Do Strict School Discipline Policies Cause Later Criminal Activity?

July 28, 2021

Check out my new piece on The Daily Signal about a new study published in Education Next claiming to prove that the school to prison pipeline is caused by strict discipline policies. Here’s a taste:

Proponents of federal orders to reduce or eliminate suspensions are waving this study around as confirmation that federal intervention is necessary to stop the flow of suspended minority students into prisons later in their lives.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, people should more closely scrutinize what this study actually examines and how it claims that its results are causal.

Importantly, this research does not look at how changing school discipline policies affects students. Instead, it looks at how students are affected by being in a school with more suspensions versus one with fewer.

Schools with identical school discipline policies could vary substantially in the rate of suspensions based on how the school is run and whether there’s a concentration of students inclined toward behavior problems in it.

That is, a poorly run school may be unable to maintain classroom order without having to suspend a lot of students, while a well-run school could have the same discipline policies, but relatively few suspensions.

The researchers mischaracterize their work as answering whether there is “a causal link between experiencing strict school discipline as a student and being arrested or incarcerated as an adult.”

That’s inaccurate because schools of equal “strictness” could produce very different rates of suspensions, depending on how well-run they are and how many students with behavior problems they have.

Another way to describe what they’re examining is whether there’s a causal link between going to a poorly managed school with a lot of behavioral problems and later-in-life incarceration.

If the answer were yes, it would not mean we would want to have the feds crack down on suspensions. It could mean that we need to improve school management quality and strengthen families and communities so that students are less likely to come to school with behavioral difficulties.


Woke-Therapeutic SF School Board’s Removal of Communist Anti-George-Washington Mural Struck Down – because Spending Half a Mil on Environmental Impact Compliance Wasn’t Enough!

July 28, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This story’s so wild, I figured I’d better put the whole thing in the headline. If the headline only covered part of this story, everyone would read it and jump to the wrong conclusions about what’s going on, based on their priors. That’s never happened on the internet before, and I wouldn’t want to be the person to cause the first case!

Loyal JPGBers will recall that in 2019, the San Francisco school board paid $600,000 to remove a mural of the life of George Washington from its George Washington High School. Although the original decision was to destroy the mural by painting over it, subsequently the plan was changed to conceal the mural by covering it.

The mural depicts George Washington cruelly oppressing slaves and Native Americans. (Among much else! The mural consists of 16 panels, and the controversial part is only on two panels.) It was painted in the 1930s by a communist who hated equality and freedom – apologies for the educationally necessary redundancy in that description – and who wanted to destroy the American experiment in equality and freedom by encouraging the idea that the violation of equality and freedom by the American founders discredits the very idea of equality and freedom.

George Washington enslaved people, therefore we should all be enslaved.

The mural was funded by a New Deal federal agency.

The Frisco school board (including 2021 Higgy Laurate Alison Collins) voted to remove the mural, not because they failed to understand that its purpose was to destroy equality and freedom, but because the mural’s explicit depiction of the depraved brutality that is always involved in denying people equality and freedom was upsetting to the students. In the new world of therapeutics, on the woke left as on the nationalist right, psychology trumps justice.

Of the $600,000 spent to remove the mural, $500,000 was spent on an environmental impact statement.

Guess what? A judge just ruled that the school board violated the law in removing the mural – because it failed to comply fully with California environmental impact law. Its $500,000 environmental impact statement apparently failed to conduct a legally sufficient review.

When I first saw two years ago that the environmental impact statement cost $500,000, I thought to myself, “somebody got a sweetheart deal.” It never occurred to me – shame on me! – that they might not even live up to their end of the sweetheart deal. Maybe some of that money can be clawed back, if (as now looks possible) the board gets new leadership.

The mural is now required to be uncovered and visible, unaltered.

Meanwhile, in the two years since the original board vote, the cost of the removal project has ballooned to $900,000. That’s before the judge’s ruling.

Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

The woke project to destroy the Constitution, like the nationalist project to destroy the Constitution, has a lot of power to destroy things. But they can’t build anything, because they don’t have a deep and stable framework of moral ideas. When the moral imperatives favored by “our side” – facing up to the ugliness of racism, cultivating the psyches of young people, compliance with an environmental protection bureaucracy – collide in ways that require hard choices, which takes precedence? And when people who are all on “our side” disagree, by what process shall we reach a decision?

These groups are all doomed to tear themselves to shreds in bottomless Nietzschean power struggles. Pat Buchanan’s nihilistic question – “Somebody’s values are going to prevail. Why not ours?” – applies within movements as well as between them.


Diversity University Report for Heritage

July 27, 2021

James Paul and I have a new study for the Heritage Foundation. It counts the number of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) staff at 65 universities in the Power 5 conferences. We examine university web sites to find all of the people listed as having responsibility for promoting DEI goals. This is a very conservative count as we may not capture every relevant web site, not all personnel may be listed on those sites, we exclude all Title IX and other legal compliance staff, we exclude faculty in ethnic and gender studies departments, and we do not count all of the other deans, assistant deans, directors of housing, RAs, etc… who also promote DEI goals without having that listed in their titles.

We find that the average university we examine has 45 DEI personnel. The University of Michigan has 163. To put the number of DEI staff in perspective, we compared it to other staffing priorities at universities, like ADA compliance staff or history professors. The average university had more than 4 times as many DEI staff as ADA compliance staff and 40% more DEI staff than history professors. DEI personnel is a very large commitment of resources by universities, especially compared to other staffing priorities.

Lastly, we examined campus climate survey results to see if universities with large DEI staff looked like they had more inclusive and welcoming environments than those with smaller staffs. While the evidence we could examine was limited, it appears that having more DEI staff did not contribute to a better campus climate. If anything, it may have made it worse.

You can see all of the results in this handy data visualization. There is also a nice news piece on the study on the Fox news web site.


China, Inspired by House Appropriations Bill, Cracks Down on For-Profit Education

July 26, 2021
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Chinese authorities have issued regulations forbidding a large swath of its education sector from using for-profit models. According to the Bloomberg coverage, “The new regulations, released over the weekend, ban companies that teach school curriculums from making profits, raising capital or going public…. Companies and institutions that teach the school curriculum must go non-profit.”

I was wondering where Chinese regulators might have gotten this idea of requiring education to be non-profit and then I remembered the House Appropriations Bill that was introduced two weeks ago. As the National Association for Public Charter Schools described the proposed legislation, “any charter school that contracts with a business to provide supplies and services to students [would be] completely ineligible to receive federal funds for anything…” The relevant language in the bill states: “SEC. 314. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be awarded to a charter school that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.”

When Chinese authorities seem to be imitating House Democrats in their thinking of how to run an education system, we probably have good reason to worry. Even traditional public schools in the US commonly contract with for-profit businesses for a wide-range of services, including curriculum development, textbooks, and instructional materials, as well as bus transportation and food service. Even instructional services provided by speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists are often contracted by public schools to private businesses. A lot of people are making money in an education system that spends more than $750 bill each year, most importantly teachers who take in more than $400 billion of that spending.

Neither the proposed legislation in the House nor the Chinese regulations prevent people from making profit on education. All these measures do is increase government control over those who make that money by forcing them out of for-profit structures that are less easily controlled by political authority.


The New GI Bill Reduces Earnings

July 19, 2021
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People who claim to base their policy prescriptions on rigorous evidence often rely on research that may not apply in the current context. Assuming that findings hold true across time and place is as hazardous as Wile E. Coyote relying on his ACME blueprints.

Case in point, research on the effects of introducing the original GI Bill are often trotted out to support expanding subsidies for higher education. For example, Bound and Turner (2002) found that the introduction of the GI Bill after World War II significantly increase educational attainment and college completion rates. Angrist (1993) found that users of the GI Bill from the Vietnam era went further in school and increased their earnings by 6 percent. If federal subsidies for enrolling in higher education were good for WW II and Vietnam veterans almost a half century ago, then expanding the GI Bill for current veterans must be even more beneficial.

A new study by Andrew Barr and colleagues, however, finds that the more generous Post 9/11 GI Bill (PGIB) appears to have actually reduced the earnings of current veterans 7 years after they left the military. The PGIB did increase educational attainment, but only by a tiny amount. As the study put it, “These impacts are not large given the generosity of the program and the responses found in studies of earlier GI Bills. Angrist (1993) found that veteran’s benefits on average raised schooling by 1.4 years. We are finding average increases of 2 months!”

Because the Post 9/11 GI Bill is much more financially generous than the previous GI Bill, this tiny gain in educational attainment was achieved at great expense. The researchers describe it, “Given the increase in bachelors attainment of 2.75 percentage points and an average increase in benefits of $8600, this implies a cost per additional bachelor’s degree of around $313,000.”

And despite this small increase in college completion at very high cost, the recipients of this new GI Bill actually experienced a reduction in earnings: “Our most remarkable findings are the negative impacts on labor income for the sample of veterans exposed to the program. Seven years after their separation from the Army, the PGIB lowered wages by about 1.8 percentage points.”

The study’s authors do not believe that these negative effects on earnings will be reversed over time. Instead, they explain this enduring reduction in salary for veterans now sent to college as caused by the overly generous nature of the PGIB subsidy luring veterans into enrolling in college even when they would benefit more from practical work experience: “Our hypothesis is that the negative earnings returns stem from (a) the low value-added of many of the schools chosen by veterans under the PGIB combined with (b) the generosity of the BAH, which may be inducing veterans to forego valuable labor market human capital accumulation in favor of very marginal school enrollments. By pursuing schooling opportunities of marginal value, veterans may be missing out on opportunities to build occupation- or firm-specific human capital or to immediately put their Army-taught skills to work in the labor force.”

Human beings are complicated. Even when you have rigorous evidence showing that a policy worked well in the past, applying that policy with more resources at a later time might produce the opposite effect. The over-confidence of technocrats claiming that they can engineer a better society with evidence-based solutions is actually inconsistent with a scientific approach. This doesn’t mean we should never try policies and hope to make improvements, but it does mean that circumstances are ever-shifting and evidence is very context-dependent, so we should be cautious about what our tinkering is likely to produce.


Why Conservatives Lose in Education

July 15, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In case you missed it, Samuel Goldman had a great article in The Week about why conservative efforts to change the content of education always fail:

Laws and regulations aren’t self-enforcing, after all. They have to be interpreted at the district, school, and classroom level….A challenge to CRT bans in particular is that they’re unpopular among the people responsible for enforcing them. Although not uniformly liberal, teachers tend to support Democrats. Party leaning doesn’t determine opinions on any particular issue, of course. But Democrats report overwhelmingly positive opinions about CRT in particular and “structural” accounts of racism in general.

Raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, either. As Richard Hanania has argued, motivated minorities outweigh passive majorities. In particular, it’s likely that the teachers most active in administration, professional development, and union affairs are more left-leaning than their colleagues. Recent decisions by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers to emphasize “anti-racist” policies support this assumption.

Goldman correctly concludes that in education, there are only two realistic political alternatives for the right, if they are really interested in winning. One would be a right-wing reenactment of the left’s “long march through the institutions,” which would allow the great-grandchildren of today’s right-wingers to exercise the kind of cultural power progressives now wield. The other is “radical…educational pluralism,” by which Goldman means school choice as a revolutionary challenge to the very idea of monopolization of schools, rather than school choice as merely the welfare state by other means – an escape hatch for the most needy kids in the worst schools.

Goldman also correctly concludes that school choice is the more plausible option.

Milton used to talk about the stark difference between “charity vouchers,” offered only to the poor, and “educational vouchers,” offered to everyone: “Charity vouchers help the poor but will not produce any real reform of the educational system. And what we need is a real reform.”

Goldman has seen what Milton saw – the real value of school choice is that universal school choice makes the government school system accountable to parents, and nothing else will.

It seems like Goldman feels obligated to say some negative things about the prospects for choice, because he throws in some easily refuted canards:

  • There is, contrary to Goldman’s unsupported suggestions, no ambiguity about the legal status of school choice programs. Choice has won a long string of solid Supreme Court victories that have established its legal standing unambiguously.
  • School choice is popular, and growing more so.
  • Most egregiously, Goldman suggests that parents don’t want choice, because exercising choice is hard. But Goldman himself notes that the kind of educational pluralism he envisions is “common around the world.” Are U.S. parents uniquely lazy and/or stupid, incapable of doing what parents routinely do in the other countries Goldman mentions?

Still, the article is definitely worth your time if you’re interested in a close look at what doesn’t work to change education, and why.


Real Accountability to Parents Trumps Fake Accountability to Government

July 14, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, on the rumblings in Oklahoma about holding school choice programs “accountable”:

This concern-trolling about data is almost always the first step toward demanding new restrictions on parents’ control of the education of their own children. State Rep. Mark McBride commented on the new data collection, for which he led the push: “We wanted to make sure there’s no disparities and it’s fair.” So the goal is not something like monitoring compliance with nondiscrimination laws, which would be legitimate, but to take away parents’ control of education if the decisions they make for their own children produce any aggregate pattern that can be framed and presented as “unfair” in any possible respect, or as containing anything that can be used to create a narrative about “disparities.” It is, of course, literally impossible for parental choices to produce any aggregate pattern that will not be presented as “unfair” and “inequitable” by the special interests who line their own pockets by destroying children’s lives.

The new data collection on one Oklahoma choice program is payback for the recently enacted huge expansion of its other program. The special interests can’t stand to lose – it reveals too clearly how powerless they have become, and the perception of power is power – so we can expect more of the same in the coming year.

Limits on schools in the program are, of course, actually limits on how parents are permitted by the state to educate their children. You can have accountability to parents or to politicians, but not both.

Thankfully, efforts to impose substantive regulations on choice programs after they’re created are a losing proposition:

Any effort of this kind in Oklahoma should be expected to fail. Despite enormous effort over the last 30 years, the special interests have never succeeded in imposing curricular restrictions on existing choice programs, nor have they managed to exert serious increased influence on school policy. At an earlier period in the choice movement’s history, before the steep decline of the special interests’ political power over the past decade and the dramatic increase in popular support for choice since the pandemic, there were occasional minor setbacks in this fight. But the track record on the whole, and especially in the past decade, is one of stunning and consistent defeat for efforts to impose fake accountability on choice programs.

Why? Simple: After a program is created, the parents in the program will show up and fight to defend it. Contrary to the ideological claptrap of the special interests, parents are not stupid, and they are not easily cowed by “experts” and “leaders” when it comes to the education of their own children. Where I live, in Wisconsin, when our very anti-choice governor tried to impose modest reductions in the size of our choice programs, the state Capitol building was flooded with children holding signs that said things like: “Please don’t take away my school!” The effort was crushed, and the governor found other issues to busy himself with. That story has been repeated time and again across the country.

Recent events, including lawless new “guidance” from the US Education Department attempting to bully colleges and universities into adopting the government’s official ideology on human sexuality, demonstrate that choice policies don’t create the danger of government attempting to control private schools; what choice policies create is a constituency that fights back.

Shout-out to my amazing friends at a certain small but truly outstanding Christian university in Seattle, which is currently fighting off a lawsuit attempting to impose the new orthodoxy on their community!


Elite Colleges Exploit Federal Loan Programs

July 8, 2021
In The Dark Knight(2008) Joker burns a pile of cash, which is illegal in  the US. This little detail implies that Joker might be a bad person.:  shittymoviedetails

Much digital ink has been spilled denouncing for-profit colleges for getting students to take out federally subsidized and backed loans to enroll in academic programs that fail to improve students’ earning potential enough to repay the loans. Students are left worse off financially and taxpayers are left with the unpaid student loans.

Well, exploiting federal student loan programs is not just for fly-by-night for-profits. Seemingly respectable elite colleges have also figured out how to generate cash from this racket. The Wall Street Journal has a piece listing masters degree programs at selective colleges where the median student debt far exceeds annual salaries two years after graduation. As the Journal reports:

Lured by the aura of degrees from top-flight institutions, many master’s students at universities across the U.S. took on debt beyond what their pay would support, the Journal analysis of federal data on borrowers found. At Columbia, such students graduated from programs including history, social work and architecture….

At New York University, graduates with a master’s degree in publishing borrowed a median $116,000 and had an annual median income of $42,000 two years after the program, the data on recent borrowers show. At Northwestern University, half of those who earned degrees in speech-language pathology borrowed $148,000 or more, and the graduates had a median income of $60,000 two years later. Graduates of the University of Southern California’s marriage and family counseling program borrowed a median $124,000 and half earned $50,000 or less over the same period….

Highly selective universities have benefited from free-flowing federal loan money, and with demand for spots far exceeding supply, the schools have been able to raise tuition largely unchecked. The power of legacy branding lets prestigious universities say, in effect, that their degrees are worth whatever they charge….

Debt counselors recommend students not borrow more than they will earn right out of school. Yet about 38% of master’s programs at top-tier private universities in the U.S. failed that test, according to the Journal’s analysis of salary data for graduates from the 2015 and 2016 classes, the latest available.

At for-profit schools, a common target of regulators for high student debt and poor job prospects, 30% failed to meet the debt counselors’ advice.”

When confronted with this type of failure, where government subsidies fuel rent-capturing, the natural inclination of the technocratic class is to double-down. When reckless federal debt becomes burdensome, they advocate loan-forgiveness. When institutions become savvy about how to grab federal cash, they propose excluding those kinds of schools from the subsidized loan programs. Somehow, it fails to dawn on those proposing these solutions that forgiving student loans might encourage irresponsible borrowing by students and the desire to exploit federal programs is not limited to for-profit institutions. For-profits may only appear more inclined to game the system because they are more efficient in their operations. The others lag not out of virtue but out of incompetence. As the WSJ article illustrates, eventually virtually all universities will grab the federal cash at the expense of students and taxpayers once they figure out how to do it.

Rather than doubling down on debt-forgiveness, regulation, and ever expanding loan programs, policymakers might consider turning down the spigot of cash into higher ed in the hopes that less money sloshing around might encourage more responsible behavior.


Robert Pondiscio Expects a Miracle

July 6, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Robert Pondiscio apparently wants to make it as hard as possible for him to accomplish his own goals. In a new article for AEI, he attacks school choice for the unforgiveable crime of being something other than a campaign to fight CRT in the government monopoly school system.

In doing so, he alienates his own allies. He says he’s a choice supporter. Choice supporters are also, overwhelmingly, opponents of CRT. (My own views on CRT are available here.) So why Pondiscio has decided he wants to alienate the people whose support he could definitely use in the fight for his own cause by gratuitously sneering at their cause is not clear.

“Your thing is bad, even though I support it, because your thing is not the same thing as my thing!”

Sorry, you’ll have to give me a minute – my eyes rolled back so far, they fell out.

More importantly, by attacking school choice, Pondiscio attacks the only policy that can actually force the government school monopoly to make the kind of changes Pondiscio himself wants, nationally and at scale. Pondiscio goes on at great length making the point that it isn’t enough to save individual students, we need to have a systemic impact at the national level. What is the only education policy that has succeeded in having a systemic impact at the national level?

EdChoice, even though they use a more restrictive counting method than I favor, counts 27 studies on the systemic impact of school choice; 25 are positive.

This finding’s been replicated more often than Picard’s earl grey.

What other political strategy for making change happen in the government school monopoly even comes close to this track record?

The feds spent $6 billion on Reading First, with all the weight of the federal government to support the effort, and got zilch to show for it. Bill Gates spent comparably huge amounts assembling an enormous political effort for Common Core, and got zilch to show for it.

What resources or advantages does Pondiscio have at his disposal that these efforts didn’t have?

Especially if he’s decided to gratuitously poke a stick in the eye of the only people who might be reliable allies?

Miracles? Underpants gnomes?

Sure, you can pass legislation attempting to influence the content of what gets taught in the classroom. You know what other efforts did that? Reading First, Common Core, No Child Left Behind, etc.

Not all the anti-CRT laws are bad laws, as far as they go. But none of them will have the real-world effect of implementing the changes Pondiscio wants.

I will gladly give you a viable political strategy Tuesday for your costly support today!

It’s a long-proven fact that when government monopoly schools don’t do a good job of teaching math and reading, the only thing that reliably forces them to start doing a good job of teaching math and reading is parents walking out the door using school choice.

What do you think schools will do when parents walk out the door not over reading and math, but over political indoctrination of their children?

After all, there are a lot more parents upset about CRT than there are parents who are upset about the teaching of math and reading in their own children’s government schools!

(I’m sure someone out there wants to raise the canard that private schools have all gone woke now. Actually, a representative “typical” private school might be either an urban Catholic school or an exurban evangelical school. A tiny handful of stories coming out of an even tinier number of woke progressive academies have made a big splash in click-hungry social media, but are not representative – especially not of what would happen to the composition of private schools if the option to attend them were extended universally, instead of being available only to those who can afford it.)

Update: I should also have addressed Pondiscio’s hand-waving placeholder for an argument that “the percentage of families with ready access to more than a small handful of quality options is probably quite modest.” Of course, to the extent that this is even true, which Pondiscio seems to be aware is a problematic question, the only reason we don’t have more and better private schools is precisely because of the government monopoly on schooling. This is like saying Mexico couldn’t possibly privatize its national oil monopoly because there aren’t enough private oil companies in Mexico to do the work.

Pondiscio is free to pound the table and demand that we need to fight CRT in the government school monopoly all he wants. I agree! I agree so much, I even have a political strategy for doing it that might actually work: let parents choose, thus creating real accountability pressure on schools.

What is Pondiscio’s political strategy to force the government school monopoly to make the changes he wants, if not by creating pressure for change by allowing parents who don’t want CRT to walk out the door?

Have fun storming the castle! Let us know when you’re tired of all the winning.


Ed Reform for Foundations

July 6, 2021
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It’s been two weeks since New York City held a Democratic Party primary election for mayor and we still do not know the winner. The prolonged uncertainty is not caused by the election being particularly close, since front-runner Eric Adams outperformed his next closest rival by more than 100,000 votes. The exceptional delay is the result of NYC adopting a ranked-choice election system advocated by the super-geniuses at the Arnold Foundation and other bastions of technocracy. With ranked-choice, the election is not won by whomever receives the most votes if that person falls short of a majority of all votes. Instead, voters have to rank their preferences and lower performing candidates are eliminated and the 2nd choice that their voters supported are re-allocated to the remaining candidates until one of them obtains a majority.

The super-geniuses have decided that ranked-choice is optimal because they believe it has the best properties in the various analyses they’ve conducted. Let’s leave aside whether they are correct in these technical claims given that a recent study noted that ranked-choice failed to produce a candidate supported by the majority of voters 61% of the time. The primary defect of ranked-choice voting and the broader technocratic orientation driving many foundations’ policy agendas is its failure to understand human beings and how they are served by public institutions.

People do not want what experts have deemed to be optimal arrangements. What they want are solutions that they can understand and trust. Public policy is not really about optimizing outcomes. It is about maintaining public confidence in civil society. If election systems are not governed by relatively simple rules that produce results quickly and unambiguously, people rightfully begin to lose confidence in those systems. They suspect cheating or manipulation and are frustrated by prolonged uncertainty. In some ways, who wins is less important than that someone wins clearly and quickly.

The super-geniuses at the Arnold Foundation don’t understand this because they really don’t understand human beings. Most of the people running foundations these days have training in technical fields and/or are inclined to devote their resources to people with technical backgrounds. Much of the wealth pouring into new foundations comes from technical fields. Backgrounds and interest in the humanities are noticeably absent in the foundation world.

While understanding history, philosophy, art, and literature are no guarantees of having good sense, these fields are our repositories of human wisdom. Consulting that wisdom may help us avoid election systems that have desirable technical properties but undermine what human beings actually need from elections. In the field of education, that wisdom would us avoid reform solutions that work much better in our working papers than in the actual arena of education policy.

Perhaps foundations, and not just schools, are in need of education reform.