quality product won't turn it into something better. Outside of politics, this isn't a controversial notion. Plopping down $20,000 for a 10-year old Kia isn't going to turn that car into a brand new BMW. If you were repeatedly dissatisfied with your neighborhood pizza joint, you wouldn't go back to the pizza shop and pay double for the same thing. Instead, you'd order Thai or otherwise find a better way to spend the take-out food portion of your household budget. Which bring us, somehow, to the topic of early childhood education. A new report published this week in Behavioral Science and Policy Journal, raises serious questions about whether the widespread adoption of publicly funded preschool programs is in the best interest of children and taxpayers. Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey, the two Vanderbilt University researchers who published the study, say governments are funding pre-K programs without having a good sense of what these programs should be trying to achieve and without knowing how to judge if they're working. These programs aren't cheap. According to the Brookings Institution, state and federal governments spent more than $34 billion on pre-K last year. Head Start, probably the most well-known early childhood education program, has been around since the 1960s and it costs the federal government more than $8 billion a year—not counting the matching funds that state and local governments pay when they receive a Head Start grant. After all that time and all that money, there's not much evidence that Head Start has given students much of a head start. A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that any benefits from the program "yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade." Still, that doesn't mean all pre-K program don't work. Oklahoma, for example, has been funding statewide early education since 1998 and boasts that 74 percent of all four-year olds are enrolled in pre-K. Studies that tracked Oklahoma students from 1998 through 2010 found that children enrolled in pre-K consistently outperformed others, regardless of class or race. Oklahoma's successes set off a mad dash in state capitols. By the end of 2015, 54 state-funded pre-K programs were operating in 42 states plus Washington, D.C., at a cost of more than $6.2 billion for state taxpayers. Programs that used to be narrowly targeted to low income students are now being expanded—New York City recently adopted a universal pre-K program and Barack Obama called for states to do the same in his 2016 State of the Union address. In the rush to create new programs and expand old ones, Farran and Lipsey say, states are misallocating money and not checking for results. "Viewed with a critical eye, the currently available research raises real questions about whether most state pre-K programs do anything more than boost 4-year-olds' academic cognitive skills to where they would be by the end of kindergarten anyway," Farran and Lipsey conclude. "Children are not well served by a perpetuation of magical thinking about the likelihood of profound effects resulting from poorly defined, state-run pre-K programs." You can think about it like this: federal and state governments are spending $34 billion annually on take-out pizza, based on a study of take-out pizza in Oklahoma that concluded take-out pizza in Oklahoma was delicious. These governments don't know if the pizza everywhere else is any good. They don't know whether they would be better off spending their money on Thai food instead. They don't even know how to decide if the pizza they are getting is any good, but they're willing to pay more for it. Hillary Clinton is promising to join the party. The Democratic presidential nominee says she woul[...]
Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:15:00 -0400Making use of time-honored federal government logic—we have to do something about X, and this is something, so we must do this—Hillary Clinton has proposed $500 million in federal spending on school anti-bullying initiatives. Under Clinton's plan, titled "Better Than Bullying," the feds would use the money to essentially bribe states into hiring more school counsellors, developing suicide prevention and mental health programs, re-training teachers, and cracking down on cyberbullying. Tax increases would pay for it, according to The Wall Street Journal. Supporters argue the program is necessary because bullying is on the rise—and it's all Donald Trump's fault, the Clinton campaign alleges. Indeed, this has become a Clinton talking point. "Teachers and parents call it the 'Trump effect,'" she said during the second presidential debate. "Bullying is up. A lot of people are feeling uneasy, a lot of kids are expressing their concerns." The National Education Association—the country's most powerful teachers' union, and an important pillar of support for the former secretary of state—has seized upon the idea that Trump's candidacy has somehow made schoolyard bullying worse. "Amid Trump-inspired spike in school bullying, Clinton announces national initiative," is how the NEA heralded Clinton's plan on its website. Another NEA headline: "'Trump Effect' elicits 'disgraceful' behavior from some students, strikes fear in others, educators say." This is a transparently politically useful argument for Team Clinton: my opponent is making your kids less safe! Think of the children! But is it true? We have no idea. The NEA has cited the anecdotal evidence of a handful of its members. It also cited a Southern Poverty Law Center survey that found the Trump campaign was producing "an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color." But: Our survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers was not scientific. Our email subscribers and those who visit our website are not a random sample of teachers nationally, and those who chose to respond to our survey are likely to be those who are most concerned about the impact of the presidential campaign on their students and schools. So that doesn't count. But can we do better? As it so happens, the National Center for Education Statistics collects scientifically sound data on teen bullying rates. Unfortunately, the most recently available data is for the year 2013 (it was published in 2015). Data for 2014 won't be released for a few more months. Data that takes into account the "Trump effect" won't be available for years, presumably. "2013 is the most recent year for which we have published data on student bullying," NCES's Lauren Musu-Gillette told me via email. Still, the 2013 figures were interesting. According to the NCES, 22 percent of kids ages 12-18 were bullied at school in 2013. That was an improvement over previous years: the bullying rate was 28 percent in 2011 and 2009, and 32 percent in 2007. School bullying, it seems, is falling. Has Trump singlehandedly reversed this trend? There are no data to support such an assertion. It may even be the case that perceived bullying is rising even as actual bullying continues to fall. That's because "bullying" is prone to something psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "concept creep." For behavior to be considered bullying, it used to have meet certain criteria: a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim, intentionality, and repetition. These days, bullying is typically defined more broadly, as virtually any form of unwanted behavior. In light of evolving definitions, Haidt is concerned that grand efforts to combat bullying—broadly defined—might be ill-advised. "The concept of bullying has experienced such massive concept[...]
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:15:00 -0400
(image) Demographers have known and reported for a long time that college graduates have longer life expectancies than do their fellow citizens that have a high school degree or lower educational attainment. For example, a 2010 study reported that average life expectancy for American men and women with a high school diploma averaged 76 and 81 years respectively. The life expectancies of those men and women who are college graduates were 82 and 87 years respectively. In other words, both college men and women could look forward to an average of 6 more years than high school graduates.
A new study from scholars associated with the Brookings Institution bolsters these earlier findings. The press release reports that
an additional year of college decreases mortality rates by 15 to 19 percent by reducing deaths from cancer and heart disease....The study, which notes that health benefits from education could increase the total returns to education by 15 to 55 percent, is important for policymakers currently grappling with proposals to reduce the high cost of college....The researchers point to prior research showing the correlation between education and health, including later life mortality. For example, high school graduates have a mortality rate that is double those with some college or a college degree, which "represents a significant non-pecuniary return to education. They would also imply that policies meant to increase educational attainment could serve as an important means for improving health."
In their Brookings notice, the authors suggest, "If individual investments in college education are suboptimal because of credit constraints, externalities, or lack of information, the presence of additional health returns to college strengthens the case for subsidizing education."
It is true that U.S. life expectancy has been climbing at the same time that the percentage of Americans with college degrees has been increasing. The new study claims to have identified a causal relationship between more education and better health. In their earlier NBER version of the study, the researchers note that college educated folks tend to smoke less, weigh less, exercise more, and have health insurance. The result is that they tend to experience heart disease and cancer (lung and colon) at later ages. The researchers suggest that "the impacts on cancer (especially lung cancer) and heart disease may be partially explained by the differences in behavior." So does college teach the habits of delayed and restrained gratification that produce healthier lifestyles, or do folks who already have those habits tend to graduate from college?
Wed, 07 Sep 2016 16:00:00 -0400For those who care to actually pay attention, the charter school movement and the school choice movement writ large is not some plot by either the wealthy or by conservatives to destroy the public school system. While there are certainly wealthy and conservative people who want to flee the public schools, there are—particularly in urban centers—a significant number of parents who are neither wealthy nor conservative who are demanding a greater number of education choices for their children. In California, major pushes to improve school choice for students came partly from the left, and former State Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat, was notable for her efforts to shepherd in policies that give parents more control over where and how their children would be schooled. She was motivated by seeing the stagnation of public school quality in areas that serve poor and minority students and the resistance by powerful education unions to reform. Romero has been involved in School Choice Week, and Reason interviewed her in 2013. After a lengthy political and activist career supporting school choice, Romero is now putting her money where her mouth is. This fall sees the launch of a charter school co-founded by Romero in the heart of Santa Ana, California. Scholarship Prep Charter School opened at the end of August with enrollment of more than 300, serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The launch of her school, with its emphasis on serving poor students and particularly kids from foster homes, drew positive attention from the Wall Street Journal in a piece noting the many challenges in trying to actually start a charter school in California. Romero spoke with Reason Wednesday morning about her shift from activist to school founder and the extraordinary difficulties in trying to open a charter school in an environment where public school defenders and union representative are arrayed against them. Romero says she had been thinking about the possibility of launching a school for quite some time, reaching back as far as when she was term-limited out of the state Senate in 2010. "People were telling me, 'You're always trying to reform schools; why not start your own?'" Romero says. "[The school] was probably years in the making." After seeing many charter schools launch in California and succeed, she decided to partner with Jason Watts of CharterBoost to help start her own. The process took months and required a 300-page petition and a hunt for a facility to house the school (a church). Rather than attempting to get approval from Santa Ana Unified School District, Romero went to Orange County's Department of Education to help bypass an approval process where local resistance by entrenched public school interests can very much influence school board votes. Scholarship Prep Charter School was approved unanimously. But that's just a small part of the challenge. Charter schools are publicly funded schools, but Romero notes they're "funded as though we really are the little stepchildren of the public education system." The school has been awarded a $500,000 start-up grant, but as of the start of the school year, they've only gotten one check for $84,000. Romero has been putting some expenses on her own credit card and says there's now a niche market developing for short-term loans for charter schools as they attempt to navigate a complicated process of getting the money the schools have been promised. "You get caught up in the bowels of the Sacramento educational bureaucracy," she says. "You have to try to navigate around a system that is set up financially to choke it until it fails. Those are issues that the traditional public schools will never have to face." The rather[...]
Fri, 02 Sep 2016 12:20:00 -0400Parents often resist when public schools close their doors, even when said schools are underperforming and/or underpopulated. In my former hometown of Barstow, out in the California desert, in the face of declining enrollment, citizens nevertheless resisted school districts' efforts to close a couple of schools and even used California's absurdly complicated environmental laws to try to block it (essentially arguing that the district hadn't adequately studied the environmental impact of moving students to other schools). But when privately operated charter schools perform poorly, school districts are often very quick to try to shut them down. Paperwork issues? Shut them down! Don't like how they're spending the money? Shut them down! Research highlighted by NPR suggests that the willingness to shut down bad or unneeded schools is good, public or private, and doing so is often a boon to students. This should not be a controversial issue, but it is. NPR notes that a full 84 percent of parents in a recent poll said they'd prefer to keep a poorly performing school open and try to fix it, rather than shut it down. It's pretty easy to understand the logic of parents here. Changing schools is a stressful, difficult experience for families, and there's a high level of resistance unless circumstances truly call for it. As NPR notes, it's tougher for parents to be involved with schools the further they are from the family's home. But perhaps the stress of being in a bad school is much worse. Some early research is showing that when underperforming and underenrolled schools are shut down, the closings benefited the students who were sent elsewhere. Contain your surprise: James Kemple at NYU's Steinhardt School took a look at New York City's shuttering of 29 high schools that were among the lowest-performing in the city. The phaseout took place over several years, allowing students to finish out their educations at the school where they began. At the same time, New York opened a group of small high schools offering open enrollment and personalized attention for students, and it instituted a citywide choice policy. Kemple followed a matched group of eighth-graders who, based on their middle schools and their neighborhoods, would have been expected to attend one of the closed schools. He studied where they went and what happened to them. The impacts were "quite strong," he says, in a positive direction. "They ended up attending high schools that were higher-performing, with higher attendance, better test scores, better graduation rates, and did much better than students we compared them to," he says. That included a 15-percentage-point increase in the students' high school graduation rate. Note that the story's a lot more complicated than just taking students from one school and shipping them off to another. It involves New York City treating school choice seriously and giving families much more power over where their students would attend. There a bit of an "It's too soon to be entirely certain" tone to the story. Students from closed schools in Chicago, NPR explains, have been shifted to schools with better ratings from the city, but it's too soon to evaluate the outcomes. That—in the year 2016−we don't have adequate research on the educational impacts of closing bad public schools says so much about how entrenched the public education system is. And yet, the power within the system has ultimately led us to a situation where the only way to actually "fix" public schools is to either threaten them with closure or allow parents to ship their kids elsewhere. The powerful education unions have made it next to impossible to fire bad teachers. They do every[...]