Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

School choice: let’s be honest enough to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day

original article: Guest column: School choice data doesn’t reflect classroom reality
October 11, 2017 by Robert C. Enlow

Louisiana has become a closely watched laboratory for school choice, and for good reason. The state has several ways families can choose: voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, a tax credit and deduction program, alongside a system of traditional and charter schools.

The spotlight shone a little brighter recently when a study from the University of Arkansas and Tulane University showed a negative effect on first-year students using private school choice programs to access new schooling options. But by the third year, things had turned around for those students. Unfortunately, much of the attention focused only on the first-year decline. That is simply not fair, nor is it the way we have ever judged traditional public schools.

Adults have trouble adapting to a new routine at the gym, let alone a new job or a relocation. Imagine how a second-grader feels to walk into a new school, meet new teachers and make all new friends — potentially while learning a new set of rules and adapting to a new school culture. Indeed, kids need time to adjust to new school settings, and their future success can depend on the extent of their mobility.

The recent study shows students in private school choice programs actually make gains after that first- and second-year decline — and in some areas wind up ahead of their public school peers within three to four years. Students in Louisiana saw steep declines in both reading and math scores in the first year of the voucher program, a result that may be attributable to the short window students initially had to enroll and the limited number of private schools participating. After the first year, outcomes improved in both areas, with reading scores higher after the third year than when students began the program. The Louisiana Scholarship Program had significant positive effects on reading scores for the lowest-performing students.

Simply put, kids need time to adjust to new circumstances the same way grown-ups do. And interviews with school leaders and staff in other states have found private schools participating in choice programs also needed to make some adjustments to better serve the students who were coming from public schools. School choice programs enable students to leave a school that is not working for them and switch to a school they believe will be a better fit. We know from our original research that families choose for a variety of reasons, but chief among them are better academics, smaller classes, a safer environment and a focus on morals and values.

While private school parents report overwhelming satisfaction with their choices, that doesn’t lessen the literal and figurative learning curve for students who may be coming from district schools with large classes, lower academic standards or less emphasis on character development. They’re not only in a new school; it’s a completely new experience for them. Which brings up a final point as we look at this new Louisiana study and anticipate additional research on the effectiveness of choice programs: Supporters and opponents alike have become far too reliant on standardized test scores — often from only one, state-mandated test — to determine whether a type of school or choice program is successful. As choice programs go, Louisiana’s is one of the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to testing.

Yet when you ask families whether and why they are satisfied with their child’s K-12 experience, test scores are rarely among their top indicators of a quality school. Rather, they tend to focus on safety, class size and college acceptance rates. And there are studies that show choice programs have positive effects on high school graduation rates, college enrollment and persistence in college. As school choice continues to gain support, we must broaden the conversation about effectiveness to include more than scores, and we must seek access to more data that can help us determine not just how students are performing in math and reading, but what effect expanding educational options has on them beyond graduation.

We also must resist the temptation to jump on every short-term data finding as a symbol of the success or failure of a school choice program — or for that matter schools, teachers or students. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and humans don’t adjust to new situations overnight.

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How to Bring Innovation to Education?

original article: How to Bring Innovation to Education?
June 25, 2015 by GRACY OLMSTEAD

When it comes to reforming K-12 education in America, entrepreneurs hold the key to success—or at least, this was the principal claim touted by panelists at an American Enterprise Institute panel on innovation and entrepreneurshipWednesday.

Despite the variety represented amongst the panelists, most expressed a keen desire for greater school choice and a diminishing of bureaucratic red tape. Meanwhile, there were specific things that seemed to make the panelists—as well as the parents, teachers, and entrepreneurs they work with—frustrated:

  • The nationalization of educational standards (via Common Core), and a corresponding lessening of choice on the local and state level (this complaint also applies to the Common Core tests that many parents are increasingly choosing to opt out of).
  • A broken educational system, insulated by bureaucracy and federal regulations, that seems to prevent any real reform or change from getting up off the ground.
  • A lack of alternative schooling options for families with limited monetary resources. As Michael McShane, an AEI research fellow in education policy studies, puts it in the institute’s just-released education agenda for 2016, “School choice is about equalizing opportunity. … Wealthier families can choose where their children attend school, but poor families cannot. By allowing for the creation of open enrollment charter schools or giving families vouchers or tax credit scholarships, school choice gives low-income families this same benefit.”

While there were a lot of buzzwords floating around during Wednesday’s panels (“disruption,” “innovation,” etc.), a few interesting and thought-provoking ideas also rose to the surface—ideas that may be able to fight some of the above frustrations that Americans are experiencing.

Going Small
Panelist Matt Candler started 4.0 Schools in 2010. The organization helps entrepreneurs create new educational tools for teachers, students, and parents. They also have created what Candler calls “Tiny Schools.”

Charter school startups require a massive amount of work: they must churn through charter applications, rent or renovate a large property, hire adequate staff, recruit in local neighborhoods, fundraising, procure insurance, books, and furniture—etc., etc. While such development may be lower risk than conventional district-led school improvement plans, innovators still rarely have opportunity to test their models and curricula before the students show up, Candler says.

In contrast, a Tiny School enables innovators to test their ideas and models at a very small scale, in a very personal environment, says Candler. Families and students can build strong relationships with educators, and provide extensive feedback—long before the Tiny School ever develops into a full-scale charter school.

The 1881 Institute, NOLA Micro Schools, Rooted School, and Noble Minds Institute were built through Candler’s Tiny Schools Project. As they grow, they’re each looking into different options for expansion: one is partnering with a homeschool collective and a private university to build a summer program. Another is using space in a local private school, while another is contracting with a local public charter school for a year.

Candler argues that by limiting scale and thinking small, schools can focus on building quality, accountability, and support systems. They don’t have to worry about infrastructure issues and “huge bureaucracies.” Meanwhile, students and families get personalized input and care from the school.

In a lot of ways, Candler’s program is reminiscent of the Tiny House movement: it focuses on minimizing costs in order to maximize quality. It works to cater to the needs of the homeowner/student, while also minimizing any detrimental impact on the larger community or ecosystem surrounding it.

Increasing Flexibility
Many of the speakers at AEI’s panels emphasized the frustrations they (and many parents) feel with our rigid yet woefully broken schooling system.We must pay our taxes: yet those tax dollars go toward an educational system that is inflexible, systemically flawed, and ailing. We must send our children to schools, of one sort or another: yet the schools we’re sending them to are often malfunctioning institutions that don’t seem to help our students as much as harm them.

The sort of entrepreneurship that these speakers seemed to be pushing for is the sort that emphasizes parental choice, providing multiple schooling options at price points that are actually feasible for a diverse body of providers.

Yet even here, there’s a degree of rigidity: as Village Capital’s Ross Baird argues, the K-12 model we’re currently working with was built for a bygone era. It worked in an industrial society, in which a bachelor’s degree was in fact a guarantor of social mobility and economic success—but in modern America, higher education is fraught with problems and the “knowledge economy” is quickly taking off. In this society, our school system often seems to be lagging behind.

What seems to be the “future,” then, would be an expansion of school choice and flexibility that enables parents to pick and choose a smorgasbord of educational opportunities, giving them the ability to orchestrate an educational program that suits their students’ needs and talents. So, for instance, a parent could choose to homeschool their child 50 percent of the time, supplementing with Khan Academy, MOOCs, or other online curricula, and then finish out with classes or extra-curriculars with a local charter school or co-op.

One of the panelists, in a private discussion between panels on Wednesday, compared this idea to iTunes and Spotify: we’re currently working with a rigid system (iTunes), in which users choices are limited to buying one full music album or another. You can’t just pick a song from the album—you have to buy the whole package. It’s all or nothing.

The future of education, he suggests, is more like Spotify: you customize and create your own playlist from a myriad of song choices. You build a user experience that fits your personal style, background, social sphere.

As a former homeschooler, the idea of building a smaller, more local, and accountable system is highly palatable and exciting—as is the idea of greater flexibility, of being able to opt in or out of educational methods at one’s own discretion. It’s exactly what my parents fought for: the ability to customize my education in such a way as to make it as rigorous, high-quality, and enjoyable as possible. They melded at-home classes, homeschool co-op literature and rhetoric classes, college language courses, private music lessons, community college orchestra, and intramural sports.

But there are also, of course, problems that can arise from such a diversified model. First, we must consider the fact that such disorganized and unquantified participation could hamper our ability to assess long-term student growth and progress nationwide—as well as impeding us from comparing our students to others in the international sphere. This is, in a sense, the opposite of Common Core, which was built around the goal of increasing our competitiveness in the global sphere.

There are also benefits to a more structured, traditional educational system that we may lose if we allow such flexibility to exist. Students could miss out on important lessons or classes they need in order to get jobs or build a portfolio. Both classical forms of education and vocational systems emphasize certain skillsets that they see as essential to building a well-rounded or well-skilled human being: the former often focusing on the development of abstract qualitative skills, the latter on the development of concrete quantitative skills.

But increased flexibility need not constitute a rejection of such systems or their schools of thought—rather, it could hopefully open up more opportunities for parents and students to tap into those systems. Most parents who don’t care particularly much about their children’s education will continue to enroll their children in one rigid program or another: programs that makes the decisions for them. And that’s completely fine.

But parents who decide to implement a more flexible and varied approach necessarily take on greater responsibility and involvement. They will be called upon to make thoughtful and principled decisions. While some may err on the side of the lackadaisical, letting flexibility devolve into anarchy, most will be able to use a greater diversity of choice to open up more opportunities for their children. Thus it seems that overall, greater flexibility would enable parents from all income backgrounds to have greater access to high-quality education options.

One final thought: an increase in flexibility and small-scale educational enterprise is very reminiscent of some changes we’re seeing in the economic sphere, as people increasingly vary their work schedules from the traditional 9 to 5, cubicle-centric career world to a work-from-home, flexible hours approach. And, just as there are going to be problems and drawbacks in the changes we see there, we should expect problems to arise as our educational system changes. The problems may in fact be similar.

But despite the drawbacks, alternative methods like homeschooling, Tiny Schools, or outside-school options like Khan Academy or Duolingo can help alleviate several of the educational problems we’re facing. The sorts of reform and innovation that AEI’s panelists suggested Wednesday could, in fact, help build a more nuanced, thoughtful, and high-quality system of education here in the U.S.

Do we need a separation between school and state?

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ACLU fights against school choice; is it because of anti-religious bias?

original article: ACLU Files Lawsuit to Block School Choice for Nevada Children
August 27, 2015 by Lindsey Burke

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just filed a lawsuit intended to block students from participating in Nevada’s groundbreaking near-universal education savings account (ESA) option. The ESA option was signed into law this spring by Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., and began accepting applications a few weeks ago.

More than 2,200 parents have already applied to participate in the ESA option, which provides students with a portion (roughly $5,100 annually) of the funds that would have been spent on them in their public school in an ESA account that they can then use to pay for a variety of education-related services, products, and providers.

They can use their ESA to pay for private school tuition, online learning, special education services and therapies, textbooks, curricula, and a host of other education-related expenditures. As the name implies, parents can also save unused funds, rolling dollars over from year-to-year to pay for future education costs.

The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that the ESA program “violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against the use of public money for sectarian (religious) purposes.” Yet ESA funds go directly to parents, who can then choose from any education option that is right for their child.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education explains that the Arizona Court of Appeals noted in a similar case in 2013,

“The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs.”

The Institute for Justice, which will be defending the ESA option, is confident it does not violate the state’s constitution.

Tim Keller, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, declared that,

“Nevada’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Program was enacted to help parents and children whose needs are not being met in their current public schools, and we will work with them to intervene in this lawsuit and defeat it.”

“The United States Supreme Court, as well as numerous state supreme courts, have already held that educational choice programs, like Nevada’s ESA Program, are constitutional. We expect the same from Nevada courts.”

Education director for the Goldwater Institute, Jonathan Butcher, had this to say,

“Every child deserves the chance at a great education and the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. Lawsuits such as this challenge parents’ ability to help their children succeed,”

“Nevada has a unique law that makes flexible learning options available to every child attending a public school and a treasurer that has committed his team to listening to public comments and designing a successful education savings account program. Opponents should give students the chance to succeed with these accounts.”

Education savings accounts are one of the most promising paths forward on choice in education. They enable families to direct every single dollar of their child’s state per-pupil funding that is deposited into their account to a wide variety of education options. Arizona became the first state, in 2011, to enact the ESA model.

Today, five states, including Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, and Nevada have ESAs in place, with Nevada’s being notable because it will be available to every single child currently enrolled in a public school. It is the first program universally available to all public school students. Arizona, which has the longest-running ESA option, has had great success for participating families.

As Marc Ashton, father to Max Ashton who is legally blind and used the ESA prior to finishing high school explained,

“A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 a year. That $21,000 represents what Arizona spends to educate a student such as Max in the public-school system.”

“We took our 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona, plus all of his Braille, all of his technology, and then there was still money left over to put toward his college education,” Marc explains. “So he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University, because we were able to save money, even while sending him to the best school in Arizona, out of what the state would normally pay for him.”

That type of customization and innovation is what the ACLU is threatening now in Nevada. It’s a shame that special interest groups continue to threaten choice in education, when choice is what is needed so badly, for so many.

Do we need a separation between school and state?

anti-religion, bias, bigotry, bureaucracy, children, civil rights, discrimination, education, freedom, funding, government, ideology, innovation, intolerance, left wing, liberalism, litigation, nanny state, oppression, philosophy, political correctness, progressive, public policy, reform, relativism, spending, tragedy

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A one-size-fits-all education doesn’t fit all

original article: Why ‘Cookie Cutter’ Public Schools Don’t Cut It For This Mom of Seven
June 24, 2015 by Kelsey Harkness

Liz Robbins was caught off-guard when a Washington, D.C., area code appeared on her phone.

“I apologize,” she said. “With the surgery … I had been emotional right before you called.”

Robbins was answering the phone from Henderson, Nev., a short drive from Las Vegas. When the 202 area showed up, she thought it was the hospital calling, where her 19-year-old daughter, Amber, had just undergone a surgery.

Trying hard to hold back her emotions, Robbins politely asked to reschedule the interview about Nevada’s newly-enacted school policy giving parents control over how to spend their children’s education funds.

It was too much for this particular Friday, which was more normal than Robbins might like to admit.

But before hanging up, Robbins began explaining the reason why her daughter was undergoing surgery (due to complications related to Ehler-Danlos syndrome, which is an incurable degenerative condition that affects the joints and skin).

In the middle of discussing the disease, Robbins paused.

“Let’s do the interview now,” she said. “This is important.”

Instead of spending the next 30 minutes helping one daughter cope with surgery and another prepare for her wedding that was taking place the next day, Robbins spent them talking to a Washington, D.C., reporter about why her family desperately needed access to an alternative education option called education savings accounts.

And now, thanks to a bill passed by Nevada state legislators earlier this June, they did.

(Photo: Robbins family)

Education Savings Accounts and Their Impact

Education savings accounts are an outgrowth of the school choice movement that, by literally giving parents an “education debit card,” allows them to craft a customized education plan to meet their children’s specific needs.

By giving her access to state education funds that would have otherwise been spent in their assigned public school, parents with children enrolled in Nevada public schools can spend money on tuition and fees at an approved private school, tutoring services, textbooks, and so forth.

To offset repercussions of lower enrollment in public schools, local and federal government education dollars will still feed into the public school system. (Typically, public schools receive combined funding by local, state and federal governments.)

For Robbins and her seven children, who range in ages from 8 to 26, the program will be life-changing.

“If you have a health challenge but you’re still a college-bound student, there are no options for you in our district,” Robbins said. “You are just on your own.”

Two of Robbins’ daughters are affected by the inherited connective tissue disorder. Because of extensive surgeries, medical tests and debilitating symptoms, they’ve missed entire years of school at a time.

“Children with health problems … they are forgotten in the school districts,” Robbins said.

Amber is now taking college courses online and was still able to graduate a valedictorian and receive a five—the highest score possible—on her AP government/law exam, despite the challenges she faced.

“She has a medical condition but she is still a bright, articulate student,” Robbins said.

While teachers worked with Amber to turn in assignments remotely, Robbins said her daughter did not receive “one day of tutoring” while she was out her senior year.

“That is a tragedy,” Robins said.

With education savings accounts, Robbins will now have a whole host of education opportunities available to her youngest children, who are also at risk for developing the condition as their bodies develop.

How Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts Work

Nevada’s education savings account differs from those set up in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee, all of which have stringent requirements for the type of students who are eligible. In Nevada, the only requirement is that students must be enrolled in the public school system for at least 100 days.

If everything goes according to plan, parents will be able to access the accounts at the beginning of next year.

On average, parents will receive about $5,100 per year, or 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending amount. (The total per-pupil spending amount in Nevada is approximately $8,400, or about $3,300 more than the amount of the education savings accounts grants.)

>>> Read More: Nevada Becomes Fifth State to Enact Groundbreaking Education Savings Accounts

(Photo: Kelsey Lucas/Visualsey)

“[Education savings accounts] are going to start an education revolution,” Robbins said.

“And that education revolution is going to force the public school system to begin to modify itself.”

Rallying Against the Revolution

Robbin’s inkling towards an “education revolution” is precisely what has many organizations and teachers unions rallying against it.

Many traditional advocates of public education fear that education savings accounts will strip public schools of already limited funding, and legitimize whatever curriculum a parent wants—say, a Biblical teaching that runs contrary to the public school curriculum—at the taxpayer’s expense.

In Arizona, which was the first state to set up education savings accounts, no mass exodus occurred when education savings accounts were signed into law back in 2011.

This year, 230,000 students were eligible, and only 1,300 participated. But since its inception, the program has become so popular that eligibility was expanded four times to include children entering kindergarten, with special needs, from underperforming schools, from active-duty military families, in foster care, of fallen soldiers and from tribal lands.

Organizations like the American Federation of Teachers and the Nevada State Education Association, which is a union of more than 3 million teachers in the state, argue the program is “dangerous” and could devastate traditional public schools.

Neither organization responded to The Daily Signal’s request for an interview, but in a statement to Politico, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said earlier this year that education savings accounts create an “unregulated, unaccountable market.”

“Instead of the exit strategy from public education that these programs represent, we need a renewed commitment to strong neighborhood public schools for every child,” he said.

On June 10, 2010, the family celebrates Lindsey Robbins' high school graduation. (Photo: Robbins family)

A Rising Tide

School choice advocates believe the introduction of education savings accounts will create competition, which will better education for all students, including those who remain in public schools.

“By allowing all students to attend private school, Nevada has introduced an element of competition into its public school system,” said Chantal Lovell, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which supports the school choice initiative. Lovell added:

In the coming years, we should see all schools in Nevada—public and private—improve as they compete for students and the dollars that now follow them. It’s a phenomenon similar to what we see when a new restaurant opens in a community that previously had very limited and mediocre dining options.

Every year since 1994, Robbins has had at least one child enrolled in Dooley Elementary, which is located in one of the largest school districts in the country. In 2014, the K-12 school was named a Blue Ribbon School. This award is given by the U.S. Department of Education to schools for their academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among students.

Despite having the privilege of being able to send her children to a nationally recognized school, the “cookie cutter design,” Robbins said, isn’t cutting it.

“We’re unusual,” she said. “Lots of children have different ways of learning and we need to be able to find ways to bring out the best in every child. And at a large school system that’s a cookie cutter design does not do that.”

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At The Intersection Of Capitalism And Disability

original article: At The Intersection Of Capitalism And Disability
May 1, 2015 by Elise Hilton

There is a group of workers out there who are uniquely qualified for many jobs, intensely interested in working and being as independent as possible, often joyful in attitude and thankful for the little things many of us take for granted.

They are adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

I’m not talking about “pity” jobs here. I’m talking about people with real talents who are looking to share those talents with others in a way that is mutually beneficial. Most of us call that a “career” but for the disabled, a career can be hard to come by. Chalk it up to misunderstanding, ignorance and prejudice. However, businesses are getting on board.

More and more companies out there are realizing there’s an untapped pool of talent that makes for very good workers,” [said] Peter Bell, President and CEO ofEden Autism Services, “Employers are becoming interested in hiring these people not because it’s charity, but because it’s the right business decision.”

The United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN) grew from this intersection between capitalism and disability, with a focus on helping businesses increase performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace. The organization’s driving ethos is that business responds to its peers; if a company’s competitors are showing positive returns to their shareholders, that company will want to follow suit.

In Jefferson County, Alabama, an agency servicing the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities, could not find companies to hire their clients, so they took a “wildly entrepreneurial” approach: building their own businesses, including a bakery and a shredding business. In a viral video, Embassy Suites was highlighted as an employer, when a young man with Downs Syndrome enthusiastically reacted to a job offer.

Jill Houghton, Executive Director of USBLN, says none of this means businesses are lowering their expectations:

Sometimes we underestimate people’s abilities,” she said. “Sometimes in the name of helping people, we hold them back. But businesses, they’re just looking for good employees. I see powerful success stories every day. And I believe that business can help motivate the change for people with disabilities.”

As the mother of a young adult with cognitive disabilities, my hope for my child is that meaningful work is part of her future. I want her to enjoy the same pleasures I’ve derived from my work, and I know she has gifts to share.

Read “How Companies Are Finally Recognizing the Value in Employees With Intellectual Disabilities” at The Mighty.

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government aid and World Bank projects are not enough to spur lasting recovery

August 21, 2014 by Amity Shlaes

New Orleans is growing, but is New Orleans back?

Not entirely.

That’s the exchange we’ll all be hearing in the coming weeks as the city marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Interesting new businesses have sprung up. Many schools are better than they used to be. New Orleans has more bicycle paths. But the city can’t claim the population it had in July 2005. And poverty rates have increased from their level in the first hopeful years after the storm.

This outcome disappoints, and it also challenges received wisdom. Americans nurse their own very private and personal storm of emoto-thoughts when it comes to natural disasters. We want to do something, so we look for theories that support action. One such theory is that restoring old structures or hurricane and flood spending can so stimulate economic activity at a disaster site that the place will emerge better than it would have been prior to the misfortune. Our officials routinely buttress this thesis.

In addition to such arguments for government or private spending, we see a second theory: disaster as a kind of natural selection of businesses. There’s yet a third theory, which is related: that disaster spaces can benefit from a specific version of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction.” In this view, the same disaster environment that is hostile to humans is especially hospitable to innovators. Technological innovators flock in and drive out old backward technology, yielding productivity gains that also render New Orleans, or any other such unfortunate locale, superior to its old self.

This optimism speaks well of our national character, but not necessarily of our logic. For a systematic and global sweep of the evidence suggests that New Orleans is no exception: We often tend to overrate the quality of post-disaster intervention. Economists Solomon Hsiang and Amir S. Jina recently studied economies of nations that had endured the prototypical natural disaster, the cyclone. Studying 6,700 cyclones that took place around the world between 1950 and 2008, the pair published a National Bureau of Economic Research paper supplying strong evidence that national economies decline compared with their pre-disaster trend and “do not recover.” Wrote the authors: “The data reject hypotheses that disasters stimulate growth or that short-run losses disappear.” The conclusion: Cyclone-hit countries, rich or poor, experience such losses. Places where very big cyclones hit lose 3.7 years of development over the following two decades. This blow compares to a tax increase of 1 percent of gross domestic product, or a currency crisis.

“There is no creative destruction,” Jina told me, repeating what he had said to writers at The Atlantic.

Three findings of the Hsiang-Jina report stand out. The first is that their study includes the contributions of international disaster aid. Since international aid money usually, if not always, buys something at the disaster site, this suggests that our faith in spending might be too strong. “We can’t test whether aid and government spending is good or bad, but we can just say it is not doing what some people claim it is,” says Jina.

The second finding is that repeat disasters further burden the economies they hit, resulting “in an accumulation of income losses over time.” In other words, what is true once is also true the second time, with even greater impact. Perhaps those New Orleans families who have chosen to settle somewhere else have made the correct choice.

But the third point is perhaps the subtlest and most interesting. Economies do experience a jolt of growth when governments or private companies, not to mention international nonprofits and agencies, dump cash and rock concerts in the rush that follows tragedy. That jolt may include food, bottled water, and blankets that save lives. But economically, a jolt is just a jolt. The growth is not sustained. The true economic picture, and a negative one, comes clear over the long term, the 10- or twenty-year period. The only reason we have not noticed this, as the authors point out, is that “the gradual nature of these losses renders them inconspicuous to the casual observer.” Politicians think in election cycles, and so do voters, which explains why we may heretofore have found it expedient to ignore any evidence of long-term weakness that came before us.

The authors’ first big takeaway relates to global warming, which, even by conservative estimates, is likely to provoke more cyclones. The authors estimate that to sustain traditional growth patterns, the world’s nations will need to find, one way or another, $10 trillion more than they had planned to.

But the greater value of this study is in how it might help sort out what part of the disaster response results from fallacy. Now the evidence is there: Government spending alone simply does not do the trick. Big aid might not do the trick, either. And what about “creative destruction”?

Here one might reach a conclusion that differs from Jina’s. The “creative destruction” of which he spoke, and of which the development community speaks, is innovation catalyzed by disaster. The error here might be in believing that disasters foster extensive extra creative destruction. Perhaps the broader force of creative destruction, for which there is plenty of evidence, is not prompted by disaster: E-mail killed the fax without the necessity of any hurricane.

The work of Hsiang and Jina suggests that a fruitful research topic would be whether wars, so similar to disaster, actually foster the level of innovation traditionally assumed. The cyclone study also raises the question of whether authorities ought to focus on delivering humanitarian support exclusively, and abandon aid. After all, many of us, most notably Simeon Djankov, have found evidence of an aid curse.”

The perspicacious Joe Carter at Acton Institute writes that this study brought to mind the famous “broken window” thesis of the French philosopher Frédéric Bastiat, who sets forth this scenario: Suppose a window breaks at a shop. The bystanders invariably comment consolingly that at least some good will come of it all, for a glazier will get business, and, they ask, “What would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?” But this “seen” benefit obscures the unseen loss: that the cash spent to repair the window might have been invested more profitably by the shopkeeper, creating benefit elsewhere. Hsiang and Jina vindicate Bastiat. But they also undermine John Maynard Keynes.

In any case, “The Causal Effect of Environmental Catastrophe on Long-Run Economic Growth,” this paper’s formal title, provokes more thought than a dozen other scholarly tracts. Any one of its ideas is worth considering, and preferably before the next hurricane.

original article: Emotional Storms Are No Response for Disasters

bureaucracy, charity, crisis, economics, economy, funding, government, hurricanes, ideology, innovation, nanny state, spending, stimulus, study

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Christianity, Socialism, and Wealth Creation

July 30, 2014 by Brian Griffiths

Through much of the post-war period in the West, the formation of economic policy was dominated by Keynesian activism on the part of governments seeking an increasing role in providing public services, reducing material poverty, and reshaping income redistribution.

In the United States, President John F. Kennedy launched the New Frontier program and his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, soon after embarked on what came to be called the Great Society. In both cases, emphasis was placed on increasing the role of the state in order to solve problems of poverty and destitution. In intellectual terms, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made the case for trade unions and government becoming “countervailing powers” in capitalist economies in order to check the power of large corporations. In Britain, Harold Wilson nationalized various industries, developed a national plan, a comprehensive prices and incomes policy, and extended the scope of the welfare state. Across the Channel and Rhine, the Social Democrat Willy Brandt was a major influence in extending the role of government in social policy throughout West Germany.

Throughout the years, the dominant social concern of Christian churches in the West was focused on the redistribution of income rather than the creation of wealth. Some form of socialism or social democracy was perceived as the inevitable outcome of taking seriously the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels concerning love of the poor. Thus, the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich declared that “every serious Christian must be a socialist.” Likewise, many on the British left believed that “Christianity is the religion of which socialism is the practice.” In policy terms, this translated into high taxation, an increasing government share of GDP, and the steady growth of the welfare state.

Theologian and philosopher Michael Novak’s great contribution – and he was really the first to do so – was to challenge this view, root and branch. Through articulating the idea of “democratic capitalism,” he sought the moral high ground. At a time when there was an obsession with the distribution of income, he was concerned with the moral, political, economic, and cultural preconditions for wealth creation in a market system that he believed would unleash the creative potential of the human person.

Novak set out his approach by constructing a number of building blocs. One was the uniquely Judeo-Christian view of the origins and purpose of the physical world; namely, that the physical world owes its existence to the Creator and is God’s provision and gift to mankind. The physical world has an abundance of resources, the potential of which is being extended on a daily basis through human innovation, entrepreneurship, and the technical sciences. The limits of the earth are not yet known. At the time of the Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766–1824), the earth supported 725 million persons. Today through the inventiveness of capitalism in agriculture and medicine, it supports 6.5 billion people. This view of God’s provision for humanity challenged the Club of Rome with its insistence on the finiteness of the created world and its very negative view of population growth. Today, it constitutes a strong challenge to the doomsters of global warming.

Novak was always clear, however, that the key to wealth creation is not the abundance of natural resources in itself. Many countries have enormous natural resources but remain poor. Rather, the key to wealth creation is the creativity of the human person, created as Imago Dei. Human creativity, for Novak, is the primary resource of man. The creation of wealth lies more in the human spirit and mind than it does in matter. Novak begins and ends his classic The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism with a quote from Pope John Paul II’s 1991 social encyclical Centesimus Annus.

… besides the earth, man’s principal resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth’s productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied. It is his disciplined work in close collaboration with others that makes possible the creation of ever more extensive working communities which can be relied upon to transform man’s natural and human environments. Important virtues are involved in this process such as diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships as well as courage in carrying out decisions which are difficult and painful, but necessary both for the overall working of a business and in meeting possible setbacks. (CA, no. 32)

The most distinctive feature of capitalism – and certainly the one that uniquely sets it apart from the worldview of socialism – is continuous innovation. The creativity, inventiveness, imagination, resourcefulness, and originality that lie behind this are the product of human intelligence. Through the growth of science, technology, and engineering, these become translated through entrepreneurs into new products and services for the home, the school, the workplace, and the wider community in areas such as health, food, education, transport, and leisure. Here Centesimus Annus – and Novak’s writings before and after this encyclical – also stress the importance of discipline in work, the social nature of wealth creation, as well as virtues such as prudence, trust, honesty, and reliability as indispensable ingredients in the process of wealth creation. In other words, wealth creation is built on moral foundations.

A further building block for wealth creation in Novak’s thesis is Bernard Lonergan’s concept of “emergent probability.” This is derived not only from an explicitly Christian perspective but also from a scientific practical one. Novak’s argument goes something like this. The world in which we live is not “logical, geometric, and perfectly predictable,” nor is it “totally mad, irrational and impervious to intelligence.” All sorts of things happen in the world. Some kinds of events reoccur. Other events are wild and highly improbable. In more recent years, the 2008 financial crisis has shown us at considerable economic cost that we do live in a world of black swans and fat tails. It follows that, on the basis of experience, people form a view of what might happen, assign probabilities to the different risks they might face and then make appropriate decisions. This belief about the way the world works is best captured by the term enterprise. Entrepreneurs know that the world is not totally random, but they also know that success is never guaranteed.

Although not expressed in this way, Adam Smith also saw that economic life was neither totally random nor blind necessity. His great insight was that because of the existence of self-love and sympathy as motives for human conduct coupled with “the way things work” in economic life, the system or the order in which economic life takes place is one of emergent probability. The key to the wealth of nations was not natural resources, political status, state planning, military power, or even the Divine Right of Kings but human creativity and intelligence that flourished under a particular system that he referred to as a “natural system of liberty.” This system was a bottom-up approach, which was based on the rationality of individuals free to choose in markets relatively uncontrolled by government. The genius of this system is that it was built up from the actions of myriads of individuals endowed with the freedom of choice to pursue their own interests in relatively free markets and that would, without being designed to do so, help promote the common good.

This article is excerpted and adapted from “Creation Theology” by Brian Griffiths in Theologian & Philosopher of Liberty – Essays of Evaluation & Criticism in Honor of Michael Novak, edited by Samuel Gregg (Acton Institute, 2014).

original article: Christianity, Socialism, and Wealth Creation

capitalism, culture, economics, ethics, freedom, ideology, innovation, religion, research, socialism, study

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Common Core: where critical thinking doesn’t mean thinking for yourself

Those who suspect modern education and many attempts to reform it are really a play ground for progressive social engineers may find further confirmation of their concerns at Enochs High School in Modesto, California.

In its story Historic breakup: Declaration of Independence lesson gets a Common Core twist by Nan Austin we find a US history lesson which begins with an approach anyone would find promising.

Three social studies teachers worked together on the lesson, delivered in U.S. history classes schoolwide. The lesson started with background information but not through a lecture, reading the chapter aloud or doing the unit quiz.

Clicking through a series of slides, teacher Janeen Zambo strode around the class asking students to figure out why something happened, what might happen next, and where they could get the information for their homework.

A slide of the engraving called “ The Bloody Massacre” by Paul Revere, showing a row of soldiers shooting into an unarmed Boston crowd, served as a starting point. As kids pointed out differences between the two groups, Zambo brought in the tensions of that time and how activists of the day rallied colonists.

Unfortunately this lesson may not be intended to help students think for themselves, which is what “critical thinking” should mean. In many other cases of progressive thought critical thinking actually means criticizing Western civilization, or more particularly criticizing the American experiment and its ideal of liberty. Given the many instances of an overtly progressive bias found in Common Core, this example of a Common Core American history lesson may be of concern as well.

Notice the next phrases of the story:

“People were throwing snowballs with rocks in them,” she said. “Less than a dozen people were killed, but what did they call this?”

Activists’ accounts of what they named the Boston Massacre angered colonists, Zambo said. “Can rumor become ‘common knowledge,’ even if it’s not true?” she asked the class, popping in a vocabulary term from the homework.

“If you read it on the Internet, it must be true,” she added with a note of sarcasm. “Good – you laughed. That gives me hope,” she continued with a grin.

The lesson, as we are told, is delivered showing the English side and the Colonist side. That may very well be the case. This story in the Modesto Bee is not an in depth look at the lesson, and there are no links provided in the article to the curriculum’s prescription for this lesson. It could be that both sides of the issue are thoroughly examined in the classroom. But that’s not the impression given here in Austin’s story.

What we do see in this story are the seeds of doubt planted into the minds of students from the beginning (in the video we see the text of the Declaration of Independence is handed out to the students at the end of class, with obvious intent that students read it so as to be prepared to discuss the document later). The Declaration is presented as the “greatest break up letter in history” which is a clever and innovative approach, clearly designed to and succeeds in stoking curiosity for the students. But, as the quoted text above shows, even before the Declaration itself is drafted, historical events leading up to it (such as the Boston Massacre) are presented with an overtly pro-English/anti-colonist bent.

Comments like “less than a dozen people were killed, but what did they (the ‘activist’ colonists) call it”, and “can rumor become ‘common knowledge’ even if it’s not true?” are clearly the pro-English view of the situation. These comments are obviously intended to sow doubt about the colonists’ view of their people being lined up and shot by English soldiers. If these comments were balanced with others showing the colonists’ view of these events I would feel much better about the situation entirely. That’s not shown in this short news story but given the current track record of Common Core I’m not confident balance or true “critical thinking” is the goal here.

Other comments from Austin’s story may raise an eyebrow as well.

The class will study the document in-depth this week, but with targeted questions rather than lectures.

Asking targeted questions of high school students rather than spoon feeding them answers is a fine approach, one we all would surely support. But if the targeted questions are designed only to raise doubts about the American experiment and about the intentions of America’s founders (as there is good reason to suspect) then it should be no surprise to find parents and others objecting to lessons such as this one.

Critical theory typically directs criticism toward the American experiment, and seldom toward the many horrible human rights abuses committed by non-Western societies. This is often the type of “critical thinking” foisted upon students in institutions of higher learning and in high schools. This is not the sort of thinking that results in independent thought. Is this the kind of “critical thinking” being taught to Enochs High School students? If you have more information on this class or Common Core history lessons in general please share here.

american, bias, constitution, culture, documents, education, history, ideology, indoctrination, innovation, left wing, liberalism, nanny state, news media, pandering, patriotism, philosophy, propaganda, reform, relativism, video

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Private, Religious Schools Have Strong Showing at Science Fair

August 14, 2014 by Michael Chartier

As an alumnus of private Catholic schools, I continually am surprised by the evolving notion that religious education is dismissive of science. Indeed, much is being made about private school teachings that are deemed incompatible with science. But as a recent personal experience of my own shows, this generalization is taken oftentimes on faith.
 
Indeed, kids in private schools not only are learning about the scientific method, but many are excelling in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medical (STEM) fields as well. Just one example has been private schools’ showing at the Hoosier Science and Engineering Fair (HSEF) in Indiana, home to the nation’s largest school voucher program.
 
More than 70 students from around Indiana competed at the HSEF and, of those, 26 were chosen to represent their state at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Of those initial 70, half were from private schools of choice—an impressive showing for schools that are considered by Heather Weaver, an ACLU senior staff attorney, “to discriminate and indoctrinate.”
 
For example, to show just how wrong critics such as Weaver can be, consider the students from the Eman School in Fishers, Indiana—a private school that accepts voucher students “offer[ing] (them) an Islamic environment that promotes moral and ethical values that are part of Islamic teachings.” The Eman School’s students make up the largest delegation of Hoosier students at the ISEF. In addition, three of the four students from the Eman School’s delegation are female, which is notable considering women make up only 24 percent of all STEM degree holders nationwide. In fact, Iman Mahoui, earned second place in Cellular/Molecular Biology, the highest award from anyone in the Hoosier delegation. Just by talking to these students, one can see that an appreciation for the scientific method was instilled in them from the earliest grade levels. The school views science not in isolation, but as a tool for understanding the natural laws that God, or Allah, put in place after the creation of the universe.
 
Another private school accepting voucher students that participated in the International Science and Engineering Fair is Marian High School, a Catholic High School in Mishawaka, Indiana—and powerhouse in science. The Marian Knights brought two students to the ISEF this year led by the 2010 Science Teacher of the Year Ken Andrzejewski, whose title was awarded by the Sigma Xi Society for Science Research. Mr. Andrzejewski has been bringing students to the ISEF since the early 1990s. Two years ago, the Top Young Scientist, awarded by the Science Education Foundation of Indiana, was Tim Trippel from Marian High School. The Top Young Scientist earns a $10,000 scholarship chosen by a senior group of SEFI scientists.
 
But those two anecdotes actually represent a larger theme.

full article: Private, Religious Schools Have Strong Showing at Science Fair

children, diversity, education, freedom, ideology, innovation, religion, science, tolerance

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These People Are Turning Waste into a Precious Resource

2014 by Tyler Castle

In the debate over economic systems, a fundamental question exists: Is economics a zero-sum game?

Generally, proponents of socialism tend to say yes. There is a fixed pie of wealth, so we should make sure that it is split evenly.

Proponents of capitalism disagree. Rather than splitting a single pie, we ought to focus on creating more pies (a.k.a. wealth). But how realistic is that? Isn’t there a fixed amount of resources on earth? After all, no one is out there creating matter out of nothing.

Sometimes this train of thought sounds convincing, until I read something like this:

People around the world produce an estimated 6.4 trillion litres of urine every year. BRL [Bristol Robotics Laboratory], a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, want to make the most of this abundant resource. […] They have developed a new technique to turn urine into electrical power—or “urine-tricity” as they call it. (from The Economist)

Forgive me if this seems crass, but how cool is that? Scientists have found a way to turn completely useless (well, not anymore) human waste into something incredibly valuable. Their experiments have found urine capable of “recharg[ing] commercially available batteries, including those in mobile phones.” We haven’t found a replacement for fossil fuels, but still…maybe it is possible to make something out of nothing?

This illustrates an important point. As Damian Von Stauffenberg states, “What creates wealth? People create wealth! The source of wealth is inside our head. It’s our creativity, something we’ve been endowed with.” Although we will never be able to create physical matter out of thin air, we have immense power to generate wealth through human ingenuity. And this changes everything.

If economics is not a zero-sum game, it means our focus should be on creating more wealth for everyone, rather than limiting what some have so that everyone can have an equal—and small—share. So, in this case, rather than limit how much energy people consume, we should invest in research that finds creative new sources.

What does this mean for public policy?

Policies that address poverty and inequality by simply dividing a pot of wealth that already exists are old hat. By the complex regulatory structures that such policies form, they inevitably crowd out potentially amazing innovations. Furthermore, a system that merely redistributes wealth to those in need ignores the potential that those same people have to create wealth themselves. Policies that instead seek to unleash the potential of human creativity in us all—i.e. by improving our education system or creating the conditions for a vibrant economy—will move us toward a brighter future.

I mean, if we can turn urine into electricity, what else might be possible?

original article: These People Are Turning Waste into a Precious Resource

capitalism, crisis, economics, energy, freedom, innovation, philosophy, science, socialism

Filed under: capitalism, crisis, economics, energy, freedom, innovation, philosophy, science, socialism

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