Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oh please do it. Please, please, please do it….

Sarah Palin has discussed running for President.

The Republican Primary is setting up to be the biggest circus in the history of the world.  This is bad only because I’m a Republican and it makes me insanely embarrassed to be in any way associated with these clowns.

Otherwise, it is a complete and total gold mine for my Government classes and my own amusement.  And because God is on my side, Sarah Palin has expressed interest at running for Commander-in-Chief.  This is Christmas, Easter, and National Parks Day all wrapped up in one.  This is jackpot, million dollars, bling-bling kind of wonderful.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Teachers hate economists because teachers don’t have a clue about economics.


Economics is a fantastic subject to study and a wonderful subject to teach.  It’s also totally misunderstood by nearly everyone, including the teachers that teach it.  No kidding, I’ve been to Economics conferences where teachers need to be talked done off the desk that Economics is not Finance, not Business, not Politics.  Many Economics teachers play into the theory that MSNBC, NPR, Amy Goodman, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Bloomberg all have the goods on Economics.  That seems to be the problem with Larry Ferlazzo.

See that above quote?  It’s his. “The next time an economist does an education study predicting the future, keep this quote in mind: Economists are really smart and highly trained.  And they’re often terrible at predicting the future.”

Then there is the link to this article from Vox, which is almost (not quite) Drudge for those that wish the House of Representatives was still under the reign of Nancy Pelosi.  It shows that the Federal Reserve bank didn’t do well predicting 10 Year Bond Notes, and that the finance people at Bloomberg didn’t guess a FED Interest Rate hike very successfully. 

Realize that an economist really doesn’t want to predict the future, they want to use resources efficiently.  And if you want to really see how an economist feels about Education, how about talking to Uncle Ben.


“So how can we improve the opportunities for all children and give them a chance to succeed in our ever-changing, globalized economy? As the husband of a teacher and an educator myself, as well as a parent and former school board member, I know from personal experience that, for creating opportunity and changing lives, there is no substitute for a quality education. The research shows that effective educations lead to lower rates of poverty, higher lifetime earnings, and greater satisfaction on the job and at home. And specialists in economic development have identified educational attainment as a key source of economic growth and rising incomes in many countries around the world.”

Read former Federal Reserve President Ben Bernanke’s remarks to Congress and nearly every time you hear about the necessity for investment in human capital.  It’s a cornerstone to a successful economy; an education system that produces not only productive workers but happy people!  And the current Federal Reserve President, Janet Yellen?

“For families below the top, public funding plays an important role in providing resources to children that influence future levels of income and wealth. Such funding has the potential to help equalize these resources and the opportunities they confer.

Public funding of education is another way that governments can help offset the advantages some households have in resources available for children. One of the most consequential examples is early childhood education. Research shows that children from lower-income households who get good-quality pre-Kindergarten education are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college as well as hold a job and have higher earnings, and they are less likely to be incarcerated or receive public assistance.  Figure 9 shows that access to quality early childhood education has improved since the 1990s, but it remains limited--41 percent of children were enrolled in state or federally supported programs in 2013. Gains in enrollment have stalled since 2010, as has growth in funding, in both cases because of budget cuts related to the Great Recession. These cuts have reduced per-pupil spending in state-funded programs by 12 percent after inflation, and access to such programs, most of which are limited to lower-income families, varies considerably from state to state and within states, since local funding is often important.  In 2010, the United States ranked 28th out of 38 advanced countries in the share of four-year-olds enrolled in public or private early childhood education.”

Yellen made a whole lot of people cringe when she made that October speech about income disparity in the United States, and how Education investment was one of the methods that the government could use to increase productivity.  Contrary to popular opinion, most major economists are on our side.

But teachers are inherently political, insanely protective over their profession, and become roid-raged Tasmanian Devils when someone not “in education” critiques Education.  Economists want three things when dealing with public policy:

1.  What is the goal of the policy?

2.  Will the policy get the most and best out of scarce resources?

3.  How do we avoid unintended consequences from the policy?

Sounds simple except that people don’t like hearing the whole story about societies problems.  They become full of moral imperatives, enact massive bias, and come down with full blown cases of amnesia.  Teachers are some of the worst at this.  Let’s go back to education supporter, President Yellen of the FED:

“Spending is not the only determinant of outcomes in public education. Research shows that higher-quality teachers raise the educational attainment and the future earnings of students.  Better-quality teachers can help equalize some of the disadvantages in opportunity faced by students from lower-income households, but here, too, there are forces that work against raising teacher quality for these students. Research shows that, for a variety of reasons, including inequality in teacher pay, the best teachers tend to migrate to and concentrate in schools in higher-income areas.   Even within districts and in individual schools, where teacher pay is often uniform based on experience, factors beyond pay tend to lead more experienced and better-performing teachers to migrate to schools and to classrooms with more-advantaged students.”

From the same speech is a reminder that teachers are part of the problem, although I regularly hear that that’s not the case.  “Uniform pay based on experience….teachers migrating to schools and classrooms with more-advantaged students.”  Our unions support, sometimes savagely, these exact conditions.   And whenever the conversation comes up the issue is met with stiff resistance and raised hackles.

The next time an economist does an education study……listen.  The system is far from efficient and is in serious need of change, and that’s what the economist tries to analyze.  Making the economics profession anti-teacher is the wrong way to go.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

President Obama says Community Colleges should be free

That’s nice.

I’m a big proponent of the development of human capital and getting more students to engage in the process of doing that is a good thing for them, the economy, and the country as a whole. 

I’m not a fan of the word “free.”

“The requirements:

  • What students have to do: Students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program.
  • What community colleges have to do: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that are either 1) academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or 2) occupational training programs with high graduation rates and lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.
  • What the federal government has to do: Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.”

In theory this sounds like a really neat idea.  Students need to maintain some grades, colleges need to upgrade their programs and reform their process of outcomes, and there is a perception of actual government investment in Junior Colleges. 

But it’s not a good idea and probably won’t pass anyway.  Here are the three problems with it.

“Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.”

I was kill joy in my classes when this came out the other night because we are right in the middle of a Mock Congress, and there is that Constitution thing that prohibits the President from making laws and appropriating money.  Politically it’s great to say “don’t worry kids, this is free and we will figure out how to pay for it”, except when it actually isn’t free and the government has no damn clue how to pay for it.  That’s without quarter of the cost going as an unfunded mandate to states.  Maybe some greater planning is in order.

The second problem revolves around the incentive of making tuition free for students with a C average.  The controversial statistic that only 15% of enrolled community college ever get an actual degree can’t be ignored, and either there needs to be some serious discussion about who is using community college resources or what the real task of the community college is.  I thought is was about access to the development of skills and knowledge.  If that’s the case then 18 year olds need to put more into the system that simply time because the statistics show that community colleges are now places where a lot of potential goes to wither and die.

The final problem I have with this plan is that it conveniently avoids the whole issue of wage stagnation and income inequality within the United States.  The value of wealth in this country, as felt by the middle class, has flat-lined since the early 1980’s, while the top 1% of earners have seen their value of wealth soar by percentages not seen in modern human history.  I don’t have a problem with the rich getting richer.  But if the rest of the population doesn’t feel some sort of wealth accumulation you are setting the stage for economic catastrophe and political instability.  This plan ignores the problem by framing one of the the main issues as the cost of community colleges, which are still very cheap and the opportunities of financial aid are still fairly plentiful.  This will increase the number of people going to community colleges but there is little evidence that it will actually develop skills and knowledge, or help solve a much greater macroeconomic issue. 

So this is a nice way to drive up a political base and get kids all ramped up into hating Republicans in Congress when they say “no.”  But hating Republicans in Congress is not that hard.  Hell, hating Congress is not that hard.  And while this really neat and fun to think about, in the end it’s poorly thought out vision that could be so much better.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

My wife and I are the life of the party on New Year's Eve. We are usually out by 9:30 after celebrating East Coast New Year with a bottle of sparkling and a healthy dose of our homemade chicken pot pie.


With age has come a mellowness during the holidays that my wife and I enjoy. I have no desire to ever be a part of the New York celebration or even attend a massive party in San Francisco. Nope. Our New Years consisted of a hike in Montgomery Woods Redwood Preserve and a mellow night of cooking. Total ragers, baby!

And no New Years resolutions either. Resolutions that begin with the change of a calender are fundamentally ridiculous. I mean, whatever motivates you to accomplish your goals but the likelihood of meeting that goal successfully is pretty low when you base it on the New Year. So you won't get school resolutions for me because those come about at the end of the school year. You won't get weight resolutions from me because I don't base my health on the calender. You won't get resolutions because if there needs to be a change, I change it.

Break time is almost over. I've tried to keep my brain out of an sort of school mode for the full two weeks and in the classroom realm it has worked. I've still got this massive pile of homework to grade but at least I feel a little fueled up energy wise. Basketball still roams my vacation. Morning practices all this week (save this morning) and an eye on local tournaments has been the norm. I even watched a game two nights ago on a new app called High School Cube; which seems to be a warehouse of high school games to watch on-demand.

So Happy New Year, and may 2015 be fruitful and yada, yada.