Homework doesn’t work

I’ve been touting this Slate article for years on the pointlessness of elementary school homework.  Your kid needs to do some reading (which, fortunately for us, has always counted as “homework” at Kinsgswood Elementary), but otherwise, there’s very little to gain.  Pre-Adderall, we used to have long struggles with David over his homework in 1st and 2nd grade– that just shouldn’t be.  He had a phenomenal third grade teacher who recognized the pointlessness of most homework.  She even had to fight off parents who wanted their kids to have more homework– she told them they could do it on their own.  Since then, the vast majority of daily homework has been considered to be reading books of one’s choice, which I don’t even consider “homework” per se.  Unlike math worksheets, reading a book for pleasure is a 365 day a year activity for David.  Anyway, I was encouraged to see that more schools are finally catching onto all this:

Galloway, a mostly middle-class community northwest of Atlantic City, is part of a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high-stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, particularly in elementary grades.

Of course, there’s a backlash:

Such efforts have drawn criticism from some teachers and some parents who counter that students must study more, not less, if they are to succeed.

But, of course, if you read the Slate piece, you’ll see that those in favor of cutting back have a little something called “evidence” and “data” on their side.  I really don’t quite know what to expect around here in the later grades, but I’ll take it as a good sign that I haven’t heard horror stories from friends with older kids.  Great to see that “what makes sense” is making inroads against “what we’ve always done.”

Sullivan on modern conservatism

Other than the somewhat annoying penchant for Sullivan to essentially define everything he believes as “true” conservatism.  This is awesome.  Seriously, read the whole thing.  Nonetheless, my favorite parts:

On these terms, today’s GOP could not be less conservative. I’d insist it’s less conservative than Obama. It does not present reality-based reform for emergent problems. It simply reiterates dogma and ruthlessly polices dissent or debate.

Okay, this part is true, but actually annoying.  Exact right diagnosis, but implies– absurdly– that reality-based reform is inherently conservative.  As for the fact that conservatives have no interest at addressing the actual facts on the ground as opposed to just blind reliance on tax cuts and less regulation– exactly right.

Now it’s Levin-land: either total freedom or complete slavery and a rhetorical war based entirely on that binary ideological spectrum. In other words, ideological performance art: brain-dead, unaware of history, uninterested in policy detail, bored by empiricism, motivated primarily by sophistry, Manicheanism, and factional hatred.

And it ends with a killer quote:

today’s unconservative “conservatism” is a movement held together by cultural resentment and xenophobic panic. Until it wrests free of this trap, it deserves its Palinesque fate: an ideology wrapped in anachronism, and laced with venom.

More regulation = more money

I love a good cost/benefit analysis.  I’d never be so blindly partisan as to suggest that liberals pay attention to them and conservatives don’t.  However, I do believe that the modern Republican party’s hostility towards not only science, but expertise in general, does mean that Democrats are a lot more likely to take such things seriously and actually base policy on them.  Case in point: Republicans in NC arguing that ending a $.01 sale tax will create 11,000 private sector jobs and ignore the fact that it will cost 30,000 jobs– mostly public sector plus the multiplier effect.

Anyway, one area Republicans are always complaining about is how all these burdensome regulations on business are hampering the economy and costing us money.  Well, when you actually look at these awful regulations, many of them are enormously beneficial in a strict cost/benefit sense.  David Roberts at Grist explains:

The right has produced a veritable avalanche of horsesh*t about the EPA recently, and the WSJeditorial is just one more shovelful. In the Republican debate the other night, Michele Bachmannsaid she’d rename EPA “the job-killing organization of America” and pass “the mother of all repeal bills.” Nobody so much as blinked. Among conservatives, the jihad against the agency is simply taken for granted. There’s not much point in rational persuasion at this point; there’s nothing left for defenders of EPA to do but fight, with whatever weapons they have at hand.

Still, just in case there are still “persuadables” out there, it’s worth highlighting a few important facts about regulations in general and green regulations in particular, pivoting off a few studies recently done by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)…

Of course, regulations do have short-term economic effects; there are winners and losers. Isaac Shapiro of EPI recently tallied up the cumulative costs and benefits of new EPA rules. Here’s what he found:

Two broad conclusions emerge from this analysis. First, the dollar value of the benefits of the major rules finalized or proposed by the EPA so far during the Obama administration exceeds the rules costs by an exceptionally wide margin. Health benefits in terms of lives saved and illnesses avoided will be enormous. Expressed in 2010 dollars:

• The combined annual benefits from all final rules exceed their costs by $32 billion to $142 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 4-to-1 to 22-to-1.
• The combined annual benefits from four proposed rules examined here exceed their costs by $160 billion to $440 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 12-to-1 to 32-to-1.

Wow– those are pretty good deals for the public.  Of course, if all you get is the WSJ Editorial page and Fox news, you’d be convinced these were incredibly costly, “job-killing” regulations.   Let’s just give one easy-to-understand example: restaurant food safety regulations.  Does it cost more for restaurants to follow various procedures to keep their food healthy (proper storage, frequent sterilization of preparation items, extra storage space to make sure meat and other food are stored apart, etc.)?  Of course!  But, think for a second about the benefit.  Imagine if restaurants did not have to follow these rules (and please, ignore the libertarian fantasy that the market would somehow take care of it), we’d see all sorts of people spending money on medical treatment or even just lost productivity from staying home from work with food poisoning.  Preventing all that unnecessary productivity loss and medical expense surely outweighs the costs to restaurants of the additional steps for food safety, but it’s not obvious until you really think about it in a simple benefit/cost perspective instead of a narrow-minded “government regulation is bad” perspective.

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