Category Archives: education

Regulation of the Day 150: Toy Guns

Samuel Burgos is 8 years old. One day he brought a toy gun to school in his backpack. That got him expelled from his Miami school for two years. Toy guns violate his school district’s zero-tolerance policy for weapons.

The district offered to place Sam in a correctional school; his parents opted to home-school him instead. His father told the local NBC affiliate, “I can’t sit here and allow them to send my kid to a school where students have committed actual crimes,” Burgos said. “He hasn’t committed a crime.”

Sam misses his friends. And he may have to repeat the second grade. All because common sense has gone missing from Broward County’s schools. That’s what makes the school board’s response especially galling:

The school board says it’s common sense to know that this kind of item can’t be allowed on school campus and that responsibility also falls on parents to know what their children have in their backpacks.

The Burgos family has suffered enough. Toy guns are not weapons. They are toys. The school board should exercise a bit of common sense and reinstate Sam immediately.

Mixed Message

Guns and schools don’t mix. State and local jurisdictions have all kinds of gun-free school legislation. There’s even, redundantly, federal legislation.

So why is the Department of Education buying 27 shotguns?

Regulation of the Day 122: Home-Schooling in Germany

It is illegal to home-school your children in Germany. Even so, German parents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike believe home-schooling will give their children a better education than sending them to a school. So they pulled their children out of school, hoping the law would not be enforced.

They were wrong. The New York Times lists what they were threatened with:

[F]ines eventually totaling over $11,000, threats that they would lose custody of their children and, one morning, a visit by the police, who took the children to school in a police van. Those were among the fines and potential penalties that Judge Burman said rose to the level of persecution.

Facing the facts, the family decided to pack up their belongings and move to Morristown, Tennessee.

A Memphis judge recently granted the family asylum so they could remain in the U.S., and so they can educate their children the way they see fit.

The Romeikes’ troubles are not over, however. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is appealing their grant of asylum. It is unclear why the agency would do such a thing. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Romeike pose a threat to national security. They are not criminals. They are not a drain on the economy; Mr. Romeike earns an honest living as a piano teacher.

American parents don’t have much in the way of educational choice. But it does appears they do have more than German parents do. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should stand up for the Romeikes’ rights.

(Hat tip: Megan McLaughlin)

School Choice: Mankind’s Doom

Caleb Brown points to a study that finds a novel reason to oppose school choice: global warming. In a competitive educational marketplace, it is likely that fewer children would attend schools in their own neighborhood. That would mean less busing, and more driving in cars to get children to school. School choice, then, would contribute to global warming.

The study does not appear to be satire.

State of the Union Live-Blog

Meant to post this earlier. Here’s last night’s live-blog of the State of the Union:

8:46 Welcome to CEI’s live-blog of the 2010 State of the Union address. President Obama will be touching on all kinds of issues tonight. And I’ll have something to say about them all. But I’ll be paying special attention to what he has to say about regulation and spending. Keep refreshing this post every few minutes for fresh commentary.

8:54 Important people are filing in. Pundits are bloviating. Welcome to Washington.

8:58 Here comes the cabinet.

9:00 Peter Orszag and Christina Romer are there. Romer has done some excellent research on the Great Depression, by the way. Any monetarists out there would find much to like about what she has to say about monetary policy vs. fiscal policy.

9:06 The President enters. Much applause.

9:06 While waiting for the applause to die down, I’ll add that Romer thinks that monetary policy is what drives business cycles. Fiscal policy, such as stimulus spending, has little effect. I largely agree.

9:10 Speaker Pelosi introduces the President. Much applause. Many “thank yous.”

9:11 It begins.

9:11 He refers to the Constitution. Heh.

9:12 American exceptionalism. Neocons cheering somewhere, no doubt.

9:13 He inherited a bad situation. True enough. We must act? Not so much. The recession is largely a creation of over-active monetary and regulatory policy. Not a lack of policy.

9:14 First reference to “the children.”

9:15 He has said both “hope” and “change” already. Campaign 2012 has begun.

9:17 First standing ovation.

9:18 A government that matches our decency? Public choice theory is unknown on Capitol Hill, apparently.

9:18 He hates the bailout. Good! Why did he go through with it, then?

9:18 It was necessary. Unemployment would have doubled. Hyperbole. Now banks know they can continue taking stupid risks and get bailed out for it.

9:19 touts his fee on big banks that received bailouts.

9:20 20 tax cuts. Net tax cuts. While spending goes through the moon. Tax cuts are great, but spending cuts are more important. A tax cut now is a tax increase later if spending isn’t cut to match. An increase. Not a decrease. An increase.

9:22 Many jobs created. Touting the stimulus. Which takes money out of the economy, wastes some of it on bureaucracy, then puts it back into the economy. First instance of the broken window fallacy.

9:23 Anecdotes, people helped by stimulus spending. He sees what is seen. But not what is unseen. Those jobs, and that money, came from somewhere else. Each job created is one lost elsewhere.

9:25 Jobs, jobs, jobs. Bryan Caplan’s make-work bias lives.

9:25 Business creates jobs. Government can help. But only by taking money from somewhere else, and hurting businesses elsewhere. No net effect.

9:26 $30 billion transfer from “Wall Street” to “small businesses.”

9:27 small business tax credit. Eliminate capital gains tax on small businesses. Nice, but tax code simplification would be better. Lobbyists will be all over this one.

9:28 Infrastructure!

9:28 Rail! It’s the 19th century all over again.

9:29 Clean energy. Higher energy bills for all!

9:29 Keep jobs in America! Efficiency be damned! USA! USA! USA!

9:30 Jobs bill, ASAP. But full employment requires…

9:31 still waiting…

9:32 still waiting… the virtues of China’s economy…

9:33 financial reform! For starters. But don’t punish banks. Prevent recklessness. Good. Prevent dumb risks. House has already passed some reform. But lobbyists are all over.

9:34 And they will be as long as Washington is doling out money.

9:34 Plank 2: Innovation and science. More clean energy. More nuclear power. More offshore oil. More biofuels and clean coal. Comprehensive clean energy bil. Cap-and-trade light?

9:36 Consensus on global warming. Jeers from the crowd. Acknowledges doubts, touts clean energy again.

9:37 Plank 3 – trade. More exports! Double them in 5 years = 2 million jobs. National export initiative. Trade, of course, has almost zero effect on the number of jobs. It only affects the kinds of jobs. Also take measures to decrease imports. Renegotiate Doha. Is this a new protectionism?

9:40 4th plank – education. Only reward success. Not failure. Nice. Of course, that would mean less federal involvement in education, not more. Washington has no idea how to educate kids hundreds or thousands of miles away.

9:41 End taxpayer subsidy to banks for college loans. Substitute a tax credit and increase Pell grants. Forgive student loans after 20 years. Why bother paying back, then? This will bode well for future deficits.

9:43 Social Security fix – lend more to homeowners. Yeesh.

9:43 Health care!

9:44 Acknowledges unpopularity.

9:44 Anecdotes!

9:45 Blames insurance industry for regulatory failures. Emphasis on preventive care; no empirical research is cited for obvious reasons.

9:46 We can save money by spending money.

9:46 Reduce deficit by $1 trillion over 20 years. Last year and this year alone will incur nearly $3 trillion in deficits.

9:47 Temperatures cooling? Oh wait, he’s talking about health care.

9:48 Open to other proposals. Not bloody likely.

9:48 Pass a health care bill, any health care bill.

9:49 Spending.

9:50 Blames Bush for the deficit. Rightly so! Where’s he going with this, though?

9:51 Adding debt was the right thing to do. No mention of “the children” who will ultimately pay for it.

9:51 freeze certain types of discretionary spending for three years. This excludes most spending.

9:52. Save $20 billion this year. Or less than one percent of total spending.

9:53 Bi-partisan fiscal commission. Not exactly the Gramm Commission. Good idea, but beware the execution. Wayne Crews and I have done some research on this.

9:54 Pay-Go budget keeps spending in line. The data say otherwise.

9:54 Oh, the freeze won’t take effect until next year. The crowd laughs.

9:55 Says Bush cut regulations. Actually, he passed more than 30,000. See CEI’s Ten Thousand Commandments study for the exact numbers.

9;56 Deficit of trust in Washington, not just dollars. There’s a reason for that, you know. Two of them are the Republican and Democratic parties.

9:57 Excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs. That isn’t actually true.

9:58 Doesn’t like the Citizens United decision. Or the First Amendment, for that matter. Wants a new campaign finance regulation bill. Presumably so it can be struck down on First Amendment grounds like the last ones.

9:59 I’m liking what he has to say on earmarks. Good luck to you, sir.

10:00 “can’t wage a perpetual campaign.” Tell that to Organizing for America.

10:01 Partisan politics get in the way of doing things. He’s right. And that’s exactly why I like gridlock.

10:02 Hey Republicans, no filibusters, please.

10:03 Will be talking more to the other side of the aisle.

10:03 National security!

10:04 Hope again. I haven’t been keeping track, but that’s at least 3.

10:05 Start getting out of Afghanistan in mid-2011. Good!

10:06 Out of Iraq by August. Good! Foreign aid to Iraq. Bad for Iraq!

10:07 Pork for veterans. Taking a page right out of the Gracchi playbook.

10:08 Nuclear deproliferation. I applaud the sentiment, but prohibition doesn’t work. Good luck to you, sir.

10:11 Would love to hear what Bill Easterly has to say about all the government-to-government transfer programs he’s touting.

10:12 Haiti. I completely agree with the ends. But the effectiveness of the means needs to be questioned.

10:13 Hate crimes. Thought crimes?

10:14 Let gays in the military. Nice! About bloody time.

10:14 Immigration. He has a positive view of immigration. Let’s hope that means much-needed liberalization. The more immigrants, the better. Those who are illegal, make them legal. It is the right thing to do. Obama says this is bi-partisan. I wish he was right.

10:16 Decries cynicism. There’s a reason for all that, you know.

10:19 Anecdote!

10:19 Another anecdote!

10:19 A third!

10:20 A fourth!

10:20 “I don’t quit!” Reminds me of Brett Favre’s advice to a startled referee: take two weeks off, then quit.”

10:21 End of speech.

10:26 Here comes Bob McDonnell’s Republican response. Get ready to be disappointed!

10:30 Thank yous and much applause.

10:31 Jobs. Jobs for all! Good end. The means?

10:31 So far, indistinguishable from Obama.

10:32 Calls for less taxation, regulation, etc. Quotes Jefferson. Says government is trying to do too much. Now he sounds different.

10:33 Likes Obama’s spending freeze. Says it’s small. Not often one hears a politician calls a spending non-increase anything other than draconian.

10:34 Likes bipartisanship. I like gridlock. Boo!

10:34 Likes the Shadegg health insurance reform. And medical malpractice reform. No specifics, though.

10:35 Energy. More of everything! Why isn;t anyone saying, “let the market decide?” Why must government, no matter the party, pick winners and losers?

10:36 Government energy policy can create jobs. Oh, wait, that costs money and jobs from elsewhere. Broken window fallacy again.

10:37 Education. Likes merit pay and school choice. Nothing about reducing federal involvement in this state and local issue.

10:38 Wars abroad. Daughter served abroad. Laudable. But nothing to do with the merits of nation-building.

10:39 Doesn’t like giving due process to the underwear bomber. Well, he’s probably guilty. Let’s find that out for sure and then punish him accordingly, then! What’s to be gained from denying due process?

10:40 I’m liking his rhetoric about taxes, spending, and regulation. But I’ll believe it when I see it. Which is probably never.

10:41 Haiti. Less than a paragraph.

10:42 Big role for government in creating opportunity.

10:43 One more call for bipartisanship, and a big sop to the Religious Right. An utterly conventional speech. If you thought liberals and conservatives have fundamental philosophical differences, think again. Two sides of the same coin.

10:44 That’s all for tonight. CEI scholars will have more in-depth analysis for you tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan

I’m a bit late on this, but Carl Sagan would have turned 75 on November 9. The Skeptic Society’s Michael Shermer has set up a nice tribute to him.

The thing I admire most about Carl Sagan isn’t his academic credentials, impressive though they were. It’s that he wasn’t afraid to be a popularizer. In fact, he embraced it. He has been an inspiration for what I hope to accomplish in my own professional life.

Will Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy is credited with introducing more people to its subject than any other book. What Will Durant did for philosophy (and later, with his wife Ariel Durant, history), Carl Sagan did for astronomy.

Some pointy-nosed academics looked down on Sagan for pandering to the masses. But Sagan did more in his too-short life to actually educate people than the lot of them combined. How many of those same disdainful academics were inspired to forge a career in science because of Carl Sagan? For a subject as esoteric as cosmology, this is no small achievement.

People who work in economics or public policy would do well to pay attention not just to what Carl Sagan did, but to how he did it. Intellectuals from all disciplines should follow the sterling example set by Carl Sagan.

The Growing School Choice Movement

Good news from this article:

“More than 1,200 foundations contributed some $380 million to 104 organizations advocating for school vouchers and K-12 education tax credits from 2002 to 2005, a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds.”

Looks like more people than I thought are getting fed up with the public education monopoly. This bodes well.

Doing Good vs. Looking Good

E.J. Dionne’s latest column praises Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. It begins:

Imagine a place where the leading politician pokes fun at those who “regard all taxes as a pestilence, a plague or a disease.”

Imagine the same politician saying: “Not one of us wants to pay more in taxes. But you know what we want even less? What we want even less is to leave our country to our kids in a worsened condition.”

O’Malley probably thinks he looks Pragmatic and Moderate. That will get him Votes, which are a politican’s lifeblood. Forgive me then, for being more concerned with being correct than popular.

O’Malley gives us a choice here between keeping taxes low and bettering the country – for the children, natch. It is a false choice.

Look at some of Maryland’s new spending initiatives the tax increase will fund: more money for health care. More money for education. Transportation. Environmental cleanup. Wonderful things all. But O’Malley is choosing the wrong means for pursuing these ends.

For example, Maryland has some lousy public schools, especially in Baltimore. But giving them more money literally rewards their failure. This problem is systemic; the solution then is to get government out of the education business. Even if it isn’t Pragmatic or Moderate.

And we’ve all heard the stories about how well government health care intiatives work – they don’t. And when something doesn’t work, you should stop doing it. Even if it costs you Votes.

Someone should tell Governor O’Malley that it is better to do good than to look good. Cut spending. The $550m in cuts this year is a good start, even if it’s negated by other increases. After spending is down and the deficit is under control, cut taxes. The children will thank you for it later.

The Tyranny of Education Policy’s Status Quo

An old friend recently asked me my thoughts on privatizing education. Here’s a lightly edited version of what I wrote to him:

My only goal for education is that it be good. I don’t care if it is provided publicly or privately. I only care that is high quality.

Economic theory tells us that a competitive market tends to deliver a better product than a monopolistic market. Let’s see if this theory works in the real world.

The current system in the U.S. can reasonably classified as a monopoly – only the rich have the option of opting out and affording a private education if they so desire. The masses are given only one option for educating their children, no matter their wishes – a classic monopoly.

U.S. students also tend to score poorly on standardized tests compared to other developed nations. This tells us that the current, monopolistic model – the only option for most students – delivers a low-quality education.

Now let us look at countries that have the highest test scores. Their high achievement tells us that they have stumbled upon a system that works pretty well. It turns out that students in the Low Countries of Western Europe – Belgium and the Netherlands – do very well on standardized tests. Their success tells us that their students receive a high quality education. ABC News even aired a story recently about Belgium ’s educational achievements.

Not coincidentally, high-performing countries all have educational systems that are different from the one we use in the U.S. – none of them are monopolies. While the specifics vary from country to country, what they have in common is that they all have competitive elements.

Belgium has something very similar to a voucher system. Parents are not told where they will send their children to school, as they would be if they were Americans. Belgian parents make that choice for themselves. The government then pays the tuition if the parents cannot afford it. If a school provides a low quality education, parents do not send their children there, and that school is eventually closed. If the market gives parents a lousy choice like that, they learn to avoid it. In time, that lousy choice is eliminated.

Such a system is not perfect. For example, it can take several years for a bad school to be closed. It is, however, better than the American system. Here, bad schools almost never close. In fact, they are often rewarded with more money! This does not provide failing schools an incentive to improve – if they did get better, they wouldn’t get the extra money. Neither system is perfect, but the American model is clearly inferior.

Since I am not a fan of letting the ideal get in the way of the good, I favor a system that allows competition, even though I know the results will fall short of perfection. It is enough that competition would significantly improve on the status quo. I oppose monopolies to the marrow of my bones. This especially holds true for the American educational monopoly where some (the rich) can opt out, but the wishes of the poor are simply ignored.

There are many policy solutions. Vouchers have been tried, if on a small scale, in Milwaukee , Cleveland , and DC. Vouchers have their flaws, but have proven to be superior to the traditional American model. Educational tax credits are the preferred policy of many libertarians. Arizona and Florida are considering policies along those lines. No doubt there are other ideas out there I haven’t yet been exposed to.

All I want is a high quality educational system. Since the current monopoly is obviously failing, I favor a change in the direction of competition. Basic economic theory has been proven correct by real-world educational policies on multiple continents. This means that if one favors a high quality education for everyone, one must favor a competitive system. This would probably include a mix of private and public schools. Again, I don’t care if schools are public or private, only that they be good. There is more than one way to effect positive change, and I am open to any proposal that would break the current monopoly.