Skip to:

  • What Do State And Local Governments Do?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 30, 2011

    Those who wish to dismantle public services in the U.S. seem to share a general belief – accepted, to some extent, even by people who generally support public sector spending – that government is a massive, incompetent blob. At the federal level, I have always found this somewhat strange, since around two-thirds of federal spending goes towards Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and national defense, programs that are generally popular and widely regarded as successful.

    Survey data indicate that people do trust state and local government more than they do federal government, but the level of confidence is still not particularly high. Americans also appear generally unwilling to pay higher taxes to preserve public services (except for education), and most accept that state and local government is too large and much of it is superfluous. But when people are asked about specific programs, they tend to respond favorably. This suggests, among other things, that people may have general perceptions of "government" without full knowledge of all the roles government plays.

    So, I thought it might be useful to take a quick look at how public dollars actually are spent. After all, it’s our money, and it’s always good to keep track of how our elected officials are spending it.

    READ MORE
  • Suppressing Democracy

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 28, 2011

    At a recent Shanker Institute conference, a guest presenter from the United Kingdom was discussing the historical relationship between public spending and democracy. I don’t remember the exact context, but at some point, he noted, in a perfectly calm, matter-of-fact tone, that one U.S. political party spends a great deal of effort and resources trying to suppress electoral turnout.

    It’s always kind of jarring to hear someone from another country make a casual observation about an American practice that’s so objectionable, especially when you're well aware it's plainly true. And perhaps never more so than right now.

    There are currently several states – most with Republican governors and/or legislatures, including Wisconsin and Ohio – that are either considering or have already passed bills that would require citizens to obtain government-issued identification (or strengthen previous requirements), such as driver’s licenses or passports, in order to register to vote and/or cast a ballot. The public explanation given by these lawmakers and their supporters is that identification requirements will reduce voter fraud. This is so transparently dishonest as to be absurd. Recent incidences of voter fraud are exceedingly rare. Most of these laws are clearly efforts to increase the “costs” of voting for large groups of people who traditionally vote Democratic.

    Others have commented on the politics behind these efforts. I’d like to put them in context.

    READ MORE
  • College Isn't Quite The (Self-Perceived) Middle Class Ticket It Used To Be

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 27, 2011

    In a previous post, I presented some simple data on “subjective class identification," which is the practice of asking people to place themselves within a class structure. The data show that, despite constant political rhetoric appealing the U.S. “middle class," more people actually consider themselves to be working class than middle class, and that this hasn’t changed much over the past thirty years.

    I also noted that there is even a fairly significant “working class presence” – about 25 percent – among the highly educated (those with a bachelor's or higher). This struck me as interesting, given the fact that having a college degree is sometimes called “the ticket to the middle class," and also given that the income advantage for college graduates – the “college wage premium” – is substantial (and it's actually increased over the long term). I found myself wondering whether the relationship between having a college degree and “gaining entrance” to the middle class (at least by one’s own judgment of his or her class position) had changed over time. In other words, when it comes to subjective class identification, is college less of a middle class “ticket” than it used to be?

    I couldn’t resist taking a quick look.

    READ MORE
  • New Teaching Resource Highlights Voices Of Leading Pro-Democracy Muslims

    by Shanker Institute Staff on June 24, 2011

    The Albert Shanker Institute has released "Muslim Voices on Democracy: A Reader"—a free, downloadable publication that highlights the speeches, articles, and ideals of pro-democracy Muslims. It is designed as a resource for high school teachers to use in American classrooms, as they seek to help students make sense of the complex forces at work in the Muslim world.

    You can download the publication (PDF) here.

    The individuals featured in this collection include intellectuals, union activists, dissidents, and journalists. Although the voices of women are featured throughout the publication, it contains a special section devoted to their unique challenges and contributions to the democratic political dialogue. The publication also features a glossary of terms and a list of resources for further study.

    READ MORE
  • Student Surveys of Teachers: Be Careful What You Ask For

    by Esther Quintero on June 23, 2011

    Many believe that current teacher evaluation systems are a formality, a bureaucratic process that tells us little about how to improve classroom instruction. In New York, for example, 40 percent of all teacher evaluations must consist of student achievement data by 2013. Additionally, some are proposing the inclusion of alternative measures, such as “independent outside observations” or “student surveys” among others. Here, I focus on the latter.

    Educators for Excellence (E4E), an “organization of education professionals who seek to provide an independent voice for educators in the debate surrounding education reform”, recently released a teacher evaluation white paper proposing that student surveys account for 10 percent of teacher evaluations.

    The paper quotes a teacher saying: “for a system that aims to serve students, young people’s interests are far too often pushed aside. Students’ voices should be at the forefront of the education debate today, especially when it comes to determining the effectiveness of their teacher." The authors argue that “the presence of effective teachers […] can be determined, in part, by the perceptions of the students that interact with them." Also, “student surveys offer teachers immediate and qualitative feedback, recognize the importance of student voice […]". In rare cases, the paper concedes, “students could skew their responses to retaliate against teachers or give high marks to teachers who they like, regardless of whether those teachers are helping them learn."

    But student evaluations are not new.

    READ MORE
  • Q: Do We Need Teachers' Unions? A: It's Not Up To Us.

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 21, 2011

    I sometimes hear people – often very smart and reasonable people – talk about whether “we need teachers’ unions." These statements frequently take the form of, “We wouldn’t need teachers’ unions if…," followed by some counterfactual situation such as “teachers were better-paid." In most cases, these kinds of musings reflect “pro-teacher” sentiments – they point out the things that are wrong with public education, and that without these things unions would be unnecessary.

    I’d just like to make a very quick comment about this line of reasoning, one that is intended to be entirely non-hostile. The question of whether or not “we need teachers’ unions," though often well-intentioned, is inappropriate.

    It’s not up to “us." The choice belongs to teachers.

    READ MORE
  • Teacher Quality Only Matters If Students Come To School

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 20, 2011

    The “no excuses” mantra in education started with an irrefutable premise: Nobody should use poverty as an excuse to tolerate dysfunctional pubic schools. For some (but not all) people, it eventually became an accusation as well, hurled at those who brought up the fact – often in a perfectly reasonable manner – that there is a strong, demonstrated relationship between income and achievement. But in its most virulent form, “no excuses” fosters the colonization of additional problems for which schools and teachers can be “held accountable."

    Former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her fiancée, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, were hosted by the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service for a discussion on education that aired on C-Span a few weeks ago. The moderator asked the panelists for their views on the dismal conditions in many cities, and how that relates to efforts to improve neighborhood schools.

    Rhee recounted a story from the final year of her chancellorship, in which she visited a school unannounced, arriving early in the morning. Many of the classrooms were mostly empty. When she inquired, she was told that attendance was low because it was Friday and raining. Rhee said that she was horrified, but continued to tour the school. She finally found a classroom that was full, and asked one of the students about the class. The student told Rhee that this was her favorite teacher.

    READ MORE
  • Who Doesn't Trust Unions?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 16, 2011

    In a previous post, I noted that confidence in organized labor really hasn’t changed that much over the past 30 years, even though union membership has been declining steadily.

    This got me thinking about what kinds of factors (such as individual characteristics) are associated with being anti-union, and I decided to run a couple of simple, rough models to get an idea (keep in mind that this is a very quick treatment). As you might recall from the previous post, respondents in my dataset (the General Social Survey) were asked whether they had “hardly any," “only some," or “a great deal” of confidence in organized labor. In 2010, 60 percent said that they had only some confidence, 30 percent hardly any, and a mere 10 percent asserted a great deal of faith in unions. For the purpose of simplicity, I will refer to those with "hardly any" confidence as “anti-union."

    I have to start with a few quick, optional-reading details about my data and analysis (read the notes in the graphs below if you want more information). Because so few people expressed “a great deal” of confidence, I collapse this category into the “only some” response, creating a two-category outcome variable measuring whether or not the respondent had “hardly any” confidence. The models I use (binary logit models) control for a variety of factors that might influence union attitudes, including marital status, party identification, income, race, parenthood, education, gender, age, year, labor force status, and whether or not one (or one’s spouse) is a union member. I limit the sample to respondents 21 or older, and to increase sample size, I pool data from the 2006, 2008 and 2010 surveys, for a total sample of 3,849.

    The results were a bit interesting.

    READ MORE
  • Investment Counselors

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 15, 2011

    NOTE: With this post, we are starting a new “feature” here at Shanker Blog – periodically summarizing research papers that carry interesting and/or important implications for the education policy debates. We intend to focus on papers that are either published in peer-reviewed journals or are still in working paper form, and are unlikely to get significant notice. Here is the first:

    Are School Counselors a Cost-Effective Education Input?

    Scott E. Carrell and Mark Hoekstra, Working paper (link to PDF), September 2010

    Most teachers and principals will tell you that non-instructional school staff can make a big difference in school performance. Although we may all know this, it’s always useful to have empirical research to confirm it, and to examine the size and nature of the effects. In this paper, economists Scott Carrell and Mark Hoekstra put forth one of the first rigorous tests of how one particular group of employees – school counselors – affect both discipline and achievement outcomes. The authors use a unique administrative dataset of third, fourth, and fifth graders in Alachua County, Florida, a diverse district that serves over 30,000 students.  Their approach exploits year-to-year variation in the number of counselors in each school – i.e., whether the outcomes of a given school change from the previous year when a counselor is added to the staff.

    Their results are pretty striking: The addition of a single full-time counselor is associated with a 0.04 standard deviation increase in boys’ achievement (about 1.2 percentile points). These effects are robust across different specifications (including sibling and student fixed effects). The disciplinary effects are, as expected, even more impressive. A single additional counselor helps to decrease boys’ disciplinary infractions between 15 to 26 percent.

    READ MORE
  • Middle Class Overvalues

    by Matthew Di Carlo on June 13, 2011

    It is a staple of American politics that elected officials routinely frame their appeals to the "middle class." The idea is simple: Since the vast majority of Americans consider themselves members of the middle class, it makes sense to use this label as shorthand for "people like you." The practice of people locating themselves within a class structure – rather than being "assigned" to classes based on particular characteristics, such as income or occupation – is often called "subjective class identification."

    Now, I don’t know whether the daily use of the "middle class" appeal is smart politics (I assume it has been poll-tested and focus-grouped ad nauseum). But I can say that the underlying assumption – that virtually all Americans identify subjectively as middle class – is not correct. Or, more accurately, it depends on how you ask the question.

    If you give people a three-category class structure (upper, middle, lower) in which they must place themselves, a huge plurality opts for the middle. On the other hand, in the simple tabulation below, I demonstrate what happens when you add a fourth category to the menu of options – "working class." The data come from the General Social Survey (GSS) for 2010, and it’s a representative, unrestricted sample of all Americans over age 18. One of the survey questions is: "If you were asked to use one of four names for your social class, would you say you belong in: the lower class, the working class, the middle class, or the upper class?"

    READ MORE

Pages

DISCLAIMER

This web site and the information contained herein are provided as a service to those who are interested in the work of the Albert Shanker Institute (ASI). ASI makes no warranties, either express or implied, concerning the information contained on or linked from shankerblog.org. The visitor uses the information provided herein at his/her own risk. ASI, its officers, board members, agents, and employees specifically disclaim any and all liability from damages which may result from the utilization of the information provided herein. The content in the Shanker Blog may not necessarily reflect the views or official policy positions of ASI or any related entity or organization.