October 22, 2010

Economics for Edu-pundits IV: The Steamship Industry

(continued from Part III)

Let’s take a brief break from the economics lessons (at least one student needs a recess break) and see how all this “ideological” theory plays out in the real world. (As we know, novices learn best by seeing examples.)

The steamship Industry was one of America’s first large-scale businesses.  It was mechanized in the early 1800s and was an the vanguard of technological change.

As in education, government played a key and active role right from the start in America.  Once government shows a willingness to intervene in an industry, you will invariably see business, who will attempt to succeed primarily by seeking subsidies, aid, and pools (monopolies) from government. These are the political entrepreneurs.  And, if we are lucky, we will also find market entrepreneurs who try to succeed primarily by offering a superior product at a low cost.  These are the market entrepreneurs. (In education, we only have political entrepreneurs:  the teacher’s unions and the administrators.)

We’ve all heard of Robert Fulton and his steamboat, the Clermont, one of the first commercially successful steamboats. What we often don’t hear about is that Fulton’s company obtained a monopoly from New York state giving him the privilege of carrying all steamboat traffic in New York for thirty years.  Fulton is your classic political entrepreneur. He used the New York government to reduce his competition to zero and merrily collected his monopoly profits.  Who’s at fault here?  Fulton?  the New York government? of both?  I’m going with both.

In 1817, steamboat man Thomas Gibbons hired Cornelius Vanderbilt to crack Fulton’s monopoly by carrying passengers between New Jersey and New York for below the monopoly rate Fulton was charging.  This was, of course, illegal, but Vanderbilt managed to elude the law and cut fares up until the landmark case of Gibbons v. Ogden struck down the Fulton monopoly.

Following the decision, steamboat traffic along the Ohio river doubled in the first year and then quadrupled after the second year. By magic?  Hardly.

Freed from the Fulton-Livingston monopoly, the market entrepreneurs quickly improved technology in steamboating.  These new ideas were encouraged by the influx of capital which began soon after the monopoly was struck down.  (This would be the all important capital part of capitalism.) (Note to Dick:  this is how most productive research gets financed and why research and the adoption of research is reduced in monopolistic systems like our school  system.)

The new ideas included tubular boilers which replaced Fulton’s heavy, expensive copper boilers (he had no incentive to replace them as a monopolist).  Also, anthracite coal soon replaced the cordwood fuel used by Fulton, leading to expenses being cut in half.  Fulton had no incentive to switch to a more efficient fuel as long as he could charge monopoly prices as granted to him by the New York government.  Again, this should all sound eerily familiar to anyone who views the antiquated and stagnant ways of our education system.

With the removal of the Fulton monopoly, prices immediately dropped – from seven to three dollars from New York City to Albany, for example.  Nonetheless, with the adoption of new technology by Gibbons and Vanderbilt, lowered their costs enough so that they managed to earn a $40,000 profit each year during the late 1820’s. Gibbons and Vanderbilt made these profits which are thought to be so troublesome and dirty to people like Downes regardless of how much customers actually benefit.  they want to have their cake (a profitless system) and eat it too (the customer benefits).  Except in the fantasy world of Marxist theory – it doesn’t work that way.

At this point Vanderbilt left Gibbons, bought two steamboats, and went into business for himself. He soon established trade routes all over the northeast, becoming known for his fast and reliable service and low rates.  he cut the “standard” $3 fare between New York City and Philadelphia from $3 to $1.  For the New Brunswick to New York City Vanderbilt charged 6 cents and provided free meals.

Vanderbilt then moved into the New York City to Albany run on the Hudson River, competing against the Hudson River Steamboat Association, the largest line in America, which was trying to informally fix prices at the then prevailing $3 rate (down from $7 under the Fulton monopoly) to guarantee them a regular profit by eliminating competition on prices.  Normally, this would be a good opportunity for government to step in and eliminate such restraints of trade between businessmen.  But, in this case they didn’t need to.

Vanderbilt didn’t become the richest man in America by being complacent.  First he used two of his boats on the Albany/New York City and cut the fare from $3 to $1, then to 10 cents, and finally to free.  Vanderbilt figured it cost him $200 per day to operate his boats, so if he could fill them with 100 passengers, he would break even if they would each eat and drink $2 worth of food during the trip.  Vanderbilt later helped to invent the potato chip.

This put pressure on the Steamboat Association who dealt with Vanderbilt by buying him out for $100,000 plus $5,000 a year for the next ten years as long as he promised to leave the Hudson River.  Vanderbilt agreed and the Association tried raising the prices back up to $3 for the Albany/NYC route.

This bribery had little practical effect.  With no barriers to entry, other steamboaters came along and quickly cut fares.  Vanderbilt had shown them that it could be done for less and they saw how Vanderbilt had benefited by being paid off.  Almost immediately, other steamboaters entered the market, cut fares, and were bought off by the Association.  All the while passengers enjoyed the reduced fares.

Meanwhile Vanderbilt took his payoff money and bought bigger and faster ships, entered the New England market, and began doing to them what he has done to the Hudson River Association.

Business is almost never pretty, and these buyouts are little more than naked bribery in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, but the primary beneficiaries of all this unseemly business were the customers.

Here’s how Harper’s Weekly summed it up:

[Vanderbilt’s actions] must be judged by the results; and the results, in every case, of the establishment of opposition lines by Vanderbilt, has been the permanent reduction of fares…  Wherever {Vanderbilt] ‘laid on’ an opposition line, the fares were instantly reduced; and however the contest terminated, whether he bought out his opponents, as he often did, or they bought him out, the fares were never again raised to the old standards.

Vanderbilt is your classic market entrepreneur:  he fought monopolies, he improved steamship technology, and he cut costs.

Education needs someone like Vanderbilt.  Superman might come to education’s rescue  for altruistic reasons.  That’s why we’re still waiting for him to come; he doesn’t exist.  A Vanderbilt, however, will come if there is a profit motive. And, I would bet that we wouldn’t have to wait very long.

See The Myth of the Robber Barons for a more detailed account of Vanderbilt and other businessmen.

111 comments:

Nickname unavailable said...

Interesting...

small point of contention: "As in education, government played a key and active role right from the start in America."

Government didn't play much of a role in education until the Common Schools Movement beginning in the 1830's & not completely taking hold until the 1860s.

Prior to that Education was largly a private for-profit enterprise to be accessed by the "enlightened" elements of society. Or it was undertaken by religious organizations for the benefit of the poor...sort of a Protistant ideal.

The common schools movement was created to ensure all had an opportunity to be educated. This morphed to an "equal" opportunity at education most notibly with Brown v. Board of Ed. Currently the consensus is that education is not quite equal and generally pretty crappy. But still, equality in education is a standard I support.

Free markets are not accessed equitibly- should I take my $5000 education voucher and apply it to my $10,000 private school? Is there a place in our society for a Muslim or Jewish charter school? How about fundamentalist Creationism as science? Is there some other path to "free market" schools that cherishes our democratic ideals?

Dick Schutz said...

Yep, if public education were the steamship industry, or any other industry, that's the way it would work. And if wishes were horses, all beggars would ride.

What's holding back advances in el-hi is not the opportunity to make a profit. Bill Gates and his Corporate Cabal have already made a profit elsewhere. They don't have the know how=technology to pull off the straightforward task of teaching kids how to read--let alone provide more academic benefits at less cost than is currently being done.

The ideology just doesn't fit the phenomenon of nurturing/instructing children in the 4/5 to 17/19 age range.

The phenomenon is education. Your econ lectures to date have dealt with the "education" of your imagination not with the education we have.

Roger Sweeny said...

FWIW, there was no Sherman Antitrust Act in 1817 or for 73 years after that. By then, I'm pretty sure Vanderbilt was dead.

KDeRosa said...

@nickname unavailable and @Roger Sweeney, you are both correct. I condensed the story too. It should have read: "As in education, government plays a key and active role. In the steamship industry government played a role right from the start in America." and "Business is almost never pretty, and these buyouts are little more than naked bribery which would have been in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act had they occurred in the 20th century, but the primary beneficiaries of all this unseemly business were the customers."

Dick, I could have easily picked any of a hundred industries and told the same story. What is so special about education that it is somehow immune from the economic forces that work everywhere else? Let's even exclude improved for the time being, what makes you think that the glorified daycare services and random instruction (which seems to work ok with a good portion of students) couldn't be offered much more efficiently and cheaply by competitve entities. Charter schools are already, by your own admission, offering marginally better services (to on average lower SES students and more Non-Asian minorities) at a greatly decreased cost (40% less public funding on average)?

With respect to improved instruction, I find it hard to believe that anyone couldn't do at least a good a job as educating children who need improved instruction than what public schools are currently offering.

Parry Graham said...

Ken,

If you are using the steamboat example to suggest that a similar approach in education (i.e., opening education markets up to market entrepreneurs) would likely lead to improved outcomes and lowered costs, I think you are overlooking (or at least not mentioning) a critical difference.

I know very little about the history of the steamship industry, but you mention in your description that technological changes (e.g., changes in types of boilers and fuel) helped to lower costs and lead to improvements. In education, there is little underlying "technology" outside of human capital. In other words, the boilers and fuel of education are the people (primarily teachers) working in schools and central offices. People aren't improvable in the same way as boilers and fuel types. As an alternative example, in the computer industry, the memory of computer chips doubles every two years while the price halves: there is a progression of improvements that is not possible in industries driven primarily by human capital.

I think a more apt example would be in an industry that is similarly built on "human" technology. Are there examples of other industries that depend almost exclusively on human capital and have seen dramatic improvements as a result of market entrepreneurship? If so, I think that those would be more illustrative when talking about the economics of education.

Of course, there is always the online learning angle, and how that might represent a restructuring of the economic foundations of K-12 education, but I think we are still in the nascent stage of that development.

Parry

Dick Schutz said...

What is so special about education that it is somehow immune from the economic forces that work everywhere else?

It's only in your and your fellow traveling ideologs that the "forces" work well, Ken. Deregualtion has the world economy on the ropes.

What Parry expresses in his last post, I heartily second.

Health care would be a good example. Improvements have been made per product/protocols, not from competition.

The reason that the only competition in elhi inxtruction is rhetorical is th at the enterprise operates at a level of hunting/gatherer culture with shamens coalling the shots.

There is a market and competition in many educational financial transactions--school construction, food servicees, supplies and such.

I am a proponent of competition among instructional programs in natural experiments. This methodology permits cost/benefit analyses of instruction in terms of real dollars

3RsPlus has worked on methodology for determining the costs and benefits for other services that schools provide to students, their parents, and the public for which the schools get no recognition.

These are matters that can be applied here and now, rather than pie in the sky, bye and bye.

With respect to improved instruction, I find it hard to believe that anyone couldn't do at least a good a job as educating children who need improved instruction than what public schools are currently offering.

All kids could benefit from improved instruction.

I find it hard to believe that anyone could not do a better job than our legal system is doing, but saying so just displays my ignorance of the court system.

Do you believe the courts should be a free market, Ken?

Roger Sweeny said...

Without disagreeing with Ken's story, I think there are 3 economically important differences between steamship trips and education.

1. In the steamship case, people are buying something that is fairly simple: getting between point A and point B. Of course, there are other considerations--speed, comfort, amenities--but they are directly experienced and fairly easy to evaluate by the person who buys the ticket and takes the trip.

2. In education, the people who buy the tickets and the people who take the trip are different.

3. The steamship company provides the trip and the passenger takes it. But education is a joint product.

Teachers don’t open up kids’ heads and pour knowledge in; the kids have to be ready, willing, and able to take advantage of what the school offers. Thus, all the discussion of how much “poverty” or “culture” matters. Thus, all the efforts by teachers to make their lessons “engaging” or “relevant.” And yet, so much fail.

One could argue that schools which have to compete would develop better ways to reach kids; after all, if you don’t get customers in a market, you go bankrupt.

But the people who pay aren’t going to the school. They don’t really know what’s going on inside. Moreover, they probably aren’t looking for deep and profound education. They’re looking for something that will get their kid a good job, that will house him or her in a safe place for most of the day, that will encourage positive behavior, and where the kid will be happy--which probably means being with his friends and not being pushed too hard.

On the other hand, if the parents--or the kids!--really wanted an education and asked a hundred experts what constituted the best education, they would get a hundred answers, some wildly different.

Perhaps somebody could work backwards (I’m lookin’ at you, Wiggins and McTighe). Find out what successful people have gotten from school and then come up with a way to judge how much potential graduates have gotten it. Test the kids, grade the school, and use that like a Consumer Reports for schools.

I have no idea how that would be done. It might be wildly different from the tests we have now. And it would probably be wildly opposed by the ed schools and the ed unions (which means they wouldn't allow some outsider to do it with "their kids"). But some sort of separation of teaching and testing would be required. There is an inevitable conflict of interest when the same organization that purports to teach something also purports to judge how well it has been taught.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Nick): "Government didn't play much of a role in education until the Common Schools Movement beginning in the 1830's..."

Depends on where you look. The first compulsory attendance statute entered the books in Reformation Germany. The Massachusetts Bay colony in British North America passed "That Old Deceiver, Satan" Act (google it) in 1644, iirc. The explicit rationale was that parents were failing to indoctrinate their children into the State religion. Some of the other religious colonies also had compulsory attendance statutes on the books prior to 1775.

Some polities (e.g., New York City) subsidized attendance at the individual parent's choice of school. Waves of Catholic immigrants provoked an allergic reaction in the resident Protestant majority. When the Catholics requested the same subsidy for their children that Protestant kids receeived, the taxpayers balked.

The US "public" (i.e. State-monopoly) school system originated in religious indoctrination and anti-Catholic bigotry.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "What's holding back advances in el-hi is not the opportunity to make a profit. Bill Gates and his Corporate Cabal have already made a profit elsewhere. They don't have the know how=technology to pull off the straightforward task of teaching kids how to read--let alone provide more academic benefits at less cost than is currently being done."

It can be hard to sell steak if the butcher down the block is giving away "free" (subsidized) hamburger, if your potential customers have been taxed into poverty to pay for the "free" hamburger, and if the same organization which dispenses "free" hamburger employs the Health Department inspectors.

The policy which prevails across the US which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpaayers' age 6-18 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel has produced a three-tier market, with low-end parochial schools staffed by people willing to take part of their compensation in "psychic income" (they're doing the Lord's work), subsidized government schools, and high-cost independent schools which sell social exclusion.

It's obviously possible to teach normal children to read and compute in far less time at far less cost than the 12 years at $12,000 that US taxpayers currently toss down the NEA/AFT/AFSCME rathole. Other countries manage the task for less and get better results.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Perry): "In education, there is little underlying 'technology' outside of human capital".

Computers and television could contribute. Ken Burns has probably taught more US History, better, to more people than any K-12 History teacher in the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools.

Computers could make self-paced Math instruction a snap, but the cartel's schools have no incentive to adopt effective instructional software.

Dick Schutz said...

It can be hard to sell steak if the butcher down the block is giving away "free" (subsidized) hamburger

Not if you are also getting the same public support. The thing is, it's baloney any way you cut it.


The policy which prevails across the US which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpaayers' age 6-18 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. . .

These unions are hardly a cart, let alone a cartel. Several states prohibit teacher's unions. Their schools are indistinguishable from schools in the other states.


Computers and television could contribute. . .Computers could make self-paced Math instruction a snap

I agree. But these applications don't currently exist. Meanwhile schools are adopting ineffective instructional software.

But we're wandering. Ken's lecture was on Economics, not about teacher unions or computers.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Malcolm): "It can be hard to sell steak if the butcher down the block is giving away 'free' (subsidized) hamburger."
(Dick): "Not if you are also getting the same public support."

True. That is the argument for tuition vouchers.

(Malcolm): "Computers and television could contribute. . .Computers could make self-paced Math instruction a snap."
(Dick): "I agree. But these applications don't currently exist. Meanwhile schools are adopting ineffective instructional software."

The cartel has no incentive to cut costs. That's Ken's point.

E.G. West
"Education Without the State"
"What is needed is choice in education. School choice has not and will not lead to more productive education because the obsolete technology called ʺschool” is inherently inelastic. As long as ʺschoolʺ refers to the traditional structure of buildings and grounds with services delivered in boxes called classrooms to which customers must be transported by car or bus, ʺschool choiceʺ will be unable to meaningfully alter the quality or efficiency of education."

Brian Rude said...

I haven't been reading the blogs as regularly lately as I often have in the past, so I missed this discussion until today. Keep it up, Ken. I don't know where all this is going, but it is fascinating. I think it will be productive, but I'm not sure just how.

Thomas Sowell is an ideological economist? To me it seems quite the opposite. To say Sowell is ideological because he believes in free markets is like calling me ideological because I fervently believe that two and two are four, not three, not five, but four. However it is pointless to argue (not pointless to state, and even to explain, but pointless to argue) who is ideological and who is not. The ideological will have arguments to make, and the non-ideological will have arguments to make, and each will consider the other's arguments to be ideologically driven rationalizations. The rationalizations will never end. Therefore we have to use our own good sense in deciding what to think, who is ideologically driven and who is common sense driven. I can't claim to know much about economics or economists but what I have read by Sowell makes a lot of sense to me. I don't consider him particularly ideological.

I don't believe this discussion has touched on our current economic mess. I think it is very relevant to the general idea of how economics actually works. I'm afraid the general public's understanding of the problem is as a lack of regulation, which leads to the conclusion that the solution is more regulation. I feel that perspective is tragically wrong. The cause of our current economic mess is not lack of regulation, but bad regulation, which means the solution is to get rid of the bad regulation. More regulation, uninformed by understanding, will almost certainly be more bad regulation. I have elaborated on these thoughts at http://www.brianrude.com/blogspa.htm. (Scroll down to the post of Sep 7.)

Ken, your general approach to economics I think is valid and helpful. It's the approach I wish every school kid would be exposed to in ninth or tenth grade. It's an approach that prepares and enables one to understand a lot of things, including our present economic mess. I can imagine that this approach will become increasingly relevant to education as the decades go by, with substantial benefit to society in general. But it seems to me the benefit will not be in actual educational results, in what kids actually learn. The benefit will be in running schools more efficiently, with less expense, and with greater satisfaction to parents. That, of course, is well worthwhile it itself. Let me expand on that just a bit.

Brian Rude said...

It seems to be the general sentiment that our schools are failing, that the system is broken, that educational results are mediocre at best, and abysmal at worst. This is not my perspective. I don't think it is helpful or accurate to say the system is broken. That would imply a time when it was working better, substantially better, and then something happened to markedly alter educational results for the worse. What would this be, and when? (Okay, fuzzy math might qualify.) And I don't think it is accurate or helpful to say educational results are abysmal. Education results are not what we would like, but what is?

Progressive educators have been promising paradise for about a hundred years now, but actual teaching practice has remained much the same. Critics say education is stagnant. I think it is much more a matter of continuing to do what works. It doesn't work perfectly, of course, but improvement seems awfully hard to come by. My explanation is that in the big picture actual teachers with actual students close the classroom door and do the best they can with what they have. To do that they naturally end up with conventional practices, simply because that's what works best. The "best" may always seem less than we would like, less than it ought to be, but it's not bad either. We are a literate society. We're not the most literate in the world, and certainly we're not as literate as we would like. But our educational accomplishments are sufficient for us to be an advanced, productive, and reasonably prosperous nation. I don't think that is going to change much in the foreseeable future. And so far all the bright promises of educational paradise have always seemed to be relegated to educational fads in a few short years. To say that America's educational results are abysmal is like saying that the earners of American workers are abysmal. Sure, they are abysmal compared to some imagined ideal, but what of it?

I would argue that educational effectiveness has very little to do with school structure and school management, and

Brian Rude said...

also has very little to do with pedagogical theory. It has everything to do with teachers using their intelligence, social skills, communication skills, specialized knowledge, values, knowledge of cultural expectations, and common sense. When you take thirty kids and put them in a classroom with a teacher who has freely chosen to be there, indeed has prepared at considerable personal cost to be there, and when those thirty kids have been told by parents that it is important that they be there, and do their best, then you allow for the our social and parental propensities to play out, in accordance to cultural values and our innate nature as human beings. Good things can happen in this situation, and often do. Kids get educated, not perfectly of course, but is there any top-down plan that promises to do better? I'm not saying there's no possible top-down plan that could do better, but if there is I surely don't know what it is.

So by this perspective thoughts on school structure and school management become a matter of how best to support and protect that basic plan. We have socialized education, though we usually don't care to call it that. It has worked, perhaps not optimally, but it has generally worked, at least outside of inner city schools where special cultural problems are found. It sets up the basic framework for a reasonably knowledgeable, capable, and caring adult to guide and direct the efforts of reasonably civilized children so that learning results. Whether or not our traditional model of public education is the best way to provide that framework is a question that I would not venture to answer.

Perhaps these ideas on economics you are promoting can lead to better, more efficient, less costly, and more satisfying ways of doing what traditionally has been done by school boards and local public schools. If so that is all to the good. It is well worth while in its own right. But I don't think we'll find any educational paradise. It probably won't raise average test scores. But it doesn't have to to be worthwhile. I don't think anything for which people pay, or someone pays, can be immune from normal market forces. I think its a reasonable expectation that if normal market forces can be brought to bear on education we will indeed see an improving product (somehow) and continually declining prices. But I surely don't know how. The details will surprise us.

Brian Rude said...

also has very little to do with pedagogical theory. It has everything to do with teachers using their intelligence, social skills, communication skills, specialized knowledge, values, knowledge of cultural expectations, and common sense. When you take thirty kids and put them in a classroom with a teacher who has freely chosen to be there, indeed has prepared at considerable personal cost to be there, and when those thirty kids have been told by parents that it is important that they be there, and do their best, then you allow for the our social and parental propensities to play out, in accordance to cultural values and our innate nature as human beings. Good things can happen in this situation, and often do. Kids get educated, not perfectly of course, but is there any top-down plan that promises to do better? I'm not saying there's no possible top-down plan that could do better, but if there is I surely don't know what it is.

So by this perspective thoughts on school structure and school management become a matter of how best to support and protect that basic plan. We have socialized education, though we usually don't care to call it that. It has worked, perhaps not optimally, but it has generally worked, at least outside of inner city schools where special cultural problems are found. It sets up the basic framework for a reasonably knowledgeable, capable, and caring adult to guide and direct the efforts of reasonably civilized children so that learning results. Whether or not our traditional model of public education is the best way to provide that framework is a question that I would not venture to answer.

Perhaps these ideas on economics you are promoting can lead to better, more efficient, less costly, and more satisfying ways of doing what traditionally has been done by school boards and local public schools. If so that is all to the good. It is well worth while in its own right. But I don't think we'll find any educational paradise. It probably won't raise average test scores. But it doesn't have to to be worthwhile. I don't think anything for which people pay, or someone pays, can be immune from normal market forces. I think its a reasonable expectation that if normal market forces can be brought to bear on education we will indeed see an improving product (somehow) and continually declining prices. But I surely don't know how. The details will surprise us.

Kronosaurus said...

Another difference Ken is overlooking is that the steamship business has few variables to work with. They need to be able to move human bodies and other goods safely and rapidly - and this is fairly easy to measure - and they need to do it at a low cost. Education is completely different. There is no cost factor because there is no point B we are moving toward. You may say "proficiency" on some arbitrary test but then why not go for "'advanced" or "super advanced"? The point is, we cannot even agree with what a good education would look like. And even if we could costs are difficult to measure because, unlike steamships, students are not universally the same. A steamship can measure cargo by weight and volume. How do you measure the inputs of education? Well, that is very complex - poverty, disabilities, langauge and cultural differences...etc, just to name a few are major differences among students.

But aside from the poor analogy Ken avoids the obvious. There are 15,000 districts in this country and contrary to what he may believe they are all doing something different. There were never 15,000 steamship companies. So there is a plethora of models out there. So why do we need more so-called competition? Competition will get marketized anyway, meaning, it will need some metric by which to compare winners and losers. What will that be? Test scores. So instead of diversifying education we will get a competition for test scores and the end result will be a more homogeneous system.

Dick Schutz said...

Question--Is there anything more that the discipline of Econ has to offer for el-hi than "free-market" competition and analogical references to sectors other than education.

How to operationalize cost benefit analyses?

Social capital and other kinds of capital?

Economic decision making?

The whole area of Behavioral Economics seems more relevant for Edu-pundits than warmed over Adam Smith.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics

I'm neither an economist and edu-pundit and I'm not taking the course for credit. Just curious.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Kronosauros): "Another difference Ken is overlooking is that the steamship business has few variables to work with. They need to be able to move human bodies and other goods safely and rapidly - and this is fairly easy to measure - and they need to do it at a low cost. Education is completely different. There is no cost factor because there is no point B we are moving toward."

That's a strong argument against State (government, generally) operation of schools. Consider the following question: From State operation of what industries does society as a whole benefit? You may suppose either a dichotomous classification (A=unlikely candidate for State operation, B=likely candidate for State operation) or a continuum (highly unlikely -1____.____+1 (highly likely). Now consider the further question: What criteria determine an industry's categorical assignment or position on the continuum?

In abstract, the education industry is a very unlikely candidate for State operation. Up-front costs are low, performance depends critically on local knowledge (individual children's interests, aptitudes, and transient moods), and goals (possible career paths) are diverse.

(Kronosauros): "Competition will get marketized anyway, meaning, it will need some metric by which to compare winners and losers. What will that be? Test scores. So instead of diversifying education we will get a competition for test scores and the end result will be a more homogeneous system."

Just like the restaurant industry and the shoe industry, right?

Roger Sweeny said...

Education is completely different. ... there is no point B we are moving toward.

Am I the only person who finds this a damning statement? We have an industry that spends hundreds of billions of dollars, employs millions of people, and requires everyone in the country to give it a large portion of their first 18 years of life--and we have no idea what it's supposed to accomplish?

That better not be true. There better be some point Bs.

Else what right do we have to tell young people, "you have to spend 12 years, 180 days a year, 6 1/2 hurs a day in a place called school, doing what they tell you to do"?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Kronosaurus): "Education is completely different. ... there is no point B we are moving toward."
(Roger): "That better not be true. There better be some point Bs."

Children work, unpaid, as window-dressing in a massive make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel.

Dick Schutz said...

Education is completely different. ... there is no point B we are moving toward.

Am I the only person who finds this a damning statement?


No, I'm with you, Roger. The thing is, it's not a single point, and it's not directly monetary as the mickey marketeers pretend it "should be."

The benefits that elhi provides involve (1) aspired instructional accomplishments and (2) other specified societal services.

Aspired instructional accomplishments (e.g. teaching kids how to read) can be treated in the same way other sectors operate.
--How are you going to know when the job is done?
--What are the product/protocols you are going to use to do the job?

Key Performance Indicators can then be constructed as markers of progress in delivering the accomplishment.

Alternative options for delivering the accomplishment can be analyzed in terms of reliability of accomplishment, instructional and calendar time, and dollar costs--just as in other sectors.

There is methodology for determining the cost of other services that elhi provides, such as health/nursing, food/nutritional, athletics, baby sitting, personal counseling, social clubs, and such.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "Key Performance Indicators can then be constructed as markers of progress in delivering the accomplishment. Alternative options for delivering the accomplishment can be analyzed in terms of reliability of accomplishment, instructional and calendar time, and dollar costs--just as in other sectors. There is methodology for determining the cost of other services that elhi provides, such as health/nursing, food/nutritional, athletics, baby sitting, personal counseling, social clubs, and such.

Note the passive voice and/or impersonal verbs. Someone (or some group) makes curriculum choices and measures success.

Contrary to:...
(Dick): "it's not a single point, and it's not directly monetary as the mickey marketeers pretend it 'should be'", markets are as much about non-violence and the institutionalization of official humility as they are about "monetary" rewards.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). Every law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and to fircibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone.

Federalism and markets institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. If we disagree about a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market in goods and services leaves room for the satisfaction of multiple tastes while the contest for control of a State-monopoly provider must create unhappy losers. If we disagree about a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market will generate more information than will a State-monopoly provider. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

A State assignment of title to resources commits State actors to protect the title-holder's control over those resources, including the power to transfer control (to sell the resource). The system of markets (title and contract law) unites control with the incentive to use resources efficiently.

Between laws mandating X and laws forbidding Y, there's "we think this is a good idea but we won't force you", "we either have no idea or we don't care", and "we think this is not a good idea but we won't stop you". A society is free in direct proportion to the area between "Thou Shalt" and "Thou shalt not".

PS: "mickey marketeers"? Do you imagine we can be insulted into submission,

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "Key Performance Indicators can then be constructed as markers of progress in delivering the accomplishment. Alternative options for delivering the accomplishment can be analyzed in terms of reliability of accomplishment, instructional and calendar time, and dollar costs--just as in other sectors. There is methodology for determining the cost of other services that elhi provides, such as health/nursing, food/nutritional, athletics, baby sitting, personal counseling, social clubs, and such.

Note the passive voice and/or impersonal verbs. Someone (or some group) makes curriculum choices and measures success.

Contrary to:...
(Dick): "it's not a single point, and it's not directly monetary as the mickey marketeers pretend it 'should be'", markets are as much about non-violence and the institutionalization of official humility as they are about "monetary" rewards.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). Every law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and to fircibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone.

Federalism and markets institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. If we disagree about a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market in goods and services leaves room for the satisfaction of multiple tastes while the contest for control of a State-monopoly provider must create unhappy losers. If we disagree about a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market will generate more information than will a State-monopoly provider. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

A State assignment of title to resources commits State actors to protect the title-holder's control over those resources, including the power to transfer control (to sell the resource). The system of markets (title and contract law) unites control with the incentive to use resources efficiently.

Between laws mandating X and laws forbidding Y, there's "we think this is a good idea but we won't force you", "we either have no idea or we don't care", and "we think this is not a good idea but we won't stop you". A society is free in direct proportion to the area between "Thou Shalt" and "Thou shalt not".

PS: "mickey marketeers"? Do you imagine we can be insulted into submission,

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "Key Performance Indicators can then be constructed as markers of progress in delivering the accomplishment. Alternative options for delivering the accomplishment can be analyzed in terms of reliability of accomplishment, instructional and calendar time, and dollar costs--just as in other sectors. There is methodology for determining the cost of other services that elhi provides, such as health/nursing, food/nutritional, athletics, baby sitting, personal counseling, social clubs, and such.

Note the passive voice and/or impersonal verbs. Someone (or some group) makes curriculum choices and measures success.

Contrary to:...
(Dick): "it's not a single point, and it's not directly monetary as the mickey marketeers pretend it 'should be'", markets are as much about non-violence and the institutionalization of official humility as they are about "monetary" rewards.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). Every law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and to forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone.

Federalism and markets institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. If we disagree about a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market in goods and services leaves room for the satisfaction of multiple tastes while the contest for control of a State-monopoly provider must create unhappy losers. If we disagree about a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market will generate more information than will a State-monopoly provider. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

A State assignment of title to resources commits State actors to protect the title-holder's control over those resources, including the power to transfer control (to sell the resource). The system of markets (title and contract law) unites control with the incentive to use resources efficiently.

Between laws mandating X and laws forbidding Y, there's "we think this is a good idea but we won't force you", "we either have no idea or we don't care", and "we think this is not a good idea but we won't stop you". A society is free in direct proportion to the area between "Thou Shalt" and "Thou shalt not".

PS: "mickey marketeers"? Do you imagine we can be insulted into submission,

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "Key Performance Indicators can then be constructed as markers of progress in delivering the accomplishment. Alternative options for delivering the accomplishment can be analyzed in terms of reliability of accomplishment, instructional and calendar time, and dollar costs--just as in other sectors. There is methodology for determining the cost of other services that elhi provides, such as health/nursing, food/nutritional, athletics, baby sitting, personal counseling, social clubs, and such.

Note the passive voice and/or impersonal verbs. Someone (or some group) makes curriculum choices and measures success.

Contrary to:...
(Dick): "it's not a single point, and it's not directly monetary as the mickey marketeers pretend it 'should be'", markets are as much about non-violence and the institutionalization of official humility as they are about "monetary" rewards.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). Every law is a threat by a government to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and to forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone.

Federalism and markets institutionalize humility on the part of State actors. If we disagree about a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market in goods and services leaves room for the satisfaction of multiple tastes while the contest for control of a State-monopoly provider must create unhappy losers. If we disagree about a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes or a competitive market will generate more information than will a State-monopoly provider. A State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls: a retarded experimental design.

A State assignment of title to resources commits State actors to protect the title-holder's control over those resources, including the power to transfer control (to sell the resource). The system of markets (title and contract law) unites control with the incentive to use resources efficiently.

Between laws mandating X and laws forbidding Y, there's "we think this is a good idea but we won't force you", "we either have no idea or we don't care", and "we think this is not a good idea but we won't stop you". A society is free in direct proportion to the area between "Thou Shalt" and "Thou shalt not".

PS: "mickey marketeers"? Do you imagine we can be insulted into submission,

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

sorry 'bout that.

abellia said...

The idea that we can learn how to better educate just like we improve technology is ridiculous. There are things that work better than others, but you're going to have a lot of convincing that a little more tinkering in the lab is going to bring about a revolution.

Competition can serve a purpose in education, but it isn't clear that it would have the effect you seek. There is great competition to get into Harvard. Is there any evidence that students get a better education from Harvard, than, say, the University of Vermont? No, not really. What makes Harvard desirable, to a great extent, is that it is a scarce resource with deep pockets and deep-pocketed students.

Also, if one isn't in a large city, or transportation is problematic, a competitive environment often can't be supported. In the town near my home, we have one grocery store, one lumber yard, etc. There just isn't enough demand to support multiple suppliers. Parents also have historically wanted their children to go to school nearby. In a dense neighborhood, this isn't an issue, but for many locations it is.

Dick Schutz said...

Someone (or some group) makes curriculum choices and measures success.

Well it's not done by magic. Real people are involved. But the "curriculum choices" are "free market." If one chooses not to have a child be taught to read, I guess that's conceivable but it's not very likely.

Success is gauged transparently--in terms of observable instructional accomplishments. There is nothing passive in any of this. It's interactive and mutual.

A society is free in direct proportion to the area between "Thou Shalt" and "Thou shalt not".

So now we've boosted the ideology up a notch from "free market" to "free society."

Do you imagine we can be insulted into submission,

Was something after the comma omitted? No insult intended, and I don't know who the we are. But if you're asking if I anticipate that true-believing free marketeers will ever change their belief system, the answer is "No." If the global economic meltdown didn't do it, nothing will.

Can we get on to Lecture V, Ken?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Abellia): "The idea that we can learn how to better educate just like we improve technology is ridiculous. There are things that work better than others, but you're going to have a lot of convincing that a little more tinkering in the lab is going to bring about a revolution."

There are two many "r"s in "revolution". How 'bout the steady accumulation of incremental advantages?
Sheldon Richman cites Joseph Priestley (credentialed enough for you?): "In the manner of F. A. Hayek, Priestley’s writing on education emphasized the trial-and-error nature of discovery — the need for competitive experimentation from many quarters, indeed, for 'unbounded liberty, and even caprice.' What a great phrase! Here’s what he says:

'[O]f all arts [including education], those stand the fairest chance of being brought to perfection, in which there is opportunity of making the most experiments and trials, and in which there are the greatest number and variety of persons employed in making them.… The reason is, that the operations of the human mind are slow; a number of false hypotheses and conclusions always precede the right one; and in every art, manual or liberal, a number of awkward attempts are made, before we are able to execute any thing which will bear to be shown as a master-piece in its kind; so that to establish the methods and processes of any art, before it have arrived to a state of perfection (of which no man can be a judge) is to fix it in its infancy, to perpetuate every thing that is inconvenient and awkward in it, and to cut off its future growth and improvement. And to establish the methods and processes of any art when it has arrived to perfection is superfluous. It will then recommend and establish itself.

'Now I appeal to any person whether any plan of education, which has yet been put in execution in this kingdom, be so perfect as that the establishing of it by authority would not obstruct the great ends of education; or even whether the united genius of man could, at present, form so perfect a plan. Every man who is experienced in the business of education well knows, that the art is in its infancy; but advancing, it is hoped, apace to a state of manhood. In this condition, it requires the aid of every circumstance favourable to its natural growth, and dreads nothing so much as being confined and cramped by the unseasonable hand of power. To put it (in its present imperfect state) into the hands of the civil magistrate, in order to fix the mode of it, would be like fixing the dress of a child, and forbidding its cloaths ever to be made wider or larger'. ”

(Abelia): "Competition can serve a purpose in education, but it isn't clear that it would have the effect you seek. There is great competition to get into Harvard. Is there any evidence that students get a better education from Harvard, than, say, the University of Vermont?"

You misconstrue "competition". It's not competition between students that improves the education industry but competition between providers of education services that lowers costs and improves performance. We don't have much competition in the US education industry because the State protects and subsidizes the industry.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "It's only in your and your fellow traveling ideologs that the "forces" work well, Ken. Deregualtion has the world economy on the ropes."

"Ideological" is an uncomplimentary way to say "systematic". The antonym is "scatter-brained".

Europe is on the ropes because of impossible pension and entitlement promises. It was not "deregulation" that compelled US banks to make bad housing loans. It was Congress, the CRA, and Federal mortgage agencies. Most US States are committed to impossible public-sector pension promises. That's not "deregulation".

(Dick): "If one chooses not to have a child be taught to read, I guess that's conceivable but it's not very likely."

I agree. So why is organized violence (the State) necessary?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Malcolm): "...society is free in direct proportion to the area between 'Thou Shalt' and 'Thou shalt not'."
(Dick): "So now we've boosted the ideology up a notch from 'free market' to 'free society'."

That's not much of a change. As Vaclav Havel observed in his __Summer Meditations__, "the market" refers to those human actions that occur without government coercion.

Dick Schutz said...

So why is organized violence (the State) necessary?

Because the "State" is "us"--we the people. Individual organisms at any organic level cannot survive without attention to commonly shared matters.

Organized violence is in competition with cooperative benevolence in affairs of both state and affairs of individuals.

"the market" refers to those human actions that occur without government coercion.

Given the breadth of that definition of "market," we're all Mickey marketeers.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "If one chooses not to have a child be taught to read, I guess that's conceivable but it's not very likely."
(Malcolm): "So why is organized violence (the State) necessary?"
(Dick): "Because the State' is 'us'--we the people."

Objection in two parts:...

1.
I don't get the connection. If "one" (everyone?) would have children learn to read, then individual parents would want their children to learn to read. What does organized violence (the State) have to contribute?

2.
The State is us? No. The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). The State is no more "us" than the NFL is "us" or the US Chess Federation is "us". The State's business is violence and threats of violence (nothing wrong with that), not charity, medicine, education, housing, or nutrition.

Roger Sweeny said...

Dick,

Thanks for your kind words.

I'm not sure what the present economic condition says about markets. Banking and finance are heavily regulated industries everywhere in the world. They are fairly far away from textbook free markets, certainly not what Malcolm has in mind by that expression.

I think most people who are seriously looking at the problems in b & f don't think the problem is either "too little" or "too much" government action. It's inappropriate government action.

Parry Graham said...

Malcolm,

I have a point and a question. The point is one I shouldn’t spend the time making, having engaged in these types of verbal shenanigans with you in the past, but I just can’t hold it in.

You say that “The State is no more "us" than the NFL is "us" or the US Chess Federation is "us".” I simply cannot understand how a person who is clearly intelligent and articulate can say, much less believe something like this.

I am a middle school principal in a public school; I am a public employee, and part of “The State” in that respect. I was appointed to my position by a school board that was elected by the citizens of the county in which I live. Any person in the county meeting some basic residency and age requirements is free to run for public office and become an active decision-maker in The State. If a parent is unhappy with the job that I am doing as principal, that parent is free to contact the school board and, following a delineated process, file a complaint that could ultimately end in my removal from my position by those elected officials.

That is a basic blueprint for The State: publicly elected officials who are then responsible for appointing administrative personnel who execute the laws developed by those publicly elected officials, open boundaries to run for elected office, and policies and procedures to deal with complaints or concerns from the citizenry. The State represents people chosen by the populace, who then are empowered to appoint administrative personnel. By no means am I arguing that The State is not messy and inefficient in many ways, but neither the NFL nor the US Chess Federation is at all similar to the system embodied by The State.

And now for the question. Outside of education, what other industries would you point to that are similar to the education industry and have shown clear progress and improvement over time as a result of competition (please see my earlier comment for more detail around this question)? Most of what I have seen you describe in the past is entirely theoretical when it comes to a new type of education market—do you have anything practical or substantive that you can point to that might serve as a signpost for a competitive market in education?

Parry

Dick Schutz said...

I don't think the problem is either "too little" or "too much" government action. It's inappropriate government action.

Second the motion, Roger. But this is an evolving matter. "Government" isn't going to go away, no matter what the wishes of the Mickey marketeers may be.

If one takes a longer view, there are a couple of positive things the Federal government involvement in elhi has accomplished.

The most important is that NCLB has elevated elhi from a level of local media attention to a national level.

Two. Although elhi financial inequalities are still there, much has been done to reduce thw inequality among and within states.

Three. In the 1960s many state departments of Education were small and puny. Now, all are as capable, if not more capable than the US Department of Education.

The dispute over the years has been "more money" vs. "more accountability. Economic conditions have ended that era

Where the Feds have failed miserably is in improving instruction. The first and third accomplishments make it possible to "declare" victory and get out of the way of the states and locals.

If "one" (everyone?) would have children learn to read, then individual parents would want their children to learn to read. What does organized violence (the State) have to contribute?

Answer: Organized benevolence--as in other public services such as fire and police protection, regulation of greedy capitalists, and so on.

Roger Sweeny said...

"Organized benevolence" is a purpose of governments. Alas, it doesn't always work out that way. Else, there would be no wars, no loopholes, etc.

It is silly to say that becasue governments are imperfect, there should be no governments. It is equally silly to say that since markets are imperfect, governments should control everything.

It is ridiculous to say that since some government is desirable, even necessary, then more government is better. Same with, "since some markets are desirable, even necessary, less government is better."

Yet there are innumerable people who hold to one of the latter two views.

Dick Schutz said...

Yet there are innumerable people who hold to one of the latter two views.

Yep. And when the NeoCons and NeoLibs at the extremes converge, we have an oligarchy that increases the distance between the top and the bottom economic rungs with a draconian Race to the Top under the banner of international competition.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Malcolm): "If 'one' (everyone?) would have children learn to read, then individual parents would want their children to learn to read. What does organized violence (the State) have to contribute?"
(Dick): "Answer: Organized benevolence--as in other public services such as fire and police protection, regulation of greedy capitalists, and so on.

Police and military power, and taxation, are the State's principal functions. The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber). You can usefully consider the State as a giant extortion racket: they take a cut of all the commercial activity that occurs in the area which they control. To exact this charge, they threaten to have businessmen and workers sodomized and infected with HIV (imprisoned). Every now-and-then they execute some peaceable doper by this method to keep the rest of us in line. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

They do not have to operate hospitals, schools, or massage parlors. The "public goods" argument for a State role in the charity industry ("benevolence") fails. The "public goods" argument asserts that the State can (and will) solve the "free rider" problem. This assertion overlooks one detail, as E.G. West observes in "School Vouchers in Principle and Practice: A Survey" (the World Bank __Research Observer__, 1997-Feb.): "The externalities argument, to be completely persuasive, needs the support of evidence that externalities really exist and are positive at the margin-that is, that people outside the family unit are willing to pay for extra units of education beyond what parents would purchase. In the absence of formal or systematic evidence, most writers simply assume, explicitly or implicitly, that positive marginal external benefits do exist."

The "public goods" argument also suffers a deeper flaw: Oversight of corporate functions is a public good. The State itself is a corporation. Therefore, oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assumption of responsibility for the provision of public goods transforms the free rider problem at the root of public goods analysis but does not solve it.

(Dick): "When the NeoCons and NeoLibs at the extremes converge, we have an oligarchy that increases the distance between the top and the bottom economic rungs with a draconian Race to the Top under the banner of international competition."

That school districts actually pay people to string cliches like this together is an argument against tax support of school.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "Outside of education, what other industries would you point to that are similar to the education industry and have shown clear progress and improvement over time as a result of competition (please see my earlier comment for more detail around this question)?

You first: Point to an object that is similar to a torus and a line.

Your conditions are impossible.

The policy which prevails across the US, which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' age 6-18 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, has produced an industry which resists innovation and actively opposes efficiency.

The closest analogy is the Post Office before e-mail. The Post Office subsidizes it's operations from the (legally-imposed) monopoly on first-class mail. E-mail has killed this cash cow, and now the Post Office cannot survive without subsidies. Just as the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools require compulsory attendance statutes, child labor laws, minimum wage laws, restrictions on homeschooling, and massive subsidies to survive.

Parry Graham said...

(continued from previous comment)


To my mind, your argument comes down to “The State is bad because a bunch of smart people to whom I’ve linked and whom I like to quote are of the opinion that it’s bad, and they use really impressive vocabulary and abstract points in saying how bad it is, and so getting rid of State-run education will lead to dramatic improvements in student learning”. I guess I don’t see that as a particularly strong or compelling case for what you’re proposing.

If you could point to multiple industries that are similarly structured to education, and document how those industries have achieved dramatic improvements in a market-driven structure, that would provide some more empirical, solid evidence to support a move away from State-run K-12 education. It would also provide some specific examples of what a private-industry education market might look like.

And as a total aside (and I apologize if this is sort of a thread hijacking), you constantly write the phrase “The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber)”. What exactly do you mean by that? And I don’t mean what did Weber mean, or who has agreed with that statement, or what links can you provide—I mean what do you practically think that means? Do you mean that government actors (policemen, soldiers) are directly responsible for the majority of violence occurring in a town, city, or state? Do you believe that the absence of government would lead to less interpersonal violence? In your own words, what is it you’re trying to say or prove with that statement?

Parry

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "To my mind, your argument comes down to “The State is bad because a bunch of smart people to whom I’ve linked and whom I like to quote are of the opinion that it’s bad, and they use really impressive vocabulary and abstract points in saying how bad it is, and so getting rid of State-run education will lead to dramatic improvements in student learning”. I guess I don’t see that as a particularly strong or compelling case for what you’re proposing."

Readers may assess whether that's my argument. I don't think so at all.

In order: "The State is bad." I'm neither a pacifist, a Libertarian, nor a libertarian. Organized violence (the State) can make a positive contribution to overall social welfare in some situations. "...(A) bunch of smart people to whom I’ve linked and whom I like to quote are of the opinion that it’s bad..."
West does not assert "the State is bad", he asserts that the case for tuition subsidies (vouchers) is weak and the case for State operation of school is weaker still.

(Parry): "If you could point to multiple industries that are similarly structured to education, and document how those industries have achieved dramatic improvements in a market-driven structure, that would provide some more empirical, solid evidence to support a move away from State-run K-12 education.

Here's the impossible condition again: "similarly structured and in a market-driven structure".

The closest analogy to the education industry, not in structure but in terms of the critical dependance of performance upon local knowledge of highly variable inputs and outputs, is the medical care industry. Centralized planning is strongly counter-indicated because government operation requires bureaucracy and regulation, in the form of job descriptions and performance measures, while the phenomena involved are inherently slippery, enormously variable, and hard to define, and values vary widely. For example, is it worth providing a smoker with a lung transplant? An arthritic 90-year-old with an artificial hip? How 'bout a 25-year old with an artificial knee? Wouldn't that depend on the individual? If it improves LeBron James' performance it might be worth it. Mine? Maybe I should just continue to limp around. What expectation of what level of functioning justifies what expense? How much do you spend to keep an unresponsive lump of meat at 37 C? When do you pull the plug?

Roger Sweeny said...

Parry,

I think what Malcolm means by, "The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber)" is that if you don't obey a government, they can legally kidnap you (and decide how long to keep you and under what conditions) or, at the extreme, kill you. Though most people at most times obey governments voluntarily, at the bottom is that constant threat of force. "We won't use force if we don't have to, but if we have to ..."

Thus, in some sense, governments always operate with a threat of force and violence.

However, markets cannot operate without property rights, and one of the things governments do is enforce property rights. Thus, property and markets are also ultimately based on violence.

There have been various attempts to figure out how to have property and markets without governments but they always wind up having to have some sort of "protective association" which protects property with the threat of violence against those who would take it without consent.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "And as a total aside (and I apologize if this is sort of a thread hijacking), you constantly write the phrase “The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber)”. What exactly do you mean by that?"

The word "government" names the largest dealer in interpersonal violence.

(Parry): " I don’t mean what did Weber mean, or who has agreed with that statement, or what links can you provide—I mean what do you practically think that means?

People use the word "government" or "state" to refer to the dominant distributor of interpersonal violence.

Parry): "Do you mean that government actors (policemen, soldiers) are directly responsible for the majority of violence occurring in a town, city, or state?"

If you include threats of violence, yes. Every law is a threat to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue) and forcibly infect with HIV (imprison) someone. Most people held against their will are in jails or prisons, not in the basements of free-lance kidnappers or crazed sexual deviants.

(Parry): "Do you believe that the absence of government would lead to less interpersonal violence?"

No. Monopolies are less productive than competitive markets. A near-monopoly or dominating position by one distributor will reduce productivity. Since interpersonal violence is a bad, not a good, domination of the violence industry by one provider is beneficial. Pax Romana.

(Parry): "In your own words, what is it you’re trying to say or prove with that statement?"

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality.

Whether the public will benefit from a State role in some industry will depend on whether organized violence can make a positive contribution. I do not see that the public will benefit from a State presence in the education industry, beyond what the State contributes to the shoe industry, the retail grocery industry, or the clothing industry. That is, an initial assignment of title and enforcement of contracts.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Roger,
Thanks.

Dick Schutz said...

Parry:To my mind, your argument comes down to “The State is bad because a bunch of smart people to whom I’ve linked and whom I like to quote are of the opinion that it’s bad, and they use really impressive vocabulary and abstract points in saying how bad it is, and so getting rid of State-run education will lead to dramatic improvements in student learning”. I guess I don’t see that as a particularly strong or compelling case for what you’re proposing."

That's what comes through to me too, Malcolm. But your unrelenting demonizing of government, public schools, and teachers unions, and your bashing of anyone who doesn't echo your belief system makes it tough to know just what you are trying to communicate.

I'm neither a pacifist, a Libertarian, nor a libertarian.

You're likely not a lot of other things too, but what would you say you are? Just curious.

Your citing of health care as the best analogy to education supports Roger's point that technological considerations drive the endeavor. Without pharmaceuticals, diagnostic, and remedial technologies health care would be about where elhi is.

Government at all levels from Fed to Local is very much in the medical act. And there are protectionist trade and professional groups that Ken condemned for limiting competition. Many MDs complain that insurance companies are calling the shots.

Wing nuts label the Federal initiative in health ObamaCare.
They don't label the educational initiative as ObamaEducation, because the Obama Administration is taking NeoCon ed policy further to the right.

You and Ken seem to want to take it further to the right--or left, because NeoCons and NeoLibs agree on education policy.

Oops, I forgot for a moment. You consider that to be a cliche rather than a matter of some importance.

Dick Schutz said...

So all government is based on violence. And all private property and markets are based on violence.

With that perspective, all aspects of human life are based on violence.

That's half-assed logic. It ignores the concurrent "good" and the "benevolent" aspects of all human life.

Parry Graham said...

Malcolm,

Here’s my beef: you are disingenuous with language. Maybe “lazy” is a better term, or even “liberal”.

When you say that a government is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in a locality, you mean that governments incarcerate people, and occasionally use force to arrest or subdue people. “Violence” is a strong word, but you stretch the meaning of the words “arrest”, “subdue”, and “imprison” and substitute “kidnap”, “assault”, and “forcibly infect with HIV” to end up with “violence”. But those words don’t mean the same thing. Arrest and kidnap are two different things: while they have some commonalities, they are not synonymous terms, and using them synonymously is either disingenuous or lazy.

As another example, you state that “People use the word "government" or "state" to refer to the dominant distributor of interpersonal violence.” No they don’t. You might use those words to make that reference, but most people do not. You might argue that when people use the words “government” or “state” what really underlies their use of those words is the definition that you provide. But, once again, that’s not what you say. Your statement suggests intention, that people use those specific words with the intention of the meaning that you attribute. That is not true.

You are clearly a smart guy with some interesting ideas, which is why I ask you questions: maybe a piece of your thinking is something that I may come to adopt myself, and at the very least, trying to define how my thinking is not similar to yours is a useful mental exercise for me (maybe it is for you too, but I don’t know). But when you use lazy language, it is very hard for me to get at what you mean. There are so many possible arguments with the phrase “The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality” (for example, differing definitions of the word “violence”) that it is tough to get at the idea underlying the phrase, and the ramifications of the idea. I think there are some interesting points within the idea—that incarceration is a government’s trump card in demanding compliance with rules and laws—but when you take those interesting and complex ideas and turn them into a linguistically lazy catch phrase, I believe you lose most of the insightful lens that the underlying ideas represent.

Parry Graham said...

Here’s an education equivalent of what I mean. There is a lot of research suggesting that teacher effectiveness is a real thing, that it varies by teacher, and that it matters as far as the quality of students’ education. But those complex ideas, which have significant nuance to them, have been turned into the phrase “Teachers are the most important factor in students’ education”, which is not a true statement and is a glib simplification of the underlying complexity to the teacher-student relationship. But that glib simplification has led us to the possibility of value-added measures representing half of a teacher’s performance evaluation, the publishing of teacher effect data for thousands of teachers in newspapers, suggestions that teachers alone could close the teaching gap if only we fired the bad ones, etc. We’ve lost the complexity and the truth of the relationship.

Parry

KDeRosa said...

I think the least overheated rhetoric is to say that government has a monopoly on the right to deny citizens their liberty and property rights.

KDeRosa said...

Also, Privatization and Educational Choice which Malcolm referred to earlier but provided a broken link to, is well worth the read as it hits many of the topics I raised and then some and which are being heatedly argued in the comments.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Dick): "But your unrelenting demonizing of government...
The paraphrase of Weber's definition is not a criticism; it's a descriptive definition (i.e., how people in fact use the word "government").

(Dick): "...public schools, and teachers unions..."

They deserve it.

(Dick): "...and your bashing of anyone who doesn't echo your belief system..."

Ummmm...

(Dick): "...ideology...baloney... the mickey marketeers pretend...ideology...true-believing free marketeers...Wing nuts..."

(Dick): "...makes it tough to know just what you are trying to communicate."

Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations:
1. As institutions take from individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction, overall system performance falls.
2. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents.

This makes sense in view of the following:...
1. Most parents love their children and want their children to outlive them.
2. If you live among people there are three ways to make a living (a) you can beg, (b) you can steal, (c) you can trade goods and services for other people's goods and services.
3. Most parents accept #2 and prefer 2(c) for their children.
4. Therefore, most parents want for their children what taxpayers and citizens generally want for children, that they learn to carry their share of the load between birth and death.
5. School system employees have systematically different interests from parents, generally, or taxpayers, generally.

Further (and this could provide material for a post on the incentive structure which children face in school), student motivation is critical to school system performance and children, especially young children, will work their hearts out for the love of parents. This is one reason for the superior performance of homeschoolers relative to conventionally schooled children.

The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education industry as it currently operates. Natural monopoly and economies of scale are two usual arguments for State operation of an industry.

Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State (government, generally) operation of an industry.

The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education", but then students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers are bound by the State's definition.

(Dick): "You're likely not a lot of other things too, but what would you say you are? Just curious."

Charming? Intelligent? Handsome? Compassionate? Hung like a percheron?

Oh, you want realism, and a political label. How 'bout "Green Classical (19th century) Liberal"?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "There are so many possible arguments with the phrase “The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality” (for example, differing definitions of the word “violence”) that it is tough to get at the idea underlying the phrase..."

I think the most interesting "play" in the definition occurs in the concept of "locality". What about non-State actors, like al Qaida, the Catholic Church, or professional associations like the AMA which can deprive people of their livelihood? Are there non-territorial "governments"?

Roger Sweeny said...

Arrest and kidnap are two different things: while they have some commonalities, they are not synonymous terms

I think Malcolm's point (and Max Weber's) is that the difference is that one is legal and one is illegal. Government gets to decide which is which, and it basically says, "when we do it, it's arrest; when you do it, it's kidnapping." Weber is often summarized as saying, "Government has a monopoly of legitimate force."

Alas, the difference between arrest and kidnapping is often not a difference of justice. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, North Korea, Burma, China, ... The list is a rather long one. And even in the most democratic places, some would quarrel with the grounds for imprisonment. Until recently, gay sex could get you jail time. Smoking marijuana still does in many places.

Roger Sweeny said...

So all government is based on violence. And all private property and markets are based on violence. With that perspective, all aspects of human life are based on violence.

No, not all. But, yes, in some ultimate sense, much of life is based on the willingness of some people to use violence. In the words of George Orwell, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

There is a lot of good and benevolence in people. We would not be able to live together in relative peace and wealth if that was not true. But history shows that people are also capable of terrible things.

One person can steal, torture, rape, and kill. Or a million can.

So, yeah, there is a tragic quality to life. It isn't unicorns and rainbows. "Everybody hurts and everybody cries." And eventually, we all die.

That in some ultimate sense I rely on armies and police--I can live with that.

Parry Graham said...

Alright, Malcolm, after reading your response to Dick's question about what you would say you are, I have officially become a member of your fan club. I disagree with just about every one of your statements about K-12 education, but anyone with that much cheek has got my vote.

Parry

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Parry,
Thanks. Dunno what Ken thinks of levity around here.

(Parry): "...maybe a piece of your thinking is something that I may come to adopt myself, and at the very least, trying to define how my thinking is not similar to yours is a useful mental exercise for me (maybe it is for you too, but I don’t know). But when you use lazy language, it is very hard for me to get at what you mean."

That's why I so often use the words of more temperate people who think more clearly than I do. I recommend:...

Randall G. Holcombe
Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable
__The Independent Review__ Volume 8 Number 3 Winter 2004

Also...

Eduardo Zambrano
"Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy
Applications"
__Rationality and Society__, May 1999; 11: 115 - 138.
"Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work."

There's not a lot of daylight between my position and the case that Chubb and Moe make in __Politics, Markets, & America's Schools__. With their close attention to the behavior of bureaucracy, this is as much an argument against political control of school as for vouchers. Remember that the original title was __What Price Democracy? Politics, Markets, & America's Achools__.

I recommend also the Brookings/Urban Institute/Committee for Economic Development compilation __Vouchers and the Provision of Public Services__ (Steuerle, et. al. eds.)

One last (for now) recommendation:
Jack Hirschliefer
"Anarchy and its Breakdown"
__Journal of Political Economy__.

Dick Schutz said...

Yikes! Had you cited Holcombe initially, Malcolm, you could have saved me a lot of keyboard clicks.

The libertarian argument for a minimal government is not that government is better than private arrangements at doing anything, but that it is necessary
to prevent the creation of an even more predatory and less-libertarian government. . .

The preservation of liberty will remain a never-ending challenge.


I can buy that without reservation. But the US Federal-Corporate Partnership that is promoting publicly-financed privatization of public schools is about as predatory as one would hope to avoid.

As I understand you, that's what you are also promoting.

KDeRosa said...

But the US Federal-Corporate Partnership that is promoting publicly-financed privatization of public schools is about as predatory as one would hope to avoid

Of course, this is the reason why I chose the steamship industry as my example. Fulton & Livingston had secured a monopoly granted by the state of New York.

But more importantly, Dick, I'm still not able to follow the money on this Federal/Corporate conspiracy of which you speak.

How are textbook companies making out?

Charter schools? No one is forced to attend any Charter School that I know?

Or is the objection over the use of "public money," i.e, private money that has been taxed away from taxpayers -- mostly parents?

We use public money all the time to buy goods and services from private corporations. Private companies make all our military equipment, build our roads, build all our space vehicles, provide special education services. The list is nearly endless.

Dick Schutz said...

The Federal-Corporate Partnership isn't a conspiracy. Both the President and Secretary of Education and the Education Venture Capitalists take pride in their "shared interests" and (most of) their actions are documented on the Internet.

See "Oligarchy" in Wikipedia. The Partnership is imposing a single-minded educational ideology that has no evidential foundation. The ideology has failed at every step since it's beginnings in the late 1980's, and the National Academy of Sciences has warned of the risks.

Privatization of public schools would only drive the US further down the rode to a third-world state without a middle class.

But these are matters of politics and economics.

Back at the elhi education ranch: Charter schools vary; private schools vary; public schools vary; home schooling varies. Yet what transpires in each setting is pretty much the same.

But that's true of any phenomenon; humans vary and we and chimps are pretty much the same.

What we are currently unable to do is to reliably teach very simple things--like teaching kids to read. Rather, the oligarchy has conned most people to believe that this was always an "unrealistic expectation" and that "their way" will deliver all kids "college and career ready" by 2020.

The high school class of 2020 is the 2nd grade class of kids now in the pipeline. A good proportion of these kids aren't being taught to read (it's unrealistic, remember).

Fuggedabout steamships and schmarkets. If you want to see a government that is practicing what you and Malcolm are preaching, look at the UK.

KDeRosa said...

Dick, to the extent that partnership is an oligarchy, then why isn't the existing power structure (presumably the same players without the venture capitalists) also an oligarchy?

The traditional public school system has been imposing a single-minded educational ideology that has no evidential foundation.

By the same argument, the traditional public school system has been driving the US further down the rode to a third-world state without a middle class.s would only drive the US further down the rode to a third-world state without a middle class.

Charter schools vary; private schools vary; public schools vary; home schooling varies. Yet what transpires in each setting is pretty much the same.

The real question is whether the average school will perform better under competition or without it?

What we are currently unable to do is to reliably teach very simple things--like teaching kids to read.

At least for some kids. For the majority, the current teachings, flawed though it is, does accomplish expectations, low that they are. This is also the reason why "what transpires in each [school] setting is pretty much the same." Private schools don't really exist to serve non-wealthy students. Those that do, such as most Catholic schools in major cities, serve as the only alternate to the local public school. Charter schools have other less-difficult-to-get-right factors to market to attract students. Those that do try to distinguish on instruction, generally get it wrong by picking the wrong curriculum, don't implement the right curriculum properly, and occasionally get it right.

Rather, the oligarchy has conned most people to believe that this was always an "unrealistic expectation" and that "their way" will deliver all kids "college and career ready" by 2020.

This meme existed well before your oligarchy did.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Mr. Schutz,

I'll add another reading recommendation to the list:

Axelrod and Hamilton
__The Evolution of Cooperation__

The most effective institutional accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to individual consumers the power to take their business elsewhere.

(Schutz): "..,the US Federal-Corporate Partnership that is promoting publicly-financed privatization of public schools is about as predatory as one would hope to avoid. As I understand you, that's what you are also promoting."

Unions, even public sector unions, are private 501c(5) corporations. Their assets are the property of their members and their legal obligations are to dues-paying members, retired members, and agency-fee payers. Sometimes unions, like other organizations, get captured by insiders, who bend the institution to their iterests. In no case does the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel have an obligation to "the public".

Most Federal education policy just makes things worse: Goals 2000, NCLB, Common Core, etc.

One Federal policy I could support is the following:...

The Federal government exercises legitimate (Constitutional) authority over four K-12 school systems (D.C., DOD, BIA, and the US Embassy schools) and four post-secondary schools (Naval Academy at Annapolis, Air Force Academy at Boulder, Military Academy at West Point, Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point).

Mandate that K-12 schools under Federal control offer all courses required for graduation credit-by-exam, for a grade, at any age and at any time of year. Mandate that these schools develop exams for their curricula. They could contract this out. License independent contractors to administer these exams to any applicant, for a fee. Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers and the Kumon Institute drive the cost of a high school diploma down to the cost of study guides and of grading exams.

Do the same for post-secondary.

Mandate that all US government agencies accept credentials earned through this process on an equal basis with credentials of students who sat through 16 years of instruction at a brick-and-mortar institution.

Credit-by-exam and a non-discrimination policy would bust the K-PhD racket.

Far short of that, I recommend a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting.

Dick Schutz said...

Re Malcolm:
Axelrod & Hamilton is an interesting read, but it certainly doesn't support your contention that "The most effective institutional accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to individual consumers the power to take their business elsewhere."

In their game tournament of the Prisoner's Dilemma,A&H found the best strategy to be TIT FOR TAT [I wish they had termed the strategy something else, but that's what they called it].

TIT FOR TAT is a strategy of cooperation based on reciprocity

Cooperation based on reciprocity is very much "we the people" and "public" ish, isn't it?

Re Ken--
Responding point by point would just re-plow ground that the thread has already pretty much depleted.

Schools can't be credited for the reading accomplishments of aggregate kids. Some kids learn to read with very little formal reading instruction. Others limp along despite mal-instruction that goes unidentified--kids and parents are blamed for the instructional failure. The remaining group has a "deficit" for life.

The source of the mal-instruction is at the top of the ed chain, not the bottom. Privatization would just maintain the instructional status quo and further weaken the middle class.

The "debate" since the Feds got involved with elhi in the mid-60's has been between "more money" and "more accountability" That "debate" took a turn with the statistically-impossible NCLB requirement that will label every public school as "Failing" by 2014.

Irrespective of the outcome of the election next week, that era is over. The failure of the "free market" that brought the economic meltdown is such that the money just isn't there for "more."

Kids are expensive little "commodities" The "national dialog" about education seldom looks at dollar costs, but the USDA (part of the government that would be unnecessary, if the dreams of you and Malcolm were to come true) tracks such matters. They put a tag on birth-16 of $286K.
http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/CRC/crc2009.pdf

There is a large disparity between family income levels. In families with Before Tax Income of less than $57K (average $25K) the tab is $150K) More than $57K (average $103K) the tab is $316K. (page 37, figures rounded)

This is not the place to sort out the implications of these figures which should be considered along with the government costs of elhi and the costs of the elements that are associated with the benefits that schools provide (and don't provide). All I'm trying to say is that this can and should be done.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "Axelrod & Hamilton is an interesting read, but it certainly doesn't support your contention that 'The most effective institutional accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to individual consumers the power to take their business elsewhere'."

Did you read it? They devote some attention to the formation of predatory (rent-seeking) coalitions. The analysis of the circumstances under which cooperation evolves can guide policy whether the goal is cooperation or preventing cooperation (by, e.g., predatory coalitions like the coalition of interests that critics call "the blob").

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "The source of the mal-instruction is at the top of the ed chain, not the bottom."

That's an argument for local control (federalism) and a competitive market in education services, seems to me.

(Schutz): "Privatization would just maintain the instructional status quo and further weaken the middle class."

We disagree, here.

Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez
"Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings"
__Comparative Education__, Vol. 36 #1, 2000, Feb. , pg. 16,
"Furthermore, the regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (see, for example, Psucharopoulos, 1987; Jiminez, et. al, 1991). This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education."

Joshua Angrist
"Randomized Trials and Quasi-Experiments in Education Research"
__NBER Reporter__, summer, 2003.
"One of the most controversial innovations highlighted by NCLB is school choice. In a recently published paper, my collaborators and I studied what appears to be the largest school voucher program to date. This program provided over 125,000 pupils from poor neighborhoods in the country of Colombia with vouchers that covered approximately half the cost of private secondary school. Colombia is an especially interesting setting for testing the voucher concept because private secondary schooling in Colombia is a widely available and often inexpensive alternative to crowded public schools. (In Bogota, over half of secondary school students are in private schools.) Moreover, governments in many poor countries are increasingly likely to experiment with demand-side education finance programs, including vouchers.

"Although not a randomized trial, a key feature of our Colombia study is the exploitation of voucher lotteries as the basis for a quasi-experimental research design. Because demand for vouchers exceeded supply, the available vouchers were allocated by lottery in large cities. Our study compares voucher applicants who won a voucher in the lottery to those who lost. Since the lotteries used random assignment, losers provide a good control group for winners. A comparison of voucher winners and losers shows that three years after the lotteries were held, winners were 15 percentage points more likely to have attended private school and were about 10 percentage points more likely to have finished eighth grade, primarily because they were less likely to repeat grades. Lottery winners also scored 0.2 standard deviations higher on standardized tests. A follow-up study in progress shows that voucher winners also were more likely to apply to college. On balance, our study provides some of the strongest evidence to date for the possible benefits of demand-side financing of secondary schooling, at least in a developing country setting.
"

Dick Schutz said...

Yes, I read A&H. Their focus is on the Prisoners Dilemma and cooperation, not on coalitions and preventing competition.

It's certainly possible to cherry-pick the choice "literature" with two articles to support your belief system, but the whole of the literature just doesn't support the views you espouse.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "Yes, I read A&H. Their focus is on the Prisoners Dilemma and cooperation, not on coalitions and preventing competition."

"Coalitions" are cooperative entities. Another word is "trust" (as in "Sherman Anti-trust Act"). "Copperation" between producers that generates monopoly rents will harm the public. Axelrod most definitely does discuss this.

(Schutz): "It's certainly possible to cherry-pick the choice 'literature' with two articles to support your belief system, but the whole of the literature just doesn't support the views you espouse."

Oh?

Why is "literature" in quotes? __Comparitive Education__ and __NBER Reporter__are peer reviewed.

"Cherry-picking" names a practice of deliberate selection of unrepresentatve data. It amounts to an accusation of lying,

Dick Schutz said...

"Coalitions" are cooperative entities. Another word is "trust" (as in "Sherman Anti-trust Act"). "Copperation" between producers that generates monopoly rents will harm the public. Axelrod most definitely does discuss this.

In your mind's eye A&H may discuss "this," but the article does not include any reference to "coalitions" "trust" "monopoly" or "rents", unless the "Find" in my Viewer is missing something.

I didn't in any way intend to accuse you of lying, Malcolm. You are not alone among lit cherry-pickers. But the articles you cite are old and questionably relevant. They are out of synch with the overall body of research lit. That's all I was trying to say.

I'm glad to see that Ken has moved on to Lecture V. I've said all I have to say about IV--and then some.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "In your mind's eye A&H may discuss "this," but the article does not include any reference to "coalitions" "trust" "monopoly" or "rents", unless the "Find" in my Viewer is missing something."

Thought you said you read Axelrod and Hamilton's __The Evolution of Cooperation__. It's not an article; it's a book. They discuss anti-trust policy.

(Schutz): "...the articles you cite are old and questionably relevant. They are out of synch with the overall body of research lit."

The theory of relativity is over 100 years old.

Lassibile and Gomez (2000) is only 10 years old. Angrist (2003) is seven years old. The research which Greene summarized (the "Oh?" link) ranges from 1998 to 2008.

What statistical, empirical research finds a negative impact of vouchers, charters, tuition tax credits, or other forms of parent control? Even a neutral voucher effect is actually positive from a taxpayer's point of view, since taxpayers get the same level of performance as the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools for less money.

How do policies which raise performance (as measured by test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates) "weaken the middle class"?

Parry Graham said...

School choice seems to be where so many of these conversations are heading: open K-12 education up to a free-market-type environment, in which all parents have vouchers to attend the schools they wish, and life will get peachier and peachier.

I am not opposed to school choice. While I work in a public school, we have a school choice system in my county that allows families to choose the school they wish to attend (among a base school assignment, a calendar option, and a variety of magnet schools). A majority of the students in my school are there because parents have chosen to send their children there, so I have considerable first-hand experience with the real-world effects of choice systems (the more parents who choose my school, the more resources I have and staff members I can hire, whereas the fewer parents who choose my school, the tighter my budget and staffing plan become).

My questions are twofold. First, how much difference will school choice really make in terms of educational outcomes? And second, what would voucher-driven school choice look like if it were scaled up to encompass a significant number of families in a locality?

I just don’t see private or charter schools looking that different from traditional public schools. Consider existing private schools that compete with traditional public schools. You have about as competitive an environment as you can possibly imagine—private schools are essentially competing with “free”—so one would expect private schools to have considerable incentive to develop a competitive edge; in order to beat free, you better be pretty darned good. But most of the research I’ve read comparing private to public school results with similar students shows very little daylight between them. On the flip side, competition might push public schools to focus a little more, but I don’t think there is a whole lot more juice left to squeeze from the traditional public school fruit.

I am not opposed to Malcolm’s ideas of parent performance contracting, or even the DoD scheme, I just don’t think many parents would choose to participate—I would bet that most parents want their children to attend an organized school from age 5/6 to age 17/18, not stay at home and work on mail-order exams.

To my second question, I am not sure we can extrapolate the current condition and research concerning vouchers to a widespread adoption situation. Right now vouchers seem to primarily target disadvantaged families with few effective school options. Were vouchers to be expanded to the whole range of family income levels, my guess is you would start to see evolving results that would likely lead to greater disparities in terms of education levels between haves and have-nots (my belief rests in large part on the assumption that for-profit education providers would shift their focus to higher-income children and away from lower-income children).

Parry

Dick Schutz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dick Schutz said...

I read the 1981 A&H article in Science with the same title. I see that Axelrod dropped Hamilton and has a 2006 revised edition of a book with the same title. But he hasn't changed his tune:

The Evolution of Cooperation addresses a simple yet age-old question: If living things evolve through competition, how can cooperation ever emerge? Despite the abundant evidence of cooperation all around us, there existed no purely naturalistic answer to this question until 1979, when Robert Axelrod famously ran a computer tournament featuring a standard game-theory exercise called The Prisoner's Dilemma. To everyone's surprise, the program that won the tournament, named Tit for Tat, was not only the simplest but the most cooperative entrant. This unexpected victory proved that cooperation--one might even say altruism--is mathematically possible and therefore needs no hidden hand or divine agent to create and sustain it. A great roadblock to the understanding of all sorts of behavior was at last removed. The updated edition includes an extensive new chapter on cooperation in cancer cells and among terrorist organizations.

It's about cooperation, not competition.

Roger Sweeny said...

Dick,

It's about cooperation amidst competition. The big contribution of the book was to popularize the idea that in many cases, cooperation helps you more than not cooperating. That "looking out for number one" may actually hurt number one. That nice guys (as long as you're not a patsy) don't finish last.

Their scholarly citations and mathematical tournaments resonated with cultural wisdom (common sense?). Tit-for-tat basically says, "Give everyone a chance to cooperate with you, but let them know that if they take advantage and screw you, you will screw them back just as hard."

Roger Sweeny said...

Parry,

I agree that under present conditions, vouchers wouldn't change schools much. Right now parents and potential employers don't know much about what goes on in schools and vouchers by themselves won't change that.

Moreover, there are many things that keep schools from changing. State laws require that schools do numerous things and organize themselves in certain ways. Then there are the various "accreditation" agencies.

We have a wonderful public library here and an overcrowded school. I suggested at one point that we close the small school library and make use of the public one. Instead, to keep our accreditation, we had to increase the size of the school library (the agency gave us a square footage) and increase the size of the collection (the agency also had ideas on how much to spend and what the age of the books should be). This in an age when more people need to know how to do Internet research than how to do research in a good library (No, you don't just copy what you find in the first two Google results).

In order for vouchers to have a big effect, schools would have to be freed from many of the existing state laws. Laws would also have to prohibit accreditation based on anything other than performance--how well students do.

There would have to be clear, independent assessments of how well students do, in terms of subject matter knowledge, skills, and whatever else is thought important.

Those assessments would have to count for a student's future. Right now it is illegal for an employer to choose employees on the basis of an IQ or pretty much any other test. And it is illegal to consider the information if an applicant offers it. However, it is legal to require an applicant to have a high school or college diploma, or to have completed some number of years of school. Not surprisingly, young people--and/or their parents--are willing to invest significant amounts of time and money to get those credentials.

If the law prohibited employers from considering an applicant's school status, but allowed them to consider how well applicants had done on the assessments, I'll bet there would be a big change.

Schools would compete on the basis of how well they prepared students for the assessments. School would almost certainly be less about seat time and socializing and more about preparing for the assessments.

Dick Schutz said...

It's about cooperation amidst competition. . .Tit-for-tat basically says, "Give everyone a chance to cooperate with you, but let them know that if they take advantage and screw you, you will screw them back just as hard."

Fine. Reagan put it "Trust. But Verify."--with the implied threat of payback for violations of trust. And as you say, it's common sense. Do unto others.. . And so on.

But it seems to me that this is i opposition to, rather than in support of unregulated, free market competition.???

Dick Schutz said...

I said I was going to shut up on this thread, but "time in" for just a bit.

The evidence is with Roger and Parry.
See the reports on Charters in big cities:
http://www.iff.org/reports-archive

The fixes in assessment orientation that Roger suggests are certainly feasible:
http://ssrn.com/abstract=1553423

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1366850

As Roger says, State Laws can be an impediment, but if there is political support, waivers can be obtained.

The biggest obstacles are the accrediting agencies. If the reformers wanted to finger the "thwarters of reform" they would be poking these agencies. Most accrediting requirements are either rhetorical or they protect special interests such as librarians, but more frequently teacher education institutions.

It takes some courage for a district to stand up to and face down the accreditors. A school principal can't really do it single handedly.

The silencer "No silver bullet" stifles all thought about educational "fixes" and the quest for "comprehensiveness" insures that any initiative will have people all saying the same thing but actually doing many different things.

Meanwhile, the opportunities for natural instructional experiments are completely overlooked. Each incoming cohort of kids in each grade is treated in the same way last year's kids were treated,

With any luck, the economic pressure on states and localities will stimulate some thought of how to do more with less. But don't count on it.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "The biggest obstacles are the accrediting agencies. If the reformers wanted to finger the "thwarters of reform" they would be poking these agencies. Most accrediting requirements are either rhetorical or they protect special interests such as librarians, but more frequently teacher education institutions.

Amen, Brother! Accreditation agencies play a critical and vastly underappreciated role in maintaining current syatem. My proposal, Parent Performance Contracting, elides many disputes, by challenging nothing. Why argue if we don't have to?

Dick Schutz said...

Malcolm's Parent Performance Contracting Proposal:

http://harriettubmanagenda.blogspot.com/2005/12/proposal.html

The structural characteristics of US schooling is accurate with 2 exceptions. One. It omits the Federal mandates that have been imposed by the Mickey Marketing reformers. Two. Not all states permit teachers unions and union contracts vary greatly within and across states.

The proposal would have states regulating each contracting parent using the same instructionally insensitive measures that are imposed upon schools.

Parents are not asking for this kind of responsibility. Quite the contrary. Polls show that the majority of parents are happy with the schools they're sending their kids to--even when the school is viewed as crappy and their kids aren't learning.

The proposal would do nothing to reduce costs, or improve the reliability of instruction.

It's chances of adoption are nil--which is the good news.

Minus on a scale of 10 for logic, Malcolm. But ten on the scale for intent. Parents and students do deserve more choice in schooling than they now get--which is a choice of school where there is no choice and where each school is doing pretty much the same thing as other schools.

But these choices have to be based on transparent student accomplishments, not on "deficits" determined by filling in bubbles for test items.

Transparent observations and natural experimentation to determine the best alternatives for achieving the desired accomplishments are feasible.

But schools, teachers, kids and parents are being bashed by the unaccountables who offer only wacky routes for fixing the glitches in the system.

Parry Graham said...

I’m down with Roger’s idea of assessment. There’s a great study of reform in Washington state from the early 2000s (happy to find a link if anyone wants it) that looks at how teachers responded to changes in state standards and changes in the state test. The big take-away was that teachers disproportionately attended to the state test, rather than the state standards. In other words, big assessments with reported results impact teacher curricular and instructional practices.

The key question is, what does the assessment look like? A buddy of mine visited Denmark and spent some time in schools there. He described to me an assessment system in which students sat down with two adults—one a teacher and one a representative from a local education agency—and participated in an oral exam on a variety of topics. After the exam, the two adults worked together to judge the student’s level of mastery, and the public was invited to sit in on the interviews. It reminded me a bit of the Abitur system in Germany, in which high school students take comprehensive exams that go in-depth on particular subjects and typically include a similar oral component.

What if we scrapped state standards, developed loose national curricular frameworks (less specific that the Common Core), and put all of the reform money into really high-quality assessments at gateway points, say 4th, 7th, and 11th grades (maybe with options for students to retake in 5th, 8th, and 12th if their performance was sub-standard). Match that up with a broader school choice initiative, throw in Malcolm’s request for parent contracts, and the focus becomes how well any type of educational entity is preparing kids for high-quality assessments. If parents want their kids to be in a school all day, then they can choose a more traditional option. If they want to accelerate their kids’ progress and keep them home (or contract with a non-traditional educational provider), they can choose Malcolm’s parent contracts and have their kids sit for the assessments earlier.

I think Roger is right in that the way we assess students is at the fulcrum of the educational reform movement. I am skeptical that the new assessment systems tied to the Common Core are going to move us in much of a different direction.

Parry

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "...Mickey Marketing..."
There you go again. Please read the Brookings study by Chubb and Moe, __Politics, Markets, & America's Schools__. See also the more recent Brookings study edited by C. Eugene Steuerle, Van Doorn Orms, Geprge Peterson, and Robert Reischauer, __Vouchers and the Provision of Public Services__, and Christine Teelken, "Market Mechanisms in Education", __Comparative Education__. The most effective accountability mechanism which humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to individual parents the power to take their business elsewhere. Internal accountability mechanisms fail due to the well-studied process of regulatory capture. Had you read Axelrod and Hamilton, you would understand.
(Schutz): "The proposal would have states regulating each contracting parent using the same instructionally insensitive measures that are imposed upon schools."
That's sort of the point. Whatever measures schools are willing to apply to themselves, that they would apply to parents under Parent Performance Contracting.
Btw, why call standardized multiple choice tests "instructionally insensitive"?

(Schutz): "Parents are not asking for this kind of responsibility. Quite the contrary. Polls show that the majority of parents are happy with the schools they're sending their kids to--even when the school is viewed as crappy and their kids aren't learning."
One could make several objections to this objection. First, Parent Performance Contracting is not on the menu anywhere, so it's not at all strange that "parents are not asking" for it. Second, if no one will take the option, then it costs nothing to offer it. Third, a similar program, Alaska's subsidized homeschooling program, is so popular that regular school districts are losing students to it.

(Schutz): "The proposal would do nothing to reduce costs, or improve the reliability of instruction."
Since Parent Performance Contracting pays less than the schools per-pupil budget, it clearly reduces costs. Since homeschooled students routinely outperform conventionally schooled children, it very likely would raise overall system performance.

Minus one on a scale of 10 for facts,

(Schutz): "...choices have to be based on transparent student accomplishments, not on 'deficits' determined by filling in bubbles for test items."

I do not agree at all with this rejection of standardized multiple choice tests. Alternatives (e.g., portfolio assessment) are more subject to grader bias, no more reliable, no more valid, and no more accuurate. And more expensive.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "...Mickey Marketing..."
There you go again. Please read the Brookings study by Chubb and Moe, __Politics, Markets, & America's Schools__. See also the more recent Brookings study edited by C. Eugene Steuerle, Van Doorn Orms, Geprge Peterson, and Robert Reischauer, __Vouchers and the Provision of Public Services__, and Christine Teelken, "Market Mechanisms in Education", __Comparative Education__. The most effective accountability mechanism which humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to individual parents the power to take their business elsewhere. Internal accountability mechanisms fail due to the well-studied process of regulatory capture. Had you read Axelrod and Hamilton, you would understand.
(Schutz): "The proposal would have states regulating each contracting parent using the same instructionally insensitive measures that are imposed upon schools."
That's sort of the point. Whatever measures schools are willing to apply to themselves, that they would apply to parents under Parent Performance Contracting.
Btw, why call standardized multiple choice tests "instructionally insensitive"?

(Schutz): "Parents are not asking for this kind of responsibility. Quite the contrary. Polls show that the majority of parents are happy with the schools they're sending their kids to--even when the school is viewed as crappy and their kids aren't learning."
One could make several objections to this objection. First, Parent Performance Contracting is not on the menu anywhere, so it's not at all strange that "parents are not asking" for it. Second, if no one will take the option, then it costs nothing to offer it. Third, a similar program, Alaska's subsidized homeschooling program, is so popular that regular school districts are losing students to it.

(Schutz): "The proposal would do nothing to reduce costs, or improve the reliability of instruction."
Since Parent Performance Contracting pays less than the schools per-pupil budget, it clearly reduces costs. Since homeschooled students routinely outperform conventionally schooled children, it very likely would raise overall system performance.

Minus one on a scale of 10 for facts,

(Schutz): "...choices have to be based on transparent student accomplishments, not on 'deficits' determined by filling in bubbles for test items."

I do not agree at all with this rejection of standardized multiple choice tests. Alternatives (e.g., portfolio assessment) are more subject to grader bias, no more reliable, no more valid, and no more accuurate. And more expensive.

Roger Sweeny said...

But it seems to me that this is i opposition to, rather than in support of unregulated, free market competition.???

If you see "unregulated, free market competition" as some sort of free for all, war of all against all, yes.

But free market competition actually requires a significant amount of agreement. At the most basic level, the participants have to agree that "property" exists and that "what's your's is your's and what's mine is mine." Then people can contract to exchange property or join together in economic ventures.

Any sophisticated defense of market competition has to begin with the fact that people do seem to be able to agree on "mine and thine" and also to be able to agree on "rules of the game."

Moreover, people have an ability to trust. The purchasing manager trusts that his employees won't steal things off the loading dock and that his sellers won't send defective merchandise. Of course, that can't be blind trust. Employees know they will be fired for stealing. Maybe there will be security cameras. But perhaps the major "enforcement" of the no stealing rule is a culture at the business of "I treat you fairly and you treat me fairly. We're in this together."

Frank H. Knight, one of the most profound defenders of capitalism, went so far as to say that the human species should not be called Homo sapiens, wise man, but instead Homo ludens, playing man.

Compare a free for all with a football game. In the latter, there is tremendous competition but within an agreement to a set of rules. In organized games, players even agree to have those rules enforced by outside parties, the sports equivalent of government agents.

What is somewhat amazing is that the players not only accept the rules but that they prefer it that way. When a group of kids start playing, they will develop a set of rules. People who don't abide by the rules will be put down as "cheaters." If someone seems to be getting away with breaking a rule, the other players will say, "that's not fair."

After a while, if you get a reputation as an unfair cheater, no one wants to play with you.

Roger Sweeny said...

Parry,

I can imagine some economist reading about the Washington state study and saying, "Duh!" The basis of economics is incentives. (The basis of bad economics is the idea that the only incentive is money.)

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "...the way we assess students is at the fulcrum of the educational reform movement. I am skeptical that the new assessment systems tied to the Common Core are going to move us in much of a different direction."

I am skeptical of any assessment mechanism other than the parent test: "Do I want my child in that school?" Internal assessment mechanisms will fall to "regulatory capture". Insiders will bend assessment mechanisms--"recenter" scores, add or delete test items, etc.--to their purposes.

Parry Graham said...

Malcolm,

I am not disagreeing with your concerns about insiders and internal assessment mechanisms. But I am also skeptical of the parent test.

I will use myself as an example. I am a professional educator with 17 years of experience. I have worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, in both teaching and administrative roles. I have plenty of graduate degrees in education. I teach graduate classes about school reform, and I write professionally about education issues.

And yet, when my daughter started kindergarten this year, I didn’t feel particularly well-informed about our local elementary schools. I work in the same county as my daughter’s principal, I even know my daughter’s principal personally, but if you asked me to tell you “What are the strengths and weaknesses of your daughter’s elementary school”, I don’t think I could give you a good answer. My wife and I love my daughter’s kindergarten teacher—she’s experienced, organized, and smart, and my daughter seems to be making great progress so far—but we didn’t know much about the teachers at the school beforehand, other than what we had heard from some neighbors.

My point is that, if there is anyone who should be an informed K-12 consumer, it’s me, and yet I still don’t feel particularly well armed in making school placement decisions. My guess is that I am not alone in being a relatively ill-informed K-12 consumer, and I think this is for a couple reasons.

First, there isn’t good, transparent data available about school quality. There are test scores, demographic scores, and basic website information, and you can always tour a school and see what the facilities look like, what type of student work decorates the halls, etc., but I am fairly skeptical that those characteristics will give that much insight into the quality of education that your individual child will receive.

Second, schools are complex places. It’s not like buying a bag of chips where I can eat the bag, decide “I didn’t really like that”, and then decide not to buy those chips again. Deciding whether or not your child is getting a good education is difficult, and depends on a whole host of factors.

Because of these reasons, I am skeptical that school choice will be that effective in identifying qualitative differences between schools. Maybe between the really good schools and the really bad schools, but not between the somewhat-below-average and somewhat-above-average schools. Economics is by no means an area of expertise for me, but aren’t informed consumers one of the prerequisites for an effectively functioning free market?

Parry

Roger Sweeny said...

Ken,

If you haven't seen it, Folsom (in the context of Vanderbilt and his steamships and the difference between "political entrepreneurs" and "market entrepreneurs") was mentioned in a book review in the Wall Street Journal on Friday:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704380504575530332139071998.html

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "...aren’t informed consumers one of the prerequisites for an effectively functioning free market?"

"Informed" and "effectively" are matters of degree. Enterprises and advertising co-evolve in response to competitive pressure. Evolution usually is not about large-scale mutation but about the steady accumulation of incremental advantages. Even when an entrepreneuer imagines a transformative technology, it is usually a few courageous investors (here's where the tax treatment of non-profit organizations makes a big difference) and a few exceptionally informed customers who support the innovation.

Many parents, just from habit, will prefer traditional schools when given the choice of credit-by-exam from a mail-order school. Credit-by-exam could save taxpayers tens or hundreds of billions per year, but the system insiders into whose bank accounts the $700+ billion K-PhD revenue stream flows will oppose change.

According to Neal McClusky at the Cato Institute, the likely Republican chair of the House Education and Labor Committee inclines toward the preservation of the current system. Apparently the US has to fly off the cliff before politicians challenge the public-sector unions.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "First, there isn’t good, transparent data available about school quality...Second, schools are complex places. It’s not like buying a bag of chips where I can eat the bag, decide “I didn’t really like that”, and then decide not to buy those chips again. Deciding whether or not your child is getting a good education is difficult, and depends on a whole host of factors.
"

Don't State (government, generally) actors face the same difficulty? If so, how does State assumption of responsibility for education improve the performance of the industry. State assumption of responsibility for the delivery of education services, and the policy which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 eduation subsidy to institutions operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, make the problems worse.

First, and most important, the State must deal with children in aggregate and operate without the close knowledge of each individual child's interests and aptitudes that parents possess. By analogy, it's as though the State must prescribe one shoe size and design for all 6-year-olds, one size and design for all 7-year-olds, etc., while parents in a competitive market in education services would have their choice of stores, sizes, styles, and prices.

As an aside, a competitive market might generate boutique providers of instruction in one subject only: Berlitz language schools, Kumon Math schools, Fred Astaire Dance schools, etc. Disaggregation would make analysis easier.

Second, and somewhat related, State actors must avoid policies which create legal liability through "disparate impact", as when the AP Calculus classes in Eastern seaboard schools contain disproportionalely many Jews and East Asians and disproprtionately few WASPs, Blacks and Hispanics. In a voucher-subsidized competitive market in education services, schools sell what parents demand (within limits determined by the State's definition of "education"). If Vietnamese parents like pho and Black parents like ribs and collard greens, that's their business.

Third, competitive markets generate information, while a State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls. This fundamental insight of the Austrian school is a huge topic in itself.

Dick Schutz said...

Roger: I found the WSJ article informative, particularly the difference between "political entrepreneurs" and "market entrepreneurs"

Malcolm: I'd respond, but it would just encourage you to re-re-repeat yourself.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "Malcolm: I'd respond, but it would just encourage you to re-re-repeat yourself."
Some students get it quickly and some require several iterations. I'm used to working with both types. A self-paced curriculum allows the quicker students to move ahead while the slow ones review the lesson.

Parry Graham said...

Throughout this thread, we're speaking of State schools in mostly monolithic terms; for example, when Malcolm says that "the State must deal with children in aggregate and operate without the close knowledge of each individual child's interests and aptitudes that parents possess" or "a State-monopoly enterprise is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls".

But are we really talking about a monolithic enterprise? Most school districts are small. While there are clearly commonalities across school districts, is it wrong to think of each school district as its own, potentially entrepreneurial entity? When Malcolm says that public schools must operate in the aggregate, I partially agree -- from the central office level, policies are created that apply to all students, and there are federal and state mandates (such as standards and standardized testing) that apply to all public schools -- but individual schools and teachers deal with students primarily as individuals. Some schools and teachers are better at appropriately differentiating educational opportunities, but I am not certain that a monolithic description of K-12 education is entirely accurate. We do see variability between schools and districts: isn't that an experiment with lots of different treatments?

Parry

Roger Sweeny said...

Roger: I found the WSJ article informative, particularly the difference between "political entrepreneurs" and "market entrepreneurs"

That's one of the themes of Burton Folsom's The Myth of the Robber Barons: that some people make money providing a better or cheaper service and some people make money by getting special treatment from the government. Providing a better good or service often requires finding a way around existing privilege. (The first edition of the book was titled Entrepreneurs vs. the State.)

It's an interesting book: short (about 135 pages) and without jargon, a book of stories with (economic) moral lessons.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "We do see variability between schools and districts: isn't that an experiment with lots of different treatments?"

Yes. Around 1900, when most of the the US population lived on farms or in small towns, and children walked to school, the US had about 160,000 school districts. Today it has fewer than 16,000. State-wide collective bargaining laws, teacher credential requirements, statutory curriculum requirements and age of compulsory attendance reduce within-State variation between school districts.

I have used this variation in relation to State-level NAEP scores.

Across the US the correlation between % of districts which use Praxis to screen applicants and NAEP scores is negative. I suppose that "Praxis" is a proxy for "College of Ed degree". The correlation between % of districts which use a test of basic skills to screen applicants for teaching jobs and State-level NAEP scores is positive.

College of Education coursework should count against applicants.

As predicted by the "aggregation destroys information" model, the correlation between three measures of district size (State-level mean, % of total enrollment in districts over 15,000 or 20,000, % of total enrollment assigned to one or another of the top 130 largest districts in the US), on the one hand, and NAEP Reading Math (composite, Numbers and Operation, Algebra and Functions) mean, percentile, and proficiency scores is NEGATIVE. Smaller is better. The correlation between district size and the White-Black test score gap is positive. Large districts exacerbate inequality.

The correlation between age-start and NAEP 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math scores is positive. Later is better. Early compulsory attendance is counter-indicated.

Roger Sweeny said...

Parry,

Yes, there is variability between schools and districts. Indeed, there is something in the economics literature called the Tiebout thesis that says governments compete with other governments by offering different tax/service packages to potential residents.

I suspect Malcolm would largely dismiss this variation for at least two reasons.

One, people don't have good information on what school is better than another so the existing variability doesn't matter much. You yourself said you couldn't say what school would be best to send your daughter to.

Two, the variability is highly constrained. Laws, regulations, accrediting agencies force all schools into the same basic structure. It is a world where seat time means more than anything else. Of course, if a primary function of a school system is day care, that's a feature, not a bug.

Dick Schutz said...

are we really talking about a monolithic enterprise?

To view 15,000 independent school districts which vary widely in size as a monolith requires the mind of a Mickey marketeer. But quite obviously there are a lot of people who hold this view.

We do see variability between schools and districts: isn't that an experiment with lots of different treatments?

We certainly do see variability--within classes, within and between school, within and between districts, and within and between states. With this variability one can find support for any statement one cares to make about "schools."

However this doesn't constitute an experiment because who haven't the foggiest notion of what the "treatments" are. When the classroom door is closed a teacher can do just about what he or she cares to do.

Teachers have to be careful about what they say they are doing, but what teachers say they are doing and what they are doing are two different things.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Roger): "I suspect Malcolm would largely dismiss this variation for at least two reasons."

Mostly your second, although the first matters. People see performance differences between school districts. Most critically, they see differences in safety. Few people comprehend how vast are the differences between State-level aggregates. One US State (North Dakota, mean district enrollment <600) has a level of performance to match top-performing Singapore. On the 1996 TIMSS 8th grade Math, the Singapore 5th percentile score was higher than the US 50th percentile score.

One reason people do not respond to the inter-government "market" in education services in the US is the high cost of taking that option: quitting a job and looking for work, selling one house and buying another, leaving friends. Per-pupil costs are lower where districts are small and parents can exercise choice at low cost. Caroline Hoxby has studied the relation between school district size and performance while holding urbanization/density issues at bay by comparing districts in urban polities that remained independent to districts that unified. Costs are lower and performance is higher where districts are smaller.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "(this)...variability--within classes, within and between school, within and between districts, and within and between states...doesn't constitute an experiment because who haven't the foggiest notion of what the 'treatments' are. When the classroom door is closed a teacher can do just about what he or she cares to do. Teachers have to be careful about what they say they are doing, but what teachers say they are doing and what they are doing are two different things."

Teachers, schools, school districts, and States vary widely in performance, as measured by standardized test scores, graduation rates, college acceptance rates, and (I expect) juvenile arrest rates. Institutional variables (teacher credentials, school size, length of instructional periods, ability grouping, vocational tracking, etc.) relate with statistical significance to performance measures.

State-level credential requirements and class-size mandates relate to the labor pool available to principals. While "what teachers say they are doing and what they are doing are two different things" what teachers can do is determined, in part, on their competence, which credential requirements strongly influence. College of Education credits should count against teacher applicants.

Parry Graham said...

I think the variability across school districts is interesting because, on the one hand it shows that better results are possible, but on the other hand, there is a “so what” quality to it, from an incentives standpoint. Creating a highly successful, public school system reaps rewards for kids and families, and it likely creates a sense of accomplishment among staff members, but that’s not the same kind of incentive as seeing market share increase, buying out your competitor and growing your customer base, paying out profit-sharing bonuses, etc.

How would an alternative, choice-based system look, from a nuts-and-bolts perspective? What would the rules be, especially in terms of financing and regulating non-public schools?

I would be interested to hear what people think about specific plans to increase school choice for families.

Parry

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Parry): "...the variability across school districts is interesting because, on the one hand it shows that better results are possible, but on the other hand, there is a “so what” quality to it, from an incentives standpoint. Creating a highly successful, public school system reaps rewards for kids and families, and it likely creates a sense of accomplishment among staff members, but that’s not the same kind of incentive as seeing market share increase, buying out your competitor and growing your customer base, paying out profit-sharing bonuses, etc."

True.

(Parry): "How would an alternative, choice-based system look, from a nuts-and-bolts perspective?"

I don't know how the education industry would look if your legislature made government schools and tax exempt schools compete for tax support on an equal footing with for-profit organizations, which can accumulate capital from year to year, sell debt, and fire incompetent staff. I expect the disadvantages under which unionized government schools, and tax-exempt organizations, labor would doom them if everyone got the same level of support.

(Parry): " What would the rules be, especially in terms of financing and regulating non-public schools?"

You've seen my suggestion, Parent Performance Contracting. One way to soften the impact of competition would be to phase it in, starting with early grades at the lowest performing schools, an at a fracion of the State's mean per-pupil substantially less than 1 (say, 1/2).

By the way, has anyone attempted my thought experiment:
(Malcolm): "From State operation of what industries does society as a whole benefit? You may suppose either a dichotomous classification (A=unlikely candidate for State operation, B=likely candidate for State operation) or a continuum (highly unlikely -1____.____+1 (highly likely). Now consider the further question: What criteria determine an industry's categorical assignment or position on the continuum?"

Dick Schutz said...

I think the variability across school districts is interesting because, on the one hand it shows that better results are possible,

The thing is, it doesn't show that better results are possible because the results are all locale and student/school personnel specific.

that’s not the same kind of incentive as seeing market share increase, buying out your competitor and growing your customer base, paying out profit-sharing bonuses, etc.

Precisely. That's why we call it public schools and not private businesses. They are different systems with different societal functions. People are not drawn into education and do not remain there for the financial competition involved. A different set of incentives are operative.

Roger Sweeny said...

People are not drawn into education and do not remain there for the financial competition involved.

You've never seen a school official trying to get a grant :)

It was kind of amazing how excited ed people got over the relatively small amount of money given out in the Race to the Top competition.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schultz): "(Variation across districts) doesn't show that better results are possible because the results are all locale and student/school personnel specific."

Interesting asssertion. How would anyone know unless you test to see if the differences in structure or procedures make a difference to performance?

(Parry): "that’s not the same kind of incentive as seeing market share increase, buying out your competitor and growing your customer base, paying out profit-sharing bonuses, etc."

(Schutz): "That's why we call it public schools and not private businesses."

Ummmm...They're called "public" schools in the US because they're government-operated.

(Schutz): "They are different systems with different societal functions."

Please explain. For-profit schools operate in the US and elsewhere. Education is a service for which people will pay.

(Schutz): "People are not drawn into education and do not remain there for the financial competition involved. A different set of incentives are operative."

Where's the evidence? I don't see government school teachers striking for lower pay. According to NCES, they make more than teachers in parochial schools.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "People are not drawn into education and do not remain there for the financial competition involved. A different set of incentives are operative."

Here is why I repeat "The government of a locality is the largest dealer in a given locality". "The government" is a human organization. I see no evidence that government employment transforms people spiritually. People do not become more intelligent, more altruistic, better-informed, or more capable (except in their access to the tools of State coercion) when they enter the government's employment rolls. Quite the contrary; the power to coerce attracts thugs.

I like Math, I like kids, I like explaining Math, and I would much prefer to buy my groceries than to steal them or to forage in a dumpster. I have worked for parochial schools, government schools, a private tutoring agency, and as an independent tutor. I do not recall experiencing any spiritual transformation when I moved from one job to the next.

Engineers like puzzles. Surgeons like to heal. Musicians like to entertain. Every occupation selects people for something other than money. The education industry is hardly unique in this respect and is not exempt it from economic analysis.

Dick Schutz said...

It was kind of amazing how excited ed people got over the relatively small amount of money given out in the Race to the Top competition.

It was absolutely astounding.
Not only ed people. States changed their laws to be eligible to enter the pseudo-competition for a mythical "Race to the Top."

If ever we needed proof that public schools are not a market this one example should do the trick. Those who lost didn't lose anything personally and those who won just got stuck doing more work and assuming accountability for doing things that have no scientific or technical foundation. All this for chump change.

The Corporatists who have the economy on the ropes are using their tax-free profits to try to buy the public schools.

Dick Schutz said...

I have worked for parochial schools, government schools, a private tutoring agency, and as an independent tutor. I do not recall experiencing any spiritual transformation when I moved from one job to the next.

Precisely. The job changes had little to do with market forces and education production functions would not account for the differences in the working conditions you experienced.

Private tutors don't compete on the basis of profit and loss. They are as out of control (variable) as other elements of the El-Hi apparatus.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Malcolm): "I have worked for parochial schools, government schools, a private tutoring agency, and as an independent tutor. I do not recall experiencing any spiritual transformation when I moved from one job to the next."
Schutz): "The job changes had little to do with market forces..."

That hardly follows. "Market forces" includes opportunities which entrepreneuers see to open new facilities. "Demand" includes population growth (more children to instruct) and aging (fewer children), which both entrepreneuers and politicians see. Institutional structure strongly influences how people respond to the observed opportunities.

(Schutz): "...and education production functions would not account for the differences in the working conditions you experienced."

Please explain. What do you mean by "education production functions"?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

(Schutz): "Private tutors don't compete on the basis of profit and loss. They are as out of control (variable) as other elements of the El-Hi apparatus."

"Profit" is a bookkeeping term, the difference between total revenues and total costs. An organization which has no line in its balance sheet for profit must attribute all its revenues to costs. This says nothing about the motives of people in the organization, and not much about the structure of an organization.

Whether a tutoring service is a profit-making entity or some other type will depend on whether the people who operate it find that category of business convenient, compared to a sole proprietorship or partnership. A one-man operation might declare all revenue as personal income, or might incorporate.

One reason to incorporate is to run up costs (drive the company car, eat lunch on the company dime, hire relatives on consulting contracts, etc.) that would be taxed if taken as personal income.

Organizations compete on the basis of cost to customers. I doubt it matters to most customers of most goods and services how businesses account to government auditors for their revenues.

Roger Sweeny said...

It was kind of amazing how excited ed people got over the relatively small amount of money given out in the Race to the Top competition.

It was absolutely astounding.
Not only ed people. States changed their laws to be eligible to enter the pseudo-competition for a mythical "Race to the Top."


If ever we needed proof that public schools are not a market this one example should do the trick. Those who lost didn't lose anything personally and those who won just got stuck doing more work...

Really? I suspect that the people who worked on successful grant proposals are now worth more in their boss's eyes, and may be in line for a promotion or a transfer to the new agency that will be administering RTT funds. Some may form their own consulting firms to help clients score some of the RTT money for themselves.

Most of these people will tell themselves, and sincerely believe, that they aren't doing it for the money.

I, on the other hand, believe that everybody has mixed motives, and sometimes money flips you one way or the other.

Parry Graham said...

I’m reading student papers for a graduate class I teach on school reform and improvement, and a thought struck me. For the assignment, the students had to research a school reform initiative (for example, Response to Intervention, Success for All, Reading Recovery), write a paper that summarizes the initiative, and present an analysis of the initiative’s impact on student achievement, teachers, and school leaders.

As I read through the papers, I am struck by the work involved in trying to bring a new reform model into an existing school. I used to work for a comprehensive school reform company, so I have some personal experience with the process, but reading through the papers reminded me of the challenge and complexity involved in trying to make fundamental changes to an existing school, especially one that is under-performing.

A for-profit analog might be trying to come into a failing furniture company and telling everyone, “Okay, making furniture isn’t working, so now we’re going to become a clothes manufacturer.” You keep all the same employees, you have to gradually sub-out old machinery as new stuff is purchased, and you need to be showing a profit within 12 months.

Trying to make substantive changes to an existing organization, especially one that is as highly regulated as K-12 education and is as publicly conspicuous, is really difficult. I think the difficulty is part of the argument for entrepreneurship in education: starting over from scratch, as challenging as it can be, at least lets you be a clothes manufacturer from Day 1, rather than trying to convert over from being a furniture company. There are lots of issues with educational entrepreneurship, and I am not arguing for a wide-open K-12 education market, but the challenge of trying to achieve radical improvements within an existing structure really hit me as I read through the papers.

Parry

Dick Schutz said...

I am struck by the work involved in trying to bring a new reform model into an existing school

Welcome to the club.

The fatal flaw is with the notion of "reform model," It's in the eye of the reformer. Each of the "ed reforms" you list has been subjected to large scale, long term randomized control investigation conducted by the US Institute of Education Sciences. The results in each case was "no impact"--only wide variability.

When a furniture manufacturer switches to making clothing, it's no longer a furniture manufacturer.

If a school could say, "Our reading instruction isn't working. We're going to drop that and teach sewing; we'll replace all our teachers with sewing instructors." That would reform the school.

To improve instruction, you have too focus on the instruction you want to improve. That's the last thing "reformers" or anyone else are interested in getting into.

Any instructional failure is attributed to teachers, kids, parents, and/or "society."