Closures and transitions
There is a double standard at work right now in the discussion over the federal DC voucher program. I'm not just speaking of the evidentiary slipperiness Aaron Pallas pointed out Monday and Thursday. In addition, I am thinking of the argument that students in DC-area private schools on the vouchers should not have their schooling disrupted for a policy change, a curious argument to make by those who have been advocates of disrupting the lives of students in public schools when the schools are closed or staff are fired en masse. Voucher programs should be protected from disruption while decisions about public-school programs hedge on the side of disruption? Secretary Duncan is one of those who have tried make both claims, and given his Renaissance program of school closures in Chicago, this inconsistency fails the smell test.
Beyond the issue of consistency, there is a legitimate question of how to handle transitions in ways that respect the legitimate interests of students and of adults in the system. Sy Fliegel spoke openly about program closures and transitions in Miracle in East Harlem (1993), his memoir of open school choice in Spanish Harlem (Community District #4). You think of that experiment in association with Deborah Meier? Good for you! But Fliegel makes clear that a number of programs were clearly failures, either of ideas or mismatch with the community or management problems. As he explains in the book, his job was to handle program closures and to do it in a way that left the least pain possible. For some reason, his approach struck me as something akin to the attitude toward business owners when an idea fails: "Okay, that didn't work out. Dust yourself off and try again, and thanks to the separation of personal from business assets, you're not wiped out." Well, not quite a painless exit: there's the opportunity cost of time spent running a business. But a failed business is not inherently a scarlet letter, and Fliegel wanted to make clear that failure in developing a Community District #4 school did not mean that an educator (or set of teachers) was worthless.
For some reason, though, neither school systems nor wannabe reformers have paid much attention to Fliegel's approach, either in dealing with schools in crisis or in closing down schools for financial reasons (as in Rhee's closure of schools in DC). In the first case, teachers are often "passed around" or told to sink or swim in a transfer/waiver system. Neither approach is appropriate.
Students are also affected deeply by any massive transition. Some welcome the change (when schooling dramatically improves) or are resilient. Others have their lives traumatized. My daughter had her preschool experiences disrupted twice when one school's management fired her teacher, and a few years later in a different city, the management fired the director. My daughter did well through the transitions, but the corporate approach by the centers in each case simply stank from the perspective of most parents: the employee was shepherded out of the center by security personnel with no chance for the children to say goodbye to a teacher or center director that they loved. In neither case was the termination for disciplinary reasons or anything where the escort was for safety reasons. It was just a knee-jerk "this is how terminations are done; damn how this will teach children that some people are disposable" decision. Sometimes reformers and managers forget that children are watching what happens and how the adults around them are treated. [emphasis mine]
Sherman Dorn nails it; the whole "closing the voucher schools is disruptive" meme just got shot down with logic.
Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in NAEP Math Assessmentsh/t Schools Matter
The following research news story was reported in Science Daily on March 3, and so far not a single newspaper has bothered to even mention it. No doubt Arne Duncan and Business Roundtable disruptors would scoff, so why bother printing it, right? It certainly throws into question the wishful thinking, guesswork, conservative ideology, and greed that are driving the education antiquarians, known otherwise as reformers.ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2009) — In another “Freakonomics”-style study that turns conventional wisdom about public- versus private-school education on its head, a team of University of Illinois education professors has found that public-school students outperform their private-school classmates on standardized math tests, thanks to two key factors: certified math teachers, and a modern, reform-oriented math curriculum.
Sarah Lubienski, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the U. of I. College of Education, says teacher certification and reform-oriented teaching practices correlated positively with higher achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for public-school students.
“According to our results, schools that hired more certified teachers and had a curriculum that de-emphasized learning by rote tended to do better on standardized math tests,” Lubienski said. “And public schools had more of both.”
To account for the difference in test scores, Lubienski and her co-authors, education professor Christopher Lubienski (her husband) and doctoral student Corinna Crane, looked at five critical factors: school size, class size, parental involvement, teacher certification and instructional practices.
In previous research, the Lubienskis discovered that after holding demographic factors constant, public school students performed just as well if not better than private schools students on standardized math tests.
“There are so many reasons why you would think that the results should be reversed – that private schools would outscore public schools in standardized math test scores,” she said. “This study looks at the underlying reasons why that’s not necessarily the case.”
Of the five factors, school size and parental involvement “didn’t seem to matter all that much,” Lubienski said, citing a weak correlation between the two factors as “mixed or marginally significant predictors” of student achievement.
They also discovered that smaller class sizes, which are more prevalent in private schools than in public schools, significantly correlate with achievement.
“Smaller class size correlated with higher achievement and occurred more frequently in private schools,” Lubienski said. “But that doesn’t help explain why private schools were being outscored by public schools.”
Lubienski said one reason private schools show poorly in this study could be their lack of accountability to a public body.
“There’s been this assumption that private schools are more effective because they’re autonomous and don’t have all the bureaucracy that public schools have,” Lubienski said. “But one thing this study suggests is that autonomy isn’t necessarily a good thing for schools.”
Another reason could be private schools’ anachronistic approach to math.
“Private schools are increasingly ignoring curricular trends in education, and it shows,” Lubienski said. “They’re not using up-to-date methods, and they’re not hiring teachers who employ up-to-date lesson plans in the classroom. When you do that, you aren’t really taking advantage of the expertise in math education that’s out there.”
Lubienski thinks one of the reasons that private schools don’t adopt a more reform-minded math curriculum is because some parents are more attracted to a “back-to-basics” approach to math instruction. The end result, however, is students who are “prepared for the tests of 40 years ago, and not the tests of today,” she said.
Tests like NAEP, Lubienski said, have realigned themselves with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards for math instruction, which have moved away from the brute-force memorization of numbers to an emphasis on “geometry, measurement and algebra – things that private school teachers reported they spent less time teaching,” Lubienski said.
“The results do seem to suggest that private schools are doing their own thing, and that they’re less likely to have paid attention to curricular trends and the fact that math instruction and math tests have changed,” she said.
Lubienski cautioned that the relationships found between the two factors and public-school performance might not be directly causal.
“The correlations might be a result, for example, of having the type of administrator who makes teacher credentials and academics the priority over other things, such as religious education,” she said. “That's often not the case for private religious schools, where parents are obviously committed to things beside academic achievement.”
The schools with the smallest percentage of certified teachers – conservative Christian schools, where less than half of teachers were certified – were, not coincidentally, the schools with the lowest aggregate math test scores.
“Those schools certainly have the prerogative to set different priorities when hiring, but it just doesn’t help them on NAEP,” Lubienski said.
Lubienski also noted that public schools tend to set aside money for teacher development and periodic curriculum improvements.
“Private schools don’t invest as much in the professional development of their teachers and don’t do enough to keep their curriculum current,” she said. “That appears to be less of a priority for them, and they don’t have money designated for that kind of thing in the way public schools do.”
Lubienski hopes that politicians who favor more privatization would realize that the invisible hand of the market doesn’t necessarily apply to education.
“You can give schools greater autonomy, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to use that autonomy to implement an innovative curriculum or improve the academics of the students,” she said.
Instead, some private schools try to attract parents by offering a basic skills curriculum, or non-academic requirements, such as students wearing uniforms.
Privatization also assumes that parents can make judgments about what schools are the best for their children.
“With schools, it’s tough to see how much kids are actually learning,” Lubienski said. “Market theory in education rests on the assumption that parents can see what they’re buying, and that they’re able to make an informed decision about their child’s education. Although parents might be able to compare schools’ SAT scores, they aren’t able to determine whether those gains are actually larger in higher scoring schools unless they know where students start when they enter school. People don’t always pick the most effective schools.”
The results were published in a paper titled “Achievement Differences and School Type: The Role of School Climate, Teacher Certification, and Instruction” in the November 2008 issue of the American Journal of Education. The published findings were based on fourth- and eighth-grade test results from the 2003 NAEP test, including data from both student achievement and comprehensive background information drawn from a nationally representative sample of more than 270,000 students from more than 10,000 schools.
B of A: Revealing Merrill Bonus Info Would Cause "Irreparable Harm"
By Zachary Roth - March 6, 2009, 11:07AM
We didn't get to this yesterday afternoon... but it looks like Bank of America is going to the mat to avoid telling Andrew Cuomo's investigation who got those controversial Merill Lynch bonuses.
B of A, reports Bloomberg, filed court documents yesterday claiming that revealing the identities of the lucky bonus recipients would cause "grave and irreparable harm" to the firm, because it would let competitors know which areas of B of A's business the company considers most valuable, and would therefore make it easier to steal B of A's top talent. It would also create "internal dissension and consternation," and could even create security risks for those named.
In other words, if it became known who we gave huge bonuses to in a year when Merrill collapsed, people would be so mad they'd physically attack them.
Does any of this even pass the laugh test?
Former Merrill CEO John Thain has already talked to Cuomo's team about the bonuses, after a judge ordered him to do. But its not clear what he said. B of A CEO Ken Lewis refused last week to turn over a list of who got the bonuses.
Merrill gave out the awards on an accelerated schedule last December, just weeks before the failed firm came under the control of B of A. Thain has since been fired.
I defer to Paul Krugman on matters economic. Why doesn't Obama?
The Big Dither
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Last month, in his big speech to Congress, President Obama argued for bold steps to fix America’s dysfunctional banks. “While the cost of action will be great,” he declared, “I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.”
Many analysts agree. But among people I talk to there’s a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama’s failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern.
Here’s how the pattern works: first, administration officials, usually speaking off the record, float a plan for rescuing the banks in the press. This trial balloon is quickly shot down by informed commentators.
Then, a few weeks later, the administration floats a new plan. This plan is, however, just a thinly disguised version of the previous plan, a fact quickly realized by all concerned. And the cycle starts again.
Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible? Because somehow, top officials in the Obama administration and at the Federal Reserve have convinced themselves that troubled assets, often referred to these days as “toxic waste,” are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them — and that if these assets were properly priced, all our troubles would go away.
Thus, in a recent interview Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, tried to make a distinction between the “basic inherent economic value” of troubled assets and the “artificially depressed value” that those assets command right now. In recent transactions, even AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities have sold for less than 40 cents on the dollar, but Mr. Geithner seems to think they’re worth much, much more.
And the government’s job, he declared, is to “provide the financing to help get those markets working,” pushing the price of toxic waste up to where it ought to be.
What’s more, officials seem to believe that getting toxic waste properly priced would cure the ills of all our major financial institutions. Earlier this week, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, was asked about the problem of “zombies” — financial institutions that are effectively bankrupt but are being kept alive by government aid. “I don’t know of any large zombie institutions in the U.S. financial system,” he declared, and went on to specifically deny that A.I.G. — A.I.G.! — is a zombie.
This is the same A.I.G. that, unable to honor its promises to pay off other financial institutions when bonds default, has already received $150 billion in aid and just got a commitment for $30 billion more.
The truth is that the Bernanke-Geithner plan — the plan the administration keeps floating, in slightly different versions — isn’t going to fly.
Take the plan’s latest incarnation: a proposal to make low-interest loans to private investors willing to buy up troubled assets. This would certainly drive up the price of toxic waste because it would offer a heads-you-win, tails-we-lose proposition. As described, the plan would let investors profit if asset prices went up but just walk away if prices fell substantially.
But would it be enough to make the banking system healthy? No.
Think of it this way: by using taxpayer funds to subsidize the prices of toxic waste, the administration would shower benefits on everyone who made the mistake of buying the stuff. Some of those benefits would trickle down to where they’re needed, shoring up the balance sheets of key financial institutions. But most of the benefit would go to people who don’t need or deserve to be rescued.
And this means that the government would have to lay out trillions of dollars to bring the financial system back to health, which would, in turn, both ensure a fierce public outcry and add to already serious concerns about the deficit. (Yes, even strong advocates of fiscal stimulus like yours truly worry about red ink.) Realistically, it’s just not going to happen.
So why has this zombie idea — it keeps being killed, but it keeps coming back — taken such a powerful grip? The answer, I fear, is that officials still aren’t willing to face the facts. They don’t want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable.
But this refusal to face the facts means, in practice, an absence of action. And I share the president’s fears: inaction could result in an economy that sputters along, not for months or years, but for a decade or more.
Is Obama Responsible for Wall Street's Meltdown? Where Populist Rage is Heading
Is Obama responsible for the meltdown of the Dow? The consistently wrong-headed Wall Street Journal's editorial page says so, as does Republican Fox News, CNN's reliably demagogic Lou Dobbs, and now CNBC (where, full disclosure, I frequently appear as a token liberal). CNBC's Jim Cramer, who bloviates nightly about stock picks, says Obama is pushing a "radical agenda" that's destroying investor's wealth. My friend Larry Kudlow, who rants nightly about nearly everything, says Obama is destroying capitalism. CNBC reporter Rick Santelli's ballistic nonsense about Obama's mortgage plan made him a pop-populist icon for a week or so.
The argument that Obama is somehow responsible for the collapse of Wall Street is absurd. First, every major policy that led to this collapse occurred under George W's watch (or, more accurately, his failure to watch). The housing and financial bubbles were created under Bush and exploded under Bush. The stock market began to collapse under Bush.
Second, it's inevitable that stocks, led by the bloated financial sector, would lose their remaining hot air as the new administration begins "stress-testing" the big banks, many of which are technically insolvent. After all, their share prices were built on a tissue of lies and dreams. Other sectors whose values were similarly distorted and distended by years of financial deception and regulatory disregard, such as housing and insurance, will also have to return to the real world before they can recover. Which could mean more stock losses.
Finally, none of the financial wizards who are now charging Obama with leading America into the abyss has offered an alternative plan for getting us out of the mess that, not incidentally, many of these same wizards happily led us into. For years, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the financial gurus of cable news cheered as Wall Street leveraged its way into oblivion.
This bizarre charge wouldn't be worth mentioning were it not a market test for a more intense attack from Wall Street and Republican media outlets next year as the nation moves into the gravitational range of the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans have made no secret of their wish to blame Obama for the bad economy, and to stir up as much populist rage against his so-called "socialist" tendencies as politically possible. History shows how effective demagogic ravings can be when a public is stressed economically. Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy, ready to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity.
To complicate matters for Republicans, however, grass-roots populist rage is also building against Wall Street itself, and with some justification. Top Wall Streeters who raked in tens of millions of dollars a year for more than a decade have now effectively eviscerated the pension fund savings of millions of middle-class American workers and destroyed millions of Main Street jobs. The public is understandably appalled that its tax dollars are being used to pay and prop up the very people and institutions responsible for this debacle. And there seems to be no end in sight: Citigroup and the insurance mammoth AIG, in particular, have become giant ongoing sump-pumps for tens of billions of public dollars. Yet no one seems to know exactly where these dollars are going, or why.
Worse: When it turns out that people like Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who took home $68 million in 1997, was the only Wall Streeter in a meeting last September at the New York Federal Reserve to discuss the initial AIG bailout with Tim Geithner, then New York Fed chair, among others, at the very time Goldman was AIG's largest trading partner, a distinct scent of self-dealing begins to emanate. When it turns out that Citigroup got a bailout deal last October far more generous than that given to any other distressed bank, when a top Citi executive was advising the Treasury and Fed, the scent increases. Goldman's past CEO was Treasury Secretary at that time, by the way, and another former Goldman's CEO was a top Citi official and also a former Treasury Secretary. I am not suggesting anything so crude as corruption. But could it be, given these tangled webs, that -- innocently, unintentionally, perhaps even subconsciously -- the entire bailout effort was premised on saving these companies rather than protecting the public? Or that the distinction between the two was lost, and still is?
The Wall Street and Republican media attack machine doesn't know exactly what to make of this. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, along with CNBC, alternates between attacking Obama for bailing out Wall Street and excusing Wall Street's excesses. But then again, Obama doesn't seem to know exactly what to make of it either. He seems to vacillate as well -- one moment scorning Wall Street, the next moment justifying further bailouts. I do hope he takes a firmer hand, drawing a clearer distinction and making a clearer connection between clearing up these financial balance sheets and helping average people. Otherwise, the next populist uprising will be born in this moneyed quagmire. It is here -- within the muck that was created by AIG, Citigroup, Fannie and Freddie, other giant financial institutions, now in combination with the U.S. Treasury and Fed -- that the public is most confused, bears its most serious scars, and is potentially most burdened in future years, by decisions still made in secret.
For this issue, one Nuremberg case forms the key precedent: United States v. Altstoetter, also called the Reich Justice Ministry case. That case stands for some simple propositions. One of them is that lawyers who dispense bad advice about law of armed conflict, and whose advice predictably leads to the death or mistreatment of prisoners, are war criminals, chargeable with potentially capital offenses. Another is that cute lawyerly evasions and gimmicks, so commonly indulged in other areas of the law, will not be tolerated on fundamental questions of law of armed conflict relating to the protection of civilians and detainees. In other words, lawyers are not permitted to get it wrong.h/t newshoggers
My favorite philosopher, williamyard:
And to follow on what butchie wrote ("And if you're in the market, low prices are a good thing."), allow me to paraphrase Shawshank: "Either get in the market, or get busy dying."
We're always in the market, every market, for everything and anything. Everyone has his or her price--see Terry Southern's "The Magic Christian." Holy Goddess, if I had a few bucks I'd be scooping up foreclosed homes by the bushel. My own home is underwater, but I'm only 57 and plan to keep working for another 15 years if I possibly can, so I don't give a hoot (I love work; if you don't, all the money in the world won't make you happy at your job.) Same goes for my 401K--does everybody realize how cheap stocks are?? I'm buying--every paycheck. Who cares if they'll go down more? They'll be even cheaper, which means I can afford more of them. I mean, this downturn is less than a couple years old and likely to last less than a couple more years. That's nothing in the grand scheme of things. A pittance. It's a shakeout. Momma's putting the leftovers in the fridge, and the cheapskates who only came for the free meal are hitting the road.
Of course publically traded corporations are moaning and groaning: they live by the quarter and die by the quarter. When their numbers suck they get beat up by shareholders in would/coulda/shoulda mode. Nobody likes to get beat up. Tough titty; it comes with the territory.
Mom and pops that have been around forever are going belly-up. To which I say, you had a great run; be grateful, 90% of small businesses fail in the first five years.
Businesses pimping consumer goods paid for by irrational home equity are dying; automakers who've been building dinosaurs for decades are on the edge. You're telling me this is a bad thing? And Wall Street? Throw the moneychangers out of the temple and fumigate the damn place, sez I, or learn to live with cockroaches, like most of the planet.
Yeah, we're in a downward spiral/doldrums at the moment. Some people are hurting; we can easily muster what's needed to help them out ("OMG! That means we'll run deficits for several more years!" Put a cork in it.). Then await the economy's return, which should be interesting given the opportunities that are popping up like the spring weeds that decorate the hills around my home. Speaking of which, the aquifer that feeds my well is plumb tuckered out. I don't want sunshine. I want rain.
And recall that the sum of the squares of the two sides adjacent to the right angle still equals the square of the hypotenuse. Which will be true long after the Sun has turned into a red giant and charbroiled the Earth, i.e., truth has little to do with current events. (That's what's REALLY bugging a lot of people: something is happening here, but they don't know what it is, do they? We're all Mr. Jones.) Stick to what we might discern as universal truths--e.g., compassion, honesty, patience, industry, thrift, generosity, humility, integrity, courtesy, courage, the Pythagorean theorum--and everything else will take care of itself.
And get a couple chickens. They basically eat bugs and a little grain, so their eggs are nearly free, then they die and you eat them, too. Put the savings in a fund indexed on the S&P 500--or Treasuries, if you're really paranoid. You'll thank me.
And use condoms.
And COPE, goddamn it.
And be of goddamn good cheer. A close family friend recently blew out his bowel, came down with a nasty infection, lost most of his marbles in the process and now doesn't recognize his wife. His prognosis is bad and getting worse. That's a crisis.
This financial downturn--a "crisis"? Please.
I am with you on this!
Getting Some of Our Money Back From AIG Executives
I’m only over the past few days really coming to understand what’s been going on with AIG. But the long and short of it is that all this money we’re giving “to AIG” isn’t really going to AIG, it goes to AIG’s counterparties. These are mostly banks (many of them abroad) who bought insurance from AIG against the possibility of a global financial meltdown. It turns out that AIG can’t actually pay all the insurance claims. So were AIG to go down, all these firms who thought they were at least partially insured against catastrophe would find out that they’ve got nothing and they, in turn, would go under. Hence, the government is stepping in to, in effect, pay off AIG’s debts.
That seems reasonable enough. But the retrospective look at things is truly outrageous. The whole idea of the insurance industry is that if I buy insurance from you, you pay off the claims. Absent ability to pay claims, there’s no business there at all. It’s just fraud. Whether or not it meets the legal standard for fraud, I couldn’t say. But in ordinary language sense, it’s a fraud—you’re selling a service you have no capacity to deliver. And AIG executives made a bunch of money engaged in it. Felix Salmon says: “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hank Greenberg was still a billionaire, even as the policies his company wrote have cost the average American household some $1,600. It’s time for his wealth to be confiscated: it might be only a drop in the bucket compared to AIG’s total losses, but it would feel very right.”
I don’t think it would just feel right, it would be right. Thus far, there’s been an extraordinary aversion to actually punishing any of the people responsible. It’s true that most of them are less rich than they once were, but they’re still far richer than most people. And it shouldn’t be that wrecking your company and wrecking the world economy is a good way to become richer than most people.