Posts tagged ‘Education’

Wherein I Actually Praise Republicans

I have been told that the first person in a negotiation that mentions a number will lose.  Something similar is at work with the US federal budget.  When they controlled Congress, Democrats never even proposed a budget for this fiscal year (which began last October, months before they lost control of the House).  Obama's budget is simply a bad joke, a non-effort,  that simply extrapolates current trends without any real change or exercise of control.

Its amazing to me that all the news reports today are about the "risk" Republicans are taking by actually proposing a plan into this vacuum.   It is amazing to me that actually trying to exercise adult supervision when everyone else is voting "present" could be "political suicide," but I have to accept that the political experts know their stuff.

This situation is in fact exactly what Democrats have been hoping for -- they have purposefully hoped to avoid suggesting any solutions in order to force the Republicans to be the first and only ones to the table with suggestions.  Democrats have zero desire to actually close the multi-trillion dollar deficit;  rather, they see it as a huge opportunity that traps Republicans into trying to actually, you know, solve the problem.  These proposed solutions can then be demagogued against to electoral victory.  Or so goes the theory.

So, I want to thank the Republicans for actually producing a budget plan that actually attempts to bring some fiscal sense to the government.  I would have like to see other changes (less defense spending, elimination of Dept. of Education in favor of block grants, zeroing out of all farm and ethanol subsidies, etc) and Ryan's numbers seem screwy, but let us be happy there is at least one adult in Washington.

For-Profit Education Regulations

Here are apparently a couple of the new regs for-profit colleges are expecting:

One proposed rule, which is expected to be finalized this spring, will restrict students from using federal financial aid to pay for programs that rack up excessive loan debt but train students for occupations with relatively low entry-level salaries.

A second rule, which will go into effect this summer, will close loopholes that allowed admissions counselors to be compensated based on how many students they signed up

The first rule is particularly interesting to focus on, especially given that they do not apply to government-run schools.  This means that if you want to go to UCLA and run up loads of debt in economically dead-end majors like women's studies or art history, you are still free to do so.  But go forbid you want to study to be a nurse or a teacher at the University of Phoenix.  This from the CEO of Apollo, the parent company of University of Phoenix

some of the trade-school-type programs may be more vulnerable because of gainful employment (the anticipated federal rule about debt and entry-level salaries). . . . Gainful employment will cause programs, in areas such as nursing or teacher education or law enforcement, (for) for-profits not to be able to offer them . . . (because the federal formula) uses first-year salaries.

I can tell you my first-year salary for what I wanted to do wouldn't have qualified. It takes time.

Two things you can expect from any set of regulations.  1) Large companies will eventually benefit, because the compliance costs will weed out smaller companies and deter future startups.  2) Innovation will be reduced, as certain established business models and practices will become safe harbors under the rules, adding risk to anyone wishing to try an additional approach.

Heads I am Cheated, Tails You Owe Me Something

Read this story, and then imagine if the facts had been reversed:

"A sports conference that always scheduled weekday basketball doubleheaders in which women's teams played the first game -- letting the men play in the later time slot -- has altered the practice, after an anonymous sex discrimination complaint charged that this made the women's games appear to be a "warm-up" act for the men's games.

Now, hoping to avoid possible gender equity suits, other athletic conferences are considering similar scheduling changes.  Last month, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference announced that it would alternate from season to season the order in which men's and women's teams would play in doubleheaders. The men will play first this season, and the women will play first next season.

Dell Robinson, the conference commissioner, said the decision was made after the league received an inquiry in March from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. An anonymous complaint filed with the agency argued that the negative connotation conveyed by always having women's teams play first in these doubleheaders was detrimental to women's athletics."

So let's imagine a alternate world where women's basketball games had always traditionally been played in the second game of the double-header, after men's games.  Does anyone believe that the civil rights folks wouldn't have filed a complaint saying

Having women's games always played after men's games makes them appear to be an after-thought to the main contest, positioning the game later in the prime social hours where potential student fans will be more likely to leave early and head to the bar instead of staying to watch.  The negative connotation conveyed by always having women't teams play last in these doubleheaders is detrimental to women's athletics.

See, its easy to be a race/gender advocate.

The Anti-Responsibility Law

Congress just passed a new $26 billion payoff to state governments, easing the pressure on states to institute some sort of fiscal responsibility.  The follows on the heals of last year's tens of billions of dollars in direct aid to state budgets in the original stimulus bill.

Taking the pressure off states for real fiscal reform is bad enough, but this is worse:

Maintaining the salaries and generous benefit plans for members of teachers unions is indeed a top Democratic priority. That's why $10 billion of the bill's funding is allocated to education, and the money comes with strings that will multiply the benefits for this core Obama constituency.Specifically, the bill stipulates that federal funds must supplement, not replace, state spending on education. Also, in each state, next year's spending on elementary and secondary education as a percentage of total state revenues must be equal to or greater than the previous year's level.

This is roughly equivalent to the government telling mortgage holders that took on too much debt that the government will bail them out, a clear moral hazard.  But then it goes further to force the mortgage-holder to promise to take on a bigger mortgage next year.  Unbelievable.

In a move right out of Atlas Shrugged, Texas is singled out for special penalties in the law because, well, it seems to be doing better than all the other states economically and is one of the few that seem comitted to fiscal responsibility

For Texas, and only Texas, this funding rule will be in place through 2013 [rather than 2011]. This is a form of punishment because the Beltway crowd believes the Lone Star State didn't spend enough of its 2009 stimulus money.

So much for equal protection.  This Congress sure has set an incredible record for itself in choosing to reward and punish individual states (remember Nebraska and Louisiana) in its legislation.

The WSJ thinks perhaps a different kind of multiplier, other than the Keynesian one, is behind this legislation.

Keep in mind that this teacher bailout also amounts to a huge contribution by Democrats to their own election campaigns. The National Right to Work Committee estimates that two of every three teachers belong to unions. The average union dues payment varies, but a reasonable estimate is that between 1% and 1.5% of teacher salaries goes to dues. The National Education Association and other unions will thus get as much as $100 million in additional dues from this bill, much of which will flow immediately to endangered Democratic candidates in competitive House and Senate races this year.

Raise our Taxes!

From Chicago Sun-Times

In one of the largest Statehouse rallies ever, thousands of unionized government workers and social-service advocates rallied for an income-tax hike that could avert billions of dollars in crippling budget cuts.Three hundred busloads of people, mostly from AFSCME Council 31, SEIU, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, converged outside the Capitol while lawmakers were in session.

On several occasions during the late-morning rally, protesters turned away from the stage across from the Capitol to face the ornate seat of state government and chant, "Raise our taxes!" and "Save Our state!"

James King here in Arizona thinks the new "I didn't pay enough" law here is dumb.

Feel like voluntarily ponyin' up some of your hard-earned cash to help legislators dig themselves out of the budget crisis they created? Of course you don't, but that didn't stop legislators from taking time out of their day to pass a bill that asks taxpayers to do exactly that.

The "I-didn't-pay-enough fund" is the creation of numb Skull Valley Representative Judy Burges. It asks taxpayers to voluntarily donate money to the state government to help chip away at the state's $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

What he doesn't readlize is that it is aimed directly at the folks that are protesting in the example above.   Want to pay higher taxes, then send in a check!  But don't make the rest of us do so.

I Guess I Was Wrong. Arne Duncan Really Does Favor School Choice

From Ed Morrissey:

Chicago Breaking News reported late last night that former Chicago schools chief and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan manipulated a system to favor powerful political allies by placing their children in the schools of their choice.  The discovery of a  list, the existence of which had been long denied by the city, and its composition of mainly high-powered political figures calls into question the appeals system used to reconsider applications that had been denied by the top Chicago-area schools:

This is going to be even more fun when this game is applied to jumping the hospital waiting list.

Exhibit A For School Choice

For years I have argued that the killer app that may someday actually lead to school choice will not be individual liberty (because no one in government gives a rip about that any more) and not education quality (because again, its clear no one really cares) but speech and religion.  If the right messes up schools enough, the left might finally be willing to shed their alliance with the teachers unions and consider school choice.  From a live-blog of a Texas Board of Education meeting (via Radley Balko)

9:27 - The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.9:30 - Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with "the writings of") and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson's ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don't buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar's problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 - We're just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board's far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America's exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America's Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

If We Just Spent More Money On Education...

From Andrew Coulson.  Math and reading scores probably underestimate changes in learning (e.g. doesn't account for increased need to teach computer skills in this timeframe).  But discourse on education often seems to assume the blue line is flat to down.    It is interesting that among the left, this chart is proof that we need to spend more money while the exact same chart in health care (say with scores replaced by life expectancy) is proof we need to spend less money.  In fact, the health care chart would look better, because at least there the key metric of quality has increased over time.

Update: Here are the life expectancy stats, showing much more progress than education (despite being suppressed by an increasing murder rate in the period -- to really make it a metric of health care you need to pull out accidents and homicides).  So both health care and education spending go up a lot.  Education results show no improvement.  Health care results show strong improvement.  But education needs more money and health care less?  You'd almost think people's opinions on this were based more on feeding government run institutions and starving private ones, irregardless of results.

Increased Education Spending Going to Administrators

For years, I have suspected that a lot of increased per pupil spending in public schools has gone to increasing numbers of administrators rather than teachers or facilities.  I just have to compare the administration numbers at my kids private school and those at the local public school and the contrast is just amazing.

Mark Perry demonstrates a similar effect in state-run college education:

This decade has been good for associate vice chancellors at UNC-Chapel Hill. Their numbers have nearly doubled, from 10 to 19, and the money paid to them has more than tripled, to a total of nearly $4 million a year. The university now admits that some of these people were in jobs that were not vital. They represent the rapid management growth in the 16-campus UNC system that has added tens of millions of dollars to annual payrolls.

Now, with a tough economy and sinking tax revenues, UNC officials and state lawmakers say these jobs need cutting first.

Systemwide over the past five years, the administrative ranks have grown by 28%, from 1,269 administrative jobs to 1,623 last year, UNC-system data show. That's faster than the growth of faculty and other teaching positions -- 24% -- and faster than student enrollment at 14%. The number of people with provost or chancellor in their titles alone has increased by 34% the past five years, from 312 in 2004 to 418 last year. The cost was $61.1 million, up $25 million from five years before.

Perry also show similar numbers in his own university in Michigan.

Kudos to the UNC system for at least considering cuts in these bloated administrator positions.  You never see public grade schools systems ever suggest such cuts - when forced to economize, they always suggest cutting something inflammatory like textbooks for high school or crayons for kindergarteners.  One difference is that UNC faces competition from a myriad of other public and private colleges, while most local grade school districts do not.

I would still like to find similar staffing numbers for our local public school district, breaking out teachers from principals, assistant principals, and administrators, but they seem loath to share such detail.

My Education Secretary Pick

Obama has picked Arne Duncan of Chicago as Secretary of Education.  Unwilling to send his own kids to schools run by Mr. Duncan, he is never-the-less putting Duncan in charge of the rest of our schools.

My appointment for the Secretary of the Department of Education would have been the head of a liquidation firm.  As a libertarian, I can find fault just about everywhere in Washington, but nothing better illustrates the modern disregard for the Constitution and the 9th and 10th Amendments than the Federal education infrastructure.  My daughter asked me what I would do first if I were President.  I would put blowing up this department first (though its demise would be neck and neck with the Department of Energy).  I would even be willing to do it in a funding-neutral way, such that Federal funds currently allocated to education would still be so allocated, and simply distributed on some kind of per head basis to local districts.  Which, in fact, would actually increase real education funding, eliminating the great Washington leaky bucket as well as the cost of compliance with reams of rules and regulations that is born by local districts.

It is possible to find a few  (though very few, on a percentage basis) anecdotes of public schools that have been turned around  (in fact, I think there are few enough that a movie can and has been made about every one).  There are no examples that I know of a large school district being turned around.   As to this guy Duncan picked by Obama today --  I am willing to believe he had some point successes at individual schools.  But he certainly didn't turn around the whole district  (certainly not to the Obama family's standards, since they refused to send their kids to the schools Duncan ran).  So what hope does he have at a national level?  Answer:  none.  But I am sure he will ask for more money to do it.

Yearning for Something Better than Kwanzaa

I have had several emails this week about Kwanzaa, so I guess it is time for my annual Kwanzaa rant.  This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of themselves and their history is a good one.  The specific values celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist -Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

First, understand that I have no problem with people of any ethnic group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new occasions. One of the great things about living in Arizona is getting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Second, understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly, after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.  Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red itallics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is interesting that a holiday that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However, this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god, and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ... them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So, in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
thats not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
-Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in particular, so we will never again repeat it.

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage, suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

Update:  Even years later, commenters insist on misinterpreting this last point as some sort of justification for slavery.  I am not sure how one can come to this conclusion in an article that drips with disdain for slavery, but folks will find what they want to find.  My mistake perhaps was to presume to speak for African Americans.  It is very possible that the enslavement of their ancestors and the legacy of racist crap that still exists in this country is not balanced by the prosperity blacks now enjoy in America vs. Africa.  So I will merely speak for myself and say the rest of us are immeasurably better off for having you here.

Creepy Big Brother Education at University of Delaware

You have probably seen the stories about the creepy, mandatory reeducation program for University of Delaware students.  If you have missed the story, or want more, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is all over it -- here is a roundup.

However, if you don't have time to go through it all, here is a couple of examples I took right from their curricula.  Note that the following goals for the program are set in the context of, as the university puts it, "treatment" for students incorrect beliefs and worldviews.   This is from the Central Complex residence hall:

Delaware

Look at 2B and C for example!  Its coincident timing, but look at stuff above in the context of this post, which I wrote before I even saw this.  Could there be a more resounding confirmation of this:

I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.
Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get
admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition,
universities feel like they need to make students feel better about
this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that
public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that
actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced
them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each
and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important
to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But
who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics
degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or
Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy
League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to
pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us
what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar
organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this
job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions
to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind
of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

If you read through the whole document, which is nearly impossible because it is a classic example of academic mental masturbation, you will see the curriculum is dominated by this sustainability notion

Delaware2

Somehow none of the residence halls chose "the role of capitalism and individual entrepreneurship in creating wealth."  Remember that these are all areas that the university has declared that students require "treatment" if their views do not conform with the university orthodoxy.  They are expecting that all students must share all of these beliefs.  For real creepiness, read about the student that the RA conducting this curriculum actually felt the need to report to university officials because her attitudes were so "out of whack".  She was reported for saying obviously horrendous things like this answer:

1) When were you first made aware of your race?

"That is irrelevant to everything. My race is human being."

Fortunately, the University of Delaware killed the program after a firestorm of national outrage.  If you have read the FIRE blog long enough, you will suspect that Delaware will find some way in the future to sneak it back in.

My post of the vacuousness of student activists, written before I even saw this, is here.

Update:  How did I miss this great quote, from the university's Office of Residence Life Diversity Education Training documents:

"A RACIST: A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the
basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. "˜The term applies
to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the
United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or
sexuality. By this definition, people of color cannot be racists,
because as peoples within the system, they do not have the power to
back up their prejudices, hostilities, or acts of discrimination"¦.'"

Wow! Megan McArdle on Vouchers

I won't even bother to try to excerpt the post.  Just read it if you are interested in vouchers.  Or Education.  Or just read it anyway.

OK, I lied, one excerpt.  She is refuting anti-voucher arguments.  Here is #11:

11)  There's no way to assure the quality of private schools
Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously? The problem with
private schools is that they can't match the same level of quality
we've come to expect from our urban public school system? And what else
have you learned in your visit to our planet?

Let's Get These Guys to Run Health Care

From the New York Post via Carpe Diem and TJIC:

For
seven hours a day, five days a week, hundreds of Department of
Education employees - who've been accused of wrongdoing ranging from
buying a plant for a school against the principal's wishes to
inappropriately touching a student - do absolutely no work.

The
Post has learned that the number of salaried teachers sitting idly
waiting for their cases to be heard has exploded to 757 this year -
more than twice the number just two years ago - at a cost of about $40
million a year, based on the median teacher salary.

The city pays millions more for substitute teachers and employees to replace them and to lease rubber-room space.

Meanwhile,
the 757 - paid from $42,500 to $93,400 a year - bring in lounge chairs
to recline, talk on their cellphones and watch movies on portable DVD
players, according to interviews with more than 50 employees.

More on Education and Expertise

A few days ago, I highlighted an article that argued that the problem with public education was that there was not enough expertise and, heaven forbid, enough state level bureaucrats managing the infrastructure.  I pointed out that this is often the argument of technocrats in favor of failing public institutions:  The problem is not the institution, they argue, or its incentives but it just needs the right people in charge.  I argued that, probably like GM, all the expertise in the world was not going to turn around an organization whose DNA had gone senescent.

Alex Tabarrok comes at this issue from a different angle, but with similar results.  Too many of the examples highlighted of successes in public education rely on a super-teacher or super-administrator who overcomes all the organization problems in his/her school to create a success story, one that is usually fleeting and tends to die when that individual leaves  (Jaime Escalante is a great example - most of his math program improvements died after he left).

Tabarrok argues that you can't just keep hoping for more of these unique individuals who can overcome a myriad of bureaucratic obstacles.  You have to reinvent the system so that average capability, poorly motivated workers can still get a good result for students.  I know some will be scared off by the analogy, but this is the kind of thing that franchise restaurants do very well -- plug low-skill, sometimes poorly motivated employees into a system that successfully provides consistent, predictable service for customers.

What we need to save inner-city schools, and poor schools
everywhere, is a method that works when the teachers aren't heroes.
Even better if the method works when teachers are ordinary people,
poorly paid and ill-motivated - i.e. the system we have today. 

In Super Crunchers,
Ian Ayres argues that just such a method exists.  Overall, Super
Crunchers is a light but entertaining account of how large amounts of
data and cheap computing power are improving forecasting and decision
making in social science, government and business.  I enjoyed the
book.  Chapter 7, however, was a real highlight.

Ayres argues that large experimental studies have shown that the teaching method which works best is Direct Instruction (here and here
are two non-academic discussions which summarizes much of the same
academic evidence discussed in Ayres).  In Direct Instruction the
teacher follows a script, a carefully designed and evaluated script.
As Ayres notes this is key:

DI is scalable.  Its
success isn't contingent on the personality of some uber-teacher....You
don't need to be a genius to be an effective DI teacher.  DI can be
implemented in dozens upon dozens of classrooms with just ordinary
teachers.  You just need to be able to follow the script.

Contrary
to what you might think, the data also show that DI does not impede
creativity or self-esteem.  The education establishment, however, hates
DI because it is a threat to the power and prestige of teaching, they
prefer the model of teacher as hero.  As Ayres says "The education
establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the
evidence says."  As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that
"Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has
captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school
market."

I don't know anything about DI and haven't seen the data and so can't comment on its effectiveness.  But I can say that if it works, there is no way it will be adopted in public schools.  Public school systems are run first for the administration bureaucracy, second for the teachers, and only about third for the students.  Anything that serves the latter but reduces the power of the former will never succeed, again because the incentives are not there for better performance.  Only school competition will allow such new models to be tried.

The Problem in Education Is Not Expertise

Via Kevin Drum, Mark S. Tucker and Kevin Toch make the argument, if I understand it right, that school districts and state education organizations simply don't have the expertise or the capacity to handle the changes required to meet the standards that are being applied by efforts like NCLB (they also argue the tests themselves suck, but I am not going to address that issue).  By the way, you know I'm going to get worked up when the title of an article is "The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats"

...we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building
the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds
of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple
matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding
people with the data management experience to build and administer the
very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts
who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that
teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be
able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training
thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to
provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting
still others who can take those schools over if the current staff
cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and
expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think
tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill,
experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools
and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the
capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort:
state departments of education.

Wow!  It's hard to even know where to start, but I guess my first thought is : What the f*ck have public schools been doing in the last 100 years?  Why, after an absolutely enormous spending growth over the last several decades, do districts still not have the ability to create world class curricula?  Why don't teachers know what they are supposed to teach?   Why is the system so talent poor, despite a huge increase in the number of administrators with various advanced education degrees at all levels of the system?  It's as if the highway department announced today that they didn't have the ability to design roads.

The first and last resort of every technocrat is to complain that the system is great, if only the right "smart" people could get put in charge.  These folks are making this same argument yet again.  Our public schools are fine, if we could just get the right experts in charge. 

Bullshit.

The issue is not the lack of expertise.  The issue is one of incentives and senescence in the system itself.  In this context,  NCLB is completely off the mark.   I work with government employees all the time.  There is a very clear difference between the incentives they see and the incentives I see in the market.  For government employees, the biggest incentive is to avoid missing some bureaucratic check box.  They are much more concerned that they not be found later in some audit to have missed a procedure or a required approval authority than with actual performance or productivity.  NOT, I want to emphasize, because they are bad or misguided people, but because that is how their incentive system is set up.  Their actions are entirely rational in the context of their incentive structure, but the results are no less disastrous.

For example, government managers of recreation facilities get almost no credit for improving the customer experience, a metric my company lives and dies for.  I have seen a government park manager do a great job obtaining funds from private sources to add a new facility to their park that pleased guests, only to get criticized for having the slope of an access ramp be 1/4 degree off ADA standards and have a grievance filed by the union that park visitation had gone up, creating more work for the government employees.  I spent an evening having a beer with that manager, and you can bet they are never going to try to actually improve the customer experience again.  As another example, I went in to my government landlord last week and just blasted them for their lack of customer service focus, for the fact that they are blocking me from making improvements customers are begging for.  They yawned, gave me no response,  and handed me a notice that they were missing some of our water testing paperwork and please get it to them ASAP.

NCLB just gives government schools another government wammy to be managed and avoided.  The authors will probably get their wish, and huge bureaucracies will rise up to manage the numbers and reports without anything being done to really improve education.  The authors lament that the California state education department has "only" 1452 employees.  I have every confidence that this "problem" will soon get fixed by California, and the number will balloon up nicely, long before children see any better education.

A while back I wrote a plea to just let GM die.  I said:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of
various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and
human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as
"management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently
managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the
management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its
unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all
this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression
that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and
getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.
You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the
consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix
it. 

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to
process to history to culture could better be called the corporate
DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking
brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an
upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I
don't think they would ever get there.  Its just too much change in the
DNA.  Yeah, you could hire some ex Merry-go-round** executives, but you
still have a culture aimed at big box low prices, a logistics system
and infrastructure aimed at doing same, absolutely no history or
knowledge of fashion, etc. etc.  I would bet you any amount of money I
could get to the GAP faster starting from scratch than starting from
Walmart.  For example, many folks (like me) greatly prefer Target over
Walmart because Target is a slightly nicer, more relaxing place to
shop.  And even this small difference may ultimately confound Walmart.
Even this very incremental need to add some aesthetics to their
experience may overtax their DNA....

Changing your DNA is tough.  It is sometimes possible, with the right
managers and a crisis mentality, to evolve DNA over a period of 20-30
years.  One could argue that GE did this, avoiding becoming an
old-industry dinosaur.  GM has had a 30 year window (dating from the
mid-seventies oil price rise and influx of imported cars) to make a
change, and it has not been enough.  GM's DNA was programmed to make
big, ugly (IMO) cars, and that is what it has continued to do.  If its
leaders were not able or willing to change its DNA over the last 30
years, no one, no matter how brilliant, is going to do it in the next
2-3.

I would say the exact same thing is true of public schools: Their DNA is senescent.  Most are the equivalent of alcoholics who keep falling off the wagon and keep asking for more chances.  At some point, you just have to give up.  At some point, it is easier to just start from scratch.  After 30 years of trying, Sears still can't change itself so there is Wal-Mart.  After 30 years of trying, GM still can't change itself so there is Toyota.  After 30 years of trying, United Airlines still can't change itself so there is Southwest.

The only difference in education is that the government has to date suppressed the emergence of Toyota and Wal-Mart and Southwest because, well, because it can.  I am sure that United Airlines would have liked to ban competition from Southwest, but it does not have the coercive power of government.  Fortunately, in most industries other than education, the public gets a choice of offerings, and companies that customers don't prefer tend to die.

It's time to give school choice a chance, and radically shift the incentives for public schools in a way that the government can't with bureaucracy-based programs like NCLB.  Some public schools will thrive, and many will die in favor of private options, but our kids will be far better off either way.  It's time to stop doubling down on failure.  It's time to stop giving the alcoholic one more chance.

Postscript:  One of the reasons that competition is important is in the very definition of "expertise."  An expert is someone who presumably has been succesful at a certain activity when others have been less so.  We call Herb Kelleher an expert on airlines and customer service because he designed a model that kicked everyone else's butt.  But would you have called him an expert in 1972, before Southwest took off?  Probably not.  He was just one of many voices with diverse, untested opinions of what would make a better airline.  What eventually made him an expert, and the others less so, is he went out and applied his ideas and they were succesful.

So the author's want to send more "expertise" to the schools.  OK, who are the experts?  Nearly every public school is using the same version of the same failed model.  Some succeed more than others, but these differences tend to be incremental rather than radical, like the difference between Sears and Montgomery Ward rather than between Sears and Wal-Mart (or even Amazon.com).  So how can you even know who the experts are within the same failed system, where no one is really allowed to go out and fully test their ideas in practice?  What happens, in reality, is that "experts" in education are the ones that can best enthrall academics and politicians and think tanks with grandiose or politically correct visions.  I would argue that as of this moment there are no experts in education in the US and we have no hope of identifying them until we let entrepreneurs go out and start testing various new models.

The Problem in Education Is Not Expertise

Via Kevin Drum, Mark S. Tucker and Kevin Toch make the argument, if I understand it right, that school districts and state education organizations simply don't have the expertise or the capacity to handle the changes required to meet the standards that are being applied by efforts like NCLB (they also argue the tests themselves suck, but I am not going to address that issue).  By the way, you know I'm going to get worked up when the title of an article is "The secret to making Bush's school reform law work? More bureaucrats"

...we need a long-term solution, which can only lie in building
the capacity of the states, districts, and schools to reach the kinds
of goals contemplated by the framers of NCLB. This is not a simple
matter, but a vast, man-to-the-Moon kind of challenge. It means finding
people with the data management experience to build and administer the
very complex systems called for by the law. It means recruiting experts
who can help create truly world class curriculum standards so that
teachers will know what they are supposed to teach and students will be
able to reach the standards. It means identifying and training
thousands of educators who have succeeded in improving their schools to
provide on-site assistance at other failing schools, and recruiting
still others who can take those schools over if the current staff
cannot or will not rise to the challenge. It means creating and
expanding networks of talent-laden organizations--universities, think
tanks, for-profit and non-profit school companies--that have the skill,
experience, and management capacity to turn around individual schools
and entire districts. And it means greatly strengthening the
capabilities of the agencies that will coordinate this massive effort:
state departments of education.

Wow!  It's hard to even know where to start, but I guess my first thought is : What the f*ck have public schools been doing in the last 100 years?  Why, after an absolutely enormous spending growth over the last several decades, do districts still not have the ability to create world class curricula?  Why don't teachers know what they are supposed to teach?   Why is the system so talent poor, despite a huge increase in the number of administrators with various advanced education degrees at all levels of the system?  It's as if the highway department announced today that they didn't have the ability to design roads.

The first and last resort of every technocrat is to complain that the system is great, if only the right "smart" people could get put in charge.  These folks are making this same argument yet again.  Our public schools are fine, if we could just get the right experts in charge. 

Bullshit.

The issue is not the lack of expertise.  The issue is one of incentives and senescence in the system itself.  In this context,  NCLB is completely off the mark.   I work with government employees all the time.  There is a very clear difference between the incentives they see and the incentives I see in the market.  For government employees, the biggest incentive is to avoid missing some bureaucratic check box.  They are much more concerned that they not be found later in some audit to have missed a procedure or a required approval authority than with actual performance or productivity.  NOT, I want to emphasize, because they are bad or misguided people, but because that is how their incentive system is set up.  Their actions are entirely rational in the context of their incentive structure, but the results are no less disastrous.

For example, government managers of recreation facilities get almost no credit for improving the customer experience, a metric my company lives and dies for.  I have seen a government park manager do a great job obtaining funds from private sources to add a new facility to their park that pleased guests, only to get criticized for having the slope of an access ramp be 1/4 degree off ADA standards and have a grievance filed by the union that park visitation had gone up, creating more work for the government employees.  I spent an evening having a beer with that manager, and you can bet they are never going to try to actually improve the customer experience again.  As another example, I went in to my government landlord last week and just blasted them for their lack of customer service focus, for the fact that they are blocking me from making improvements customers are begging for.  They yawned, gave me no response,  and handed me a notice that they were missing some of our water testing paperwork and please get it to them ASAP.

NCLB just gives government schools another government wammy to be managed and avoided.  The authors will probably get their wish, and huge bureaucracies will rise up to manage the numbers and reports without anything being done to really improve education.  The authors lament that the California state education department has "only" 1452 employees.  I have every confidence that this "problem" will soon get fixed by California, and the number will balloon up nicely, long before children see any better education.

A while back I wrote a plea to just let GM die.  I said:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of
various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and
human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as
"management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently
managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the
management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its
unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all
this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression
that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and
getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.
You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the
consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix
it. 

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to
process to history to culture could better be called the corporate
DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking
brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an
upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I
don't think they would ever get there.  Its just too much change in the
DNA.  Yeah, you could hire some ex Merry-go-round** executives, but you
still have a culture aimed at big box low prices, a logistics system
and infrastructure aimed at doing same, absolutely no history or
knowledge of fashion, etc. etc.  I would bet you any amount of money I
could get to the GAP faster starting from scratch than starting from
Walmart.  For example, many folks (like me) greatly prefer Target over
Walmart because Target is a slightly nicer, more relaxing place to
shop.  And even this small difference may ultimately confound Walmart.
Even this very incremental need to add some aesthetics to their
experience may overtax their DNA....

Changing your DNA is tough.  It is sometimes possible, with the right
managers and a crisis mentality, to evolve DNA over a period of 20-30
years.  One could argue that GE did this, avoiding becoming an
old-industry dinosaur.  GM has had a 30 year window (dating from the
mid-seventies oil price rise and influx of imported cars) to make a
change, and it has not been enough.  GM's DNA was programmed to make
big, ugly (IMO) cars, and that is what it has continued to do.  If its
leaders were not able or willing to change its DNA over the last 30
years, no one, no matter how brilliant, is going to do it in the next
2-3.

I would say the exact same thing is true of public schools: Their DNA is senescent.  Most are the equivalent of alcoholics who keep falling off the wagon and keep asking for more chances.  At some point, you just have to give up.  At some point, it is easier to just start from scratch.  After 30 years of trying, Sears still can't change itself so there is Wal-Mart.  After 30 years of trying, GM still can't change itself so there is Toyota.  After 30 years of trying, United Airlines still can't change itself so there is Southwest.

The only difference in education is that the government has to date suppressed the emergence of Toyota and Wal-Mart and Southwest because, well, because it can.  I am sure that United Airlines would have liked to ban competition from Southwest, but it does not have the coercive power of government.  Fortunately, in most industries other than education, the public gets a choice of offerings, and companies that customers don't prefer tend to die.

It's time to give school choice a chance, and radically shift the incentives for public schools in a way that the government can't with bureaucracy-based programs like NCLB.  Some public schools will thrive, and many will die in favor of private options, but our kids will be far better off either way.  It's time to stop doubling down on failure.  It's time to stop giving the alcoholic one more chance.

Postscript:  One of the reasons that competition is important is in the very definition of "expertise."  An expert is someone who presumably has been succesful at a certain activity when others have been less so.  We call Herb Kelleher an expert on airlines and customer service because he designed a model that kicked everyone else's butt.  But would you have called him an expert in 1972, before Southwest took off?  Probably not.  He was just one of many voices with diverse, untested opinions of what would make a better airline.  What eventually made him an expert, and the others less so, is he went out and applied his ideas and they were succesful.

So the author's want to send more "expertise" to the schools.  OK, who are the experts?  Nearly every public school is using the same version of the same failed model.  Some succeed more than others, but these differences tend to be incremental rather than radical, like the difference between Sears and Montgomery Ward rather than between Sears and Wal-Mart (or even Amazon.com).  So how can you even know who the experts are within the same failed system, where no one is really allowed to go out and fully test their ideas in practice?  What happens, in reality, is that "experts" in education are the ones that can best enthrall academics and politicians and think tanks with grandiose or politically correct visions.  I would argue that as of this moment there are no experts in education in the US and we have no hope of identifying them until we let entrepreneurs go out and start testing various new models.

Great Moments in Monopolies

True monopolies, which are extraordinarily rare in the private sector but all too common when the government uses it coercive power, lose any incentive to provide good customer service.  Via Adam Schaeffer at Cato, here are your government monopoly schools at work:

In Montgomery County, beloved third-grade teacher Soon-Ja Kim was
bounced on the word of one reviewer despite an outpouring of support
from parents who knew what great work she had done with their
children.  I can't say it better than it's reported:

But a panel of eight teachers and eight principals
charged with reviewing Kim's performance gave little weight to the
parent letters when they considered her future in a closed-door
meeting, according to panel members.

Doug Prouty, vice president of the Montgomery County
Education Association and co-chairman of the panel, said in an
interview that the strong parental support for Kim was considered only
a "secondary data source."

The good test scores of Kim's students, he said, were also secondary.
The primary sources for the decisions, he said, were the judgments of
Principal Elaine Chang, a consulting teacher assigned to evaluate Kim
and the panel members themselves that Kim was ineffective in the
classroom and hurting her students' progress.

"That's a bunch of hooey," said Elyse Summers, one of the multitude
of pro-Kim parents. "Our children went to Mrs. Kim's class every day,
came home and are performing extremely well."

"We take parent feedback, both good and bad, about teachers very
seriously," Edwards replied. But the Montgomery schools spokesman added
that "the final decision about the effectiveness of teachers must come
down to those with the professional expertise."

So, it does not matter if you are a great teacher who gets good results, if you don't kiss the principal's ass enough, you are gone.  This is not to say that private employers can't be equally silly.  However, in the private sector, if a company is stupid enough to fire a good employee for petty political reasons, its competitors will snap that person up.  If it happens enough, company 2 will quickly begin to outcompete company 1.  When the government maintains a forced monopoly on schools, there are no such feedback mechanisms to force improvement, except maybe parental feedback, and you see how much that achieves in this case.

Rosie O'Donnell and the Failure of Scientific Education

Rosie O'Donnell is a great example of the failure of scientific education in this country.  Of late, Rosie has joined the "truthers," using her show to flog the notion that the WTC was brought down in a government-planned controlled demolition.

I will have to yield to Popular Mechanics for most of the discussion about WTC7.  However, I can, from my own engineering training, rebut one point on WTC1&2.  (Note again, future commenters, this applies to WTC 1&2.  There was a different dynamic at work in WTC 7).

Rosie, as others have, made a point of observing that jet fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel, and therefore the fire in the main towers could not have caused the structure to yield and collapse.  This is absurd.  It is a kindergartener's level of science.  It is ignorant of a reality that anyone who has had even one course in structural engineering or metallurgy will understand.  The argument made that "other buildings have burned and not collapsed" is only marginally more sophisticated, sort of equivalent to saying that seeing an iceberg melts proves global warming.  (Note that this is all written by a person who has no faith in government and is at least as suspicious about government motivations at any truther).   

Here is the reality that most 19-year-old engineering students understand:  Steel loses its strength rapidly with temperature, losing nearly all of its structural strength by 1000 degrees F, well below its melting point but also well below the temperature of burning jet fuel.  For three years I designed piping and pressure vessel enclosures at a refinery.  Many of the processes in a refinery crave heat and run better at elevated temperatures.  In fact, what refineries can do, and how efficient they can be, is really limited by the strength of steel at high temperatures.  Refineries end up being limited to process temperatures no higher than 600 to 800 degrees, and even then these require expensive special metallurgies.  Anything higher requires a very expensive vessel lined with some sort of ceramic insulation material.

The strength curve of steel vs. temperature is dependent on the type of steel, but the curve below is about what I remember from my old textbooks.  Note by 930 degrees the steel strength has dropped by half and in the next 100 degrees it halves again.

Steel

But the proof of what went wrong in WTC1 and WTC2 does not take a college education.  You only have to look at building codes.  Building codes generally require that structural steel members be coated with a fireproofing material

As the critical temperature for steel is around 540°C (give or take, depending on whose country's test standards one reads at the time), and design basis fires
reach this temperature within a few minutes, structural steel requires
external insulation in order to prevent the steel from absorbing enough
energy to reach this temperature. First, steel expands, when heated,
and once enough energy has been absorbed, it softens and loses its
structural integrity. This is easily prevented through the use of fireproofing.

You have probably seen it- that foamy tan stuff sprayed on girders before the rest of the building is filled out.  In fact, this stuff is not fireproofing per se but insulation.  It is there to keep the structural steel cool during a fire, so the steel will not fail.  Generally the standards are set in the code that the insulation has to be able to stand X time of fire (generally several hours) and keep the steel below its critical yielding temperatures.   Engineers know that a building fire, which burns much cooler than a jet fuel fire, can cause steel members to weaken and fail and the building to collapse.  If this were not the case, then why do builders spend billions every year to insulate structural steel building components?? 

I wrote about this issue in more depth here.  In this post, one of the commenters listed a series of building fires and asked, why did these buildings not collapse?  The answer is:  Because insulation is applied to the building structural steel members to try to prevent the collapse.  Even insulation is just a stopgap -- if the fire burns long enough and
hot enough (or if the insulation is stripped off, say by an airplane
shearing through the building) then the steel will heat up and fail.   So there are three reasons that some buildings have fires and don't fail while the WTC did fail:

  • Some building fires can and do cause buildings to collapse.  Insulation on steel members help many buildings to survive, and often does save the building from collapse, but not always.  This building did collapse, at least the top 6 stores.  Oddly, this is actually used by truthers as further proof, somehow, that the WTC fires could not have brought down the building (the link is actually one of their web sites, I think).  But in fact, the Madrid building failed the same way as WTC 1 and 2, with the top six floors collapsing.  Since the building was not fully constructed on these top floors, there was not the huge weight collapsing that created the battering ram effect that brought down the WTC.  The Madrid floors took longer to collapse, but they were 1) under far less stress, since the building above them was not complete; 2) the fire burned much cooler and 3) the insulation had not been mechanically scrubbed from the beams, so it took longer for the beams to heat up.  To me, this is a clear parallel to the official version of the WTC collapse, but even this is distorted somehow by the truthers.
  • Fuel burns hotter than normal building fires, so even insulated members will heat up faster.  I have many pictures in my personal collection of refinery fires where the main thing you can see in the aftermath is all the structural steel bent and collapsed.  Truthers may not be able to find many examples of building collapsing in a fire, but you would be hard-pressed NOT to find examples of collapsed structural steel at every refinery and petrochemical fire.
  • The insulation that normally protects buildings was stripped off by the mechanical action of an enormous airplane shearing through the building at 300 miles an hour. 

This is in addition to the actual removal of some support columns by the crashing aircraft, which put more load on the remaining structure and thereby hastened the collapse.

postscript: By the way, can anyone tell me why the so called "reality-based"
community, that so often criticizes the Right for theocratic attacks on
science, is so quick to fall for this pseudo-scientific junk?

Update: One other thought:  The hallmark of truthers is that they take small abnormalities or uncertainties in the failure analysis and event reconstruction as justification for throwing out the whole explanation of events in favor of an alternate series of events with much, much larger gaps, contradictions, and logical problems (e.g. how did the buildings get wired for demolition without anyone noticing? or, how did the planes manage to crash into the precise floors wired for demolition without dislodging the charges and their wiring?  or, how did such a massive conspiracy get pulled off without one leak when the administration can't even competently fire 9 US attorneys?)

Anyone who has ever done root cause analysis of a catastrophic failure knows there are always questions no one can answer when all is said and done.  And people who say things like "always happen" or "can never happen" typically don't have any real-world engineering experience.

Update2: One other thought on WTC7, since most of the sites I have visited over the last several days really seem to focus on WTC7.  I consider our government capable of all kinds of hijinx, but why WTC7?  I would argue that about 0.00001% of the outrage that resulted from 9/11 is attributable to WTC7.  How many people not associated with the truthers have even heard of WTC7?  In fact, one could argue that the strike on the Pentagon was effectively irrelevant, since no one really even seems to remember that one.

One minor note:  I saw on a conspiracy site the claim that all military planes were ordered to stand down on 9/11.  I know from personal experience that can't possibly be true.  I was in Manhattan during 9/11 and remember well people in the streets hitting the ground in fear every time a military jet rocketed over the city.

I don't buy all this conspiracy theory not because I think well of the government, but just the opposite.  I consider the conspiracies posited at these various sites to be orders of magnitude beyond this government's capabilities.  Remember Coyote's Law:

When the same set of facts can be explained equally well by

  1. A massive conspiracy coordinated without a single leak between hundreds or even thousands of people    -OR -
  2. Sustained stupidity, confusion and/or incompetence

Assume stupidity.

Update3:  I guess I need to throw out a few more things.  This was not meant to be a comprehensive or definitive rebuttal of the 9/11 conspiracy theories.  I merely used as a starting point one stupid comment by Rosie O'Donnell on melting, a comment I have heard a lot of times, and that I knew I could refute of my own knowledge.  Those who want to get mad at me because I did not refute this or that, sorry, go deal with the book by the Popular Mechanics guys.  The only other thing I can contribute other than engineering sanity is the fact I have participated in many engineering failure analyses and the fact that I watched the towers fall live, with my own eyes, from the streets of Manhattan.

Every single engineering failure analysis I have ever participated in, from refinery explosions to airplane crashes, has always left unanswered questions and nagging inconsistencies that had, I am sure, nothing to do with conspiracies. We had many things we could never explain about a heat exchanger fire at our refinery in 1985, but I don't think that those unknowns and uncertainties leave the door open to blame government agents for the fire. 

I'll say again, if you want to argue that the WTC buildings were demoed by explosives, you have to explain how the explosives were laid, and, more important, how the explosives and their delicate wiring and detonators survived a plane crashing into the same floors.  And by the way, given that the buildings had not external markings showing the floors, how did the people flying the airplanes hit the exact correct parts of the building?  For every problem with the core hypothesis I could name 10 problems with the truther alternative.  I have no problem with offering an alternative hypothesis to the original thesis, but it is silly to criticize the core thesis for small problems only to replace it with a hypothesis that has problems that are orders of magnitude larger.

Hilarious Calculus of Liberal Altruism

I had to say that this, from Janna Goodrich as quoted by Kevin Drum, is absolutely hilarious:

Education is one of the best engines for upward mobility and poor
students cannot afford to pay for higher education on their own. Their
families don't have the physical collateral to borrow money in the
private financial markets nor the savings to pay for the tuition
outright....But if we gave poorer students mostly grant-based aid we'd
be asking for the rest of the society to subsidize those who are one
day going to be wealthier than the average citizen. Two different
concepts of fairness or equality are at play here and I'm not sure if
both of them could be achieved at the same time.

Can you just see the liberals getting twisted in knots?  Oooh, helping the poor is good, but if we send them to college and they get rich, then we are helping rich people, and that's baaaad.  Its like that logic problem where a card says "the statement on the other side is false" and on the other side says "the statement on the other side is true."  Only a liberal could take the happy story of a poor kid going to college and getting rich and turn it into bad news.  I never thought about what a problem education was for liberal ethics, in that it converts sainted victims (e.g poor) into evil exploiters (e.g. rich).  Maybe that explains why they oppose school choice?

By the way, I have about zero sympathy for this whole grants in education discussion.  From an incentives standpoint, it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are getting public money for self-improvement to share the risk with the public through the debt and repayment obligation they take on.  A lot of people today already don't take good advantage of the opportunity they have while in college, and this is certainly not going to get any better if we give them a free ride rather than loans.

The second problem I have with public funding of grants for education is that colleges and their alumni groups can decide to fix this problem privately if they so desire.  My school (Princeton) makes a commitment that everyone who gets into the school, not matter how poor, will get a financial aid package that will make it possible to attend.  And, the financial aid is all in grants such that the student graduates from one of the most expensive schools in the country debt-free (and yes, the incentives problem worries me some).  All with private money.  We are able to do this because our school makes it a priority and our alumni give the money to make it happen.

I know what you are going to say -- Princeton is full of rich people, so they can afford this.  Yes and no.  First, our alumni do pretty well for themselves, but they also have to help fund financial aid for the highest tuitions in the country.  Other schools with lower tuitions have a lower bar to clear.  Second, while Princeton alums may be wealthier per capita, our alumni population, because we are a small school, is probably one tenth the size of a Berkley or a Texas.  As a result, schools like Texas almost certainly have a much wealthier alumni group in total.  But few of them give back.  It's not a priority for them to create financial aid money for incoming students (instead, T Boone Pickens gives $125 $165 million to the OU OSU football program).  So don't come crying to me that students at your schools need government grants -- you could have funded such a program at your school privately if you had made it a priority.

Postscript: My dad ran numerous fund raising initiatives at the University of Iowa for years.  After decades of effort, I think he has finally despaired of getting state school alumni to donate money for something other than the sports program.

Update:  OK, that's what I get for making a throw-away statement without fact-checking.  Boone Pickens actually gave $165 million to the athletic programs of Oklahoma State, not OU.  I got a bunch of aggrieved emails on this.  Sorry.  Being from Texas, I get all that stuff up in the trans-Red-River region mixed up.

Education Spending Myth

Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute: (via Maggies Farm)

This
is the most widely held myth about education in America--and the one
most directly at odds with the available evidence. Few people are aware
that our education spending per pupil has been growing steadily for 50
years. At the end of World War II, public schools in the United States
spent a total of $1,214 per student in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars.
By the middle of the 1950s that figure had roughly doubled to $2,345.
By 1972 it had almost doubled again, reaching $4,479. And since then,
it has doubled a third time, climbing to $8,745 in 2002.

Since
the early 1970s, when the federal government launched a standardized
exam called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), it
has been possible to measure student outcomes in a reliable, objective
way. Over that period, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil doubled.
So if more money produces better results in schools, we would expect to
see significant improvements in test scores during this period. That
didn't happen. For twelfth-grade students, who represent the end
product of the education system, NAEP scores in math, science, and
reading have all remained flat over the past 30 years. And the high
school graduation rate hasn't budged. Increased spending did not yield more learning.

There is a lot more good stuff in the article, from class size to teacher pay.  I would observe that he misses one component of teacher pay -- that they tend to have higher than average benefit packages, which makes their jobs even more competitive with other professionals.  I covered much of the same ground 18 months ago in my Teacher Salary Myth post (which still earns me some good hate mail).

The Problem with Kwanzaa

[This is an update and a reprint of a post from 2004.  Lesson learned from last time I posted on this topic:  If you are going to send me hate mail, at least read the post carefully first]

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of themselves and their history is a good one.  The specific values celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist -Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

First, understand that I have no problem with people of any ethnic group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new occasions. One of the great things about living in Arizona is getting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Second, understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly, after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.  Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red itallics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is interesting that a holiday that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However, this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god, and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ... them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So, in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
thats not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
-Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in particular, so we will never again repeat it.

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage, suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

Update:  Even years later, commenters insist on misinterpreting this last point as some sort of justification for slavery.  I am not sure how one can come to this conclusion in an article that drips with disdain for slavery, but folks will find what they want to find.  My mistake perhaps was to presume to speak for African Americans.  It is very possible that the enslavement of their ancestors and the legacy of racist crap that still exists in this country is not balanced by the prosperity blacks now enjoy in America vs. Africa.  So I will merely speak for myself and say the rest of us are immeasurably better off for having you here.

Ve Have Vays of Making You Conform

I am not sure this even needs an introduction.  Comparisons to "1984" are invoked in political discourse almost as much as those to Nazi Germany, and most are overblown, but the George Orwell novel is all I can think of when I see this:

It may be almost 2007, but it feels more like "1984" at Michigan
State University. The university's Student Accountability in Community
Seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed
unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging
Michigan State to dismantle this unconstitutional program, which
presents a profound threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of
conscience.

 
"Michigan State's SAC program is simply one of the most invasive
attempts at reeducation that FIRE has ever seen, yet it has been
allowed to exist at the university for years," FIRE President Greg
Lukianoff said. "As bad as it is to tell citizens in a free society
what they can't say, it is even worse to tell them what they must
say. Michigan State's program is an immoral and unconstitutional
program of compelled speech, blatant thought reform, and
pseudo-psychology."
 
According to the program's materials,
SAC is an "early intervention" for students who use such
"power-and-control tactics" as "male/white privilege" and
"obfuscation," which the university cryptically defines as "any action
of obscuring, concealing, or changing people's perceptions that result
in your advantage and/or another's disadvantage." Students can be
required to attend SAC if they demonstrate what a judicial
administrator arbitrarily deems aggressive behavior, past examples of
which have included slamming a door during an argument or playing a
practical joke. Students can also be required to attend SAC for
engaging in various types of constitutionally protected speech,
including "insulting instructors" or "making sexist, homophobic, or
racist remarks at a meeting." When participation in SAC is required,
"non-compliance typically results in a hold being placed on the
student's account," an action that leaves the student unable to
register for classes and thus effectively expelled from the university.
Students are required to pay the cost of the SAC sessions.
 
Once in the program, students are instructed to answer a series of
written questionnaires. In their answers, students must specifically
describe how they are taking "full responsibility" for their offensive
behavior and must do so using language that the director of the session
deems acceptable. Most students will be asked to fill out this
questionnaire multiple times, slowly inching closer to what
administrators deem to be "correct" responses.

PC indoctrination at our nation's universities is alive and well.  It just astounds me that a group of adults thought this was acceptable.

What are Business Ethics?

The Market Power blog noticed something that also tweaked my interest, in an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Today's M.B.A. students are not as ethically challenged as recent
reports make them out to be, according to the findings of a study being
released today at a global conference of business educators and
leaders. In fact, 81 percent of those responding to a recent survey
believe businesses should work to improve society, and 78 percent of
them want "corporate social responsibility" integrated throughout their
core courses.

The survey results will be presented during a three-day
conference, "Business as an Agent of World Benefit," at Case Western
Reserve University, in Cleveland. The conference, which began on
Monday, has drawn 440 management educators and business leaders, as
well as about 1,000 online participants.

I know this issue has been debated in circles, but I still have real heartburn defining business ethics as "corporate social responsibility."  In my mind, and as reinforced by cases like Adelphia and Enron, the number one overriding ethical responsibility of corporate managers is their fiduciary responsibility to the company's owners.  Second is their responsibility to comply with the law (though sometimes the law is so muddled and contradictory that may be difficult).  Third is the obligation to be honest in dealings with employees, suppliers, and customers and to honor the commitments that the company has made to all three. 

In this context, asking a manager to divert the company's resources away from honoring these commitments or providing a return on the shareholder's investment, instead focusing them on some other nebulous entity called "society," is wholly unethical. 

Ignoring a Positive Cancer Test

Baseball Crank reports:

In ... Gulino v. New York State Education Department (2d Cir. Aug. 17, 2006),
the Second Circuit reinstated a race discrimination suit against the
New York State Education Department based on the theory that a test of
"basic college-level content" that asks applicants to get just
two-thirds of the questions right is racially discriminatory because it
has a "disparate impact" on African-American and Latino teachers. The
test, developed in response to a 1988 task force report on problems with teacher quality, is described at pages 11-13 of the opinion.

There is nothing surprising, really, about this.  This theory, that a test that shows African-Americans performing more poorly than whites is by definition racist, has been floating around by decades.  It is particularly popular with various African-American leadership groups.

I have no problem with various ethnic and racial groups bringing expertise to bear to weed out poorly worded questions on exams.  But making this their only reaction to the test - ie the test shows we as a group may have a problem so lets throw the test out - is insane.  By way of explanation, here is a little play to consider:

Doctor:  I am sorry to tell you that you have cancer.  If untreated, it can be fatal.  The good news is that it is treatable, but the treatment will take time and can be quite difficult and painful.

Patient:  Your test is bad.  If other people don't have cancer, then I don't either.  I am going to ignore the result and ask the government to make sure that no one else is allowed to take the test either.

Doctor:  But that's crazy!  The cancer is treatable, but only if we get to work on it right now.

Patient:  You will be hearing from my lawyer for the pain and suffering your bad test has caused me.

I fully believe that the average African American wants her kids to be well educated, and has deep concerns about the quality of the education her kids are getting.  So I will limit my comments to African American "leadership".  Is what these leadership groups are doing in trying to legally strike down tests that show that the education they are getting as a group is failing really any different than a patient ignoring a positive cancer test?

Postscript:  In the article I linked, I do not share the author's concern about political T-shirts at school.