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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Our Stupid Education Discourse

Bruce Baker, who actually knows what the hell he is talking about, writes this:
We conclude that there is arbitrariness in how research in this area appears to have shaped the perceptions and discourse of policymakers and the public. Methodological complexities and design problems plague finance impact studies. Advocacy research that has received considerable attention in the press and elsewhere has taken shortcuts toward desired conclusions, and this is troubling. As demonstrated by our own second look at the states discussed in Hanushek and Lindseth’s book, the methods used for such relatively superficial analyses are easily manipulable and do not necessarily lead to the book’s conclusions.Higher quality research, in contrast, shows that states that implemented significant reforms to the level and/or distribution of funding tend to have significant gains in student outcomes. Moreover, we stress the importance of the specific nature of any given reform: positive outcomes are likely to arise only if the reform is both significant and sustained.Court orders alone do not ensure improved outcomes, nor do short-term responses.
As if on cue, "Crazy Uncle" Paul Mulshine then blogs this:
As the Reason article notes:
Government at all levels spent an average of $149,000 on the 13-year education of a high school senior who graduated in 2009, compared to $50,000 (in 2009 dollars) for a 1970 graduate.
Despite the dramatic increase in spending, there has been no notable change in student outcomes.
In some New Jersey districts, we spend almost third of a million dollars on an education that is crappy any standard, world, country or local. And that money comes overwhelmingly from the income tax dollars of suburban residents who also have to pay the full cost of  their own schools through property taxes.
We can no longer afford the system. And it's up to the bureaucrats and the union members to explain how we can drastically cut costs while elevating test scores.
Yet every time I put up a post on this subject I get nothing but excuses from the union members.
I'm sure they're thinking them up right now.
When I tweeted this stupidity to Bruce, he immediately pointed me toward this older takedown of the Reason Foundation. Be warned - it ain't pretty.

Mulshine, like most libertarians, likes to put on wonkish airs. He thinks Reason is a serious source of information and analysis. It is not; it's just another swank dining car on the wingnut welfare gravy train. Peer review is an anathema to these guys, but that's OK with Crazy Uncle Paul, who ain't got no patience for that there fancy book learnin' and whatnot.

The fact is that funding absolutely matters, and that, given the constraints of poverty and racism, our children are not receiving a "crappy" eduction.

This part of Mulshine's argument is especially nuts:
Let us consider where New Jersey would fit on the international scale of value-per-dollar in education spending:
At the very bottom.
Our average per-pupil spending is $18,000 annually. Multiply that in your head (public school grads can use their calculators) by the nine grades in question and you see that Jersey spends $162,000 per pupil over the same time period.
That's almost three times as much as Finland spends, which seems to be about $60,000 total over the same time period (Note: The graphic in question refers to  K-12 spending, but it seems to apply to the nine years in question).
Now compare what the schools in the districts to which the state Supreme Court sends you hard-earned tax dollars. Newark spends about $24,000 a year. That adds up to an incredible $216,000 for nine years. Yet Newark's test scores would be at the bottom of any world ranking system.
So stupid, and on several levels:

- A moderately bright high school student will tell you you cannot use different sets of data to compare costs without looking at how the criteria for collecting those data differ. You can't use NJDOE data and OECD data interchangeably. This is so basic that it's enough to discount any further argument Mulshine may make.

- As I've noted many times before - and believe me, it's hardly an original argument - the OECD data is hardly apples-to-apples when comparing countries. If, for example, the US adds costs for teacher health insurance to its expenditures for education, but Finland does not as it has universal health care - well, that's hardly a fair comparison, is it?

- The US is an economically, demographically, ethnically, and racially diverse country; most European countries are not. When you control for this, the US does very, very well in educating its kids.

- Even taking all this into account: when looking at education spending as a percentage of GDP, the US is hardly at the top of the food chain:

You mean Finland spends more of their economy on education than we do? I'm just shocked...

Crazy Uncle Paul ends on this note:
We can no longer afford the system. And it's up to the bureaucrats and the union members to explain how we can drastically cut costs while elevating test scores.
"We" can no longer afford "our" taxes, but the very wealthy, who've made all of the money over the last 30 years, can easily afford to pay more - and they should.

We can also drastically cut costs by emulating Mulshine's beloved Finland and implementing a universal health care system.

Somehow, I don't think Crazy Uncle Paul will go for that.

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