The Price of Bigotry

May 19, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Three cheers for George Will’s column today calling upon the Supreme Court to strike down Blaine Amendments:

Blaine came within 1,047 votes of becoming president when, in 1884, hoping his anti-Catholicism would propel him to victory, he lost New York by that margin to Grover Cleveland. A large multiple of that number of New York’s Irish and other Catholic immigrants had become incensed when a prominent Protestant minister, speaking at a rally in New York City with Blaine present, said the Democratic party’s antecedents were “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”

Blaine paid a steep price for his bigotry. More than 13 decades later, schoolchildren in Montana and elsewhere should not have to pay for it.

I reach the conclusion by different legal reasoning (I think the key point is that Blaine Amendments inevitably create unconstitutional government discrimination against religious organizations, not that they would have been understood to do so in the 19th century). But it rounds up to three cheers!


Bradford Honored by the Children’s Scholarship Fund

May 14, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

You know what the best part about working in the education freedom movement? Hands down, it’s the humans you get to know. Derrell Bradford is one of my favorite humans.


Serious Scholarly Research on B.S.

May 13, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Institute of Labor Economics brings you a highly scholarly study entitled: “Bullshitters. Who Are They and What Do We Know about Their Lives?”

You see, PISA 2012 included a very interesting test item designed to discover which students would claim to know more than they did. The item listed 16 mathematical concepts (e.g. “exponential function”) and asked test-takers to indicate how familiar they were with those concepts. The catch? Three of the concepts – proper number, subjunctive scaling and declarative fraction – were fictional. (“Subjunctive scaling” is my favorite.)

The ILE researchers coded test-takers who claimed to be highly familiar with these concepts as “bullshitters” and proceeded to analyze their characteristics. The analysis was limited to the nine English-speaking countries in PISA, but that still left them with 40,000 test subjects.

The U.S. and Canada rule the roost as the nations with the most dishonest teenagers. Meanwhile, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland were clustered at the bottom. Apparently the Celts are trustworthy after all – who knew?

Other findings:

  • Teenage boys, you will not be shocked to learn, were more likely to puff themselves up than teenage girls in all nine countries. However, the gender gap was substantially smaller in North America than in Europe.
  • Socioeconomic advantage is also associated with self-fabrication in all nine countries, but with variations in size that follow no obvious pattern (larger differences in Scotland and New Zealand, smaller in England, Canada and the U.S.).
  • There was greater variation in the results for immigrants v. native residents. In Europe, immigrants were more likely to feign expertise; they were less so elsewhere, and there was no visible difference in the U.S.
  • No summary could do this one justice, so I will simply quote: “Finally, in additional analysis, we have also estimated the within versus between school variation of the bullshit scale within each country. Our motivation was to establish whether bullshitters tend to cluster together within the same school, or if bullshitters are fairly equally distributed across schools. We find that the ICCs tend to be very low; in most countries less than three percent of the variance in the bullshit scale occurs between schools. This perhaps helps to explain why everyone knows a bullshitter; these individuals seem to be relatively evenly spread across schools (and thus peer groups).”

Also of interest in ILE’s study is the extensive literature review on the subject, undoubtedly a helpful service in this emerging field of study. The authors point to Harry B. Frankfurt’s pathbreaking inquiry On Bullshit as the reigning theoretical account of the phenomenon.

Hopefully we can expect to see more research on this important topic soon!


Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

May 2, 2019

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The Republic’s crack team of reporters have determined that the above streets caused a major rainstorm.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Brother Matt’s takedown of the Arizona Republic’s absurdly erroneous and biased reporting reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a concept identified by author Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The Republic had its own “wet streets cause rain” moment recently when it claimed that Arizona copied its education savings account (ESA) legislation from model legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, as Ladner points out, the reverse is true: ALEC’s model legislation was based on Arizona’s law.

Indeed, as Ladner details, the Republic’s “reporting” on “copycat legislation” suffered from several other flaws, including but not limited to the following:

  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as unusual and nefarious when actually it’s commonplace and banal, a tool used across the political spectrum since the late 1800s.
  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as a particularly right-wing plot but excluded all the model legislation from the older and larger left-of-center National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • The Republic hid the fact that only 1% of the bills they analyzed were based on model legislation.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Republic’s “reporting” is that it wasn’t really reporting. Had they any real interest in ascertaining the truth, there are any number of individuals and organizations in Arizona that could have provided them with accurate information had they asked. But they didn’t.

Indeed, their “Gaggle” podcast did not interview anyone from the pro-school choice side. They repeatedly used inferences to determine their “real” motives instead of just, well, asking.

Sadly, this is a part of a longstanding pattern. When the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg detected some serious flaws in the Republic’s award-winning “reporting” on charter schools, he brought it to their attention but they ignored him. He then wrote about it publicly and one of their most vociferous anti-choice advocates, Craig Harris, personally attacked him rather than engage in any substantive defense of their advocacy piece “reporting”:

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As I noted to Harris, if you add two green apples plus two red apples plus two oranges and get six apples, the math is right but the answer is wrong. Beienburg wanted to know if the Republic had inappropriately included certain schools in its data set when calculating graduation rates (e.g., a school that only serves students through grade 9, or another school that had been closed for two years), but Harris merely insulted him, claimed his math was wrong (without offering any proof) and then stonewalled any public debate.

For weeks afterward, Harris simply ignored any public questions about their reporting — though I know that privately, his team has admitted that they had done exactly what Beienburg had suspected. However, they have still refused to publicly correct their error, demonstrating a complete lack of intellectual honesty or journalistic integrity.

The Republic’s Gaggle podcasters also let their journalistic mask slip with numerous biased statements posing as neutral facts. For example, they claimed that Arizona lawmakers filed at least three ESA “expansions” that all “clearly went against the will of the voters” who rejected Prop 305. First, only one of those bills (making ESAs available to victims of bullying or abuse) was a clear expansion. The others were mere clarifications of existing eligibility categories that would have had a tiny effect on ESA enrollment. For example, students with disabilities are eligible for an ESA if they are entering kindergarten, but the Arizona Department of Education denied children who were age 6 (reading the law the allow only 5 year olds) so the legislation clarified that incoming kindergarteners could also be age 6. To call that an “expansion” is ludicrous, but the anti-ESA group Save Our Schools declared it such and advocates posing at journalists at the Arizona Republic and elsewhere took their side.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear what the “will of the voters” was. They rejected Prop 305, which expanded ESA eligibility to all students but also imposed a cap of about 30,000 ESA students. Some pro-school choice groups that support ESAs, like the American Federation for Children, opposed Prop 305 because it would effectively set the 30,000-student cap in legislative stone (requiring a supermajority to change it due to the Voter Protection Act). Is it the “will of the voters” that they want a universal ESA without a cap? And even if the majority of “No” votes opposed universal expansion, that does not at all imply that the majority of voters oppose, say, expanding ESAs to victims of bullying. To pretend that we can know the true “will of the voters” is sophistry at best. To make such claims as a supposedly neutral journalist is laughably absurd.

It’s time to stop treating the Republic as a neutral journalistic institution. They are openly advocating for one side, and they aren’t even letting the truth get in the way of their agenda. Let’s not let media amnesia make us forget it.


Summarizing the Research on School Choice

May 1, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA has published a new policy brief by yours truly, summarizing the research on school choice. For example, on academic effects:

Academic effects may be the most important empirical question we ask about school choice. At one time, it was by far the most hotly debated, whereas today it is much less frequently mentioned by opponents of choice. Having been in the school choice movement since 2002, I can remember when we constantly heard claims that “there’s no evidence school choice actually helps kids learn” or “the research on outcomes is mixed.” Such claims were a primary focus in the 2005 book Education Myths, which I co-wrote. We almost never hear that kind of thing now, because the research on academic outcomes is so consistently positive.

Readers of JPGB will recognize the concern in this paragraph:

Most of these studies examine test scores, although a handful look at other metrics such as high-school graduation rates and college attendance rates. Recent research has called into question the value of test scores as a measurement of academic outcomes. This research finds little or no connection between improvements in K-12 test scores and improvements in long-term life outcomes, in contrast to high-school graduation and college enrollment (which do seem to be more strongly associated with long-term life outcomes). This limitation is worth keeping in mind.

The brief also looks at the research on fiscal effects and civic concerns (segregation and good citizenship).

You may recall there was some, er, confusion recently in Oklahoma when some local academics published a summary of the research on choice that was, er, less than fully accurate.

Let me know what you think!


Interstate Mobility and Family Empowerment

May 1, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So states like Arizona and Florida are crushing the ball on interstate mobility– incoming outnumbering outgoing approximately 2 to 1.  Ergo it must follow that Arizona is “draining” California of people and money, and Florida is doing the same to New York. Perhaps we should tear up the interstate highway system- this whole freedom thing is messy and it hurts the feelings of those losing taxpayers. To the contrary- I argue we should embrace what Hesiod called “good strife” or what Craig Barrett termed “tension in the system” over at RedefinED.

In education tension in the system can nudge system of schools mired in allegations of corruption to encourage better performance, like for instance this:

Granted you’ll have some in California, burdened as they are with all of that magnificent coastline and almost every other natural advantage imaginable, complain about having to compete with the likes of our humble patch of cactus. You see a similarly disturbing tendency for the advantaged to cry foul when the upstarts do well in education and elsewhere. There is a school of thought that holds that the practice of “amateur sports” was motivated by a desire on the part of British toffs not to be humiliated by working class heroes back in the day.  If California prefers to bemoan the cosmic injustice of people seeking happiness rather than putting their own house in order, I say to opportunity seekers-welcome to Arizona! Or as my cajun friends might paraphrase Hesiod: laissez la bon combat rouler chere!


The Higgy Gets Results!

April 30, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

April 15: Kosoko Jackson awarded The Higgy for joining a bogus outrage mob demanding the publisher cancel blockbuster novel Blood Heir by Amélie Zhao, and then having his own book canceled the same way.

April 30: Zhao announces that Blood Heir will be published after all. No word on publication of Jackson’s novel.

Sometimes the good guys win one.

Fear The Higgy! It does not bear the sword of mockery in vain.