Category Archives: education

Bryan Caplan – The Case Against Education

Bryan Caplan – The Case Against Education

Or rather, against more formal classroom schooling than necessary. The title is a misnomer; in a way this book is a data-backed confirmation of Mark Twain’s quip about the difference between schooling and education.

Once students get past basic math and literacy, most of what they learn in the classroom, whether history or calculus, is useless in most jobs and unused in most lives. College degrees are less about building human capital and more about signaling—a credential certifying a certain amount of intelligence, work ethic, and conformity.

Tamping back on signaling-only degrees would reduce “credential inflation” and spare millions of people from crippling debt and hundreds of hours of drudgery. At the same time, Caplan, who deeply values education, encourages opening the life of the mind in other, higher-quality ways—good conversation, books on interesting subjects, movies, culture, online courses, travel, and more.


Don’t Let School Get in the Way of Your Education

So says Bryan Caplan: “I love education too much to respect the mediocre substitutes that schools actually offer.”


Means vs. Ends: Education Edition

Andrew Coulson has a gem of a column over at the Huffington Post defending teachers’ unions from their Democratic attackers:

[I]t is not an attack on government to observe that government is bad at running schools, anymore than it’s an attack on shovels to note that they make lousy Web browsers… Nor is it an attack on the ideals of public education to say that state monopolies are an ineffective way to pursue them. That’s a confusion of ends and means. Public education is a not a particular pile of bricks or stack of regulations, it is a set of goals: universal access, preparation for participation in public life as well as success in private life, building harmony and understanding among communities.

If the true allegiance of reformist Democrats is to those ultimate ideals, then they should have no problem acknowledging that government monopolies are ill-suited to advancing them, and that teachers-union excesses are more a symptom than a cause of our monopoly-induced woes.

For the Children

The people of Illinois don’t expect their government to be corrupt; they insist on it. That’s why nary an eyebrow was raised when it recently came out that two lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers were able to qualify for generous teachers’ pensions by working as substitute teachers for one day.

One man could receive up to $3.8 million if he lives to age 84. This is in addition to the 401(k) the union gives him as an employee. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Preckwinkle’s one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He’s 59, and at age 60 he’ll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.

His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.

Nationwide spending on K-12 education is around $13,000 per child per year. Not all of that spending is actually for the children, contrary to popular rhetoric. Fortunately, it appears only two people took advantage of this scheme. But the real kicker is that one of the two actually helped write the legislation that made it possible.

What if NFL Players Were Paid Like Teachers?

I’m not a big fan of football analogies in politics (think of former Sen. George Allen absurdly carrying a football wherever he went), but Fran Tarkenton has a good one:

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.

This would incentivize mediocrity, not excellence. It is also almost exactly how government-run K-12 schools are structured. Reform ideas that ignore those incentive problems are doomed to fail. Adding some competition to the existing near-monoply would do much to give teachers the same incentive to make the most of their talent that athletes currently enjoy.

Worth a Thousand Words

Click to enlarge; original here.

Remember this graph the next time someone proposes spending more federal dollars in education.

Also remember how far removed Washington is from most state and local jurisdictions. Maybe those jurisdictions should have more say, and Washington less.

Schumpeter on Professors

Schumpeter was nothing if not quotable. Readers who are currently students will appreciate this one:

“Moreover, professors are men who are constitutionally unable to conceive that the other fellow might be right. This holds for all times and places.”

-Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, p. 82.

Standardized Test Scores Continue to Disappoint

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that “Fewer than a quarter of American 12th-graders knew China was North Korea’s ally during the Korean War, and only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, according to national history-test scores released Tuesday.”

Results like these show precisely why education is too important to trust to free markets. Children would be far better served if government were to take a leading role in K-12 education… oh, wait.


SWAT Team Raids House Over Student Loan Payments

Seriously. This is not a joke.

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

“I look out of my window and I see 15 police officers,” Wright said.

Wright came downstairs in his boxer shorts as a S.W.A.T team barged through his front door. Wright said an officer grabbed him by the neck and led him outside on his front lawn.

“He had his knee on my back and I had no idea why they were there,” Wright said.

According to Wright, officers also woke his three young children ages 3, 7, and 11 and put them in a Stockton police patrol car with him. Officers then searched his house.

As it turned out, the person law enforcement was looking for was not there – Wright’s estranged wife.

“They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” Wright said.

Wright said he later went to the mayor and Stockton Police Department, but the City of Stockton had nothing to do with Wright’s search warrant.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in the S.W.A.T for his wife’s defaulted student loans.

I understand that revenue-starved governments are looking for funds wherever they can find them. But there are less dangerous ways to reduce the budget deficit.

UPDATE: Matt Welch reports that DOE says the warrant wasn’t for defaulted student loan payments. But they won’t say exactly why they used a SWAT team.

What if the Rest of the Economy Was Run Like Public Schools?

Don Boudreaux has a must-read in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—”for free”—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Read the whole thing.