Don’t build schools

I read Three Cups of Tea a couple of years ago for the now-defunct, middle-aged women and Steve book club.  It was alright.  Mostly, I thought it would have made a much better long-form magazine article– too bloated.  Not all that surprised to find out Greg Mortensen lied/way inflated many of the tales in the book.  Not all that upset about it, either.  Anyway, Annie Lowery has a nice piece in Slate about how building schools is probably one of the least effective ways to spend money if you want to further education.  [And by the way, Lowery is Ezra Klein’s girlfriend– imagine the incredibly wonky discussions that must take place in that household]:

But the most important lesson of the scandal, and one that hasn’t gotten any attention, is something entirely different. It is a lesson that applies not just to Mortenson’s organization but also to charities that are much-better run: Stop building schools. Or rather, it is a mistake to devote much money or attention to constructing physical school buildings. Throwing up structures is simple. Educating children is a much more complex, expensive, and necessary goal.

“Schools are really easy,” says Saundra Schimmelpfennig, whose organization, Good Intents, seeks to educate donors about nonprofits. “Any kind of a building is really easy to raise funding for, because it is something donors can wrap their minds around. They can see it. They can touch it. It is a one-time expense, not an ongoing or operational cost, which is harder to raise money for. But it is perhaps the least important part of education and the most inflexible as well. Spending all that money building schools is actually pretty questionable.”

Fifty years of research supports this conclusion. Economists and aid experts are continually looking for the best ways to improve educational outcomes for the poor, with an eye to improving health, income, and mobility, too. In the just-released More Than Good Intentions, Jacob Appel and Dean Karlan run through a bevy of the most successful efforts. They include: paying bonuses to teachers with good attendance records, separating kids into classes based on their knowledge and skills, providing tutoring in small groups, and offering deworming pills to students.

“Nice school buildings” appears nowhere in their book. That is because where classes take place—whether in a snazzy school, a private home, a yurt, or a house of worship—generally has little bearing on educational outcomes. It’s the consistency of attendance, health of the student, quality of the teacher, and availability of a good curriculum that really matters. A school isn’t the same thing as an education.

Really makes sense when you think about it.

Daniels for president?

When you’ve won over the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertberg, I think it’s pretty safe to say you are not going to win over the Republican primary electorate.  That’s a problem for a Mitch Daniels presidential campaign.  Hertzberg has a nice piece in his blog about a group interview with Daniels:

His candidacy, if it comes off, will test the (rather dubious) hypothesis that Republicans might be willing to forgo some of the visceral pleasures of an eighteen-month-long Hate Week in exchange for nominating someone capable of appealing to moderates and other infidels.

Yep, a dubious hypothesis indeed.  Two parts I wanted to highlight.  First, the part where Daniels really pisses me off (he may be smarter and wonkier than your average Republican, but he’s still a pretty mainstream Republican):

As such, he is a big advocate of means-testing the “safety net,” including Medicare and, I gathered, Social Security. I piped up that universal programs like pensions and health care promote social solidarity, and that if the problem is that the programs give rich people resources they don’t need, the solution could be to recover the extra money through taxes. He replied that any suggestion that well-off Americans wouldn’t be as eager to support programs that benefit only the poor as they are to support programs that benefit themselves amounts to “cynicism” and is unfair to “the American people.” (Actually, the fact that Medicare is so much more popular than Medicaid suggests that American people are a lot like other people—i.e., part of fallen humanity. But I didn’t want to haggle about “exceptionalism,” so I let it pass.)

It may be cynical and unfair, but it’s also true and the evidence is damn well overwhelming.  Ahh, but he wouldn’t be a Republican if he wasn’t into ignoring empirical evidence on policy matters.  Best way to kill these programs is to means test them.

Secondly, Hertzberg’s conclusion really sums up why Daniels strikes me as unelectable for the contemporary Republican party:

Asked the Katie Couric question—about his reading habits—Daniels said that he reads plenty on the Web but the only dead trees he pays money for are The Wall Street Journal, the Sporting News, and, um, The New Yorker. So feel free to discount my generally positive impression of him. I found his affect reassuring. To all appearances, his temperament is undoctrinaire even if some of his economic views aren’t. When it comes to red meat he seems to be a vegetarian.  [emphasis mine].

Not exactly the description of somebody who’s going to light the Tea Party on fire.

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