Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"The case for fair-value accounting" in fall issue of National Affairs [updated]

I mentioned back in May that Jason Delisle and I were working on a long article about fair-value accounting. It's done, and you can find it in the fall issue of National Affairs--a periodical so serious, it doesn't even have pictures on its cover! The full text is here, but readers may find it easier to download the pdf and print out the whole thing.

Read pp. 95-111 !
I've written a lot about fair-value accounting--e.g., for Heritage, Forbes, and National Review--but up until now I had not given the issue the detailed treatment that it deserves. This article is our full statement on what fair-value accounting is, why it's needed, and how both parties have been inconsistent in their support for it.

I realize the topic seems dry, but all I can say is give it a shot, and you'll likely find it thought-provoking, and perhaps even entertaining. After putting together example after example of bogus "free lunch" accounting, even I was surprised at the extent of the government's malfeasance. And although most people realize that political advocates are not intellectually consistent, their flip-flopping on fair-value is one of the starkest (yet largely unrecognized) hypocrisies in all of Washington, DC.

Jason D. has a two-minute summary of the piece on New America's EdCentral site, and I'll update this post as we put out additional promotional material.

Update 9/26

National Review has posted my own preview of the article, this one focusing on the "Understated Costs and Perverse Incentives" section.

Also, in an interesting development, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities now opposes applying FVA to Social Security in response to our article:
Jason Delisle and Jason Richwine, writing in the latest issue of National Affairs, correctly note that the logic of our argument [against FVA] is inconsistent with a 2005 CBPP analysis of proposals to invest part of the Social Security trust funds in stocks instead of Treasury bonds.  We concur.  We have re-analyzed our assessment of investing a portion of the Social Security trust fund in equities and now come to a different conclusion than we did in 2005.
To understand what that all means, see the section of our article titled "Fair-Value's Fair-Weather Friends." More on this later.

Update 10/1:

Mentions of the National Affairs article by the Washington Post's Wonkblog, RealClearPolicy, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and Arnold Kling.

Andrew Biggs criticizes the free-lunch Social Security accounting now espoused by CBPP.

I preview the "Fair-Value's Fair-Weather Friends" section for National Review.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Common Core's remarkably weak evidence base

Must this happen so often? The backers of a broad-based political movement tell you their cause is an evidentiary slam dunk, but then you look at the research yourself and find basically nothing there. The Common Core education standards (de facto national standards) are a great example. As I wrote for National Review earlier this week:
...[T]he Center for Education Policy at George Washington University has put together a compendium summarizing over 60 research papers related to Common Core design and implementation. If there is empirical evidence on the importance of strong standards, this is probably the place to find it. Unfortunately, only two papers in the entire compendium are devoted to measuring the impact of Common Core on test scores. Both papers employ the dubious correlation-across-states methodology, and both give mixed results at best.
Read the whole thing there.

Here's a radio interview I did to promote the piece:



And the Washington Free Beacon did a nice summary as well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Why we shouldn't raise teacher pay" published in The Federalist

I'd been meaning to write a piece on public school hiring practices, so when the editors of The Federalist offered me a chance to do something for them on education policy, I figured this was the time. Here's the thesis of the article:
Even without the tenure obstacle, putting the best teachers in the classroom is a more challenging problem than many reformers will admit. One of the most common reformist prescriptions is raising teacher pay to attract stronger applicants. The logic seems simple, even obvious. But raising teacher pay will not work. In fact, it could be counter-productive. The reason lies not just with the well-known difficulty in predicting who will be a good teacher, but also with the entrenched hiring system of public schools.
The article focuses on the latter obstacle--the teacher hiring system that often disfavors the brightest applicants--but an entire piece could be written on the difficulty in predicting who will become a good teacher. Yes, smarter teachers tend to be more effective, ceteris paribus, but the correlation is not strong. Even if public schools were eager to take in the best and brightest, doing so would be no panacea.


Here's the conclusion of the piece:
Public school systems need fundamental changes in how they operate to improve teacher quality, and abolishing tenure just scratches the surface. The creeping emphasis on credentials must be reversed. School administrators must be willing to hire promising applicants who never received the standard education-school training. Objective evaluation systems must be adopted and refined. All parties must become comfortable with a process that will increase teacher turnover. And, finally, the public must maintain sober expectations about the value of high-quality teachers, understanding that their effectiveness is naturally limited by the abilities and family situations of the students themselves. To effect all these changes, pundits and policymakers must move beyond their “pay teachers more” mantra. The idea is attractive for its simplicity, but in reality it is no solution at all.
 Read the whole thing here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Paul Ryan's education plan: Good policy, wrong goal

The education portion of Paul Ryan’s “Expanding Opportunity in America” plan moves federal policy in the right direction, but part of the rationale is troubling.

First, some of the policy proposals. Ryan would turn federal funds for the ineffective Head Start program into a block grant for states to integrate into their early education services. Encouragingly, he would fund multiple randomized experiments to test claims made by preschool advocates. Let’s hope those are multi-site experiments conducted by outside investigators so that the results are most informative. As for K-12 education, Ryan would block-grant Title I-A spending and make it portable, part of a longstanding conservative goal. The block grant would lessen federal involvement in education, and the portability feature would encourage school choice.

These are all steps in the right direction, but I still feel uncomfortable reading through the education section. There is a troubling focus on the desire to “close the achievement gap.” In fact, based on the introduction, much of Ryan’s education plan appears premised on the need for gap-closing.


That’s a misguided and potentially counter-productive goal. Socioeconomic achievement gaps in school are inevitable for a couple of simple reasons: Smarter people tend to attain higher socioeconomic status, and smarter people also tend to have smarter kids. Those are generalities, of course, but in the aggregate it would be shocking if the children of rich kids did not do better in school than the children of poor kids, even if both groups enjoyed the same educational resources.

The gap-closing mindset leads to condemnation of schools serving low-income students as “failing” even when they might actually be doing a decent job. It generates layers of bureaucracy tasked with employing the latest pedagogical fads. It disregards the needs of gifted students looking for creative outlets. And it may ultimately undermine the case for school choice: When education reformers conclude that school choice does little to close test-score gaps, they will move on to alternative reforms that give less power to parents.

The success of an education policy should be measured not by how much it closes gaps, but by the degree to which it tailors instruction to individual student needs. School choice is probably the best way to pursue the latter goal, and I wish the Ryan plan—as positive as it is in most respects—had recognized that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SPLC: Republican opposition to Common Core is “hate and extremism”

The editors of National Review (where I'm a contributor) warned last week that free speech rights are threatened by the pernicious notion that businesses should not enjoy First Amendment protections. The threat is real, but altering the Constitution like that is still a lot of work. Activists have an easier way to suppress views they don’t like: Just call those views “hate.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) runs a blog titled “Hatewatch: Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right.” It has a daily feature called Hatewatch Headlines, which is dedicated to "highlighting the best stories around the web on hate and extremism.”

On the same day as the NR editorial, Hatewatch Headlines offered a revealing selection. Amidst links to articles about secret KKK members, apologies for slavery, and anti-government terrorism, the SPLC listed a piece from the Washington Post titled: “Forget Obamacare. Common Core is the Republicans’ new big enemy.”



Common Core is the name for a set of K-12 education standards that supporters hope will become de facto national standards. (See here for my perspective.) Needless to say, what opposition to these standards has to do with Klansmen and terrorists is not clear. But the SPLC is happy to link any conservative cause to "hate." That shuts down debate without any need for direct censorship.

The Post article itself is a lazy attack on Common Core opponents, with the usual charge that opponents are against the standards simply because the president is for them. It’s a strange accusation, given that a number of liberal groups have stated their opposition as well. Nevertheless, Republican opponents are portrayed as extreme in the Post article, and the SPLC ups the ante by surrounding the link with variants of the word “hate.”

If even the most innocuous political position—say, preferring that school standards not be uniform nationwide—can be characterized in the media as hate and extremism, then weakening the First Amendment will not be necessary to control the discourse.

Monday, July 14, 2014

About half of teachers have education degrees

I received a request from Education Realist to detail how many and which types of teachers hold undergraduate education degrees, using the ACS data mentioned in the previous post.

The ACS provides five different occupational categories that pertain to public-school teachers. Here is their distribution in the combined 2010 through 2012 samples:


Right away we can see some limitations in the ACS data. It would be nice to separate elementary from middle school, and preschool from kindergarten, but we have to work with what's available. We also have to rely on the Census Bureau to accurately categorize respondents' descriptions of the work they do, and it's not clear that it has. The percentage of secondary teachers appears too low--I expected to see around 25 percent--which suggests some misclassification.

I created three categories for college majors: pure education, subject-specific education, and non-education. Included in the first category is any field that is primarily about pedagogy rather than an academic subject. They are the types of majors that people usually mean when they say "education":
General Education
Educational Administration and Supervision
School Student Counseling
Elementary Education
Early Childhood Education
Secondary Teacher Education
Special Needs Education
Teacher Education: Multiple Levels
Miscellaneous Education
Educational Psychology
By contrast, some teachers major in how to instruct a particular subject. Their courses of study are generally similar (and sometimes identical) to majoring in the subject itself, but with an added teaching component. These are the subject-specific education majors I found in the ACS:
Mathematics Teacher Education
Physical and Health Education Teaching
Science and Computer Teacher Education
Social Science or History Teacher Education
Language and Drama Education
Art and Music Education
The table below shows how pure education, subject-specific, and non-education degrees are distributed among teachers of different grade levels. (Click the table to see a larger version.) Overall, 49 percent of public-school teachers in the ACS have a pure education degree, another 11 percent have a degree in how to teach a particular subject, and the remaining 40 percent have a non-education degree.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The most common non-education job held by education majors is...

The American Community Survey, a mini-Census conducted each year, began asking college graduates for their degree field in 2009. The new information helps answer a number of important questions about both the labor market value of different degrees and the skills possessed by different workers.

One question that's interested me for the past several years is how the skills of public-school teachers compare to the skills of other college graduates. A common view is that teachers should be paid like the average college graduate, but not all four-year degrees are created equal.  Elementary school teachers typically major in education, which is often considered one of the least rigorous courses of study. (Secondary school teachers, being more specialized, usually major in an academic field or in how to teach a particular field.)

One way to better assess teacher skills is to examine what happens to the wage of the typical worker who switches between teaching and non-teaching jobs. It turns out that people generally receive a pay raise when they move into teaching and a small pay cut when they move out, which implies that teacher salaries are at least adequate on average.

Another way to gauge teacher skills is to look at the types of non-education jobs held by education majors. If trained teachers tend to work prestigious jobs outside of teaching, that would suggest their skills are broadly valued and transferable. The first table below shows that 60.6 percent of people with a degree in education (and who have worked within the last five years) have an education-related occupation. The next table lists the top 10 occupations of the 39.4 percent of education majors who have a non-education job. The most common non-education job is administrative assistant, followed by retail salesperson, miscellaneous manager, childcare worker, and first-line supervisor of retail salespersons.