Only Unions pressure anyone

It’s interesting how things work when people talk about issues where unions weigh in:

Perhaps she was honestly torn. As Michael Jonas pointed out in CommonWealth magazine, the Massachusetts senator is a longtime proponent of school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she endorsed a system of vouchers to support attendance at any public school.

But in a statement put out on Monday, Warren said that she will be voting no on Question 2. “Many charters schools are producing extraordinary results for our students and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,’’ she said. But, after hearing from both sides, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

Warren can play an important role in this debate. I only hope her decision really is about equal opportunity for all and not about caving in to union pressure.

The writer, Joan Vennochi, says:

When it comes to Question 2, you can put me down as “conflicted.” This campaign pits suburbs against urban communities and unions against business groups that despise organized labor. All supposedly in the name of “the children.”

and yet nowhere does she seem to question anybody who is voting Yes on Question 2 even though its backers will be spending millions to push it. It’s interesting how that works.

Some good news

Given the dystopia that Donald Trump paints for the current state of the US, it’s good to look at actual statistics to see what’s really happening:

  • Violence is way down from its peak in the 1990’s (although there is some sign that it might have increased a bit in the last year or so):

From 1993 to 2014, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 20.1 per 1,000.

Since 1993, the rate of property crime declined from 351.8 to 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households.

The number of murders in New York City really drives this home: there were 2262 murders in 1990 and 352 in 2015. That is an astonishing drop.

The national teen pregnancy rate has declined almost continuously over the last two decades. The teen pregnancy rate includes pregnancies that end in a live birth, as well as those that end in abortion or miscarriage (fetal loss).* Between 1990 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), the teen pregnancy rate declined by 51 percent—from 116.9 to 57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls.

For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday.

  • The private sector has been adding jobs for the longest stretch ever:

The White House is right about the numbers. The “longest streak” claim was true in 2014, as the Washington Post’s Fact Checker found back then, and the streak has only grown. This was the 73rd straight recorded month of private sector job growth (barring revisions).

  • Drug use is down among teens (this is from June 2016):

This year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders continues to show encouraging news, with decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, and many illicit drugs over the last 5 years—many to their lowest levels since this survey’s inception; no increase in use of marijuana among teens; decreasing use of synthetic drugs; and decreasing misuse of prescription drugs. However, the survey highlighted continuing concerns over the high rate of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use and softening of attitudes around some types of drug use, particularly a continued decrease in perceived harm of marijuana use.

For many substances, past-year use has declined to the lowest levels since the MTF survey began. This includes heroin, synthetic cannabinoids, Vicodin®, methamphetamine, amphetamines, inhalants, Ecstasy, alcohol, and cigarettes, among all ages surveyed; hallucinogens, Ritalin®, OxyContin®, bath salts, and over-the-counter cough medicines among 8th and 10th graders; cocaine among 8th and 12th graders; and prescription pain relievers (narcotics other than heroin), sedatives, and crystal methamphetamine in 12th graders (the only grade sampled for these substances). Past-year use of illicit drugs was reported by 23.6 percent of 12th graders.

There are still large problems in the US, but, in many ways, the US is in better shape than ever.

Math and the American Heritage Education Foundation

Like everyone else, I get a lot of spam in my email boxes. Sometimes they can be fun. Case in point:

Dear Teachers and Citizens,
A unique Social Studies/U.S. History reference text book is now available!
The American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF) announces a new resource/text that reveals the connection between America’s historical founding ideas and the Bible..
The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief
By Angela E. Kamrath, American Heritage Education Foundation
This would be the group that wrote a history book for Houston strongly based on a work by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right crazy in the mold of the John Birch Society (for example, he believed Eisenhower was a Communist dupe).
It seems their mailing list is about as accurate as their history: they send an email about a high school history book to a college math teacher. Hey, maybe I’ll use it for a probability course?

The University President as CEO

The University of Iowa selected a new President. Let’s see how this has gone:

Harreld, a former IBM executive with no experience in higher education administration, had “a clear lack of faculty support,” Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told the Iowa Board of Regents in the Sept. 2 email. Choosing him over three other candidates who were warmly received would “destroy the goodwill” with faculty leaders and prompt calls for a no-confidence vote in the regents, she warned.

A day later, the regents voted unanimously to make Harreld the school’s 21st president and gave him a five-year contract, sparking protests from faculty and staff.

Board President Bruce Rastetter has said the regents considered Harreld the best leader for the university and received feedback from the “greater Iowa community” as well as from campus.

The clear lack of support is shown in this poll which shows that 89.3, 93.1 and 98.3% of faculty members thought the other 3 candidates were qualified while 2.5% thought Harreld was qualified (4.9% of non-faculty thought he was qualified).

Well, the faculty and students will get over it, right? Not so far:

Faculty members at the University of Iowa on Tuesday voted no confidence in the statewide Board of Regents, less than a week after the regents fanned a controversy at the state’s flagship university by unanimously appointing J. Bruce Harreld as its next president.

But that’s just the faculty, what about students? Oops:

Both the UI Student Government student senate and the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government passed votes of no confidence in the board Tuesday night.

“The voice of the undergraduate student body was not seriously considered in the final selection process,” according to the UISG resolution, which stressed that undergraduate students comprise 73 percent of the UI enrollment. “The undergraduate student body has overwhelmingly expressed their discontent and frustration over the regents’ dismissal of their concerns in the selection of the new president.”

The graduate student resolution revisits the board’s vow throughout the presidential search process to value feedback from the UI community.

“However, it is clear that this ‘open’ search was truly not transparent, and the collective voices of all the constituencies at UI were not taken into account and further, actively ignored,” according to the resolution. “It is unfortunate that the board took this action in the face of such fierce and vocal opposition from the UI community.”

Well, the board will certainly be feeling meek now. Umm:

Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter described the faculty’s vote as a sign that professors were resisting changes needed to make the school’s business practices sustainable.

“We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

That would be this Rastetter:

Bruce Rastetter, an agribusiness mogul who’s made a fortune in pork, ethanol and farm real estate, has long worked behind the scenes to help bankroll conservatives across the country, but Saturday is a public coming out party of sorts for Rastetter as he hosts the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit. It’s an event designed to promote farm policy in a state where pigs outnumber voters 10 to one, but it’s also a bold display of the political power Rastetter has amassed — and a reminder to candidates that his endorsement would be a big get ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

I worry very much about what such a person means by “opportunities for the future” and it seems most of the students and faculty at the University of Iowa agree.

Teacher shortages

Hmm, it seems there’s a shortage of teachers:

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

I wonder why?

But educators say that during the recession and its aftermath prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist. As the economy has recovered, college graduates have more employment options with better pay and a more glamorous image, like in a rebounding technology sector.

And perhaps sentiment like this which is seen to some degree in all the Republican candidates for president?

Anybody who has followed the career of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knows that he has an anger management issue when it comes to teachers and their unions. The antipathy was evident on Sunday, when he was asked by CNN host Jake Tapper who deserves to be punched in the face. Christie responded, “Oh, the national teachers union, who has already endorsed Hillary Clinton 16, 17 months before the election.”

The linked article has an article by a long-time teacher who notes (bold added):

No doubt Christie’s spin doctors will be out today declaring that he has no animus toward teachers, just teachers unions. Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo and others seem to forget that a teachers union is made up of teachers and that while individual teachers may not agree with every action of their unions, those unions represent the desires and aspirations of millions of hard-working teachers across the country — imperfectly perhaps, but emphatically for the better of teachers and children and public education overall.

Kansas, with its gung-ho Republican governor, is the nation in microcosm:

Teachers can’t hotfoot it out of Kansas fast enough, creating a substantial shortage expected only to get much worse. Why?

Well, there’s the low pay. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teaching salary in 2012-2013 (the latest year for which data were available, in constant 2012-2013 dollars), was $47,464, lower than the pay in all but seven states (Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia), though not by much in most of them.

Last year, job protections were cut by state lawmakers, who have also sought to reduce collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

Then there’s the severe underfunding for public education by the administration of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, so much of a problem that some school districts closed early this past school year because they didn’t have the cash to keep operating. This story by Huffington Post, quoted Tim Hallacy, superintendent of Silver Lake Schools, as saying:

“I find it increasingly difficult to convince young people that education is a profession worth considering, and I have some veterans who think about leaving. In the next three years I think we’ll have maybe the worst teacher shortage in the country — I think most of that is self-inflicted.”

Gee, if you continually insult teachers and don’t pay them enough, people are less likely to want to become teachers. How could anyone have predicted?

We don’t like the details, so there are none

This is an interesting statement:

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is calling for zero tuition at public colleges. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley says he will fight to erase debt for college graduates. Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a recent campaign event in Iowa, endorsed the goal of slashing such debt.

Promises to reduce, or even eliminate, the financial burdens of higher education represent the newest frontier in Democrats’ call for taxpayer-sponsored social programs. The anxiety-inducing $1.3 trillion in student debt has quickly become a focus of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary contest.

But while the concept is attracting attention from financially challenged middle-class families, details are scarce on how government should pay for potentially the costliest initiatives since President Obama’s health care overhaul.

it’s interesting because here’s the very next paragraph:

The one concrete source of funding comes from Sanders, who proposes a new tax on Wall Street transactions. While that idea draws cheers from his populist fan base, it would be a political long shot for passage in today’s Washington.

Sanders also has produced the only guess at the huge costs: three quarters of a trillion dollars over the first decade.

So, details for paying for it and its cost are scarce … except for the main person advocating for it. We also get this:

“This is a politically popular idea, but the solutions are hard and expensive,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a nonpartisan policy and lobbying group in Washington for colleges and universities. “How you pay for it very quickly becomes a seriously complicating issue.”

This is national healthcare all over again: we can’t figure out how to do what other countries do:

That’s right, Germany will allow US citizens to go to college tuition free, but there’s no way the US can afford to do it.

Globalization and inequality

This article actually states some of the obvious problems with ‘Free Trade’:

Globalization’s costs have been greater and more enduring than they expected, and government efforts to mitigate the effect on US workers have often proved insufficient.

“I think what we’ve learned is that US labor markets aren’t as flexible and self-correcting as I think we had presumed,” said Gordon Hanson, an economist at the University of California San Diego. “The uneasiness I have about the way we’ve handled globalization is not so much globalization itself. It’s that if you don’t have the right safety net, you’re going to impose an enormous amount of hardship.”

There is also mounting evidence the benefits of globalization have accrued disproportionately to upper-income households, while the costs have fallen heavily on the less affluent, contributing to the rise of economic inequality.

I know that’s hard to believe.

A 2005 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research group that is a strong proponent of trade deals, estimated that embracing trade had added 7.3 percent to America’s economic output — or about $10,000 in annual income for every household in the United States.

But the benefits are not distributed evenly. Trade increases overall prosperity by eliminating less-productive jobs.

In theory, the workers find new jobs. In practice, studies by Hanson and other economists show that in cities like Galesburg, global competition is increasing unemployment and reducing wages.

Josh Bivens, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, estimates that increased globalization, aided by a strong dollar that led to a persistent trade deficit, reduced the annual earnings of the roughly 70 percent of US workers without college degrees by about $1,800.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, said the magnitude of these losses was large enough that increased trade may now be harming the US economy.

“The argument was always that the winners could compensate the losers,” Stiglitz said. “But the winners never do. And that becomes particularly relevant when we have a society with as much inequality as we have today.”

The two numbers ($10,000 in annual income  and without college degrees by about $1,800) seem a bit contradictory until you notice that one is talking about the mean and the other is breaking down the numbers–the rich get much richer and the rest get a bit poorer.

Ah well, those at the bottom just need to be smarter–everyone knows that education is key in the new economy, so they need to make sure to do well and go to college. Oh wait:

The slow death of in-state tuition is a case where declining public investment and selfish institutional interests tend to coincide. National public universities are cutting in-state enrollment in part to make up for state budget cuts. But they also have a strong desire to become more like elite private universities — Stanford, Duke, the Ivy League — that have the freedom to enroll the best and the brightest from around the world and charge whatever prices the market will bear. Budget cuts give them an excuse to become what they wanted to be all along.

This comes from this report which states:

But over the last 20 years, state disinvestment and institutional status-seeking have worked together, hand in hand, to encourage public colleges and universities to adopt the enrollment tactics of their private-college counterparts. For many of these schools, that has meant using their institutional aid dollars strategically in order to lure affluent out-of-state students to their campuses in order to climb up the rankings and increase their revenue. As a result, fewer institutional aid dollars are available to in-state students who come from less privileged backgrounds.

If you go to the charts on page 4 you see that in 1996 34% of institutional aid went to students whose parents were in the lowest income quartile and 16% to students whose parents were in the upper quartile. By 2012 25% of institutional aid went to students whose parents were in the lowest income quartile and 23% to students whose parents were in the upper quartile. And it’s easy to see why universities are doing this:

According to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average state is spending 23 percent less per student on higher education than before the recession. Between 2008 and 2014, 37 states cut funding by 20 percent or more. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently reported that public colleges now receive a greater share of their revenue from the tuition students and families pay than from state funding.

They give a couple of extreme examples, such as:

The University of South Carolina, for example, has become extremely aggressive in using non-need-based aid to attract out-of-state students. Since 2000, the share of nonresident freshmen at USC has grown by 23 percentage points to 45 percent.

Scott Verzyl, associate vice president for enrollment management, says that USC has looked to the out-of-state market out of necessity. Since the economic recession hit in 2007, the state has cut its annual appropriation to the university by 50 percent. Now, the state covers only about 10 percent of the school’s funding each year.

Thus even public education is starting to feed into the growing inequality. That’s where Bernie Sanders comes in:

On Tuesday, Sanders will hold a press conference in the nation’s capital at which he will introduce a plan to use a so-called Robin Hood tax on stock transactions to fund tuition at four-year public colleges and universities.

Sanders’ bill sets a 50-cent tax on every “$100 of stock trades on stock sales, and lesser amounts on transactions involving bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments,” the group Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street said Monday in a press release.

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