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|In 1914, John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, addressed the first session
of his two-year lecture course as follows:
The argument that some individuals should forgo a university education assumes that its only measure of value is the increased earnings a graduate stands to make (“Money back”, June 21st).
Other benefits of attending university, such as improved critical thinking and acquiring friends and a lifelong love for learning, while less tangible, clearly provide enormous value to the individual and society.
We should be more concerned about the growing perception that university is simply a means to a larger salary. This threatens the basic principles upon which these institutions were founded.
Our culture is based on a not only a common language, but also on common knowledge. The example of the Bible is a clear cut and obvious. Everyone should know, and probably does, know what the Bible is regardless of how they feel about its contents. But let's say take another example. If I were to say that a particular book emulates the style of E.B. White, you may or may not be able to relate to what I am referring based on the breath of your overall cultural knowledge.
Education always emphasized a broad range of subjects that leave the learner with skills that allow her/him to engage in conversations that are more rich and diverse in respect to his narrow training and role in the society.
For example education allows us to form a framework of who we are, where we came from, how we got here and use that knowledge to view the world in a more structured, organized and complete way. You cannot understand the complex nature of the society in which we live without some kind of formal training and/or deep interest in the subject.
Tyler Cowen used his Upshot piece this week to tell us that the real issue is not inequality, but rather mobility. We want to make sure that our children have the opportunity to enjoy better lives than we do. And for this we should focus on productivity growth which is the main determinant of wealth in the long-run.
This piece ranks high in terms of being misleading. First, even though productivity growth has been relatively slow since 1973, the key point is that most of the population has seen few of the gains of the productivity growth that we have seen over the last forty years. Had they shared equally in the productivity gains over this period, the median wage would be close to 50 percent higher than it is today. The minimum wage would be more than twice as high. If we have more rapid productivity growth over the next four decades, but we see the top 1.0 percent again getting the same share as it has since 1980, then most people will benefit little from this growth.
The next point that comes directly from this first point is that it is far from clear that inequality does not itself impede productivity growth. While it can of course be coincidence, it is striking that the period of rapid productivity growth was a period of relative equality. At the very least it is hard to make the case that we have experienced some productivity dividend from the inequality of the post-1980 period.
And many of the policies that would most obviously promote equality also promote growth. For example, a Fed policy committed to high employment, even at the risk of somewhat higher rates of inflation, would lead to stronger wage growth at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder, while also likely leading to more investment and growth.
While Cowen talks about immigration as being a question of low-paid workers who might drive down the wages of the less-educated, they are millions of bright highly educated professionals in the developing world who would be happy to train to U.S. standards and compete with our doctors, lawyers, and other highly-paid professionals, many of whom populate the one percent. This policy would also lead to both more rapid growth and greater equality. (We can repatriate a portion of the earnings of these professionals to their home countries to ensure they benefit as well.)
And, we can have a modest financial transactions tax that would eliminate waste in the financial sector while also reducing the income of many of the richest people in the country. Were it not for the political power of Wall Street, we undoubtedly would have put in place financial transactions taxes long ago. (We do still have very small taxes that are used to finance the operation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission.)
It is also important to remember that the well-being of children depends to a large extent on the well-being of their parents. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968 (as it did between 1938 and 1968) it would be over $17 an hour today. The children of a single parent earning $34,000 a year would have much better life prospects than the children of a single parent earning $14,500 a year. In this sense there is a very direct relationship between inequality and mobility.
The long and short is that we know of many measures that can both reduce inequality and increase growth. And, if we want to make sure that everyone's children have a shot at a better standard of living in the future then we should make sure that their parents have a better standard of living today.
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Financial predators produce nothing of valueThe "take-over and loot" artists of Wall Street produce nothing of value and are burdensome to taxpayers - we support the agency which partly funds the stolen pensions - yet rake in more money annually than most wage earners.
written by RandallK, April 05, 2015 10:49
What did collateralized debt products produce? Nothing, or close to nothing would be my answer.
We not only need to tax the sales of stocks and bonds, we need to bring back Glass-Steagall(sp?) and make a number of financial products illegal.
Then there's the matter of "too big to fail and too rich to jail," to correct.
Mobility for Whom, to Level What Playing Field Where - For Winners Take All
written by Last Mover, April 05, 2015 11:41
The concept of mobility helps us distinguish between "good inequality" and "bad inequality." Reductions in inequality can follow from a leveling in either direction - by elevating the poor or pushing down the wealthy. It is the plight of the poor that we most need to improve.Somehow these discussions never get to the part where MNCs used their newfound global mobility to pit workers in different nations against each other in head to head competition and drive wages to subsistence levels in some cases.
That really gave workers a chance to perk up with new mobility opportunities to be more productive as they earned what they were worth, didn't it. After all, it wasn't like MNCs had a lock on the market and overpaid themselves with productivity gains they didn't actually earn, instead extorted with market power. LOL.
These discussions also conveniently ignore the intentional immobility of white collar professionals designed to shield them from competition, especially from abroad, like doctors and CEOs. Cowen would rather talk about reducing regulations on barbers, hairdressers and interior decorators so they can be more mobile and productive. LOL.
written by loneract, April 05, 2015 1:14
The Upshit seems to contain outright lies 2/3 of the time. Usually when Leonardt or Cowen is writing.
Marko, April 05, 2015 4:42
Tyler Cowen is right up there with Laffer , Mankiw , et al in his diligence at defending the perks of the 1%.
The goal is to shift the focus of attention away from anything involving those elites , typically by concentrating instead on poverty or mobility. They can imagine a system of high mobility and low poverty ( as measured relative to median income ) among the 99% in which the 1% captures an even larger share of the income pie than they do currently. Think of plantation slaves as the 99% and plantation owners as the 1% and you get an idea of what their ideal "win-win solution" looks like. High relative mobility and low relative poverty among the 99% , continued concentrated income and wealth flows to the 1%. Problem solved.
Summers is right , for once. The big action in inequality is in the trillion dollars of current gdp that used to flow to the bottom 90% of income-earners that now flows to the top 1%. Similar dynamics apply for wealth.
Ignore the misdirection and focus on the big problem : big money.
watermelonpunch, April 05, 2015 8:16
I'm not sure what that Tyler is rooting for here.
Is he saying that everyone ought to start at the bottom?
For example, someone with a science aptitude born into a wealthy family, ought to be forced to put off their education to mop floors for 2 years, to "earn their chops"?
Because that's the only way I can see his argument having an internal logic at all.
Otherwise, it just sounds like he's saying that people with various disabilities or other limitations, should rightfully (in his mind) be relegated to substandard living conditions struggling for survival with limited access to the benefits our civilization affords "their betters" ... as long as if a child born into that penury has some bit of a chance to "strike it big" if they have enough smarts & ambition & luck.
I fall back to the obvious ... that we - CIVILIZATION AS A WHOLE - NEED people operating the sewage treatment plants, fixing the roads, collecting the trash, cleaning hospitals, working on the farms, packaging & transporting foods etc., and wiping butts when people get too old & infirm to do it for themselves.
Civilization as a whole should be GRATEFUL there are those people who are willing & able to do those things, and recognize that people who do these vital things in society by paying them a fair wage.
In fact, I'd argue that some of these jobs are HARDER and require more aptitude that a lot of "higher jobs" Cowen thinks pay more out of "good inequality".
I'd like to see the branch manager at my bank try to swing the trash cans on my block like my city's garbage crew. (Or live in a neighborhood where the rubbish is piled up for that matter.)
How many accounts department managers would last 2 minutes on a roofing job?
I can think of one manager I knew at a company who would leave her dirty oatmeal dishes in the little bathroom sink all day. Under NO circumstances do I think that woman should ever be trusted to work in a hospital or kitchen.
And then the story I heard from someone about a warehouse manager who would throw fits yelling & start throwing things around when he'd get stressed out. Is that the guy you want alone with you wiping your butt in your hospice room when you're 92?
Would any of us want to buy food sold in a dirty grocery store? And how much luck is a doctor going to have to save your life in a filthy operating room?
Tyler Cowen's shell game is an insult to every citizen.
And it's a injury to every citizen with limitations whether they're born with them or acquire limitations by tragic accident or simply aging.
Richard H. Serlin, April 05, 2015 10:59
High Inequality and High Mobility = Very High Risk Lives
Well, Cowen is always happy to mislead for the libertarian/plutocratic cause, and he has to, as the truth gives no chance to his side in a democracy.
But this extreme inequality is fine of we have high mobility is so wrong, because high mobility is high chance to go up, and high chance to go down. If it's just high chance to go up, that's just growth (which is decreased when you don't invest in the 99+% to give as much as possible to the 1%, or 0.1%).
High inequality with a high probability of plunging into the abyss because of high mobility? That's just a terribly risky life for you and your family, and risk decreases utility and welfare. Who wants to live in a world made that dangerous. And certainly the high mobility that the rich will allow is among the 99%, not among the 0.1%.
bakho, April 06, 2015 5:33
If Cowen is truly concerned about mobility, he would promote policy to encourage mobility.
Improve childhood nutrition
Health Coach Programs
Programs that would give teens facing double digit unemployment, their first job and on the job training.
Programs that would improve the skill set of youth who are not college bound.
Free Community college, etc.
Raising the MinWage
Less inequality in distribution of resources among communities
I have yet to see him promote any of these measures.
A little parity perhaps?
written by Kat, April 06, 2015 8:34
I just read an AP story about the plight of some poor, poor Americans that had property confiscated under the Castro regime. Congress is on the case-- after all the descendents of these "victims" are so poor they cannot even afford to repair their concrete steps. I did not see skills training mentioned as a fix for their plight.
I think if you thought really, really hard you might be able to come up with a few examples of the US government using its force to confiscate property or support the confiscation of the value of labor from a person. In these cases training is the key to redistributive justice.
And I have yet to see skills training as an answer to all the job creators who simply cannot make a go of it without subsidies and tax breaks.
written by Bloix, April 06, 2015 9:57
"We want to make sure that our children have the opportunity to enjoy better lives than we do."
I have never met an upper middle class parent who wants his kid to have "the opportunity" to have a better life. These parents do not say, "I want my child judged fairly on his merits, and if he winds up as a barista that's fine with me."
written by urban legend, April 06, 2015 2:19
All wage workers need to be organized. The elite forces have spent 200 or so years trying to give the public ill thoughts about labor unions, with but a very brief reprieve roughly between roughly 1934 and 1947 -- with Taft-Hartley "right-to-work" reinforced by the anti-union propaganda film, "On the Waterfront," signalling a return to corporate and corporate media-bashing of all collective bargaining activities. Those toxic forces are really feeling their oats right now, having even compromised the Democratic Party with fundamentally anti-worker people like Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan. Only the unions themselves, a few stalwart Democratic office-holders and some bloggers are offering resistance.
There have been embers of recognition that the engineered weakness of labor has coincided with -- and almost surely played a huge causative role in -- the disconnection between productivity and labor compensation. It is going to be a long and continuous, never-ending slog to start the country in the other direction. It's a simple story to make: labor union weakness = low wages = poor demand = weak economy for almost everyone, including small businesses. Hillary Clinton could campaign on that equation, even without attacking Wall Street (other than the dishonest players, whom she must make clear she will not defend), and present herself as the true champion of business because she, unlike the Republican candidates who pretend to be pro-business but actually are the opposite, will follow policies that will promote the growth of demand for their goods and services.
FDR proved you could talk common sense economics like this to the American people. Obama looked like he was campaigning on the equation, but it turned out he was only a little for it and was even actually against it in some respects. He made virtually no push-back against the negative propaganda about unions that has prevailed for three generations. Let's hope this time can be different. But it won't be different unless the people who understand the equation put heavy pressure on all Democratic candidates to think and talk that way.
written by Bob Hertz, April 06, 2015 7:45
I fully support all the posts that call for greater bargaining power for workers.
However, I do wish to point out that many many workers with tiny or nonexistent productivity gains have seen very nice increases in their incomes in the past two decades.
College professors and senior nurses and federal statisticians do very valuable work.
But most of them work fewer hours than they did 20 years ago and have fewer students or patients than 20 years ago.......yet this "EdMed" complex has had very nice wage gains, to say nothing of benefits that private sectors workers can only dream of.
If you rented a meeting hall and had a gathering where the only attendees would be those whose incomes had gone up faster than inflation, I do NOT think that the hall would be filled with persons who increased their productivity. I think it would be filled with persons who had credentials and connections.
written by Dishwasher, April 07, 2015 2:01And many of the policies that would most obviously promote equality also promote growth. For example, a Fed policy committed to high employment, even at the risk of somewhat higher rates of inflation, would lead to stronger wage growth at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder, while also likely leading to more investment and growth.I agree with you on doctors, lawyers, and other highly-paid professionals.
On minimum wage, to me a minimum wage is a second best solution, a wage subsidy or a basic income guarantee better distributes the burden of helping low income workers.
written by Dishwasher, April 07, 2015 2:23
Above I should have said isn't it accelerating inflation that helps debtors and wage earners and not just inflation? And it cannot continue to be accelerated without very bad consequences.
marknesop.wordpress.comet Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:02 pmkirill, April 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm
Slashdot: Google 'Makes People Think They Are Smarter Than They Are
Karen Knapton reports at The Telegraph that according to a study at Yale University, because they have the world's knowledge at their fingertips, search engines like Google or Yahoo make people think they are smarter than they actually are giving people a 'widely inaccurate' view of their own intelligence that can lead to over-confidence when making decisions. In a series of experiments, participants who had searched for information on the internet believed they were far more knowledgeable about a subject that those who had learned by normal routes, such as reading a book or talking to a tutor. Internet users also believed their brains were sharper….
This is none more obvious that in the retarded comments you read in the Pork Pie News Networks. It is one thing to look up a 'fact', but to understand it within context, its limitations and not stretch it way beyond reasonable interpretations to fit your argument takes it in to altogether different territory.
I think the good news is that as the Internet is still quite young and people are learning that a) the first answer you find may not be true; b) it helps to do more research if you could be bothered. It's not hard to differentiate between the political bs'ers and the properly curious.
The best thing I think is that we are also learning to ask the right questions in the right way. Most of us can now spot obfuscation through deliberately complicated answers (as is technique often used by people who think they are clever) and are starting to spot what isn't there, or what isn't said simply through logic and following the process or the steps that should lead to a logical conclusion. If that is not done, followed or points to some other conclusion, then the red flags (I don't mean communist ones!) should go up that something is not quite kosher and should be treated with care. Still, it's early days.et Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm
People are brainwashed from birth to believe that knowledge of facts is the same as intelligence. I have seen this trope in numerous TV shows and movies. It is total rubbish. People spend years at university and in post-doctoral studies engaged in problem solving. No amount of Google searches is going to teach internet Einsteins that skill.
I can't be as pessimistic as you. Yes, brainwashing does start very early, but this is just the beginning of a brave new world (if we don't become nuclear toast first) and the new industrial revolution has only just started. The field is wide open and old actors will be turfed out or overturned by the new and hungry.
If the turdification of higher education continues in certain countries, then those countries are simply hollowing out themselves from the inside. They simply will not be able to find sufficient numbers of competent people to maintain what they have.
It is one of the many reasons that I am for free education and unlimited free (or at least heavily subsidized) return to education and retraining until you pop your clogs. In fact, I think it is essential if we are going to live longer and more productive lives. If the state (us) fund it, then we all benefit from it over the long term. So far Western countries have been able to attract some of the best foreign talent from other countries and benefit from it, but the rest of the world is catching up fast.
Mar 04, 2015 | Economist's ViewBad news for those who propose education as the solution to inequality:How Higher Education Perpetuates Intergenerational Inequality, by Tim Taylor: Part of the mythology of US higher education is that it offers a meritocracy, along with a lot of second chances, so that smart and hard-working students of all background have a genuine chance to succeed--no matter their family income. But the data certainly seems to suggest that family income has a lot to do with whether a student will attend college in the first place, and even more to do with whether a student will obtain a four-year college degree.
Margaret Cahalan and Laura Perna provide an overview of the evidence in "2015 Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 45 Year Trend Report," published by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the and University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD). ...
The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account. Students from low-income families take out more debt, and are more likely to attend for-profit colleges. Indeed, a general pattern for higher education a whole is that even as the cost of attending has risen, the share of the cost paid by households, rather than by the state or federal government, has been rising. ...
The effects of these patterns on inequality of incomes in the United States are clearcut: higher income families are better able to provide financial and other kinds of support for their children, both as they grow up, and when it comes time to attend college, and when it comes time to find a job after college. In this way, higher education has become a central part part of the process by which high-income families can seek to assure that their children are more likely to have high incomes, too.
This connection is perhaps underappreciated. After all, it's a lot easier for professors and college students to protest high levels of compensation for the top professionals in finance, law, and the corporate world who are in the top 1% of the income distribution, rather than to face the idea that their own institutions of higher education are implicated in perpetuating inequality of incomes across generations. ...
[He also has a long quote from Alan Krueger on this topic.]pgl said..."The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account."
Which is why governments should be doing more in the way of financial aid.
DrDick said in reply to pgl...
Less loans and more grants, as well as expanding state subsidies back to their pre-1980 levels (about 70% of the cost per student). This comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched the steady erosion of state support for higher ed, shift from grants and scholarships to loans, and the decline in low and middle incomes since the 1970s.
When I was in college, you could support yourself adequately on a part-time minimum wage job, but nowhere close now.
"The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account." - This also is why advocates of replacing public education with vouchers are so dead wrong. Attending a school of your "choice" entails a lot of other costs besides just tuition - namely, transportation, food, travel time and other cost categories. Wealth gives you choices. Being poor means you have few, if any, choices.
Public Education Fails
We cannot correct what's wrong with public education using mandatory tests.
The main problem with public education is that it is a political institution controlled by politicians. They have screwed it up, but as usual, they will not admit their own failings and instead blame teachers, students and parents.
I got a pretty good education in public schools, but that was before the era of political correctness and before crackbrain theories began to flow out of colleges of education like odors out of an outhouse.
We did not take standardized tests, and there were no social promotions. Fear of failing was a great motivator. The idea of having to repeat a year sitting in a classroom full of younger children was, ugh, a nasty thought to children of my era. There was also the fear of what our parents would do.
We were not segregated by ability. One of the cruelest things public education has done is to implement the idea of segregating students by ability, or at least by what the school thinks is their ability. That is a system of vicious labeling and does great psychological harm. How would you like to be labeled a "slow learner"?
No, in my day, we all sat in the same class and received the same instruction. Differences were reflected in grades. There always some A students, some B students, some C students, some D students and occasionally an F student. But no one was ever publicly branded. Nor was there any pressure on the teachers to produce uniform results.
Uniform results are impossible because students are not uniform. They are all different. They differ in IQ, general health, family background and genetic inclinations. A good teacher simply tries to get from every student his or her best effort. That is the way it should be.
We have, and have had for a number of years, a generally sorry class of politicians. They are masters of evasion. The real problem, which was becoming public, was the policy of social promotion. Rather than cause a hassle, school bureaucrats had crafted various schemes to promote children whether they learned any of the material or not.
The simple solution would have been to ban social promotion. But to ban it, politicians would have had to admit that it existed, and they were afraid to do that for fear that it would get mixed up with the race question. So they came up with the scheme of standardized tests. Now, because of the incredible pressure put on schools and teachers, most of the year is spent studying for the test.
The problem is, some children just are no good at taking tests. They might be smart. They might know the material, but they don't do well on written tests. Some kids need more individual attention than others, but under the pressure of the test, there is no time for that. The only intelligent assessment of a child's progress is the one made by his or her teacher, who has spent a year with the child.
I think public education is so messed up, it needs to be abolished. I would be willing to pay school taxes into a fund that would provide scholarships to private schools for all of the children whose parents can't afford it. If we abolished the monopoly of public schools, the private sector would provide the educational resources, especially if there was a pool of public money with which to pay the tuition.
The public-school industry - and that's what it has become - is too riddled with entrenched bureaucrats and too politicized to ever be reformed. It should simply be dismantled, along with the colleges of education, which are hotbeds of claptrap.
The Legacy of Milton and Rose Friedman's Free to Choose
Economic Liberalism at the Turn of the 21st Century
October 23–24, 2003
A Conference Hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Session 1 Q&A
Q: How do you deal with the problem of "teaching to the test"? Specifically, whether testing as it is done in Texas will lead to too much exclusive teaching to the test at the expense of education in the broader sense?
A: [Paul Peterson] Nobody could teach to our tests because we gave them outside the regular school day on a Saturday morning and neither the public nor the private school used that test. So our study is not contaminated by that problem. Rick can address the broader issue.
A2: [Eric Hanushek] Well, let me give two responses to that question. The first is that teaching to the test has gotten a very bad name in my opinion. When I teach a class, I teach to the test in the sense that I have certain things that I want the students to know and I test those things. So, at one level that's what we want. That's why we're doing the accountability system. If we have a test that is well designed to measure the goals and standards we have for our students, then let's have teachers teach to that test. The reason why it's gotten a bad name is that people are concerned that either the tests are not good enough or that they are on too narrow of a range of issues or subjects and we want more out of our school. Both concerns are legitimate. The current tests have not been as good as we might want although, for example, Texas has revamped their tests.
The former test, the TASP test, I think was pretty good at the bottom end but not very good at the top end, so there was some distortion there. That's been revised and we'll wait and see how well they did. But secondly, what we found is that we have not provided the basic skills to a large portion of the population in the past and that's what the tests are doing: saying let's provide more of the basic math and reading and writing skills and science skills that students need to succeed in society. So part of that teaching to the test is absolutely by design and that's exactly what we want.
Q: Two more related questions on the differential performance of the U.S. students versus their foreign competitors of these international comparisons. Do you have any insights into why students outside the United States do so much better on standardized tests, especially given the extensive state involvement in education in other countries? Or are there actually more private schools available to the students in these other countries?
A: [Hanushek] Well, this has been a puzzle frankly. You have very small numbers of differences in scores across countries, and there are lots of things that differ between Japan and the U.S., or between France and the U.S., so it's very hard to take the international tests and say what accounts for the differences. We know that a lot of cultures place a lot more emphasis on education in the home than the average in the U.S. So that's one of the explanations of what's going on with the East Asian countries systematically doing better than the U.S. But on the other hand, there are other complications. The East Asian countries provide for national examinations that determine who gets into what college, which is very important. Students have an incentive to work towards those tests, whereas in the U.S. we don't have the same kinds of incentives. But then there are lots of other differences, and so it's a lot of speculation. Frankly, I think the international tests have been a bit misused by people who have a particular point of view. They will provide a comparison of two countries to support that point of view when scientifically it can't be supported very well.
A2: [Peterson] There is only one thing I would like to add and that is I agree with what Rick said about a lot of these studies of the international data not being convincing. The best one out there is by an economist in Germany who concludes after looking at these data that the two factors that do the most to enhance performance on the international tests are, one, whether or not you have an examination when you graduate from high school, such as the A level or the O level in the British case, where you have to do very well on that test if you want to get into high quality occupations or to go on to university, because that gives incentives to students all through the adolescent years to prepare for this examination. And this isn't a test that you prepare for. It's very different from our SAT, which you cannot prepare for in theory. And this one is in theory, you must prepare for this test if you're going to pass it. And the other thing is there is more choice in some places than others, like I mentioned earlier. The Netherlands has choice and that country has been really moving up in recent years on these tests. And the Japanese have this huge private sector. They have the official public schools, and then they have this afterschool program, which is basically private cram school (as they call it) and the Japanese, of course, are off the charts in terms of performance.
Q: Another question here on the popular support for vouchers. This is a constitutional question. The U.S. was founded on the principal of separation of church and state. Would vouchers be a more acceptable idea to the general public if the various proposals maintained this separation? This is not so much about what the courts say but the public's affinity to the idea of the absolute separation of church and state.
A: [Peterson] Well, if the proposal is that we shouldn't have religious schools, I think that the experience worldwide is that private schools almost always are going to be formed by religious communities. Religious communities are natural basis for schooling. That's how schooling came into being. It was the missionaries who wanted to impart knowledge of the faith to the next generation. That formed schools in the first place. The secular schools we have today are really modifications of religious entities. And it's extremely unlikely that you could sustain a choice-based system that would have a lot of variety in it of the kind that is envisioned by the Friedmans without allowing the faith-based communities to participate in that. Now, certainly you should have secular options available as well, and the interesting thing that is developing in Milwaukee is you've got the faith-based schools developing through the voucher program and the secular options developing through the charters, and they're proving to be extraordinarily complementary. And the public schools have been responding. Milwaukee, I think, is the only major city in the country which now takes all of the dollars and gives them to each school on a per pupil basis: every school in Milwaukee now is funded on the basis of how many students it has. So even the public schools are now being forced to be more choice-minded. Also, they forced the teachers union to accept a change in their contract so that experience is no longer the only factor that determines whether or not you're going to get hired at a school. So the choice-based system in Milwaukee is forcing all kinds of changes in the public sector as well. The church–state issue is going to be controversial in the United States context. Worldwide there is no other country that has this separation of church and state in education. The English don't, the Germans don't, the French don't, the Dutch don't, the Danish don't, the Swedes don't, the Australians don't, people in New Zealand don't. They all fund religious schools. The government does. In the United State we have a different tradition. But the voucher program, by funding the individual rather than the school directly, does avoid, the Zelman case says, this constitutional question.
A2: [Hanushek] Can I just add one quick comment. Part of the political battles are not lessened by that. If we see what's going on in the debates over charter schools, the traditional forces of the public schools have been spending an enormous amount of political energy to limit and cripple the possibility of any competition through charter schools, which are all regular public schools and have no religious background. So the argument about religious schools in part is use any argument that you can to avoid competition, but when there's nonreligious competition, you fight that too.
A3: [Peterson] It's absolutely true that those families who applied for the lottery were families who were very concerned about their children's education. The test scores of the children themselves are very low at baseline. They're at the 20th percentile level on average. So these are very low performing students that we are talking about. They all are from low-income families but they're families that are concerned. Most of the families are single-parent families, 75 percent of them are. So this is not the best and the brightest; this is a very challenged population that applied for these vouchers in the first place. Now, when we make the comparisons, we make comparisons between those who applied and won the lottery and those who applied and lost the lottery. So the comparisons are among equals in concern about their children as in all other respects. Now, you can say, "Okay, so vouchers only work for those families who want something for their children."
Q: A lot of the discussion has been focused on vouchers at the secondary level. What about vouchers at the higher education level? This doesn't seem to be as actively discussed. Any comments on that?
A: [Hanushek] Well, we have them. For the most part we have Pell Grants, which are federal grants to low-income students that they can take to public or private schools. In fact, one of the arguments that's traditionally made is that the higher education system in the U.S. in fact confirms the arguments that were started in Capitalism and Freedom because at the higher education level we have a lot more choice across schools; we have a lot of vouchers. In fact, in the world, U.S. higher education is rated at the top. Foreign students flock into the U.S. to get U.S. higher education. Very few foreign students come to the U.S. to get to the K–12 education, other than thinking of that as an entry ticket into the U.S. in general.
Q: This ties in nicely with another question. So the U.S. does compare poorly with other countries at the end of high school. What about after the basic baccalaureate level, do U.S. students then catch up?
A: [Hanushek] Well, they don't have good measures of what it means to catch up. It's clear that people going through good U.S. colleges do well in the labor market and they're succeeding, and so we don't have that information. What we do know is that it appears that a large portion of our higher education energy is devoted to making up for where the K–12 students start. So there's a lot of remedial education that goes on in higher education that is trying to just make up for the poor start. Now that seems to be working pretty well, as best we can tell. But you don't have quite the same comparisons that you can make at the end of higher education to make it as objective.
Q: Is there any basis to the argument that the diminished role of local property tax financing of public schools contributes to their poorer performance?
A: [Peterson] Well, I think it's quite remarkable that the biggest reform in American education today has been the reduction of local control in education. We went from all these little school districts out there, where most of their funding came from the local community of the local tax base and we had small schools. And we moved away from that, a situation where the state used to fund about 20 percent of the cost of education, to a situation where now about half of all the cost of education is being paid for by the state, and the Feds pick up 5 percent more or so. So the local share has been just steadily declining. And then also, with the emphasis on equity, it means that if you do more to raise money locally, then you'll get less state aid, so it's even less dependent on the local than even these numbers suggest. And there is the Tiebout model that I am sure many of you in the audience know about. The idea is that there's choice among schools by choosing where you live. The argument then is that we don't need vouchers because we already have public school choice, and you exercise this choice by moving from one district to another. It may have been that there was some of that in the past. There's a lot less of it today. Carolyn Huxby says that in metropolitan areas where you have more of this you get more efficient public services. And where you have less of it you have bigger classes and lower student performance. So there is some evidence to suggest that the more we're moving the finance to the state and the federal government, the more we're putting controls on at the state level, the less dependent we are on local community control of the schools, the more we are moving away from a market like the situation in the public sector to the kind of socialist pattern that Milton talked about in his opening comments this morning.
A2: [Hanushek] I would just reinforce that quickly. One of the largest changes in school policy in the last 30 years has been the intrusion of courts into school policy, and its come largely from questions of school finance and how to finance different school districts from the state. It has led, as Paul mentioned, to an increase in the state proportion of funding. But more than that, with the state funding has gone state control. The ultimate experience in this along these lines I think comes in California where I am now a resident, where it is essentially a state-run system with no variation across the districts and it's been a disaster. That shows up in terms of national test scores and so forth. Also, an experience that people in Texas know well is that there's a lot of conflict that has been engendered with the courts trying to make school policy.
Q: What evidence or what data do we have on the efficiency of various incentive structures or schemes for teachers that can be tied to student achievement? Is it simply a matter of paying the teachers more or has there been much work done on designing the appropriate compensation packages?
A: [Hanushek] Well we know very little about this because there has been a strong effort to make sure that no incentives are introduced into the schools. Now a lot of school systems have tried what they call merit pay but what that means is two or three hundred dollars extra per year per teacher. Usually a teacher will actually, not just do better, but take on extra responsibilities, and in fact this hasn't had much effect. So it's used as evidence that no incentive scheme could ever work in schools. I think we're going to start seeing a lot more incentive schemes introduced in the schools and a lot of experiments with them. It's a simple fact that in 80 percent of our labor market people make judgments about the quality of workers and of allowing pay and rewards according to the quality of their workers. It's only basically the public sector, largely in schools, that we eliminate any possibility of judgments about the quality of workers. I think that this is going to break down because the arguments against it just seem so incongruous to the population.
Q: Licensure procedures-how do they differ across the United States, and between the United States and other countries around the world?
A: [Hanushek] Well, let me start with across the U.S. There are variations in licensure procedures around the U.S. but as I mentioned in my remarks, probably the most persistent reform in the U.S. is to make it tougher to become a teacher. To increase the number of courses that teachers have to take, to put different testing into the procedures and so forth. In fact, there's a strong movement in many states to require teachers to have a master's degree before they are certified. Some states already do that-New York state, for example, already does that. There's no evidence, let me say that slowly, there is no evidence, that master's degrees improve people's performance in the classroom. And yet we're requiring it. So what does it do? It makes it more costly to become a teacher, it cuts down on the number of people who would like to be teachers, it increases the price of somebody teaching for a little bit of time, and then going on into something else because that's not possible. I personally have the view that we need to follow chapter nine of Capitalism and Freedom and move back from all of our requirements now, with a judgment about who does well in the classroom as being the requirement for who's in the classroom and not who jumped enough hoops in their training. Now internationally, there are a large number of countries that have different licensure restrictions and requirements to get in that have not, to my knowledge, been receding but in fact have stayed constant. But again this comes down to a question of how do you best make international comparisons, and I'm not a very big fan of just comparing France vs. the U.S.
A2: [Peterson] I think that the states are more similar than they are different in their licensure requirements and they are all definitely moving in the direction of saying that you have to take a certain number of courses in the area of education in order to be able to teach. The big vested interest here are these schools of education, colleges of education, for whom this creates a captive clientele. By restricting access to the labor market unless you go through these hoops, you reduce the supply of labor, but it also is a big deterrent for talented young people who might want to go into teaching, even if only for a short period of time, but do not want to take courses that are perceived to be of little value. A lot of charter schools now are able to avoid some of these licensure requirements, and you do see a tendency of charter schools, as well as private schools, to hire teachers that are more subject-matter oriented and less formally trained, and also teachers who have gone to more selective colleges that are more concerned about the quality of their student body. One of the things we have seen is a decline in the apparent quality of people who say they are going into the teaching profession. When you take the SAT test you can say what profession you're planning on going into, and those who indicate they're planning on going into teaching, the average test score for that group has been declining. That's probably due to the fact that job opportunities for women have greatly increased-there are many alternative jobs out there for women today that didn't exist 20, 30, 40 years ago. So the talented women, the talented group, is looking to other ways of doing what they want to do with their lives. The response of public policy has been to increase licensure rather than to really address the underlying questions of how can you make this a rewarding profession. It's not a rewarding profession now because it's so lockstep in its design. You progress slowly up a ladder, dictated solely by experience, and merit is not given any kind of recognition. And so talented people go elsewhere, and today it's more so than ever because of the changing job opportunities for women.
Q: Is there any relationship between school size and student performance just looking at public schools alone?
A: [Peterson] I'm not as knowledgeable on this literature as my colleague is, and he says that the weight of the evidence is that the smaller school is better. That's not such a well established proposition that you can say the literature is in full agreement on it, and maybe Rick doesn't agree. The analysis that my colleague has done has shown that the wage return from another year of schooling in a small school is much greater than in a large school, and he just completed that study but it's yet to be finalized, so it's still not definitive.
A2: [Hanushek] I think the evidence is a little confusing. There's not really strong evidence one way or another on school size having that distinct impact on student performance.
Q: What about the role of athletics in promoting gigantism in public schools? Is this detrimental to choice?
A: [Hanushek] This is very important in Texas.
A2: [Peterson] Here's my basketball theory of public education. The basketball theory goes this way. This came to me because I took history from the basketball coach in the public school in Montevideo, Minnesota. He wasn't a bad coach; our team made it to the state tournament. The students who were on the basketball team, he must have given them pretty good instruction. In history class, he never attended class; he always went down to the smoking room with the janitors and smoked down there. But it was okay because right next to my desk was the condensed version of Toynbee's history of the world, whatever that was called. And so I read Toynbee that term and so maybe that was better. But I don't think anybody else learned anything in that classroom because everybody was doing so much talking. But he also was the physical education instructor and what would happen in Phy Ed is, we would all go out there and stand around. First of all, we'd spend 15 minutes getting ready for Phy Ed and then we'd have to shower at the end, and the 30 minutes we were out there, we all stood around and one person had a basketball and the rest of us stood around and watched him. And that, I think, is Phy Ed in America. I don't think this was special; I think this is the way it is. Now, why is this? Well, if the basketball team does well, the whole community feels great and you can raise money for the school. So there is a huge incentive for schools to have good teams that have to be effective in a competitive environment. That leads to resources coming back into the school. So, it's only natural to concentrate your resources, or your energies, on producing outcomes that will benefit the system. The Phy Ed program, you know, who cares about it. Nobody cares about it, so why do it? But isn't that just the way it is in general, that if you have a few students who you can get into the ivy leagues, you can brag about that to the local news media and you can say we've got a great school. But then how about all the rest of the kids-they just get lost. Now this was, I think, Rick's really important point, Insofar as we are now saying every child is to be tested and all of those scores are to be released to the public and every parent is going to know how their child is doing, then maybe schools will have incentives to be concerned about all of their students and not just the basketball stars or the academic stars in the school.
A3: [Hanushek] Let me just say a couple things on athletics. I spent some time recently with Arkansas, which is trying to reform its accountability and finance system, and then also talked a little with the people in Texas. I would have thought that athletics cut the other way, in the sense that the first act of Gov. Mike Huckabee in Arkansas, who is really interested in school reform, was to propose a school consolidation bill. And he was almost run out to Texas because of this because it would eliminate some of the athletic teams if you consolidated schools. So I thought in general it would cut the other way. The other point, though, that I think is important is that parents in communities have complicated interest in schools, and with more choice we might have some schools that sort of emphasize athletics and we would live with that to allow other schools to emphasize completely more academic things that other parents want. That's one of the aspects of choice. One of the aspects of choice of higher education is not that every college and university in this country is great. There's no evidence of that, but there is evidence that the people are getting a lot more of what they're individually demanding.
Q: Has there been a large increase in the ratio of education administrators to teachers over the past 40 years?
A: [Hanushek] Well, the proportion of funds that go to teachers' salaries, out of total spending, has plummeted over the last 100 years. Now, it's a little bit hard to tell how many are administrators and how many are doing other things but it's clear that salaries of classroom teachers is a much smaller proportion of what we are spending on education.
A2: [Peterson] The one thing that we haven't mentioned is that licensure also kicks in at the level of the principal and higher level administrators. We have all these doctoral programs out there and educational administration programs, which are very large, very substantial, very important as a source of income for a lot of colleges. Why? Because you've got to have these degrees in order to become a principal or to become a higher level administrator. And this means then that you can't bring in to education very easily people from other occupations who have management skills that they've demonstrated in other areas unless they're willing to go through this long arduous process, which usually means you have to be a teacher first in order to become a principal and then you've got to acquire all of this additional stuff. So it could be even more serious of a problem at the management level of the public school system-the licensure problem may be even more serious there than it is at the teacher level.
Q: Suppose the voucher program were to be introduced. Where is the money going to come from.? In an election year, no one wants to say raise taxes. So where will the funds come from? Are you going to cut homeland security or defense?
A: [Peterson] Basically, the idea of a voucher program is that it doesn't cost a dime. In fact, you might even save money on it because it's really just changing the way you spend your education dollar. You just say, instead of appropriating the money and handing it around to the schools and kids go to these schools, you just say all this money will go to the family and on each child's back will be $8,000 or whatever sum of money it is. It's the same sum of money. It's not any new expenditure. Now, that's the theory of it, right? Rose, I'm sure that's exactly the way you and Milton have thought about it, but what does happen in practice is that in order to get a voucher program under way, one of the compromises that has to be reached is the public schools have to be held harmless. So if you're going to have vouchers, the public schools have to get all the money for the kids they're not teaching. Say 5,000 kids leave. Well, the public schools still should keep all the money for those 5,000 kids even though they're not going to be teaching them. That's the way the argument goes in the state legislative debates, and so unfortunately a lot of voucher programs do cost more money. But the reason is totally political. It has no economic reality to it.
Q: Why can't we just demand public schools provide a better performance and simply fire the poor teachers and administrators as we would in business and hire new ones?
A: [Hanushek] We've tried to do that, in the sense that we've not quite fired them but we've tried to restrict it to make sure that they're only good. That's what licensure is about, to make sure only good people do it. Past that, when we get down to teachers, there is a huge reluctance to ever remove a teacher. In many states state law stands behind the teachers. My favorite is, I think it's about eight years ago now, there was a front page New York Times article about a New York City teacher who was incarcerated at that time for having sold cocaine to his junior high students but still retained his employment rights because he had, in fact, followed all of the procedural avenues that were available to him to protect his job and was in jail but still had the right to go back to a school district. So we've built up a system which is so bound up with defending all current teachers and all current administrators from any removal that nobody ever removes more than one teacher in a lifetime. There are some principals that work to remove principals. But they never remove more than one in a lifetime just because these rules are there, and that's part of providing choice. And that's one of the arguments, by the way, for competition. Those kinds of rules cannot stand up to competition if there's outside competition which is offering a system that doesn't protect all of the bad teachers.
A2: [Peterson] You know I would not want to say there's a lot of bad teachers, but I do think it's extremely corrupting to have even one bad teacher or two bad teachers in a school. It's like having one bad kid who is totally disrupting a classroom and you can't do anything about it because you've got these rules that say you can't deal with these disruptive forces. So you have this teacher who's totally not doing their job. Everybody in the school knows that, and so it's demoralizing for everybody else in the school. That's why some of the most effective principals in urban settings are those who have the strength of character to address that person who is really doing a bad job and making sure that person leaves the school. Now, almost always, all that happens is that person leaves that school and goes to another one. It's much easier to achieve that than to get outright dismissal. So the really effective urban principal works on removing those bad teachers, and that's how they instill morale among the remaining teachers, because this principal was willing to put herself on the line, to really commit herself to the children's education, because there's nothing harder to do than to remove an ineffective teacher.
Q: I think this will have to be our last question. If we did have a fully funded voucher system, would private schools have any difficulty maintaining the high standards? If something is free, is it still valued?
A: [Peterson] That's a good question. It really goes to the point as to whether or not you should have the vouchers that can be topped up by private contributions. IIn Milwaukee if you get a voucher, you can't be asked to pay additional sums of money to your private school. So private schools just have mandatory "voluntary" contributions. Private schools really believe that families should put some dollars down. No matter how poor the family is, they should be putting some money down and so, yes, I think there would have to be additional contributions. I think private schools would be creative in thinking of ways of addressing that.
A: [Hanushek] I would have answered it slightly different and say that there are going to be some bad voucher schools, you know, that aren't up to quality, just as there are a lot of bad public schools. You're going to get a distribution of these quality schools just as you do in higher education. But that's not an argument against vouchers, the fact that you have a distribution. I think you will maintain a large number of very high quality schools and you will push up the mean and the right tail of the distribution across the board, but you'll still have a left tail.
November 12, 2010
In 1914, John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, addressed the first session of his two-year lecture course as follows:
"Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies that (will) form a noble adventure…Let me make this clear to you. ..nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education."
I had an Economics instructor explain the Economics of Education. Contrary to all economic theory, the consume of college education chooses to pay as much as possible and receive the bare minimum in return.
Paying $50,000 a year is clearly superior to paying $20,000 a year. Attending class and doing homework would be optional at the best universities ( as are grades at some liberal arts colleges)
Your instructor has misidentified the product being sold. What is actually being sold is the ability to become peers with an elite group of fellow students. The education, from an economics perspective, is simply packaging.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.
By ALAN FINDER
CHICAGO - When a research group started tracking what happens to Chicago's public school graduates after they enter college, it came upon a startling and dispiriting finding: the graduation rates at two of the city's four-year public universities were among the worst in the country.
At Northeastern Illinois University, a tidy commuter campus on the North Side of Chicago, only 17 percent of students who enroll as full-time freshmen graduate within six years, according to data collected by the federal Department of Education. At Chicago State University on the South Side, the overall graduation rate is 16 percent.
As dismal as those rates seem, the universities are not unique. About 50 colleges across the country have a six-year graduation rate below 20 percent, according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit research group. Many of the institutions serve low-income and minority students.
Such numbers have prompted a fierce debate here - and in national education circles - about who is to blame for the results, whether they are acceptable for nontraditional students, and how universities should be held accountable if the vast majority of students do not graduate.
"If you're accepting a child into your institution, don't you have the responsibility to make sure they graduate?" asked Melissa Roderick, the co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produced the study.
"I think people had absolutely no idea that our local colleges were running graduation rates like that," Dr. Roderick said. "I don't think we have any high school in the city that has graduation rates like these colleges."
Northeastern's results were particularly low among African-Americans, with only 8 percent of entering full-time freshmen earning degrees within six years.
The report, which was released last spring, examined students who graduated from Chicago public schools in 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003. It also cited federal statistics showing that only 4 percent of all African-American students at Northeastern Illinois graduated within six years. The most recent federal data, released in August, shows the figure to be 8 percent for freshmen who entered in 1999 and would have graduated by 2005.
A federal commission that examined the future of American higher education recommended in August that colleges and universities take more responsibility for ensuring that students complete their education. Charles Miller, the commission chairman, said that if graduation rates were more readily available, universities would be forced to pay more attention to them.
"Universities in America rank themselves on many factors, but graduation rates aren't even in the mix," Mr. Miller said. "They don't talk about it."
Others say policy makers are to blame for failing to take action against public universities or administrators if most of their students fail to earn a degree.
"Most colleges aren't held accountable in any way for their graduation rate," said Gary Orfield, a Harvard professor of education and social policy at the Graduate School of Education. "We treat college as if the right to enroll is enough, and just ignore everything else."
Kevin Carey, the research and policy manager at the Education Sector, a nonprofit research organization, said governors and legislatures could make it clear that the presidents' continued employment hinged on improving graduation rates. "That's what businesses do," he said.
"When you have a system where virtually everyone fails, how is that different from designing a system in which the point is for people to fail?" Mr. Carey added. "No one can look at that and say this is the best we can do."
Officials in Illinois are considering whether to provide financial incentives to universities that show progress on improving graduation rates, said Judy Erwin, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The presidents of Northeastern Illinois and Chicago State, both part of the state university system, robustly defend their institutions. They say the universities serve a valuable mission, educating untraditional students who often take a long time to complete course work.
Many of their students are the first in their families to go to college, they said. Many come ill prepared. Often the students are older, have children and work full time.
"I think the work of this institution should be lauded rather than criticized," said Elnora D. Daniel, the president of Chicago State, where 86 percent of the 7,300 students are African-American. "And I say that for all public institutions nationally that attract and have as part of their mission the education of low-income, disadvantaged minorities."
Dr. Daniel also said that conventional methods for calculating graduation rates significantly understate how many students actually earn degrees. Universities calculate how many freshmen who enrolled as full-time students six years earlier have graduated. Students who transfer to other universities do not count as graduates, even if they graduate from another institution. Nor do students who transfer into the university and eventually graduate.
About half of the undergraduates at both universities have transferred in from other institutions, primarily community colleges, officials said.
The presidents also said that six years is not always a fair standard.
"That it takes another year or two years longer should be a mark of distinction," said Salme Harju Steinberg, the president of Northeastern Illinois. "That person should be commended for the remarkable effort that he is making."
Nearly half of the 12,200 students at Northeastern Illinois attend part time, Dr. Steinberg said. "They have families to support," she said. "So of course it's going to take longer." About 43 percent are white, according to federal data, 29 percent are Hispanic, and 12 percent are African-American.
The graduation rate at Chicago State after seven years is nearly 35 percent, compared with the six-year rate of 16 percent, Dr. Daniel said. At Northeastern Illinois, where the six-year rate is 17 percent, the 10-year rate is 23 percent, university officials said.
Programs to mentor and tutor untraditional students are essential for their success, many educators said. But such programs are expensive, and in the past four years in Illinois, the state's contribution to public universities declined 16 percent, Dr. Steinberg said.
"It is important to make sure that institutions of this type do indeed have the financial wherewithal to meet the needs of these special students," Dr. Daniel said, "and so often that is not the case."
The nature of their student bodies does not completely explain the rates at Northeastern Illinois and Chicago State. Some comparable universities with similar students have significantly higher graduation rates, academic experts said, and there are lessons to be learned from them.
The six-year rate at York College in Queens, a branch of the City University of New York, is 30 percent, for example, and it is 34 percent at Lehman College, a CUNY unit in the Bronx.
"There are certain things that stand out about institutions that do better than you would expect," said Vincent Tinto, a professor of education at Syracuse University. "One is that they are willing to commit resources and to align their resources in a systematic way. Two, they understand the importance of support for student academic success."
At Elizabeth City State University, a historically black institution in North Carolina, the graduation rate is 49 percent. Class attendance is mandatory, and everyone on campus helps enforce the rules and support the students, said Carolyn R. Mahoney, a former provost and vice chancellor at Elizabeth City who is now president of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
At Murray State University in Murray, Ky., the graduation rate increased to 57 percent from 43 percent during the first half of the decade. F. King Alexander, who was president at the time, made graduation a central theme. Among other things, he encouraged commuting students to spend more time on campus, because students involved in extra-curricular activities are more likely to finish college.
"They have to think about graduation from the day they walk on campus," said Dr. Alexander, now the president of California State University, Long Beach.
That is not always the prime focus for students at Northeastern Illinois. Afifa Amin, 24, began college in 2000. She transferred to Northeastern Illinois two years ago, switched her major several times and took a year off from school.
Now a part-time student majoring in computer science, Ms. Amin hopes to graduate in 2009. "I know it's a long time, nine years," she said, "but it's better than not graduating."
March 18, 2015 | The American Conservative
A phony populism is denying Americans the joys of serious thought.
... ... ...
Universities, too, were at fault. They had colonized critics by holding careers hostage to academic specialization, requiring them to master the arcane tongues of ever-narrower disciplines, forcing them to forsake a larger public. Compared to the Arcadian past, the present, in this view, was a wasteland.
It didn't have to be this way. In the postwar era, a vast project of cultural uplift sought to bring the best that had been thought and said to the wider public. Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago and Mortimer J. Adler were among its more prominent avatars. This effort, which tried to deepen literacy under the sign of the "middlebrow," and thus to strengthen the idea that an informed citizenry was indispensable for a healthy democracy, was, for a time, hugely successful. The general level of cultural sophistication rose as a growing middle class shed its provincialism in exchange for a certain worldliness that was one legacy of American triumphalism and ambition after World War II. College enrollment boomed, and the percentage of Americans attending the performing arts rose dramatically. Regional stage and opera companies blossomed, new concert halls were built, and interest in the arts was widespread. TV hosts Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Dick Cavett frequently featured serious writers as guests. Paperback publishers made classic works of history, literature, and criticism available to ordinary readers whose appetite for such works seemed insatiable.
Mass circulation newspapers and magazines, too, expanded their coverage of books, movies, music, dance, and theater. Criticism was no longer confined to such small but influential journals of opinion as Partisan Review, The Nation, and The New Republic. Esquire embraced the irascible Dwight Macdonald as its movie critic, despite his well-known contempt for "middlebrow" culture. The New Yorker threw a lifeline to Pauline Kael, rescuing her from the ghetto of film quarterlies and the art houses of Berkeley. Strong critics like David Riesman, Daniel Bell, and Leslie Fiedler, among others, would write with insight and pugilistic zeal books that often found enough readers to propel their works onto bestseller lists. Intellectuals such as Susan Sontag were featured in the glossy pages of magazines like Vogue. Her controversial "Notes on Camp," first published in 1964 in Partisan Review, exploded into public view when Time championed her work. Eggheads were suddenly sexy, almost on a par with star athletes and Hollywood celebrities. Gore Vidal was a regular on Johnny Carson. William F. Buckley Jr.'s "Firing Line" hosted vigorous debates that often were models of how to think, how to argue, and, at their best, told us that ideas mattered.
As Scott Timberg, a former arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times, puts it in his recent book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, the idea, embraced by increasing numbers of Americans, was that
drama, poetry, music, and art were not just a way to pass the time, or advertise one's might, but a path to truth and enlightenment. At its best, this was what the middlebrow consensus promised. Middlebrow said that culture was accessible to a wide strat[um] of society, that people needed some but not much training to appreciate it, that there was a canon worth knowing, that art was not the same as entertainment, that the study of the liberal arts deepens you, and that those who make, assess, and disseminate the arts were somehow valuable for our society regardless of their impact on GDP.
So what if culture was increasingly just another product to be bought and sold, used and discarded, like so many tubes of toothpaste? Even Los Angeles, long derided as a cultural desert, would by the turn of the century boast a flourishing and internationally respected opera company, a thriving archipelago of museums with world-class collections, and dozens of bookstores selling in some years more books per capita than were sold in the greater New York area. The middlebrow's triumph was all but assured.
The arrival of the Internet by century's end promised to make that victory complete. As the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story in 1998, America was "increasingly wealthy, worldly, and wired." Notions of elitism and snobbery seemed to be collapsing upon the palpable catholicity of a public whose curiosities were ever more diverse and eclectic and whose ability to satisfy them had suddenly and miraculously expanded. We stood, it appeared, on the verge of a munificent new world-a world in which technology was rapidly democratizing the means of cultural production while providing an easy way for millions of ordinary citizens, previously excluded from the precincts of the higher conversation, to join the dialogue. The digital revolution was predicted to empower those authors whose writings had been marginalized, shut out of mainstream publishing, to overthrow the old monastic self-selecting order of cultural gatekeepers (meaning professional critics). Thus would critical faculties be sharpened and democratized. Digital platforms would crack open the cloistered and solipsistic world of academe, bypass the old presses and performing-arts spaces, and unleash a new era of cultural commerce. With smart machines there would be smarter people.
Harvard's Robert Darnton, a sober and learned historian of reading and the book, agreed. He argued that the implications for writing and reading, for publishing and bookselling-indeed, for cultural literacy and criticism itself-were profound. For, as he gushed in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, we now had the ability to make "all book learning available to all people, or at least those privileged enough to have access to the World Wide Web. It promises to be the ultimate stage in the democratization of knowledge set in motion by the invention of writing, the codex, movable type, and the Internet." In this view, echoed by innumerable worshippers of the New Information Age, we were living at one of history's hinge moments, a great evolutionary leap in the human mind. And, in truth, it was hard not to believe that we had arrived at the apotheosis of our culture. Never before in history had more good literature and cultural works been available at such low cost to so many. The future was radiant.
Others, such as the critics Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, were more skeptical. They worried that whatever advantages might accrue to consumers and the culture at large from the emergence of such behemoths as Amazon, not only would proven methods of cultural production and distribution be made obsolete, but we were in danger of being enrolled, whether we liked it or not, in an overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture that, as numerous studies have shown, renders serious reading and cultural criticism increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and sustained argument. Indeed, they feared that the digital tsunami now engulfing us may even signal an irrevocable trivialization of the word. Or, at the least, a sense that the enterprise of making distinctions between bad, good, and best was a mug's game that had no place in a democracy that worships at the altar of mass appeal and counts its receipts at the almighty box office.
... ... ...
...Today, America's traditional organs of popular criticism-newspapers, magazines, journals of opinion-have been all but overwhelmed by the digital onslaught: their circulations plummeting, their confidence eroded, their survival in doubt. Newspaper review sections in particular have suffered: jobs have been slashed, and cultural coverage vastly diminished. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have abandoned their stand-alone book sections, leaving the New York Times as the only major American newspaper still publishing a significant separate section devoted to reviewing books.
Such sections, of course, were always few. Only a handful of America's papers ever deemed book coverage important enough to dedicate an entire Sunday section to it. Now even that handful is threatened with extinction, and thus is a widespread cultural illiteracy abetted, for at their best the editors of those sections tried to establish the idea that serious criticism was possible in a mass culture. In the 19th century, Margaret Fuller, literary editor of the New York Tribune and the country's first full-time book reviewer, understood this well. She saw books as "a medium for viewing all humanity, a core around which all knowledge, all experience, all science, all the ideal as well as all the practical in our nature could gather." She sought, she said, to tell "the whole truth, as well as nothing but the truth."
The arrival of the Internet has proved no panacea. The vast canvas afforded by the Internet has done little to encourage thoughtful and serious criticism. Mostly it has provided a vast Democracy Wall on which any crackpot can post his or her manifesto. Bloggers bloviate and insults abound. Discourse coarsens. Information is abundant, wisdom scarce. It is a striking irony, as Leon Wieseltier has noted, that with the arrival of the Internet, "a medium of communication with no limitations of physical space, everything on it has to be in six hundred words." The Internet, he said, is the first means of communication invented by humankind that privileges one's first thoughts as one's best thoughts. And he rightly observed that if "value is a function of scarcity," then "what is most scarce in our culture is long, thoughtful, patient, deliberate analysis of questions that do not have obvious or easy answers." Time is required to think through difficult questions. Patience is a condition of genuine intellection. The thinking mind, the creating mind, said Wieseltier, should not be rushed. "And where the mind is rushed and made frenetic, neither thought nor creativity will ensue. What you will most likely get is conformity and banality. Writing is not typed talking."
The fundamental idea at stake in the criticism of culture generally is the self-image of society: how it reasons with itself, describes itself, imagines itself. Nothing in the excitements made possible by the digital revolution banishes the need for the rigor such self-reckoning requires. It is, as Wieseltier says, the obligation of cultural criticism to bear down on what matters.
Where is such criticism to be found today? We inhabit a remarkably arid cultural landscape, especially when compared with the ambitions of postwar America, ambitions which, to be sure, were often mocked by some of the country's more prominent intellectuals. Yes, Dwight Macdonald famously excoriated the enfeeblements of "mass cult and midcult," and Irving Howe regretted "This Age of Conformity," but from today's perspective, when we look back at the offerings of the Book-of-the-Month Club and projects such as the Great Books of the Western World, their scorn looks misplaced. The fact that their complaints circulated widely in the very midcult worlds Macdonald condemned was proof that trenchant criticism had found a place within the organs of mass culture. One is almost tempted to say that the middlebrow culture of yesteryear was a high-water mark.
The reality, of course, was never as rosy as much of it looks in retrospect. Cultural criticism in most American newspapers, even at its best, was almost always confined to a ghetto. You were lucky at most papers to get a column or a half-page devoted to arts and culture. Editors encouraged reporters, reviewers, and critics to win readers and improve circulation by pandering to the faux populism of the marketplace. Only the review that might immediately be understood by the greatest number of readers would be permitted to see the light of day. Anything else smacked of "elitism"-a sin to be avoided at almost any cost.
This was a coarse and pernicious notion, one that lay at the center of the country's longstanding anti-intellectual tradition. From the start of the republic, Americans have had a profoundly ambivalent relationship to class and culture, as Richard Hofstadter famously observed. He was neither the first nor the last to notice this self-inflicted wound. As even the vastly popular science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov understood, "Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"
... ... ...
When did "difficulty" become suspect in American culture, widely derided as anti-democratic and contemptuously dismissed as evidence of so-called elitism? If a work of art isn't somehow immediately "understood" or "accessible" by and to large numbers of people, it is often ridiculed as "esoteric," "obtuse," or even somehow un-American. We should mark such an argument's cognitive consequences. A culture filled with smooth and familiar consumptions produces in people rigid mental habits and stultified conceptions. They know what they know, and they expect to find it reinforced when they turn a page or click on a screen. Difficulty annoys them, and, having become accustomed to so much pabulum served up by a pandering and invertebrate media, they experience difficulty not just as "difficult," but as insult. Struggling to understand, say, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness masterpiece The Sound and the Fury or Alain Resnais's Rubik's Cube of a movie "Last Year at Marienbad" needn't be done. The mind may skip trying to solve such cognitive puzzles, even though the truth is they strengthen it as a workout tones the muscles.
Sometimes it feels as if the world is divided into two classes: one very large class spurns difficulty, while the other very much smaller delights in it. There are readers who, when encountering an unfamiliar word, instead of reaching for a dictionary, choose to regard it as a sign of the author's contempt or pretension, a deliberate refusal to speak in a language ordinary people can understand. Others, encountering the same word, happily seize on it as a chance to learn something new, to broaden their horizons. They eagerly seek a literature that upends assumptions, challenges prejudices, turns them inside out and forces them to see the world through new eyes.
The second group is an endangered species. One reason is that the ambitions of mainstream media that, however fitfully, once sought to expose them to the life of the mind and to the contest of ideas, have themselves shrunk. We have gone from the heyday of television intellection which boasted shows hosted by, among others, David Susskind and David Frost, men that, whatever their self-absorptions, were nonetheless possessed of an admirable highmindedness, to the pygmy sound-bite rants of Sean Hannity and the inanities of clowns like Stephen Colbert. Once upon a time, the ideal of seriousness may not have been a common one, but it was acknowledged as one worth striving for. It didn't have to do what it has to today, that is, fight for respect, legitimate itself before asserting itself. The class that is allergic to difficulty now feels justified in condemning the other as "elitist" and anti-democratic. The exercise of cultural authority and artistic or literary or aesthetic discrimination is seen as evidence of snobbery, entitlement and privilege lording it over ordinary folks. A perverse populism increasingly deforms our culture, consigning some works of art to a realm somehow more rarified and less accessible to a broad public. Thus is choice constrained and the tyranny of mass appeal deepened in the name of democracy.
... ... ...
Steve Wasserman, former literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, is editor-at-large for Yale University Press.
This essay is adapted with permission from his chapter in the forthcoming The State of the American Mind: Sixteen Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, edited by Adam Bellow and Mark Bauerlein, to be published by Templeton Press in May 2015.
September 21, 2006
SpectralDesign.Net writes, "The results of a research paper released Wednesday reveal who is admitting to cheating (in North America). The study focused on 5,300 graduate students in Canada and the U.S. and concluded that the biggest cheaters were business students - 56% of them admitted to copying papers, plagiarizing, etc. The author of the study said, 'The typical comment is that what's important is getting the job done. How you get it done is less important. You'll have business students saying all I'm doing is emulating the behavior I'll need when I get out in the real world.'" Other grad-student cheaters include: engineering students, 54%; physical sciences, 50%; medical and health-care, 49%; law, 45%; liberal arts, 43%; and social science and humanities students, 39%. These numbers are close to the guesstimate of the anonymous professor.
You can't fake it with only high SAT scores, family alumni or volunteer work
By Melanie ShorForbes
Updated: 5:24 p.m. ET Sept 15, 2006It's hard to get into college these days: Since the baby boomers' kids came of age, the number of students in classrooms and the level of competition have both surged. Luckily, there are still a few ways to guarantee Ivy League admission - high SAT scores, lots of extracurricular activities, alumni in the family and the name of a prestigious private prep school on your transcript. Right?
Wrong. Admissions offices broke the record this year for the greatest number of valedictorian rejections.
Today, approximately 41 percent of America's student population has a grade point average over 3.5. Yale has approximately 21,000 applicants annually and only 1,300 available slots. Ninety-seven percent of Stanford's new freshman class were ranked in the top 20 percent of their high schools, and 45 percent ranked in the top 1 percent or 2 percent. Harvard has an abundance of candidates with strong credentials, but it now accepts an estimated all-time-low 9 percent of them.
So what can desperate applicants do to get into the school of their dreams, and what old tricks just won't work?
Applicants continually search for a formula to attract the attention of admissions officers, but the only thing that always works is being an all-around student.
"We try to understand the student as a whole person, and also to understand how he or she has performed in the context of whatever academic and community opportunities he or she has encountered," says Jeffrey Brenzel, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions. "We seek academic excellence, evidence of leadership and integrity, and evidence of high personal impact on others."
In the past, desperate college applicants would jazz up their applications with a little volunteer work - working in a soup kitchen or cleaning up trash in public parks. But nowadays, you'd be better off tidying up your own bedroom. Colleges are aware that many high schools enforce community service requirements, and they're especially wary of students who volunteer their time for the sake of transcripts.
Says Bruce J. Breimer, head of college guidance at the prestigious Collegiate School: "One admissions officer told me, 'If I read another essay about kids building houses in Costa Rica, I'm going to scream.'"
And you can forget about stacking up lots of pointless after-school activities. Among similarly qualified students, strong extracurriculars can give one candidate the edge. But admissions officers would rather see you excel in one club, rather than just show up at ten.
"It's most important to do something with enthusiasm, passion and commitment," says James Miller, director of admissions at Brown University.
Maybe your plan is to wow the admissions office with a fantastic essay? Keep dreaming, Shakespeare. A stellar composition can't salvage an application, says Harvard's current director of admissions, Dr. Marlyn McGrath Lewis. "We never base our decisions on essays. We read them carefully, but we understand how easily they can be purchased or written by anyone. They can certainly illuminate a case, but we'd be foolish to base our decisions on them."
Even good grades won't keep those thin rejection letters at bay. Admissions officers understand the difference between an A in an easy class and a B in a hard one. And increasingly, top colleges have staff members who become experts on high schools in specific regions. They know which schools engage in grade inflation, and which tough ones issue few high marks.
So what does ring a school dean's bell? Admissions officers don't have specific pre-made profiles for ideal candidates, and they don't rely on any one factor to determine admission. Instead, they aim to compose a diverse student body with a diverse group of individuals.
"We define diversity as interests, experiences, values and background," says Christoph Guttentag, Duke University's head of admissions. A proficient glockenspiel player can be just as desirable as a football MVP - it simply depends on what a college is lacking.
Knowing the tricks can only get you so far. In the end, to be an ideal candidate for a college, a student must work hard, develop a sense of passion, yearn for intellectual and personal stimulation, pursue activities outside of the classrooms in a profound way - and remember to breathe in the process.
Says the Collegiate School's Breimer: "Be yourself. Don't try to beat the system."
30 October 2002 | Independent
Britain's secondary school standards have fallen behind those in the rest of the developed world during the past 30 years, an international comparison published yesterday discloses.
The report also paints a disturbing picture of bad behavior, time-wasting and boredom that it argues is now common in British classrooms.
Teenagers complain they have to put up with annoying levels of time-wasting, noise and disruption when they are trying to study.
British students also find school more boring than their peers in many of the 32 industrialized nations surveyed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But if British students managed to progress to university they were likely to enjoy benefits graduates from other countries could only dream of, Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of statistics, said yesterday
Degree holders in the UK saw the best return on their investment of any graduates in the countries analysed by his study, Mr Schleicher said. British graduates enjoyed significantly higher salaries than non-graduates and were much less likely to be unemployed, according to the OECD's 2002 edition of its annual Education At a Glance publication.
It gave UK graduates a "rate of return" of 17 per cent compared with 10 to 15 per cent in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US and 7 per cent in Italy and Japan.
Mr Schleicher said he had been surprised by the sheer scale of the benefits enjoyed by British graduates, which showed no sign of diminishing despite the massive expansion of higher education.
"If anything these differentials are getting stronger," he said. "This might seem surprising as lots more people are now going into higher education. You might think that the market would become saturated but there is no evidence that is happening."
The OECD's findings will bolster the Government's case that students should contribute towards their degree costs in recognition of the life-long benefits they will enjoy as graduates. It may also fuel the determination of those who want to allow universities to charge "top-up" fees of up to £15,000 a year to reflect the true cost of higher education.
The report also showed UK undergraduates already contributed almost double the OECD average towards the costs of a university education.
Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, said students were already overburdened with debt. "UK students cannot be expected to bear any further costs. The introduction of top-up fees would force our students to cough up the most money just to attempt to better themselves."
The report also revealed that there were worrying levels of boredom and indiscipline in British schools.
Fifty-four per cent of 15-year-olds said they "often" felt bored at school, compared with an average across the 32 nations of 48 per cent.
More than four out of ten 15-year-olds in the UK complained that more than five minutes was wasted at the start of lessons because classmates would not settle down to work. More than one in four (27 per cent) protested about "noise and disorder" during classes.
Teenagers in the UK were also taught in larger classes and were set more homework to do. The national average secondary class size was 25, against the OECD average of 24. British pupils were set an average of 5.4 hours a week of homework in English, maths and science, compared with an average of 4.6 hours.
The study also showed most British teenagers enjoyed their time at school. More than nine out of ten 15-year-olds said school was a place where they made friends easily, compared with an OECD average of 81 per cent. Eighty-three per cent felt they fitted in at school, compared with an average of 75 per cent.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called for more funding for education. "While there is much to celebrate in the OECD findings, it is clear that there is still no room for complacency about the funding of schools in the United Kingdom. The UK still barely touches the European average," he said. "Class sizes in the UK are still too high. The evidence shows that reducing class size must still be on the Government's agenda."
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills insisted that tackling bad behaviour was one of the Government's top priorities. "A bored pupil is a pupil that's not achieving his potential – and is more likely to play truant," he said. "That's why good teaching is the best way to promote good behaviour.
"The Government has introduced a range of initiatives to improve teaching. There have been huge improvements since 1997 – Ofsted now rates nearly 70 per cent of lessons as good compared with 40 per cent five years ago.
"Tackling bad behaviour in the classroom is a top priority. We have made over £600m available to schools and LEAs over the past three years to tackle poor behaviour."
The findings will come as a disappointment to the Government, after an earlier report by the OECD had praised the achievements of British teen-agers. Last year, a survey of educational attainment across the 32 nations – the Programme for International Student Assessment – showed UK teenagers were among the best performers in the world. It concluded that 15-year-olds in the UK ranked seventh in terms of reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. The Government has regularly used the figures to back its claims that standards are improving.
The OECD's new report revealed how Britain had slipped down the international rankings.
The secondary school results of Britain's older workers would have been near the top of tables of school leavers' qualifications 30 years ago. Britain has now been overtaken by countries such as Korea and appears near the bottom of tables ranking the proportion of students who leave school with at least five GCSEs or an equivalent qualification.
Ranked by results achieved by school leavers, the UK was 13th in the table of those aged 55 to 64 but only 24th when the qualifications of those aged 25 to 34 were compared.
The OECD insisted the switch from the old grammar school and secondary modern system to comprehensives in the 1960s could not be blamed. Mr Schleicher told a press conference in London: "You don't see a decline in the UK, it's just that many countries have been much more dynamic in expanding their upper secondary systems. In the UK the figures have gone up but at a much smaller rate. What is behind that I can't explain but in many countries that gap has been successfully filled."
The most successful education system tended to be ones where learning was "individualised", he added.
Mr Schleicher said that "highly differentiated systems" where pupils were forced to select an "educational pathway" early in their school careers – including those in Germany and Switzerland – were among the least successful.
Part of the reason Britain might have slipped back in terms of secondary school qualifications could be its focus on the highest achievers, Mr Schleicher suggested.
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