Friday, August 30, 2013

Debating Randi Weingarten

I debate teacher compensation on CNN with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Let's phase out the FERS annuity

Over at The Corner, I offer a suggestion for how budget negotiators can cut spending while inflicting minimal pain: Phase out the traditional pension (the "FERS annuity") for federal employees. They will still have a generous 401k-style plan, and their overall compensation will remain above market levels.
With both a government shutdown and a potential default looming this fall, Congress and the White House are gearing up for another round of budget negotiations. In searching for ways to save, both sides should take a close look at federal-employee benefits.

Federal employees receive greater compensation than comparably skilled private-sector workers. Reducing federal compensation to market levels should therefore have only a minimal effect on recruitment and retention of qualified workers. It would save money without a significant reduction in services.

But what is the best way to pursue reform?
Read the rest here. And for lots of data comparing federal and private compensation, see my 2011 report coauthored with AEI's Andrew Biggs.

Friday, August 23, 2013

There is no federal student loan profit

As policymakers debated student loans earlier this summer, misinformation about the program's cost was widespread. Many people mistakenly thought that the federal student loan program earned a profit for taxpayers. The implication was that the program should be expanded and interest rates lowered even further. But the program actually costs taxpayers money, once market risk is fully accounted for.

As I wrote for NRO today, the myth of student loan profits continues to be spread, this time by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
Taibbi tells us that the real issue regarding student loans isn’t so much the interest rate charged as it is the ballooning principal that burdens students. (I agree.) He notes that universities keep tuition high in part by shifting so much of the cost to students and taxpayers through the federal loan program. (Right.) And he says that politicians looking to appear pro-student and pro-education are actually enabling this unfair system. (Exactly!)

But then he claims that the federal government itself profits off the student-loan program, collecting far more from students than it needs to. Taibbi says that politicians love the system because it rakes in the cash, and he describes the “massive earnings” as “a crude backdoor tax” on America’s poor and middle-class youth.

But there’s a basic problem with this theory. The profits don’t exist.
Read the rest of the entry here. And also see my Forbes op-ed on a similar topic.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dabbling in the Common Core debate

I watched the debate over the "Common Core" national standards unfold while I was at Heritage. I didn't take a public position at the time, but I never understood the motivation for a having a single uniform standard. I recently wrote two blog posts on The Corner elaborating on that a bit:
Politico ran a piece earlier this week on Jeb Bush’s education legacy in Florida, wondering whether the former governor’s support for the “Common Core” national education standards would be a liability to him in a 2016 presidential run...

I hope endorsing the Common Core becomes a liability for every politician. National standards run counter to a central argument for school choice, which is that parents should be able to pick a curriculum and learning environment that best matches their children’s abilities and interests.
Read the whole thing here.

In the second post, I addressed the argument that national standards would ensure that children who move between states are still taught material in the same sequence: 
This argument for national standards is an illustration of how politicians recommend more centralization as a way to fix problems caused by centralization. The public-school monopoly is what limits choice and creates the potential curriculum conflict. If parents had adequate choices in the first place, then interstate migration would not pose a major problem — parents could likely just choose a school in New Jersey whose curriculum is most similar to the child’s previous school in Alabama.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why can’t we talk about IQ?

This article in Politico is my strongest critique to date of how the media handle the IQ issue. I wanted to call it "IQ Deja Vu" to emphasize how the same controversies come up again and again without the media ever learning anything:
“IQ is a metric of such dubiousness that almost no serious educational researcher uses it anymore,” the Guardian’s Ana Marie Cox wrote back in May. It was a breathtakingly ignorant statement. Psychologist Jelte Wicherts noted in response that a search for “IQ test” in Google’s academic database yielded more than 10,000 hits — just for the year 2013.

But Cox’s assertion is all too common. There is a large discrepancy between what educated laypeople believe about cognitive science and what experts actually know. Journalists are steeped in the lay wisdom, so they are repeatedly surprised when someone forthrightly discusses the real science of mental ability.

If that science happens to deal with group differences in average IQ, the journalists’ surprise turns into shock and disdain. Experts who speak publicly about IQ differences end up portrayed as weird contrarians at best, and peddlers of racist pseudoscience at worst.

I’m speaking from experience.
Read the whole thing here.