Tuesday, March 02, 2010

You want credits with that? 

Via James Taranto, here's a story that should surprise me, but doesn't.
San Francisco high school students, just months out of middle school, can start earning San Francisco State college credit this fall through a ninth-grade ethnic studies course.

At a school board meeting last week, the head of the university's Ethnic Studies program also promised that students would earn up to six college course credits for the high school freshman course - a rare opportunity for a 14-year-old.

The courses will become part of the California State University's Step to College program, which has offered college credit for high school students across the state since 1985. Most of those courses require students to be juniors or seniors.

The program is designed for students who might not otherwise be considering college as an option, said Jacob Perea, dean of the School of Education, who runs the Step to College program at San Francisco State.

"We're not really looking for the 4.4 (grade point average) students," he said. "We're looking for the 2.1 or 2.2 students."

The course is taught as pass/drop -- if you don't look like you'll pass the class, you are withdrawn from the class. I wonder if it appears on the transcript if you are withdrawn?
The ethnic studies course "encourages students to explore specific aspects of identity on personal, interpersonal and institutional levels and provides students with interdisciplinary reading, writing and analytical skills," district officials said in a news release about the expanded pilot program.
The students interviewed here appear to be minority students. My question is whether this class is intended for students of pallor? When you say a class is "designed for students who might not otherwise be considering college as an option," is that somehow a code for trying to draw minority students to university through a head start of six college credits? And the low GPA target is even more bizarre, as if the designers wanted to twit the concept of "the soft bigotry of low expectations." If this story of this teacher-in-training is any indication, I think a 9th grader could figure out how to pass the class:
I went to a neighborhood party last night and talked with a 50-year-old woman who is preparing to reenter the workforce after rearing three children and two step-children. She has always loved English ... and is getting a master�s degree in teaching English so that she can look for a union/government job as a high school English teacher. She is required to take only six classes over one year to get her degree. One required course out of the six is called �diversity�. She is not doing well in the class. �We aren�t learning any specific techniques that could help us teach people of different races or backgrounds. There is only one correct answer to every question posed by the professor and at first I wasn�t giving it. The professor was pigeonholing me as an �old white woman� who couldn�t adapt, but eventually I figured out what was expected and now I�m saying stuff that I don�t believe just so that I can get a good grade in the class.�
If a 50-year-old can figure out what the magic words are to pass a class, I bet the 14-year-old can too.


Monday, February 22, 2010

American Generosity, Part III of III - Threats to American Philanthropy 

The first two posts on American generosity are here and here. This final post will address the serious threats to our freedom to choose where we wish to give. Three kinds of proposals coming from Capitol Hill, the IRS, state governments and sometimes even charities themselves can undermine what has been an incredibly unique, independently driven system never before seen by humanity.

First point: Behemoth governments and agencies with their one-size-fits-all mindset too often create proposals that limit the diversity and independence of the charitable world. When the now jailed Eliot Spitzer was NY's Attorney General [2003], he proposed a prohibition on foundations with less than $20,000,000 in assets because there were too many of them for the government to monitor and police. In 2007, a top IRS official proposed that the IRS evaluate the effectiveness and governance of public charities and foundations. Late 2009, the Congressional Research Service published a report calling for a NEW oversight agency for charities and foundations. [Do we really need more federal employees?]

The second threat is the argument that foundation assets are"public money" and that decisions about grant-making are subject to political control. Democrat Congressman, Savier Becerra of CA, calls the tax-favored treatment of charitable giving a "$32 billion earmark" and wants Congress to ensure that philanthropic assets advance the public good. [Or does he want to tax these charities??????] Charities do have public purposes and state attorneys general do have some power to enforce adherence to respective charitable purposes. BUT, this does not mean charities must serve the same objectives as government or that the government can intrude on their decision making. [Can government agencies perform charitable acts as efficiently as private charities? Highly doubtful. And, how much money do charities save taxpayers? Billions - that's a number followed by a minimum of nine zeroes (000,000,000)].

There is a historic covenant that has governed foundations - they must use their assets for charitable, not personal purposes.

The final threat to the freedom of American philanthropy comes in the form of proposals that would define what kind of giving is charitable. A growing number of them would like to confine charitable deductions to direct help for racial minorities and low-income families and communities, only. The problem with this? Americans of all races, creeds and income levels can benefit from giving to or receiving from religious institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals and medical research, the arts, environment and other causes that fall outside of these proposed, limited restrictions. Government should NOT be picking winners and losers.

American charitable giving is a strong indicator of economic freedom. In turn, economic freedom is an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. [Milton Friedman].

Again, article sourced is the January 2010 Imprimis published by Hillsdale College.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Bait and kick down the road 

The Pew Center for the States reports a $1 trillion shortfall for state and local government employees' retirement benefits. (h/t: Arnold Kling.) One source of that shortfall here locally has been the presence of health benefit guarantees for retired teachers and administrators. The state of Minnesota gave permission to school districts with such unfunded liabilities to mark up property taxes to pay the benefits, and our local school district did so. Now, they want to divert that money to pay teachers current salaries.
School board members are expected to consider the budget recommendation Thursday. The 2010-2011 budget does not have to be approved until June 30, but staff needs to know how the board wants to deal with the expected shortfall before completing the budget.

Administrators considered layoffs, savings in health insurance and the elimination of a work day before settling on the use of the reserve and tax dollars, Superintendent Steve Jordahl said.

�We have said from the very beginning we would not cut staff. That is not an option for us. We said we wanted to protect, in this economy, our staff members,� Jordahl said.
Mr. Jordahl is a young man, and perhaps he has not had experience with down budgets before. But how much of his budget comes from payroll? What his statement means is "we are declaring more than 75% of our budget off-limits to cuts." Rather than cut one dollar from anyone's pay, or cut one job, the district chooses to kick its unfunded retirement benefits problem down the road ... after having raised taxes explicitly to solve the problem.

Add to this the loss of $250,000 for failing to settle contracts by a state-mandated deadline -- which combined with the Superintendent's statement means the teachers have no incentive to settle -- and you have another governmental unit treating the incomes of their constituents like a cookie jar.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

American Generosity II of III - Reasons Why Americans are Generous 

There are three basic reasons America is the most charitable country on earth. First, we are the most religious people of any leading modern economy. Secondly, we respect the freedom and ability of individuals and their associations to make a difference. The third reason is that philanthropy is an important part of our nation's business culture.

Regarding the religious aspect: Americans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once a week give three times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. Annually, about $100,000,000,000 goes to religious institutions of all faiths. These same donors also give more to secular charities than those who never or rarely attend religious services. The book, Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks, thoroughly documents amounts, percentages and types of giving (including blood donations and volunteer hours) to support this concept. A review of the book, here, summarizes many of the key findings.

The freedom angle: Historically, Americans did not wait for the government or the local nobleman to solve problems - we often solved them ourselves. A forthcoming movie, The Little Red Wagon, tells the story of a six-year-old boy in Tampa, named Zach, who wanted to help families who had been left homeless. He took his wagon door-to-door for four months and collected 27 truckloads of supplies. This is a great example but there are also 1000s of examples of Americans helping others in need via churches, community food drives, packages for soldiers, etc. - people just taking action on their own as part of their community. These events happen all the time in America.

American corporations give through their own programs. One local example is the 5% pretax operating profit give-back of Target Corporation. Other companies assist schools, support athletic teams and scout programs. Included also are volunteer fire departments (Bloomington, MN has one of the largest volunteer fire department in the US.) Historically, there is Andrew Carnegie who founded US Steel and took his wealth to establish public libraries all across America. Bill Gates of Microsoft is working to eradicate malaria. The list is endless. Why? Freedom. Americans simply give back, voluntarily, to the society that gave them the opportunity to succeed.

And, an interesting aspect: while many people in the upper quintile of earnings give more money to charity, those in the lowest quintile give the highest percentage to charity. Go here for a summary.

Update - I thought this had been posted; this will address some of the issues raised by commenters on I of III. Janet

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Friday, February 12, 2010

American Generosity - Part I of III 

This post is the first of three discussing the generosity of Americans. This section covers charitable giving in general, the American history of giving and who gives. The second post will describe reasons Americans are generous and the third will discuss the threats to American philanthropy.

The basis of this information is a speech given in Washington, D.C. on January 8, 2010 by Adam Meyerson, President of The Philanthropy Roundtable. My source is Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. (A free publication - go here to register to get your monthly articles.)

In 1859, a professor and preacher named Ransom Dunn started a horseback journey to raise funds for a young institution of higher learning, Hillsdale College, in southern Michigan. 6000 miles later, Dunn had raised $22,000, the equivalent of about $500,000 today. The sources of his success: rural families of the upper Midwest. The largest donation was $200. What does this even show?

Charitable giving in America has never been exclusively limited to the wealthy. Throughout America's history, Americans from all walks of life have given generously. When giving is calculated as a proportion of income, the highest percentage of givers is the working poor. Secondly, Professor Dunn, did not play on guilt, too often the ploy of today's charity solicitors. Dunn appealed to people's ideals, aspirations and religious principles.

This charitable aspect of Americans is central to our free society. Hillsdale was the second American college to grant a four-year liberal arts degree to women. Hillsdale was the first American college to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex. These unique components would have been difficult, if not impossible to implement if Hillsdale had had to rely on public moneys.

The 19th century was a great age in America for the creation of colleges. Every town in the decentralized America of that time wanted its own college to promote economic opportunity and encourage citizen leadership. (In 1880, Ohio [with 3,000,000 inhabitants] had 37 colleges; England [with 23,000,000 people] had four degree-granting institutions.)

Today Americans give over $30,000,000,000 a year to support higher education. Even state universities depend upon private contributions. In addition, private charity sustains museums, orchestras, hospitals, clinics, churches, synagogues, animal refuges and habitats, youth programs, grass-roots problem solvers, etc. Private charity makes possible great think tanks, left, right or center.

Our awareness of charity is usually low, until there is a disaster. During Hurricane Katrina, Americans gave $6,000,000,000 and in 2009, Americans gave $300,000,000,000 to charities. This final amount is about twice what we spend on electronics equipment, three times what is spent on gambling and 10x as much as spent on professional sports.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quick followup on dispositions: Preaching to the choir 

While on the air with Ed this afternoon, he posted about FIRE's followup on the University of Minnesota's growing controversy over its attempt to have "cultural competency" as part of its education program. (We discussed it here Monday.) "Growing" because FIRE's investigation found that the education program wanted to use "predictive criteria" to determine which applicants might not be able to fit their social justice profile. FIRE wrote to U of M President Robert Bruininks:
According to documents published by the college (see http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cehd/teri), it intends to mandate certain beliefs and values-"dispositions"-for future teachers. The college also intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the "wrong" beliefs and values-those who either do not have sufficient "cultural competence" or those who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the "correct" beliefs and values even after remedial re-education.
This should truly shock the conscience of any academic. You somehow can prejudge the ability to change the heart of a student? It is nothing short of cowardice. The school wishes to prescreen to be sure that it only credentials those who agree with them. No wonder they are willing to go to such lengths for remediation; they are trying to reclaim a congregant who left their church.

Missed last time, David French at PBC does a nice summary.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Dispositions back in the news 

Katherine Kersten brings back an old topic on this blog: dispositions theory in education. There's a new design of teacher education at the University of Minnesota, she says:

The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed.

The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.

We were last down this road in 2005 during the KC Johnson controversy at Brooklyn College. Yet it continues unabated. At SCSU students in educational administration or in child and family studies have a form to fill out if they see a disposition that doesn't meet the professional standards. In the former field, if you "express an inability or unwillingness to work with some
people" and "avoid collaboration", you have an area of need to work on. Teachers in graduate studies get courses in which their competencies are assessed to determine if they consider "multiple perspectives and willingness to challenge and analyze one�s own perspectives given alternatives" and "respond to items regarding lens of social justice and dispositions."

Johnson reports, by the way, that these Minnesota criteria are being highlighted at exactly the moment NCATE, the teachers' accrediting body, is turning away from them. So maybe this won't last for much longer around here.

UPDATE: Mitch has a link to the U of M policy.
See also Peter Wood at NAS.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Understanding tenure 

Eric Austin (sometimes known as Political Muse of Liberal in the Land of Conservatives) chatted via Twitter with me one night about tenure. Sometimes our chats are public, and sometimes not. We had arrived at an understanding about it. Last night he tweets that he has written a piece in part inspired by that conversation. Well, I think, I should read it! I agree with more than I normally do with him, but I think he's missed the bigger point. Two points, in fact.

Eric's major point is that you can remove someone in a public school (elementary or secondary) who has tenure (three years after initial hire) but only for cause. On this he relies properly on state law. "In the first three years of employment," he writes, "known as the probationary period, a teacher may be terminated for virtually any reason allowed by law." But the law he quotes includes the phrase may or may not be renewed after consulting with the peer review board, which is a joint school board-teacher union construction. Can the school board ignore peer review? I guess it could, but it probably makes for tough dealings with the union later. Still, it appears the system works fine, since all sides agree that there is plenty of turnover in teachers in the probationary period. Perhaps even too much, since letting someone stay three years might mean you're stuck with them.

"Whoa now, King! Eric just showed that you're not stuck with them!" After the three years, Eric says, you have to show cause. Specifically the law says
After the completion of such probationary period, without discharge, such teachers as are thereupon reemployed shall continue in service and hold their respective position during good behavior and efficient and competent service and must not be discharged or demoted except for cause after a hearing.
The words "good behavior and efficiency and competent service" are of course subject to interpretation. And who gets to interpret that is often not the teacher but instead an arbitrator. Christine Ver Ploeg of the William Mitchell College of Law notes that almost all cases to terminate for cause are requested by Education Minnesota to go to an arbitrator. Why? Because the evidentiary standards change; the law calls for the board to provide a "preponderance of the evidence" to support the decision to terminate. Arbitrators can hand out back pay too. If instead a board's decision was appealed to a court, the teacher's termination could only be overturned if somehow the board did not follow the law. I'd encourage Eric to read Ver Ploeg's article, plus Minnesota Code 122A.40 (in addition to reading again the arbitration provisions in 122A.41) to see if he's misunderstood the nature of the process by which a tenured teacher can be removed.

Now Eric is correct, that it's the job of the board to get rid of bad teachers. Unions are not guilds empowered to clean up their own memberships. Guilds maintain standards and remove those who don't perform to them. Unions don't do that, and you shouldn't expect them to.

I think the arbitration rights given to teachers (and I think most other state employees in Minnesota) tip the scale too much towards protecting bad teachers, though, and I think that point has been missed if you just read Eric's article. Facing a higher barrier, boards don't take some cases to the point of a hearing; many others get settled out, so that the teacher's poor performance is not in a public record and he or she can go on to teach somewhere else (and perhaps continue to underperform.) Ver Ploeg's article suggests that arbitration rights for teachers was a union priority in the 1980s, and they got them in 1991. It would be interesting to look at evidence of teacher dismissals for cause by year since, say 1980, to see what effect it had. I don't see that data out there, but I didn't look too hard.

But I actually have one more, relatively important point, that Eric misses. The law says that ALL school teachers shall be hired with this kind of tenure provision. Why couldn't we do something different? What if I offered a teacher a five-year, nonrenewable contract? Or a three year, renewable contract? Why are all the contracts in public schools the same? My political science professor would have taught me to ask at this point "cui bono?" Boards? Unions? I would like a teacher, or a school board member, or EdMinn, or someone, to explain to me how it is that schoolchildren benefit from tenure. Maybe Eric would take a stab at it.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Where your thinking happens 

Ben Casnocha gets this exactly right:
Even if you had "thinking time" on your calendar, what would you do during that time? Sit in a chair, stare straight ahead, and ponder the world?

...Driving is the most popular activity of this sort. Driving requires some level of attention, but you have plenty of cycles to think about other stuff, especially if you're driving a familiar route. "When Joan Didion moved from California to New York, Didion realized that she had done much of her thinking and mental writing during the long drives endogenous to the Californian lifestyle," Steve Dodson notes. I'm the same. I can't tell you how many emails and plans and conclusions I've come to while driving on the 101 or 280 freeways.

Reading is another activity that can be specifically scheduled and invites the kind of reflection and catch-up thinking that we need.
My calendar each morning -- never carried one before I was chair, now can't imagine how I lived without it -- begins with a coffee period, in which I talk to friends and colleagues here on campus or off, and a "correspondence" half-hour in which mostly I read. Somewhere in there I drive to campus. That period often finds me with headphones listening to Hewitt, Miller, Prager, or some Bloomberg. (That's pretty much all that's on my iPod Touch; EconTalk is an appointment I have to do sitting still.) And I do find that period some of my most productive of the day. I COULD teach early morning classes, but then I'd have to find some other way to schedule things that are conducive to thinking.

And that's the point -- thinking happens between the words of a book or paper you read, or while you sit in traffic, or ... ? Just as a good strategy in games or sports is to put yourself in a place where luck really helps you, a good strategy in business or academia is to put yourself in a place where the thought that pops in your head can be mulled over, chewed and digested. It's probably why a stick of dynamite (or an infestation of bad administrators) wouldn't get me out of academics.

Where does your thinking happen? What times of day? I'd love to hear this in comments.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Robert's Rules of Order 

Today I attended the statewide meeting of MN Republican Women and again was reminded of something we really take for granted - a structure to run meetings. Robert's Rules of Order (RRO) has provided guidelines for meetings since 1876. Most of us grew up with its procedures and just assume that meetings will be run following them.

This is a rarity. I'm reminded of a Russian immigrant at a statewide Republican Convention a few years ago. He stood up at one point in the meeting and said (I paraphrase): "Do you realize how wonderful this is? People can debate, disagree, but they are heard. And no one gets mad. This is beautiful! This is America."

We hold debates in a civil manner and there is a procedure. It seems cumbersome at times but it works. If we lose our freedoms, RRO will also be lost. As frustrated as I used to get having to follow the RRO parliamentary process, I now appreciate it for its thoroughness and yes, beauty.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

What We Take for Granted 

This story always brings tears to my eyes because we take so much for granted, including our education system that offers a chance for students to be what they can or dream to be with work and dedication. Yet, I've wondered if it were true. It is as indicated here.
Classroom No Desks

A lesson that should be taught in all schools and colleges. Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks from her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.

'Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?'

She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.'
They thought and said, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.'

'No,' she said.

'Maybe it's our behavior.'

She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms.Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the deskless classroom, Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he/she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand a longside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned..

Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'

The freedoms we have in this great country were earned by U.S. Veterans. We must cherish our soldiers and remember, it is they who keep our press and country free. To ignore or tarnish their efforts and reputations will lead to losses very few of us can imagine.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Government Takeover of Education 

Not only does the Obama administration desire to take over the American $1,000,000,000,000 health care industry, but he also desires to take over the student-loan market, another $1,000,000,000,000 program.

This article in the 9/12/2009 Wall Street Journal discusses the Obama plan that calls for the U.S. Dept. of Educ. (DOE) to increase its current 20% share of student-loan origination market to 80% on July 1, 2010. The remaining 20% in the private sector will simply fade away.

For decades, federally backed student loans were the most common way to borrow for college. Money was raised in the private sector, loans made and the private institutions paid a fee to the government for each loan. In return, the government covered most of the defaults which in turn, allowed the private lenders to make a regulated return.

All that changed in 2007 after Democrats won control of Congress. They legislated a return so low that no private lender could make a profit holding these assets. To keep the tap open, the feds began buying loans from private originators in 2008. This was to be a temporary move that was to expire in 2010. Guess what... now the Democrats want the DOE to be the exclusive banker to college students.

Concerns about the government's poor customer service had resulted in borrowers choosing private lenders. Education institutions now are concerned that the feds will not be able to pull off their desired takeover in eight months (hm, wonder why).

So what, say Dems who have already greased this fall's budget reconciliation to pass all of this on a mere majority vote. In addition, they are helped by rigged government accounting that disguises the cost of making these below-market loans to unemployed 18-year-olds. Democrats claimed savings of $87,000,000,000 but in reality, the real savings are about half that amount, $46,000,000,000. If a private sector lender tried to pull this stunt, it would be criminal fraud.

Defaults are expected to increase across the board.

The second area where the Dems want more control includes the Pell grants. Detail on this Pell Grant takeover is at the CD 2 Republican website, where the efforts of Congressman Kline who caught the 25% low-ball estimate are described.

Government take over of: automotive industry? health industry? education industry? what next?

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Overweight Kids 

This article in the Times on Line discusses what appears to be a mandatory six-week camp for overweight kids. Points addressed include the responsibility of the parents, the inability of the schools to control what kids eat at home, driving kids everywhere, and the eating habits of the family.

While some sports are mentioned, at no place in the article or comments to date does anyone deal with a very basic issue: kids can no longer play games that give them real exercise at school because someone may lose. Excuse me - dodge ball, banned; keeping score in the few games left, banned; tag, banned. Sure the bans do not occur in all schools but once we started down the road of attempting to make school life 100% safe, by definition we removed those activities that actually provide physical outlets for kids.

Do I want my grandkids to be overweight? No. Do I want them to be able to run, play, laugh, win, lose, etc., absolutely. It's called LIFE.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Confluence: Religion, Education, States' Rights 

This article in the Wall Street Journal, online, is another example of government intrusion into religion, education, and freedom.

The director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Charlotte, N.C., ruled that Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic education institution, in Belmont, N.C. discriminated against female employees because the college refused to cover prescription contraceptives in its health insurance plan.

In March, 2009, the college was informed that a case filed against it in 2007 [by eight employees], claiming discrimination in the restrictions for contraceptives under the employee-provided health plan, had no value and all was fine. Inexplicably the case was reopened and now the college is charged with violating federal law.

Turns out that the EEOC guidelines refuse to consider that an institution's religious beliefs exempt it from offering benefits such as birth control pills. The guidelines in the state of N.C. do allow for exemptions based on religion.

If the college refuses to change its policy, the EEOC will pursue legal action.

When does the government have a right to enforce its laws on religious institutions?
Can a religious hospital that opposes abortion be forced to perform one?

What about religious freedom as defined in the 1st Amendment?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I did hit myself; I'm not sure why, because business is seldom really a friend of capitalism. But leave it to a Chamber of Commerce to test-market it:
To combat what it views as rapid government growth and attacks on business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a multiyear campaign to remind Americans of the virtues of a free market and free trade. But don't expect the campaign, which could cost as much as $100 million, to praise "capitalism" or "risk taking." Or to criticize "protectionism."

It's not that the Chamber, which represents 3 million organizations, has gone squishy on its core values. The group just wants its message to resonate with the public. And reactions to these terms by focus groups in Jacksonville, Fla., and Philadelphia suggest it would be best to omit them. " 'Capitalism' was universally problematic," says Chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman. Adds Rich Thau, president of New York-based Presentation Testing, which ran the focus groups: "There were those who associated 'capitalism' with greed and with the powerful dominating the vulnerable." But those negatives, he says, didn't apply at all to "free enterprise." (For now, the Chamber's multimedia offensive, which starts officially in October, is called the Campaign for Free Enterprise.)

As for "risk-taking," which has been promoted in the Chamber's press materials, "it was at the bottom of the pile," says Freeman. "We found the average American doesn't like the idea of businesses taking risks. They think of a casino and someone throwing the dice." And "protectionism," which the Chamber opposes? In an earlier round of tests, people approvingly linked the word with a general sense of being "protected," says Thomas Donohue, the Chamber's president and CEO.
I am newly minted as a director for a center for economic education. Making people more literate about economics -- and my desire is to make ADULTS more literate, as much as we concentrate on children -- would in my mind getting attitudes about protection, risk-taking and capitalism to be more complex, more nuanced. Why aren't they? I have found myself going back to basics: What is the economic attitude of a primitive? If someone had no education at all, what would be their attitudes towards truck, barter, and exchange? Would they, for example, consider all trade to be zero-sum? I'm pretty sure that answer is yes; that suggests a place where you focus your education efforts. I am working on a longer article about this point right now and looking for other attitudes of primitives.

Mr. Donohue and the Chamber put money into economic education of children, and yet they face these attitudes that makes them try to modify their message. I don't know what they expect of their investments in econ ed to return, but if you have to hide your free trade principles you have to think you didn't get all you hoped for.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This afternoon we attended a luncheon sponsored by the Center for the American Experiment (CAE) in Minneapolis. The key speakers were John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, authors of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education.

As far too many of us are aware, American students perform poorly on international tests. Today's speakers attributed much of our students' poor achievement on the stranglehold the teachers' unions have on politicians. Since 1989 Teacher unions have been the #1 contributor to federal campaigns. Their protectionist mindset has have blocked reform for over 25 years.

The authors' solution to the problem is based on the pervasiveness of technology. When students and school systems find ways around the union defined classroom and learn via the Internet, the number of teachers required will decrease resulting in a decrease in union dues, and a release of the stronghold these unions have on education reform.

While I agree that there need to be changes, the following questions were left unanswered:
1 - What country that outperforms the USA attributes its success to the use of computers?
2 - The average number of instruction hours/day and length of school year are higher in countries that outperform US students (see here)
3 - During the past 40+ years we have raised children to believe they are perfect. In the process we have lowered standards and expectations. As a result, we have students who will not, do not and cannot compete in a competitive world.
What is needed is a commitment to:
1 - Content loaded instruction,
2 - Respect for learning,
3 - Respect for teachers,
4 - behavioral standards.
I taught in various levels of schools before the "whole child," "self-esteem" concept took hold. Children develop self-esteem when they learn. Filling them and their parents with false evaluations and using gimmicks to teach avoid the real issue - students and their parents in other countries respect education, they work at it, and they learn. To accept anything else, regardless of mechanics, is cheating our children.

One of today's questions was about teaching the "whole child." What this inane concept creates is a classroom lacking content with the phony idea of creating self-esteem in children. It's a lazy way to approach education.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Safety versus Risk Taking 

Today I read a wonderful article on risk taking in the Sunday Parade Magazine. The author, Jamie McEwan, won a bronze medal in white-water slalom in the 1972 Summer Olympics. What caught my eye was Mr. McEwan's comment, "To avoid all risk is to become immobilized."

How true! We have had it so good for so long that we are letting the risk averse mindset control much of what we do and teach our kids. We deny them basic activities at school so no one gets hurt. We often do their chores. We teach them that things will always be good, come out their way or that someone else is really at fault.

What we're really teaching them is to avoid life. As I've told my students, "Life is not risk free so get over it." You have to push yourself; try something outside your comfort zone. When you push yourself, you will discover that you can do more than you thought you could do.

Avoiding risk is not safe, anyway. We take risks every day: driving a car, walking down the street, etc. Risks simply must be faced: the risk of failure, humiliation, hurt. We cannot protect our children from the world so we need to teach them how and when to be rational risk-takers.

I remember a cartoon from my youth. The strip, Nancy, had a character Sluggo who woke up on Friday the 13th, and decided to stay in bed, just to play it safe. What happened? The ceiling fell on him!

We owe it to our children, our students, and ourselves, to take risks. Evaluate the odds, put a plan in place, then just do it. We will learn if we fail but will experience previously unknown joy if we succeed.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Keynes' Law of consequential testing 

We wrote a week or so ago about the abandonment of the MCA-II math test as a consequential exam for Minnesota high school students to graduate. Much of the discussion was over whether the test was too hard, given barely more than a third of 11th graders were found to be proficient. But this year that percentage rose to 42%, with 57% meeting the math standard that the state has now abandoned.

Kate Pechacek, a math teacher at Stillwater Area High School, said her district is seeing success.

An increasing number of junior high students have been enrolling in higher-level math courses in the district since Pechacek started teaching there about four years ago. Now, about 50 percent of seventh-graders are enrolled in algebra, she said.

"If we're adhering to the standards, I think that's going to give us the results we're looking for," Pechacek said. "Although the standards have been around for a while, people are paying much more attention to them."

But racial performance gaps persist -- white students pass the test at three times the rate that students of color pass it -- which has pushed for many the desire to stop a consequential comprehensive test and use end-of-year course-specific tests instead. (Noted in the article, all students will have to take Algebra II ... by 2015.)

Most economics students learn Say's Law: supply creates its own demand. But there's also a Keynes' law, which is the reverse. If we demand students pass these tests, there is a reaction from those students that will demand the coursework necessary to learn what is needed to pass them. Why would anyone think that incentive is less for students of color or students from lower-income families than for students without color? There's almost as many programs to improve math skills for students of color as there are colleges of education in America. (Here's ours.) Are they not working? Why not?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

College Graduating Teachers Flunk Basic Math 

We have all heard the complaints about how poorly American children perform on standardized tests. We are aware that most industrialized nations score better than Americans on international tests, especially in math and science. We also know that high school graduation rates average around 70% nationally.

The key question is: WHY?

For 35+ years our educational institutions have focused on the child, the ego, the self-esteem, the more or less intangibles of education. In the process we have dumbed down our curriculum standards. Then we send people who never learned the basics, to college to study more empty material, and return them to the classroom.

Students who do not learn what is critical to know pay for this lack of knowledge when they discover that the real world actually has demands. These test results from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education licensing exam for aspiring teachers are appalling:
only 27 percent of the more than 600 candidates who took the test passed [the elementary mathematics section].
This is robbery. We are cheating our children, parents, taxpayers, employers, and short changing the future for all.

What to do? Upgrade the education curriculum at all levels with content courses: real geography, real science, regular English, real math courses and perhaps, a foreign language. Extend the instruction time at least an hour a day. It is time we return to standards of the past - why? They worked.

The purpose of public education was to provide access to solid curriculum for all. When we remove the content and standards from all classrooms, not only are we denying the opportunity for students to learn, we are creating a society in which only the elite will succeed and by default, create an underclass that will not succeed.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Representative Pat Garofalo of Farmington wondered about six weeks ago about "integration aid", without some people being sure what it's used for:
In 2005 the legislative auditor performed an audit of state integration funding program and found a number of problems.

For example, the purpose of funding is not clear � some school staff believed its purpose was to alleviate racial imbalances, other thought the funding was to close the achievement gap, noted the auditor,

Other findings were that neither school districts nor the state adequately assessed the program, and racial concentrations in some schools receiving the funding continued to increase.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL chair of the K-12 Funding Committee said everyone knows it's broken and suggested it be capped. Why would you keep this going?

Today Rep. Garofalo repeated the charge and added more examples as the K-12 bill heads towards completion. I assume this to mean the integration program is still intact.
  • After school soccer, $3,000
  • Art Exhibit: supplies, consultants and �artifacts�, $7,500
  • Collaborative coordinator, $43,000
  • Cultural liaison officer, salary & benefits, $125,000
  • Culturally responsive teacher training, $15,000
  • Equity coach, $74,000
  • Ethnic celebrations, $3,000
  • Field trip scholarships, $10,000
  • 5th grade kindness retreat, $5,000
  • Food and snacks for ethnic celebrations, $4,000
  • Integration program coordinator, $99,000
  • Secretary to IPC, $57,600
  • Newcomers program teacher, $113,000
  • Pen pal book club, $3,500
  • 6 step hip hop program, $2,000
Is a six-step hip hop program meant to teach people how to hip-hop or like hip hop Anonymous, a six-step program to stop hiphopoholics? (That was fun to write, thanks for asking!) I don't think $5,000 is enough to pay for a fifth grade kindness retreat -- you ever work with fifth graders? Oy!

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Trying to have it both ways 

Local state senator Tarryl Clark was chastised by the St. Cloud Times last week for a bill that would take the teeth out of Gov. Pawlenty's Q-Comp program by forbidding the state from withdrawing funds from non-compliant school districts. Clark complains today that she's misunderstood. Yet her defense says three things that are collectively inconsistent:
  1. Q-Comp is failing to improve student achievement. I could be persuaded this is true, but wouldn't you then look to end it?
  2. The school district signed up in good faith believing it would work, though it never put in the pay for performance provisions that are at the heart of Q-Comp.
  3. Clark does not want to impose any penalty on the St. Cloud school district while she decides whether it works or not. This while there's a state budget deficit greater than $6 billion.
As noted last week, St. Cloud schools were told many times the money was in jeopardy, but did not solve them. It doesn't work according to Clark, but you should still give your money. So when she says "We owe it to our students, teachers and taxpayers..." I think she's only worried about the debt to one group.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Women, Science, Engineering, Etc. 

Maybe there's a reason (or two) that women don't pursue the hard sciences and engineering to the extent that men pursue these fields. If you are at all interested in this topic, here's your opportunity to discover that there actually MAY BE real, basic causes for the lack of women in these fields.Italic
The Minnesota Association of Scholars (MAS) is bringing Christina Hoff Sommers to the University of Minnesota Campus on Friday, April 3. Ms. Sommers is the author of and The War Against Boys and Who Stole Feminism.

Banquet: MAS Members - 6:00 ($29) McNamara Alumni Center, U of M. Email MnScholars@umn.edu for reservations. Mail checks to: PO Box 14531, Mpls., MN 55414 by March 25. If you plan to attend the lecture, $34, in advance.

Lecture only: 7:30 - tickets $5 in advance, $10 at the door. With student ID, students $1 - max, two tickets.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Everyone's meritorious 

If you want to know why St. Cloud has been tossed out of the Q-Comp program that Governor Pawlenty touted to increase teacher performance through, inter alia, pay for performance, you need only read these two paragraphs:
About 96 percent of the district�s 750-800 teachers participate in Q-Comp. A teacher in the program receives about $2,000 and teachers who accept leadership roles in the program earn a stipend.

...The decision is also significant for the district because of dollars tied to two staff development days agreed to in the district�s contract with teachers.

Last year those days were paid for with Q-Comp money. Now the district will have to find money in next school year�s budget to pay for the days.
As the StarTribune pointed out last month, it ain't merit pay if 99% of teachers get it. And it ain't merit pay if you're using the money to pay for a staff development day for everyone. H/T for the STrib link to Kevin McNellis at Growth and Justice, who says Pawlenty "must mandate the use of quantified measures of teacher merit" to make this program go. The suspension of St. Cloud from the program is actually a good first step, since it was the inability of the district and the local union to agree on revising the teacher contract to include merit pay that was why Q-Comp was in trouble here. (The school superintendent up here,who has taken up blogging, acknowledges this.) Maybe the district and the teachers union can now come to an agreement on providing for real merit pay where not everybody is above average.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Why President's Day??? 

For many going through school, there was always some history covered in February. First we studied and celebrated Lincoln's birthday, February 12. We learned of Abraham Lincoln's growing up in Indiana, teaching himself to read, doing a number of jobs to make a living. At age 21 he moved to Illinois where he eventually ecame a member of the IL General Assembly and the US House of Representatives. He earned a living as a lawyer.

He opposed slavery and argued for years against its spread. A speech that propelled him to national attention was given in a race for US Senate against Stephen Douglas in 1858. Though Lincoln lost the Senate race, this speech was a turning point in his political career. The most quoted line from this debate is:
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'(Mark 3:25) I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved � I do not expect the house to fall � but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
Students know he was President of the United States and was Commander in Chief during the Civil War, a war fought to preserve the union, that is, keep the United States from becoming two (or more) nations, abolish slavery in the southern states (done with the Emancipation Proclamation) and prevent slavery's expansion to new states as the US moved west. His most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, remains one of the most quoted in US History. In just over two minutes, Lincoln invoked the principles of human equality espoused by the Declaration of Independence and redefined the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens, and that would also create a unified nation.

The second president we studied and celebrated was the birthday, February 22, of our nation's first president, George Washington. He is known for: leading the Americans against the British in the Revolutionary War; working with the great minds of the time in the crafting of a government founded on the principle (a first) that all men were created equal and that people could govern themselves; and becoming our first president.

Washington had a physical presence that commanded respect yet he was humble enough to value the opinions and decisions of others. Some wanted him to become king. He refused and by refusing, set the stage for a limit of two terms for the presidency. This was practice was honored until Franklin Roosevelt (D) became president during the Depression. Later the two-term limit was codified in the US Constitution by the 22nd Amendment, passed in 1947.

Today, much of what our children learn is about the negatives of these two incredible men.
While there are many good presidents, these two, more than others set the stage for what has become an experiment in freedom, real freedom. Lumping them with all presidents, into a "Presidents Day" diminishes their achievements and ideals.

We would not have what we have today, nor would so many people from so many cultures be able to live as we do without the ideals created by our Founders and put into practice by these two great men. Ideals have to be created, defined, then put into action. Both of these presidents understood that an elite class cannot hold sway over others - that once that happens, freedom for all erodes and eventually disappears.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Podcast of the week 

While I was driving last weekend I had, as usual, my iPod with TownHall podcasts full playing away. The best hour I heard was Hugh Hewitt's interview with Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, whose column is the best writing on education in America. His new book, Work Hard Be Nice is going in the book pile this evening, and likely to get sorted ahead of many other books. The book details the history and success of the Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP. There's one in Minneapolis. As always there's the question of how do you scale this up to many schools (and, I'd argue, how do you adapt it to colleges like mine which are non-selective)? I'm looking at these five pillars and thinking a lot about that last question right now.

I'm thinking of making podcast of the week a regular feature. I probably listen to fifty or so, not all of which I subscribe to (beside Hugh, I listen regularly to Prager and Miller, Tom Keene's excellent economics podcast, and of course Russ Roberts. And Simmons for all the Celtics and Red Sox tawk.) Yes, the headphones are on more than you might think safe. Are you interested in this? What do you listen to?

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Friday, January 23, 2009

School rentseeking 

Mitch writes about proposal in the Minnesota Legislature to scale back or end the charter school program in the state. Mitch quotes this article, which ends with the following paragraph:
Legislators are likely to propose freezing the number of new charters. In part, that's in response to criticism that charters suck students, and the state money that comes with them, out of the regular schools. Also, such a freeze could save money. According to House figures, the state spent more than $69 million last year and this year providing aid to charter schools to rent building space.
Mitch's emphasis included in that quote, who notes the outflow of students and their parents from St. Paul and Minneapolis schools.

Complaining about charters sucking money out of "regular schools" (read: government schools) is like complaining about WalMart "sucking money" out of "mainstreet businesses." Our answer to that has always been 1) consumers save money; 2) small business should learn to compete. Having government regulate charter schools is like, well, having main street business owners on the town planning commission ... which happens about everywhere. We more easily recognize it in the latter case as rent-seeking behavior.

As regards $69 million in renting building space: if all of those students went back into a government school, wouldn't they clamor for more buildings and pass more bonding referenda? You see the $69 million going to charter schools for rental. What you don't see is the $69 million or more or less that doesn't get spent buying more public school space. The good economist sees both.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"A" is for Appeasement or O's Good Students 

This post by King reminded me of an article by Joseph Epstein in the December 8 issue of the weekly Standard. He refers to a David Brooks column in the New York Times that exults "the high quality of people President-elect Barack Obama was enlisting in his new cabinet, ." Why are these people so impressive? They all attended "superior" schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc. And, as referenced in King's article, a number of them teach in these institutions.

Some of us know these people: they work hard in high school, pile up activities, score high on SATs and get into one of the top 20 colleges. After arriving at an A school, they get more As and go on to the next level.

What is so bothersome about this? Academia is truly an isolated environment populated with far more believers in leftist causes than the population as a whole. Finding a conservative professor is difficult. Finding a professor who allows different points of view is even more rare.

Obama's A team learned early on to figure out what the teacher wanted: feminism, socialism, liberalism, anti-big business, etc. and gave it to them.
When did these students push themselves to examine another point of view?
When did they take a stand against a professor because they could prove the professor was wrong?
How many of them would have scored their perfect 800s on SAT tests before the grading scale got re-normed DOWN?
Can these people really think, make hard decisions or just accomodate what someone else wants?

As? Yes, for appeasement.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Children, Hamas, the Mainstream Press 

Some of you know that I taught elementary school a number of years ago. This was before the politically correct movement got in the way of real education. I teach a college class now and all I can say is we're cheating our children by giving them As, letting them think each of them is perfect all the time, that there is no evil except the USA and that all children deserve to win everything and get gold stars. When we don't demand standards and knowledge, we all lose, but more importantly, we are handicapping them for life.

Now, I've found this video about the Hamas (you know, those Palestinians whom Israel is fighting because these Palestinians seem to think they can fire rockets into Israeli homes, schools, etc. with abandon and nothing will be done about it because the mainstream press and the United Nations (UN) turn a blind eye towards this practice and do nothing).

Watch this video. Something is radically wrong when a culture teaches its 5 year olds to hate and become a "martyr" which in reality is murder. Would you want your kid or grand kid to be raised in such an environment of hate, prejudice and sheeer stupidity with a total disregard for all human life?

I think not. It's time that civilized nations and so-called psychologists look at the real damage being done to Palestinian kids. Start raising the noise level on this practice. The problem is not Israel - you won't find sane nations teaching guerrilla warfare to kindergartners - you will in Palestine - it's been going on for a very long time.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Yankee Ingenuity - American "Can-Do" 

When teaching my class, I get torn between feeling sorry for students who don't learn the great-
ness of the US, its ability to create and think "outside the box" and frustration with them because there appears to be so little appreciation for all the advances we have made.

A great example is this article about the Mars Rovers sent to Mars in 2004 by NASA, the US' National Aeronautical and Space Administration - the agency that put men on the moon. The first rover landed on Mars five years ago. It was named "Sprint" and was expected to last three months. It is still going strong - well, sort of. Now it can only travel backwards because of a jammed wheel but it still sends data back to earth. Its buddy, "Opportunity," has a glitch in one of its arms because of an electrical short. Sometimes their power runs low because of dust covering their solar panels. Regardless, they're still operating - an amazing achievement.

Together, the rovers have driven more than 20km, and returned more than 36 gigabytes (36,000,000,000) of data. This has included a quarter of a million (250,000) images.

This project, along with other Mars robots, show what Americans are - the "can-do" people who do not need someone or some entity to tell them "no!" Our space programs provided so many benefits to all, from light weight metals for wheel chair racers to powdered beverages. Nothing is in isolation. If we regain this curiosity, asking "Why?" "How?" we can solve anything.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

More Thoughts on Bailouts 

King posted here and I posted here regarding bailouts. After some more reflection, a few other companies who "didn't ask the government to fix my problem" came to mind.

Locally, Toro Company faced bankruptcy in the early 1980's. On their own, they restructured and are again, a significant employer in the Twin Cities. The AT&T of prior generations does not exist today. It incurred all kinds of business and management problems. Then they were sold, resold, restructured numerous times and revived. Today, in a revised form, they are are alive and well.

It just seems that for some reason, today too many have developed the mindset that someone else should bail them out of their messes, often of their own creation. Life is not a constant betterment as my young broker told me in 1997: "We're in a new paradigm; stocks will always go up." Well, he discovered otherwise (and I sold off before the downturn).

As a group and individually we pay a price for our poor decisions and actions. Some institutions have ignored their responsibilities. To believe "only government can solve problems" or to that people are incapable of solving problems without someone else (government, parents, etc.) bailing them out, is denying reality.

What made the west grow and the US great was the attitude that, "Yes, we can do _____"then we did it. For too many years we have taught our children that they are perfect, can do no wrong, are always "A" students. They grow up (note, not necessarily mature) thinking life is a piece of cake - it's not. When hit with a problem, they panic. When we behave in a manner that solving problems on your own is impossible and "ONLY" a government solution will work, we are stifling growth and harming youth. When the 'big boys' of Wall Street, politicians and union and company executives, make mistakes then run for cover and refuse to take the steps to fix their messes, we all pay.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

"Don't think, just throw" 

You'll recognize that line from Bull Durham. When it comes to quarterbacks, it might be good advice. Jonah Lehrer explains:
So how do quarterbacks do it? How do they make a decision? It's like asking a baseball player why he decided to swing the bat: the velocity of the game makes thought impossible. What recent research in neuroscience suggests is that quarterbacks choose where to throw the ball by relying on their unconscious brain. Just as a baseball player will decide to swing at a pitch for reasons he can't explain (he' is acting on subliminal cues from the hand of the pitcher), an experienced quarterback picks up defensive details he's not even aware of. Although he doesn't consciously perceive the lurking cornerback, or the blitzing linebacker, the quarterback's unconscious is still able to monitor the movement of these players. And then, when he glances at his receivers, his brain automatically converts these details into a set of fast emotional signals, so that a receiver in tight coverage gets associated with a twinge of fear, while an open man triggers a burst of positive feeling.
Lehrer argues that, while it's unconscious, you can still learn how to do it by being put in realistic situational practice runs. I imagine it's like how you train a fighter pilot (or a good videogamer.) You obviously cannot put them in a lethal plane fight, so you put them in simulators. Lehrer argues convincingly that what we measure to predict performance of a quarterback, say by an intelligence test, completely misses the point.
We've assumed that passing decisions are rational decisions when, in fact, there's nothing rational about them. Obviously, it's a bit more difficult to measure the unconscious, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.
Lehrer also argues about our decisions on what to buy, that it's not just rational. This is discussed in a Newsweek column by Sharon Begley (h/t: my colleague Phil Grossman.)
The brain has distinct circuits for registering that you want something and for recoiling at the price. When a price seems too high, as more and more bargain-crazed consumers are concluding about more and more products, the region that anticipates loss and registers disgust�the insula again�turns on, telling you to move away from the overpriced laptop. With consumers demanding bargains, that activity overwhelms the brain's pleasure-anticipating center, called the nuclear accumbens, which turns on when you see something desirable. The relative power of the insula and the nuclear accumbens determines whether you buy or not. That, in turn, reflects people's temperaments and habits�self-indulgence, compulsive shopping, self-denial and the like�as well as the messages they get from the environment.
I contemplate in thinking about this how we might train our children, our co-workers, or our students to make better economic or financial decisions. If the training-the-quarterback analogy carries to shopping, might we as well use simulations of market processes to teach how to buy the goods or assets that will best use our scarce resources? With kids we play games like Lemonade Tycoon or Minyanland to learn how to use money. More elaborate simulations are created by programs like Junior Achievement. But there are adults who make lousy decisions. Are there games we can use to give them the training they need to "don't think, just buy" smartly?

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Friday, December 05, 2008

This test for rent 

I somehow had missed this story, but one of my colleagues sent it to me today.
Tom Farber gives a lot of tests. He's a calculus teacher, after all.

So when administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they'll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.

"Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

San Diego magazine and The San Diego Union-Tribune featured his plan just before Thanksgiving, and Farber came home from a few days out of town to 75 e-mail requests for ads. So far, he has collected $350. His semester final is sold out.

I have been working up some short podcast tutorials for my students in forecasting (getting these ready for spring semester.) Right now, I have to do my recording at home on equipment I own. The university has some equipment, but you might have heard we have budget cutbacks coming down the pipe (more on this in another post later today.) I play lots of radio podcasts, and one model is for media outlets to tag those podcasts with ads (I am renaming Hugh's advertiser Ad_Nauseam.com, because I'm learning to barf rather than do math -- four reads for them in a 35 minutes cast is too much.) Should universities use educational podcasts to raise revenue? Who gets the money -- the university, the department, or the faculty member?


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why Facts and Education Matter 

This afternoon our grandson, age 10 months, spent some time with us. I play piano and one of our sessions was my playing and his "accompanying" me. It was a delightful time. While talking with his mom, she made the following observation, "I hated practicing piano when I was a kid. I didn't like having to learn all that stuff. But I've realized since, that what I learned has helped me in ways I never imagined. And, I can read music."

We have listened to so many people question why they have to learn math facts, a foreign language, science and history facts. There are two reasons: first, we cannot begin to develop critical thinking skills without facts; second, our brain files the facts. Once learned, the fact is "always in there" whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Our brains draw on these facts when needed, again whether we know it or not. Then our brain uses these facts with current data to help us make decisions.

We are severely handicapping our children when we refuse to make them learn facts.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Math as the barrier 

My colleague (and frequent Scholars commenter) Dave Switzer points to a new website called CampusBuddy, that can reveal your school's GPA and provides another place for professor ratings. Dave has listed out departments for their averages here at SCSU. The GPA overall at SCSU is 3.14 according to the site; Economics is a "less-than-generous 2.47." Only five departments have mean GPA lower than us: Math (lowest at 2.03); Astronomy; Physics; Chemistry and Accounting. Given that all six of these departments require some math skills, I'm going to put it on poor math training. Here's the story at Normandale CC, which is a school that provides some transfer students to us. As I reported a few years ago, looking at 1999 data, 248 of 2,546 freshmen that year who took the math placement test did not even get through the tutorial. The six-year graduation rate was much better for those who did pass the tutorials.

A blast from the past: Matt Abe on one school's use of "integrated math".

And for longtime readers:
Remember some years ago we named a certain department the "Department of the 3.7 GPA"? I'm happy to report that department is tightening its standards; its departmental GPA is now 3.5. Teacher Development, however, gives an A- or better to 85% of its students and a mean GPA of 3.8. How many of those become math teachers?

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Because they don't know how to say no 

Some parents want toy companies to stop advertising to their kids.
The letter-writing initiative was launched by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which says roughly 1,400 of its members and supporters have contacted 24 leading toy companies and retailers to express concern about ads aimed at kids.

"Unfortunately, I will not be able to purchase many of the toys that my sons have asked for; we simply don't have the money," wrote Todd Helmkamp of Hudson, Ind. "By bombarding them with advertisements ... you are placing parents like me in the unenviable position of having to tell our children that we can't afford the toys you promote."

The Toy Industry Association has responded with a firm defense of current marketing practices, asserting that children "are a vital part of the gift selection process."

"If children are not aware of what is new and available, how will they be able to tell their families what their preferences are?" an industry statement said. "While there is certainly greater economic disturbance going on now, families have always faced different levels of economic well-being and have managed to tailor their spending to their means."
Toy companies would not waste money on advertising on children shows if it was not effective. So why is it effective? Because parents will respond to their child's list to Santa or to relatives -- Littlest makes a list that goes to my family out East, though now they've cut me out of the process since she's old enough to have her own email. And we, as parents, are old enough to decide what toys are on the list and what toys aren't, which ones we can afford and which ones we cannot. How is it the toy industry's responsibility to teach my children about budgeting?

Rather than write letters, this strikes me as a good time for parents to sit with their children and discuss how they budget in tight times. Indeed, there is no better time. Children are not ignorant of the economic situation. Littlest has asked questions about the recession. And I am trying to make sure talks about the family budget occur in her presence. There's little doubt our children can use more financial literacy; I'd call saying 'no' to that Wii a teachable moment.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Your money turning kids green 

One aspect of the creation of a leftist electorate has been the insistence of some legislators on creating environmentally friendly schools. One such leftist is DFLer Jeremy Kalin of North Branch, who is now flying around the country to create green school movements in each state.
Kalin, who has a background in building-design work, was the chief author of last year�s Energy Efficiency and Conservation bill, which set a goal of 1,000 Energy Star-certified and 100 LEED-certified commercial buildings in Minnesota by the end of 2010.

His green credentials caught the attention of the USGBC, which invited him to participate in Fifty for Fifty.

The program will provide state legislators with, among other things, �up-to-date information and developments� in green building trends, cost-benefit studies, and networking opportunities with other legislators around the country.

In Minnesota, green school advocates in the Legislature will work to make sure every new school building is working as efficiently as possible, Kalin said.

But existing schools are also a concern. Many districts throughout the state have antiquated boilers, leaky roofs and windows, and other energy-related flaws. In some cases it might make sense to renovate, but in other cases it might be more economical to build new, Kalin noted.
Kalin notes, alas, that Governor Pawlenty seems to be buying into this nonsense. I wonder how much these programs cost. In Nevada, they had similar requirements but the Legislature voted to repeal them when they realized how much these tax breaks cost. It ended up creating a row in that state. In a period where we may face $3-$4 billion in budget shortfall in Minnesota, should we be giving away money for building these green schools that do not meet the market test? And with them, you will get education programs that promote greenness. Yet construction firms and architects -- beneficiaries of public dollars -- are promoting this. How long before they realize that they are being duped into a program that will end up saying all building is bad unless it is public building of green, smart cities?

(In a related development, Littlest has picked up my copy of The Fountainhead.)

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Soliciting non-taxpayers to raise taxes: the student edition 

We have heard so much about the impact of young voters on the margins Barack Obama earned in winning election last week. Less heard is their impact on down-ticket races. Take for example school levies.
Students at three colleges and universities helped St. Cloud school district prevail in an effort to pass a property tax increase that will provide $5.9 million a year for the schools.

Supporters and volunteers working to pass the vote emphasized the campuses by targeting students who might be enthused to vote in the presidential race.

When the votes were counted, students in five of what are considered college precincts near or at St. Cloud State University, the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph and St. John�s University in Collegeville racked up margins that made the difference.

�They were huge. We looked at the three area colleges associated with the students that really proved to be the margin of victory,� said Barclay Carriar, who was one of three people who led the volunteer effort to pass the vote.

The five precincts included those with polling places at St. Cloud State, City Hall, Southside Boys & Girls Club, Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph and Sexton Commons at St. John�s in Collegeville Township. Those precincts supported question 1 by 3,663 to 1,381 � a 2,282-vote margin. Question 1 was decided by 2,122 votes (24,299 to 22,177).

The margins in the five college precincts were wider than any of the other 66 precincts in the district, even those in neighborhoods of elementary schools.
A table was set up inside our classroom and office building to "provide information" about the levy. I believe one of the school board candidates was at that table. Dave Aeikens, the author of the article above, interviewed someone at that table.

Students do not pay the property tax (certainly not in dorms at SCSU, and any tax built into apartment rents is returned to them by our state's renters property tax rebate system.) Of 600+ graduates of my department over the last fifteen years, less than a hundred still live in St. Cloud. So most of them are voting to raise taxes on someone else. As a school with a large school of education, those students could even have been seen as voting to fund future employment. The number paying zero will grow under an Obama Administration.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Question of the day 

Should We Really Bail Out $73.20 Per Hour Labor?
Should U.S. taxpayers really be providing billions of dollars to bailout companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) that compensate their workers 52.5% more than the market (assuming Toyota wages and benefits are market), 54% more than management and professional workers, 132% more than the average manufacturing wage, and 157% more than the average compensation of all American workers?

Maybe the country would be better off in the long run if we let the Big Three fail, and in the process break the UAW labor monopoly, and then let Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen take over the U.S. auto industry, and restore realistic, competitive, market wages to the industry. It might be the best long-run solution.
While we're at it, can we ask that question of public school teachers, who make 61% more than private school teachers?

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Kid reporters 

One of my nieces is friends with a 13-year-old student reporter for Scholastic News Online, and I've been watching the press conference they are having for the last ten minutes before going to lunch. I hope they get jobs as reporters in the future; there may be hope yet to resurrect that profession.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Where you vote matters 

Here is a study, this one will demonstrate that those effects are not so weak. You look for support for school bonds, and what you look for is where were the polling stations. When the polling station is in a school, you get measurable effects on the support for school bonds. They increase. That is non-trivial, it's in the real world, except that you have something that is focused, you know what the direction is. You expose a lot of people to the prime, and you observe the behavior, and it's quite measurable.
By Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman (h/t: Tyler Cowen.) ISD 742 in St. Cloud, which is engaged in another school levy referendum this year, has only eight polling places out of 55 in public schools; another five are in private schools. Maybe not enough. Question: Does polling for public school referenda fall when polling occurs in a private school?

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Indoctrinate U HS 

The Virginia Education Association sponsored 'Obama Blue Day' on Tuesday. In an e-mail sent last week, it urged teachers to participate by dressing in blue.

'There are people out there not yet registered. You teach some of them,' the Sept. 25 e-mail reads. 'Others, including our members, remain on the fence! Its time for us to come together, voice our unity, because we make a difference!'

'Let's make Obama Blue Day a day of Action!' the e-mail continues. 'Barack the vote!'
The union is defending this as not encouraging their teachers "to use their classrooms for partisan political purposes." Must be teaching Orwell this week.

h/t: KU

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Even a stopped clock is right half the time 

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials say they want to give struggling children a chance, but the district is raising eyebrows with a policy that sets 50 percent as the minimum score a student can receive for assignments, tests and other work....

While some districts use "F" as a failing grade, the city uses an "E."

"The 'E' is to be recorded no lower than a 50 percent, regardless of the actual percent earned. For example, if the student earns a 20 percent on a class assignment, the grade is recorded as a 50 percent," said the memo from Jerri Lippert, the district's executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional development, and Mary VanHorn, a PFT vice president.

In each subject, a student's percentage scores on tests and other work are averaged into a grade for each of the four marking periods. Percentages for marking periods later are averaged into semester and year-end grades.

A student receives an "A" for scores ranging from 100 percent to 90 percent, a "B" for scores ranging from 89 percent to 80 percent, a "C" for scores ranging from 79 percent to 70 percent, a "D" for scores ranging from 69 percent to 60 percent and an "E" for scores ranging from 59 percent to the cutoff, 50 percent. ...

the 50 percent minimum gives children a chance to catch up and a reason to keep trying. If a student gets a 20 percent in a class for the first marking period, Ms. Pugh said, he or she would need a 100 percent during the second marking period just to squeak through the semester.

"We want to create situations where students can recover and not give up," she said, adding a sense of helplessness can lead to behavior and attendance problems.

Source, via Best of the Web. Italics added in that last sentence: Do you think that might be the real issue here? That teachers are responding to difficult students who take some weeks off from working on a course and then expect to get a do-over?

Of course this works in the other direction. A student has 78% after three marking periods. If he obtains a zero in the last marking period he fails the class; under Pittsburgh's rule he ends up with 71. A C for zero work. Students respond to incentives.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Could we have made them smarter? 

One of the purposes of this blog -- not originally, but one that evolved after NARN started -- was to provide more economic literacy to the general public. At times like this week it seems never more needed. But the traditional ways we provide this education are to me ineffective.

Some months ago San Francisco Fed president Janet Yellen spoke at the annual Community Reinvestment conference. I am not going to get into, in the following, the responsibility of federal regulation through the Community Reinvestment Act and the encouragement of lending for these loans to Freddie and Fannie. There's plenty of that analysis out there, and I have little to add that I didn't say yesterday. But I note two paragraphs in which Fed president Yellen describes how to promote homeownership for low-income families.

As a first step, there is a need to develop new strategies that help low-income borrowers�particularly those that may not have extensive financial knowledge�make better and more informed credit choices. Additional investments in financial education and homeownership counseling must be a key component of this strategy. Financial education has been shown to help households manage their finances more prudently, especially in decisions concerning credit, saving, and investment, and it has been shown to reduce the likelihood of default. Calling for more financial education is not a new idea, but challenges remain in funding educational programs and developing appropriate curricula and delivery channels for diverse audiences. Later this morning, you will have a chance to see one new fun approach to teaching children about financial management skills.

Now think about this a minute -- she is calling for more education of adults so that they know how to "make better and more informed credit choices", and her example ends with a "new fun approach to teaching children" financial literacy proposal. Do parents learn from their children? Sure, but what do they learn? I have read many proposals for teaching financial and economic literacy, and they are almost always of that nature -- teach the kids, and they'll teach the parents. The teachers (public school ones, mainly -- you see very few such programs in private schools) of course support that notion, since it provides them new programs, new mandates and new resources. Are we convinced that talking to Johnny about the Stock Market Game helps his parents understand the traps in an option ARM mortgage?

Yet this is what they seem to believe. Stan Liebowitz noted a few months ago that the Boston Fed had promoted rules for mortgage lenders that substituted education for objective lending criteria:

[T]he Boston Fed, clearly speaking for the entire Fed, produced a manual for mortgage lenders stating that: "discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants."

Some of these "outdated" criteria included the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, credit history, savings history and income verification. Instead, the Boston Fed ruled that participation in a credit-counseling program should be taken as evidence of an applicant's ability to manage debt.

Emphasis in original. See this manual for one. Returning to Yellen:

Second, we need to expand access to affordable homeownership opportunities. The gap in homeownership affordability�especially in states like California�is as high as it has ever been. As long as an adjustable rate, interest-only or high LTV subprime loan is the only way to afford a house, low-income families will continue to take on loans that they cannot sustain over the long term, and may be at greater risk of falling prey to unscrupulous lending practices. In stark contrast to the results we are seeing in the subprime market, the vast majority of new homeowners who have gone through affordable homeownership programs�which often involve pre- and post-purchase counseling and support as well as a savings component such as an Individual Development Account�have not defaulted on their loans.

Read that which I emphasized again: As long as homes are so high priced that lower income families cannot get in without a special mortgage vehicle, they will try to use that vehicle. So they must be foolish? Did we do the job the previous paragraph says we should do? If not, why would you recommend education again?

The last sentence refers to Individual Development Account, which is just a savings program where the participant's savings is matched at a 1:1 to 3:1 ratio, with withdrawal limited to the sole purpose of buying an asset like a home, a small business, or higher education. Well yes, of course that would help, but people willing to participate in an IDA self-select for the very attributes that make their chances for successful homeownership more likely: sound budgeting and a willingness to delay consumption. (There's an argument here one could have over personal discount rates, but we could get lost in the weeds there.)

The rest of it boils down to this: as long as we try to push homeownership for the poor -- which confuses the correlation of homeownership and financial stability with a causal link from homeownership to financial stability -- we will face the problem that the poor will take advantage of riskier mortgage vehicles. We will encourage them to have higher leverage in their houses. (Yes, sir, nobody put a gun to their heads. We just put dreams in them, encouraged with itemized tax deductions. Yes, it's still their fault in the end. Yes, but what would you like to do now?) And that will feed back into the banks and mortgage firms and insurance companies and the GSEs, etc.

Can economic education or financial literacy have stopped this? Maybe, but if so we need some different programs.

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