« Presidential Signing Statements and the Tricameral Legislature | Main | Why the Senate Should Not Confirm Samuel Alito »

January 16, 2006

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball

"The Economist magazine wrote a lengthy article on why we observe these ranking and noted that in American, education at this level is privately funded for the most part (California excellence being the exception)"

Huh. So why are California public universities the exception? Based on the earlier comments you've made, Kimball, I'd guess that a liberal state like California, filled to the brim with monopoly-luvvahs, would have the worst public universities of all.

Can you think of a possible reason to explain this remarkable "exception" Kimball?

Deborah Spaeth

http://bobgeiger.blogspot.com/2006/01/student-stumps-bush-with-education.html

Kansas student asks reasonable question.

And gets a bogus answer from nation's leading "conservative."

Kimball Corson

Deborah writes:

"Huh. So why are California public universities the exception? . . .Can you think of a possible reason to explain this remarkable "exception" Kimball?"

I respond:

Yes. I know the history. California decided years ago to develop a first class university system. They put the resources into it and recruited students and faculty from far and wide. Jews, Asians and the best other students from everywhere were sought. The universities did well, Berkeley especially and especially at the graduate level. But there was a problem.

The universities were being financed by California taxpayers too many of whose children could not get into the better California universities. As economists explained it, California taxpayers were subsidizing the education of smart and often well to do kids largely from out of state, to the exclusion of their own kids. Now, those taxpayers are waking up.

Effective limits are being imposed on the number of smart and out of state kids. Asians, even from California, have to have much, much higher SAT scores to get in now. Out-of-staters are discriminated against and by more means than just tuition. Little California Johnny is making his way into the better California universities. Quality is slipping, but the faculties in place from earlier are good and the quality of education still pretty good, but sliding. Some California universities may slip from the list in the more distant future. State financing is retrenching for more reasons than one. The universities are where they are for now.

Mistake is the answer.

Dave

Debora,

Yes, I am selfish. I admit it. I believe all people are. Even you. I also think that selfishness is a good character trait. Selflessness is evil. But I don't care what you think of me. I only care that you are an accomplice.

"my goal is improving public education. Your goal is denying good education to poor people. You said so above. Remember, Dave?"

Yes, I remember. I have no problem with it. We may have different goals, but the end result is the same; denying vouchers to the underclass. Why? Because I know that vouchers will give the underclass freedom to choose and the probability of a better education.

You say that your "goal is improving public education," but you argue against freedon of choice. These are conflicting ideals, but I will accept your stance because it aids mine. I do not stand for some abstract goal of an altruist such as "improving public education." This phrase means nothing. I am more practical. I stand for a more concrete purpose. I know exactly what I want.

I don't care about your politics. I only care about mine. As long as we both want the same thing, united in the same struggle, we are brothers / sisters.

Scott

I notice that most of the comments generated by Professor Epstein's post on the Florida voucher case have consisted of policy arguments for and against vouchers. The legal issues that the professor raises are interesting, though, so I thought I would give my thoughts on one of them.

The professor critiques the very common state practice of including within the constitution affirmative duties, usually to be carried out by the Legislature in perpetuity. The example from the Florida Constitution of 1968 (as amended in 1998) is the Education Article, which places upon the Legislature the affirmative duty to make "adequate provision" for a "uniform, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." This type of mandate is very different from what we typically expect from a constitutional provision. The professor is correct--typically, a constitutional provision contains either an ordering of the power of the state or nation (e.g., Congress's exclusive power to declare war), or a limitation on that power (e.g., even when Congress declares war, it cannot deprive citizens of their liberty without due process of law).

But the Florida Education Article (and similar provisions in every state constitution) goes beyond defining which branch of the Florida government has the power to provide for and regulate education. Instead, it mandates that such education be provided. As other states have learned, though, these kinds of mandates, when enforced against an unwilling and politically entrenched legislature, can lead to constitutional crises. For example, imagine that a state legislature simply decides that public education is not worth the taxation and declines to fund it at all. Far fetched, I know, but some local districts did flirt with such actions during the post-Brown era. Who would force the legislature to fund an education system? I think that we can all agree that the courts would be impotent in that situation, and the people would have to "vote the bums out."

However, what is the alternative to such provisions if a state's constituitional convention wishes to make education a "paramount duty of the state," as it did in Florida? If the world were perfect, and we could go back and rewrite all the state constitutions, would we choose not to include such horatory (and precatory) provisions?

It is clear that state courts are uncomfortable enforcing them as mandates. For example, in several cases during the 1900s, the Florida Supreme Court carefully shied away from placing any substantial meaning on any of the terms contained in the Education Clause, most recently ruling in 1996 that interpreting such terms is textually committed to the Legislature, and therefore a non-justiciable political question.

Nevertheless, in the voucher case, the court had no problem supplying meaning to the Education Clause, and it went to great lengths to do so, even utilizing canons of statutory construction to infer limitations on the Legislature's power that were not explicitly stated in the constitution. Is it because the politics of the court changed? Nope. About as many Democrats and Republicans on the court as were there during the political question dismissal (remember Bush v. Gore in 2000?). I think, rather, that the court this time was successful at characterizing the Education Clause as both a mandate and a limitation, and it enforced the limitation. The court simply decided that the clause, while mandating the provision of education, also places implied limtations on how that education can be provided (i.e., only through a system of public schools that are uniform and free). In contrast to earlier suits, the plaintiffs did not claim that the Legislature had violated the constitution through inaction. Rather, the claim was that the Legislature had acted beyond the constitution's limits. Courts are just more comfortable enforcing limitations on power, rather than ordering another branch of government to act.

Thus, while I agree with the professor that horatory constitutional provisions can create logical problems when we consider whether--and how--they are enforceable, I also observe that courts are adept at recharacterizing such provisions as traditional limitations on power and enforcing them the same way that they do the Bill of Rights. Whether the court in Florida was justified in doing so is doubtful, I agree. But the more interesting question is why did the court scrupulously avoid employing the very clear limitation contained in the Declaration of Rights section of the Florida Constitution, which prohibits the taking of any money from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any sectarian institution? That provision is the traditional limitation on power that we typically find in a constitution, and it is easy to enforce. It requires no interpretation or inference, and it clearly bans any voucher program that includes religious schools. The lower court based its invalidation of the voucher program solely on that provision, but the Supreme Court affirmed on the Education Clause grounds, declining to address the "no aid" clause. I would love to hear some thoughts about why the court avoided the "Blaine Amendment" issue and what that suggests about how the "Blaine"-type provisions in other states will be treated.

Deborah Spaeth

Scott makes some interesting points.

For example, imagine that a state legislature simply decides that public education is not worth the taxation and declines to fund it at all. Far fetched, I know

I don't think this is far-fetched at all. On the contrary, this is the reality sought by Prof. Epstein and others who see public education as some sort of failed experiment in "Soviet-style" state-funded thought programming centers.

Deborah Spaeth

Dave

"You say that your "goal is improving public education," but you argue against freedon of choice."

No I don't. You're a liar, Dave. A real stinky one, too.

"These are conflicting ideals"

There is no conflict between wanting to improve public schools and preserving the right of parents to send their children to private schools or to home school them if they wish, Dave.

And Dave, once again, our goals differ. I want kids to have a great education. You don't. You believe that by denying kids vouchers that you are preventing them from getting a great education. Perhaps you'll change your tune when your taxes are raised substantially with the increase earmarked to support an improved public education. What do you think, Dave? Will we both be smiling then? Or will only of us be smiling?

Bob Smith

New York and IIRC Kansas both have judges running their school systems, telling the legislature how much it must spend and on what, because the judge decided they they weren't spending enough according to their interpretation of the state constitution.

Greg

Aside from Deborah and one of Dave's two personalities (the more entertaining one, really I was laughing out loud when we he was talking about idiots not being trusted to make their own decisions... classic!) this thread seems to be populated overwhelmingly by pro-voucher voices. Here's some anti-voucher arguments I haven't seen addressed yet

An argument has been made that the University system in the U.S. is the strongest in the world while the system in place for educating children up to age fifteen is on par with Greece and Portugal. The argument from the economist that has been stated here is that this disparity is due primarily to the fact that the U.S. university system is privately funded as opposed to its K-12 system which is largely publicly funded and thus flawed. To start off the seems a poor comparison because the literacy rate of fifteen year olds measures the academic progress of the median (or below average) student while the comparison of university system is more a statement that the elite students and teachers are doing a great job of educating. If we somehow tested the top 2% of students when they were 15 we would probably find there literacy rate was as high any in the world. What that study really says to me is that America is doing a good job of educating the low performing students (students that won't go on to college and thus won't even be looked at in studies examining US higher educatio). Did we really need the Economist to tell us that?

Private schools have done a good job educating younger students, probably a better job than public schools, but again is that a fair comparison? Are the students attending private schools in the K-12 years the same students attending public schools? I would argue no. To start off with their parents have taken an interest in their education and made their child's education a priority, something which doesn't happen with a lot of the children who are being left behind. Private school students parents are also on average wealthier (that's just a guess). I would also argue that private schools (again this is a guess from anecdotal evidence) have less special needs children which increasingly require a greater share of the resources of our public schools.

I've been opposed to vouchers for years based primarily on the fact that I felt it would divert revenue from schools for the benefit of privileged children and at the expense of the neediest children. I understand the desire to privatize and gain the benefits that the market can furnish for our educational system, but it seems like the one place where everyone should have an opportunity for an EQUAL chance is in the public schools. If we take more of the children and parents who are interested in helping educate and getting involved in afterschool activities and PTA's and band and sports and all the other good things about public schools, if we take them out of the public schools and encourage them into private schools with a voucher system, will this not almost certainly result in an inferior public school system to the one we have today (who's below Greece and Portugal anyway, Laos and Cuba?)? I would argue that we need to divert resources TOO the public school system instead of away from it. I don't think its unreasonable to install a 1% tax on private school tuitions of $10,000 or more with that money earmarked for attracting promising teachers to troubled schools.

If we are going to attack public schools as poor stewards of the public fisc, because they do less with more, I think we should at least look at the budget to see where all the money goes, does a large portion of it go to furnishing special teachers for the blind, the deaf and the learning impaired? If so do the parents of these special needs children have the same opportunities to 'opt out' of public schools as other mainstream parents. Private schools have a place in the world and they should be encouraged for the laboratories of experimentation and education that they are, but I don't think that they are the answer for our increasingly troubled schools.

Scott

Bob Smith is correct that both New York and Kansas have recently seen rulings in which courts have ordered increased appropriations to provide adequate funding for the states' students. This has happened in a handful of states, most notably Kentucky, which has been adapting its system to the court order since 1989.

However, the fact that these orders exist does not show that they will be complied with. It's the classic case of a constitutional crisis. If the respective legislatures do not want to comply with their courts' orders, who will make them do so? Will the court itself draft the relevant appropriations bill and order the legislature to vote in favor of it--on pain of comtempt sanctions? Talk about a political question.

This is not an imaginary scenario. Serial litigation is becoming common in the school finance reform field. Check out the Robinson v. Cahill line of cases in New Jersey and the Edgewood v. Kirby line of cases in Texas. These cases involve the courts' attempts to deal with reluctant legislatures after the courts have handed down decisions enforcing hortatory constitutuional provisions.

Again, I say what about those non-hortatory, Blaine-type provisions in many state constitutions? Is it likely that the courts in those states will apply those limitations as written?

Kimball Corson

Greg wrote:

“To start off the seems a poor comparison because the literacy rate of fifteen year olds measures the academic progress of the median (or below average) student while the comparison of university system is more a statement that the elite students and teachers are doing a great job of educating. If we somehow tested the top 2% of students when they were 15 we would probably find there literacy rate was as high any in the world. What that study really says to me is that America is doing a good job of educating the low performing students (students that won't go on to college and thus won't even be looked at in studies examining US higher educatio). Did we really need the Economist to tell us that?”

I respond:

The contrast or comparison is a good one I think. The real issue is how good a job is being done at each level of education by the educational system serving that level. Assuming IQ score distributions are roughly the same among rich countries, the US is doing a great job at the university level and a very poor job at the primary and secondary level and not, as Greg writes, a good job at the lower levels. We know the US is not doing a good job at the lower levels because most other rich nations are doing a better job at those levels than the US is.

Greg wrote:

“I've been opposed to vouchers for years based primarily on the fact that I felt it would divert revenue from schools for the benefit of privileged children and at the expense of the neediest children.”

I respond:

This static, first order initial impression ignores the dynamics consequences of and how competition operates. Competition is not well understood by too many, including liberals.

Public schools doing a poor job would loose money initially until they “shaped up.” Good public schools might even gain money initially. After all schools respond to the competition and make their continuing competitive adjustments as they move toward equilibrium or a stable state, the prospect could well and likely be that some public schools sink to the bottom and others rise to the top and the same would be true for the private schools. Public schools above the new and higher average would actually gain money from private and public schools below the average. Further, and this is important, schools could specialize to meet population needs better and therefore likewise be more effective. The key point is that the mean or average performance would significantly increase of all the schools, as they try harder to do better in all competitive regards.

What we have now is a largely monolithic Soviet-style monopoly that costs too much, provides too little and cannot provide a suitably diverse range of good services to meet population needs. The office supply industry – to pick one at random – does a much better job because it is largely competitive, prices are reasonable, product selection and availability are great, delivery systems are superior, and the quality range of products available is likewise good. We cannot say any of those things about our public schools.

Kimball Corson

It is not surprising to see legislatures more and more reluctant to throw good money after bad in regard to public schools systems, when they know full well that performance will remain low regardless of funding levels.

Monopoly performance is not improved by greater funding or prices. The output problems remain the same and that is because the focus of monopolies is never on real performance, but instead is on maintaining the monopolistic status quo.

Scott

The policy arguments offered by Kimball to support the voucher plan that she favors sound compelling, but they are based on what I consider to be faulty comparisons. To take her office supplies analogy, for instance, it is indiputable that the office supply industry works as a well-oiled, free market machine, and that the public schools do not, but it is not necessarily true that it is the monpoly on public funding that causes the public schools not to perform as the office supply stores do.

Here are some reasons:

First, the office supply stores provide goods, and their main costs are in the costs of purchasing those goods and getting them to the customers. The public schools provide services, and their main costs in doing so are in human labor (salaries, benefits, etc.). The office supply stores can decide for themselves what goods to carry and which wholesale distributors to buy those goods from, while the public schools have no power to decide which students to teach and which neighborhoods to draw them from.

This is a disconnect in Kimball's analogy. While one industry can reasonably control the costs of the goods that it provides and even stop providing certain goods that don't yield a reaonable profit, the other cannot control the level of services that it must provide. No Child Left Behind, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and myriad state mandates determine for the public schools the level of service that must be provided, and zoning laws also take away any choice that local public schools may have over whom they must teach. To fit within Kimball's analogy, public schools should be able to choose not to teach students that cost them more time and effort to educate than is reflected in the per-student funding distribution. Private schools certainly have that freedom, as do office supply stores when they select their product lines and suppliers.

The public schools also have no control over the labor costs associated with providing their services. Teachers' salaries are often detemined at the state level, and if not, the district level. Never the school level. The same is true for teacher qualifications. Thus, to introduce competititon from private schools that can make all these decisions for themselves, the fair solution may be to allow greater freedom at the public school site level to determine curriculum, salaries, and disability services.

Second, it is puzzling to me why many economists do not see the logical conclusion of the reasoning that holds that, in a voucher system, bad public schools will simply sink to the bottom and, assumedly, go out of business for lack of market share. This is undoubtedly true, but it certainly does not happen overnight. It may take years, and the students in those schools will be "trapped" in those schools the entire time until the schools finally go under. There is not an infinite number of private schools out there, and the best public schools in the suburbs are almost uniformly overcrowded, so even if vouchers are there for the asking for any student who wants one, where will they all go?

If the answer is that new schools will rise up to take the place of the failing ones in true, free-market fashion, I agree, but that will also take a good deal of time. In the mean time, the same students will be "trapped" in their failing, and now progressively worse, schools until those alternative private schools are up and running. If we assume that the number of private schools will multiply by ten overnight, then we must also take into consideration the fact that not every school is a good school when it opens, and many of these schools will offer worse services, with less oversight and accountability, than the failing public schools.

We saw this happen in Pensacola when the very, very limited voucher program in Florida began. Of the fifty students who elected to leave their "failing" schools in the first year of the program, more than half returned to their public schools by the end of the year because their new private schools were so poorly run. Importantly, the state did not then and does not now have any way of determining the overall quality of the private schools that participate in the program. Supporters say that becasue each voucher student must pass the FCAT, accountability is assured, but there is no requirement that a student fail the FCAT before receiving a voucher. So, the public school could have been doing just as good a job with that student, while the private school may be doing a worse job with the students in general. We have no way of knowing. The lack of any oversight or accountability for teaching the state's curriculum was one of the main reasons that the Florida Supreme Court held that the state's system of public schools could not be "uniform" with the inclusion of private schools.

In sum, the two main problems with the analogy offered are that (1) the two industries compared have vastly different levels of autonomy at the local level; and (2) the analogy assumes that schools can just spring up out of nowhere to grab market share and provide a decent education.

The analogy to graduate education is even more flawed. First, the rankings of graduate institutions do not ever seriously consider the quality of the teaching or even how much the students learn. They are almost entirely based on research achievements. Contrary to Kimball's claim, these achievements are substantially supported through public funding, in the form of research grants. So, while we clearly are leading the world in graduate school quality, this says nothing about whether our graduate schools are better at educating students than our grade schools. It also syas nothing about the efficacy of private funding versus public funding. At best, the funding of graduate schools is mixed, not scrupulously private, as Kimball claims.

Second, graduate schools are not tied down by any of the mandatory provisions that bind grade schools, save non-discrimination laws. They are free to choose, reject, or expel any students they wish, as long as they do not illegally discriminate. Community colleges, on the other hand, have open admissions. Take a look some time at graduation rates there. They are abysmal. And this is from a system that at least has the freedom to charge some tuition and decide what courses it wants to offer.

Once more point: the European and Asian nations that Kimball uses to illustrate our poor performance internationally in the 15-year-old subgroup rigidly track their students at an early age. The United States, on the other hand, has the philosophy of allowing all students to be college-bound, and we have structured our education system that way. The difference in performance may be explained by the tracking differences, as well as the lack of heterogeneity in the populations of countries such as Japan and Korea. My point is that assuming that the monopolistic nature of the system is its flaw deserves greater scrutiny. The military achieves pretty good results, and it has the clearest monopoly that ever existed. If you disagree about the military's efficacy, maybe we should allow private companies to provide battalions in exchange for a share of the military budget. If you want an analogy, that's a better one than Office Depot.

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball

"What we have now is a largely monolithic Soviet-style monopoly"

If I could fart audibly over the Internet, there couldn't be a better time to do so. What makes the public school system a "Soviet-style" monopoly, Kimball, as opposed to just a plain old monopoly? Is their competition among teachers for jobs at public schools or are teachers appointed by the Public School Czar?

Please enlighten us, Kimball, and try to do so without the "Soviet-style" propagandistic rhetoric. Pretty please.

My only experience with the "Soviet-style" school system is the students who were educated by that system and who emigrated to the US to attend graduate school with me at one of the top graduate schools in my field in the world (a public school). Those folks were some of the most intelligent and capable scientists I ever met.

What Scott and I are both driving at is your 22 page issue of The Economist falls just a wee bit short of the sort of analysis that is needed to address the "problem" of allegedly "failing" public schools. Nor is 22 pages sufficient to explain the results between ANY schools anywhere in the United States, from year to year or state to state, much less between schools from different countries.

This is Point Number One and the failure to recognize and admit this point is why Prof. Epstein's attack on the public school system comes across as a libertarian fluff job and nothing more.

I understand that certain portions of our society love quick fixes and "simple solutions" to complex problems. To a large extent, the portion of society that believes that vouchers are the answer to "improving" public schools is likely the same portion who believed Iraqis flew planes into the World Trade Center until it was nearly impossible to do so without being scorned.

This is way that contemporary conservatives conduct discourse in the United States in 2005. Scripts are recited until they are stale and debunked, then they are put away until the arguments debunking the scripts are forgotten, after which they are dusted off and recited again. And again and again.

There are thousands of excellent public schools in this country. The goal is to extend that excellence to schools in other parts of the country without resorting to self-interested private organizations.

American conservatives gleefully throw hundreds of billions of dollars at lethal programs to fund public schools in OTHER COUNTRIES populated by religious fundamentalists who hate the United States.

But back here they claim that the US public school system is a "Soviet-style" monopoly which would be better if it catered to the "scientific theories" of religious fundamentalists?

It's breathtakingly hypocritical. But sadly unsurprising for those of us who pay attention.

Dave

The public middle school (7th and 8th grade only) up the road from me just finished installing a $250,000 gym. They bought free weights, weight machines, treadmills, stair-steppers, etc. These kids are physically too immature to be weight-lifting. Running laps, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups and stretching should be all these kids are doing. But they had to use the money or lose it, so instead of investing in education they waste it on a very impressive gym. And I'm very impressed. I'd rather use this gym than go to Gold's Gym. The fact that the kids don't use it is irrelevant, because now they have a trophy to show parents on orientation night. Meanwhile, my neighbors kid is still failing math, but that's only because he doesn't read very well. I know this because my wife tutored him last year. His parents just don't get it. They keep insisting that they moved to this neighborhood because they found out that this school district spends over $12,000 per child. That should get him a better education, right? More money isn't the answer, it's the problem. When the money isn't earned, it will be misspent.

Deborah Spaeth

Dave

"More money isn't the answer, it's the problem. When the money isn't earned, it will be misspent."

The well of aphorisms is indeed bottomless. So is the public's television-whetted appetite for increasingly competitive and "professional" high school sports programs. I advocate for the diminishment of both in favor of increased literacy.

"Meanwhile, my neighbors kid is still failing math, but that's only because he doesn't read very well."

Maybe you could "accidentally" run over him with your BMW, Dave, to ensure that he doesn't compete with you for your hoarded wealth.

Greg

Scott responded to Kimball much more eloquently and completely that I can, but I would like to thank her for the thoughtful reply though I remain unconvinced by the office supply analogy.

As Kimball rightly pointed out I'm not an economist with expertise in the market (I'm also not certain that I'm a liberal, or even if I was being called one, but that's pretty irrelevant anyway) but Scott's criticism of the Office Supply analogy seem right on.

Isn't one of the cornerstones of the free market that unconstrained good ideas will succeed and bad ideas will fail because people won't want to pay more for inferior products? This is why the bad schools will shrivel up and die in the perfect market while the teaching techniques taught in good schools will be copied and passed around until all benefit from the inivative techniques encouraged by the freedom of experimentation and the financial rewards that are given to those who think up a better mousetrap (or in this case, a way to teach sixth graders more than... well teach them something anyway). Scott correctly points out that schools will never have the same freedoms that true free markets enjoy. Office Depot is free to close branches that lose money because they have no obligation to customer or employee, only to maximize porfits. Of course public schools can't be given the same freedom because they would simply choose not to spend exorbitant amounts to open schools in remote areas or to educate the learning disabled, the blind, the slow and maybe even the left handed (they could save a lot by not having to buy left handed scissors for art classes).

Also I'd like to apologize for mistyping. I do agree that American schools are NOT doing a good of educating K-12 students and I agree with Kimball in her statements on that point. However I don't believe that she refuted the statement that comparing literacy rates of 15 -year olds and the national reputation of graduate schools is not comparing apples to apples. You are comparing the lower level of students at 15 and the upper echelon of students in college (the lower level of students didn't get to college and definitely didn't get to Stanford, Harvard, Yale or any of those other schools that wouldn't let me in). The comparison can be interpreted pretty fairly to say that american does a bad job educating the bottom half of its popoulation (throughout their lives) as much as it can be fairly interpreted to say that american university's perform better than the K-12 system.

It could be argued that the Economist article does in fact show that free markets in education improve performance, but that is by no means shown by the comparison offered thus far.

Dave

"So is the public's television-whetted appetite for increasingly competitive and "professional" high school sports programs."

Yes, television's great, isn't it! What a fantastic tool for mind-control, or mind-numbing. And now, we can add video games and ipods. The future looks bright!

"Maybe you could "accidentally" run over him with your BMW, Dave, to ensure that he doesn't compete with you for your hoarded wealth."

No need, he absolutely does not care about his education. He doesn't see the point in learning "all that useless stuff." LOL, he told me once that he already knows everything he needs to know. ROTFLMAO...Ooooh, I can't stop laughing!

Meanwhile, we got to vote (by absentee ballot) on more property taxes for our school districts. We voted "no" on all three, of course. They'll probably pass, though. I'll keep you posted.

Kimball Corson

Would like to respond, but can't because I am away from WiFi network and on open ocean where I lack bandwidth

Deborah Spaeth

Kimball

"Would like to respond, but can't because I am away from WiFi network and on open ocean where I lack bandwidth"

Ha! How nice of you to check in, though. ;)

Deborah Spaeth

Something to chew on

"Over all, demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases."

http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP111.pdf

Dave

Anyone can find drivel on the internet, but Deborah can't seem to post anything else. Oh, yes, I do understand that if this drivel comes from ncspe, then it must be gospel! LOL

Dave

"Over all, demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases."

This doesn't even amke sense...it says that students in private schools are different from those in public schools. Duh! Then it says that if we control (ie. remove/ignore) these differences, then the effect disappears. Duh! That's the whole freaking point! Private schools currently get better kids! That's why they perform better! What was your point for even posting this? Friggin moron! Pure drivel! Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing! As is the poster of this illogical crap!

Kimball Corson

Back near a Wi-Fi network, after a serious shake-down cruise on the Pacific off the coast of Mexico trying some new equipment.

Scott and Greg raise points I address:

I do not want to place too much stock in my office supply example of how competition works because Scott rightly targets some of its perceived limitations as an example here. I could have as well selected the market for legal service or legal education as an example of how competition works. Be that as it may, I do want to address some of what I think are mistakes in Scott’s analysis:

Scott writes:

“First . . . office supply stores can decide for themselves what goods to carry and which wholesale distributors to buy those goods from, while the public schools have no power to decide which students to teach and which neighborhoods to draw them from. . .”

I respond:

But having to take the kids in a school’s district is a part of the monopoly problem.
This is so because the school is not able to take kids from anywhere, and have kids in the district cannot go anywhere (without double paying), as would be the case under a true state-wide voucher plan.

Scott then writes:

“ . . . No Child Left Behind, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and myriad state mandates determine for the public schools the level of service that must be provided, and zoning laws also take away any choice that local public schools may have over whom they must teach. To fit within Kimball's analogy, public schools should be able to choose not to teach students that cost them more time and effort to educate than is reflected in the per-student funding distribution. . . “

I respond:

The measure of success of any school is not its absolute level of student achievement, but how well it does with what it gets or can attract. We cannot and do not expect graduates of a primary school for the retarded to perform at the same level as those of a private primary school for the exceptionally bright. That would be foolishness of a type implicit in the idea of no child left behind. The issue is more one analogous to value added. Chicago’s law school, for example, according to the Leiter Reports, does an excellent job of educating its students and they place out in jobs and bar passage rates exceptionally well and ahead of, for example, students of most other law schools with higher mean LSAT scores. The issue is performance with the students a school can and wants to attract. In a developed competitive environment, schools would specialize and target subclasses of students and because of their specialization and developed special competences, do a better job with the students they target than the public school system now ever can. We are not taking about trying to make Einsteins out of kids with room temperature IQs. However, the market mechanism would make sure all are provided for and provided for well. All would have the same state financial support which is pretty sustantial.

Scott writes:

“. . . The public schools also have no control over the labor costs associated with providing their services. Teachers' salaries are often determined at the state level, and if not, the district level. Never the school level. The same is true for teacher qualifications. Thus, to introduce competition from private schools that can make all these decisions for themselves, the fair solution may be to allow greater freedom at the public school site level to determine curriculum, salaries, and disability services. . .”

I respond:

This misunderstands how the voucher system would work. The problems here that Scott recites are problems, not of a state-wide voucher system, but problems of the monopolistc structure of the present system as it unsuccessfully tries to compete with a parallel, but otherwise handicapped market structured system of private schools.

Scott writes:

“Second, it is puzzling to me why many economists do not see the logical conclusion of the reasoning that holds that, in a voucher system, bad public schools will simply sink to the bottom and, assumedly, go out of business for lack of market share. . .”

I respond:

That is because economists understand how competition works and lay people too often do not. Bad public schools now have no incentive to do better. They are a protected monopoly. Threatened with students and jobs loss, the incentive to perform better becomes marked and bad schools will improve under a competitive voucher system, not just sink to the bottom and go out of business as Scott suggests. Indeed, some public schools may rise to the top in the market segments in which they compete and some private schools may fair less well. The problem is the failure to understand how competition works.

Scott writes:

“ . . .[The adjustment to a full competitive equilibrium] certainly does not happen overnight. It may take years, and the students in [bad] schools will be "trapped" in those schools the entire time until the schools finally go under. There is not an infinite number of private schools out there, and the best public schools in the suburbs are almost uniformly overcrowded, so even if vouchers are there for the asking for any student who wants one, where will they all go?”

I respond:

Again, Scott’s view reflects a lack of understanding of the competitive process in the latter regards and correctly notes adjustments take some time in the former regard, but not necessarily years. However, we do not forego adjustments because of transitional bumps where the end result is a big improvement. To have a nicer home, we must undergo the pain of moving, for example. Further, Scott again assumes the bad public schools will stay bad and slowly sink to the bottom before going out of business. I have already addressed that likely non-problem. Further, under the voucher system the kids are not “trapped.” They can leave and go to another school. Also, some new private schools will develop. Scott invariably assumes a static, non-competitive environment in which to make his arguments and this is a mistake.

Scott writes:

“If we assume that the number of private schools will multiply by ten overnight, then we must also take into consideration the fact that not every school is a good school when it opens, and many of these schools will offer worse services, with less oversight and accountability, than the failing public schools.”

I respond:

Now instead of having nowhere to go, the students have more private schools to go to than they need, in Scott’s view.

Transitional bumps are to be expected, but actually markets adjust pretty quickly and there is nothing to say private schools will mistakenly multiply ten fold overnight. If a new private school fails to perform, it should loose its students, just as should equivalent public schools. Transitional problems are never a good argument to block substantial improvement. The problem is competition is never given a chance to perform and adjust because those with monopoly interests do not want that or the competition. Also, there is no reason competition cannot be reasonably regulated to avoid foolishness or fraud. The system in Florida was hamstrung and bludgeoned almost at birth. Many people wanted vouchers to fail.

Scott writes:

“The analogy to graduate education is even more flawed. First, the rankings of graduate institutions do not ever seriously consider the quality of the teaching or even how much the students learn. They are almost entirely based on research achievements.”

I respond:

Not true. See the Leiter Reports and also the selection criteria for the Japanese universities assessment. Other studies likewise measuring achievement (e.g., professional exam passage rates, job placements, etc.) recognize the same top universities. In truth, they do produce student who are better taught and achieve more. This is a red herring.

Scott writes:

“Contrary to Kimball's claim, these achievements are substantially supported through public funding, in the form of research grants. So, while we clearly are leading the world in graduate school quality, this says nothing about whether our graduate schools are better at educating students than our grade schools. It also says nothing about the efficacy of private funding versus public funding. At best, the funding of graduate schools is mixed, not scrupulously private, as Kimball claims.”

I respond:

I said top private institutions were not “directly” funded by public monies. Research grants can be publicly funded, but many are private. Few dictate what is to be researched and almost none what the research results are to be, whereas in the public system that is not how the financing is arranged. Also, Harvard’s $25 billion endowment and the large endowments of other top private universities finance much of what they do, as do substantial private tuition dollars. Public funding does not have decisional control in these institutions as public funding does in public institutions. That is the point.

Scott writes:
“Second, graduate schools are not tied down by any of the mandatory provisions that bind grade schools, save non-discrimination laws. They are free to choose, reject, or expel any students they wish, as long as they do not illegally discriminate.”

I respond:

Again, you cannot argue the monopolistic maladies of a public system as criticisms of the private competitive system, at least without conceding my points. Public schools, if permitted to be competitive, should have those same rights, as should all schools. A bad apple should not be permitted to spoil the barrel or handicap the progress of a class or school.

Scott writes:

“ . . . the European and Asian nations that Kimball uses to illustrate our poor performance internationally in the 15-year-old subgroup rigidly track their students at an early age. The United States, on the other hand, has the philosophy of allowing all students to be college-bound, and we have structured our education system that way. The difference in performance may be explained by the tracking differences, as well as the lack of heterogeneity in the populations of countries such as Japan and Korea.”

I respond:

The studies include all students in whatever track, especially the eighth grade students where the results are the same. Too, perhaps the US public school system is making a foolish mistake to assume all students or nearly all are college educable and thereby promoting the fraud of community colleges for many. Tracking differences do not explain the differences in performance. If the populations of Japan and Korea are more homogeneous, other countries that do better than we do likewise have populations that are more heterogeneous than those of Japan and Korea. Homogeneity too is not a controlling factor.

Scott writes:

“The military achieves pretty good results, and it has the clearest monopoly that ever existed. If you disagree about the military's efficacy, maybe we should allow private companies to provide battalions in exchange for a share of the military budget.”

I respond:

The military is not so monopolistic. It is very competitive in regard to its recruitment and in many other regards. We do not have the old draft system we did and we now pay more to soldiers who aggressively compete for rank. The result is a much higher quality military than we had. The increase in competition in regard to the military accounts for its improvement and makes my point, not refutes it.

Greg writes:

“However I don't believe that she [I am a he actually] refuted the statement that comparing literacy rates of 15 -year olds and the national reputation of graduate schools is not comparing apples to apples. You are comparing the lower level of students at 15 and the upper echelon of students in college (the lower level of students didn't get to college and definitely didn't get to Stanford, Harvard, Yale or any of those other schools that wouldn't let me in). The comparison can be interpreted pretty fairly to say that American does a bad job educating the bottom half of its population (throughout their lives) as much as it can be fairly interpreted to say that American university's perform better than the K-12 system.

It could be argued that the Economist article does in fact show that free markets in education improve performance, but that is by no means shown by the comparison offered thus far.”

I respond:

I can accept these comments. The real test is how good a job is done at each level. Top private universities clearly do a good job, and we have lots of indicia of that and public schools are not doing a very good job and we have lots of indicia of that too. Comparing the two does not, as Greg points out make the case and that was not my intention. However, comparing public school kids in the US with those in other developed nations and top US universities with universities in other in foreign countries does I believe make a good case and that is what I did.

Greg

Apologies for the gender mistake.

I wanted to focus on one of Kimball's arguments that puzzled me.

Scott argued:
"Second, graduate schools are not tied down by any of the mandatory provisions that bind grade schools, save non-discrimination laws. They are free to choose, reject, or expel any students they wish, as long as they do not illegally discriminate.”

Kimball responds:
Again, you cannot argue the monopolistic maladies of a public system as criticisms of the private competitive system, at least without conceding my points. Public schools, if permitted to be competitive, should have those same rights, as should all schools. A bad apple should not be permitted to spoil the barrel or handicap the progress of a class or school.

Correct me if I'm wrong but are you really arguing that public schools in a voucher system would have the right to turn away any students that they wish so long as they don't illegally discriminate? Doesn't that mean that the some students could find themselves without a school to accept them or with the only school willing to take them hours away? Granted expelling some students would probably make it easier to teach the other 'good apples' but is that really what we want from the public education system? Shouldn't every student have an opportunity for an education?

If you aren't arguing that schools should have the right to blacklist students under a voucher program then you are stuck with having small pockets of bad public schools without the advantages of all the other schools. So the voucher system will improve the quality of education for some while draining public resources from the rest of the students which is precisely the problem. with the whole system.

The comments to this entry are closed.