Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 3
January 17, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
How's your drink?
It's not just the economy, stupid
Winds of change from Wyoming
Science, Evolution, and Creationism
By Coby Loup
That new-studio smell
This week, Mike and Rick talk about why America doesn't need more college grads, why choice isn't enough, and why cracking down on corruption is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Education News of the Weird legislates morality--at least for calendars.
January 17, 2008
The market's ability to improve school quality has faced growing skepticism lately (see below). And now this.
We learn from a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that cheap wine tastes better when its drinkers believe they're sipping a Grand Cru. One wonders: Are parents who enroll their children in tony schools perhaps guzzling Two Buck Chuck?
But back to the wine. Twenty (lucky) volunteers, all of whom reported liking and at least occasionally drinking the red variety, were presented with five glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. They were told that no two glasses contained the same wine, and that each wine they tasted was differently priced, ranging from $5 to $90 per bottle. But the researchers had performed a sly trick. The $90 wine was the same as the $10 wine (actual price: $10), and the $45 wine was the same as the $5 wine (actual price: $5). The $35 Cab was really $35.
When volunteers vetted the vino, they ranked the supposedly pricier wines over the cheaper stuff. And not only did subjects find the expensive wines more pleasant, but their brains did, too. The medial orbital prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that registers pleasure, showed the greatest activity when subjects drank the supposed $90 liquid and the least when they sipped from the $5 cup. When the trial was repeated exactly, but without the wine prices elucidated,
January 17, 2008
Conventional wisdom tells us that the U.S. economy demands gobs more workers with bachelor's degrees. Veteran analyst and all-around-smart-guy Paul Barton thinks that this conventional wisdom is wrong and that the demand for college graduates is overstated. When one examines "the projected increase in the number of jobs in the 10 fastest-growing occupations," he writes, "61 percent of those new jobs will not require college and 39 percent will." Furthermore, "demand for college graduates is also overstated when whatever percentage of the workforce that has gone to college is equated with the percentage of jobs that require college-level learning." (Italics in original.) The truth, it seems, is that a significant number of college-educated workers are taking positions that don't actually necessitate a university diploma. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of those with bachelor's degrees who are not enrolled in graduate school, 40 percent say they are working in a job that doesn't require a college education. Still, one may reasonably take issue with Barton's implication that we shouldn't be encouraging so many students to head to campus. A quality higher education (no small qualification there) can open worlds of learning to students that will enhance their enjoyment of life and enable greater contributions as democratic citizens. And if high-school diplomas actually meant something, probably conventional wisdom would be less likely to demand college diplomas. But Barton may be right that basing the case for universal higher education
January 17, 2008
Sol Stern no longer walks hand-in-hand with the invisible hand. In an article in the Winter 2008 City Journal, he reconsiders his once staunch belief that educational choice will cure ailing public-school systems. He writes that "markets in education may not be a panacea" and notes, "the evidence is pretty meager that competition from vouchers is making public schools better." Stern is not the only choice advocate who is having second thoughts about the education market's power. Fordham's own Checker Finn told the New York Sun that he, too, doubts the ability of vouchers to affect widespread school-to-school competition and educational change. (We hear that Finn writes about this conversion in his forthcoming book.) Stern concludes: "Education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories...that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom." Fair point, but let's not go too far. Choice may not be "enough," but the evidence in favor of education monopolies isn't so hot either. A smart combination of parental choice and educational standards is the middle way--and the best way--to stronger schools in the future.
"A Libertarian Is Searching For an Education ‘Plan B'," by Elizabeth Green, New York Sun, January 14, 2008
"School Choice Isn't Enough," by Sol Stern, City Journal, Winter 2008
January 17, 2008
Dallas has hit a rough patch. After their 13-3 season, the Cowboys' pitiable exit from the NFL playoffs has left the city despondent. And then there are Dallas's schools, which are so plagued by corruption that the district has created a 15-person investigative office just to crack down on such malfeasance. Among the abuses so far revealed: an assistant principal who had students build him a king-size bed in shop class, a lunch lady who absconded with hundreds of dollars in cafeteria pastries, and a manager who accepted free Cowboys tickets from a consultant (poor sap). The Office of Professional Responsibility has so far closed about 75 cases and handed over the amassed evidence to Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who metes out punishment. "It's definitely working," Hinojosa said. "There are no sacred cows." And most school employees seem to appreciate the new department's objectivity, too. Gadfly is always on guard against school districts that solve problems by bedecking themselves in red tape, but Dallas's corruption cops don't appear to fit that bill. Rather, they work quickly, professionally, and efficiently. Shouldn't FOX make a reality show out of this?
"Dallas school district's corruption investigators keeping busy," by Tawnell D. Hobbs, Dallas Morning News, January 12, 2007
January 17, 2008
It's official. Wyoming is adequate--or at least it adequately funds its public schools. The Cowboy State's Supreme Court ruled last week that the state's method of paying school districts is constitutional, thus putting an end to 14 years of judicial oversight of how primary-secondary education in Wyoming is financed. (Altogether, legal battles over education funding in the state have been raging for 35 years.) "Hopefully this brings that chapter in Wyoming history to a close," said Michael R. O'Donnell, a government lawyer. And he may have reason to be optimistic. After sundry victories in state courts, plaintiffs who sue to receive what they deem "adequate" funding for education have been dealt a string of setbacks, of which the Wyoming ruling is the latest. One senses mounting willingness on the part of judges to leave school funding decisions to elected officials rather than deciding arcane funding formulas from the bench. It's about time.
"State Supreme Court finds school finance system constitutional," by Bob Moen, Associated Press, January 8, 2007
Coby Loup / January 17, 2008
National Academy of Sciences
President Lincoln created the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1863, just four years after Charles Darwin proposed his theory of natural selection in On the Origin of Species. Odds are the brand-new organization, like most others, didn't buy the theory then, but today's NAS has just published Science, Evolution, and Creationism, which makes the case for evolution, and scientific inquiry more generally, to the church-going public. As expected, the book is heavy on the evidence for evolution, describing important fossil findings and illustrating the workings of DNA. It also spends considerable time defending science itself as our most legitimate source of worldly knowledge. For instance: "In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena... If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations." The authors also tout the practical benefits that have accompanied our growing understanding of evolution. For instance, the book features sidebars on evolution's role in "Combating New Infectious Diseases" and "The Domestication of Wheat." If all this doesn't budge creationists, the book offers several pages explaining away their objections to evolution, while noting that science and religion can easily coexist. One section provides "excerpts of statements by religious leaders who see no conflict between their faith and science." The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, for instance, tells us that "[T]here is no contradiction between an evolutionary