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.

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