Racism in Public Schools

November 28, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on racism in public schools:

Robinson’s case attracted wider attention, threatening to make the system look bad. So, Robinson was able to get permission from the guardians of the government school monopoly to transfer her grandchildren out of Edmond North.

But most cases of racism, harassment, and bullying don’t make media headlines. Those families are stuck. They have to keep sending their children to school to be preyed upon, day after day.

Don’t listen to me, listen to Robinson: “The students still there, they feel helpless, they feel like their hands are tied and they just have to tough this out,” she told KFOR. “No kid should have to tough it out.”

This is just one of many reasons all parents ought to have school choice:

America continues the struggle to build a genuinely pluralistic society. That means overthrowing the continuing power of racism, our great national original sin. To pursue the American principles of equality and freedom, we must labor diligently to dismantle the structures of racial oppression.

The government school monopoly was created in the 19th century to consolidate the power of social elites. They wanted to homogenize what was, in their eyes, an unacceptably diverse population. A society where differences are valued can only emerge when the monopoly they built is broken.

Let me know what you think!

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Best Songs You’ve Probably Never Heard

November 23, 2018

The blog has been a little empty lately and your shopping carts may be too full, so I thought I would share some songs you might like that you’ve probably never heard before.  Consider it my gift to you.

First up, we have this beautiful song by the Vulgar Boatmen.  I wrote a blog post before about how great this band is (was), but I didn’t mention this gem.  It’s called There’s a Family.  Here is the studio version:

Here is a live version from a club concert in the early 90s.  I’m not sure which version I enjoy more.

Next we have the “Twee” band Allo Darlin’.  It’s probably that I’m getting old, but I don’t mind a sweet pop song, especially these vulnerable and heartfelt pieces:

You’ve probably heard the Kinks’ song, Strangers, but I bet you haven’t heard this cover by Lucius before:

This Tiny Desk Concert by Lucius is also pretty amazing.  I especially enjoy around the 12 minute mark when they are asked if they would play one more song and they then scavenge through the desks to find items to use for percussion while playing Genevieve.

These aren’t quite Matt’s punk or heavy metal covers, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.


And the Winner of the 2018 “Al” is… Joy Morton

November 1, 2018

It was a very crowded field of excellent nominees for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. In total there were 8 nominees (two of whom shared the honor): Leo MoracchioliRichard GarfieldElizabeth VandiverEric LundgrenAdam Butler and Autumn Thomasson, George Henry Thomas, and Joy Morton.

Of all of these worthy individuals, Joy Morton best exemplifies the way in which Al Copeland improved the human condition.  Morton, like Copeland, promoted good by doing well.  As Collin noted in his post, Morton sought a competitive advantage for his salt company by adding iodine and advertising the health benefits of doing so.  It was known at the time that small amounts of iodine could prevent goiters, which were a widespread and damaging problem throughout America’s heartland. But no one was doing anything about this until Morton saw a way to make money from adding iodine to people’s diet.

It was later learned that iodine is crucial to healthy brain development.  By adding iodine to salt, Morton reduced cognitive disabilities among those with the lowest access to iodine in their diet, raising IQs by one full standard deviation in that population. Collin emphasized how much good Morton achieved through his profit-seeking enterprise relative to what has been achieved by billions in non-profit expenditures:

One. Standard. Deviation. Countless foundations have invested countless dollars to achieve impacts a fraction of that size in [a] tiny fraction of the population – and most have failed. Morton accomplished it all with table salt.

Al Copeland similarly improved the human condition through a profit-seeking enterprise.  Rather than prevent goiters and raise IQs, Copeland satisfied our desire for spicy chicken.  And both efforts have in common a significant reliance on salt.

Leo Moracchioli shares with Morton and Copeland the fact that he makes money from his humanitarian activities.  Making heavy metal covers on Youtube brings plenty of joy to his followers as well as money to his pocket.  And Matt was right to note the importance of “disintermediation” in producing this and other positive developments.  But it is hard for fun music to compare with preventing goiters and raising IQs let alone to providing spicy chicken.

Ben Ladner’s personal and well-written nomination of Magic: The Gathering’s creator, Richard Garfield  was also compelling.  But like my previous nomination of D&D promoter, Gary Gygax, Garfield falls short.  As much as I identify with and root for the Geek tribe, their amusement and acts of solidarity do not rise to the level of improving the human condition like spicy chicken does.

My nomination of Elizabeth Vandiver also falls short.  Promoting awareness of human nature through understanding of Classical Mythology is enormously important work, but Vandiver reaches too few people to make enough of a difference.  If only our schools thought this was an important part of their job and made use of Vandiver’s materials, it might be a different story.

Greg had several nominees.  We may have to consider a rule regarding whether an individual can have multiple nominees in a single year and whether multiple people can share a nomination.  In any event, Greg’s nomination of Eric Lundgren was excellent but it felt more like a Higgy nomination for Bill Gates. Making use of old computer parts is indeed noble, but the way Microsoft sought to block it shows that profit-seeking enterprises can also promote bad while doing well.  The nomination of Adam Butler and Autumn Thomasson for providing legal assistance to lemonade stands while also making a profit selling lemonade also sounds like a Higgy nomination for the PLDDs who seek to shut those stands down. Lastly, George Henry Thomas is also a very worthy nominee for his demonstration of true patriotism and understanding that victory can only be achieved when one’s opponent admits defeat.  Thomas’ example is actually in keeping with Daniel Pipes’ more recent promotion of the Israel Victory Project.  While victory can only be achieved by the admission of defeat by one’s opponent, Thomas actually failed at achieving that, as Greg concedes.  Some Southerners continue “The Cause” to this day, so it is now our responsibility to complete what Thomas started.

Fortunately, because we are goiter-free and enjoy elevated IQs we are now positioned to pursue the total defeat of The Cause, rocking on YouTube, playing games with other Geeks, understanding human nature, and fighting PLDDers of all sorts.  For this we owe a debt of gratitude to Joy Morton and award him the 2018 Al Copleand Humanitarian Award.


Stop the Clock! The Al Will be Announced Tomorrow

October 31, 2018

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We had so many excellent nominees for The Al this year that I need some extra time to select the winner.

Our nominees include Leo MoracchioliRichard Garfield, Elizabeth Vandiver, Eric LundgrenAdam Butler and Autumn Thomasson, George Henry Thomas, and Joy Morton.

As you enjoy your candy you can review all of these nominees and await the announced winner tomorrow.


Religious Schools and Science

October 30, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this deluge of Al nominees to bring you . . . something about education! Namely this post at OCPA about why religious private schools can teach science so well. The main reason is that religious people’s beliefs about science are not very different from everyone else’s:

This is partly because the extent to which less-religious people “believe in science” is overrated. Consult your daily horoscope for guidance on whether secular reason and revealed religion are the only belief systems in modern America. Don’t worry, if you can still find a newspaper, you’ll have no trouble finding a horoscope—nearly every U.S. paper has printed them for generations, in spite of unanimous opposition to astrology from the world religions. If you’re a Libra, you can weigh the evidence and find that secular Americans are imperfectly rational. If you’re an Aquarius, you can pour cold water on the illusions of secular rationality. If you’re a Gemini, you can pour it twice.

The more important factor, however, is that ignorant people have vastly understated the extent to which religious people and institutions in the modern world “believe in science.” None of the foundational commitments of science—that nature works regularly, that the human mind is capable of discovering and describing that regularity—are in conflict with religion. That is why all the world religions have embraced modern science; indeed, the Christian assumption that nature and the human mind were made by a rational God was, historically, an essential precondition for the emergence of modern science.

Belief that miracles have sometimes occurred is no hindrance to science. On the contrary, you can’t believe in miracles as exceptions to the ordinary course of nature until you believe that the ordinary course of nature is rational and regular. And you can’t believe miracles serve to demonstrate visibly to their observers that nature is being disrupted—which is what miracles are for in the first place—unless you believe that the human mind is capable of knowing the regularity of nature (and hence knowing when it has been disrupted). Belief in miracles, far from contradicting the view that nature is regular and that we can know its regularity, presuppose this view.

The underlying problem for the way we think about this, unsurprisingly, is that people are more concerned with advancing their view of religion than with getting their facts straight:

These observations force us to recognize that we have to do better at distinguishing two questions. One is whether people ought to “believe in science” given their worldview, and the other is whether those people do in fact “believe in science.” Whatever you think about what people ought to believe, as a point of empirical fact the relationship between people’s beliefs about religion and their beliefs about science simply does not justify the confident assertions made about these beliefs.

Let me know what you think!


Rats Bite Children at Mismanaged Arizona District School

October 16, 2018

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Here’s a story you probably haven’t seen before:

The rodent problem was so bad at Alfred F. Garcia Elementary School in Phoenix, rats bit two students during the last school year.

As horrifying as that was, pest control takes up just one paragraph in a 26-page report detailing a laundry list of troubles in the Murphy Elementary School District.

In an unusual move, the Arizona State Board of Education took over the beleaguered Phoenix district in June because of serious financial issues, primarily a $2.2 million spending deficit. In March, class sizes swelled to more than 40 students in some district classrooms, prompting outrage from parents.

In Arizona, the average district school expenditure per student is nearly $10,000, and the Murphy district serves about 1,500 students. So where did all the money go?

The receiver also found “numerous” instances of wasteful spending, detailed in the report.

In one case, materials for a $500,000 curriculum sat unused in a classroom while Murphy spent $173,000 on a different curriculum. A curriculum details what students study day to day and how those lessons are taught. They often come with teaching materials to assist educators.

The unused curriculum at Murphy included textbooks, workbooks and other materials like science lab kits, Anderson wrote.

The classroom holding the materials also sat unused, save for as a storage space for the half-million dollar curriculum. The receiver sold some of the curriculum to recoup some of the lost money and opened up the classroom for future teaching uses.

“What I was most alarmed at was the degree of how mismanaged the district was,” Donofrio said after reading the receiver’s report. “I know a lot of people are kind of upset by the report.”

Other instances of financial mismanagement detailed in the report include:

  • Arizona Cardinals staff suspected that tickets left at district offices for Cardinals and Diamondbacks games were sold online by staffers instead of actually being used by students and educators to attend games, Anderson wrote.
  • Twelve district employees were issued a $4,500 stipend for “official use of their personal vehicles, whether or not travel between schools is required for their jobs.” It’s unclear if the stipend was annual.
  • The report notes a $12,000 performance bonus that then-superintendent Jose Diaz was awarded “in spite of declining student performance, decreased enrollment, and overspending at the district level.” Diaz retired from Murphy in February. 
  • The district spent thousands every month on cell phone plans.
  • Murphy didn’t reduce the number of administrative staffers even as student enrollment declined.
  • A company charged with maintaining the district’s HVAC system was not actually doing basic monthly maintenance checks under an $85,000 contract. The receiver terminated the contract after an investigation.

I highly suggest reading the full article. The district was spending $800 more per pupil in administrative costs than the state average. When confronted by angry teachers and parents, how much do you want to bet that the incompetent (and possibly corrupt) administrators pointing fingers at the state for supposedly not giving them enough money?

Clearly, a quality education requires a significant investment. But more money won’t solve the problems of districts like Murphy.

 


Narrow STEM Focus In Schools May Hurt Long-Term

October 16, 2018

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Education policy leaders have been obsessed with STEM for many years now.  They note the relatively high salaries of students who complete school with STEM skills.  And industry leaders repeatedly complain about the chronic shortages of skilled workers in technical fields.  If only our schools could produce more graduates with these technical skills, we could help address industry’s needs as well as launch students into lucrative careers.

Huge investments have been made to steer students into STEM fields.  Philanthropists have backed coding camps and embraced STEM-focused charters.  And policymakers have poured millions into expanding STEM programs in public schools and universities.  Arkansas has gone as far as requiring that every public and charter high school offer a computer science course so that all students can learn to code.

A fascinating recent paper by David Deming and Kadeem Noray, however, suggests that the payoff to students for pursuing STEM may be short-lived.  STEM workers initially experience elevated salaries and rates of employment, but the skills their occupations require change so rapidly that their training quickly becomes obsolete.  While most workers in other occupations tend to experience a significant rise in earnings as experience enhances their skills, STEM workers tend to have flatter career earning trajectories. As Deming and Noray put it:

We show that the economic payoff to majoring in applied STEM fields such as engineering and computer science is initially very high, but declines by more than 50 percent in the first decade after college. STEM majors have flatter age-earnings profiles than college graduates who major in other subjects, even after controlling for cognitive ability and other important determinants of earnings.

Like professional athletes or movie stars, STEM workers may make a lot of money right out of the gate, but their prospects fade quickly.  If they don’t have non-technical skills to make the transition into management or other occupations, they may suffer the fate of former athletes who couldn’t get an analyst gig or aging actresses who aren’t Meryl Streep.  It’s ironic that the same kinds of education pundits who cluck about how irresponsible it is to offer sports and theater opportunities to students for fear of encouraging them into such high-risk and short-lived careers remain blissfully unaware of the similar (albeit much less severe) career dynamics in many STEM fields.

And as to those severe labor shortages that the tech industry complains about, Deming and Noray say: “Faster technological progress creates a greater sense of shortage, but it is the new STEM skills that are scarce, not the workers themselves.” Tech companies are laying off older workers with slightly older skill sets at the same time that they are starving for new workers with the latest training.  If tech companies want to solve their shortage problem they may need to look in the mirror rather than expect the education system to fix this entirely for them.  They may need to invest more in retraining older workers to keep their skills current.  Or they may need to increase the pay premium for starting workers enough to entice more to take the risks of having a short-lived lucrative career.

While schools still need to do much to improve their efforts in math and science, they should avoid narrowing their focus too much on STEM.  Doing so may serve industry’s insatiable appetite for new, skilled workers, but it may do a long-term dis-service to their students who need a broader set of skills to prosper over their entire working careers (let alone cheating them of the broader education they need to be more enlightened human beings).