Thursday, March 29, 2012

Erick Erickson rejoices.
Dahlia Lithwick weeps.

Reform Continues March in LA

The Louisiana State Senate's Education Committee has unanimously approved HB974, which radically weakens local control of schools in the name of undercutting teacher tenure.  It remains to be seen how many Senate Democrats will support this measure---though this vote may be a sign of Democratic willingness to allow for a far-reaching reorganization of schools in Louisiana.

Some Louisiana conservatives are raising questions about the lack of deliberation that has gone into this bill and expressing concerns about the centralizing tendencies of this measure.  Who knows if these concerns will be heard or addressed.

A source in the Louisiana legislature tells me that the issues of local control raised in HB974 and HB976 do not even seem to be on the radar of most Senate Republicans (in his/her opinion).  Perhaps this issue will be on the radar before the Senate votes in favor of it; grassroots pressure might still change things.

But, unless it does, the education package supported by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his allies in the "reform" community looks to be heading in the direction of passage.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reforming Local Control Away

Last week, the Louisiana House passed HB974, which would reform teacher tenure in that state, with a bipartisan majority.  This measure radically weakens teacher tenure: in order to receive tenure, a teacher must be rated "highly effective" for five out of six years.  If this teacher is ever rated as "ineffective," he or she immediately loses tenure.  At least 50% of a teacher's effectiveness evaluation will depend upon value-added test score data.  Republicans were not united in the passage of HB974 in the Louisiana House.  Indeed, without the support of Democrats, this measure would not have passed.  The Louisiana State Senate is due to consider this measure shortly: the Education Committee seems currently scheduled to review the legislation on Thursday.

Some "conservative" groups are celebrating the passage of this bill.  This celebration might be more than a little ironic, however, because HB974 seems a text taken straight from the annals of radical progressivism (or perhaps progressive radicalism) rather than traditional conservatism.  Rather than running schools as community enterprises, HB974 pushes in the direction of a quasi-corporate power structure---with centralized power and a preponderance of statistical diktats.

There's much more to this measure than merely redefining the terms of tenure.  HB974 weakens the power of a town or city to govern its schools.  Under old law, local school boards were the ultimate decision-makers in hiring: the recommendations of school administrators had to be approved by them (and the boards could reject the recommendations of superintendents and principals).  Not anymore.  Under HB974, boards delegate their authority to superintendents.  Rather than the superintendent being an academic advisor and leader for a public school, he or she acquires CEO-like powers.  Superintendents and principals become the ones with the authority to hire and fire under this new measure.

Moreover, the state further ties school board hands.  School boards must establish contracts with performance targets for superintendents.  If these targets are not met, the superintendent's contract must not be renewed.  For districts including at least 75% of Louisiana schools (ones that do not receive an "A" or "B" rating from the state), HB974 specifies in further detail the kinds of targets a superintendent's contract must include.  Whenever a school board decides not to renew a superintendent's contract (for the moment, school boards still have that power), it must file a report with the state explaining its actions.  If budget cuts come and staff must be reduced, HB974 offers a formula for how staff must be reduced, with the least "effective" faculty member in an academic area being let go first.  So much for local discretion.

Moreover, tenure under HB974 ain't quite what it used to be.  Tenure protections are radically weakened by HB974, in ways that might to make traditional conservatives nervous (and not only traditional conservatives, either).  Consider the legislative language describing how a tenured teacher may be dismissed under HB974 (the numbers are line numbers in the bill text):
A teacher with tenure shall not be removed from office
4 except upon written and signed charges of poor performance,willful neglect of duty,
5 or incompetency, dishonesty, or immorality, or of being a member of or contributing
6 to any group, organization, movement, or corporation that is by law or injunction
7 prohibited from operating in the state of Louisiana, and then only furnished with a copy of such written charges and given the opportunity to
9 respond. The teacher shall have seven days to respond, and such response shall be
10 included in the teacher's personnel file. At the end of this seven-day time period, the
11 superintendent may terminate the teacher's employment. A teacher shall not be
12 terminated for an "ineffective" performance rating until completion of the grievance
13 procedure established pursuant to R.S. 17:3883(A)(5) if a grievance was timely filed.
14 Within seven days after dismissal, a teacher may request and upon request shall be
15 granted a hearing by a panel
16 composed of a designee of the superintendent, a designee of the principal or the
17 administrative head of the state special school in which the teacher was employed,
18 and a designee of the teacher. In no case shall the superintendent, the principal or
19 state special school administrative head, or teacher designate an immediate family
20 member or any full-time employee of the school system by which the teacher was
21 employed who is under the supervision of the person making the designation.
The key detail about this language is that a tenured teacher need not be found guilty of these charges of poor performance, willful neglect of duty, incompetence, dishonesty, or immorality in order to be dismissed (as current Louisiana law requires).  Instead, HB974 only requires that the teacher be given the charges in writing and be given the opportunity to address these charges.  The charges could be completely mendacious, and the tenured teacher could still lose his or her job at the superintendent's whim.

Current Louisiana law gives school boards the power to review appeals for tenure dismissal.  As it does with many other traditional local powers, HB974 strips the school board of this authority and instead gives the superintendent the ability to review the teacher's case.

If the teacher wishes to appeal the superintendent's decision, he or she enters a kind of kangaroo court, where three people review this ruling: a designee of the superintendent, a designee of the principal, and a designee of the teacher.  Under HB974, the principal serves under the superintendent, so the panel called to review the superintendent's decision would be stacked 2-1 with people either appointed by the superintendent or someone under the superintendent's control (the principal).  So much for due process.  (Conceivably, the teacher could then try to appeal to a court to reverse this decision, but this appeal could place considerable costs upon a teacher.)

The superintendent under HB974 basically has the ability to hire and fire at will---regardless of tenure.  Checks and balances are effectively removed.  It's hard to see how this radical power is in accord with conventional Republican and conservative principles of diffusion of public power and an emphasis on local control.  (And, yes, public schools are public institutions, and these schools are in part funded by local tax dollars.)

Moreover, in enshrining value-added testing performance for teacher evaluations, HB974 idolizes bureaucratic instruments in a way that seems utterly divorced from conservatism.  As New York City's recent value-added testing data dump shows, the results of value-added teacher evaluations can be totally arbitrary as well as disconnected from reality.  Conservatives have made a lot of conceptual and political headway since the 1960s by pointing to the absurd results that centralized bureaucracies could lead to; it seems a rather sad turn, then, for purported conservatives to be embracing such bureaucracies.

Measures that deify value-added testing would seem to give power to the ultimate unelected bureaucrats: those who design these tests and create the complex (and quite possibly flawed) equations used to determine value-added knowledge.  HB974 would seem to accelerate the tendency in Louisiana to wrest control of schools from the local community and transfer it to an appointed (in the case of superintendents) and unelected few.

If someone were interested in centralizing schooling in Louisiana, HB974 combined with HB976 (which expands the power of charter schools and certain central state agencies) would be a good way to do it.  It's no surprise that some Tea Party groups in Louisiana are beginning to mobilize against this measure.  HB974's tendencies would seem to go against the small, localized government that many Tea Partiers claim to support. In the days ahead, perhaps Louisiana will witness the unlikeliest of odd couples: teachers unions and Tea Partiers coming together to defend the tradition of local governance.  Some solid conservatives in the Louisiana House opposed this bill due to their skepticism about big-government schemes.  Republicans hold a much stronger hand in the state senate; perhaps traditional conservatives will collaborate with union allies to halt or slow this move toward centralization.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Deflecting Blame

David C. Levy attempts to blame faculty salaries at universities for rising tuition costs and suggests that most university faculty are not working hard enough:
But I disagree with the next assumption, that the answer to rising college costs is to throw more public money into the system. In fact, increased public support has probably facilitated rising tuitions. Overlooked in the debate are reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules.
Through the first half of the 20th century, faculties in academic institutions were generally underpaid relative to other comparably educated members of the workforce. Teaching was viewed as a “calling” in the tradition of tweed jackets, pipe tobacco and avuncular campus life. Trade-offs for modest salaries were found in the relaxed atmospheres of academic communities, often retreats from the pressures of the real world, and reflected in such benefits as tenure, light teaching loads, long vacations and sabbaticals.
With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result has been more equitable circumstances for college faculty, who deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.
 James Joyner and Robert Farley take issue with Levy's estimates of how much college faculty actually work.

But I'd like instead to look at Levy's implicit claim that faculty salaries are disproportionately contributing to tuition inflation.  Nowhere does Levy really address the fact that colleges and universities are increasingly using part-time faculty members (with much lower rates of pay and usually without benefits) to teach classes.  Tenured and tenure-track faculty now only constitute 25% of faculty members in the US (compared to over 45% in 1975), according to the American Association of University Professors.

Moreover, full-time faculty salaries are not exactly skyrocketing.  Adjusted for inflation, the average rate of tuition growth was about 6% a year between 1989 and 2005.  During that same period, the average full-time faculty salary never increased above 2.2% a year adjusted for inflation (according to the AAUP).  During most of those years, the salary growth was either negative when adjusted for inflation or under 1%.  So it's hard to blame faculty salaries for skyrocketing tuition costs.  Nor can the growth in faculty numbers be blamed (since faculty hiring is well behind administrative hiring).

Administration, however, has seen considerable growth in salaries and college expenditures.  As an email from an AAUP official explains:
  1. You can't blame faculty salaries for increases in tuition and costs. Faculty salary increases have been well below increases in tuition and well below increases in senior administrators' salaries, which have increased disproportionately....Between 1995-96 and 2005-06, presidential salaries increased by 35 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared to 5 percent for average faculty salaries (figure 3, 2006-07 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession ); from 2005-06 to 2007-08, the two-year increase in senior administrators' salaries outpaced both inflation and the increase in average salary for full professors (figures 1 and 2, 2007-08 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession).
  2. You can't blame increases in faculty numbers for increased tuition and costs. Full-time tenure-track faculty numbers have increased at a far slower rate than have numbers of other professionals and administrators. Between 1976 and 2005, full-time tenure-track positions in the United States increased by only 17 percent, compared to a 281 percent increase in nonfaculty professionals and a 101 percent increase in administrators (see figure 3 in the 2007-08 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession).
  3. Spending on instruction has declined in all sectors of higher education, while spending on administrative costs has increased. Between 1995 and 2006, overall spending increased, but the share of instruction was down in all sectors (for example, in public master's institutions it was down from 53.9 to 50.8 percent; in private master's institutions it was down from 45.0 to 43.0 percent). The share of student services increased (from 9.9 to 10.9 percent in public master's institutions and from 13.9 to 15.6 percent in private master's institutions), as did that of administration and other support (from 36.2 to 38.2 percent and from 41.1 to 41.4 percent, respectively...)
It's true that increasing teach loads might cause the amount a university spends on instruction to go down.  But it is not clear that those savings would be passed on to students (rather than being captured by another group within the university).  Nor is it clear that this action would not harm the quality of instruction and research done at American universities.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How much is the search for the tax-cut Santa responsible for many Republican fiscal policies?
Larry J. Sabato suggests that control of the US Senate could come down to eight races:
Let’s assume that, at the dawn of the 113th Congress in 2013, all 67 sitting senators not up for reelection this year — 30 Democrats, 37 Republicans — return to serve next year (no departures for the Cabinet, the Court or the Great Beyond). Next, let’s also assume that the 16 races we currently favor Democrats to win go to the Blue column, and the nine races where Republicans are favored go to the Red column. (See our full chart below.) Note that we have long flipped Nebraska and North Dakota from Democratic control to Republican control; former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey’s return to Nebraska hasn’t moved us a bit. Note also, as we said above, we are assuming that Maine elects King, who in effect becomes an Independent Democrat akin to Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman or Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Further, our analysis has Democrats holding seats that are actually or potentially competitive, such as Ohio, Michigan and Hawaii. Finally, we presume that Democrats don’t score surprising upsets in places like Arizona and Indiana.
With those assumptions in place, the Senate is tied exactly 46 to 46, with eight toss up races to decide whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) continues to lead the chamber, or whether Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) takes over.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Solidifying the Base

Many parts of the "Tea Party" establishment (certain large organizations and big "Tea Party" players) have been very critical of Mitt Romney so far.  That may be about to change, as the Washington Times reports:
The organization that ignited the tea party as a national mass movement gave Mitt Romney perhaps his biggest victory yet, deciding to drop its opposition to his candidacy, a top executive in the group told The Washington Times.
FreedomWorks, which organized the Sept. 12, 2009, mass demonstration on the Mall, says that while it will not give an explicit endorsement, the time has come for Republicans to unite around the former Massachusetts governor and focus on defeating President Obama.
“It is a statistical fact that the numbers favor Mitt Romney,” FreedomWorks Vice President Russ Walker told The Times on Tuesday. “We are dedicated to defeating Obama and electing a conservative Senate that will help Romney repeal Obamacare and address the nation’s economic and spending challenges.”
 FreedomWorks had originally protested against Romney, so for it to move to a position of neutrality---or even tepid support---is a big change.

Even inveterate Romney foe Erick Erickson has now declared that Romney will be the nominee.

Many grassroots Republicans apparently like Romney (a core 15%-20% has stayed with him throughout the whole primary, a bigger base of support than any other candidate has been able to muster consistently).  However, many voices purporting to represent the grassroots had discounted Romney and criticized him as a traitor to conservatism (even if many "conservative" purists embraced him in 2008).  After Romney's win in Illinois, we may see some of those voices lowering the volume or redirecting their wrath at Obama.
Kevin D. Williamson says that the middle class will have to give up more:
Politicians in both parties (and many of my colleagues at this magazine) speak constantly of defending the interests of the middle class, but it is precisely the middle class that will have to see higher taxes or lower benefits or both if the country is to remain solvent. We could tax the rich at 100 percent and still fail to balance the budget, and the Bush tax cuts for the $200,000-and-up set are dwarfed by the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of federal transfer payments go to the non-poor, mainly to the middle class. It is the middle class, not the wealthy, that enjoys relatively light taxation.
 The country might also take a big step toward solvency if the middle class saw its economic prospects improve.  And it's worth noting that a considerable portion of "federal transfer payments" are Social Security payments, and that many middle class people have paid into Social Security their whole lives in order to have access to these payments.
Paul Ryan's new budget has come out.  A common attack on this budget seems to be that it estimates that non-health, non-Social Security spending will be down to 3.75% of GDP by 2050.  Since defense spending alone has not been under 3% of GDP since World War II, that 3.75% number may be hard to hit.

Derek Thompson says that Obama's and Ryan's budgets are answering two separate questions:
Ryan's budget answers the question: What's the best way to reduce the deficit by cutting government health care spending without doing something too unpopular? Obama's budget answers the question: What's the best way to pay for the social programs we have and the job investments we need?
Thompson's approach here is interesting---and the questions are provocative.  However, perhaps the best way to pay for current social programs would be to turn around the economy by reinvigorating the employment prospects for the non-rich.  Obama's policies have been perhaps less than successful in accomplishing that goal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Romney romps to a big win in Illinois.  He looks likely to net over 30 delegates on Santorum (43-8).  Romney has nearly 50% of the delegates needed to win the nomination.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is Dick Lugar going to be the Bob Bennett of 2012?  Bennett was a popular Republican senator from Utah who was deemed too moderate for his Republican constituents, who replaced him with Tim Lee as the Republican nominee for Senate in 2010 (and who went on to win in November).  Now, Lugar seems to be slipping in the polls against his Republican upstart challenger, Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.  A while ago, Lugar held a double-digit lead over Mourdock; his lead is now down to 6 points (45-39).
David Frum suggests that there may be economic reasons why "moderates" within the GOP have seemingly lost power over the past few decades.
Gary Rubinstein levies some criticisms of Teach-For-America founder Wendy Kopp's defense of TFA.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mitt Romney scores a big win in Puerto Rico: he looks likely to gain 20 of the island's primary delegates.
Nate Silver suggests that Santorum should focus less on the "small ball" of accumulating pockets of delegates and more "game-changing" moves:
For Mr. Santorum to have a shot at winning the nomination, he will need to poll at least 5 or 10 points better across the board than he has so far — and to do so consistently enough that those polls translate into votes and then delegates.
But polls usually do not shift without a reason. They change on the basis of news, and Mr. Santorum’s campaign has had trouble driving any of it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Disconnection in Education "Reform"

My new piece at the Huffington Post exames some of the implications of New York City's recent data release on the city's teachers:
During the week of Feb. 24, the New York City Education Department released data estimating the performance (based on a value-added testing evaluation metric) of over 12,000 teachers in the city's public schools.  The individual data sets were requested by journalists, and these requests were at first resisted by many advocates for education "reform."  Evaluating teachers based on student performance on standardized testing has become increasingly chic within the "reform" community.  In part to receive funding from President Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative, New York state has recently put in place new measures that will tie a teacher's overall evaluation to his or her value-added testing rating.  New York's "value-added" ratings attempt to estimate how much a teacher "improved" students' performances on standardized tests while adjusting for student past performance, demographics, and other factors.

Teach For America alum and current Stuyvesant High School math teacher Gary Rubinstein recently dug into the raw teacher data -- and his findings have potentially devastating implications for New York's testing regime.

Rubinstein found a few startling results:
  • There is relatively little correlation between how a single teacher does one year and how a single teacher will do the next year.
  • There is next to no correlation between a teacher's success in teaching a group of students one subject and teaching that same group of students another subject.
  • There is very little correlation between a teacher's success in teaching a subject at one grade level and his or her success in teaching that same subject in a different grade level in the same year.
Rubinstein makes many other intriguing points, but those three conclusions are striking.  They raise serious questions about New York's value-added metrics.

The first result suggests little connection between a teacher's performance one year and his or her performance the next.  Rubinstein notes:
I found that 50% of the teachers had a 21 point 'swing' one way or the other.  There were even teachers who had gone up or down as much as 80 points.  The average change was 25 points.  I also noticed that 49% of the teachers got lower value-added in 2010 than they did in 2009, contrary to my experience that most teachers improve from year to year.
That 25-point swing makes the difference between a teacher performing significantly above average (say with a score of 65) and significantly below average (say with a score of 40).  Are teachers really that uneven from one year to the next?  Perhaps teacher scores will fluctuate within a certain range in the short term but stay within that range over the long term, but, for many educational reform policy programs, teachers would be evaluated on a year-to-year basis, and this kind of swing in scores could hamper the effectiveness of such evaluation.  Moreover, this kind of swing suggests a huge margin of error in this model's results.  (Other analyses have also suggested this lack of year-to-year correlation and the wide margin of error in individual teacher evaluations based on these value-added metrics: According to the New York Times, the math rating for a teacher could be off by as much as 35 percent while the English rating could be off by as much as 53 percent.)

Rubinstein suggests various reasons why we should be skeptical of a data set that shows very little correlation between a teacher's success in teaching one subject and his or her success teaching another subject.  But perhaps the result that stands out the most is Rubinstein's finding that, according to the NYC testing metrics, there is little correlation between a teacher's success in teaching one subject at one grade level and his or her success teaching the same subject (in the same year) at a different grade level:
Out of 665 teachers who taught two different grade levels of the same subject in 2010, the average difference between the two scores was nearly 30 points [out of 100 points].  One out of four teachers, or approximately 28 percent, had a difference of 40 or more points.  Ten percent of the teachers had differences of 60 points or more, and a full five percent had differences of 70 points or more.
So a teacher could score a 70 in teaching math at the sixth grade level while also scoring only a 40 in teaching math in the seventh grade level during the same year -- and that's only the average swing between the two scores.  Rubinstein notes that one teacher he looked at scored a 97 teaching sixth-grade math while scoring a 6 -- yes, a 6 -- teaching seventh-grade math in the same year.  Is it highly likely that one person could be truly exceptional teaching math to sixth graders while also being utterly abysmal teaching math to seven graders?  I guess it's possible, but that's a very far-out possibility.

Even when one dismisses those outliers (even though such outliers could still lose their jobs due to these test results), the average gap between these two categories is huge.  The testing metric of NYC thus implies that there is almost no connection between a teacher's success in teaching one grade level and his or her success teaching another grade level, an assertion that flies in the face of observable experience and the standards of common sense.  There might not be a perfect correlation between success at one level and success at another, but for there to be almost none seems a very odd result.  Common sense is not always correct, but there is also a chance that highly complicated technical instruments can be mistaken as well.

We can broaden these points.  One of the dangers of elaborate technocratic schemes is that they may produce results that are utterly unconnected to real needs and may create organizational imperatives that have no connection with realities.  That's one of the reasons why traditional conservatives have been skeptical about radically centrally planned economies: the metrics of top-down bureaucrats, however sophisticated, will not always accord with reality.

As I have written before, it is unfortunate that some conservatives have forgotten the limits of technocratic instruments when it comes to education reform.  Instead, many Republicans and supposed conservatives are doubling down on testing-driven educational reform, making standardized tests the central focus for student, teacher, and school evaluations.  Yet Rubinstein's analysis suggests that the value-added metrics of NYC, however sophisticated, implicitly lead to results that seem to have little, if any, basis in reality.  And if this testing regime has led to such results, we may have little reason to take any of its results seriously; all results, and all conclusions drawn from them, may be utterly poisoned by a false methodology.

Unfortunately, political power often has only a passing acquaintance with reason, and many teachers will have to take these results quite seriously indeed: their future employment may depend upon them.  But the prejudices of the powerful should not deter a forthright use of reason.  So we should ask: If this testing instrument, devised by the largest and one of the most sophisticated school districts in the United States, leads to conclusions that seem so utterly divorced from reality, why should this instrument be used to decide the fate of teachers?  Maintaining real standards for education and encouraging excellence are good things, but it is not yet clear that this testing model helps achieve, or measures the achievement of, either goal.  The fact that a rabbit hole is bipartisan (as testing-driven "reform" is) does not mean that it leads to a world that is any less fantastic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winning Small

Despite close victories in Alabama and Mississippi, Rick Santorum could very easily find himself further behind Mitt Romney in terms of the delegate count as a result of Tuesday's primaries.  Why?  In part because of Romney's crushing win in Hawaii.

Santorum's problem is that, for many of the significant primaries he wins, his margin of victory is small, and, in most states, this small margin of victory translates to a much smaller delegate lead.  For example, Santorum's win in Oklahoma only netted him one delegate over Romney (14-13), and his Mississippi victory looks likely to do so as well.  While Santorum has had some large margins of victory in a few states (such as Kansas and North Dakota), many of his victories are small ones; about half of his margins of victory are under six points, and many of his wins have come in relatively smaller states.  These victories are enough to maintain media momentum, but they do not rack up the delegates.

Romney, on the other hand, has had numerous large margins of victory in numerous big states.  He netted 38 delegates in Massachusetts, 50 delegates in Florida (a winner-take-all state), 16 delegates in Ohio (35-19 over Santorum), and so forth.  Romney does have some smaller delegate margins in a number of states, but he also has had numerous big wins; these large wins in part account for his large delegate lead over Santorum and Gingrich.

In some ways, Rick Santorum finds himself in the position of Hillary Clinton in 2008 (though he is not running nearly as strongly as Clinton did): she won numerous big states (such as California and New York), but she didn't have as many crushing victory margins as Obama did.  Obama used these big margins to get a significant delegate lead that Clinton was never able to overcome.

Under a proportional system, winning big matters.  Obama used that to his advantage in 2008.  So far, this emphasis on winning big has helped Romney.  It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in the future.  It perhaps should be noted, though, that many of the upcoming winner-take-all states are territory that would seem rather friendly to Romney (such as New Jersey and Utah).  Moreover, if we keep seeing three-way Southern splits in the future (thanks in part to Newt Gingrich), it seems unlikely that Santorum will net many delegates on Romney from that region.

(All delegate estimates come from CNN)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Heritage Foundation's Avik Roy looks at the health-care policies of Singapore and Switzerland to see what they can teach the USA about health-care reform.  Both countries have much less per capita government spending on health-care than the US does; indeed, in the US, government spends more per capita on health-care than most European nations do (with the exceptions of Norway and maybe Luxembourg).
Bruce Bartlett asks how much increased taxes really do decrease the incentive of upper-income earners to enrich themselves.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Carl Cameron reports on the following rumors:
Sources close to the Gingrich campaign say preliminary "what-if" conversations are underway that could lead to a Gingrich-Perry ticket being announced prior to the  Republican National Convention at the end of August.
Gingrich insiders hope forming a predetermined ticket with Perry will unite the evangelical, Tea Party and very conservative voters that make up the core of the GOP.
As discussions got underway, a spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a statement saying, "Gov. Perry thinks Newt Gingrich is the strongest conservative to debate and defeat President Obama and truly overhaul Washington. The speculation is humbling but premature."
Such a plan might also help Gingrich with the conservative blogosphere, much of which was very sympathetic to Perry.
Meanwhile, it's a close race in Tuesday's Alabama Republican primary, with Gingrich seeming to have a one-point lead (if even that) over Romney and Santorum.  And, according to the most recent Rasmussen poll, Romney leads both Gingrich and Santorum in Mississippi.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Testing the Testing

Gary Rubinstein has a great series of posts exploring the recently released evaluation data for New York City teachers.  His analysis has some bad news for the value-added testing metrics of the city: these metrics might not necessarily mirror real-world qualities, suggesting that analyzing teacher performance through these metrics might be a problematic enterprise at best.

Consider this finding: based on New York's assessment methods, there is hardly any correlation between a teacher's success in teaching a subject at one grade level and his or her success at teaching that same subject in the next grade level.  So a teacher who is supposedly successful teaching sixth-grade math could easily be one of the supposedly worst at teaching seventh-grade math.  Does that seem particularly plausible?  It might happen for some teachers, but Rubinstein finds almost no correlation for all teachers taken as a group.

Moreover, Rubinstein finds relatively little correlation between how successful a teacher is one year and how successful he or she is the next year.  With such variation, this testing regime might have a few methodological problems.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Keeping Personal Space

Using the current Rush Limbaugh contretemps as a framing issue, William Jacobson raises a warning flag about some of the tendencies of contemporary political rhetoric:
I’m talking about the second-tier of the warfare, the attempt to intimidate those removed by one or more degrees of separation from the dispute, and to use them as tools against the target.
We have seen it a number of times in the past couple of years.
When King & Spalding agreed to represent the U.S. House of Representative after Obama changed positions  and announced that the Justice Department no longer would defend DOMA in court, there were not only protests against King & Spalding, but threats to picket and protest clients of the firm who had nothing to do with the dispute.  The threat that clients of the firm who were completely unconnected to the dispute would be harrasseed was enough to cause the firm to withdraw the representation...

I would not be surprised to see a similar reaction from the right to the left’s attacks on advertisers, but that would be a mistake.
What is happening goes beyond Obama’s call for people to argue with their neighbors and get in their faces.  It goes far beyond Bill Clinton’s politics of personal destruction directed at accusers, and beyond name-calling by right wing pundits.
This total war, in which no one is allowed to be non-political and neighbors and clients become mere pressure points, is a dangerous development.
The whole thing is worth a read, and Jacobson's point is well-put: a political total war would be poisonous to the tradition of classical liberalism/conservatism.  It seems to me that classical conservatism and classical liberalism in part often depend upon keeping a cultural space that is relatively insulated from the petty ideological controversies of the moment.  This space can include much of everyday life, social traditions, certain kinds of cultural activities, and so forth.  These activities are still open to political critique and commentary, but they often stand aside from the hand-to-hand battles of political warfare.

The New Left and, more broadly, the new radicalism preach a rather different creed: Alinskyite-style, these movements instead seek to permeate contemporary culture and society with ideological combat.  The personal is the political, and everything is correspondingly politicized.  These tactics have borne some fruit (witness many of the cultural changes of the past few decades), and there is a temptation for classical conservatives to ape these tactics.  But this imitation would itself sell out the tradition of conservatism and consume non-politicized culture in the morass of ideological warfare.

Moreover, these past few decades (and days) have also seen the toxic confusion of principled critique and personal politicization, in which rallying one's "side" in an ideological war takes precedence over a sober analysis of political aims.

Which brings me to a few points about the saga of Sandra Fluke:

The often disgusting and mean-spirited comments aimed at Sandra Fluke do not disqualify---indeed, have nothing to do with---the principle that religious organizations should not be forced to pay for measures and procedures that go against the tenets of their faiths.  Democrats have tried to confuse the personal (Ms. Fluke) with the political (the freedom of religion as guaranteed in the First Amendment), and some conservatives, by indulging in personal invective against Ms. Fluke (focusing on destroying her person rather than her arguments), have indirectly aided them in this confusion.

And the fact that lefties have said disgusting and mean-spirited things against Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham and Michelle Malkin does not change the grossness of the language leveled against Ms. Fluke from some corners.  That kind of deflection through equivalence is a hallmark of the moral relativism that the right so often decries.

Should a religious organization be mandated to fund things that go against its core beliefs?  Furthermore, is it acceptable for these mandates to be passed down by some executive branch official?  Those are the questions at issue---not who wins some media game of gotcha or who can muster greater outrage.  Conservatives can offer worthy, principled answers to those questions.  Defending religious freedom is a winning issue for Republicans; getting mired in radical "progressive"-style debates about the personal-political, not so much.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Closing on Super Tuesday

According to the latest Rasmussen poll of Tennessee, Romney has pulled within four points of Santorum (30-34).

Reuters shows Santorum's lead continuing to bleed away in Ohio: now he and Romney are tied with 32% each.

Romney seems to have a big lead in Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot), and Gingrich is running ahead in his home state of Georgia.