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How Common Core Caused Moms to Become Activists

Blog - Education - April 19, 2014, 1:55 PM

[This article was co-authored by Bonnie O'Neil]

School teachers all over the nation are quitting their profession, often due to being forced to abandon what they considered an excellent education system and change to one they consider inferior.   The faulty system they refer to is the new and highly controversial Common Core.  Susan Sluyter recently provided her reason for resigning after 25 years of teaching. She stated “I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths, to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.”

One theory for developing Common Core, touted by those who initiated the experimental program, is the advantage of creating a common set of standards for all the states. However, opponents say that this one-size-fits-all approach to education is flawed and robs states of their individuality.  Opponents also state that it isn’t just the standards that are being criticized.  The bigger problem is the curriculum that supports the standards that has parents, teachers, and concerned citizens forming pockets of protests throughout America.

Proponents of Common Core like to portray the opposition movement as one being driven by Tea Party members. While that group may oppose it, the reality is that the firestorm of opposition sweeping through the states is largely being fueled by parents of school children. These are people who had been busy raising their families, without the time or inclination to become involved in politics. Common Core turned them into political activists.

Heather Chappell and Susi Khan are examples of that. They are mothers in Yorba Linda, California and became concerned when Common Core was introduced at their school. They began to ask questions and did not like the answers they received. They took the time to investigate Common Core more thoroughly and discovered many others shared their concerns. Those two Moms found it alarming that most of their friends and neighbors had never even heard of the new education system.

They decided to organize an event to help others learn what they knew.  Forming a small committee comprised of their friends, and with minimal publicity, Heather and Susi left their laundry choirs to plan an event and help others know the facts. About 250 people crowded into a church in their area to hear a presentation about Common Core. It was a huge success, which attracted a variety of people from all walks of life, age groups, and political backgrounds. Those results caused Heather and Susi to know people had a desires and need to know more about Common Core. They quickly put together another event.

But they are not alone! Parents just like them are popping up throughout America to aggressively protest against the controversial education system, causing state officials to take a second look at the problems inherent in Common Core.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence listened to the outrage and reports of problems that continued to plague his office.  He recently decided to drop Common Core and replace it with a state program.  He signed new legislation that made his state the first to opt out of Common Core standards.   Pence unlocked the floodgates for more states to follow Indiana’s move against the ill-conceived federal intervention of Common Core. The two most obvious states are Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Other states are concerned about the number and quality of the assessment tests, and have withdrawn from the Smarter Balanced coalition, choosing to use their own testing methods.

The obvious questions being asked are why and how did this controversial system quietly creep into all but five of our states?  The answer to “why” depends upon who you ask.  Promoters claim there needed to be a consistency of standards among all states, and that our education system was lacking when compared to other countries.  Opponents argue each state should decide their own standards, based on their unique needs, and that if our education system is deficient, why are we inundated with students from most every other country who want to be educated here in America?

Opponents to the new system also resent that historical and federal education laws/rules were ignored by the relatively small group who developed and sold Common Core to the states.  Which introduces the question: How did our entire nation, with the exclusion of five states, end up using Common Core? — Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Virginia.

The concept is an old idea whose roots date back to the United Nations and an ultra-liberal by the name of Robert Muller. He spent 40 years quietly working to create the “World Core Curriculum.” The first Robert Muller School was started in Arlington, Texas in 1979 to implement the World Core Curriculum with the objective of making it available to educators around the world.  Muller’s “New Genesis,” published in 1982, sets forth in 27 chapter a blueprint for creating a world that will become a better place live in.

Since then many world leaders, including America’s “elitist,” decided to march in lock-step with the United Nation concept. That plan, which many of the same people embraced, is a “one-world” government and spirituality that includes a one religion, one world education system, one world government, etc.   Actually, their plan includes pretty much the opposite of what our wise forefathers embraced.   Need anything more be said on that subject?  We know the result of our founding fathers’ efforts: The United States prospered beyond anyone’s imagination and developed into a World leader.  So, why would anyone chance making radical changes, based on an agenda formed by the United Nations?

The designers of Common Core had a strategy to sell it to the States.  The Obama administration had $4.35 billion of “Race to the Top” federal funds to offer states if they accepted Common Core.  They also threw in a bonus of allowing states the option of dropping the highly unpopular “No Child Left Behind” program from George W. Bush’s days. Throw in a sales pitch inundated with lofty adjectives and promises of high achieving students, and the states couldn’t sign the dotted line fast enough.  They were so eager to accept the unproven, untested program that some states did not bother to even run it by their Congress.  What about the public comment period? How about examining the material first?  Sorry!  The curriculum wasn’t even developed, let alone available when those contracts were agreed upon.

People have asked if it is possible to have a recall of every state Governor who bought the bribes and who trusted without bothering to verify the promoters’ exaggerated  promises.  The public was not informed of the negative facts surrounding the issue, and the best source to educate the public was our media, but they remained relatively oblivious to these negatives.  Could that be due to their largely liberal leanings and a reluctance to confront Democrats in power?  If so, that is unfortunate, because all segments of our population, including those from every political affiliation, are questioning Common Core.

Were laws bent or broken in this process?  There are lawyers developing a challenge based on that belief, but some claim the only way to defeat Common Core is for “We the People” to rise up and speak out against it.  It will take a tidal wave of concerned citizens demanding the federal government scrap Common Core and return the responsibility for our children’s education to the state and local control.  American citizens are not interested in accepting the U.N. mandates nor have we bought into a one world governing concept.”

Informed parents are not buying into the premise that our education system needed a total revision; just that It may have needed to be “tweaked” in specific areas.  Quite “telling” is that the known problems and reasons for lower test scores were not even touched by the authors of Common Core.  What are they?

Most experts agree that the following aspects contribute greatly to lower test scores in states:

1. Teacher Unions have been able to keep ineffective and low performing teachers from being fired.  When parents become too noisy about a specific teacher’s shortcomings, she/he is moved to a school district in which parents are not as likely to complain: the same school districts most in need of quality teachers.

2. We are a nation of many cultures, some of which demand more of their children and teachers than others.  One example are students in which English is their second language, and most often for their parents as well. With little help at home, those students lag far behind in their classes. Also, students from single family homes, who tragically miss their father and his support, cause Moms to struggle just to survive. There is no time or energy for her to work with her children’s school needs.

It should send chills up our spines knowing liberals managed to slip Common Core into our nation’s schools in such a relatively short period of time, without hardly a smidgeon of advanced warning, and in the absence of any proof it was superior. That was allowed to happen largely because of wealthy people who made huge contributions to promote it. Some question whether those contributions were for the altruistic purposes claimed.  There is no doubt most everyone involved in the implementation of Common Core will be highly compensated in a variety of ways.

The following is a quote from a website that is devoted entirely to exposing the facts, faults, and failures of Common Core, as well as exposing the people who will profit from it.  Please read their conclusion of Common Core very slowly and carefully to get the full impact of their massive research on the subject:

“Bill Gates is paying a “nonprofit” already overly involved in federal affairs to ‘help’ the USDOE (United States Dept. of Education) ‘improve’ its operations– and no doubt those ‘improvements’ will coincidentally serve the lucrative, privatizing purposes of the nonprofit-affiliated ‘improvers,’ not the least of which is planting carefully-groomed, privatizer neophytes into strategic governmental positions in order to propagate the corporate reform agenda for years to come.

“In short, those with obscene money are paying those wanting to make money to advise those with public money on how to best spend the public’s money.”

The important question remaining is what will YOU do to respond to the hijacking of our education system by “elites” who have “gamed” the system for personal profit at the expense of our children’s education.  Will you speak out at a city council or board of education meeting?  Will you contact your local newspaper; possibly write a letter to the editor?  Will you organize an event in your home and invite your friends and relatives?  How about scheduling a meeting with your local state official?  Will you at the very least talk to others about this important issue?

 

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

How Common Core Caused Moms to Become Activists

Somewhat Reasonable - April 19, 2014, 1:55 PM

[This article was co-authored by Bonnie O'Neil]

School teachers all over the nation are quitting their profession, often due to being forced to abandon what they considered an excellent education system and change to one they consider inferior.   The faulty system they refer to is the new and highly controversial Common Core.  Susan Sluyter recently provided her reason for resigning after 25 years of teaching. She stated “I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths, to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.”

One theory for developing Common Core, touted by those who initiated the experimental program, is the advantage of creating a common set of standards for all the states. However, opponents say that this one-size-fits-all approach to education is flawed and robs states of their individuality.  Opponents also state that it isn’t just the standards that are being criticized.  The bigger problem is the curriculum that supports the standards that has parents, teachers, and concerned citizens forming pockets of protests throughout America.

Proponents of Common Core like to portray the opposition movement as one being driven by Tea Party members. While that group may oppose it, the reality is that the firestorm of opposition sweeping through the states is largely being fueled by parents of school children. These are people who had been busy raising their families, without the time or inclination to become involved in politics. Common Core turned them into political activists.

Heather Chappell and Susi Khan are examples of that. They are mothers in Yorba Linda, California and became concerned when Common Core was introduced at their school. They began to ask questions and did not like the answers they received. They took the time to investigate Common Core more thoroughly and discovered many others shared their concerns. Those two Moms found it alarming that most of their friends and neighbors had never even heard of the new education system.

They decided to organize an event to help others learn what they knew.  Forming a small committee comprised of their friends, and with minimal publicity, Heather and Susi left their laundry choirs to plan an event and help others know the facts. About 250 people crowded into a church in their area to hear a presentation about Common Core. It was a huge success, which attracted a variety of people from all walks of life, age groups, and political backgrounds. Those results caused Heather and Susi to know people had a desires and need to know more about Common Core. They quickly put together another event.

But they are not alone! Parents just like them are popping up throughout America to aggressively protest against the controversial education system, causing state officials to take a second look at the problems inherent in Common Core.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence listened to the outrage and reports of problems that continued to plague his office.  He recently decided to drop Common Core and replace it with a state program.  He signed new legislation that made his state the first to opt out of Common Core standards.   Pence unlocked the floodgates for more states to follow Indiana’s move against the ill-conceived federal intervention of Common Core. The two most obvious states are Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. Other states are concerned about the number and quality of the assessment tests, and have withdrawn from the Smarter Balanced coalition, choosing to use their own testing methods.

The obvious questions being asked are why and how did this controversial system quietly creep into all but five of our states?  The answer to “why” depends upon who you ask.  Promoters claim there needed to be a consistency of standards among all states, and that our education system was lacking when compared to other countries.  Opponents argue each state should decide their own standards, based on their unique needs, and that if our education system is deficient, why are we inundated with students from most every other country who want to be educated here in America?

Opponents to the new system also resent that historical and federal education laws/rules were ignored by the relatively small group who developed and sold Common Core to the states.  Which introduces the question: How did our entire nation, with the exclusion of five states, end up using Common Core? — Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Virginia.

The concept is an old idea whose roots date back to the United Nations and an ultra-liberal by the name of Robert Muller. He spent 40 years quietly working to create the “World Core Curriculum.” The first Robert Muller School was started in Arlington, Texas in 1979 to implement the World Core Curriculum with the objective of making it available to educators around the world.  Muller’s “New Genesis,” published in 1982, sets forth in 27 chapter a blueprint for creating a world that will become a better place live in.

Since then many world leaders, including America’s “elitist,” decided to march in lock-step with the United Nation concept. That plan, which many of the same people embraced, is a “one-world” government and spirituality that includes a one religion, one world education system, one world government, etc.   Actually, their plan includes pretty much the opposite of what our wise forefathers embraced.   Need anything more be said on that subject?  We know the result of our founding fathers’ efforts: The United States prospered beyond anyone’s imagination and developed into a World leader.  So, why would anyone chance making radical changes, based on an agenda formed by the United Nations?

The designers of Common Core had a strategy to sell it to the States.  The Obama administration had $4.35 billion of “Race to the Top” federal funds to offer states if they accepted Common Core.  They also threw in a bonus of allowing states the option of dropping the highly unpopular “No Child Left Behind” program from George W. Bush’s days. Throw in a sales pitch inundated with lofty adjectives and promises of high achieving students, and the states couldn’t sign the dotted line fast enough.  They were so eager to accept the unproven, untested program that some states did not bother to even run it by their Congress.  What about the public comment period? How about examining the material first?  Sorry!  The curriculum wasn’t even developed, let alone available when those contracts were agreed upon.

People have asked if it is possible to have a recall of every state Governor who bought the bribes and who trusted without bothering to verify the promoters’ exaggerated  promises.  The public was not informed of the negative facts surrounding the issue, and the best source to educate the public was our media, but they remained relatively oblivious to these negatives.  Could that be due to their largely liberal leanings and a reluctance to confront Democrats in power?  If so, that is unfortunate, because all segments of our population, including those from every political affiliation, are questioning Common Core.

Were laws bent or broken in this process?  There are lawyers developing a challenge based on that belief, but some claim the only way to defeat Common Core is for “We the People” to rise up and speak out against it.  It will take a tidal wave of concerned citizens demanding the federal government scrap Common Core and return the responsibility for our children’s education to the state and local control.  American citizens are not interested in accepting the U.N. mandates nor have we bought into a one world governing concept.”

Informed parents are not buying into the premise that our education system needed a total revision; just that It may have needed to be “tweaked” in specific areas.  Quite “telling” is that the known problems and reasons for lower test scores were not even touched by the authors of Common Core.  What are they?

Most experts agree that the following aspects contribute greatly to lower test scores in states:

1. Teacher Unions have been able to keep ineffective and low performing teachers from being fired.  When parents become too noisy about a specific teacher’s shortcomings, she/he is moved to a school district in which parents are not as likely to complain: the same school districts most in need of quality teachers.

2. We are a nation of many cultures, some of which demand more of their children and teachers than others.  One example are students in which English is their second language, and most often for their parents as well. With little help at home, those students lag far behind in their classes. Also, students from single family homes, who tragically miss their father and his support, cause Moms to struggle just to survive. There is no time or energy for her to work with her children’s school needs.

It should send chills up our spines knowing liberals managed to slip Common Core into our nation’s schools in such a relatively short period of time, without hardly a smidgeon of advanced warning, and in the absence of any proof it was superior. That was allowed to happen largely because of wealthy people who made huge contributions to promote it. Some question whether those contributions were for the altruistic purposes claimed.  There is no doubt most everyone involved in the implementation of Common Core will be highly compensated in a variety of ways.

The following is a quote from a website that is devoted entirely to exposing the facts, faults, and failures of Common Core, as well as exposing the people who will profit from it.  Please read their conclusion of Common Core very slowly and carefully to get the full impact of their massive research on the subject:

“Bill Gates is paying a “nonprofit” already overly involved in federal affairs to ‘help’ the USDOE (United States Dept. of Education) ‘improve’ its operations– and no doubt those ‘improvements’ will coincidentally serve the lucrative, privatizing purposes of the nonprofit-affiliated ‘improvers,’ not the least of which is planting carefully-groomed, privatizer neophytes into strategic governmental positions in order to propagate the corporate reform agenda for years to come.

“In short, those with obscene money are paying those wanting to make money to advise those with public money on how to best spend the public’s money.”

The important question remaining is what will YOU do to respond to the hijacking of our education system by “elites” who have “gamed” the system for personal profit at the expense of our children’s education.  Will you speak out at a city council or board of education meeting?  Will you contact your local newspaper; possibly write a letter to the editor?  Will you organize an event in your home and invite your friends and relatives?  How about scheduling a meeting with your local state official?  Will you at the very least talk to others about this important issue?

 

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

A Lick of Guts and an Ounce of Smarts

Somewhat Reasonable - April 18, 2014, 3:54 PM

I was fortunate to have wrestled under Bill Koll for three years at Penn State. I say fortunate not because of the beating I took on the mats with my 1-4 career record – we weren’t as good as we are now under Cael Sanderson, but we always were a top 10 dual meet team and dominated the east, in spite of fierce opposition from the likes of Lehigh and Navy – but because wrestling under Coach Koll and assistant Andy Matter re-enforced the values I learned from my parents. The child of strict Italian parents, my first year or two at Penn State was like a kid being released into a candy shop whose never had a sweet before. I almost flunked out of school, but once I went out for wrestling, my grades shot up as the discipline returned. I quickly understood that if you want something you have to work for it. It also showed me why athletics can be a huge aid in education if done right. A big lesson for me: If you want something and someone is smarter or stronger than you, you have to outwork them to even have a chance.

A bit on Coach Koll:

“Koll began his wrestling career in high school, winning the state title in 1941.

“After World War II, in which he participated in the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day, Koll dominated the 145 pound and 147.5 pound weight divisions. In 1946, 1947, and 1948, he was the NCAA national champion for his division. Koll was also named the NCAA Tournament Outstanding Wrestler in 1947 and 1948. He ended his career with a 72-0 record.

“Koll was one of only of five UNI wrestlers to have competed in Olympic games. In the 1948 games, held in London, England, Koll placed fifth.”

Impressive.

Most Penn State wrestlers have their favorite Bill Koll story. Mine is a little known one. I called him up about a week before Christmas one year to check up on him. He was excited to talk me. “Joe, I just got through making the most expensive doll house ever… It’s a three thousand dollar doll house.” (For his granddaughter).

My response: “Coach, how do you know it’s a three thousand dollar doll house?”

“Because that’s the hospital cost when you chop off some of your fingers.”

He liked to call himself “Sweet Ole Bill,” or if you preferred, S.O.B. for short.

To this very day, in spite of our fierce rivalry with Cornell, I remain friends with his son Rob, who is now their coach. In fact many of the people at Weatherbell.com are Cornell grads. I still want our guys to beat the tar out of any Cornell wrestler that happens to show his face on a mat across from a PSU wrestler.

Coach Koll (my coach Koll) used to have a saying: “If you had a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts,” you would have done this or that. In today’s world, that seems like a cruel admonishment, but he would say it about himself too. Something minor would happen and he would say, “Well if I had a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts, I would have done this.” It was never guts OR smarts – always guts and smarts.

Where is this leading? I think, regarding the climate issue, objective journalists today need to have an old school “lick of guts and an ounce of smarts” when reporting on this. (There are those that are beyond objective.)

First: You should not be reporting on “climate change.” The climate is always in a state of change. There have been glaciers in New York City, and most of what is now our most densely populated areas of the East Coast as well as the fertile lower Mississippi Valley was under water at one time. Right off the bat you should be asking, “Well, why is 4 -8 inches of sea level rise in 100-150 years a big deal compared to what has actually happened?” Alarmists said global warming. They own it. And journalists should make them own up to it. Why in the world are you letting them get away with switching horses mid-stream – climate change is obvious and natural – and not holding their feet to the fire?

Second: You should do the work yourself to see what is going on. The journalists of the ’70s and ’80s understood their job was to question authority, not obey it. I think part of the problem is that some of the great journalism of those days past made stars out of journalist. This granted them access to some of the glitter of stardom, and in a way, became a perk that many are seduced by today. I don’t know if it’s intentional. The current governor of Ohio, John Kasich, once told me to never let being on TV get in the way of what you are really made to do. (I used to love Saturday nights when he asked me to be on his show “Heartland.”) He said it can be seductive. I pooh poohed it for awhile, but then started noticing that if there were stretches no one asked me to be on, I started getting mad. He was right. Being in the media can be seductive.

Third: You are supposed to be liberal in the true sense of the word. That is akin to being able tothink with your head and pursue with your heart, and to do that you need a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts. Use the head first – not the heart! Being sheeplike is not the answer for a journalist. They go where they are told without thinking twice about it. Is this what journalism has become? I am not advocating you being wolves; perhaps more like a fox is better. But on this issue, one that is sapping our nation’s strength like heat out of a drafty house, we need true liberal-minded people to discern what is right and wrong. And that means taking you wherever the path of truth leads, not where it is you might want to go based on some high-minded abstract that can never be defined nor measured!

Let me give you just one example – global sea ice. Global warming was supposed to produce shrinking sea ice, right? How is that working out?

We are currently well above normal globally.

This is largely because of the expansion in the Southern Hemisphere, even more impressive since it’s expanding into an area that is almost all water, and it’s tougher to move the temperature of the oceans than land masses around it, such as the Arctic.

The coming Southern Hemisphere winter could result in record breaking sea ice extent. Last time that happened, the Northern Hemisphere was at record low levels in what AGW hysteria was promoting as “The Arctic Death Spiral.” My side pointed to the warm Atlantic Multi Decadol Oscillation (AMO) as the reason for this, and once it flipped to cold, as it was through the 1980s, sea ice would expand. Please remember that the Pacific has flipped to its colder mode, but only at the very start of this graphic was the Pacific and Atlantic in their cold modes together. So the start of the measurement here was at the height of what was the best set up for the expansion of Arctic sea ice.

Again, as long as the Atlantic was in its cold overall mode, sea ice was more or less above normal.

So I made a forecast back in 2007 that the Arctic would return to normal and above once the Atlantic flipped to its cold mode for good, which is around or after 2020. We can already see evidence now. The Atlantic has cooled some. (Even in warm periods, we see ups and downs go on, just like we see El Ninos – like we will this year – in the colder times of the Pacific, but they are short lived overall and preceded and followed by longer periods of cooling.) Look what the forecasted Arctic sea ice anomaly is for the height of the melting season this year now that the Atlantic is a bit cooler.

It’s nowhere near as low as previous years. It’s the summer min. that is what the sea ice death spiral people have been jumping on, yet this minor turn to colder overall – again, we are not ready to shift completely out of the dedadol warm mode – has it near normal for this melt season andincreasing against the anomaly from the level it’s at now!

So what do you think is going to happen when the AMO turns cold overall again?

I am directing this at the vast majority of journalist out there that may not understand there is so much contrary information to the missive that you are constantly bombarded with on man-made global warming. I am not asking you to charge a beach into a hail of machine gun fire and go cut bob-wire in a maze of hedges. Nor do you need to go win three NCAA titles and be undefeated in college. But I think what my Coach Koll said is needed here – “a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts.” I am not insulting you since I believe that is what is in you, since the very nature of this vocational calling means that is a given. But you have to get a little old school, think with your head and pursue with your heart. The truth in this matter, and all it implies for freedom and the ability for untold amounts of people to have a chance at a better life, depends on it. It’s no different than the great “liberal” lights that is shown before you to give you this chance to do what you do.

Sometimes being a “hero” is simply the situation you are in and the ability to fight for the answer. And that takes a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts.

 

[Originally published at The Patriot Post]

Categories: On the Blog

The Free Market vs. The Interventionist State

Somewhat Reasonable - April 18, 2014, 10:30 AM

In whatever direction we turn, we find the heavy hand of government intruding into virtually every aspect of American society. Indeed, it has reached the point that it would a lot easier to list those areas of people’s lives into which government does not impose itself – and, alas, it would be a very short list. But it was not always that way.

Around a hundred years ago, say, in the first decade of the 20th century, all levels of government in the United States only taxed away and spent about 8 percent of national income, leaving 92 percent of what individual’s had produced and earned in their own hands to use and spend as they thought best as free people.

Plus, there was no regular deficit spending because the federal government in Washington, D.C. annually balanced its budget; and it often even ran budget surpluses with which it paid down government debts accumulated during past “national emergencies,” usually a war that had earlier needed rapid funding with borrowed money.

Today, all levels of government – federal, state, and local – tax or borrow and, then, spend around 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in the United States. And if one adds the financial cost imposed upon the citizenry in the form of economic and social regulations to which businesses and enterprises must conform, the total burden of government is significantly higher.

Government has also influenced the American people in another way: They have lost their understanding of what a free market society was, could, and should be. The growth in the interventionist and redistributive state over the last 100 years has resulted in several generations who have come to think that political paternalism is as normal and “American” as apple pie.

The Change in American Economic Policy

This shift in the role of government in American society was noticed by the free market, Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, while traveling around the United States on a lecture tour back in 1926. After returning to Austria, he delivered a talk on “Changes in American Economic Policy” at a meeting of the Vienna Industrial Club. He explained:

“The United States has become great and rich under the rule of an economic system that has set no restrictions on the free pursuits of the individual, and has thereby provided the opportunity for the country’s productive powers to be developed. America’s unprecedented economic prosperity is not due to of the richness of the American soil; instead, it is due to an economic policy that has reflected how best to exploit the possibilities offered by the land.

“American economic policy has always rejected–and still rejects today–any protection for inferior or less competitive against that which is efficient and more competitive. The success of this policy has been so great that it is hard to believe that Americans would every have reasons to change it.”

But Mises went on to tell his Viennese audience that new voices were being heard in America, voices that claimed that America’s economic system was not managed “rationally” enough and that it wasn’t “democratic” enough because the voters did not have it in their immediate power to influence the direction of industrial development. Governmental controls were being introduced not to nationalize private enterprise but to direct it through various regulatory methods.

The American economy was certainly far less regulated by government than the countries in Europe, Mises pointed out. However, there were strong trends moving the United States along the same more heavily interventionist path Europe had been traveling for a long time. In the America of 1926, Mises observed, “But today both major parties, the Republicans as well as the Democrats, are ready to undertake every very radical steps in the this direction in order to win the votes of the electorate.” He concluded, There can be no doubt that the results American would achieve from such a policy would be no different than what it has ‘achieved’ in Europe.”

In Europe, the trend towards collectivism in the 1930s and 1940s took some extreme forms. Socialism, communism, fascism and Nazism were all tried on the other side of the Atlantic. They represented a total rejection of a free economy and individual liberty. In America, the collectivist trend never went to such an extreme, though Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first New Deal came very close to the fascist model.

Defining the Free Market Economy

Socialism, communism, fascism and Nazism are now all but dead. They failed miserably. But they have been replaced by what is merely another more watered down form of collectivism that may be called “interventionism.” Indeed, interventionism is the predominant economic system in the world today. In 1929, Ludwig von Mises published a collection of essays under the title, “Critique of Interventionism.” He argued,

“All writers on economic policy and nearly all statesmen and party leaders are seeking an ideal system which, in their belief, is neither [purely] capitalistic nor socialistic, is based neither on [unrestricted] private property in the means of production nor on public property. They are searching for a system of private property that is hampered, regulated, and directed through government intervention and other social forces, such as labor unions. We call such an economic policy interventionism, the system itself the hampered market order.”

He added, “All its followers and advocates fully agree that it is the correct policy for the coming decades, yea, even the coming generations. And all agree that interventionism constitutes an economic policy that will prevail in the foreseeable future.”

With the demise of communism in the 1990s, public policy around the world, including in the United States, is back to where it was when Mises wrote these words 85 years ago. Comprehensive government ownership of the means of production and a fully centralized planned economy has very few adherents left, even “on the left.” At the same time, in spite of all the casual rhetoric about the triumph of capitalism, we have not seen much evidence of a movement toward a truly free market system.

Here are eight points that define a genuine free market economy, or what Mises referred to as the “unhampered economy”:

  • All means of production are privately owned.
  • The use of the means of production is under the control of private owners who may be individuals or corporate entities.
  • Consumer demands direct how the means of production – land, labor, and capital – will be used.
  • Competitive forces of supply and demand determine the price for consumer goods and the various factors of production including labor.
  • The success or failure of individual and corporate enterprises is determined by the profits or losses these enterprises earn, based on their greater or lesser ability to satisfy consumer demands in competition with their rivals in the marketplace.
  • The market is not confined to domestic transactions and includes freedom of international trade, investment, and movement of people.
  • The monetary system is based on a market-determined commodity (e.g., gold or silver), and the banking system is private and competitive, neither controlled nor regulated by government.
  • Government is limited in its activities to the enforcement and protection of individual life, liberty, and honestly acquired property.
Defining the Interventionist Economy

Unfortunately, many modern politicians and academics who say they endorse free market capitalism are willing to tolerate a great deal of government intervention.

When it comes to identifying the role of government in their conception of the market order, many if not most “conservative” economists still assume that government must be responsible for a social safety net that includes Social Security, some form of government-provided health care, and unemployment compensation; must have discretionary monetary and fiscal powers to support supposed desired levels of employment and output; must regulate industry to assure “competitive” conditions in the market and “fair” labor conditions for workers; and must directly supply certain goods and services that the market allegedly does not provide.

Indeed, many people who claim to be “on the right” believe that government should institute some or all of these “public policies.” It should be appreciated, however, that the very notion of “public policy,” as the term is almost always used, supports government intervention in the market in ways that are simply inconsistent with a genuine free market economy.

Interventionism as public policy is not consistent with the free market since it intentionally prevents or modifies the outcomes of the market. Here are the eight points of the interventionist economy:

  • The private ownership of the means of production is either restricted or abridged by government.
  • The full use of the means of production by private owners is prohibited, limited, or regulated by government.
  • The users of the means of production are prevented from being guided by consumer demand through a network of government regulations, controls, prohibitions and restrictions.
  • Government influences or controls the formation of prices for consumer goods and/or the factors of production, through such interventions as price supports, subsidies, or minimum wage laws.
  • Government reduces the impact of market supply and demand on the success or failure of various enterprises while increasing the impact of its own influence and control through such artificial means as price and production regulations, limits on freedom of entry into segments of the market, and direct or indirect subsidies.
  • Free entry into the domestic market by potential foreign rivals is discouraged or outlawed through import prohibitions, quotas, domestic content requirements, or tariffs, as well as capital controls, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
  • The monetary system is regulated by government for the purpose of influencing what is used as money, the value of money, and the rate at which the quantity of money is increased or decreased. And all these are used as tools for trying to affect the levels of employment, output, and growth in the economy.
  • Government’s role is not limited to the protection of life, liberty, and property.

It is also important to note that the “public policies” these eight points represent must be implemented through violent means. Only the threat or use of force can make people follow courses of action that are different from the ones that they would have peacefully taken if it were not for government intervention. There is really nothing “public” about these policies, after all; they are coercive policies imposed by government.

Free Markets and the “Law of Association”

Contrast these policies with the policies of the free market. What is most striking is the voluntary nature of market arrangements. The means of production are privately owned, and the owners are free to determine how those means of production will be employed. Thus, control over the means of production is depoliticized, that is, outside of the control or influence of the government. Since control is not located in one political place but is dispersed among a wide segment of the society’s population, it is also decentralized.

Individuals, therefore, own and control the means through which they can maintain and improve their own circumstances, and not be dependent upon a single political source for employment or the necessities and luxuries of life. But it is not just the owners of the means of production who have a high degree of autonomy in the free market economy; consumers do, too, since they are the ones who determine what products and services will be in demand.

The basis of society, Ludwig von Mises emphasized, is what he called “the law of association.” Men can more successfully improve their individual condition through cooperation, and the means through which that cooperation can be made most productive is the division of labor. By taking advantage of individual talents and circumstances through specialization, the total quantity and quality of society’s output can be dramatically improved. Individuals do not have to try to satisfy all their own wants through isolated activity.

Once they specialize their activities, they become interdependent; they rely upon each other for the vast majority of goods and services they desire. But it is this very interdependency that gives production its real and true social character. If men are to acquire from others what they desire, they must devote their energies to producing what those others are willing to accept in trade.

The fundamental rule of the market is mutual agreement and voluntary exchange. Each member of society must orient his activities toward serving the wants of at least some of the other members in an unending circle of trade. The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith observed over two hundred years ago:

“Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is to their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whosoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this that you want is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices that we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their own advantages.”

This is what assures that the uses for which the means of production are applied are guided by consumer demand. Each individual must find a way to satisfy some of the needs of others before he can successfully satisfy his own. As a result, the prices for consumer goods and the factors of production are not decreed by government but are formed in the marketplace through the competitive forces of supply and demand. Success or failure is determined by the profits and losses earned on the basis of the greater or lesser ability to meet consumer demand in competition with rivals in the marketplace.

Abandoning Our Constitution

In 1936, the Swiss economist and political scientist William E. Rappard delivered a lecture in Philadelphia on “The Relation of the Individual to the State” in which he emphasized that no one could read the accounts of the constitutional debates of 1787 or the famous “Federalist Papers” without realizing that the Founders were “essentially animated by the desire to free the individual from the state.” He even went on to say, “I do not think that anyone who has seriously studied the origin of the Constitution of the United States will deny that it is an essentially individualistic document, inspired by the suspicion that the state is always, or always tends to be, dictatorial.”

Reflecting upon the trends he observed in the United States in the New Deal era of the 1930s, Professor Rappard concluded: “The individual demanding that the state provide him with every security has thereby jeopardized his possession of that freedom for which his ancestors fought and bled.”

Is Soviet-style communist central planning now in the ash heap of history? Yes. Are masses of people in the West willing to walk in blind, lockstep obedience to fascist demagogues in torchlight parades? No. And hopefully neither form of totalitarianism will ever again cast its dark collectivist shadow over the West. However, nearly 80 years after Professor Rappard’s observations about statist trends in America and around the world, Western democracies are still enveloped in the tight grip of the interventionist state.

Private property increasingly exists only on paper. And with the abridgment of property rights has come the abridgment of all the other individual liberties upon which a free society is based. Our lives are supervised, regulated, controlled, directed and overseen by the state. Look at any part of our economic and social lives and try to find even one corner that is free from some form of direct or indirect government intrusion. It is practically impossible to find such a corner.

This is because our lives are not our own anymore. They are the property of the state. We are the tools and the victims of public policies that are intended to construct brave new worlds concocted by intellectual and political elites who still dream the utopian dream that they know better than us how our lives should be lived.

Today, it is not free market forces but political directives that most often influence what goods and services are produced, where and how they are produced, and for what purposes they may be used. If we pick up any product in any store anywhere in the United States we will discover that hundreds of federal and state regulations have actually determined the methods by which it has been manufactured, its quality and content, its packaging and terms of sale, and the conditions under which it may be “safely” used by the purchaser. If we buy a tract of land or a building, we will be trapped in a spider’s web of land-use, building code and environmental regulatory restrictions on how we may use, improve, or sell it. Every facet of our lives is now subject to the whims of the state.

Economics, Morality, and the Law

In an environment in which “public policy” determines individual lives and fortunes and in which social and economic life has become politicized, it is not surprising that many Americans have turned their attention to politics to improve their market position and relative income share. Legalized coercion has become the method by which they get ahead in life.

And make no mistake about it: Every income transfer, every tariff or import quota, every business subsidy, every regulation or prohibition on who may compete or how a product may be produced and marketed, and every restraint on the use and transfer of property is an act of coercion. Political force is interjected into what would otherwise be a system of peaceful and voluntary transactions.

Over time, interventionism blurs the distinction between what is moral and what is not. In ordinary life, most people take for granted that certain forms of conduct are permissible while others are not. These are the Golden Rules we live by. Government’s task in human society is to enforce and protect these rules, which are summarized in two basic principles: Neither force nor fraud shall be practiced in dealings with others; and the rights and property of others must be respected. In the moral order that is the free market economy, these principles are the wellspring of honesty and trust. Without them, America is threatened with ultimate ruin – with a war of all-against-all in the pursuit of plunder.

When individuals began to ask government to do things for them, rather than merely to secure their individual rights and honestly acquired property, they began asking government to violate other’s rights and property for their benefit.

These demands on government have been rationalized by intellectuals and social engineers who have persuaded people that what they wanted but didn’t have was due to the greed, exploitation, and immorality of others. Basic morality and justice has been transcended in the political arena in order to take from the “haves” and give to the “have not’s.” Theft through political means has become the basis of a “higher” morality: “social justice,” which is supposed to remedy the alleged injustices of the free market economy.

But once the market becomes politicized in this manner, morality begins to disintegrate. Increasingly, the only way to survive in society is to resort to the same types of political methods for gain as others are using, or to devise ways to evade the controls and regulations. More and more people, therefore, have been drawn into the arena of political intrigue and manipulation or violation of the law for economic gain. Human relationships and the political process have become increasingly corrupted.

In the 1920s, Ludwig von Mises explained a crucial aspect of this corruption of morality and law:

“By constantly violating criminal laws and moral decrees [people] lose the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad. The merchant, who began by violating foreign exchange controls, import and export restrictions, price ceilings, etc., easily proceeds to defraud his partners. The decay of business morals . . . is the inevitable concomitant of the regulations imposed on trade.”

Mises was, of course, repeating the lesson that the French classical economist Frederic Bastiat had attempted to teach in the 1850s in his famous essay, “The Law.” When the state becomes the violator of liberty and property rather than its guarantor, it debases respect for all law. People in society develop an increasing disrespect and disregard for what the law demands. They view the law as the agent for immorality in the form of legalized plunder for the benefit of some at the expense of others. And this same disrespect and disregard sooner or later starts to creep into the ordinary dealings between individuals. Society verges on the brink of lawlessness.

Trends Can Change – With the Will to Make It Happen

Bastiat predicted the moral bankruptcy that has been brought on by the interventionist state. But are we condemned to continue in a state of moral and political corruption?

Many thoughtful observers shake their heads and conclude that the answer is, “Yes.” But it is worth recalling that in 1951 Ludwig von Mises wrote an essay called “Trends Can Change.” He was replying to those who despaired at that time that socialist central planning was increasingly dominating the world. The situation seemed irreversible; political, economic, and social trends all seemed to be heading in the direction of comprehensive collectivism. Said Mises:

“One of the cherished dogmas implied in contemporary fashionable doctrines is the belief that tendencies of social evolution as manifested in the recent past will prevail in the future, too. Any attempt to reverse or even to stop a trend is doomed to failure . . .

“The prestige of this myth is so enormous that it quells any opposition. It spreads defeatism among those who do not share the opinion that everything which comes later is better than what preceded, and are fully aware of the disastrous effects of all-round planning, i.e., totalitarian socialism. They, too, meekly submit to what the pseudo-scholars tell them is inevitable.

“It is this mentality of passively accepting defeat that has made socialism triumph in many European countries and may very soon make it conquer in this country [the United States] too . . .

“Now trends of evolution can change, and hitherto they almost always have changed. But they changed only because they met firm opposition. What [Hilaire] Belloc called the servile state will certainly not be reversed if nobody has the courage to attack its underlying dogmas.”

The trend towards totalitarian socialism was reversed. It was reversed by its own inherent unworkability. It was reversed by the faith of millions of people in the Soviet bloc who would not give up on the dream of freedom and by a courageous few who sacrificed their careers, their property, and even their lives to make that dream a reality. And it was reversed by friends of freedom in the West who helped prevent its triumph in their own homelands and who provided an intellectual defense of liberty and the free market.

Interventionism in America in these early decades of the 21st century is a trend that can also be reversed. Its own inherent unworkability and strangulation of the wealth-creating mechanisms of the market will start the reversal process. But that is not enough. We must rekindle our belief in and desire for freedom. And some of us have to speak out and refute the rationales for interventionism.

We need to share with our fellow citizens a powerful vision of the free society and the unhampered economy. If we succeed, the trend of the 21st century can be a trend toward greater individual freedom, an expanding global free marketplace, and rising standards of living and opportunity for all.

 

[Originally published at EpicTimes]

Categories: On the Blog

Joy Pullmann vs. Mike Petrilli on Common Core

Blog - Education - April 18, 2014, 10:06 AM
Opening Statement – Joy Pullmann

Despite its deep effects on the character of our nation, conservatives and the general population often ignore what children are learning except when their own are in school, so I thank everyone reading this debate and my worthy, tenacious opponent, Mike Petrilli, for your time and attention. National Common Core testing and curriculum mandates are destructive, overall, but one good side-effect is creating the opportunity to discuss what children will learn, and why.

Opinion polls continue to show that the general public is ill-informed not just about education policy, but about Common Core particularly. The latest I’m aware of, from Tennessee, finds that 58 percent of adults don’t know what Common Core is. That’s rather astonishing considering that Common Core will ultimately influence almost everything about pre-K through higher education in this country except sundry administrative affairs like bus schedules and lunch menus.

In short, Common Core is a set of central mandates called standards that set what children will be tested on in English and math in grades K-12. Forty-five states have decided to reorient their curriculum and teacher training and evaluations around these mandates, in large part because of demands by the Obama administration. The Obama administration, notwithstandingthree federal laws against federal interference with curriculum and testing, is currently the exclusive funder and evaluator of national tests to enforce Common Core that will roll out this coming school year.

Widespread ignorance of this initiative despite its massive effects is a feature, not a bug, of the process that created it. Proponents like to insist Common Core originated in a “state-led” process, but the truth is that a group of private trade organizationscommissioned a small group of consultants to write Common Core behind closed doors. There is no legal authority in this country for elected leaders to gather together and write policies except in the halls of Congress. But Americans do not like Congress getting too involved in education, a sensible sentiment given that our Constitution reserves that right to the states under the Tenth Amendment, so those who want a centralized education system in this country decided to go through nonprofit organizations, conveniently circumventing open records and open meetings laws that apply to public bodies such as state boards of education and legislatures. To this day, we have no idea what the people who wrote Common Core were paid and by whom, who called what shots and why, the negotiations that took place, and more extremely pertinent information.

Before this group published Common Core’s final version in June 2010, the Obama administration came into office. Congress, in its wisdom, had already granted it a bajillion-dollar slush fund called 2009’s “stimulus package,” and $4.35 million of that became a U.S. Department of Education slush fund that the administration used to push states into adopting its policy priorities during a panicky recession. It created a set of competitive grants that awarded extra points to states that adopted Common Core and its tests, which were then (and still for the tests) sight unseen. Common Core was actually published on June 2, 2010, but the Obama administration’s deadlines to sign onto it to get priority for these funds were January 19, 2010 and June 1, 2010. A draft of Common Core was not even available until March 2010, after approximately a third of states had already promised the federal government they would switch over to it. Thirty-seven business days after Common Core was released, and with little fanfare, a majority of states had jumped into this massive, experimental shift for their education systems. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama rightfully claimed his administration had “convinced almost every state” to adopt Common Core through stimulus grants. To this day, only a handful has even sketched out what this will cost taxpayers financially, and none have demanded hard data on whether it will be effective at improving education (good thing, because none exists, and in factstudies tend to say standards are a waste of time entirely).

It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates.

It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates. Again, the PR line says that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and “rigorous,” but evaluations done both by organizations with financial reasons to favor Common Core, such as Petrilli’s Fordham Institute, and by independent scholarsconclude that not only will Common Core graduate students prepared at best for a two-year community college (no normal person’s definition of “internationally competitive”), several states already had better standards. Despite this, Petrilli continues to insist that because Common Core is a step up for some states, we should refrain from insisting that all children should get the best we know is available and not mind that these best states dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core. I and many parents find that utterly unacceptable.

The grassroots furor over Common Core—which has led to 37 states considering withdrawals or amendments—is not from moms and dads who want their kids to skate through school, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan implied a few months back. These parents want more, and better for their kids than “a step in the right direction.” I wager that 90 percent of the debate over Common Core would instantly dissipate if states adopted the top-rated standards from, say, Massachusetts or Indiana and dropped the Obama administration tests. Children right now in third and fourth grade do not have a second chance to learn what they need ten years down the road when we finally figure out that Common Core didn’t give it to them.

There are many other concerns with Common Core, such as the extent to which its tests grant direct federal access to kids’ personal information and will micromanage teachers through new test-driven evaluations. As I said in the beginning, Common Core touches almost everything. But if I must pick the biggest concerns, for me they are the lack of academic quality and the technocratic central planning Common Core demands. It is our American birthright to have a voice in the policies that govern our lives and our futures, and for various governments and entities to be restrained from controlling what rightfully belongs to parents and local communities. Common Core has traded that birthright for a mess of pottage.

Opening Statement – Mike Petrilli

It’s not lost on me that I’m one of the most prominent conservatives still publicly supporting the Common Core State Standards (“tenaciously,” according to Joy—a compliment I’ll take!). Nor am I surprised that so many on the right instinctively distrust the effort—for reasons of history both ancient and recent. The left has been foisting ill-conceived ideas on the nation’s schools pretty much forever, ranging from the silly (the self-esteem movement) to the ridiculous (ebonics) to the truly harmful (“rain forest math”). And in terms of recent history, we are living through the impact of the left’s centralizing, micro-managing, nanny state machinations on all manner of policies, ObamaCare especially. Common Core appears to fit this narrative all too well.

Yet, over the course of this dialogue, I’ll argue that the ObamaCare analogy is far from perfect. While there has been a small federal role—one magnified by President Obama’s credit-taking and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s name-calling—this is hardly a federal project. It was started by the states, and its future rests in the hands of the states. Furthermore, in many respects, Common Core is a conservative triumph, as the vast majority of states have moved from vague, low-level, and often leftish academic standards to challenging, straightforward, no-nonsense ones. As Republican speechwriter Michael Gerson argued last year, “Localism is an important conservative principle, but so is excellence.”

But are the standards excellent? Here I look forward to a vigorous debate with Joy, who has been one of the fiercest, yet fairest, critics of the Common Core. In a recent piece for School Reform News, she not only had nice things to say about me (again, I’ll take it!) but also took a strong stand against one of the most dishonest tactics of some Common Core opponents: Equating every bad lesson plan or textbook with the new standards, regardless of how tenuous the link. It’s an easy and effective parlor trick, and I appreciate and respect Joy’s integrity in choosing not to deploy it.

So I look forward to diving into issues of federalism, and the content of the standards, as our dialogue unfolds. But first let me restate why the country is so in need of higher standards and tougher tests in the first place—and why the nation’s governors and state superintendents agreed to work on common standards way back when Barack Obama was just the junior senator from Illinois.

The case for college and career-ready standards:

We all know that there’s a lot of testing in our schools today. And while nobody loves testing (or “central mandates,” in Joy’s parlance), it’s important to know that the advent of standards, testing, and accountability—driven mostly by conservatives—has been associated with big gains in achievement for our lowest performing students. Nationally, or lowest performing students, our lowest-income students, and our minority students are achieving one to two grade levels ahead of where their peers were in the mid-1990s.

The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top. And as a result, while we’ve made huge gains for the kids at the bottom, we’ve made smaller gains for everyone else.

It’s not hard to understand why. Most states set their standards, and especially their tests, at ridiculously low levels. And the No Child Left Behind Act put pressure on schools to get all students over that very low bar. So all of the attention went to the students below that bar—the lowest performing kids. And they made gains. Important, historic gains worth celebrating.

But there were no incentives for schools to focus on kids at the middle, or at the top.

That’s created a really big problem. Think of it from a student’s perspective. They march through the public education system, they pass the state tests every year, they pass their courses (often with honors grades), and they earn a high school diploma. But because the standards have been set too low, passing the tests, and earning a diploma, doesn’t actually mean they are ready for what comes next.

So they get to college, and enroll, and take out student loans. And then are told, “I’m sorry, you’re not actually ready for college. You have to take one, two, maybe three math classes, or one, two, three writing classes, before you can even start earning credits.” Before they can even get to the starting line.

And you can imagine how angry these young people would be. And deserve to be. “I did everything you told me to do. I passed all the exams. I passed all of my courses. I earned a diploma.” And most drop out—before ever getting past remedial education.

Because we set the standards too low—because we didn’t align the expectations of the public education system with the demands of the real world—we sent false signals for years that all was well, when in fact many students were not on track for success. We lied to kids, and to their families, and to the taxpayers.

Or imagine if a high school graduate goes straight into a workforce. They show up for a “middle skill” job, one that demands a decent wage. And again, the employer says, “I’d like to hire you, but you don’t have the math or reading or writing or critical thinking skills we need.”

Lied to.

This was the problem that the nation’s governors and state superintendents were trying to tackle when they came together back in 2007 and 2008 to talk about developing common, rigorous standards for English and math. Could they, working jointly, and with support from the philanthropic sector, come up with common, high standards in these basic subjects, and provide the political cover to one another to set the bar where the real world standard really is? Could together they find the political courage to start telling the truth—that in fact our public education system is only preparing about one-third of our graduates for success in college or career, and that we need to do much better? And could raising the bar help us get the kind of progress for kids at the middle and at the top that we’ve seen for kids at the bottom of the performance spectrum?

The result was the Common Core, which, as I’ll argue, is significantly stronger than what three-quarters of the states had in place before, and on par with the rest. Standards which were adopted by state boards of education after public hearings and votes—the standard operating procedure for, well, standards.

***

Even Joy will acknowledge that today’s system is a “mess of pottage.” Standards that are too low, tests that are too easy, students who aren’t prepared for what comes next. And while I would applaud any state that wants to adopt other college-and-career ready standards that aren’t the Common Core—she mentions those previously in place in Indiana and Massachusetts—Joy should admit that there’s no clear path forward for states wanting to do just that. Indiana is trying, as we speak, to develop new standards under the direction of its legislature. But its Department of Education managed to draft standards that are worse than the very good Common Core expectations and worse than Indiana’s old standards, even though these two sets of standards are quite similar (and similarly good). Meanwhile Indiana’s teachers have been trained on the Common Core and have started preparing for the Common Core tests. Would you like to explain to them why the Hoosier State is going to throw a wrench into all of their efforts? Because of what, politics?

Joy and I, like most conservatives, agree on many fundamentals about education reform: Expanded parental choice is essential; Teachers must be held accountable for raising achievement; Unions are a huge problem. But when it comes to higher standards we will have to agree to disagree, because I for one view them as an indispensable weapon in the war on ignorance and hopelessness.

Let the debate begin!

Response #1: Joy

First, thanks to Mike for his gentlemanly opening words. He’s certainly right about one big thing: public officials have been deceiving taxpayers and kids about the quality of the education they’re dishing up. But I think Common Core is just another version of this deception, dressed up in shinier clothes.

What makes it possible for schools to continue giving kids diplomas that are not worth the fake parchment they’re printed on? When our pediatrician kept not having the vaccines we needed, making us wait for 45 minutes with a naked, squalling baby, and charging us more than our friends’ charged, I switched pediatricians. People with unsatisfactory doctors and plumbers and mechanics tell everybody and find a new service provider.

But public schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure. If a school doesn’t teach a kid how to read, the kid loses out, not the school. That’s because most public schools have a captive market. They get students—and therefore public money—whether they teach those kids anything or not. That worked alright back when there was a cultural consensus over what kids would learn, and schools had more effective local accountability because they were locally controlled, and teachers didn’t have to co-parent because moms and dads stayed married and usually one was home to bring up the kids full time.  But once all these things disintegrated and were replaced by more and more centralized, monopoly-creating mandates (such as that teachers must all be trained by one type of institution and those started to de-emphasize the knowledge teachers needed to help kids succeed because teachers colleges didn’t lose students for turning out poor ones), schools degraded.

Mike’s Fordham Institute has memorialized the day America realized this degradation with President Reagan’s A Nation at Risk report. But instead of realizing that central planning was a central problem, business and political leaders decided that more central planning was the answer! That’s when, in the late 80s and early 90s, they began pushing education “standards” and tests. (I put “standards” in scare quotes because they have never really deserved the name, which I’ll talk about in a second.) Standards—or, really, curriculum mandates, which is what I will continue to call them—promised conservatives the ability to impose their ideas of what kids should learn on those unruly, leftist teacher colleges. Unfortunately, those teacher colleges trained the “experts” who wrote the standards, and liberals naturally demanded a seat at the table for teachers unions and other establishment “stakeholders,” creating the very sort of bureaucratic committee which can never issue a quality product because the only thing that pleases everyone is a pile of pablum, at best (which is, by the way, why textbooks so uniformly suck).

Of course, the federal government never saw an education idea it didn’t want its sticky fingers on despite its lack of legal authority to touch education, so we had Congress offering states money for “voluntarily” adopting these curriculum mandates. When that didn’t work, 2001’s No Child Left Behind decided more central planning was order, and made everyone adopt “standards” which they would lose money for not meeting. Not surprisingly, states set standards a syphilitic ant could reach.

Again, rather than realizing federal mandates had created this problem, authoritarians of all political flavors decided federal mandates would solve it. (And Mike can’t pretend Common Core started “state-led” when the people running the thing from the beginning begged for federal funds and mandates before President Obama took office and happily obliged.) Then we had déjà vu all over again, with essentially the same process. And here we are, with school instruction about to be essentially nationalized through federal tests.

Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones.

Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. Here’s where the false promise of Common Core becomes apparent. Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. A notable number of experts have either declared or conceded that a curriculum built around Common Core itself will not prepare students for the very things they keep telling us it will, like college. It will get kids ready for a two-year community college, Common Core lead writer Jason Zimba told the Massachusetts Department of Education (which has been confirmed by audio recording despite Zimba’s protestations on Fordham’s blog).

Maybe that’s what business front groups mean when pretending that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and will make us “internationally competitive,” but I don’t think so. Considering that our international competitors introduce more advanced math concepts several years earlier than Common Core, for just one example of its overall mediocrity, it sounds like they’re uncritically accepting deceptive talking points. Further, notice that Mike doesn’t respond, really, when I say that parents righteously want the best for their kids, and it’s cheating them to pretend that forcing them to take “good enough” is a big victory we should celebrate.

The standards themselves read like the product of any bureaucratic mind-meld. Try some of it on for size. Reading standard RF.K.3B says “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” That sounds really impressive, until someone who knows better analyzes it, as Dr. Terrence Moore has this one. Let me quote him:

Presumably the authors of the standard are telling teachers to teach children the long and short sounds of the vowels. But that is not what it says. Rather, students are supposed to associate (know?) the long and short sounds when they see “the common spellings . . . for the five major vowels.” What?

Now ask yourself: How many ways are there to spell the letter A? I can only think of one, unless you mean to distinguish between capitals and lower case, which is not what is being said. A is always spelled A. Even if we give the original authors of this standard and the Indiana committee the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to claim that learning the vowel sounds was what they meant, we still have the problem of the more generous reading of the standard not being true, either, or at best only half true. Why learn only the short and long sounds? Every vowel except for e has more than a long and a short sound. The letter A, for example, has four sounds: /ă/, /ā/, /ah/, /aw/, as in at, tape, want, talk. Consider the word father. You do not call your father your făther, nor your fāther. Yet this simple truth about the code that is the English alphabet is lost on the very people who are in charge of writing “standards” for our children’s schools.

The answer to the destructive unintended consequences of central planning is not more central planning and mandates on ordinary folks from elitist bureaucrats who will never meet their test subjects. It is to realize that central planning disempowers average folks and advantages the well-connected, and in the process destroys quality. Time to try something else: Set people free to choose a different kind of school when their current one will not educate their child.

Response #1: Mike

Now we’re getting somewhere! Joy does this debate a great service by acknowledging what this is really about. Fundamentally it’s not that she disagrees with the specifics of what’s in the Common Core, or how they came to be (though it’s obvious that she’s not a fan of some of the details, or the process). She equates the standards-and-accountability movement writ large with central planning. Joy doesn’t want the public schools accountable to anyone except for parents.

That’s a legitimate, libertarian position, but one at odds with decades of conservative thought, Republican policy, and, in my view, common sense. The problem isn’t her advocacy for parental choice–we are in agreement about that. The question is whether the best policy is “choice alone” or “choice plus accountability for results.” It’s not a close call.

Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.

For sure, Joy is right that “schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure” because “most public schools have a captive market.” Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.

But it’s not the entire equation. Consider this: Education is a private good (we want our own children to have access to great schools) but also a public good (we’re all better off with a well-educated citizenry–that’s why we subsidize education with tax dollars). School choice is essential for satisfying the demands of parents (the private good) but some sort of external accountability is essential for satisfying the demands of taxpayers (the public good).

Now, proponents of school choice will argue that parents will exercise greater quality control over the schools than public bodies will; I generally agree. At a macro-level, choice and competition will lift all boats by making schools more responsive to families. It will also create a system which will be less antagonistic to parents’ values and aspirations for their children–an important feature.

But will school choice alone lead to better student achievement results than choice plus accountability? I see no evidence for that proposition. In fact, the lesson from twenty years of charter schooling is that states that have stressed quality and results get better outcomes than those that have embraced a laissez-faire system. The hard truth is that some parents will settle for crummy schools–but they will gravitate toward stronger schools if those are the ones allowed to open and grow.

Of course, the notion that policymakers are choosing between “universal school choice” and “standards based reform” is a false dichotomy. Not only could these two strategies co-exist, virtually nowhere are we close to the school choice marketplace that Joy envisions. (New Orleans, with nearly 100 percent of its schools in charters, is closest–and it embraces accountability for results!) About five percent of the nation’s students are in charter schools; far less than one percent are attending private schools with public support. For the foreseeable future–when the vast majority of children will attend schools that face little or no competition–we need a strategy for quality control for the system as a whole.

Maybe Joy disagrees. May she is willing to trust upwards of 50 million schoolchildren to the whims of local school boards (themselves often captives of local teacher unions); the dictates of state and federal bureaucrats; and the latest brainstorms of ed school professors. For that’s what “quality control” looks like in the absence of standards, testing, and accountability.

Standards-based reform isn’t an act of “central planning.” Done right–and the Common Core authors did it right–it’s about identifying the standard that already exists in the real world: What students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or get a decent paying job. And then figuring out where students need to be, grade-by-grade, to be on track for that success.

And next time I’ll explain that while the Common Core might not have gotten everything exactly right, it’s dramatically better than what almost every state had in place before. Which is why dumping the Common Core–the path that Joy advocates–won’t return us to some educational shangri-la, but will perpetuate the mediocrity that is the unfortunate hallmark of the American public education system.

Response #2: Joy

I’m not sure where Mike is getting this idea that I do not oppose the content of Common Core. I have written and testified extensively about its anti-Americanlow-grade, empty-skills heap of disconnected edujargon, in publications he reads and hearings he’s attended. So either he’s not listening, projecting an unfitting image of his evil libertarian archnemesis onto me, attempting to avoid a debate on the  merits of the curriculum Common Core demands, or deliberately caricaturing my position. I’m actually not a libertarian, and I have never said I want public schools accountable only to parents (although I would not object to that system). I think schools shouldprimarily be accountable to parents. But what does “accountability” mean?

Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.”

It’s my view—and, as researchers have pointed out, this is supported by the best evidence—that choice is accountability. Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.” Real accountability means that people who make decisions bear the consequences of those decisions. In central planning, that never happens. The people who write education standards—whoever these shadow bureaucrats are and about whom with Common Core we cannot even get an account of who did what and why, how they were selected, and what they were paid—do not have to live with the consequences if they fail to write good ones, or if good ones don’t matter because even “good” central dictates can’t pull the puppet strings hard enough from a thousand miles away. Children and society do.

And Mike can attempt to marginalize me and other thinking people all he wants by pretending that Republican education policies over the past fifty years have been the best thing since sliced bread, but we all know that Republicans often join Democrats in feeding the big-government beast, and after three of Mike’s glorious “decades of conservative thought” 58 percent of fourth graders in this country still can barely read. That’s where “accountability” has got us, and we have Mr. Petrilli touting a slight increase in test scores over twenty years as a huge victory, and a reason to trust and even celebrate this testing dictatorship.

But this discussion, like Common Core, is a red herring to avoid talking about its low quality and the lack of proof it will live up to the outrageous sales pitches we now hear from governors, carefully selected teacher-spokespeople, and chambers of commerce. States, lawmakers, teachers, schools parents, and pundits are now spending enormous time and money debating and implementing Common Core, even though the evidence it will do a whit of good for children is sickeningly absent. Three citations. When Seton Hall University professor Christopher Tienken reviewed the purportedly “large and growing body of knowledge” that supposedly grounds Common Core, he said “I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the [private organizations that created Common Core]… Only four of the cited pieces of evidence could be considered empirical studies related directly to the topic of national standards and student achievement.” Or, as Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas explains: “The only evidence in support of Common Core consists of projects funded directly or indirectly by the Gates Foundation in which panels of selected experts are asked to offer their opinion on the quality of Common Core standards.  Not surprisingly, panels organized by the backers of Common Core believe that Common Core is good…  The few independent evaluations of Common Core that exist suggest that its standards are mediocre and represent little change from what most states already have.” Further, research by the Brookings Institutionhas found that standards have essentially no effect on student achievement.

And what all these people with all this time and money are NOT doing, instead, is working to accelerate proven reforms like school choice and real curriculum improvement. They’re not opening new, better schools and closing bad old ones. They’re not tutoring neighbors who never learned to read very well because traditional schools lose nothing for failing to use proven methods to educate kids. They’re not tearing down the teacher certification monopoly that indoctrinates our nation’s molders of young minds with ineffective progressive pedagogy. They’re not reading as many books to their little children, not reading classic literature themselves or investigating and wondering at our glorious world. And that is the hidden shame of Common Core, this vast exercise in unexamined groupthink: Because governments and bureaucrats chained everyone to this brain treadmill, we must spend a sickening number of hours explaining why we should instead be left in peace and freedom.

If you will excuse me, there are two toddlers in my room looking for attention, so I’m going to now go practice what I’m preaching.

Response #2: Mike

This exchange has reminded me why I so enjoy Joy’s writing and how lucky we are that she’s working in the school reform movement. We agree on 90 percent of the issues; but alas, back to the 10 percent where we disagree.

I certainly didn’t mean to mischaracterize Joy’s position, though I’m still confused whether she’s for standards-based reform. She says she is, but she also refers to it as a “testing dictatorship,” says we parents should be “left in peace and freedom,” and links to an NRO piece arguing for school choice alone. So I remain somewhat confused. (I continue to believe that choice plus accountability for results is a powerful combo.)

I’m also still confused about whether she thinks the content of the standards are worth fighting over. As she often does, in the course of this debate she linked to Tom Loveless’s research showing the lack of a relationship between the quality of states’ standards and their performance on the NAEP. If standards don’t matter, why all of the fuss? I too wish we could be focused on “accelerating proven reforms.” That’s what was going on circa 2012 in places like Indiana (ahem, remember Tony Bennett?) before the Common Core opponents declared a Holy War. Educators were working on improving their teaching and updating their curricular materials. Indiana was pushing ahead with vouchers and charter schools. Yet it was Joy and her comrades in arms that picked this fight. They decided that the process leading to the Common Core (which was much different than she describes) and the content of the Common Core were so odious as to justify tearing the school reform movement—and the Republican Party—apart.

So let’s talk about the content of the standards. (Though readers, you can judge them for yourselves.) Those of us at the Fordham Institute do believe that the quality of standards matters, though of course (as we’ve said forever, thank you Tom Loveless) well-crafted standards are necessary but insufficient.  Standards alone are just words on paper. It’s not surprising that states with stronger standards in the pre-Common Core era didn’t necessarily perform better on national tests of student achievement. It would be like thinking that developing countries that adopt better constitutions would automatically have better functioning governments or economies. Constitutions, like standards, can lay a strong or weak foundation, but their success will depend on many other factors.

In the world of school reform, the most important complement to good standards is an aligned, challenging assessment. In other words, a really good test. After all, we know that in today’s high-accountability education system, teachers feel pressure to teach to the test. If that’s a test worth teaching to—like an Advanced Placement exam—then this pressure can be healthy, as it encourages excellent teaching in the classroom. But if it’s a low-level, fill in the blank exam, then any benefits of high, well-written standards are washed away, as the test becomes the de facto standard. That’s what happened in virtually every state before the Common Core, with the possible exception of Massachusetts. (The Bay State had good standards and a good test.) It explains why a state like Indiana had good standards for a decade but very little improvement on the NAEP.

But back to the standards. In 2010, we studied the content of the Common Core and compared it to the standards of the fifty states. We found the Common Core to be better than what three-quarters of the states had previously and on par with the rest. Three states had somewhat stronger standards in English (receiving A’s from our reviewers versus the Common Core’s B-plus). The primary reason: They included a list of exemplary texts or authors. (The Common Core made its list an appendix—for obvious and understandable reasons.) I simply disagree with Joy that some states “dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core.” Almost every state significantly upgraded their academic standards with the Common Core, and a handful traded one good set of standards for another.

What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature.

What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature. That’s why E.D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge program and author of Cultural Literacy, is soencouraged by them. They expect that students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.

The math standards are incredibly solid on arithmetic, expecting students to know their math facts cold, to memorize their multiplication tables, to use standard algorithms, and not to use calculators until they are older. This was a major reversal from most state math standards, too many of which were infected with the “fuzzy math” that Core opponents rightly decry—but which the Core itself does not embrace.

And what about the contention that the math standards will “only” prepare students for entry-level math in community colleges? First, keep in mind that even James Milgram has admitted that the Common Core math standards are tougher than what “90 percent” of the states had in place before. So if that’s true for the Core, it’s doubly true for what preceded it. Second, remember that the advertised purpose of the Common Core is to prepare students for college and career. College is defined as entry level math in a public four year university, or community college courses whose credits can transfer. So critics are right that the Common Core math is not enough for students who plan to attend selective colleges or major in STEM fields. The standards admit as much! The standards are a floor, not a ceiling. But the standards do a very good job preparing young people for advanced math, by giving them a much steadier foundation than what they are getting today. One reason so many students flunk the Advanced Placement calculus exam is that our schools failed to give them a strong foundation.

Still, if states are worried that schools will misread the Common Core as encouraging them to move away from advanced math, they can add standards in calculus as Florida has. Problem solved.

***

So where do we go from here? If Joy and others on the right still believe in standards-based reform—still believe in the power of setting high standards and holding schools accountable for helping their students reach them—then we need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis.  Should we stick with the path we’re on? With standards that aren’t perfect, but are pretty darn good? Or should we plunge our states into total chaos, as is the best way to describe Indiana today? Where educators don’t know what they are expected to teach; where all indications are that the state’s “new” standards will look almost exactly like the Common Core; where the state is going to spend tons of extra money developing its own test, one that is unlikely to be any better than the low-level test is has now? Remind me again why that is a good idea?

Sometimes such disruption is worth it. Repealing ObamaCare would be messy but healthy, as that is a Rube Goldberg machine that’s fundamentally flawed. That’s not the case with Common Core.  Disruption in the cause of ideology isn’t smart, and it isn’t conservative.

 

[Originally published at The Federalist]

Joy Pullmann vs. Mike Petrilli on Common Core

Somewhat Reasonable - April 18, 2014, 10:06 AM
Opening Statement – Joy Pullmann

Despite its deep effects on the character of our nation, conservatives and the general population often ignore what children are learning except when their own are in school, so I thank everyone reading this debate and my worthy, tenacious opponent, Mike Petrilli, for your time and attention. National Common Core testing and curriculum mandates are destructive, overall, but one good side-effect is creating the opportunity to discuss what children will learn, and why.

Opinion polls continue to show that the general public is ill-informed not just about education policy, but about Common Core particularly. The latest I’m aware of, from Tennessee, finds that 58 percent of adults don’t know what Common Core is. That’s rather astonishing considering that Common Core will ultimately influence almost everything about pre-K through higher education in this country except sundry administrative affairs like bus schedules and lunch menus.

In short, Common Core is a set of central mandates called standards that set what children will be tested on in English and math in grades K-12. Forty-five states have decided to reorient their curriculum and teacher training and evaluations around these mandates, in large part because of demands by the Obama administration. The Obama administration, notwithstandingthree federal laws against federal interference with curriculum and testing, is currently the exclusive funder and evaluator of national tests to enforce Common Core that will roll out this coming school year.

Widespread ignorance of this initiative despite its massive effects is a feature, not a bug, of the process that created it. Proponents like to insist Common Core originated in a “state-led” process, but the truth is that a group of private trade organizationscommissioned a small group of consultants to write Common Core behind closed doors. There is no legal authority in this country for elected leaders to gather together and write policies except in the halls of Congress. But Americans do not like Congress getting too involved in education, a sensible sentiment given that our Constitution reserves that right to the states under the Tenth Amendment, so those who want a centralized education system in this country decided to go through nonprofit organizations, conveniently circumventing open records and open meetings laws that apply to public bodies such as state boards of education and legislatures. To this day, we have no idea what the people who wrote Common Core were paid and by whom, who called what shots and why, the negotiations that took place, and more extremely pertinent information.

Before this group published Common Core’s final version in June 2010, the Obama administration came into office. Congress, in its wisdom, had already granted it a bajillion-dollar slush fund called 2009’s “stimulus package,” and $4.35 million of that became a U.S. Department of Education slush fund that the administration used to push states into adopting its policy priorities during a panicky recession. It created a set of competitive grants that awarded extra points to states that adopted Common Core and its tests, which were then (and still for the tests) sight unseen. Common Core was actually published on June 2, 2010, but the Obama administration’s deadlines to sign onto it to get priority for these funds were January 19, 2010 and June 1, 2010. A draft of Common Core was not even available until March 2010, after approximately a third of states had already promised the federal government they would switch over to it. Thirty-seven business days after Common Core was released, and with little fanfare, a majority of states had jumped into this massive, experimental shift for their education systems. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama rightfully claimed his administration had “convinced almost every state” to adopt Common Core through stimulus grants. To this day, only a handful has even sketched out what this will cost taxpayers financially, and none have demanded hard data on whether it will be effective at improving education (good thing, because none exists, and in factstudies tend to say standards are a waste of time entirely).

It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates.

It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates. Again, the PR line says that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and “rigorous,” but evaluations done both by organizations with financial reasons to favor Common Core, such as Petrilli’s Fordham Institute, and by independent scholarsconclude that not only will Common Core graduate students prepared at best for a two-year community college (no normal person’s definition of “internationally competitive”), several states already had better standards. Despite this, Petrilli continues to insist that because Common Core is a step up for some states, we should refrain from insisting that all children should get the best we know is available and not mind that these best states dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core. I and many parents find that utterly unacceptable.

The grassroots furor over Common Core—which has led to 37 states considering withdrawals or amendments—is not from moms and dads who want their kids to skate through school, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan implied a few months back. These parents want more, and better for their kids than “a step in the right direction.” I wager that 90 percent of the debate over Common Core would instantly dissipate if states adopted the top-rated standards from, say, Massachusetts or Indiana and dropped the Obama administration tests. Children right now in third and fourth grade do not have a second chance to learn what they need ten years down the road when we finally figure out that Common Core didn’t give it to them.

There are many other concerns with Common Core, such as the extent to which its tests grant direct federal access to kids’ personal information and will micromanage teachers through new test-driven evaluations. As I said in the beginning, Common Core touches almost everything. But if I must pick the biggest concerns, for me they are the lack of academic quality and the technocratic central planning Common Core demands. It is our American birthright to have a voice in the policies that govern our lives and our futures, and for various governments and entities to be restrained from controlling what rightfully belongs to parents and local communities. Common Core has traded that birthright for a mess of pottage.

Opening Statement – Mike Petrilli

It’s not lost on me that I’m one of the most prominent conservatives still publicly supporting the Common Core State Standards (“tenaciously,” according to Joy—a compliment I’ll take!). Nor am I surprised that so many on the right instinctively distrust the effort—for reasons of history both ancient and recent. The left has been foisting ill-conceived ideas on the nation’s schools pretty much forever, ranging from the silly (the self-esteem movement) to the ridiculous (ebonics) to the truly harmful (“rain forest math”). And in terms of recent history, we are living through the impact of the left’s centralizing, micro-managing, nanny state machinations on all manner of policies, ObamaCare especially. Common Core appears to fit this narrative all too well.

Yet, over the course of this dialogue, I’ll argue that the ObamaCare analogy is far from perfect. While there has been a small federal role—one magnified by President Obama’s credit-taking and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s name-calling—this is hardly a federal project. It was started by the states, and its future rests in the hands of the states. Furthermore, in many respects, Common Core is a conservative triumph, as the vast majority of states have moved from vague, low-level, and often leftish academic standards to challenging, straightforward, no-nonsense ones. As Republican speechwriter Michael Gerson argued last year, “Localism is an important conservative principle, but so is excellence.”

But are the standards excellent? Here I look forward to a vigorous debate with Joy, who has been one of the fiercest, yet fairest, critics of the Common Core. In a recent piece for School Reform News, she not only had nice things to say about me (again, I’ll take it!) but also took a strong stand against one of the most dishonest tactics of some Common Core opponents: Equating every bad lesson plan or textbook with the new standards, regardless of how tenuous the link. It’s an easy and effective parlor trick, and I appreciate and respect Joy’s integrity in choosing not to deploy it.

So I look forward to diving into issues of federalism, and the content of the standards, as our dialogue unfolds. But first let me restate why the country is so in need of higher standards and tougher tests in the first place—and why the nation’s governors and state superintendents agreed to work on common standards way back when Barack Obama was just the junior senator from Illinois.

The case for college and career-ready standards:

We all know that there’s a lot of testing in our schools today. And while nobody loves testing (or “central mandates,” in Joy’s parlance), it’s important to know that the advent of standards, testing, and accountability—driven mostly by conservatives—has been associated with big gains in achievement for our lowest performing students. Nationally, or lowest performing students, our lowest-income students, and our minority students are achieving one to two grade levels ahead of where their peers were in the mid-1990s.

The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top. And as a result, while we’ve made huge gains for the kids at the bottom, we’ve made smaller gains for everyone else.

It’s not hard to understand why. Most states set their standards, and especially their tests, at ridiculously low levels. And the No Child Left Behind Act put pressure on schools to get all students over that very low bar. So all of the attention went to the students below that bar—the lowest performing kids. And they made gains. Important, historic gains worth celebrating.

But there were no incentives for schools to focus on kids at the middle, or at the top.

That’s created a really big problem. Think of it from a student’s perspective. They march through the public education system, they pass the state tests every year, they pass their courses (often with honors grades), and they earn a high school diploma. But because the standards have been set too low, passing the tests, and earning a diploma, doesn’t actually mean they are ready for what comes next.

So they get to college, and enroll, and take out student loans. And then are told, “I’m sorry, you’re not actually ready for college. You have to take one, two, maybe three math classes, or one, two, three writing classes, before you can even start earning credits.” Before they can even get to the starting line.

And you can imagine how angry these young people would be. And deserve to be. “I did everything you told me to do. I passed all the exams. I passed all of my courses. I earned a diploma.” And most drop out—before ever getting past remedial education.

Because we set the standards too low—because we didn’t align the expectations of the public education system with the demands of the real world—we sent false signals for years that all was well, when in fact many students were not on track for success. We lied to kids, and to their families, and to the taxpayers.

Or imagine if a high school graduate goes straight into a workforce. They show up for a “middle skill” job, one that demands a decent wage. And again, the employer says, “I’d like to hire you, but you don’t have the math or reading or writing or critical thinking skills we need.”

Lied to.

This was the problem that the nation’s governors and state superintendents were trying to tackle when they came together back in 2007 and 2008 to talk about developing common, rigorous standards for English and math. Could they, working jointly, and with support from the philanthropic sector, come up with common, high standards in these basic subjects, and provide the political cover to one another to set the bar where the real world standard really is? Could together they find the political courage to start telling the truth—that in fact our public education system is only preparing about one-third of our graduates for success in college or career, and that we need to do much better? And could raising the bar help us get the kind of progress for kids at the middle and at the top that we’ve seen for kids at the bottom of the performance spectrum?

The result was the Common Core, which, as I’ll argue, is significantly stronger than what three-quarters of the states had in place before, and on par with the rest. Standards which were adopted by state boards of education after public hearings and votes—the standard operating procedure for, well, standards.

***

Even Joy will acknowledge that today’s system is a “mess of pottage.” Standards that are too low, tests that are too easy, students who aren’t prepared for what comes next. And while I would applaud any state that wants to adopt other college-and-career ready standards that aren’t the Common Core—she mentions those previously in place in Indiana and Massachusetts—Joy should admit that there’s no clear path forward for states wanting to do just that. Indiana is trying, as we speak, to develop new standards under the direction of its legislature. But its Department of Education managed to draft standards that are worse than the very good Common Core expectations and worse than Indiana’s old standards, even though these two sets of standards are quite similar (and similarly good). Meanwhile Indiana’s teachers have been trained on the Common Core and have started preparing for the Common Core tests. Would you like to explain to them why the Hoosier State is going to throw a wrench into all of their efforts? Because of what, politics?

Joy and I, like most conservatives, agree on many fundamentals about education reform: Expanded parental choice is essential; Teachers must be held accountable for raising achievement; Unions are a huge problem. But when it comes to higher standards we will have to agree to disagree, because I for one view them as an indispensable weapon in the war on ignorance and hopelessness.

Let the debate begin!

Response #1: Joy

First, thanks to Mike for his gentlemanly opening words. He’s certainly right about one big thing: public officials have been deceiving taxpayers and kids about the quality of the education they’re dishing up. But I think Common Core is just another version of this deception, dressed up in shinier clothes.

What makes it possible for schools to continue giving kids diplomas that are not worth the fake parchment they’re printed on? When our pediatrician kept not having the vaccines we needed, making us wait for 45 minutes with a naked, squalling baby, and charging us more than our friends’ charged, I switched pediatricians. People with unsatisfactory doctors and plumbers and mechanics tell everybody and find a new service provider.

But public schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure. If a school doesn’t teach a kid how to read, the kid loses out, not the school. That’s because most public schools have a captive market. They get students—and therefore public money—whether they teach those kids anything or not. That worked alright back when there was a cultural consensus over what kids would learn, and schools had more effective local accountability because they were locally controlled, and teachers didn’t have to co-parent because moms and dads stayed married and usually one was home to bring up the kids full time.  But once all these things disintegrated and were replaced by more and more centralized, monopoly-creating mandates (such as that teachers must all be trained by one type of institution and those started to de-emphasize the knowledge teachers needed to help kids succeed because teachers colleges didn’t lose students for turning out poor ones), schools degraded.

Mike’s Fordham Institute has memorialized the day America realized this degradation with President Reagan’s A Nation at Risk report. But instead of realizing that central planning was a central problem, business and political leaders decided that more central planning was the answer! That’s when, in the late 80s and early 90s, they began pushing education “standards” and tests. (I put “standards” in scare quotes because they have never really deserved the name, which I’ll talk about in a second.) Standards—or, really, curriculum mandates, which is what I will continue to call them—promised conservatives the ability to impose their ideas of what kids should learn on those unruly, leftist teacher colleges. Unfortunately, those teacher colleges trained the “experts” who wrote the standards, and liberals naturally demanded a seat at the table for teachers unions and other establishment “stakeholders,” creating the very sort of bureaucratic committee which can never issue a quality product because the only thing that pleases everyone is a pile of pablum, at best (which is, by the way, why textbooks so uniformly suck).

Of course, the federal government never saw an education idea it didn’t want its sticky fingers on despite its lack of legal authority to touch education, so we had Congress offering states money for “voluntarily” adopting these curriculum mandates. When that didn’t work, 2001’s No Child Left Behind decided more central planning was order, and made everyone adopt “standards” which they would lose money for not meeting. Not surprisingly, states set standards a syphilitic ant could reach.

Again, rather than realizing federal mandates had created this problem, authoritarians of all political flavors decided federal mandates would solve it. (And Mike can’t pretend Common Core started “state-led” when the people running the thing from the beginning begged for federal funds and mandates before President Obama took office and happily obliged.) Then we had déjà vu all over again, with essentially the same process. And here we are, with school instruction about to be essentially nationalized through federal tests.

Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones.

Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. Here’s where the false promise of Common Core becomes apparent. Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. A notable number of experts have either declared or conceded that a curriculum built around Common Core itself will not prepare students for the very things they keep telling us it will, like college. It will get kids ready for a two-year community college, Common Core lead writer Jason Zimba told the Massachusetts Department of Education (which has been confirmed by audio recording despite Zimba’s protestations on Fordham’s blog).

Maybe that’s what business front groups mean when pretending that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and will make us “internationally competitive,” but I don’t think so. Considering that our international competitors introduce more advanced math concepts several years earlier than Common Core, for just one example of its overall mediocrity, it sounds like they’re uncritically accepting deceptive talking points. Further, notice that Mike doesn’t respond, really, when I say that parents righteously want the best for their kids, and it’s cheating them to pretend that forcing them to take “good enough” is a big victory we should celebrate.

The standards themselves read like the product of any bureaucratic mind-meld. Try some of it on for size. Reading standard RF.K.3B says “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” That sounds really impressive, until someone who knows better analyzes it, as Dr. Terrence Moore has this one. Let me quote him:

Presumably the authors of the standard are telling teachers to teach children the long and short sounds of the vowels. But that is not what it says. Rather, students are supposed to associate (know?) the long and short sounds when they see “the common spellings . . . for the five major vowels.” What?

Now ask yourself: How many ways are there to spell the letter A? I can only think of one, unless you mean to distinguish between capitals and lower case, which is not what is being said. A is always spelled A. Even if we give the original authors of this standard and the Indiana committee the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to claim that learning the vowel sounds was what they meant, we still have the problem of the more generous reading of the standard not being true, either, or at best only half true. Why learn only the short and long sounds? Every vowel except for e has more than a long and a short sound. The letter A, for example, has four sounds: /ă/, /ā/, /ah/, /aw/, as in at, tape, want, talk. Consider the word father. You do not call your father your făther, nor your fāther. Yet this simple truth about the code that is the English alphabet is lost on the very people who are in charge of writing “standards” for our children’s schools.

The answer to the destructive unintended consequences of central planning is not more central planning and mandates on ordinary folks from elitist bureaucrats who will never meet their test subjects. It is to realize that central planning disempowers average folks and advantages the well-connected, and in the process destroys quality. Time to try something else: Set people free to choose a different kind of school when their current one will not educate their child.

Response #1: Mike

Now we’re getting somewhere! Joy does this debate a great service by acknowledging what this is really about. Fundamentally it’s not that she disagrees with the specifics of what’s in the Common Core, or how they came to be (though it’s obvious that she’s not a fan of some of the details, or the process). She equates the standards-and-accountability movement writ large with central planning. Joy doesn’t want the public schools accountable to anyone except for parents.

That’s a legitimate, libertarian position, but one at odds with decades of conservative thought, Republican policy, and, in my view, common sense. The problem isn’t her advocacy for parental choice–we are in agreement about that. The question is whether the best policy is “choice alone” or “choice plus accountability for results.” It’s not a close call.

Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.

For sure, Joy is right that “schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure” because “most public schools have a captive market.” Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.

But it’s not the entire equation. Consider this: Education is a private good (we want our own children to have access to great schools) but also a public good (we’re all better off with a well-educated citizenry–that’s why we subsidize education with tax dollars). School choice is essential for satisfying the demands of parents (the private good) but some sort of external accountability is essential for satisfying the demands of taxpayers (the public good).

Now, proponents of school choice will argue that parents will exercise greater quality control over the schools than public bodies will; I generally agree. At a macro-level, choice and competition will lift all boats by making schools more responsive to families. It will also create a system which will be less antagonistic to parents’ values and aspirations for their children–an important feature.

But will school choice alone lead to better student achievement results than choice plus accountability? I see no evidence for that proposition. In fact, the lesson from twenty years of charter schooling is that states that have stressed quality and results get better outcomes than those that have embraced a laissez-faire system. The hard truth is that some parents will settle for crummy schools–but they will gravitate toward stronger schools if those are the ones allowed to open and grow.

Of course, the notion that policymakers are choosing between “universal school choice” and “standards based reform” is a false dichotomy. Not only could these two strategies co-exist, virtually nowhere are we close to the school choice marketplace that Joy envisions. (New Orleans, with nearly 100 percent of its schools in charters, is closest–and it embraces accountability for results!) About five percent of the nation’s students are in charter schools; far less than one percent are attending private schools with public support. For the foreseeable future–when the vast majority of children will attend schools that face little or no competition–we need a strategy for quality control for the system as a whole.

Maybe Joy disagrees. May she is willing to trust upwards of 50 million schoolchildren to the whims of local school boards (themselves often captives of local teacher unions); the dictates of state and federal bureaucrats; and the latest brainstorms of ed school professors. For that’s what “quality control” looks like in the absence of standards, testing, and accountability.

Standards-based reform isn’t an act of “central planning.” Done right–and the Common Core authors did it right–it’s about identifying the standard that already exists in the real world: What students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or get a decent paying job. And then figuring out where students need to be, grade-by-grade, to be on track for that success.

And next time I’ll explain that while the Common Core might not have gotten everything exactly right, it’s dramatically better than what almost every state had in place before. Which is why dumping the Common Core–the path that Joy advocates–won’t return us to some educational shangri-la, but will perpetuate the mediocrity that is the unfortunate hallmark of the American public education system.

Response #2: Joy

I’m not sure where Mike is getting this idea that I do not oppose the content of Common Core. I have written and testified extensively about its anti-Americanlow-grade, empty-skills heap of disconnected edujargon, in publications he reads and hearings he’s attended. So either he’s not listening, projecting an unfitting image of his evil libertarian archnemesis onto me, attempting to avoid a debate on the  merits of the curriculum Common Core demands, or deliberately caricaturing my position. I’m actually not a libertarian, and I have never said I want public schools accountable only to parents (although I would not object to that system). I think schools shouldprimarily be accountable to parents. But what does “accountability” mean?

Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.”

It’s my view—and, as researchers have pointed out, this is supported by the best evidence—that choice is accountability. Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.” Real accountability means that people who make decisions bear the consequences of those decisions. In central planning, that never happens. The people who write education standards—whoever these shadow bureaucrats are and about whom with Common Core we cannot even get an account of who did what and why, how they were selected, and what they were paid—do not have to live with the consequences if they fail to write good ones, or if good ones don’t matter because even “good” central dictates can’t pull the puppet strings hard enough from a thousand miles away. Children and society do.

And Mike can attempt to marginalize me and other thinking people all he wants by pretending that Republican education policies over the past fifty years have been the best thing since sliced bread, but we all know that Republicans often join Democrats in feeding the big-government beast, and after three of Mike’s glorious “decades of conservative thought” 58 percent of fourth graders in this country still can barely read. That’s where “accountability” has got us, and we have Mr. Petrilli touting a slight increase in test scores over twenty years as a huge victory, and a reason to trust and even celebrate this testing dictatorship.

But this discussion, like Common Core, is a red herring to avoid talking about its low quality and the lack of proof it will live up to the outrageous sales pitches we now hear from governors, carefully selected teacher-spokespeople, and chambers of commerce. States, lawmakers, teachers, schools parents, and pundits are now spending enormous time and money debating and implementing Common Core, even though the evidence it will do a whit of good for children is sickeningly absent. Three citations. When Seton Hall University professor Christopher Tienken reviewed the purportedly “large and growing body of knowledge” that supposedly grounds Common Core, he said “I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the [private organizations that created Common Core]… Only four of the cited pieces of evidence could be considered empirical studies related directly to the topic of national standards and student achievement.” Or, as Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas explains: “The only evidence in support of Common Core consists of projects funded directly or indirectly by the Gates Foundation in which panels of selected experts are asked to offer their opinion on the quality of Common Core standards.  Not surprisingly, panels organized by the backers of Common Core believe that Common Core is good…  The few independent evaluations of Common Core that exist suggest that its standards are mediocre and represent little change from what most states already have.” Further, research by the Brookings Institutionhas found that standards have essentially no effect on student achievement.

And what all these people with all this time and money are NOT doing, instead, is working to accelerate proven reforms like school choice and real curriculum improvement. They’re not opening new, better schools and closing bad old ones. They’re not tutoring neighbors who never learned to read very well because traditional schools lose nothing for failing to use proven methods to educate kids. They’re not tearing down the teacher certification monopoly that indoctrinates our nation’s molders of young minds with ineffective progressive pedagogy. They’re not reading as many books to their little children, not reading classic literature themselves or investigating and wondering at our glorious world. And that is the hidden shame of Common Core, this vast exercise in unexamined groupthink: Because governments and bureaucrats chained everyone to this brain treadmill, we must spend a sickening number of hours explaining why we should instead be left in peace and freedom.

If you will excuse me, there are two toddlers in my room looking for attention, so I’m going to now go practice what I’m preaching.

Response #2: Mike

This exchange has reminded me why I so enjoy Joy’s writing and how lucky we are that she’s working in the school reform movement. We agree on 90 percent of the issues; but alas, back to the 10 percent where we disagree.

I certainly didn’t mean to mischaracterize Joy’s position, though I’m still confused whether she’s for standards-based reform. She says she is, but she also refers to it as a “testing dictatorship,” says we parents should be “left in peace and freedom,” and links to an NRO piece arguing for school choice alone. So I remain somewhat confused. (I continue to believe that choice plus accountability for results is a powerful combo.)

I’m also still confused about whether she thinks the content of the standards are worth fighting over. As she often does, in the course of this debate she linked to Tom Loveless’s research showing the lack of a relationship between the quality of states’ standards and their performance on the NAEP. If standards don’t matter, why all of the fuss? I too wish we could be focused on “accelerating proven reforms.” That’s what was going on circa 2012 in places like Indiana (ahem, remember Tony Bennett?) before the Common Core opponents declared a Holy War. Educators were working on improving their teaching and updating their curricular materials. Indiana was pushing ahead with vouchers and charter schools. Yet it was Joy and her comrades in arms that picked this fight. They decided that the process leading to the Common Core (which was much different than she describes) and the content of the Common Core were so odious as to justify tearing the school reform movement—and the Republican Party—apart.

So let’s talk about the content of the standards. (Though readers, you can judge them for yourselves.) Those of us at the Fordham Institute do believe that the quality of standards matters, though of course (as we’ve said forever, thank you Tom Loveless) well-crafted standards are necessary but insufficient.  Standards alone are just words on paper. It’s not surprising that states with stronger standards in the pre-Common Core era didn’t necessarily perform better on national tests of student achievement. It would be like thinking that developing countries that adopt better constitutions would automatically have better functioning governments or economies. Constitutions, like standards, can lay a strong or weak foundation, but their success will depend on many other factors.

In the world of school reform, the most important complement to good standards is an aligned, challenging assessment. In other words, a really good test. After all, we know that in today’s high-accountability education system, teachers feel pressure to teach to the test. If that’s a test worth teaching to—like an Advanced Placement exam—then this pressure can be healthy, as it encourages excellent teaching in the classroom. But if it’s a low-level, fill in the blank exam, then any benefits of high, well-written standards are washed away, as the test becomes the de facto standard. That’s what happened in virtually every state before the Common Core, with the possible exception of Massachusetts. (The Bay State had good standards and a good test.) It explains why a state like Indiana had good standards for a decade but very little improvement on the NAEP.

But back to the standards. In 2010, we studied the content of the Common Core and compared it to the standards of the fifty states. We found the Common Core to be better than what three-quarters of the states had previously and on par with the rest. Three states had somewhat stronger standards in English (receiving A’s from our reviewers versus the Common Core’s B-plus). The primary reason: They included a list of exemplary texts or authors. (The Common Core made its list an appendix—for obvious and understandable reasons.) I simply disagree with Joy that some states “dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core.” Almost every state significantly upgraded their academic standards with the Common Core, and a handful traded one good set of standards for another.

What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature.

What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature. That’s why E.D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge program and author of Cultural Literacy, is soencouraged by them. They expect that students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.

The math standards are incredibly solid on arithmetic, expecting students to know their math facts cold, to memorize their multiplication tables, to use standard algorithms, and not to use calculators until they are older. This was a major reversal from most state math standards, too many of which were infected with the “fuzzy math” that Core opponents rightly decry—but which the Core itself does not embrace.

And what about the contention that the math standards will “only” prepare students for entry-level math in community colleges? First, keep in mind that even James Milgram has admitted that the Common Core math standards are tougher than what “90 percent” of the states had in place before. So if that’s true for the Core, it’s doubly true for what preceded it. Second, remember that the advertised purpose of the Common Core is to prepare students for college and career. College is defined as entry level math in a public four year university, or community college courses whose credits can transfer. So critics are right that the Common Core math is not enough for students who plan to attend selective colleges or major in STEM fields. The standards admit as much! The standards are a floor, not a ceiling. But the standards do a very good job preparing young people for advanced math, by giving them a much steadier foundation than what they are getting today. One reason so many students flunk the Advanced Placement calculus exam is that our schools failed to give them a strong foundation.

Still, if states are worried that schools will misread the Common Core as encouraging them to move away from advanced math, they can add standards in calculus as Florida has. Problem solved.

***

So where do we go from here? If Joy and others on the right still believe in standards-based reform—still believe in the power of setting high standards and holding schools accountable for helping their students reach them—then we need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis.  Should we stick with the path we’re on? With standards that aren’t perfect, but are pretty darn good? Or should we plunge our states into total chaos, as is the best way to describe Indiana today? Where educators don’t know what they are expected to teach; where all indications are that the state’s “new” standards will look almost exactly like the Common Core; where the state is going to spend tons of extra money developing its own test, one that is unlikely to be any better than the low-level test is has now? Remind me again why that is a good idea?

Sometimes such disruption is worth it. Repealing ObamaCare would be messy but healthy, as that is a Rube Goldberg machine that’s fundamentally flawed. That’s not the case with Common Core.  Disruption in the cause of ideology isn’t smart, and it isn’t conservative.

 

[Originally published at The Federalist]

Categories: On the Blog

The Cliven Blundy in all of us

Out of the Storm News - April 18, 2014, 9:00 AM

At first glance, Cliven Bundy, the Nevada cattle-rancher who has been fighting the Bureau of Land Management tooth and nail for more than 20 years, might strike you as an anti-government radical. He has, after all, led an armed rebellion against federal land managers, who contend that he owes more than $1 million in back fees, penalties and other costs for grazing his cattle on federal land.

But the truth is that Bundy’s underlying beliefs are quite common, and not just among self-styled scourges of federal overreach. Once we understand what Bundy is really trying to pull off, we can understand why our country is plagued by sky-high rents and crumbling roads, and why our streets are choked by congestion.

First, it is worth recalling that Bundy has deep roots in Nevada. His family homesteaded the ranch that he owns and operates in 1877. Bundy’s ancestors were quite happy to work with the federal government when it was offering settlers the opportunity to claim federal land as their own, provided they were willing to work the land. Homesteading was an ingenious idea, as the federal government didn’t have the manpower to do the hard work of settling these vast expanses. Tempting young families westward had the added effect of making America a more dynamic, ambitious, upwardly mobile society.

Yet in their wisdom, the lawmakers behind the Homestead Acts limited the size of the claims a family could make under its rubric. At first, families were granted no more than a one-quarter-section, or 160 acres — the exact size, as it happens, of Bundy’s ranch.

For years, Bundy has behaved as though the public lands bordering his property are an extension of his property. While other cattle-ranchers pay for grazing privileges on these lands, Bundy has decided that he is under no obligation to do so. This is despite the fact that, if everyone chose to act as Bundy has, these lands would soon become a grass-less wasteland.

As Travis Kavulla observes in National Review, what Bundy is really trying to do is unilaterally annex a vast new swathe of federal land to the property his family lawfully claimed from the federal government way back in 1877. Indeed, Kavulla goes so far as to describe Bundy as a squatter, who is no different from a “dreadlocked freegan who sets up living quarters in an abandoned building in Brooklyn.”

There is another comparison that is just as apt, if not more so. Cliven Bundy is a lot like the wealthy homeowners in San Francisco and New York City who fight new construction in their sought-after urban neighborhoods just as tenaciously as Bundy and his cohorts have been fighting the Bureau of Land Management. These women and men, whom I’m sure vote differently from Bundy and who tend not to brandish firearms, are treating a commons — the cities in which they live — as though it is their private property.

The whole point of a city is to bring people closer together to lower the transaction costs associated with economic activity. When we make it harder to develop new homes and new offices in the most desirable cities, we force people, particularly poorer people, to live further and further away from the economic action, and this leads to longer commutes, lower incomes and lower productivity, as Ryan Avent argued in The Gated City.

Of course, wealthy homeowners could just buy all of the land around their homes so that no one else can develop it. Yet that would be appallingly expensive. So instead they use their political muscle to create historic preservation districts, or to press for zoning restrictions that make it all but impossible for the non-rich to afford homes within easy reach of their jobs. Just as Cliven Bundy refuses to pay for grazing privileges on other people’s land, these homeowners refuse to pay full price for their spectacular views, and for not sharing their sidewalks with the great unwashed.

Or consider our hatred for toll roads and congestion charges. We tend to think of roads as the kind of thing you pay for just once, when you first build them. In reality, roads are a depreciating asset. Over time, as cars and trucks drive over them, and as the elements take their toll, they deteriorate. The most obvious way to pay for roads would be to, well, charge for grazing privileges, or rather to charge a user fee. Those of us who actually use roads the most — by driving many miles in extremely heavy vehicles, like big rigs, let’s say — would pay more than those of us who drive a small number of miles in light vehicles.

Ideally, we’d also charge people on the basis of when roads are at their busiest, as doing so would nudge people toward driving when traffic isn’t quite so heavy. Gas taxes have long functioned as a kind of user fee, but as gas mileage has improved, we’ve seen a disconnect between the wear-and-tear vehicles cause on the road and the gas these vehicles consume. Many ideas have been floated to address this disconnect, like taxes on vehicle-miles traveled, but our refusal to acknowledge that roads need to be maintained and maintenance isn’t free keeps getting in the way.

In a way, all of us who grouse about paying for the services we use are Cliven Bundys. We just don’t have the guts to have a standoff with the federal government, or the chutzpah to claim that we’re fighting for freedom. Before we judge Bundy too harshly, we ought to first consider our own sense of entitlement.

UCSF redefines youth smoking; Journal’s peer-review fails

Out of the Storm News - April 18, 2014, 8:30 AM

The National Youth Tobacco Survey has been abused on an unprecedented scale by anti-tobacco forces.  First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released cherry-picked data, fabricating an epidemic of childhood e-cigarette use (discussed here and here).  Then the New England Journal of Medicine refused to correct an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of e-cigarette and cigarette usage.

Now we have the work of the University of California San Francisco’s Lauren Dutra and Stanton Glantz, who a use a dizzying array of statistical analyses of the NYTS to argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to cigarettes for youth. The Dutra-Glantz study has been criticized by tobacco research and policy experts Clive Bates, Michael Siegel and Carl Phillips. The fabrication was even called out by the American Cancer Society and the American Legacy Foundation.

After additional analysis, I have discovered major flaws in the Dutra-Glantz study that further undermine its credibility.

First, it is difficult to accept their finding on smoking and e-cigarette use when, by all conventional standards, Dutra and Glantz have grossly underestimated youth smokers. They report that current smoking prevalence was 5.0 percent in 2011 and 4.0 percent in 2012.  This is less than half the prevalence reported by the CDC and other authorities (see chart).  How could this have happened?

It turns out that Dutra and Glantz invented a new definition of current smoking for youth: one who has smoked 100 cigarettes in her lifetime AND smoked on at least one day in the past 30. The standard definition for a youth smoker used by the CDC and all other authorities is anyone who smoked a cigarette on at least one of the past 30 days.  Dutra and Glantz’s definition of current smoking for youth is also completely different from the definition they use for e-cigarette use (one day in the past 30).

Dr. Glantz knows the standard definition for current youth smoking, because he used it last year in his report on e-cigarette use among Korean youth.

Valuable information in the NYTS surveys was obscured or ignored by Dutra-Glantz.  While providing incomprehensible tables of odds ratios to inappropriately link e-cigarettes use and smoking, they omitted basic information related to e-cigarette use.

The CDC data show that about 76 percent of current e-cigarette users are also current smokers, but the surveys contained additional information that help interpret this e-cigarette and cigarette link.  The surveys provide insightful data on students’ use of other combusted products (pipes, cigars and hookah).  The following table places current e-cigarette users in four categories:

  1. Those who smoked only cigarettes
  2. Those who smoked cigarettes and one of the other products
  3. Those who smoked only the other products
  4. Those who didn’t smoke
Percentage of Current E-cigarette Users Also Currently Using Other Tobacco Products in the 2012 NYTS Product Percentage Cigarettes Only 21 Cigarettes and Pipes, Cigars or Hookah 55 Pipes, Cigars or Hookah Only 10 No Other Products 13

It is clear that the majority of e-cigarette users were users of multiple products. This is not surprising, as some youth tend to be risk-takers and experimenters. The table also shows that only a tiny number of students (13  percent) used e-cigarettes but no other smoked product in the past 30 days.

That the significantly-flawed Dutra-Glantz study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics is an indictment of the medical publishing industry’s peer review process.  Unfortunately, journals generally under-scrutinize anti-tobacco submissions.  After publication, journals tend to reject corrections, absent a glaring key error.  But even that situation does not guarantee correction, as the New England Journal story shows.

Uber and Lyft prepare for Houston showdown

Out of the Storm News - April 18, 2014, 8:00 AM

When Uber entered the Houston market in February it provoked the same outcry from the city’s only two cab companies. The city code does prohibit drivers without livery licenses from collecting payment from passengers, but to its credit, the city council observed that the immediate success of Uber and the subsequent quick entry of Lyft and Summons means there was a level of demand unmet by the status quo.

Yet, there seems to be a fear of pulling the trigger on taxi reform. A report to the city council released last week advised against deregulation and competition, despite the results of its own survey of Houston cab users which found:

  • 24 percent of customers said their taxi drivers did not know the way to their destination.
  • 28 percent said taxi drivers talked on the phone or texted during their trip.
  • 17 percent said they did not feel safe during their taxi ride.
  • Compared to other cities, users of taxi stands at hotels, restaurants and airports rated the quality of taxi cars and drivers low.

Yet the author of the study, Ray Mundy, head of the Tennessee Transportation & Logistics Foundation, said these service problems easily could be fixed without the need to introduce competition from Uber and Lyft. In something of a stretch, the report concluded there was general customer satisfaction by noting that one-third of Houston cab riders surveyed found that a 30-minute wait from cab call to pick-up was “reasonable.” This reflects either diminished expectations or Panglossian logic (“Since this is the only possible world, this is the best of possible worlds!”)

By going ahead with its commercial service, Uber adds to its reputation of fighting city hall aggressively. It may pay off. The local media and most Houstonians are behind the service. Meanwhile, the city must deal with the public relations fallout of pulling cops off the streets to conduct time-consuming undercover stings against drivers whose only offense has been to irritate a poorly performing but politically connected taxi duopoly.

Lyft has been more subtle. Ride-sharing is nominally free, but passengers are encouraged to “make a donation” to the driver. However, when the law can be defeated with semantics, it’s time to change the law.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Leftist Guardian to Any Global Warming Skeptic: Shut Up

Somewhat Reasonable - April 18, 2014, 1:01 AM

The Australian edition of The Guardian — probably the most hard-left of the lefty daily newspapers in the English-speaking world — published a story Thursday about how Attorney General George Brandis stood up for skeptics of the theory of man-caused, catastrophic global warming.

Brandis is not a skeptic himself. He believes in man-caused, catastrophic global warming, but he also believes in liberty. So he gave a “passionate” speech in which he said it was “deplorable” that skeptics are being excluded from the climate change debate. People who say the “science is settled,” Brandis said, are “ignorant” and “medieval.” He did all but call the climate alarmists in Australia’s government fascists.

Good stuff. And good for him, no matter his motivations — painted, of course, in the worst possible and distorted light by the leftist Guardian.

The comments under the story were heavy on the “science is settled” point. So, against my best judgment, I left the following comment:

The climate is always changing. But is human activity causing runaway global warming? Is man causing a climate crisis? On those questions the science is not settled.

http://climatechangereconsidered.org/

Pretty innocuous, right? It was removed 10 minutes later for not adhering to The Guardian’s community standards. Fascists! … who prove Brandis’ point.

Just before learning my comment was taken down, a gentleman added to the conversation by writing:

You’re embarrassing yourself.

I replied:

So, in four minutes you’ve already read the reports (or at least the summaries)! Fantastic. So I look forward to you rebuttals to the following points:

* Research published in peer-reviewed science journals indicates the model-derived temperature sensitivity of Earth accepted by the IPCC is too large. And how negative feedbacks in the climate system reduce that sensitivity to values an order of magnitude smaller.

* Strong empirical correlations have been reported from all around the world between solar variability and climate indices including temperature, precipitation, droughts, floods, streamflow, and monsoons.

* The IPCC fails to consider the importance of the demonstrated empirical relationship between solar activity, the ingress of galactic cosmic rays, and the formation of low clouds.

* During the past 25,000 years (late Pleistocene and Holocene) glaciers around the world have fluctuated broadly in concert with changing climate, at times shrinking to positions and volumes smaller than today.

* The relationship between drought and global warming is weak, since severe droughts occurred during both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

* And how despite the supposedly “unprecedented” warming of the twentieth century, there has been no increase in the intensity or frequency of tropical cyclones globally or in any of the specific ocean basins.

You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself by not having anything to say about those points, right?

Again, that reply was posted as I was being deleted. (I looked for it on the site immediately after hitting “post” and saw that I was erased.) So, I tried putting up another post — which may be taken down, as well. Who knows:

My last comment was deleted. I thought it was innocuous enough to meet the Guardian’s “community standards.” For the record …

I insulted no one. My comment contained no personal attacks, and it was not an act of “persistent trolling” (Guideline #1). I did not smear anyone or misrepresent the Guardian or its journalists (Guideline #2). It was not “offensive” or “threatening” (Guideline #3), or part of a “flame war (Guideline #4). Nor was it racist, sexist, homophobic or any other form of “hate-speech” (Guideline #5). My comment was not libelous (Guideline #6), nor was it spam (Guideline #7), though I did include a link. It was relevant to the discussion (Guideline #8), it was reasonable (Guideline #9), and objectively constructive to the conversation (Guideline #10).

So, in the spirit of the Guardian’s stated mission to make its website “a welcoming space for intelligent discussion,” I will try again. My original comment, just about verbatim:

The climate is always changing. But is human activity causing runaway global warming? Is man causing a climate crisis? On those questions the science is not settled.

I then put in a link to ClimateChangeReconsidered.org. I don’t hyperlink it here … for fear of violating some sort of “community guideline,” but you can copy and paste the URL yourself.

Argument victory strategy of the left: When you’re losing the agrument, construct a straw man. When your straw man is burned up, yell and scream. When your throat gives out, ban all who disagree.

Categories: On the Blog

Change We Can Really Believe In: Our Opportunity to Transform Taxation in America

Somewhat Reasonable - April 17, 2014, 6:21 PM

With Tax Day 2014 behind us, it might be tempting to turn away from thoughts of the taxman and to let the pain abate a while. For decades Americans have done just that; they have accepted taxation, albeit begrudgingly, as a necessary part of life in society and have taken the hurt with a certain stoicism. Sometimes voices have been raised against the sapping power of taxation, yet taxes have continued to rise along with government spending. The time of stoic acceptance may be coming to an end.

A series of recent Reason-Rupe polls, however, has revealed that discontent with the Byzantine tax code, and the feckless government apparatus it supports, has reached record levels. According to the polls, a general disbelief in the government’s ability to make efficient use of taxpayers’ money that has been built up to the point where respondents now believe that half of every dollar paid in taxes is wasted!

Similarly, a concurrent poll found that a mere 17% of Americans believe that government spending of tax money was better for society than would have been giving the same amount of money to charity or investing it in private business. Furthermore, more than one-third of respondents said government spending was actually less beneficial than charity or investment. That is far from a ringing endorsement of the current tax regime.

The mixture of these two beliefs, in government waste and in superior alternatives, can make for a powerful cocktail for reformist sentiment. While it might once have been possible to dismiss organizations seeking to overhaul the tax code, like Americans for Tax Reform, as a radical fringe element in the conservative movement, that is no longer possible when a majority of citizens are now convinced of the system’s iniquities.

Right now we are confronting a real, and perhaps unique, opportunity to fundamentally transform the way our government collects and spends citizens’ money. The wave of discontent is gathering and the winds of change are blowing it into a swell. The fact of this transformative mood is revealed in a further Reason-Rupe poll, which shows an astonishing 62% of Americans now in favor of replacing the current graduated income tax with a flat-rate tax.

Reformist moments are often few and far between in politics, and this one will not last long. Democratic politicians in particular are adroit at turning public discontent with government failure into anger at the wealthy. Gallup polls show a growing sentiment among respondents that the current distribution of wealth is unfair and that heavy taxes on the very rich would help serve to redress the balance. While this sentiment may at first seem contradictory to the desire for a flatter tax system, upon close inspection it is not. Indeed, much of the anger is the product of misdirected blame.

Many middle class and aspiring-to-middle class Americans see an apparent imbalance of power in the tax system. While some wealthy citizens can exploit loopholes in the labyrinthine tax code, ordinary people are not so lucky. This has led to a dangerous resentment.

What can be done to ameliorate these desires for greater equity in taxation? Clearly a majority are beginning to see the value of a flat tax in terms of the basic concept of equitable taxation. A properly administered, flatter tax can also go a long way to correcting the resentments that are boiling up in the Gallup poll and spurred on by left wing class warriors. A flatter tax would need to eliminate the loopholes that have become rhetorically devastating to supporters of free markets. The general discontent with the way our tax system works must be harnessed not only to reduce taxes, but also to eliminate the cracks and holes through which people can slip.

While paying the set rate of tax may be unpleasant to someone of means, it is the necessary requisite for a flatter tax system to be implemented and to succeed.

Categories: On the Blog

Poor little rich man

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 5:27 PM

From the Wall Street Journal:

Krugman himself, in an email to Chase Robinson, interim president of the Graduate Center, acknowledges that the offer is “remarkably generous.” But not everybody agrees. The New Republic’s Marc Tracy (who finds Krugman’s ideological worldview congenial) and Slate’s Reihan Salam (who doesn’t) have both weighed in with articles denying that Krugman is a hypocrite and claiming that $225,000 isn’t really all that much money.

Public access vs. open access

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 4:06 PM

“Doesn’t Congress already make its information publicly accessible?”

That’s the question I hear most frequently when I tell people about the Congressional Data Coalition’s mission to get Congress to provide open access to its data. “Open access” is a complicated and loaded term in the digital information world, but at its core it involves three main components:

  1. The ability to find the data.
  2. The ability to use the data.
  3. The ability to re-purpose the data.

Truly achieving open access to congressional data will require more than just posting the information online: the information has to be in the correct format. Presenting data as gobs of text is seriously problematic, because machines cannot read it.

In today’s information ecosystem, information that cannot be parsed and read by machines is like building an all-terrain vehicle that can only drive straight forward. It might be able to get you where you need to go, but only if your destination lies straight ahead. And it completely defeats the purpose of being able to drive off-road.

So what can congressional data that is machine-readable do that facilitates open access?

  1. Finding the data: Search engines can search for the content stored within documents.
  2. Using the data: A variety of programs can access and display the data. Mobile apps can provide to-the-minute updates, APIs can scrape it and immediately display it on another website, programs can download it into spreadsheets, etc.
  3. Repurposing the data: Data can be run through programs that display it in charts, graphs, or elegant visualizations. Journalists and engaged citizens can also get timely access to the data that informs their output and ideas.

Plus there is a multitude of extra benefits. Machine-readable data is more accessible to people with disabilities, because screen readers can interpret it. It is also easier to preserve, because the data is not dependent on the software we use to access it, which will most likely become obsolete within the next 10 years (remember floppy disks? Word Perfect?). Because laws passed by Congress can remain in effect for decades, we have to keep the data that allows us to put those laws in context.

Kochs’ flood insurance opposition becomes campaign issue

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 3:28 PM

From Bloomberg:

The R Street Institute, a Washington-based group that supports limited government, also opposed the bill. Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow, said the new law “re-breaks the flood insurance program.”

Declaring War on Americans

Somewhat Reasonable - April 17, 2014, 2:21 PM

You have to be extremely stupid to send a couple of hundred armed government agents to confiscate some bullheaded rancher’s cattle without contemplating how the rest of the nation will interpret your actions.

What was obvious to voters who rejected Barack Obama’s run for the presidency the first and second time was the fact that he lacked any record of competency to be President. The rest voted for him because they wanted to say they helped elect the first black President of the United States and because they believed what this pathological liar said then and since.

The assertion that Obama’s and Eric Holder’s actions and policies are opposed because they are black is absurd. It is an insult to everyone who voted for Obama and to the rest of us.

I love the notion that Cliven Bundy lives in Bunkerville. It reminded me of Bunker Hill and you know how badly that eventually turned out for the British in 1775. What ensued was a guerrilla war led by George Washington that defeated the most powerful nation of its time. There is no way a militia with small arms can defeat the kind of arms the U.S. government can bring to bear on such a battle, but one has to admire the courage of those people who showed up to confront them. That’s quintessentially American!

Bundy should have paid his grazing rights fees. Other ranchers do. What he has done, however, is bring greater awareness the amount of land that the federal government owns in Nevada and elsewhere, particularly west of the Mississippi, and expose a regime that wants to intimidate Americans with force.

According to Wikipedia, “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers America’s public lands, totaling approximately 247.3 million acres, or one-eighth of the landmass of the country. The BLM also manages 700 million acres (2,800,000 km) of subsurface mineral estate underlying federal, state, and private lands. Most public lands are located in western states, especially Alaska. With approximately 10,000 permanent employees and close to 2,000 seasonal employees, this works out to over 21,000 acres (85 km) per employee. The agency’s budget was $960,000,000 for 2010 ($3.79 per surface acre, $9.38 per hectare)”

I can understand the need for national forests and reserves, but I have concerns that those reserves are used as an excuse to deny access to massive energy sources that lie beneath their surface. If the U.S. didn’t own most of Nevada, Bundy would not need to pay grazing fees. Most certainly, his ancestors didn’t. The other excuse, that the government is trying to protect an endangered tortoise, is just part of the environmental movement’s efforts to keep energy sources from being available to all of us. Endangered species is pure fiction.

What worries me and many of my blogger colleagues is the prospect of a renewed effort by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding what is essentially a fairly minor dispute between it and Bundy. Showing some common sense, the BLM backed off its initial effort.

I don’t think the BLM response to Bundy was exclusive to the agency. That decision needed to be sent up the line as far as the White House. Indeed, it was likely initiated by the White House.

Even more scary is the fact that only Fox News channel had reporters on the scene. No other major television news outlet set journalists to record the event. How much in league with the White House does the media have to be to ignore two hundred armed government agents descending on a ranch in Nevada?

I suspect that a lot of Americans and most certainly those who live in the rural areas of the nation are going to remember the Bundy face-off with the BLM come the November midterm elections. While most voters are crowded into the cities on the East and West Coasts, there are a lot of others in “flyover country.’

When you add in all the folks who lost their healthcare insurance and others who have discovered they can’t even buy a policy until next January, that’s going to be a voting bloc that could decimate Democratic Party candidates.

All tyrannies over-reach at some point and we are seeing that occur in the White House. The nation is fortunate to have the House controlled by Republicans and now needs a Senate as well in order to dispense some much needed justice on behalf of Americans.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the White House responds to the May 16 “Operation American Spring” being organized to bring a million or more to Washington, D.C. to participate in an event that will demonstrate the breadth of the unhappiness that has spread since Obama’s first election and is gaining momentum since his second.

The White House response will tell us all a lot about its current state of mind. Whatever it has in mind is likely to leak. The best thing about Washington, D.C. is its inability to keep a secret. The worst thing is the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

 

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Congress should help, not hinder, private terror insurance markets

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 2:11 PM

Earlier this week, I took part in what I found to be a lively and enlightening panel discussion on the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, the now-12-year-old federal program that provides a $100 billion reinsurance backstop for terrorism-related claims in the workers’ compensation, commercial property and commercial liability insurance markets.

Set to expire at the end of the year, TRIA continues to divide business interests, who have called for a speedy renewal and extension (some even suggest the program should be permanent) and free-market partisans, some of whom argue it should be allowed to sunset. We at R Street have attempted to carve out something of a middle ground, conceding that some federal role in insuring terrorism is likely inevitable, particularly for workers’ comp and for nuclear events, while arguing that there are key improvements that should be made to protect taxpayers and shift more risk back on to the private sector.

After a series of fits and starts over the past year and a half, Congress may finally be ready to start debating the topic in earnest. Last week, a bipartisan group of Senate Banking Committee members – including Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Mike Johanns, R-Neb. – introduced a reauthorization bill that is expected to serve as the main legislative vehicle in the upper chamber.

The measure extends the program for an additional seven years. Importantly, unlike other extension bills that have been filed thus far, it makes some changes, albeit minor ones, to the program’s terms. While preserving the current deductible (20 percent of prior year direct earned premiums in covered lines) that must be paid by industry before the backstop kicks in, it increases the co-payment paid by private insurers for amounts above that deductible to 20 percent from the current 15 percent.

What’s more, while current law has a provision requiring the government to recoup at least $27.5 billion of any expended funds, using post-disaster assessments, the proposed Senate bill would raise that mandatory recoupment to $37.5 billion. (The Treasury would maintain discretionary authority as to whether to recoup larger amounts.)

Both provisions, which would be phased in over a five-year period, represent improvements over the current law. Our preferences would be to go much further – to scrap the post-event recoupment model altogether and have companies pay premiums upfront; to significantly raise the “trigger” mechanism, which currently is just $100 million, but could easily be upped to $5 billion or even $10 billion; and to end altogether any backstop for commercial liability insurance, which as a public policy matter, currently amounts to subsidizing companies for behavior a court has found to be reckless.

But beyond simply shrinking the TRIA program itself, we hope Congress will place a greater priority on seeking ways to encourage private capital to play a bigger role in the market for terrorism insurance. And most importantly, we would urge Congress not to head down certain roads that could result in crushing that market altogether.

As R Street Associate Fellow Ernie Csiszar told the House Financial Services Committee last fall, adopting a more uniform and sensible regulatory framework, including appropriate accounting and fiscal guidance, could go a long way toward encouraging the burgeoning insurance-linked securities market to take on terrorism risks. Securitization of terrorism-related risks has gotten a bad rap, basically ever since the existence of DARPA’s proposed Policy Analysis Market – developed in part by George Mason University economist Robin Hanson – was unfairly tarred as “betting on terrorism” by a handful of opportunistic senators. But given the enormous rush of institutional investors into the reinsurance sector in recent years, and the accompanying soft market in which all players are scrambling to find yield, it would be utterly irresponsible not to seek ways to turn those market forces toward solving the thus-far intractable problem of getting the private sector to play a bigger role in insuring against terrorism.

Congress also could examine the tax treatment of catastrophe reserves to provide insurers and reinsurers financial incentives to increase their capital and expand capacity for terrorism risks without endangering their solvency or contractual commitments. One idea to do just that – developed by R Street Associate Fellow Larry Mirel and introduced as legislation in 2011 by Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C. – would designate the District of Columbia as a special tax jurisdiction where catastrophe reserves and related investment income set aside by insurers and reinsurers could be deposited free of federal income tax.

Perhaps the greatest looming threat to the existing private market for terrorism insurance is the potential for changes to the tax treatment of affiliate reinsurance. Both the White House’s proposed 2015 budget and in bills introduced by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., propose disallowing some or all of the deduction for reinsurance purchased by U.S.-based insurers from affiliates located overseas.

This protectionist proposal, which also was included in a tax reform package floated by the Senate Finance Committee last fall, would almost certainly drive up the cost and drive down the availability of private insurance and reinsurance to cover catastrophic terrorism. In fact, analysis of one version of the proposal conducted by the Brattle Group found the tax would reduce the supply of reinsurance (for all types of perils) to the United States by 20 percent and raise prices paid by insurers by between $11 and $13 billion.

There are obvious practical limits on how far Congress can be expected to go, either in scaling back TRIA or in opening new paths for private capital to insure terrorism. But first, they should endeavor to do no harm.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

America Loves Booze and Pot

Somewhat Reasonable - April 17, 2014, 12:36 PM

In 1919 the eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States and by 1933 the era of prohibition was over when the twenty-first Amendment rescinded it. Alcohol consumption was and is a social problem, but sometimes the government is not the right vehicle for dealing with them.

The United States is a huge market for what are deemed illegal drugs and, for many years, marijuana has been among them. That prohibition is now going the way of the earlier effort to make alcohol consumption illegal. Questions remain as to whether this is a good thing or not.

A study by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health whose results were released in February examined automobile deaths resulting from marijuana use while driving. The data was gathered from six states that perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal accidents. It found that drugs played an increasing role in such accidents, accounting for more than 28% in 2010, 16% more than in 1999 and marijuana was the main drug involved in the increase, contributing to 12%, compared to only 4% in 1999.

“Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” said Dr. Guohua Le, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia. “If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of a driver who is not, but the driver under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana then increased to 24 times that of a sober person.”

Those numbers will rise in the years ahead because two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow medical use. Observers of the trend predict that a dozen more states are expected to legalize marijuana in some form over the next several years. One study has projected a $10 billion legal marijuana industry by 2018.

More than a dozen members of Congress have sponsored legislation aimed at reforming federal marijuana laws and the federal government allowed Colorado’s and Washington’s laws to take effect last year. Medical use has gained public acceptance and the Federal Drug Administration recently gave the green light to a clinical study in its efficacy in children with severe epilepsy. The Department of Health and Human Services has approved a study that will examine its effect on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

President Obama recently signed a Farm Bill that legalized “industrialized hemp production” for research purposes in the twelve states that permit it after a decades-long war on cannabis that is clearly winding down.

The use of marijuana took off in a big way in the 1960s, a decade famed for many liberal causes and a generation of young people that rejected opposition to it. In many ways, legalizing marijuana has been a liberal cause.

In early April, the Washington Times reported that “Billionaire philanthropist George Soros hopes the U.S. is going to pot, and he is using his money to drive it there. With a cadre of like-minded, wealthy donors, Mr. Soros is dominating the pro-legalization side of the marijuana debate by funding grass-roots initiatives that begin in New York City and end up affecting local politics elsewhere. Through a network of nonprofit groups, Mr. Soros has spent at least $80 million on the legalization effort since 1994.” The American Civil Liberties Union has been a leading advocate of marijuana legalization efforts.

The legalization can be seen as a liberal versus conservative political issue, but I think it is more an issue of public opinion regarding the use of marijuana, particularly as regards the fines and jail terms that have been imposed. We do this for those who abuse alcohol and logic suggests such laws will be applied to pot users as well, reducing the more aggressive fines and jail terms.

A new Time magazine polls found that 75% of Americans believe that the sale of marijuana will eventually become legal across the nation whether they supported legalization or not. The Pew Research Center conducted the polls in mid-February among 1,821 adults, finding that the number of people in favor of legalizing pot continues to grow. Four years ago 52% percent said they thought marijuana use should not be legal, but now 54% are in favor of legalization.

Most believe that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. While 69% believe that alcohol was more harmful to society, a large majority, 76%, believe that people convicted of possession of small amounts of pot should not have to serve jail time. I concur with that. I also support its use for medical purposes.

For better or worse, all societies evolve and change. The Prohibition era gave rise to organized crime to provide the booze Americans wanted to drink and the efforts to decriminalize marijuana now reflect a growing acceptance of its use for either medical or recreational use. I have always regarded the war on smoking tobacco products a wrongful intrusion on the right of those who do.

More drivers will die as a result, either from its use or from being in fatal accidents with those who do. Its use in the work environment will cause accidents that range from minor to fatal. It is extraordinarily curious that, while Americans have been subjected to a huge campaign to restrict smoking, the restrictions on marijuana use are being eliminated. I am not sure I see any difference here.

Americans love booze and love pot. What the long term effects on our society will be are unknown, but there will be effects.

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Differentiation within the peer production economy

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 12:03 PM

Earlier this week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry posted a long and thoughtful comment on my response to his Forbes piece on the sharing economy from last week. I wanted to follow up with a few additional (and admittedly disjointed) thoughts.

I think PEG’s basic point about Uber as a fast food franchising model is worth considering. He writes:

Uber is not exactly GE, but it’s very, very far from the NYSE. If anything, it’s more like a big fast food franchise: I’m technically, legally and economically independent, but really, all of my value comes from the franchise agreement and the franchiser wants to suck as much as possible about it. Except that even then franchisees have assets that Uber drivers don’t, namely real estate/location (quite valuable in many cases) and the “last meter” of the consumer relationship.

While the franchising mental model may be a good way to think about at least some companies in the peer production space (most notably Uber), a few caveats are in order. First, while Uber reigns supreme in the black car space, I’m not sure the network effects are as strong as he suggests. I don’t see what would stop another firm from opening up to compete with Uber, either on service or price grounds. Uber certainly has a first mover advantage, but — as Gobry himself argues — they’re basically providing a commodity product: a clean black car with a driver who speaks English and has a working knowledge of the city, paid for by an on-file credit card. It doesn’t seem that the advantage of incumbency is actually that large; if it were, we wouldn’t see such competition in the ridesharing space between Lyft, Sidecar, and UberX.

That said, there probably is more of a first mover advantage for firms like Airbnb, Etsy, or RelayRides that act as marketplaces for a diversified and differentiated group of sellers. People come to Airbnb to peruse offerings and look at what differentiates different products sold through the Airbnb network; when people want a black car or a ride-share, the only differentiation is in the parameters set by the firm.

Additionally — and this is admittedly nitpicking — my uninformed impression is that it’s far easier, both logistically and contractually, to change whether or not you drive for Uber or another company than to go from being a McDonalds franchisee to a Taco Bell franchisee. The ease of exit in peer production reduces the ability of the franchiser to collect monopoly rents from drivers or other peer producers.

In short, I think PEG’s analysis may be right for the parts of the peer production economy that provide a commoditized service. But I’m not sure it holds up as well under business models where sellers can and do differentiate themselves. What will be interesting to watch, then, is how things that we currently think of as commodity products begin to allow some degree of differentiation. Uber’s VIP option is at least a tiny step in that direction; it will be interesting to see if other innovations follow. But for now, Uber’s black car service (and ped cabs, and bicycle messengers, and Christmas tree deliveries, and ice cream trucks) remain focused on commodity provision.

In the fullness of time, I think we will likely look back at the early peer production firms and business models as original and innovative, but what we see in a decade or more will likely look little like what we have today. And the evolution of this sector of the economy — and the ways in which its spoils are divided up — will be a function at least in part of to what extent firms act like marketplaces where sellers can differentiate themselves from one another.

Finally, PEG is right that the brands in question here do own a great of capital, albeit non-physical. The nature of capital in the twenty-first century is changing, and returns to it are changing likewise. Someone should write a book about that.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Paul Krugman isn’t a hypocrite

Out of the Storm News - April 17, 2014, 11:52 AM

Paul Krugman may be America’s foremost public intellectual. He’s certainly a contender for the title. He has done more than any other thinker to sound the alarm about rising income inequality in the United States, and in doing so, he has shaped the worldview of a generation of liberals. Krugman’s influence reflects more than just the stylishness of his writing or his reach as a widely read columnist for the New York Times. It also rests on his sterling academic credentials. Among other laurels, Krugman has been awarded the Nobel Prize and the John Bates Clark Medal, the highest distinctions available to a living economist. The esteem in which Krugman is held among his fellow scholars lends his arguments an authority that delights those inclined to agree with him—and drives those disinclined to do so, myself very much included, up the wall.

So when Gawker reported that Krugman was offered $225,000 to join the faculty of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, at least some of Krugman’s critics saw an opportunity to knock “Krugtron the Invincible” down a peg or two. Was he not aware that CUNY is a publicly funded institution that pays bona fide full-time professors far less than Krugman was being offered to essentially serve as a mascot for the school’s new inequality initiative—a mascot with a truly minimal teaching load? If Krugman cares so much about income inequality, his detractors wondered, why would he accept such a sum for doing so little work? And as someone who has done so much to draw attention to the evils of “the undeserving rich,” how could the offer not leave him feeling like at least a little bit of a jerk?

But this is one case where I think Krugman is in the right and his critics are in the wrong. Not only should he have had no compunction about accepting CUNY’s offer—he would have been entirely justified in asking for more. And doing so should have no bearing on his credibility as a scourge of rising inequality.

When Krugman announced he was leaving Princeton to join the CUNY faculty back in February, it was a big deal. Princeton, one of the country’s most storied, selective and elite private research universities, was losing its most celebrated social scientist to a public institution that prided itself on its inclusiveness and its democratic spirit. Krugman emphasized that though he’d very much appreciated his time at Princeton, he was attracted by the opportunity to devote more time and effort to the study of income inequality.

To that end, he sought an affiliation with the Luxembourg Income Study, a think tank that gathers and analyzes data on income, wealth and employment from a number of countries to draw meaningful cross-national comparisons. It just so happens that the LIS is led by Janet Gornick, a professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center. One thing led to another, and Krugman wound up with not just an LIS affiliation, but also with a faculty position at the Graduate Center.

Understandably, Krugman chose not to disclose any financial details in his announcement. But one can read between the lines. The LIS does difficult, expensive, thankless work, and attracting a scholar of Krugman’s stature would do much to raise its profile. The Graduate Center is home to a number of well-regarded scholars, yet it is not generally seen as competitive with other major research universities with deeper pockets. Krugman’s value to CUNY wouldn’t be that he is willing to devote a great deal of time and energy to educating graduate students, so it’s not surprising that the Graduate Center didn’t ask him to devote a significant portion of his time to that end. Rather, his value lies in his ability to raise the school’s profile—to attract other faculty members, to attract high-caliber graduate students and, perhaps most importantly, to attract donors who share Krugman’s convictions concerning income inequality, or who at least find it useful to appear to share his convictions. Viewed through this lens, CUNY’s offer to Krugman looks like a bargain.

One thing to keep in mind is that Krugman is most likely taking a salary cut by leaving Princeton for CUNY. We don’t know what Princeton paid Krugman, but we can ballpark it. The University of California is one of many public universities that provides information on how much it pays its employees and a quick look reveals a number of faculty members who haven’t received Krugman’s accolades but who are being paid quite a bit more than CUNY offered to pay Krugman. Having followed the academic job market closely for some years now, I can tell you that even Berkeley, the crown jewel of California’s public university system, finds it difficult to match the salaries offered by schools like Princeton, with its $17 billion endowment. And then there are the bloated salaries public universities routinely offer athletic coaches. Far be it from me to suggest that Paul Krugman will do as much for CUNY as basketball coach John Calipari does for the University of Kentucky. But Calipari earned $5.4 million in 2012. Isn’t it possible that Krugman might be worth one-twetnty-fourth as much as Calipari? Or maybe even a little bit more?

As Krugman has made clear on more than one occasion, his quarrel is not with members of the top 5 percent or even with members of the top 1 percent. The real problem, in his view, lies with the top 0.01 percent, a category dominated by executives, especially those who work in finance. These are the people with the resources to manipulate political outcomes and entrench their power and that of their descendants. I happen to think that Krugman is wrong about the threat posed by this kind of dynastic wealth, but he has made it absolutely clear that he sees this threat as separate and distinct from the wage gains experienced by upper-middle-income professionals. According to Krugman, the main thing that we as a society should do about upper-middle-income professionals, or rather upper-upper-middle-income professionals, is raise their taxes. And who doubts that Krugman would happily pay a higher marginal tax rate?

There is a moral framework that would make Krugman’s (apparent) willingness to accept CUNY’s offer look damning. In If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?, the political philosopher G.A. Cohen argued that we as individuals shouldn’t just favor institutions that are designed to maximize the well-being of the poorest among us, like, say, a progressive tax code. Rather, all of the choices we make should serve this end, whether or not the right institutions are in place. So short of donating every cent he earns above what he needs to survive, Krugman would indeed be failing as an inequality fighter by Cohen’s rigorous standard. But then, who wouldn’t?

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