Odds and Ends

Florida just passed an expansion of its tax-credit funded scholarship program (read: vouchers).  You can see the bill here.  So much for vouchers being politically dead.

Also here is a neat new study in Education Next by William Howell and Marty West that finds that Americans seriously under-estimate how much is spent per pupil in K-12 public education as well as how much teachers are paid. 

17 Responses to Odds and Ends

  1. Hobart Milton says:

    Reference the Howell & West study:

    Outside of education, have other studies been done about American opinions on salaries in other fields of endeavor? Without such comparison, this survey is incomplete. Do Americans exhibit a lack of knowledge about salaries in general? Do they exhibit a lack of knowledge about expenditures in general? Or, are they keenly aware of the facts elsewhere but lacking when it comes to education?

    Likewise, how does the expenditure break down? Why is knowing someone’s salary important? Surveys of what people don’t know or misunderstand simply prove how uninformed people are of the topics selected. It is likely if not absolutely certain, that any survey conducted along such lines on most topics will find considerable gaps between what is percieved and what is reality.

    One could just as easily do a survey about vouchers, find considerable proof that the public is unaware of the costs or nature of such, and would that be a cause to doubt their efficacy or prove their worth?

    Toss this report in the trash can. It fails on too many levels to be worth consideration. It’s a survey of a survey of a survey, ad nauseum.

  2. Those are interesting questions to ask. Regardless of the “wisdom of crowds” or lack thereof in other policy domains, however, this report makes it crystal clear that there are widespread misperceptions about public education in this country.

    The idea that our public schools are grossly underfunded is the biggest myth in American politics: the big lie that has been told over and over again until it is accepted as truth. The lie is pernicious in that it diverts resources and impedes reform.

  3. Hobart Milton says:

    I have to try not to laugh at some of your comments, Matthew. When one considers all the questions a researcher could ask the public to opine about concerning schools (district budgets, number of teachers throughout, percentage on free lunches, percentage in special education programs, amount of federal subsidy, amount spent on building upkeep, amount spent on providing meals – per child or per school or however, the number of new teachers or retiring teachers, and so on), then it is somewhat ridiculous to ask only two questions and have people state that this is the proof of how “widespread” misperceptions are about public education.

    And to think you then caution me about lies. I think you need to get your own house in order. I stand by my earlier statement. This is survey does not deserve serious consideration. It has an agenda that stands out a mile away. This is the kind of research that statistic professors love to use in class when they teach their students how not to do surveys.

    Just imagine if one went to the public and asked them what the average preacher salary was and how much was spent per person on the role from the budget. And then proclaim from the answers that there is a great misunderstanding the public has about religion.

    Yeah. Crystal clear. I can see right through it just like the emperor’s new clothes.

  4. Hobart Milton says:

    My apologies for the typoes and minor errors on my last post. I’d better close tonight with a confession. I taught math for nearly 30 years; bad statistics (or B.S. as I humorously tagged it) was one of my favorite lesson plans; and friends still call me professor now and then despite my retirement.
    And of course, Hobart is a name I chose to protect the not so innocent.

  5. You mean Hobart Milton isn’t a real name? Why I’m shocked, Ms. Milton.

    These sort of things have been studied in other areas. Progessives for example pointed out that the American public had a greatly exaggerated view of how much money was spent on AFDC. It was one of the main talking points in defending the program from those who wished to abolish it, and it worked for a long time.

    Did the American public have a widespread misperception about welfare spending? Yes, absolutely they did. Surveys demonstrated that they thought we were spending far, far more on the program than we actually were.

    We see the opposite here- the public thinks we spend far less than we actually do. The accuracy of the public perception in other policy areas would be interesting to know but in no way invalidates this particular finding.

  6. Hobart Milton says:

    Did I say invalidates? No. It passes the test sampling wise and the math is fine. But to point out that the public who is generally nescient on most topics is likewise in the dark about a particular pair of facts is not proving anything special about those pair of facts. They’re just another face in the crowd.

    The key point is that this has an agenda which is blatant. You actually have proven my point with all your examples of American’s widespread ignorance and misperceptions. So, then why should we find it any more unusual or revealing that they likewise fail to know two facts about educational spending from among the vast amount of information, financial and otherwise, about that institution?

    The finding does nothing more than state the obvious. No one who has been in education would be surprised at how little the public actually knows about schools, public or otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with complaining about these issues directly and providing evidence to prove what is wrong with them. But this survey on misperceptions adds no data to that argument. In fact, they teach in college that surveys are extremely weak when it comes to hard data.

    BTW, Mr, not Ms. But, is that misperception important to this conversation?

    The real message being sent is that you want the public to know these two facts and do something about it. That is an agenda. Greene and the Manhattan Institute have dedicated themselves to studying these facts and have written several papers on them. I respect those endeavors far more than I do this dinky survey which only adds further to the lore of the ignorant and unaware American citizen.

    The next thing I know is you’ll be trying to prove that water is wet.

  7. Hobart Milton says:

    It’s obvious that somehow you looked at my e-mail address and made some erroneous assumptions. Please let me clarify the matter for you: my wife chose our address name for our home computer and it comes from a favorite children’s TV program she and our son watched while I worked in Europe.

    You hinge your argument on the idea that the unusual aspect of this misperception is that the public is underestimating the figures. It doesn’t take much research to find a multitude of other papers that document misperceptions and how facts are underestimated by the public.
    Here’s a small sampling:
    “Clinicians underestimate their patients’ desire for information”; “… UNDERESTIMATE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE”; “woefully underestimate the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed”; “Many people underestimate their chances of needing long-term care”; “Underestimating the Impact of Inflation on Spending Power”; “students underestimated other students’ concern about …”; “Surprising Reality That Disease Is Still Underestimated as a Global Killer”; all this from just the first page of sites that numbered 140,000 hits. I used only two words: misperceptions and underestimating.

    I changed one word: underestimating to overestimating and something unusual came up that seems to contradict your point. There were only 2450 hits for this combination. So 140,000 compared to 2450. It’s not too complicated to figure out that people are found to be almost 60 times more likely to underestimate than overestimate.

    A colleague and former debating partner of mine who now teaches at Appalachian State University in North Carolina was very fond of a quote he attributes to Sir Winston Churchill which I think so aptly applies to the survey by Howell and West and the arguments for it.

    He uses facts like a drunk uses a lamp post – more for support than for illumination.

    Let’s be very blunt – there is no great fact being illuminated here. Your attempts to dress it up in fancy words and esoteric phrases still cannot disguise its common and base roots. You may think your arguments are falling on deaf ears, but in fact they have simply fallen down on their face.
    I certainly applaud your effort and your loyalty but this is one battle in which you have been handicapped from the start. Even your lamp post was not very steady.

  8. Hobart Milton says:

    My final words:
    The basic premise put forth by Howell & West is that the public vastly underestimates teacher salaries and per pupil expenditures. They state this is important because Americans support increased spending on education. I think that surmises the whole study as best as I could.
    My counter premises are that such underestimating is not surprising and should be expected, that there is an agenda (which is verified by the authors of the report), that quite a number of other misperceptions abound in the educational field, and that this offers no data whatsoever to show whether the actual amount being spent per pupil or paid in teacher salaries is okay or not.
    I don’t believe that increased money is the key to a solution unless it has a well-defined and practical purpose. More importantly, I believe that it takes a well-thought out and coordinated plan that is followed by dedicated teachers and parents. Study after study shows this is the critical component to helping students succeed.
    Without money, you still might have a chance to succeed. Without a plan, you have no chance to succeed. This is true in life and in education There is an analogy from everyone’s everyday experience that pertains to this topic. When I go to the doctor, the main issue is not the cost and the insurance company. That is a side issue. The main issue is whether I’m going to be cured or not. It’s the same with education.
    It is no wonder that people in the classroom find such ivory-tower studies to be of little practical use. They really don’t concern themselves with actual plans and practices that spell success in a school. Instead, they deal with political concerns and the vagueness of perceptions. They dwell too often on the cost and ignore the cure.
    If there is something which we spend money on for the children that doesn’t meet with your approval, tell us about that instead. If there is a reason you find that proves teacher salaries are too high, tell us what it is. Don’t beat about the bush like upset shamans crying out that people don’t understand or can’t see. That is whining and it gains no sympathy from me.

  9. Brian Kisida says:

    I believe the more important point that Hobart fails to consider (it requires reading the full article) is that there is more to this story than a simple tale of public ignorance. The estimates of people who felt that spending in these areas should be increased were further from the actual numbers than were people who thought spending was about right or should be decreased. This is a simple correlation and it is impossible to know to what extent these misperceptions are feeding into people’s policy preferences, but evidence of such a relationship surely adds to the strength of this study. Given this finding, one has to consder how much support there would be for increased spending if spending levels were more widely known by the public.

  10. Hobart Milton says:

    And you miss my point: why not speak directly about the spending levels, show us where the money goes, and make an argument for or against each portion you like or dislike?
    Apparently my summarization of the report in the opening of my last entry missed your eyes. I stated exactly what you said I missed. I did read the entire article. There is a logic you fail to grasp here. This study offers no evidence whatsoever that can be used in actually judging these salaries or expenditures. I am not arguing that the public has a misperception. As proven, that’s the norm for the public and it is often a form of underestimation.
    Even if you believe teachers are grossly overpaid or that per pupil expenditures are through the roof, this study gives you no facts to prove those points. Nada, as the kids would say. I could just as easily do a study about university researchers’ salaries, find out the usual public reaction (an underestimation), and pretend this has significance in setting those salaries.
    The reality you’re so fond of telling me about is that what the public knows about this is wrong and you are concerned they will vote for more spending which you think is wrong. The former is all the study can show, the latter is what the report wants to happen. So, if you want it to happen, why take such an unproductive and disconnected approach?
    You are trying to imply that this spending is wrong by the fact the public is wrong about its parameters? Do you know how many times this ploy has proven impotent? Just think about health, exercise, diet, disease, war, natural disasters, and so forth and how often the public has been wrong about these issues to some degree. Do we proclaim all the plans for the public in these areas are wrong because the public has misperceptions?
    No. That would be a perversion of reason. We go directly to those plans and show what is good or what is bad. We don’t do some dance on the side to attract attention. I recommend you study something called emotional branding. Hopefully, it won’t take you long to figure out that this study is trying more to push your buttons and get a Pavlovian response than seeking to engage in a rational dialogue about these issues.

    Real simple test: where in the study does it show if teacher salaries are unjustified or which particulars about per pupil expenditure are uncalled for?

    The study wants you to make a bad logical step: the public is wrong about X, therefore X is wrong. Some examples: (1) It’s a sure bet that the public will way underestimate the cost of a single missile used in the Gulf War, therefore the use of that missile is wrong. (2) It’s a sure bet that the public will underestimate the cost of training a soldier, therefore the cost of training a soldier is wrong. The logic is bad every time.

    The secret to magic is distraction. We don’t want you to see how the trick is done because it will spoil the illusion. Howell and West have engaged in a bit of hand-waving distraction so that you’ll believe their illusion.

  11. Brian Kisida says:

    I think you are engaging in a bit of hand waving yourself. At the very least a rational decision on an issue like this must employ some sort of cost/benefit analysis. If an individual is more informed regarding the costs and benefits of a program then it is more likely that the individual will be able to express a policy preference that is aligned with their goals and values. To be sure, both the costs and the benefits are important to any evaluative response. This study makes no claims about the benefits of education spending, but it shows that the costs are not accurately percieved, especially by people who would like to spend more. If it was found that people who support the Gulf War were more likely to underestimate the cost of missiles, I would draw a similar conclusion: Their cost/benefit analysis relies on faulty assumptions. It doesn’t follow that as a result of their misperception the use of the misslie was wrong, but it is entirely possible that with more accurate information their policy preference might be different. This study showed just that: People who were more informed expressed different preferences than the less informed. Your insistence that the larger question is looking into the particulars of the ways that different dollars are spent, while a valid proposal, is precisely the type of sleight of hand misdirection you dislike. There is nothing inherent in this discussion that is changed by rescaling it from the general to the particular. It is merely, as you say, a distraction.

  12. Hobart Milton says:

    I find it appealing that you just refuse to discuss salary or per pupil expenditure to show that it is a problem. What are you trying to hide? Come on out and give me proof there is a problem that merits our attention other than just numbers that people would not know.
    With this method, you are just playing games with numbers. You think that just telling someone numbers gives them an understanding or true picture of someone’s salary or how one breaks down all the costs that go into per pupil expenditure. If that’s not being dishonest, I don’t know what is.

    Your key point is here: “People who were more informed expressed different preferences than the les informed.” Sounds good. But, how much more information did you give them? As little as you possibly could because it would be too honest to reveal too much, information that might give them a truer picture of those amounts you are so worried about.
    Look, it’s a game. You say the public is ignorant and then you turn right around and treat them like they’re ignorant. You give them a couple of numbers and tell me that they are informed. Do you hear how ridiculous that sounds?

    If you hear a clarion call from this effort, fine. You probably already have the notes echoing in your head anyway. But don’t toot a tin whistle and expect people to believe you’ve got a symphony somewhere we need to hear.

    You say we don’t gain by going from the general to the particular. I think the correct analogy is going from the vague to the specific. You guys are being vague about this problem. You want the public to be aware but you won’t give any specifics.

    Remember I called it a game? The more I think about it, it’s a game called hide and seek. You keep hiding and I keep seeking.

  13. matthewladner says:

    It’s a little ironic to assume a false identity, and then to accuse others of playing “hide and seek” don’t you think?

    Getting back to Brian’s point, there has been polling in the past where people are asked to estimate how much is spent per pupil in the public school system. They on average give an unrealistically low response: X. Then the pollster asks do you think they should spend more- they answer yes overwhelmingly. Then they are asked what they think we ought to be spending per pupil, and they say Y, where Y>X.

    Then they are told we actually spend Z (where Z>Y). Then they are asked if they still support spending more, and they answer overwhelmingly no.

  14. Hobart Milton says:

    Brian, I know we can’t convert each other but I do want to thank you for putting up with me and taking the time to wrestle with me over this issue. At the bottom of this, I can’t help but feel there’s a better way to communicate concerns on this issue.

    I just think this type of survey of misperception can just as easily be used for bad as it can be for good. All it takes is the notion that someone doesn’t know a number which means that something is suspect. That’s how the Jews were discriminated against or how blacks have been discriminated against. Not by facts, but by having people believe they ought to distrust them. Just a few select ideas were needed to “inform” people how much trouble these folks were. “See how wrong you are about them? They control all the money and the politicians. Too many of them are in jail. Things would be so much better without them. There is a problem!”

    I can’t help but feel distrustful about this method. It just doesn’t feel honest. I’m not so much concerned about misperception as I am by deception. And to think it only takes so few numbers to accomplish. That is why it is so scary.

    Believe as your conscience dictates. I just think this is one study that is found wanting when placed on the scales. It has problems that go beyond mere numbers. And, unfortunately, it’s all based on mere numbers, little information, and a belief that misperception of facts proves there is a problem with the facts. This is a poor formula for good research or good statistics.

    It is a good formula for deception.

  15. Hobart Milton says:

    Matt, be serious. Keeping my identity private is not an issue in this debate. Don’t trivialize this discussion, please.
    Continually refusing to provide data to support your claim that there is a problem with salaries or pupil expenditures is relevant to the problem. If you note my post to Brian, it gives my position. This method may prove there is a perception problem. It hardly proves there is a problem with salaries or pupil expenditure.
    This method of proving that we must be concerned about an issue is weak, easily open to misuse, adds a total of zero to our knowledge about teacher salaries or pupil expenditures in a way that helps s better understand them.

    I jokingly tell people that I’m going into the Devil’s den to grab his tail and poke him with it. Who knows what you think about my end of the bargain other than that I’m a nuisance. If you need an excuse to go on a witch hunt, this study is your ticket. The great masses are ignorant and that’s all the excuse you need to justify your actions.

    I’m sorry for being so cynical. I just thought you’d provide something more worthy to justify your actions than this or at least present evidence and studies that showed some scholarship about pupil expenditures. Pushing teacher salaries into the matter when so much evidence shows that public teacher salaries are in line with other professional salaries made this survey immediately suspect.

    Since I can’t get any information from your end, I am leaving this blog and will do research until I find the pupil expenditure information that breaks everything down into its components. You could have saved us all a lot of time if you’d answered that request earlier.

    And your tail wouldn’t be tied up in such knots.

  16. Hobart Milton says:

    Now we get some real info. Interesting to note that percentage wise, instructional costs have gone down since the 1920s and other services have tripled since then. So, where in the first survey is the section that creates this high pupil expenditure problem?
    If you support higher teacher pay and if Jay Greene is for merit pay, then why oh why tie teacher salary perceptions to this study? It sounds like your talking out of both sides of your mouth on the topic. The IES data makes instructional costs look to be the only major expense area that has gone down percentage wise.

    Is there a similar breakdown for private schools? Back to the first survey, are the details on the other services – are those the federally mandated expenses which they subsidize to some degree?

    Hard as I look, one still cannot see any area that clearly implies overspending (unless you consider athletic programs?!). I know that average private school salaries are significantly lower than public school salaries (& I hope my brothers and sisters there begin to get what they truly deserve) plus I’m willing to bet they don’t get federal subsidies and probably have less plant/building/maintenance costs. Maybe that could explain the difference in pupil expenses between private & public, maybe not.

    This further strengthens and supports my belief that Howell & West’s survey had problems. Even as limited as the IES stuff is, it is full-fleshed compared to the anorexic information given by the Howell and West study to the public to gauge their reactions.

    Thanks, Matthew. I know I’ve been a pest. Like soldiers and parents, teachers are bonded together by shared experiences. It is not easy to take the word of someone who is on the outside looking in. How can you truly understand what goes on in our lives? With Mothers Day coming up, it should act as a reminder that there are certain things in life that are a special experience. Teachers can relate to mothers since a lot of them are women and since nurturing is key to learning.

    My wife insists I take a hiatus from these forays into Greene’s blog. She’s concerned about my health. I’d better respect her wishes. Sorry, I have to go. I am glad that this site warned me about Howell & West. I’m thankful for the information you provided since it helps support my claims so well.

    In my final few years of teaching, I gace up a portion of my salary and raised funds from local businesses to help provide monetary rewards to those students who achieved certain scores on the ACTAAP test (one of several tests – it tested Algebra). The final awards were given in the Fall following my retirement. As we were about to close, one of the parents asked to say a few words.
    In tears, she thanked me and the school for turning her child’s life around. Many of us begin to cry because of her words and feelings. Teachers rarely get thanked. I must admit I was surprised and humbled by the experience. I never thought what I had done was to turn someone’s life around. I just did my job the way it was supposed to be done by setting high standards and constantly encouraging/pushing them to meet them.

    Tell me one other job where the workers put as much of their own money back into it than teachers do. As I said earlier, you have to be there to truly understand the full experience.

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