President Obama sticks with high dollar fundraisers, but handlers draw the line at late-night laughs.
Andrew J. Coulson
Last week, Slate published a critique of Sweden’s school choice program that managed to be both inaccurate and fallacious. That is to say, several of its key premises are false, and its conclusion wouldn’t follow even if they were true.
“Slate published a critique of Sweden’s school choice program that managed to be both inaccurate and fallacious.”
The gist of the piece is that Sweden’s private schools, and the parental choice program that pays for them, “have thrown Swedish education off course,” causing its international test scores to fall. Slate then claims that Finland is “consistently a top performer” without having a private school choice program. Therefore, it argues, Americans should not to allow market freedoms and incentives in K-12 education.
Slate does get at least two things right: Sweden does have a private school choice program, introduced in 1992; and that nation’s scores have been declining on the PISA test since the year 2000. But beyond that, Slate veers quickly into error and sophistry.
First, it claims that “more Swedish students go to privately run (and mostly for-profit) schools than in any other developed country on earth.” In fact, neither of these claims is true. Taking the parenthetical claim first, according to the most recent data of which I am aware (from 2012), the majority of Swedish private schools arenon-profit (in Swedish, “Ideella”).
As for overall private sector enrollment among industrialized countries, we can consult the OECD, an association of 34 industrialized nations that administers the PISA test.
On average across OECD countries… 14% of students attend government-dependent [i.e., gov’t-funded] private schools…. In Sweden, the share of students in private schools increased significantly over the past decade from 4% in 2003 to 14% in 2012…. This brings the share of students in private schools close to the OECD average.
Slate, in other words, is badly mistaken on this point. How badly? Here are the top five industrialized countries by share of private school enrollment, according to the OECD’s 2012 PISA database:Belgium 68.4 Netherlands 67.6 Ireland 58.2 Korea 47.5 UK 45.2
At 14 percent overall, Sweden doesn’t come close. Moreover, the PISA test is administered to 15-year-olds, and at that age Swedish students are still in “grundskola” (the compulsory elementary grades). In those grades, private school students made up only 13 percent of enrollment in 2012. That, it’s worth noting, is only about three percentage points higher than the current figure for the United States—and indeed lower than the U.S. figure of 1960. And yet this tiny minority of private school students are purported to have “thrown Swedish education off course.” Would anyone make the same claim about U.S. private schools today, or under JFK?
And how, exactly, are Sweden’s private voucher schools supposed to have wreaked this havoc on their nation’s PISA performance? Are they performing so badly as to have pulled down the nationwide average? Actually, no, they consistently outperform the public schools. And even if they had drawn higher-scoring students out of the public schools, they enroll too few total students for that to explain the dramatic drop in public school PISA scores—particularly since the public school decline was already visible by 2003, at which point private school enrollment was still only 4 percent.
Next, the piece tries to find footing for its argument by touting Finland, which has relatively few private schools, claiming that it is “consistently near the top of the PISA rankings.” Regrettably for Slate, that footing is in its mouth. On the most recent PISA test, Finland ranked 12th in mathematics (the focus of the test in 2012), which rather stretches the definition of the word “top.” (The full PISA results summary can be found here).
Nor is Finland consistently a top scorer on the other international test known as TIMSS. While PISA is a test of everyday knowledge, TIMSS measures performance on the sorts of academic disciplines students are normally taught in school, and which are often required for success in higher education. Finland’s curriculum is unusual in that it is well aligned with the basic PISA content, but weaker in its coverage of the more advanced academics tested by TIMSS, particularly in mathematics. That is perhaps one reason why Finland’s latest 8th grade TIMSS mathematics scores were statistically indistinguishable from those of the United States, and nearly one hundred points below those of high-performers like Korea.
This is particularly awkward for Slate’s claim that having many students enrolled in private schools is a liability. As noted in the table above, Korea’s private K-12 enrollment is nearly four times larger than that of Sweden and more than a dozen times larger than that of Finland. On top of this, Korea also has a massive, for-profit private tutoring sector, frequented by the majority of students.
Nevertheless, Slate claims that competition from private schools may have led to “a race to the bottom” in Sweden. But since Sweden’s private schools score higher on PISA than its public schools, it’s not obvious what this might mean. Could Slate be claiming that the performance of private schools has been declining faster than that of public schools? If so, the reverse is true. Since the PISA test was first administered in 2000, Swedish private schools lost a scant 6 points overall. The nation’s public schools lost 34 points over the same period—nearly six times as much. If one of these sectors is leading a race to the bottom, it’s not the private sector.
Or perhaps Slate is claiming that, faced with the new competition from private schools, Sweden’s public schools are falling to pieces and giving up. It’s not clear why that might be the case, but it’s a testable hypothesis. Not only testable, but already tested. In 2012, Anders Böhlmark and Mikael Lindahl performed a time-series regression analysis on the educational outcomes of virtually every 9th grade student in Sweden, across multiple cohorts. They found that “an increase in the share of independent-school students improves average performance at the end of compulsory school as well as long-run educational outcomes.” In other words, Slate’s claim is directly contradicted by the evidence that it did not bother to examine. Competition from Sweden’s private school choice program has a positive effect on student achievement in both public and private schools.
So, Slate is consistently wrong about the nature, size, and effects of Sweden’s private school sector and the competition it has engendered. But what if it were right about all these things? Would we then be correct in accepting its conclusion? Or, given that Slate is precisely backward about nearly every aspect of the Swedish educational experience, should we assume on the Swedish evidence alone that school choice is good? Of course not. There are too many other factors affecting educational performance outside of school choice policy for the results of a single program to be conclusive. Economic, cultural, and demographic factors are all known to affect those outcomes, as are a panoply of educational policies besides school choice, such as curriculum, testing, staffing, discipline, etc.
To isolate the intrinsic merits of a policy it is necessary to eliminate the confounding effects of those other factors. One way to do that is to compare different types of school choice policies operating side-by-side within countries. Another is to look for consistent patterns in the outcomes associated with a given policy across many different nations and time periods. Still another is to directly assess and control for the confounding factors. The Slate piece does none of these things—it not only shoots from the hip, it shoots while its intellectual weapon is still holstered.
What is most disappointing about the Slate piece is that it was written by a Harvard-trained, Columbia University economist who not only should know better, but demonstrably does know better. He has, for instance, co-authored a sensible working paper attempting to measure the financial gains enjoyed by Indian politicians—a paper that takes great pains to collect accurate data and to minimize the effects of confounding factors. Education policy, it seems to me, is no less deserving of such thoughtful treatment. Misinformed, fallacious nonsense such as this Slate piece can do serious harm to the education of children.Andrew J. Coulson directs the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and is author of the study: Comparing Public, Private, and Market Schools: The International Evidence, and the book Market Education: The Unknown History.
“We are exceptional in a certain way that no other nation is,” Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. embassy staffers in Vienna last week.
We’re the only country founded on “the idea that people are created equal and that all people have a chance to aspire for greatness. … Pretty amazing, right?” Kerry enthused.
So far, so patriotically correct — but Kerry really stepped in it when he admitted getting “a little uptight when I hear politicians say how exceptional we are.”
“Maybe conservatives should take a break from chest-thumping about American Exceptionalism and focus on restoring the limits to government power that made us exceptional in the first place.”
“Not because we’re not exceptional,” he hastened to add — but because bragging about it is “kind of in-your-face.”
Hit the Drudge siren! Mobilize the shock troops of righteous indignation!
“This guy is America’s Chief Diplomat? Shameful,” tweeted Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“Deeply offensive,” huffed Ben Shapiro.
Here we go again. The Kerry kerfuffle is an even-more-tedious replay of the conservative rage-spasm over President Obama’s 2009 comments at a NATO summit in France. “I believe in American exceptionalism,” Obama affirmed when asked by a reporter. But he ran into a conservative buzzsaw when he allowed that “the Brits” (who gave us Magna Carta) and “the Greeks” (who invented philosophy and drama) probably have their own versions of exceptionalism as well.
There’s something sweaty and desperate about a patriotism that cannot tolerate the diplomatic acknowledgment, on foreign soil, that other countries might have their own reasons for national pride. You’d think a great-souled nation could afford a little magnanimity — but too many conservatives think it betrays weakness. We’re well on our way to becoming the first hyperpower with short-guy syndrome.
Worse still, some neoconservative ideologues have turned American Exceptionalism into an ersatz religion, fidelity to which demands reshaping the rest of the world in our Image, by force, if necessary.
In a recent column, David Brooks laments Americans’ waning faith in the “democratic gospel,” our “sacred purpose” and sole reason for being. Brooks can’t see any point to an America that minds its own business at home and abroad: “If America isn’t a champion of universal democracy, what is the country for?” he sputters. We’ll be condemned to “just go our own separate ways making individual choices.”
Jefferson called that “the pursuit of happiness”; apparently, it’s David Brooks’s vision of Hell. But the older, wiser version of American Exceptionalism held that the source of our national greatness was a system that gave Americans space to pursue their own dreams. As the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset put it, America’s founding creed “can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.”
When it comes to living up to that creed, though, lately we’re not doing so hot. As conservative legal scholar F.H. Buckley points out in his new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, the U.S. is no longer “even in the top tier of economic freedom” in cross-country comparisons. In the latest edition of the Cato and Fraser Institutes’ Economic Freedom of the World rankings, we’re number 17 and we don’t try harder.
We’re not exactly lighting up the scoreboard on measures of civil and political liberty, either.
No wonder, then, that a recent Pew poll notes a significant drop in the percentage of Americans who think the US “stands above all other countries in the world” — a decline that’s been “particularly acute among Republicans.” Meanwhile, record numbers of us tell pollsters that the federal government is “the biggest threat to the country in the future.”
Maybe conservatives should take a break from chest-thumping about American Exceptionalism and focus on restoring the limits to government power that made us exceptional in the first place.Gene Healy, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency.
Richard W. Rahn
The Obama administration is arguably the most corrupt administration in U.S. history. Corruption destroys civil society and economic growth by undermining the rule of law and protection of private property. Corruption takes many forms, from the simple payment to a government official for a favor, to the failure of government employees to do what they are paid to do, to gross abuse of power.
The president and his senior officials swear to uphold the Constitution and the law — which means following the law as written, and not as they wish it were written. The failure to apply equal justice to all citizens is a major form of corruption and has been blatant in Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s “Justice Department.” Crimes by members or friends of the administration are ignored — just consider the lack of action against employees of the Internal Revenue Service who obviously broke the law in many cases.
“Corruption will continue until Congress reforms the civil service so that government employees are not treated as an exempt class from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
The Justice Department is involved in a $100 billion shakedown racket against the big banks. The banks are heavily regulated and can easily be destroyed by government officials. This past week, Citibank agreed to pay $7 billion to avoid formal charges of alleged wrongdoing by its officers. The fines largely to go to the Justice Department and to outside groups that are friendly toward the administration, while little goes to those individuals who were allegedly harmed.
The Constitution is quite specific in that revenue measures are to begin in the House of Representatives and go through a congressional appropriation process. Yet the Justice Department and others have been able to greatly expand their budgets outside the legislative process by obtaining financial “settlements” from the private sector, through threats, intimidation and asset forfeiture. Bank settlements with the Justice Department now total something near $100 billion. This is corruption on a massive scale. Again, banks have little alternative but to settle with the Justice Department in order to stay in business. John Allison, president of the Cato Institute and former CEO of the 10th-largest bank holding company in the United States, BB&T, has noted that many laws contradict each other, such as the Patriot Act and many of the financial-privacy laws and rules, thus making it impossible for a bank to be in compliance with both. Then the Justice Department comes in and says if you pay us X billion dollars, we will not prosecute you.
These fines on the banks are not cost-free. They are paid by the bank customers and stockholders, neither of whom had any involvement with any real or imaginary wrongdoing. It is interesting that the alleged wrongdoing at Citibank was largely in the activities of the bank that Jack Lew was responsible for at that time. (Mr. Lew is now President Obama’s Treasury secretary.) If Mr. Lew was responsible for billions of dollars of wrongdoing at Citibank — as charged by the Justice Department — why is he not in jail?
The Department of Justice is also engaged in strong-arming banks not to do business with perfectly legal businesses they do not like, such as gun dealers, which is a denial of basic rights. As attorney general, Mr. Holder is in contempt of Congress for failure to turn over records to Congress, which he is obliged to do. He has also sent Justice officials out to harass critics of the Obama administration, ignoring the First Amendment. The real question should be: Why is Mr. Holder not in jail?
Regulatory officials are supposed to do cost-benefit analyses before promulgating major regulations, but most often they fail do so — at least in a complete and competent manner. The failure of government agencies to do cost-benefit analyses cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars each year in needless paperwork and unnecessary costs, and undermines the property rights of the regulated. If regulatory agency officials are not doing what they are legally required to do, why are they not in jail?
In the private sector, if you steal from your employer, you can be sent to jail. Yet day after day, we are treated to a never-ending list of misspending of taxpayer dollars by government employees. Those in government who waste or misspend funds for which they have a fiduciary responsibility are stealing from their employer — the American taxpayer. Why are they not in jail?
This massive corruption will continue until Congress reforms the civil service so that government employees are not treated as an exempt class from the rules that apply to everyone else. They should not be allowed to hide under the cloak of anonymity. Individual citizens, citizens groups and businesses should be able to bring suits against government employees for engaging in harmful misconduct, without the government standing in the way.
In the past, the corrupt in government stole perhaps as much as a few million dollars, but the current group is stealing hundreds of billions of dollars in extortion, neglect and mismanagement — which costs all Americans their property and liberty.Richard W. Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.
After a bruising nine-week runoff campaign, Georgia Republicans will finally have their Senate nominee who will compete against Democrat Michelle Nunn for a seat the GOP can ill afford to lose as the party looks to take control of the chamber.
President Barack Obama's choice to lead the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department is going before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for a confirmation hearing as Congress considers a bill to help the next VA leader do his job.
Attack ad on behalf of Nick Rahall may have backfired.
The debate over American foreign policy often seems to take place in a hermetically sealed bubble located somewhere inside the Beltway.
A Norwegian citizen who trained with a master bomb maker in Yemen and recently was added to the State Department’s list of international terrorists has been linked to the increased security screening of flights coming to the U.S., according to congressional sources familiar with the intelligence.
Workers and retirees approved pension cuts in Detroit's bankruptcy by a landslide, the city reported Monday, a crucial step to emerging from the largest municipal insolvency in U.S. history.