Teachers, Unions, Poverty, oh my

So, in a recent post where I tried to throw a lot of stuff out there, this bit about schools drew several comments:

  • Meta quote of the day.  I actually like Kevin Drum’s quote in response to Felix Salmon, better than Salmon’s:

As a general rule, anybody who thinks that anything about education reform is “simple and obvious” is wrong. (Salmon)

Words of wisdom. It’s not unions, it’s not teachers, it’s not the curriculum, it’s not funding, it’s not charter schools, it’s not poverty, it’s not testing, and it’s not poor parenting. It’s all those things. Anyone who gets too obsessed with only one or two pieces of the ed system is just guaranteeing that they’ll never understand what’s going on. (Drum)

In comments, John F insists its the poverty.  Mike B says, no, it’s not.  My turn.  They’re both right, but here’s my take.   Yes, it is the poverty more than anything else, but, we are talking about education policy.  Sure, alleviating concentrated poverty might very well be the single most effective way to improve education, but in the real world that’s simply never going to be feasible as education policy.  I would argue, that with education policy, we should do what we can to make our schools as good as possible, given that in many cases we are dealing with a lot of impoverished students.  In that case, education-wise, I think the evidence suggests the single most important thing we can do in the purview of education policy is to improve teacher quality.  As for as Steven Brill’s take goes (I’ve now read his Reuters essay and listened to a Dianne Rehm interview) I definitely strongly agree that we need to treat teachers more as professionals.  Quality teaching should be rewarded and poor teaching should lead to termination.  Sadly, that’s currently all-too-often not the case.  This also fits fairly well with the Gladwell take on teaching with regular readers are tired of me mentioning.  It should definitely be way easier to fire bad teachers and surely be easier to assess and reward the best teachers.  We should stop rewarding teachers for credentials that contribute nothing to better teaching.  That said, I think you could completely eliminate teacher’s unions and we’d still have a lot of the same problems.

When you get down to it, I really think that there’s some common-sense, empirically-based ideas that most of us who really care about this issue could probably agree upon.  We really need to pay good teachers more, do whatever it takes to make teaching a more attractive profession to high-quality college grads (see Finland and Korea), take the lessons we can from charter schools that are scalable and really work, while realizing that charter schools are definitely no panacea.   Can’t we all agree on that regardless of how central we thing poverty is to the overall state of education?  Maybe we could even agree that, to the degree that it’s possible, education policy should work to address they ways in which poverty specifically undermines student performance.

[That was more original thought than you get for a blog post.  Enjoy it– I’m off to Portland, Maine  ahead of Irene to attend a wedding.]


Optical Illusion of the day

This image is really not actually moving at all.  Very cool:

This Is Not A GIF

And, here’s a link to a whole bunch more of these.  With explanations in Japanese to boot!

New Yorker-esque cartoons of the day

I’m a big fan of New Yorker cartoons (Kim always goes straight to the last page to check out the caption contest when the new issue comes), so I really enjoyed this piece in Slate about what it takes to get a cartoon in the New Yorker.  The author, James Sturm,  includes several of his submissions that certainly fit the style, but didn’t make the grade.  These are my favorites:


The Texas economy

There’s been plenty of stuff making the rounds of the liberal blogosphere explaining Texas’ economic success since Rick Perry’s entrance to the race.  What I thought worth posting here, comes from the liberal blogosphere, but is Drum excerpting a Goldman Sachs analysis of the Texas economy, i.e,. not some whiny liberal bloggers, but Wall Street types.  The key excerpt:

The report concludes that three factors are overwhelmingly responsible for good employment performance over the past three years:

  • Lack of a housing bubble. Texas really does have something to teach us on this score — namely that sensible government regulation of the mortgage market is a pretty good idea — but this is not exactly something Perry is eager to preach about. (And he wasn’t responsible for it anyway.)
  • An oil industry. ‘Nuff said. Lucky is lucky.
  • Lots of high-end services and technology. Actually, I suspect Texas has done fairly well on this score over the past decade, but it’s still not a leader of the pack. Texas-wise, housing and oil are the big story here.

And what wasn’t responsible for strong employment performance? Here’s the list:

  • State income tax rates
  • State property tax rates
  • State spending as a share of the economy

Goldman analyst Zach Pandl’s conclusion:

For the national economy we see two main lessons. First, because housing and mortgage credit are central to the weakness around the country, these issues should probably continue to receive attention from policymakers. Second, because the outperformance of a few states is closely related to natural resource exposure it is not easily replicable elsewhere.

Just remember stuff whenever people try and argue we need to follow the Texas model.  You cannot exactly replicate oil reserves and prevent a housing bubble that already happened.  What we can do to replicate Texas is increase regulation of mortgages.  Also, if lame state services and low taxes were the key, MS, AL, LA, etc., would all be booming and people would actually want to live there.

Stuff I wanted to blog about today and didn’t

Busy day today.  Worst part is, out over $400 for a new washing machine.  Plus, $75 to find out that our washing machine would be so expensive to repair that we just needed to buy a new one.  Anyway, lots of stuff I really wanted to blog about today and realize I’ll probably never get around to, as the next few days look quite busy as well.

  • Making the rounds throughout the liberal blogosphere, this chart that shows what incredible folly it would be to raise the Medicare eligibility age.  Just dumb, anyway you look at it.  I hate that Obama was willing to bargain on this.  Also shows what a moron Joe Lieberman is for pushing it.  Here’s Drum’s post on it.
  • Steven Pearlstein on the absurdity that is our patent system.  Just read it.  Seriously.  He also links to the absolutely fabulous This American life on the topic.
  • Meta quote of the day.  I actually like Kevin Drum’s quote in response to Felix Salmon, better than Salmon’s:

As a general rule, anybody who thinks that anything about education reform is “simple and obvious” is wrong.

Words of wisdom. It’s not unions, it’s not teachers, it’s not the curriculum, it’s not funding, it’s not charter schools, it’s not poverty, it’s not testing, and it’s not poor parenting. It’s all those things. Anyone who gets too obsessed with only one or two pieces of the ed system is just guaranteeing that they’ll never understand what’s going on.

  • Yes, Virigina, the stimulus really did work.  It’s old news, but Jon Cohn has a nice post emphasizing this very essential point.  It’s not liberal economists who say so, it’s Wall Street economists.
  • Okay, just read the Felix Salmon piece Drum quotes from.  Really nice summary of the issues of school quality and Brill’s new book that I’m going to write a longer blog post about some day.  Read it.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.  Maybe.

Fed Up

This campaign season just keeps getting more fun.  Now Rick Perry is disavowing his book, Fed Up, that’s been out not a year, and which just last week he was telling people to read on the campaign trail.

Last November, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) published Fed Up, a 240-page ode totentherism, which argues that everything from child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to Medicare violates the Constitution. As it turns out, however, claiming that America’s entire social safety net is unconstitutional isn’t a very popular position — so Perry’s now trying to take it all back just one week into his presidential campaign:

[Perry’s] communications director, Ray Sullivan, said Thursday that he had “never heard” the governor suggest [Social Security] was unconstitutional. Not only that, Mr. Sullivan said, but “Fed Up!” is not meant to reflect the governor’s current views on how to fix the program. […]

In an interview, Mr. Sullivan acknowledged that many passages in Mr. Perry’s “Fed Up!” could dog his presidential campaign. The book, Mr. Sullivan said, “is a look back, not a path forward.” It was written “as a review and critique of 50 years of federal excesses, not in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto,” Mr. Sullivan said.

The campaign’s disavowal of “Fed Up!” is itself very new. On Sunday evening, at Mr. Perry’s first campaign stop in Iowa, a questioner asked the governor to talk about how he would fix the country’s rickety entitlement programs. Mr. Perry shot back: “Have you read my book, ‘Fed Up!’ Get a copy and read it.”  [emphases in original]

Fed Up is not some 20-year-old graduate school thesis that Perry wrote before he served in elected office. It is a substantial, nationally published manifesto that Perry was proudly signing at book tours just a few months ago. Indeed, as recently as last Monday, Perry was on the campaign trail citing Fed Up for the unusual proposition that “I don’t think the federal government has a role in your children’s education.”

Here’s the thing I realized about Fed Up.  You would simply never write this book if you had an intention of winning a general election for President of the US.  It’s probably a solid document if you want to try and win the Republican primaries, but Perry practically calls for the elimination of the US government except for the military.  He truly is an extremist.  These are simply not positions you can expect to win a general election with.  For one thing, this suggests to me that Perry, unlike most candidates, really has not been aspiring to the presidency for a long time.  If he had been, surely there would have been more caveats, etc., to weaken the extremity of the message.  I don’t think this is going to be a hindrance in the GOP race, but if he wins the nomination, plan on hearing lots about Fed Up.




Obama and the earthquake

Posted by a FB friend of Dahlia Lithwick– I loved this…

Here’s my favorite quake joke, though (sorry, Prez — I really love you):  “There was just a 5.9 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.9, so he compromised.”

For what it’s worth, about 1/3 of my class said they felt it, but nobody was sure enough to raise the issue before we had the class break 30 minutes later.  I had no idea.  Kim said she felt it at home.  The most sobering aspect was the many of my FB friends back in the DC area who initially feared this was a man-made, not natural, event.

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