The U.S.S. Teacher Recruitment is Sinking Fast

March 29, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So college students have lost interest in Education Majors:

ed majors (1)

Several states face very large increases in their youth populations projected by the Census Bureau:


Some states are already experiencing growing teacher shortages, and some traditionally minded folks dream of spending our way out of this,  but absent some awesome spurt of sustained economic growth this seems implausible given things like this that come with an aging population:

Medicaid vs K-12

So student populations project to grow even while the traditional pipeline for teachers shows increasing spare capacity and Baby Boomer teachers retire and states face increasing fiscal strains. Did I miss anything? No? Good- that’s already gratuitous.

So rather than worry about this, perhaps it is best to view it as an opportunity. It’s not like the old-fashioned way of training teachers had much good to say for itself after all:

super chart

College students losing interest in ed majors hints at a broader need to re-imagine the teaching profession more broadly. The status quo is sinking, but a future of a smaller number of higher paid teachers leveraging technology to teach a greater number of students to higher average levels may be possible.

Keeping things the way they are now is neither desirable or possible.

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This…

March 23, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Remember when I told you about Clark County (LV) Nevada packing thousands of kids into trailers with long-term substitute teachers some of whom even had BA degrees? Hmmm….well, in addition to explosive population growth and the ongoing retirement of the Baby Boom generation, this might have something to do with it as well:

ed majors (1)

So apparently college freshmen have started to listen to the large number of people who have been through an Ed School and found the experience profoundly unsatisfying. Or perhaps they are looking past that at a public school system that treats you like a 19th Century factory worker rather than a professional. Maybe both things are true. In any case, especially for states with booming K-12 populations, it is time for fresh thinking not on how we train teachers, but also about the deeper issues surrounding undesirability of the profession which goes well beyond compensation issues.

The Way of the Future-Doomed to Slow Economic Growth?

February 19, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Must read article by Adam Davidson in the New York Times Magazine on America’s prospects for growth. Easily the most important debate in economics today imo- the inequality debate being a symptom of a slow growth disease. The article doesn’t mention societal aging but easily could have, as it is widely acknowledged by economists as serving as a headwind to growth.

In the end however I fully agree with Davidson’s conclusion about technology (3d printing for instance is clearly in the early stages of moving out of the hobbyist phase in my mind) and his ultimate conclusion:

If we are indeed doomed to a generation of slow growth, it’s a lapse in our collective imagination, not in technological innovation, that is holding us back.

I would add only this proviso- improving the productivity of the public sector will be key to a better future. You can’t for instance get much further away from constantly improving productivity than this:

Is it even possible to increase the productivity of education spending? Arizona says hello! but buckle up because the politics are rough.


Best Organized Spontaneously from Below

December 15, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So half way through reading Matthew Ridley’s new book The Evolution of Everything I come across a perfect distillation of the background meta-narrative of the JPGB in the last paragraph of Chapter 13:

The elite gets things wrong, says Douglas Carswell in The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, ‘because they endlessly seek to govern by design in a world that is best organized spontaneously from below.’ Public policy failures stem from planners excessive faith in deliberate design. ‘They constantly underrate the merits of spontaneous, organic arrangement, and fail to recognize that the best plan is often not to have one.’

Out here in AZ- a central planner’s K-12 nightmare of Wild West chaos-since the bust of 2007 we’ve had NAEP gains between 2.5 to 7 times greater than the national average. What passes for a consensus on Newtonian mechanics back east will struggle to explain this- something is wrong with the orbit of Mercury! Best perhaps to ignore outcomes entirely- as the New York Times did in an article this summer about AZ K-12:

Arizona in particular has been crippled by several years of targeted cuts at the state level and local voters’ repeated refusals to raise property taxes to offset these shortfalls.

Thank you for your  touching concern NYT, but I’m feeling pretty handi-capable about right now. I know states with budget cuts and dysfunction in central command are not supposed to make nationally enviable academic progress during a very trying period. We alas didn’t get the memo out here in the patch so we went and did it anyway.

Oh and by the way Arizona style austerity of the 2007-2015 variety may make a nasty appearance in a state near you in the near future. Feel free to pop out and take some notes on how to thrive through it- and yes you can bring your golf clubs.






Health vs. K-12: It’s Already Started in Texas

October 27, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Health care has already been putting a squeeze on other forms of state spending. K-12 won’t be spared indefinitely. Handy pie charts from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts:

If you want to see why Texas leaders deregulated tuition back in 2003, keep an eye on the green “All Other” slice shrinking from 41.1% of the budget to a projected mere 27.7%  in 2023. Ooops- you can’t charge tuition to prisoners and well criminal justice has to fit into that green slice along with transportation, universities and a whole bunch of other stuff. Texas universities set a good example for the rest of the country more than a decade ago by planning for a post-state funding world.

Now look at the blue K-12 slice- 44.9% of the budget in 2001 moves to a projected 37.4% in 2023. That doesn’t look all that bad until you consider what will be happening in terms of student and elderly population trends:


More specifically:


So that shrinking % of the budget for K-12 will need to cover a K-12 system that has almost a million more students in 2025 than in 2015. That’s what happens when you add a 100,000 or so new students in your K-12 system per year. Oh, and by the way, the Census Bureau projects a doubling of the elderly population between 2010 and 2030 to boot.

So what does Texas have to fear from parental choice again?



The Brown and the Gray: It’s Already Started

October 7, 2015

Wonk action shot !!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the PIE Network conference in Scottsdale on a panel that used Arizona as the canvass to discuss important issues. A better look at this picture:

No special effects here this is an actual photograph of downtown Phoenix during a haboob– an Arabic word that roughly translates to “gigantic dust storm.” An haboob forms in a weather front in arid regions- thus in the picture your eyes are drawn to the beige dust cloud, note also the huge grey clouds in the background.

Fortunately you probably live in a place that won’t experience an Arizona-style haboob- at least not weather-wise. In terms of your state’s politics-get ready. It’s coming to get you.

Ronald Brownstein has written a series of articles in the National Journal about demographic change and inter-generational conflict under the theme of the Brown and the Gray. He describes the two massive generations: old and white Baby Boomers and above vs. young and brown population as two tectonic plates. The earthquakes have already started here in Arizona. Rather than dismiss Arizona as a remote backwater, you should pay close attention to what has transpired here and learn from our mistakes. Arizona’s demographics and attendant controversies lie in your state’s immediate future.

Regardless of which state you live in, over the next 15 years it will be getting much older and will have a significant increase in the Hispanic population, much of which will occur in the youth population. Paul Taylor’s book The Next America uses extensive polling data to paint a portrait of Baby Boomers as relatively wealthy but deeply miserable. Two sources of Baby Boomer anger: their Millennial kids still living in their house and a widespread view that the country has changed and no one asked for their permission. One cannot help but wonder how the inevitable grown up conversation about Uncle Sam’s $55 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities will worsen moods further.

MIT’s James M. Poterba performed a statistical study and found that an increase in the elderly population is associated with a decrease in overall public school spending, and that the effect is all the more pronounced if the ethnicity of the old varies from that of the young. Let’s concede that the Arizona N of 1 matches this story rather perfectly, but that it should be understood in a context of:

I am not inclined to weep if my state happened to expand public school staffing at a rate slower than the national average, given that the national average expanded staffing at a rate ten times greater than enrollment growth and received precious little for it in return in terms of student learning gains.

While I have more than my share of gray hair, I don’t think this qualifies me as an old grouchy white guy. I’m painfully aware that the future of Arizona rests on providing high quality education to all students-including Hispanics. Simply throwing money at a dysfunctional system may satisfy some sort of superficial need to show that you care, but it simply won’t do in terms of a solution. We need far more than symbolism.

I’m not sure how this story ends. The elderly depend heavily on government spending for health care and the young for education. Uncle Sam has a deeply troubling balance sheet and states have become very dependent on his largess. Deep-seated policy related pathologies define both health and education. A generational conflict over scarce resources looms, and it will have a barely if at all disguised ethnic subtext.

The only (relatively) happy path out of this fix lies in innovation-we need more effective and most cost-effective education and health care delivery systems stat. 

Our work has only just begun.


Health Care Cost Inflation vs. K-12 Spending: Something Has to Give

August 19, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

What happens when you have a large and growing elderly population in your state? One answer: you spend more money on health care.  While we think of Medicare as the program for the elderly and Medicaid as a program for the poor, the reality is that the elderly often access both programs. On a per person basis, the elderly consume considerably greater Medicaid resources than either children or non-elderly adults.

Medicaid has been the biggest single program in state budgets for some time (K-12 ranks second), creeping up on a quarter of total state spending. People sometimes overlook this because Medicaid operates through a system of federal matching grants to the states, and thus much of the funding for Medicaid comes from the feds.

Of course in the end we are all local, state and federal taxpayers at the same time, meaning that federal money does not represent manna from heaven unless your only concern in life involves certifying a state budget. I’ve been examining budget data from Florida however, and even after you exclude federal funds, the trend in health vs. K-12 is clear.


Medicaid vs K-12

Despite a healthy increase in K-12 spending, state funding of Medicaid looks set to overtake state K-12 funding in the very near future, constraining other spending. Increasingly budget battles between K-12 and Medicaid will be seen as a generational battle between the interests of the young and old. Policymakers have recognized for some time that health care inflation would spell the doom of state higher education funding (Texas lawmakers deregulated tuition in 2003 in recognition of this fact for example) but we have no reason to think that matters will rest there.

You may have heard  by the way that Uncle Sam has $55 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities, so state lawmakers should view his ability to sustain his end of the Medicaid matching funds bargain with some suspicion. America needs major policy and practice innovations in both education and health care.