Morning Ed: Education {2017.11.06.M}

[Ed1] The cost of free college is absorbed by the poor, says a new paper. This is a complaint about merit-based scholarships, but I hadn’t heard it applied to free college before.

[Ed2] Budget cuts at the state and particularly federal level are putting a strain on top-tier midwestern universities.

[Ed3] Quality control for substitute teachers is tough, but the two day suspension is pretty damning.

[Ed4] Schools are apparently being targeted for ransomware attacks.

[Ed5] I’ve come around to the belief that technology in the classroom will ultimately be to education’s benefit, but also that I would be more comfortable if it were mostly a non-profit venture. (There are no shortage of billionaires with a lot of interest in this stuff.)

[Ed6] I’m pretty sure I saw this episode of Every Family Sitcom Ever.

[Ed7] Toby Young wrote a piece on the limits of what schools can do, which became the subject of some controversy when it was pulled by the organization that commissioned it as part of a “diversity of perspectives” effort. There are no Free Speech implications here in any real sense, but I do think Teach First should not have pulled it.

[Ed8] A look at outcomes and efficacy of Amerindian boarding schools.

[Ed9] Here’s a look at the efficacy of admissions test prep (PDF). Charles Murray wants to do away with the SAT entirely and replace them with achievement tests.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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58 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Education {2017.11.06.M}

  1. Ed3: Sometimes people really not suited towards a particular profession end up flocking towards that profession in droves. This substitute teacher was one of them.

    Ed4: This seems to be particularly low and petty for criminals.

    Ed5: I’m not sure if more technology is better but I agree with you on the not for profit argument. For profit companies want just that, a profit. That means they will choose making a profit over educated children if they need to. You will need to overpay for profit companies to decrease the chances of this occurring. Not for profits aren’t going to have to choose educating kids over profit.

    Ed6: One of the rare good parts about college as finishing school was that you don’t need to worry about helicopter parenting when Gentlemen C’s are a thing. When you make everything more high stakes than you get parents intervening so their children won’t end up in a bad position.

    Ed8: I find the commenters in Marginal Revolution to be uniquely horrible for a non-hate blog. They are so sure that they possess the answers that you can read their arrogance.

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    • Ed3: I did a stint as a substitute teacher for a few years back in the 1990s. Once I found my niche, I was actually pretty good. My niche was “the only sub in the system who actually understood high school math.” Once the math teachers figured this out, they requested me specifically, especially for the higher end math classes. Once the kids figured this out, realizing that my presence didn’t simply mean a day off, they actually appreciated it. I would give a different perspective on concepts, simply by dint of being a different person than the regular teacher. So in the specific context of higher end high school math classes, I was essentially a semi-regular tutor. Come to think of it, maybe I was being underpaid. In any case, throw me into the general population of high school kids and I was nothing special. My goal was the preservation of life and property, not necessarily in that order.

      Ed8: My sense of Tyler Cowan is that he maintains a reputation for sweet reason largely by dint of eschewing flecks of spittle.

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  2. [Ed5]: If I had $5 for every schlocky edu-tech ad I get bombarded by in my e-mail, for every “webinar” I’m invited to sit through, and for every stupid phone call from some company wanting to ‘survey’ me that I hang up on, I’d be retired in Tahiti right now instead of dragging my butt off to class yet again.

    I HATE edu-tech. It’s a giant pyramid scheme designed to separate schools from their money. Perhaps some of it is actually useful, but it’s got so much hype and so much overinflated advertising that I am automatically skeptical of all of it. (Also, I could teach with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard, which is cheap)

    The irony of it? My school is dead broke. We will never buy ANY of that stuff. And yet, we still have to deal with the advertising.

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    • I loved chalkboards and chalk. I love how it feels in my hand and how it feels when I’m writing with it. I miss that.

      And, projecting what’s on the screen of a computer is also kind of valuable if you’re teaching computing.

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      • Yes and no. Chalk on a board can be done well, or it can be done poorly–just like fancy graphics on a computer screen. The instructor might be putting up an illegible scrawl, but that’s OK: you can’t see it anyway since he is blocking the view. Or the instructor might be putting up helpful annotations to his lecture, with the chalkboard work helping the pace of both. As for computer screens, my college days predate that as a lecture technique, but the newer lecture halls had moderately sophisticated AV equipment. My Tudor-Stuart History professor made excellent use of slides to supplement his lecture. It can be done well.

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        • The instructor might be putting up an illegible scrawl, but that’s OK: you can’t see it anyway since he is blocking the view.

          My Mechanics of Materials class. Every class, he’d be writing on the board, his back to us, and the whole class is mimicking a ‘Force Push’ to the side so we could see the board.

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          • When I was in graduate school in math and math-related subjects, we (the graduate students) used to ask which was the class where we learned how to do the amazing trick of lecturing to the board while writing in front of us with one hand and erasing the material with the other hand as we moved to reveal it.

            We were only half joking.

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            • One of the nice things about huge lecture halls is that it became pretty obvious that you could not simply rely on chalk boards, since anyone in the nosebleed seats would never be able to see the board well enough. So overhead projectors with writable surfaces became the norm. Then LCD projectors and computer systems and PowerPoint.

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              • I’ve been teaching long enough to see PowerPoint go from “THIS WILL SAVE ACADEMIA AND EVERYONE SHOULD USE IT” to “OMG, YOU STILL USE POWERPOINT? POWERPOINT IS TERRIBLE AND NO ONE SHOULD USE IT”

                I have small classrooms and I buy the fat sidewalk chalk (out of my own pocket, I might add: it’s not supplied) so people can see my writing. And I write BIG.

                I do still use PowerPoint because the students expect it. They also expect it to be archived on a website so they can see it again. I’ve even had people ask if I would type up the stuff I wrote on the board and archive it on a website so they would not have to take notes.

                that’s…..not how it works. That’s not how any of it works….

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              • Also, I want chalkboards kind of like the lecture hall in one of my grad school buildings had – several layers, on rollers, so you could fill one board, and with a satisfying THUNK, send it rolling up towards the ceiling, and then have a fresh empty surface to write on. And, the slower-writing students didn’t ever have to ask you not to erase because you had like three boards’ worth to write on.

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  3. [Ed7] “Diversity of perspective” is just code for within the bounds of our defined range of acceptable opinions. He strayed from the narrative, he has to go. Few ever want to hear input that contradicts their own notions.

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  4. Ed2: How long have I been saying it? The political limits on state/local revenues are in a narrow range of about 9-12% of state GDP. The big six areas account for the vast majority of state general fund expenditures: K-12 education, Medicaid, transportation, higher ed, public safety (police, courts, and prisons), and other human services. For various reasons, K-12 and Medicaid expenses grow faster than the economy as a whole, putting the squeeze on the other four. Higher ed is almost always the least protected of those, in the sense that it has a smaller constituency and no dedicated funding stream*. The basic pattern has been clear since the 1990s, and will get worse.

    * The exceptions are a handful of small states with outsized severance tax revenues, eg, Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota.

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    • Though the common underlying cause is probably healthcare expenses, since k-12 education is labor intensive and typically the only area in state/local government where head counts are growing, healthcare spirals impact there the most.

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  5. [Ed9] Leave it to Charles Murray to look at the same dataset and come to the opposite conclusion.

    So, the SAT is somewhat susceptible to prep courses. To the tune of maybe 20 points on a Verbal score and 30 on a math score. For students with the means and the conscientiousness to sit through a prep class. There’s also enough statistical variation from one test to the next that you can maybe gain another 20-30 points by taking it more than once and just releasing the best score to colleges.

    Is this an argument for ditching it in favor of achievement tests? I don’t think so.

    Achievement tests are even more susceptible to prep classes, which we normally call classes. So his program would not make admissions less wealth-correlated, it would make the more wealth-correlated. Which is nuts, if you ask me.

    Academic success has two primary components, from what I can see: intelligence and conscientiousness. The SAT doesn’t measure “intelligence” per se, it measures a set of skills that are valuable to scholarship, but those skills are very close to the things we measure for IQ.

    Mostly, we do a good job at instilling conscientiousness in students who are also intelligent. Because they are intelligent, it isn’t hard for them to pick up on the fact that doing your work leads to greater success and happiness. However, it doesn’t always work. Some people get caught up in emotional issues. As it happens, the process known as “maturity” sometimes resolves those issues, and people learn conscientiousness later in life, and they can point to SATs as evidence that they can actually accomplish things.

    This doesn’t happen a lot, it’s more of a 5 percent thing. So naturally the math says that “SATs and achievement tests are highly correlated”. Of course they are, in the system we currently have. We need that alternate path.

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  6. [Ed8] Were the “Amerindian Boarding Schools” of the US similar to the “Residential Schools” of Canada – over which a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was recently held?

    In Canada, in a policy of explicit cultural genocide, Native kids were kidnapped from their homes, taken to essentially Church-run prison schools, forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own religion and culture, beaten, sexually and physically abused. Mass graves, atrocities. Horrifying intergenerational trauma, majority of homeless or addicted aboriginal people either (depending on age) were abused at residential schools, or were abused by a parent whose main model for child rearing was the abuse they suffer at residential school. Most priests in aboriginal communities don’t wear clerical collars because literally the majority of adults in the community were raped by people dressed that way. That kind of thing.

    If that’s anything like the schools the US study is talking about, saying “they were more likely to graduate high school” seems… I don’t even have words for it.

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    • I think overall the American equivalent was less horrible but still bad. I think the American ones where more secular because of the First Amendment. They also covered a lower percentage of Native American kids because most were kept on reservations with their parents and raised in subpar schools on the reservation, which was probably still much better than forced separation in boarding schools. The students at Native American boarding schools in the United States might be slightly more voluntary and self-selecting.

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      • Here is a short article by a Navajo woman about the school she was sent to. Keep in mind that Navajo culture is nearly unique in remaining relatively intact, so this should be taken as the lower end of the range of abuse, not the average.

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  7. Ed1
    The paper was highly technical but this strikes me as the nut of it:

    My equilibrium analysis shows that when college is free but capacity is unchanged low income
    students are crowded out. The reason they are hurt is that they are displaced by
    middle income students who now apply to more selective and expensive colleges..

    Which seems intuitively correct.

    What is a bit irksome is that this paper, like a lot of the conversations about tuition free college, ignores the decades where free college actually existed in California. Instead he travels all the way to Chile to find his empircal data.

    In California after WWII, partly as a result of the GI Bill, enrollment surged at the state university.
    Instead of allowing this to crowd out poorer students, the state constructed more campuses to accomodate the load.

    It just seems strange that so much effort is put into finding novel ways to prove we can’t do something, which was actually done.

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    • IIRC, those California campuses were decidedly no-frills, right? Just faculty, some support staff, and classrooms. Very much in the classic European campus mold[1]. Maybe this is a chicken and egg problem, where we have to figure what we have to do first, make college free, or get American colleges to stop building every little lab or amenity that pops into student or donor heads.

      [1]not meant to be a double entendre…

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      • I’d think you would need to do an in-depth look but my dorm at a private college from 1998-2002 was pretty Spartan. Part of this is just a wealth and technology problem. I think people just had a lot less stuff back in the past.

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            • @aaron-david And I was an oldest of 4 who would have moved heaven and earth, way back in 1995, to avoid having to share a room with people in college. As it happened most of the dorms had cell-like singles, and large, shared, multigender bathrooms, both of which were fine with me – but if they’d tried to make me share I might seriously have considered switching schools (we were forced not to live off-campus first year).

              I would guess there’s as much “familiarity breeds contempt” about having to share space as there is willingness to do it.

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      • The other way round.
        Some of the most spectacular buildings in the system were constructed during that period.

        There really isn’t any structural reason why we need to charge tuition for college, other than budget priorities.

        From Wikipedia:

        The California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 established that UC must admit undergraduates from the top 12.5% (one-eighth) of graduating high school seniors in California. Prior to the promulgation of the Master Plan, UC was to admit undergraduates from the top 15%. UC does not currently adhere to all tenets of the original Master Plan, such as the directives that no campus was to exceed total enrollment of 27,500 students (in order to ensure quality) and that public higher education should be tuition-free for California residents. Four campuses, Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, and San Diego each have current total enrollment at over 30,000.

        It goes on to say that the implementation of Prop 13 limiting property tax in 1978 created the budget shortfall leading to tuition.

        We could offer free college, but we just choose to build prisons instead.

        This year alone we plan to spend 270 million for prison construction.

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        • That wasn’t my question. Were all of the buildings constructed at the time directly involved in the education of students, or the furtherance of university research, or were they “student life” facilities meant to cater to (or coddle) student desires?

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          • I did a Google search on “facilities meant to coddle student desires 1947-1975” and came up empty.

            Seriously, I know that they built dormitories, cafeterias, medical clinics, theaters, and student unions.

            If your point is that current expenditures are for frivolous things, I am willing to buy that without much more question.

            If that is used to support the escalation of tuition, I don’t buy that. The differential between what students used to pay and what they pay now is so staggering, universities would have to be spending like Medicis.

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            • The difference between spending then and now… I have yet to see a definitive answer. It’s (from what I’ve read) a combination of reduced taxpayer support, building expenditures that are probably not directly related to the mission of educating adults, and administrative bloat. Toss in growing pension obligations as well. The one thing I don’t see as a major contributor to increasing tuition is faculty compensation, which tells us something.

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              • I wouldn’t excuse mismanagement on the part of the UC Regents.

                But the administration is controlled by the citizens by way of the Governor who appoints them.

                Who bothers to ask gubernatorial candidates about how they plan to curb administrative waste? Does it even appear in partisan platforms?

                Again, these things you list are choices we have made, not inevitable workings of the universe.

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            • Didn’t the old universities administer themselves by and large by passing the job around the circle of luckless professors? As I understand it now University Admin is a sprawling, massive professional and expensive industry and it self perpetuates.

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              • And some of those admins are masters at devolving a lot of the tasks back ON the professors, so we do the work, they get the six-figure salaries.

                not that I’m bitter or anything…no, wait, I am.

                I really do think university employment has changed for the worse in 20 years. More expectations that you hand-hold the students (we have to fill out monthly forms with their grades and # of absences, which get e-mailed to the students*), more busywork, more federally-mandated “sit in a room and be told things that are bad and you shouldn’t do” programs.

                (*which usually get ignored by the students genuinely failing; usually the only response I get is someone who is irate because I put down three absences for them WHEN THEY ONLY HAD TWO. And no, I can’t refuse to fill them out.)

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            • It enrollment rates, pure and simple. This will show how the enrollment rate increased from ’92 to ’14 and the jump in that period alone is approx 10%. I can’t think of how much it jumped from say ’54 to ’74 or ’74 to ’94. And although there is a huge dip from the second Clinton admin until the start of Obama, that dip doesn’t help with fixed costs. IE hiring a prof can be offset (less faculty gets hired later) but a building is gonna stick around once work starts.

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    • Then, there was room for states to expand revenues and take on a construction binge (IIRC, California also took on major road expansion around the same time). Today, as I noted in another comment here, states are up against the political limits on their revenue. If you look at state budgets from then and state budgets now, the difference is clear: at the state general fund level, huge increases in spending on K-12 education and health care for the poor (in my state, K-12 plus Medicaid account for approaching two-thirds of state general fund spending).

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      • Choosing to cut off a major source of revenue does in fact create spending limits.
        Choosing to lock people up for drugs also creates spending obligations.

        These are choices that a free people in a democracy have made.
        Its not like alien overlords commanded us to do this.
        It isn’t the result of a plague or drought or solar flare or enemy invasion.

        We choose this.
        We have it within our power to change it.

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        • You don’t have to convince me, Chip. If they made me emperor tomorrow I’ve got my own list of places where the money would come from. I’m just saying where I see the US and its 50 states as being at this moment.

          (Start with $100B/yr out of the Dept of Defense budget. Split up by population, in round numbers, that would triple higher ed spending in Colorado. We’ll talk about if and how much DOD gets back right after they bring me a GAO-certified audit for the most recent four fiscal years. If they don’t know where to make the cuts in the meantime, well, the Broncos suck this year so we’ll do the broad outlines on Sunday afternoon. If the generals and their staff can’t push it down a couple of levels of detail over the next month, I’ll have new generals and staff.)

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          • What I am seeing is a connection between our various policy debates.

            An almost deliberate attempt to instill a sense of helplessness and passivity in our politics.

            “We can’t do that, and shouldn’t even try!” seems to be the most common rejoinder to virtually anything large and visionary.

            High speed rail, tuition free college, national health care…everything except private prisons at public expense, private stadiums at public expense.

            It is sad and depressing, that the nation that prided itself on a can-do spirit seems to suffer from a crippling lack of confidence.

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            • Knowing that I will offend some people…

              30 years ago, after 10 years on the East Coast, I moved to Colorado. Even then, you know what the difference was I noticed? Optimism. Business travel after that took me all over the West, the Midwest, and the Northeast (not the South, so I can’t say about them). And at least IMO, the West is consistently more optimistic that things can be made better than the Midwest or the Northeast. And I put California at the top of that list. I’ve always liked the energy there.

              (Yeah, sometimes I whine about Colorado. But I also point out all the positives that have happened since I moved here. And I told my wife and kids within a very few years of when we’d settled here that moving east of the Great Plains would not be on the agenda.)

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  8. I generally agree with the commentariate. Ascribing malice to the eliminated deductions is a bridge too far. The GOP wants to give corporations and the wealthy a significant tax cut and have some minor vestigial sense of shame regarding deficits so they are trying to eliminate some deductions to make the deficit exploding from thermonuclear down to ‘merely’ atomic level.

    I’m very curious what the over under on this bill managing to pass is. I presume the house can whip it through but will Flake, Mccain, Collins et all vote it through the Senate?

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  9. I’m not sure what to make of either this piece or the phenomenon it describes, other than the Internet is a very efficient tool for generating truly weird shit and showing it to people, even (especially?) when those people are little kids.

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      • But seriously, as a parent, the way to deal with this is to limit the amount of screen time a child has. No in bedroom stuff, or at least have a timer on your internet. It really isn’t that hard. The real problem is that a lot of parents don’t actively parent anymore.

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        • It’s probably harder now than in the 1970s, but it’s still possible. I know my brother and sister in law won’t let my niece watch television or play with the iPad without one of them supervising her to make sure she’s seeing stuff that’s appropriate.

          I suspect a bigger problem is, “How, as an adult, do you remain informed without exposing your child to the horror that is in the outside world?” Literally the first really ‘scary’ news story I remember is from 1980 (I was born in 1969). I was vaguely aware of Watergate and the gas crisis and all that, but didn’t really know what was going on, not until the Jonestown thing. For one thing, there were no 24-hour news channels; for another, I think my parents got most of their news from the papers and newsmagazines. (I read the paper, but just for the comics)

          In retrospect, I was probably a lot happier as a kid for it, and maybe there’s something to be said as an adult for being blithely uninformed. I mean, I can’t do anything to stop The Bomb from dropping, so I might as well not expect it coming, right?

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