Still Better than Tunisia!

Test results mixed for students in US: Americans are behind other developed nations,” by Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/12/15/test_results_mixed_for_students_in_us, 15 December 2004 (from Google News)

Gov. Bush, voucher supporters appeal ruling to state high court,” by the Associated Press, The Maimi Herald, http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/10416051.htm?1c, 14 December 2004.

Public schools: still terrible.

American eighth-graders improved their math and science scores on an international test last year, but fourth-graders’ scores were flat and all students lagged behind other industrialized nations, Boston College researchers said yesterday.

US pupils scored above the international average on the tests, given to students in dozens of wealthy and poor nations every four years. But the grades overall were mediocre for a prosperous nation that devotes billions of dollars to education, test officials said.

“The United States really is an underachiever, given our economy, our educational level, the resources that we put into education,” said Ina V. S. Mullis, codirector of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and an education professor at Boston College, which runs the study.

But hey, at least it is not endemic

At a news conference yesterday at Boston College, test officials attributed the mediocre performance of American students to teachers who don’t specialize in math and science; a curriculum that tries to cover too many topics, preventing students from mastering any in depth; and a society that may not recognize the importance of math and science in economic growth.

American students were less likely than their peers in other industrialized nations to have a math teacher who majored in math or a science teacher who studied one of the hard sciences, such as biology or physics.

For instance, 81 percent of eighth-graders in Japan had a teacher who majored in math in college, and they scored a 570 out of 1,000. By contrast, 48 percent of US eighth-graders had teachers with math majors, and they averaged a score of 504.

But thank God we have school choice, so parents are forced to send children to these academic hells

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it had received the appeal notices late Monday. Because the issue is the status of a state law that has been found unconstitutional by a lower court, the court is required to take the case.

The state has been allowed to issue vouchers since the first ruling, nearly five years ago, that the law was unconstitutional.

Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial judge who said the 1999 law violates the state constitution because it lets tax dollars be spent on religious schools.

Well, I’m sure that the crazies were making kids convert…

Under the law, voucher students can be taught about religion but cannot be made to pray, worship or profess a religious belief.

Of course, advocates for the most vulnerable — the children themselves — plus representatives of groups that support school choice — like racial minorities — stood by school choice…

Opponents, including the state’s teacher union, the Florida PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, challenged the law in court the day after Bush signed it.

But… we’re still better than Tunisia!

US scores trailed many industrialized countries, especially those in Asia. Students in Singapore topped all nations in both subjects.

Tunisia and South Africa scored among the lowest.

Public schools: still terrible.

Life, Death, and the State

John Kerry and the Death Penalty,” TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime, http://talkleft.com/new_archives/001061.html, 04 December 2002.

Scott Peterson,” by Thomas Heckroth, My Side of the Story, http://mysideofthestory.blogspirit.com/archive/2004/12/14/scott_peterson.html, 14 December 2004.

Finals are Done,” by Thomas Heckroth, My Side of the Story, http://mysideofthestory.blogspirit.com/archive/2004/12/15/finals_are_done_.html, 15 December 2004.

Results 1 – 10 of about 51,900 for Terry Schiavo. (0.04 seconds),” Google Web Search Engine, http://www.google.com/search?q=Terry+Schiavo, 15 December 2004.

“I’m opposed to the death penalty … because I’m for a worse punishment.”
-Senator John F. Kerry

Something of a bru-ha-ha erupted at My Side of the Story relating to the state’s power over life and death. A number of subjects are brought up, but I believe they can be summarized in two quotes.

Ok, to really get back to what bothers me. I sat there and watched and waited for the sentence to be read, more in disgust than true interest. I have never really thought of sentencing someone to death as a joyous occasion

and

My sickness comes from the death penalty itself. No matter the evidence, it can never be proved without a doubt that someone is guilty. There is always a chance that the person didn’t commit the crime. Next, where is our value for life if we feel the state taking a life is “noble” but another person taking a life is “reprehensible”? There is never a reason to celebrate the taking of someone’s life against their will. Justice yes, murder no. The state has no right to decide who lives or dies.

I can’t disagree more. When the U.S. Armed Forces or its allies kill any of the following men

* Osama bin Laden
* Ayman al-Zawahiri
* Mohammed Omar
* Saddam Hussein
* Ali Hassan al-Majid
* Abu Musab al Zarqawi

I will be very happy. I will cheer, applaud, and celebrate. And so will many others.

I can’t imagine a foreign policy that doesn’t include the deaths of these men. Well, I can, but it wouldn’t be a immoral one.

More morosely, the state is heavily involved in what remains of Terry Schiavo’s life. I feel very bad for everyone involved in that case. She is loved by many, and has committed no crime, but the Law Courts will decide whether she lives or dies. It may be terrible, but saying the state, through its Law Courts, has no say in that case opens the door to anarchy.

The real question comes down to deterrence and humanity. Terrorists must be killed. Innocent victims must be protected. And facts must be recognized.

Dead people cannot commit crimes. Murders and tortures are commited by and against prisoners. A dead sadist cannot terrorize others, and a dead murder cannot kill others. And a dead inmate cannot have his soul destroyed by being penned like a dog.

There are faits worse that death. A sadist, or one pretending to be like John Kerry, might publicly prefer this. But for those wishing to stop crime and treat criminals humanely, the issue requires some reflection.

FDR Made the Depression Worse

FDR Responsible for Prolonging – Not Ending – Great Depression, Say UCLA Researchers: 1933 recovery package delayed upturn by 7 years,” UCLA, http://www.econ.ucla.edu/whatsbruin/news/FDRarticle.htm.

How FDR Made the Depression Worse,” by Robert Higgs, The Free Market: Misses Institute Monthly, Volume 13 Number 2, http://www.mises.org/freemarket_detail.asp?control=258&sortorder=subject, February 1995.

Bad Deal:How FDR Made Life Worse for African Americans,” by Damon W. Root, Reason, http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1568/is_5_36/ai_n6203221, October 2004.

Tough Questions for Defenders of the New Deal,” by Jim Powell, Wall Street Journal, http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig4/powell-jim1.html, 15 November 2003.

UCLA’s press release opens with a startling revelation

Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After scrutinizing Roosevelt’s record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.

“Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump,” said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA s Department of Economics. “We found that a relapse isn’t likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies.”

While in fairness the authors criticize only the short-lived National Recovery Administration…

Using data collected in 1929 by the Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cole and Ohanian were able to establish average wages and prices across a range of industries just prior to the Depression. By adjusting for annual increases in productivity, they were able to use the 1929 benchmark to figure out what prices and wages would have been during every year of the Depression had Roosevelt’s policies not gone into effect. They then compared those figures with actual prices and wages as reflected in the Conference Board data.

In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt’s policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

“High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns,” Ohanian said. “As we’ve seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market’s self-correcting forces.”

The policies were contained in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industries from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to enter into collective bargaining agreements that significantly raised wages. Because protection from antitrust prosecution all but ensured higher prices for goods and services, a wide range of industries took the bait, Cole and Ohanian found. By 1934 more than 500 industries, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of private, non-agricultural employment, had entered into the collective bargaining agreements called for under NIRA.

Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943.

But it’s quickly apparent the press release was written by a journalism major. It’s just wrong. FDR’s near-complete destruction of the American economy is common knowledge. His actions ranged from Orwellion Patriot Act-like crackdowns on freedom…

Invoking the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, Roosevelt declared that “all banking transactions shall be suspended.” Banks were permitted to reopen only after case-by-case inspection and approval by the government, a procedure that dragged on for months. This action heightened the public’s sense of crisis and allowed him to ignore traditional restraints on the power of the central government.

FDR’s actions were made worse by their hypocrtical and larcenous nature.

The day after FDR took the oath of office, he issued a proclamation calling Congress into a special session. Before it met, he proclaimed a national banking holiday–an action he had refused to endorse when Hoover suggested it three days earlier.

In their understanding of the Depression, Roosevelt and his economic advisers had cause and effect reversed. They did not recognize that prices had fallen because of the Depression. They believed that the Depression prevailed because prices had fallen. The obvious remedy, then, was to raise prices, which they decided to do by creating artificial shortages. Hence arose a collection of crackpot policies designed to cure the Depression by cutting back on production. The scheme was so patently self-defeating that it’s hard to believe anyone seriously believed it would work.

The goofiest application of the theory had to do with the price of gold. Starting with the bank holiday and proceeding through a massive gold-buying program, Roosevelt abandoned the gold standard, the bedrock restraint on inflation and government growth. He nationalized the monetary gold stock, forbade the private ownership of gold (except for jewelry, scientific or industrial uses, and foreign payments), and nullified all contractual promises–whether public or private, past or future–to pay in gold.

Besides being theft, gold confiscation didn’t work. The price of gold was increased from $20.67 to $35.00 per ounce, a 69% increase, but the domestic price level increased only 7% between 1933 and 1934, and over rest of the decade it hardly increased at all. FDR’s devaluation provoked retaliation by other countries, further strangling international trade and throwing the world’s economies further into depression.

Just for good measure, FDR screwed the brothers too

It was New Deal labor laws that had the most pernicious impact on African Americans. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), in effect from June 2933 until a unanimous Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in May 1933 (in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States), was considered the hallmark of the New Deal. In addition to creating the Works Progress Administration, the NIRA authorized the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which organized cartels, fixed wages and prices, and, under section 7(a), established the practice of collective bargaining, whereby a union selected by a majority of employees exclusively represented all employees.

While such compulsory unionism is routinely celebrated as a milestone for the American worker, many African Americans saw things differently. The NAACP’s publication The Crisis, for example, decried the monopoly powers granted to racist unions by the NRA noting in 1934 that “union labor strategy seems to be to obtain the right to bargain with the employees as the sole representative of labor, and then close the union to black workers.” Members of the black press had something of a field day attacking the NRA, rechristening it the “Negro Removal Act,” “Negroes Robbed Again,” “Negro Run Around,” and “No Roosevelt Again.”

NRA codes harmed other poor groups as well. By setting the price of food and goods above market levels, the agency’s price controls made it that much more expensive for the nation’s poor and unemployed to provide for themselves and their families. Struggling entrepreneurs also suffered. Jacob Maged, a 49-year-old immigrant dry cleaner, spent three months in jail in 1934 for charging 35 cents to press a suit, rather than the NRA-mandated 40 cents.

To meet the inflated payrolls required by New Deal minimum wage codes, employers eliminated unskilled and marginal positions, precisely the sort of jobs filled by African Americans and other disadvantaged groups. According to a Labor Department report, between 30,000 and 50,000 workers, primarily African Americans in the South, lost their jobs within just two weeks of the activation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938), which set a uniform minimum wage. Not surprisingly, both unions and industrialists in the North favored the minimum wage, since it undercut their competitors in the South.

In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act, after its sponsor, Democratic New York Sen. Robert Wagner) revived section 7(a) of the recently defunct NRA and granted monopoly bargaining power to unions selected by a majority of employees. Neither company-sponsored unions nor unions representing a minority of workers were permitted. The act’s original draft contained a clause forbidding discrimination against African Americans by federally recognized unions, but the clause was removed at the behest of the American Federation of Labor; a notoriously racist outfit at the time.

The Wall Street Journal printed a list of ten questions for supporters of President Roosevelt. The first five of them are…

1. Why did FDR triple federal taxes during the Great Depression? Federal tax revenues more than tripled, from $1.6 billion in 1933 to $5.3 billion in 1940. Excise taxes, personal income taxes, inheritance taxes, corporate income taxes, holding company taxes and “excess profits” taxes all went up. FDR introduced an undistributed profits tax. Consumers had less money to spend, and employers had less money for growth and jobs.

2. Why did FDR discourage investors from taking the risks of funding growth and jobs? Frequent tax hikes (1933, 1934, 1935, 1936) created uncertainty that discouraged investment, and FDR further discouraged investors by denouncing them as “economic royalists,” “economic dictators” and “privileged princes,” among other epithets. No surprise that private investment was at historically low levels during the New Deal era.

3. Why did FDR channel government spending away from the poorest people? Little New Deal spending went to the South, the poorest region; most went to political “swing” states in the West and East, where incomes were more than 60% higher. The South was already overwhelmingly on FDR’s side.

4. Why did FDR make it more expensive for employers to hire people? By enforcing above-market wages, introducing excise taxes on payrolls and promoting compulsory unionism, the New Deal increased the costs of employing people about 25% from 1933 to 1940 – a major reason why double-digit private sector unemployment persisted throughout the New Deal era.

5. Why did FDR destroy all that food when millions were hungry? FDR promoted higher food prices by paying farmers to plow under some 10 million acres of crops and slaughter and discard some six million farm animals. The food destruction program mainly benefited big farmers, since they had more food to destroy than small farmers. This policy and subsequent programs to pay farmers for not producing victimized the 100 million Americans who were consumers.

I’ll try get a more statistical criticism criticism of FDR up later, not to mention his insane pre-WWII foreign policy. He was a terrible man, a terrible President, and we would have been better off without him.

Don’t Worry About China

Finland most competitive economy,” by Samantha Tonkin, The World Economic Forum Weblog, http://www.forumblog.org/blog/2004/10/finland_most_co.html, 13 October 2004.

My Friend Detained in China,” by Rebecca MacKinnon, RConversation, http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2004/12/my_friend_arres.htm, 13 December 2004.

Wartime Chinese Sex Slaves Lose Compensation Fight,” The Guardian Unlimited, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1374194,00.html, 15 December 2004 (from Democratic Underground)

China continues to develop. The three dissidents arrested earlier? All released after an overnight stay. Granted I’d rather not have intellectuals arrested at all, but the Chinese insist they are investigated a real crime. The PRC has a way to go, but its nowhere near the black hole that North Korea, Belarus, or Burma are. Probably even better than Zimbabwe.

However, these are poor peers. In a World Economic Forum report released in October, China’s economy ranked as the 46th most competitive. Yup, 46th. China has enormous potential, a growing middle class, and an incredible amount of cheap ex-farm labor. But she’s not going to devour the world anytime soon.

There are also hopeful signs that China is outgrowing her past. Three former harem girls lost a fight for back wages against Japan, and the article mentions no official word from Beijing. As the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of America harp of coerced labor from a century and a half ago, its a good sign if the PRC is shutting up about actions from a third of that time back.

Choice Now

Gender Equity: Political Feminism Goes to School,” by Lydia Percival Meuret, Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, http://www.cblpolicyinstitute.org/gender.htm.

Saint Juan Diego Activity,” by Sr. Elizabeth Ann, S.J.W, http://www.catholichomeschooling.com/curr/juandiego.htm, Heroes of Virtue: A Timeline-Manual of New World Saints and Blesseds, 2000

Politically Correct Math=Innumerate Children,” by Wendy McElroy, American Partisan, http://www.zetetics.com/mac/partisan/031800.htm, 18 March 2000,

Lessons from Vermont: 132-Year-Old Voucher Program Rebuts Critics,” by Libby Sternberg, CATO Institute, http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-067es.html, 10 September 2001.

Lessons from MLK: The school-choice battle gets intense,” by Casey Lartigue, Jr., CATO Institute, http://www.cato.org/research/articles/lartigue-030611.html, 11 June 2003.

Choice Struggles On,” by Clint Bolick, National Review, http://www.edreform.com/index.cfm?fuseAction=document&documentID=1872&sectionID=37&NEWSYEAR=2004, 11 October 2004.

Evolution Sticker Shock,” by Will Wilkinson, “CATO Institute, http://www.cato.org/dailys/12-15-04.html, 15 December 2004.

First of All …,” by “Thomas,” tdaxp, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2004/12/15/still_better_than_tunisia_.html, 15 December 2004.

A poster named “Thomas” criticized the Still Better than Tunisia post…

“First of all we need to take the statistics you mentioned into account. We don’t pay teachers enough to get people who major in these subjects to teach them. They can make more money elsewhere.

We don’t specialize enough, but vouchers won’t solve this. All vouchers do is shift the problem. If you give some kids vouchers you’re just letting the others suffer. If you give all kids vouchers nothing changes because the poor can only afford those schools where the voucher pays for the entire tuition.

Our educational system does struggle, but as rosy a picture as is painted by vouchers, they just don’t make sense unless your only concern is making money off of a necessary thing for a society like education.

There’s a number of issues here. Clearly teacher salary isn’t the only variable, because Catholic schools (which pay teachers markedly less than public schools) show better test results. And the local gocery store is a for-profit enterprise, so clearly “making money of a necessary thing” isn’t necessarily bad. And vouchers aren’t perfect, because they mostly discriminate against home-schoolers. But there’s some things that are pretty clear.

First, its important to realize that we do have a problem. We have stagnated, and it aggrevates America’s racial problem

A collection of the facts reveals that, according to Education Week’s annual survey “Quality Counts,” 55 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics graduate from high school, compared to 76 percent of whites. While 34 percent of white 8th graders achieve at the proficient level on the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 5 percent of blacks and 10 percent of Hispanics do so. According to the Koret Task Force, which released a report as a follow-up to the landmark 1983 study, “A Nation at Risk,” reports: “U.S. education outcomes measured in many ways, show little improvement since 1970.”

and

“Sadly, the best thing going for the school-choice movement is the abysmal and declining quality of public education, particularly for minority children. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, the racial academic gap suggests we are nowhere close to achieving true equality of educational opportunity. Nearly 50 percent of black and Hispanic students drop out of high school, and 27 percent of all 20- to 29-year-old black men who dropped out are in jail. Despite high attrition rates, the average black high-school senior achieves at a level four academic years behind the average white senior — a gap that has increased by one-third over the past decade.

The most important consequence of school choice is that it forces accountability.

“School-voucher programs have shown the potential to close the racial academic gap by between one-fourth and one-third over four years. Perhaps more significant, competitive pressure from school-choice programs forces public schools to buck union pressure and adopt long-overdue reforms. Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby has found that public schools consistently improve when faced with competition from viable school-choice programs.

We accept this in higher education all the time. America has the best colleges in the world. We rarely accept this in primary or secondary schools. And we’re treading water above Tunisia.

Fortunately, school choice is an old and tested idea that has worked very well.

For more than a century, Vermont has operated a viable and popular voucher system in 90 towns across the state. During the 1998–99 school year, the state paid tuition for 6,505 students in kindergarten through 12th grade to attend public and private schools. Families chose from a large pool of public schools and more than 83 independent schools including such well-known academies as Phillips Exeter and Holderness.

Another benefit of school choice is that it prevents a lot of societal protests. Consider the recent bruhaha over Creationism in the classroom.

When ninth graders in Cobb County, Georgia grudgingly withdraw from their backpacks copies of Biology, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, they are faced with an “advisory” sticker hinting at dark forces at work within. It reads:

“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

The sticker is there because the Cobb County school board put it there. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued. Why make a federal case of it?

But the Cobb County controversy is not really about the merits of the theory of evolution, or whether all the alternatives are, as the ACLU argues, motivated by religious faith. The bigger fight is about who gets to impose their beliefs on whom. It’s just the latest symptom of a deeper illness that necessarily afflicts a system of publicly provided education.

Public school boards and curriculum committees are like menu boards for our children’s minds. Isn’t what we teach our children more important than what we feed them? Bitter and divisive conflict over curriculum is inevitable. Miller and Levine’s Biology is to creationists what pork is to Muslims. Getting a Cobb County sticker with your biology book is like getting a little note with your pork chop: “Warning: Not Halal.”

The question we should be asking is not whether we should be worried about stickers on textbooks, but, rather, why we do education this way in the first place. We live in an incredibly diverse society, and there’s no way we’re all going to agree, even if some of us really are right about the best way to do things. Suppose you knew with absolute certainty that there was one objectively best diet. Would that justify forcing shrimp down unwilling throats? Why treat schools differently?

Granted, in a world where parents can choose what to say children, some tots may be exposed to horrors such as

1. Juan Diego’s _______________ name was “The Eagle Who Speaks”.

a. Spanish
b. Christian
c. Aztec
d. middle

But compared to math assignements such as

“A. If math were a color, it would be __, because __. B. If it were a food, it would be __, because __. C. If it were weather, it would be __, because __.”

And bizarre counter-factual text-book gender theories

So how widespread is this self-righteous trifling with our public school curricula? Increasingly, “gender equity” approaches are being introduced into every nook and cranny of our educational system. An an example, consider California’s guidelines for review of textbooks (60):

1) Illustrations must contain approximately equal proportions of men and women
2) In the representation of each profession, including parent, men, and women, must be shown in equal numbers
3) The contributions of men and women to developments in history or achievements in art or science must appear in equal numbers
4) Mentally and physically active, creative, problem-solving roles, and success or failure in these roles, must be divided evenly between males and females
5) The number of traditional and nontraditional activities engaged in by characters of both sexes must be approximately even

(You know, because there’s as many male as female elementary school teachers. And because so many women were famous artists in the Renaissance, because Europe wasn’t sexist at all. And women naturally have great upper-body strength. And no activities actually break down along traditional lines anymore. )

And life-science theories so insane they are medically dangerous

The Clearinghouse also suggests decreasing laboratory exercises involving the killing of animals or giving treatment that may be perceived as “particularly harsh.” They even wonder “if this laboratory is traditionally included in introductory biology. . .precisely because it serves as an initiation rite to discourage the students who feel too much empathy with animals from becoming biology majors,” (17).

The funny part is, absent our return to the stone ages, American education actually can’t get any worse.

That’s also the sad part.