Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

International tests show US children lagging despite record spending on education

Jay Richards tweeted this article from the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Since 1998, the Program for International Student Assessment, or Pisa, has ranked 15-year-old kids around the world on common reading, math and science tests. The U.S. brings up the middle—again—among 65 education systems that make up fourth-fifths of the global economy. The triennial Pisa report also shows—again—that East Asian countries like Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea produce the best outcomes.

U.S. performance hasn’t budged in a decade. For 2012, U.S. students placed 26th in mathematics, a bit below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average, and 17th in reading and 21st in science, close to the average. The U.S. slipped in all categories compared to international competitors, plunging from 11th in reading as recently as 2009.

American teenagers seem especially weak in core academic subjects with high cognitive demands, such as translating concepts into solutions for real-world problems. A quarter never become proficient in math. In Shanghai and Korea, the comparable figure is 10% or fewer. Some 7% of U.S. students reached the top two scientific performance levels, compared with 17% in Finland and an amazing 27% in Shanghai. Is it tiger moms or tiger schools, or maybe both?

The U.S. is way out front in one measure: per-student spending. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more. Despite laying out $115,000 per head, the U.S. did no better than the Slovak Republic, which spends $53,000.

Perhaps most depressingly, the data show no statistically significant U.S. achievement improvement over time. None. In an era when it pays to be thankful for small mercies, at least we’re not getting worse, but America’s relative standing is falling as other countries improve.

[...]Massachusetts has been running public schools since 1635 and today is home to some of the best performers in the nation. The state entered Pisa as if it was its own country—but students of the same age in Shanghai performed as if they had two more years of math instruction than those in the Bay State.

[...]Pisa also adds another count to the bill of indictment for the Democrats who block reform to serve their teachers union patrons. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the report “a picture of educational stagnation,” but liberals are major impediments to more accountability, merit-based compensation and school-choice competition. The Justice Department has even gone so far as to sue Louisiana to block its modest voucher program, which is a moral crime against the students consigned to failing schools.

There are a few areas of economics that I think that Christians really ought to understand, and education is one of them. We definitely need to be concerned about policies that make it harder for poor, minority students to get ahead. We keep throwing money at the unionized public school system, and we get no results. We need to think about making education more like online shopping. What makes online shopping great is choice and competition. If schools were allowed to compete with one another, then the customer would be assured of getting more quality for less money. The public school system is a monopoly, and it serves the teachers and the education bureaucrats – not the children.

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Niall Ferguson argues that government is making it harder to run a business

In the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Seven years of data suggest that most of the world’s countries are successfully making it easier to do business: The total number of days it takes to carry out the seven procedures has come down, in some cases very substantially. In only around 20 countries has the total duration of dealing with “red tape” gone up. The sixth-worst case is none other than the U.S., where the total number of days has increased by 18% to 433. Other members of the bottom 10, using this metric, are Zimbabwe, Burundi and Yemen (though their absolute numbers are of course much higher).

Why is it getting harder to do business in America? Part of the answer is excessively complex legislation. A prime example is the 848-page Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of July 2010 (otherwise known as the Dodd-Frank Act), which, among other things, required that regulators create 243 rules, conduct 67 studies and issue 22 periodic reports. Comparable in its complexity is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (906 pages), which is also in the process of spawning thousands of pages of regulation. You don’t have to be opposed to tighter financial regulation or universal health care to recognize that something is wrong with laws so elaborate that almost no one affected has the time or the will to read them.

[...]Each year, the World Economic Forum publishes its Global Competitiveness Index. Since it introduced its current methodology in 2004, the U.S. score has declined by 6%. (In the same period China’s score has improved by 12%.) An important component of the index is provided by 22 different measures of institutional quality, based on the WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey. Typical questions are “How would you characterize corporate governance by investors and boards of directors in your country?” and “In your country, how common is diversion of public funds to companies, individuals, or groups due to corruption?” The startling thing about this exercise is how poorly the U.S. fares.

In only one category out of 22 is the U.S. ranked in the global top 20 (the strength of investor protection). In seven categories it does not even make the top 50. For example, the WEF ranks the U.S. 87th in terms of the costs imposed on business by “organized crime (mafia-oriented racketeering, extortion).” In every single category, Hong Kong does better.

At the same time, the U.S. has seen a marked deterioration in its World Governance Indicators. In terms of “voice and accountability,” “government effectiveness,” “regulatory quality” and especially “control of corruption,” the U.S. scores have all gone down since the WGI project began in the mid-1990s. It would be tempting to say that America is turning Latin, were it not for the fact that a number of Latin American countries have been improving their governance scores over the same period.

Whatever the root causes of the deterioration of American institutions, smart people are starting to notice it. Last year Michael Porter of Harvard Business School published a report based on a large-scale survey of HBS alumni. Among the questions he asked was where the U.S. was “falling behind” relative to other countries. The top three lagging indicators named were: the effectiveness of the political system, the K-12 education system and the complexity of the tax code. Regulation came sixth, efficiency of the legal framework eighth.

Asked to name “the most problematic factors for doing business” in the U.S., respondents to the WEF’s most recent Executive Opinion Survey put “inefficient government bureaucracy” at the top, followed by tax rates and tax regulations.

The troubling thing to me is that the private sector has to make a profit in order to fund government, and I don’t see that the private sector will be able to producing the profits needed to fund our government’s lavish spending. Nothing that I see about the next generation causes me to believe that they understand economics enough to vote to improve the business climate. They seem to be very much anti-business. One wonders where they expect to find jobs.

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Who pays the cost of raising taxes on imported goods?

The Heritage Foundation explains the consequences of tariffs for all the groups who are affected.

Excerpt:

“Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires,” asserted President Obama in his State of the Union Address. President Obama referred to steep tariffs that his Administration imposed on tires imported from China.Not everyone sees it that way. According to the Tire Industry Association (TIA):

TIA believes this was a politically motivated decision that will end up costing more jobs than it saves. These tariffs will not bring back the jobs that the union claims have been lost; it will not create any new tire manufacturing jobs, and it will most likely result in the loss of thousands of retail tire industry jobs here in the U.S., affecting everyone from the shop that services your tire to the tire wholesalers—many of whom are small businesspeople struggling to stay afloat in this economy. This, all during a time when we can ill afford to be losing more U.S. jobs.

The Association pointed out that there is more at stake than dollars and cents:

This tariff will price these tires out of reach of many consumers, and will lead to a tightening in the remaining supply of lower-cost tires. Also, given that the lower-cost tires imported from China help those most vulnerable in this current economy—working-class citizens—we are deeply concerned that many consumers may delay or even defer replacing their tires when necessary, thus creating a potential safety hazard on America’s roads.

When you put a tax of lower-priced goods, the people who are hurt the most are working class workers. During a recession, people have even less money to spend and they need to be able to have the option of buying cheaper foreign goods. Tariffs take away that option, and force families to pay higher prices for the things they need.

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Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal unveils education reform plan

Here are the details on Bobby Jindal’s new education plan, from New Orleans Online Access.

Excerpt:

 Gov. Bobby Jindal on Tuesday outlined a far-reaching set of proposals aimed at improving education in Louisiana, including a state-wide voucher program for low-income students, an expansion of autonomous charter schools and steps to link a teachers’ classroom performance to their job protections and their compensation. The governor has been promising for months now to make education reform the centerpiece of his second-term agenda.

[...]The voucher program may prove the most controversial aspect of the plan. Jindal is proposing to help pay tuition at private and parochial schools for any child of a low-income family who attends a school that receives a letter grade of C, D or F.

More than 70 percent of Louisiana’s public schools would fall into that category, opening up districts across the state to competition for public funding from private institutions. Parents who opt out of those public schools would be able to take the public funding set aside for their child with them to pay for tuition.

Voucher opponents argue that offering private school tuition siphons money away from public education, but the governor is framing the idea as a way to put decision-making in the hands of parents.

Also toward that end, Jindal is proposing to fast-track the approval of new charter schools for proven charter operators. Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and typically overseen by nonprofit boards. They compete with traditional public schools in their area for students.

Jindal is also proposing to end regular annual pay increases for teachers based on years in the classroom, ban the use of seniority in all personnel decisions and weaken the power that local school boards have in hiring and firing decisions in favor of superintendents.

Teachers coming into the classroom for the first time would also see major changes under Jindal’s plan: districts would have greater flexibility to establish their own pay scales for new teachers and tenure would be set aside only for those who earn high ratings on evaluations five years in a row.

I thought it might be helpful to also post this quick introduction to the issue of school choice, from the Cato Institute.

I don’t agree with the Cato Institute on everything, but they’re right on this issue. The Heritage Foundation also has 3 small videos explaining school choice – with cartoons!

There’s an even longer video narrated by John Stossel that you can watch, that really explains the why school reform matters – and why it’s a conservative issue. Like the sex-selection abortion issue that I blogged about here before, this is an issue that conservatives need to seize on. Here, we can really let our compassionate side show by helping the poorest students, especially those in visible minorities, who simply cannot get a quality education in a public school monopoly that is not responsive to the needs of parents, or their children. This is an issue where we can win – the only losers are the educational bureaucrats and the teacher unions. But the kids are more important.

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Those who complain about corporate greed may be greedy themselves

From the moderately leftist National Post.

Excerpt:

But what about that 99%? What responsibility do they bear for the situation the world finds itself in? The answer is: plenty. Greed doesn’t just live on Wall Street: it finds a home on Main Street too. And when people think it’s perfectly OK to take out mortgages they can’t afford, or rack up credit card debt to buy flat screen TVs, clothes and appliances, or draw on their home’s equity to finance cars and vacations, well, as they say, you reap what you sow.

[...]But you only have to crack open the business pages, or watch a reality TV show like Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Princesses” (about heavily indebted young women) to start questioning the moral purity of the 99%. Many of these people are the authors of their own misery: they consider credit to be cheap, if not free, money. The result is that even here in Canada, the ratio of household debt to personal income has hit a whopping 150%, up 78% in real terms in the past twenty years.

I have no pity for those heavily indebted people, in part because I was once one of them. My love affair with credit started in university. While the limit on that first card was low – $1500 – it allowed a student with a part-time job to buy things she couldn’t otherwise afford (and mostly didn’t need). After getting married, I kept spending, even cashing in my meagre RRSP to help finance the wedding. Post-divorce, I racked up consumer debt, over $15,000 at its peak, at which point I took a harsh look at myself and said: enough. At the time, I was selling my condo: I took the proceeds, paid off the debt, invested the balance, and vowed to both save and pay monthly bills in full, promises I have kept ever since.

Luckily, I got religion well before the meltdown of 2008. But many people didn’t. And this makes them responsible not only for their own problems, but those of their neighbours.

Sure, it’s easy to blame the Wall Street CEOs for bundling rotten mortgages and contriving arcane debt instruments that weren’t worth the paper they were written on. But someone took out those mortgages. Millions of people, actually, who bought more house than they could afford. Did someone hold a gun to their head? No. They were just as greedy as the 1%, only on a smaller scale.

Governments are also just as guilty. In the U.S., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac granted mortgages to people deemed disadvantaged – minorities, the poor – in the hopes of increasing home ownership. This spurred the private sector to compete and fuelled the infamous subprime mortgage market.

The Canadians have special tax-free savings accounts that encourage them to save money instead of spending it. That’s something that we should do – provide people with tax-free savings accounts. Give people the incentive to save their money instead of spending it.

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