I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, July 5, 2013

Jeb!'s Staff Makes Lame Excuse For Him

So my choice was to either stick hot needles into my eyes, or go visit the Edfly Blog at Jeb! Bush's Foundation for Educational Excellence.

Should have gone with the needles...
FactCheck.org recently wrote an article called Jeb Bush Gets an F on School Spending. If FactCheck.org had checked facts however they would have found Governor Bush’s claim on global spending to have been entirely accurate.
First a few notes on spending per pupil rankings: they are slippery. For instance, a few years ago the Goldwater Institute noted seven different states all claiming to be 49th in K-12 spending.  This can be explained by multiple factors, including the existence of multiple ranking which include or exclude different sorts of categories, people referencing older rankings, and/or perhaps in some cases a relationship with the truth on the part of some inspired by the writings of Saul Alinsky. Seeing so many people claiming that they rank precisely 49th raises an eyebrow to say the least-why not 50th?
Um... what the hell are you talking about?! Saul Alinsky? Is this post going to be full of non sequitors?

And are you, Dr. Matthew Ladner, Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, saying that it's deceptive to engage in hyperbole when it comes to education spending rankings? Like, oh, say... claiming the US spends "more per student than any country in the world"?
Factcheck.org looked into the following statement by Governor Bush “And we spend more per student than any country in the world.”

The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the report.[emphasis mine]
So you're saying Jeb! was right in claiming the US spends more than any other nation because he was including post-high school education spending? That would mean Jeb! was speaking in a context where he was including college spending, right? Was he? Well, here's FactCheck's piece [underline emphasis mine]:
Bush, June 14: To me the greatest challenge our country faces is that 40 percent of our kids — truly, truly, honestly — 40 percent of our kids are college or career ready. And we spend more per student than any country in the world. That is not acceptable. Too many young people now have shattered dreams because they don’t have the skills to be successful.
Bush made a similar claim in an earlier interview with Newsmax TV (about 19 minutes into the video):
Bush, March 31: We have a third of our kids that don’t make it through the system, even though we spend more per student than any country in the world. And a lot of students could be doing college-level work by the time they’ve graduated from high school but in effect they’re held back because we have this adult-centered homogenized learning model.
It's quite clear that Jeb! was not talking about the cost of K-20 education; he was talking about the cost of K-12, which is why he spoke in each case about college readiness. Factcheck made this very point in their piece:
The OECD report does show the U.S. spends much more than any nation on “all tertiary education” — such as community colleges and universities — but Bush was clearly talking about elementary and secondary education, since his remarks were in the context of students not being ready for college.
Trying to change the meaning of Jeb!'s words about education spending after the fact to include college costs is really, really lame.

In any case, I contend that Factcheck missed the biggest problem with Jeb!'s statement, which is also the problem with Ladner's weak-ass defense: the OECD comparisons of per pupil spending are a classic case of comparing apples to oranges.

Bruce Baker says it best:
International education spending comparisons like those presented by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and often reported by organizations like McKinsey are, well, bogus… meaningless… uh…not particularly useful. Why? Because they are not comparable. Plain and simple. 
Government or public education expenditures in different countries contain different components. A number of my colleagues and I are in the process of better understanding and delineating the components included in public education expenditures across nations. For example, in a country with a national health care system, public education expenditures may not include health care expenses for all employees. That’s not a trivial expense. The same may be true of pension contributions and obligations, where they exist, in other countries. The same is also true for arts and athletic programs in countries where it is more common for those activities to be embedded in community services. But, we’ve yet to fully identify the extent of these differences across nations or how these differences affect the spending comparisons. What we do know is that they do affect the spending comparisons – and likely quite significantly.
So, that in mind, what can we say about how much the US spends with respect to how well our children do, compared to other countries’ spending and outcomes when neither the spending figure nor the children in the system are even remotely comparable? Not much! [emphasis mine]
The part of this that really drives me crazy is that folks like Ladner think we can compare different nations' education spending when the US cost includes health care expenses for its teachers and other countries costs don't. Because not only do those countries not include the costs; our health care costs are, in many cases, more than double theirs.

So the education spending comparison is distorted both by the omission of these health care costs in other nations, and our country's use of a private health insurance system that is driving up costs - a policy that has nothing to do with education.

And as to the notion that our kids suck compared to their kids...
Moreover, a recent study by the United States Department of Education looking at PISA scores by student subgroups in the United States found truly disturbing findings. American Hispanic and Black students scored closer to the lowest scoring participating nation (Mexico) than they did to top ranked countries or American Anglo students. Judging from the above chart, the United States spends more than four times the amount per pupil compared to Mexico, and I would venture to guess that almost every school administrator in Mexico would happily trade student poverty problems with the United States if given the opportunity.  The catastrophically low performance of inner city American schools despite globally high levels of spending drives the need for reform.
Click the link to find this chart:

US Hispanic students score about 40 points higher on the PISA than Mexican students. But this is a problem, according to Ladner, because the US spends "four times the amount per pupil" than Mexico.

I'm curious, Dr. Ladner: for four times the amount, how much better should those kids be scoring on the exam? Should they be getting four times the scores of the Mexican students? Would you be happy if they were getting four times the Mexican score? A 1700, which is an impossible score?

Comparing growth in per pupil spending to growth in test score outcomes is ludicrous on its face. The two are completely unrelated, and it's stupid to pretend otherwise.

Remember when Joel Klein, America's favorite educational snake oil salesman, went around showing everyone this chart?
OMG! Look at all the money we're spending, and test scores are flat! Except I then took exactly the same numbers, changed the y-axes, and created this chart:

OMG! Spending is flat but our math scores are soaring! America is saved!

Each chart is phony, because the scales showing growth in spending and growth in test scores are completely different. The comparisons Klein, Jeb!, and Ladner are making are utterly meaningless.

This nonsense has to stop, and it has to stop right now. Jeb! Bush is polluting the debate about education because he is innumerate, and his staff is letting him get away with it. Matthew Ladner does his boss no favors when he defends Jeb! from the statements he's made that are demonstrably foolish.

Matt, you gotta stop me next time before I say something stupid!


Ajay Srikanth said...

Also, international comparisons of per pupil spending and test scores may not be valid because each country has different definitions of ELLs and special needs students. And some countries (like the USA) serve more special needs students than others. Countries like Singapore discriminate against sp ed students:


Chris Guerrieri said...

You know even if Jeb Bush was right, shouldn't we spend more than every country in the world? Aren't we the richest country in the world, in the history history of the world?