It’s Time to Rethink Head Start

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

264 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    “According to the report, the program does indeed provide an objectively superior preschool experience for those children that participate. Indeed, pre-school aged children enrolled in Head Start performed better than those in the control group. However, the difference between the two groups in cognitive learning and retention disappears by the third grade.”

    Were the Head Start children and control group children put into the same schools/classes upon leaving pre-school? Because if that is the case, as an early educator, there is absolutely nothing surprising about those results.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

      I agree with Kazzy. My oldest daughter dead Head Start and actually a program before that called Jump Start. It was impressive how far along she was upon completion but her elementary school did not have the resources to continue special instruction for those kids. I remember her telling me she was very bored for the first couple of years while her classmates caught up.Report

    • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

      They’re not analyzing by individual children: they’re analyzing by cohort. Further, they’re “tracking” the children as they get salted through the system, spread amongst various classrooms along with the “control group” kids.

      I think Mike Dwyer’s observation about bored kids has a lot of relevance to the discussion. Head Start kids are getting an advantage, coming in fresh, and then having to wait for the rest of the kids to catch up before classes can proceed with what they probably learned two years prior. US schools deliberately salt the slower kids in with the faster kids and there are a hell of a lot of arguments about social promotion in that regard.

      I highly suspect if you kept the Head Start kids in one classroom, and the rest of the kids in another, and let each class move at its own pace, you’d find different results. The issue isn’t that Head Start isn’t working, it’s that Head Start kids are then put into a system designed to make the faster kids wait for the slower ones.

      The solution is to stratify. Put the kids who need focus in one classroom, maybe even give them a pair of team teachers. Put the faster kids in another classroom, let the class move at the faster pace. On rare occasion, you’ll find a kid these days who is jumped ahead a grade, but that doesn’t end well for social reasons.

      Let’s try that, and then see where the kids are after three years.

      I know one family who yanked their kids out of school and went to homeschooling because the local district didn’t have the resources for advanced instruction and it wasn’t likely to end well on a social level to put a 2nd-grader (by age) in with some of the 5th grade classes. Mental reasoning? No problem. Social learning and interaction? Just not on the same page. I’m not usually a fan of home-schooling for other reasons (mostly the general inadequacy and religious indoctrination mindset of many who do it) but in this case it was more than justified.Report

      • M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

        I’ll offer a shorter summation of my position:

        The available research doesn’t support a conclusion that Head Start isn’t working. It equally likely supports a conclusion that what we are doing after Head Start is blocking, impeding, or erasing the standing benefits of Head Start.

        We should look at Head Start, look at what it does right, and figure out what in the next phase is blocking the forward momentum (Mike Dwyer’s commentary on bored kids injected into the normal education assembly line, waiting for the non-Head Starters to catch up being very apropos to the discussion).Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to M.A. says:

          I absolutely agree with this summation, but if you’re spending 8 billion dollars to do something that you can’t follow up on and leverage to good utility, you’re still wasting that money.

          Now, if we *could* follow up on that and leverage it to good utility, awesome.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            That’s right. (And consistent with Tod’s argument in the OP, as far as I can tell). The problem isn’t that HS didn’t lead to some good outcomes. It’s that the institutional structure HS is embedded in erased those benefits. So … preserving HS as a useful program would require changing some other factor that comes into the mix. And then you come up against institutional inertia and all that.

            That puts the 8 billion squarely in the line of fire.Report

          • M.A. in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            It’s not spending $8 billion to do something we can’t follow up on and leverage; it’s spending $8 billion to do something that we then DON’T follow up on and leverage. You want us to kill the program, or would you rather we start following up and leveraging?

            Head start does a great job getting these kids ready to go into the grade school level. That was, and should be, its purpose. The fact that the grade school level has problems is a reason to look at the grade school level, not to diss Head Start for not managing to make college graduates out of 4-year-olds.

            Now let’s take the example from down below. We have kids who went to private “head start” programs, who then go to private prep schools where they have to pass a test to get in (thus stratifying). Those kids, then, get direct attention closer to their actual learning level moving forward.

            “Head Start” works the same way as those private programs, until grade school hits, then we throw them back into the public pot rather than keeping them on the accelerated track we started them on. It’s like giving someone a 5 minute head start from your house when you know they’re about to hit rush hour traffic, they’re going nowhere once they hit the blockage.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

              See my response below, but you’re simultaneously arguing that the theory behind HS* works fine and that we need to adjust public schools because the theory behind HS doesn’t work.**

              *That with special attention being paid to kids during formative pre-school years, you should be able to then plug them into the current public schools system and get significantly better results throughout their K-12 experience.

              ** Because you have to do more than work with them over those few formative years in order to get those results.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to M.A. says:

              You want us to kill the program, or would you rather we start following up and leveraging?


              I mean, optimally, if you find something that is producing a positive outcome, you’d want to learn from that and expand it. Maybe we can start following up on it. Maybe we can leverage it.

              But I really, really doubt it given that our educational system is dramatically underfunded at virtually all levels.

              Again, we don’t even have a full-time school nurse at our school. We don’t have an aide at every *grade* level, let alone in every class (I think that intervention would produce better overall results.)

              Granted, I’d love it if I could just spend another 10 billion or so here in California on education. I don’t see that happening.Report

              • The real issue with the leverage after doing something that works is the oldest saw in education – who should control the curriculum and who should control the purse. Headstart works – to the extent that anything works in education – because it’s got a uniform application across states. Once these kids hit school systems that are locally controlled and locally funded, outcomes will begin to swing dramatically, and Headstart will no longer be a primary determinant of success.

                That aside, I question the comments on the $8 Billion as being a “Lot” of money. Considering that the federal budget this year is on the order of $3.1 Trillion, and considering that our $ 8 Billion investment does lead to better learning outcomes for some period of time, I don’t think it’s at all a waste of resources.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Philip H says:

                If you spend $8 billion to get no return after four years, even if you get a return for three years, the question that is immediately begged is, “Can we get a four year return on that $8 billion”.

                If the answer is “yes”, then it’s absolutely a waste of resources, because there is something else you could be spending it on that is more effective.

                That doesn’t mean that you should chuck it, necessarily. But the whole point of public policy questions is, “Given a limited amount of money, what can you do with it?”

                “Well, give me more money and I can do better” isn’t the question you’re asking, at this point.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to M.A. says:

          “We should look at Head Start, look at what it does right, and figure out what in the next phase is blocking the forward momentum…”

          This is exactly what I was getting at.

          If kids leave Head Start better prepared than kids who were not in Head Start, Head Start is working.

          Think of it this way… You’re having a race. You give some kids a 10 second advantage (a Head Start). They’ll lead in the race. But if the second part of the race involves everyone getting on one bus together and riding that bus, the advantage is gone, as everyone travels and arrives together.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

            Exactly. Head Start works, but it isn’t enough. I suppose you can then conclude “But since we’re not willing to do the rest of the job, we might as well save the money HS costs”, but that’s really ugly.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Well, let’s consider why we are not willing to do the rest of the job.


              Let’s try to figure out why there is a “job” that needs doing in the first place.

              Head Start has failed in the sense that it disproved the theory that the “achievement gap” is wholly the result of gaps in early childhood education, which seemed to be what everyone assumed. But why don’t we try to figure out why the achievement gap exists in the first place?

              Oh, now you just talking crazy, Kazzy…Report

              • Turgid Jacobian in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think many people would be willing. Many others wouldn’t.Report

              • A Teacher in reply to Kazzy says:

                But you can’t “Fix” things like “non-involved parents” and “over-involved parents” by throwing money at them. You can’t get kids to take notes or turn off video games by saying “here’s a program we’re going to put you in”.

                You cant’ just pay parents to help send their kids to school.

                Don’t get me wrong I’d be on board with it but I’m having a flashback to the “make grades tied to Tax Credit” discussion from a while back. We tend to think if we throw money at it, it’ll make it all better when what we really need is to actually MAKE it better by doing something OTHER than throwing money at it.

                Head Start is a great program to point at, send money to, and feel good.

                Me? I’d rather see that 9k/kid/ year invested later in their education when it will make more of an impact on their life outcomes such as getting ready for post HS education. Give me 2k/kid/year for grades 9 to 12 to play with.Report

              • Kim in reply to A Teacher says:

                2k / kid / year in grades 9-12 would buy an awful lot of video games. 😉Report

              • Annelid Gustator in reply to A Teacher says:


              • Of all the replies I might have anticipated from that comment, this one is waaay down there.Report

              • Annelid Gustator in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Really just questioning (given the miniscule amount I know about the benefits early ed, encapsulated entirely by the HighScope/Perry preschool experiments in Ypsilanti in the 60s) that you’d gain more by playing around at the 9-12 than by doing expanded pre-k.Report

              • A Teacher in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I work in a high school and we take all comers and then put them on paths to graduation. I’ve had kids come into the building as 9th graders with NO pre-algebra ability and I’ve had kids come in and dive into Honors Pre-Calc. Yet, somehow, we manage to get them all through.

                When it comes to life skills though, it feels like High School is where they finally get taken to task about being students. Our Elementary and Middle Schools have a lot of social promotion. Students who fail a test or even a year of math are still moved along because the social cost of having to repeat, say, 6th grade is very high. At the HS level, at least for us, is the first many students have of the concept of failing a test.

                Not getting a low grade on a test but actually FAILING it and having to retake a course. It feels like I’m teaching how to take notes as much as I’m teaching math.

                But things like “Do your homework” and “Take notes” and “come to class and listen” are all skills that make or break college. “Show up on time” and “be respectful of your boss” are also listed by many potential employeers as skills they feel are lacking in the current “recent graduate” job pool. It’s freaky to hear a story on NPR where someone says “We want to hire and train a machine tech, but we can’t get people who are willing to show up on time every day.”

                So for me… I say let’s let the fact that things settle out over the course of elementary school continue and use that money at the back end to help get kids ready to enter the real world that is right there waiting rather then 10 years away.Report

              • No, but SE Michigan, yes.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to A Teacher says:


                I’m with you that the answer isn’t always (and actually rarely is, particularly when discussing education) money. So if/when we identify “non-involved parents” as a problem, I think we need to figure out WHY those parents are uninvolved and what, if anything, can be done to get them more involved, and not limit ourselves to, “Well, pay them,” or, “Make them sign a contract.” Furthermore, since there is likely little we can do to make the vast majority of uninvolved parents magically turn into involved ones, let’s see what we can do to prevent ANOTHER generation of uninvolved parents from developing, or at least shrinking it.

                We’re not going to make drastic changes in our educational outcomes overnight, especially if the causes of our unmet expectations are outside of the educational system. And the more we try to do just that, the less likely we are to affect any real change.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to A Teacher says:

                And regarding your comments on per-pupil-spending, are you asking for an ADDITIONAL $2k/kid/year? Or total? Because most districts spend much more than that (especially if you average out special education services over the entire population).Report

              • A Teacher in reply to Kazzy says:

                I mean in addition. Since it seems that head start benefits die out early on, let’s move the “extra” money to the high schools and do more to get training in vocational ed, more career skills training, more just… support.

                Maybe in vestments there will have a wider impact as the angle will be a little more open closer to where we need it and have less time to close again. The $2k/kid/year comes from taking the $8k/kid and spreading it out over 4 years.Report

      • Murali in reply to M.A. says:

        In fact, this sorting is precisely what Singapore does and why its primary to pre-university education is considered world class. It used to do this a lot more, but there was some pushback and so it does slightly less of it. The particuar ways in which this streaming has been saled back have not been to the benefit of students from less privileged backgrounds.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Playing high school sports is also pointless since many college students gain weight as freshmen.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to greginak says:

      Is the purpose of high school sports to ensure thin college students? If so, then the analogy seems apt.Report

      • greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well the health benefits of exercise in HS can’t be worth anything if kids gain weight later. I’ll admits its not the absolute best analogy in the world…not the worst either.

        There are some evidence suggesting HS has long term benefits although the research is not rock solid.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to greginak says:

          It’s the kind of response that would have made more sense if my argument had been along the line of, “so let’s not spend any money at all” rather than “we need to get back to the drawing board and find a better method.”Report

          • greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Okay…i’m fine with better methods. This study seems good as far as it goes. That HS gains fade out isn’t new but this does show it with a good experimental design. It doesn’t address the concern raised by Kazzy.

            My guess is a better method is going to involve good pre-k education. I’d also add that many high achieving middle and upper class folk push for getting their kids into really good pre-k and K schools which suggests to me that there is something useful there.Report

            • M.A. in reply to greginak says:

              I’d also add that many high achieving middle and upper class folk push for getting their kids into really good pre-k and K schools which suggests to me that there is something useful there.

              My point: many of these high-middle and upper class folk also send their kids to more-exclusive private schools, whereas the “slow kids” are generally left to the public schools.

              Money begets preferential treatment.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to M.A. says:

                Not if they’re in the burbs (unless they’re really religious).

                If you’re upper middle class not in the urban center, you’re paying anywhere between 6-12K for public schools up front – and are generally getting good value for the money; you got to be quantumly richer (or have some other criteria) to make private school worth it.Report

          • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            But you sent us back to the wrong drawing board; the kids entered public schools ahead but weren’t ahead by 3rd grade; so that would be the drawing board to revisit, no?Report

  3. Stillwater says:

    I tend to agree, with both your political analysis as well as your conclusion about dismantling head start. I’m increasingly of a mind that we need to critically analyze our whole approach to education, and not just on the public/private side of things. We – as a society – seem to be working in a education paradigm designed a hundred years ago. It’s probably time to revisit some of our assumptions.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

      If you look at what a school actually trains children to do:

      sit quietly
      work on one task for 40/50/60 minutes then change tasks when the bell rings
      show up at the same time every day

      That sort of thing, you have to look at whether that is what we want our children to be trained to do.Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        There is a quite a bit of variety in what different schools do and many do far more then what you are saying Jay.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to greginak says:

          What Jaybird describes is what the conservative-dominated Texas State School Board WANTS to do. It’s opposed by those dastardly teacher’s unions, though, on the grounds of being crap methodology.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Morat20 says:


            It’s generally how I was educated in Liberalville DC Suburb from 7th grade on up (including much of my public college)Report

            • greginak in reply to Kolohe says:

              Well that is more common for older kids but less common for younger kids. I know of multiple schools here that use different methods and aren’t quite this way. However for older i think its less of an issue.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Kolohe says:

              In a sense — kids attention spans have biological limits. (You can make them pay attention longer, but they won’t retain information at any useful rate). That’s why classes are broken up and subjects changed regularly.

              I read, admittedly out of mostly thin air, repitition and rote memorization out of Jaybird’s comment. Entirely, I might add, because of the Texas idiots who both echo Jaybird’s complaint and add in “what kids should be doing”. (Apparently they should do multiplication tables all day or something. These people are not geniuses, yet sit on the state school board).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        “That sort of thing, you have to look at whether that is what we want our children to be trained to do.”

        This is my commentary to anyone who frets about how our test scores measure up to other countries. Most of us would shriek in horror if our kids were in the types of schools that lead to success on those tests.

        Which doesn’t necessarily mean those schools are BAD. But that the goals those sorts of tests strive for are largely out of line with our society’s educational ideals. Which means we either need to adjust our ideals or stop paying attention to those tests.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

        With tongue only partially in cheek, isn’t that a fairly accurate summary of what employment will demand from the large majority of them?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

          It seems like a better training program for a country with a rather large manufacturing base.Report

          • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

            I don’t know, most office jobs don’t deal with a ton of creative possibilities either.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              Having worked light manufacturing, retail, and restaurant as I was plowing my way through college, I can cheerfully say that the possibilities for creative office work is greater, by an order of magnitude (if not more), than in creative light manufacturing, retail, or restaurant work.

              I mean, seriously.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                My experience with office jobs is that depending on both the company and your relative position within, that’s a spectrum that goes pretty wide in both directions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                The most wide-open I ever was at the restaurant allowed me little more than to drink a glass of wine while doing the evening numbers. (Well, there was a fairly liberal fraternization policy as well.)

                That said, I still had more freedom doing help desk. Heck, I had more freedom at my 7 bucks an hour scanning/data entry position.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                ” (Well, there was a fairly liberal fraternization policy as well.)”

                Yeah, I have no idea why, but food service and entertainment (including local radio and tv stations) seem to have been given a pass on the whole sexual harassment thing. I wonder why that is.Report

              • Murali in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Because the women it happens to are “those people”. i.e. they are notupper middle class people with a realistic option of seeking redress.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to Jaybird says:


        Someday, SOMEday I’ll write up what I do in my classroom. I’ll like every study about transitions or how I’ll post how often I’m inserviced on the value of changing activies every 20 minutes. I’ll show you “working quietly” which doesn’t exist any more and we’ll chat about the way we drive both group and individual work. Granted, tests are sill given as single “sit for 60 minutes quietly” activities but that’s about the only time.

        Yes, when I give a lesson I want there to be some quiet, but I also will bring the kids to the board, I will take breaks in the Teacher-Talk to let them try a problem on their own or with a classmate, and I’ll try to keep myself limited in how long I drive any one idea.

        Granted we are also a blue ribbon school, so maybe we do things radically different then the rest of the nation. I know that ~I~ drive for a lot more than just 60 minutes of quiet bell to bell….Report

        • Morat20 in reply to A Teacher says:

          When you write it up, mention brain development, children’s attention spans, and retention rates.

          FYI, most classes seem to be broken up into mini-lectures, assignments, and such. IE: lecture on, say, this type of math problem, do an example, have kids try it, answer questions, then move to the next.

          “Work quietly at a task”? I guess if you’re doing research papers, since you actually need time to write, but even then that’s broken up with research time, lectures of methods and sources, examples, discussion of layouts, etc. Actual in-class time devoted strictly to writing or problem solving (sitting there quietly on a task) is..minimal.

          And again, strangely, it’s what dinosaurs — non-educator dinosaurs — want. Kids sitting there memorizing multiplication tables, diagramming sentences, doing spelling words. The three R’s crowd.Report

          • A Teacher in reply to Morat20 says:

            Hey don’t get me wrong. There is a LOT of value in having the kids work through 30 problems while I’m free to move around the room and help out those that get stuck, coach small groups or get groups to collaborate and mutually support with the understanding that each person is still responsible for their own grade. I’m even experimenting with a Tribes model where student groups work as a group over 10 weeks and the group’s rising and falling affects everyone in a relatively non-consequential competition.

            And the 3R’s actually are pretty important. Students as much as they need to be curious and inquisitive and creative actually need to have the tools in their hands to build and explore with those ideas. What good is it to think of the great American novel if you can’t put it on paper in a way anyone understands?

            Oh.. and Brain development? Dont’ get me started. I’m the big thorn in our district about wanting to teach Geometry in the 8th grade. I’m completely against it because the kind of logical reasoning required for a proof or other major ideas in Geometry is a late developing on in most brains. Heck the last research I saw showed that Cause/Effect did not finish maturing in a typical brain until age 20. And we’re going to have 12 year olds working it? Yeah… No.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to A Teacher says:

              Generally the gifted kids could handle it (AP, whatnot) especially if you scale back proofs, but I remember struggling through it in 9th grade myself because I couldn’t seem to grasp logical connections there.

              I’m a software engineer. The sort of thinking that is involved in geometry proofs? I not only do for a living, I do for a living because I found I am very, very, very good at it.

              But in 9th grade? I almost failed the first semester of geometry because it took me three months to get my brain to work out what the heck was going on with proofs. I could understand each step, but not how to do it myself. (I had a bit of an epiphany the last week of the semester and it all sort of clicked.).

              Now, that sort of thinking is my job and I find myself often confused as to why this is so hard to some people (including my peers, when I look at their designs and think ‘There’s a far simpler and better way to do that, that seems convoluted, did you really think this out?’).

              The three R’s are important, but you gotta understand the context of the Texas School Board and the movement behind it — all they want to teach is the three R’s. Not even literature, just ‘reading’. Not thoughtful writing, analytical writing, or researching — just ‘writing’. Not the actual guts of math, but ‘long division’ and ‘algebra’.

              In short, they want to gut context, nuance, and depth in favor of constant repetition. Writing would turn into nothing but grammer lessons, with no instruction on how to actually write (you know, convey information. Convince, research, record — nothing but grammer). Math would be endless work solving mechanical problems, but no application, no theory, nothing but the equvilant of multiplication tables for 12 years.

              Reading? “Spelling and vocabulary”. That’s it.

              Educators talking about fundamentals and basics are different than the general “three rs” crowd of laymen — what THEY want is education like they remember of grade school in the 40s and 50s.Report

              • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

                Yeah. And those are poison to the learning disabled. Imagine spending YEARS trying to write in cursive (and never learning it), while outside of school you were doing things that generally required college. Except without the fancy terminology, because you were stuck in the “stupid program”.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Stillwater says:

      I suggest looking at school boards. Texas is particularly informative in this regard.

      School boards are not, by and large, run by educators (by either training, education, or experience). Not locally, not at the state level. They do love to hire expensive consultants to prepare reports, who are often quite good at the job of charging 250,000 dollars to tell you what you want to hear.

      Texas, for instance, has been trying to remove critical thinking from the curriculm (rationale: It was taught in 5th grade, why do we need to keep teaching it?). The School Board has a number of members rather notorious for their love of the “Three R’s” and their firm belief that, apparently, education should consist of rote work, memorization, and graphic sentences. (Because, you know, it worked for them in 1955).

      That’s not getting into Texas’ notoriously heavy hand on school book content, history, etc. Just that the top-level, “must follow” basic educational pattern is set by a bunch of people who have never taught, never taken a class on education or child learning, and would stare at you slack-jawed before telling you you were wrong if you pointed out that teaching 8 year olds what they just suggested is a waste of time because 8 year old brains do NOT work that way.

      Jaybird’s example of school is amusing, but does not track either my experience when I was in school (lo these many decades ago) nor any of the classes my son takes, nor the ones my wife teaches. It does sorta describe a history class one of the ‘coaches’ taught, but they made him update his methods or get fired.

      They DO break the day up into various classes, I will admit that. I suppose you could do English all day Mondays, Math on Tuesdays, etc — but that pesky brain development thing says you won’t get much out of it.

      Growing brains are not wired with lengthy attention spans. You can train the little suckers to try, but they don’t actually retain after a certain amount. It grows as they age, but even two hours a topic would be seriously stretching your average 16 or 17 year old’s ability to process and retain.

      OTOH, they really did ditch rote memorization and strict grammer rules and repitition years and years ago, despite the state board really trying to get it back, and focused on far better methods of teaching things like mathematics and writing. Which is why you’ve seen a nice growth in high schools offering dual credit classes, as calculus has gone from being a rare few in a high school to having a large percentage take at least the equivilant of Cal I (and often Cal II) in high school.Report

      • Murali in reply to Morat20 says:

        graphic sentences? As in sentences filled with sex and violence?Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Murali says:

          lol. Nice catch 🙂 Graphic. Diagramming sentences. Rather pointless way to teach English grammer, given English grammer rarely plays by the rules.

          I suspect everyone gets indoctrinated into it in third grade or something, but I’ve yet to hear from any English teacher who wants to do more than skim it the once.Report

  4. Scott Fields says:

    On the other hand, it’s equally hard to believe that the response on the other side of the aisle will not be to simply double down on Head Start funding requests.

    Tod –
    You are typically fair minded, so this statement has caught me somewhat off-guard with it’s knee-jerk false equivalence. Can you cite an example of a liberal or moderately conservative pol treating Head Start as a sacred cow? You’d need an example of someone championing the program called “Head Start” and not it’s “mission of better preparing at-risk children to succeed in school”, because you are claiming the left would double down on the program in the face of evidence that the program and it’s mission were at odds.
    I’m sure you can find examples of pols questioning the legitimacy of the report’s findings (as Kazzy and Mike Dwyer do above) or defending the government’s role in supporting at-risk students and using Head Start as a short-hand for that public service. But, in absence of evidence to the contrary, I’d suspect “the other side of the aisle” would be empirical and favor the ends over the means.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Scott Fields says:

      I’d agree with this. I suspect that if you came up with a plan to spend that money in a way that you feel would be more effective in educating poor kids, you’d attract only a moderate level of pushback. The problem comes when you get people saying that Head Start clearly doesn’t work, so we can cut our spending on it and instead cut the estate tax.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Scott Fields says:


      Good comment. I have several responses to this, which I’ll go through in no particular order.

      1. I have to confess I would be taking this criticism to heart more if I weren’t already being banged on the head upthread for calling for non-HS methods to accomplish HS’s goals.

      2. I’m not sure that I am claiming equivalence of any kind, false or otherwise. But I do acknowledge that we seem to be in the middle of a period of time where beating the other guy too often takes precedence over getting the job done. And yes, I think the blame for that falls clearly on one party’s shoulders (for all the reasons I’ve written about extensively over the past few months). But it’s still there, and it’s growing.

      3. I *am* worried that no one from the Dems is going to rush in to say that one of the programs its spent the past 40 year pointing to as being necessary doesn’t actually do what it’s intended to do. I think that the timing of the report’s release underscores this. If it turns out I’m wrong, then my bad (which would of course be good).

      4. We’re really terrible in this country (maybe everywhere? dunno) about paying attention to the plight of the severely underprivileged and at-risk. I’ve noticed over the years that collectively, we like to prop up a policy solution so that we can go back to pretending the problem doesn’t exist. (Or perhaps more accurately, so that we can tell ourselves it’s being handled by someone else.) A pattern that I see all the time is that when an in-place policy to help the underprivileged doesn’t achieve results, one side says, “See? I told you those people are just lazy!” and then advocates that we never, ever spend money helping people again; and the other side finds complicated arguments to explain how if you look at the data in just the right way all the problems with the policy go away. I see a lot – a LOT – of this in how we deal with adults with physical, mental and developmental disabilities. All of which is a long-winded way of saying I might be jaded.Report

      • M.A. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        1. I have to confess I would be taking this criticism to heart more if I weren’t already being banged on the head upthread for calling for non-HS methods to accomplish HS’s goals.

        You’re not being banged on the head for calling for non-Head Start methods to accomplish Head Start’s goals.

        You’re “being banged on the head” for credulously taking the word of a report’s executive summary, not looking at the gaping holes in the report’s methodology and logic, not considering at least one glaringly obvious alternative explanation (that it’s not Head Start causing the problem, but the structure the kids move into as soon as Head Start is “finished”) and declaring Head Start to be completely unworkable on the basis of some seriously flawed science.

        Big difference.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to M.A. says:

          MA, I’m not seeing the difference. Your more fine-grained analysis of the data is consistent with everything Tod’s said on the issue, it seems to me.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

          With all due respect, MA, I think you are confusing “Head Start” with “early education.”

          The idea behind Head Start is that with special attention being paid to kids during formative pre-school years, you should be able to then plug them into the current public schools system and get significantly better results throughout their K-12 experience. This 12 year report refutes that idea.

          That doesn’t mean that early education is useless, or should not be something we insist upon having it. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t take a look at how we educate kids once they hit K-12. Nor does it mean that the idea you floated – that you have different levels for different kids to avoid boredom – isn’t a good one. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t spend more money. All it means is that the theory that if you focus on kids for a couple of years, you can dump them in public schools and get better results for 18 years turns out to not be correct.

          To riff off of greginak’s example above:

          Let’s say you hire a personal trainer that assured you if you exercised and ate as he instructed for two years, then you could go back to live the lifestyle your friends did and in 18 years you’d be in much better shape than they were. So you hire the guy, you get great results, and after two years you are in much, much better shape than your peers. After four years of living the same lifestyle as your peers, however, you’re exactly wherever they are.

          Is that an indictment of exercise and eating right? Is that proof that you shouldn’t even try to live a healthy lifestyle, or that your peers should be healthier? No, it simply means that the theory that training for two years and then going back to a sedentary lifestyle would provides decades of great results wasn’t correct, and you need to adjust.Report

          • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            But that’s not an indictment of the personal trainer, though. Which is what a lot of right-leaning people are going to take this report as. The personal trainer did his job. It’s not the personal trainer’s fault he didn’t follow up with you when you were at another gym under another personal trainer.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

              No, it’s not an indictment of the personal trainer. It’s simply saying that the theory we had in place – that we’d just do this one thing for two years, and nothing else would be needed – turned out to not be correct.

              Again, like MA, I think you’re confusing Head Start with early education. Head Start was created with the assumption nothing else would be required to get significantly better results. The report doesn’t show that early education is bad (quite the opposite); the report shows that thinking that you can get much better results by using that early education in the exact same k-12 model over time isn’t accurate.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Honestly, that may have been the original assumption back in 1965, but I’m sure if you talked to anybody involved in Head Start in the last couple of decades, they’d never say, “oh yeah, send a kid from Camden or Appalachia to Head Start for a couple of years and he or she will be good to go once they’re back in their underfunded public school.”Report

              • M.A. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                No, it’s you who has a horrible understanding of Head Start.

                Head Start was originally proposed as a short summer program to try to bring kids in poverty conditions up to the standard needed for kindergarten. They quickly discovered it didn’t work well in just 6-8 weeks as a mere catch-up experience (nothing really can!), so they expanded it to a year-round program.

                It was NEVER supposed to be the end-all and be-all of educational changes to the system. What it does, get kids ready for kindergarten and first grade, it does EXCEPTIONALLY WELL.

                Indictments claiming that it doesn’t somehow rocket kids to the top of the charts throughout their entire school career and therefore “fails” are just nonsense. It does what it does, with great success. The next step is to fix what’s wrong elsewhere in the system.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

                Studies don’t show that it “doesn’t somehow rocket kids to the top of the charts throughout their entire school career;” it shows that it has no impact at all. As in, kids from similar backgrounds that don’t go through HS don’t do any better than those that do.

                Now, if you want to pull out the all-caps to say that we should spend $9k a year on a program that doesn’t improve the long-term position of these kids, fine – we can agree to disagree. Just know going in that $9k/kid the cost of getting from Point A to Point A, and that it’s money that can’t go elsewhere.Report

              • A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

                It also raises the question:

                Is it worth $8 billion a year to help kids be ready for Kindergarten when over all they’ll all be at the same place in 4 years anyway?

                Also, and I’m sure I’ll say this in other comments to this thread, the result what teachers add to the classroom in an effort to get ALL of their kids to the same page appears to be down played. I know at the High School level I’m charged to get everyone through a year’s worth of math. If I’ve got some kids that are ahead of where I’m assigned to be, I’ll do my best to keep them engaged but I don’t have the resources, not $9,000/ year/ kid, to let them go further than what I do have time to plan and prepare.

                So maybe part of why these leaps are wiped out is that teachers, those unionized demons, are actually working their tails off to catch the rest of their classes up.Report

              • Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

                So maybe part of why these leaps are wiped out is that teachers, those unionized demons, are actually working their tails off to catch the rest of their classes up.

                As M.A has written above, maybe they shouldn’t be doing so. It seems that these kids who are ahead could be placed in classes where they could get even further ahead. Instead they seem to be spending a lot of time holding them back out of some mistaken egalitarian sentiment.Report

              • A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

                Yes… and no.

                If you think of K-12 education as a road trip from Boston to LA, let’s say Kindergarten is the drive to to the Boston Burbs and first grade gets you, say, to the Mass. Border.

                I can see value in saying “look these kids are head on the road, let’s just let them keep driving”. But on the other hand, if you’ve got a kid in 1st grade who’s still in downtown Boston by the time everyone else is crossing the state line you’ve got a problem. The real challenge that we get now in the classroom is to get every kid down the road as much as we can as soon as we can, and to be sure that every kid is at the state line at the end of 1st grade.

                I think what we’re finding isn’t so much a failure to accelerate the “ahead kids” as much as a testiment to how hard teachers work to help those behind catch up to them, regardless if they were in HS or not.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Murali says:

                Turn it round and go the other way, from LA to Boston.

                Head Start kids are those kids whose family missed the first bus. It gets them on a bus to catch up so that when they reach the California/Arizona border, they can get on the same bus as the other kids.

                The problem that we’re seeing is not that Head Start didn’t get them there, it’s that the new combined bus takes a “Left turn at Albuquerque.

                You’ve hit the nail on the head with this statement:
                I think what we’re finding isn’t so much a failure to accelerate the “ahead kids” as much as a testiment to how hard teachers work to help those behind catch up to them, regardless if they were in HS or not.

                And absolutely, this shouldn’t be the case. One of the better ideas from the Bush days (BPFA syndrome there I suppose) was the What Works Clearing House. It takes actual research on classroom issues and works to provide focused recommendations on how educators can actually address the system.

                One of the things when looking at behavioral issues is that social promotion tends to hinder whole classes. Having to achieve a “pass rate” of some percentage means that teachers simply won’t have the time to let the kids who are advanced work on more advanced topics; they’re already passing the test, and that’s all that matters. To keep a job, to keep the school from falling into “failing school” status, to not have funding threatened, teacher time is mandated from on high to focus on those kids who didn’t pass the test in the last round.

                It’s like holding the 100 meter race, but first tying bungie cords connecting each competitor by the waist. The slower runners are going to hold everyone else back, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got Usain Bolt in the lead or not.

                Head Start isn’t the problem. It’s actually a very effective program. The problem comes later and needs fixing at that level rather than demonizing programs that do exactly what they promise and do it well.Report

              • A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

                But if the full goal of education is “An educated citzenry” with an eye towards the final “product” at High School graduation, why spend the money to get kids caught up for 1st grade if by the time they reach 3rd there is ~no appreciable difference~?

                The studies show pretty conclusively that kids who were not in HS are at the exact same place as those who were in HS by the time they leave elementary school. If we assume that the end point of getting out of elementary school at point X is a good end goal for that round of education, then clearly the overall goal of education can be met.

                I happily concede that HS does what it purports to do: It gets kids ready to be at grade level for Kindergarten and 1st grade.

                Now I think it’s fair to question if that goal is a worth while goal or not given that in a few years the benefit of having reached that goal appears to vanish.Report

              • Murali in reply to Murali says:

                @A Teacher:

                If it in fact vanishes because of problems with the K-12 system and not because Head Start is ineffective, then while scrapping head start will save money, it is not a reform that improves the lot of the worst off. If the school system basically erases the initial advantage given by head start, the solution is not to erase headstart, but to have an accellerated track for smart students (or more ccurately, those who are already ahead) from the very beginning.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            “The idea behind Head Start is that with special attention being paid to kids during formative pre-school years, you should be able to then plug them into the current public schools system and get significantly better results throughout their K-12 experience.”

            Really? That’s what they thought? Ugh.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think it actually makes sense, from the time and perspective of the 60s.

              Think of all those East-Coast Ivy League kids that went to fancy and expensive pre-schools that prepared kids academically. How could they not be a leg ahead of everyone else by kindergarten; for years all the other kids would be struggling just to keep up. A head start would give them the exact same advantage of those richer kids, and in a few decades we’ll see poorer-neighborhood schools perform similarly to wealthy-neighborhood schools.

              I can see how I would have bought into this – indeed, I HAVE bought into this until this report.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Personally, I’m opposed to the idea that you can plug people into a priori systems and the intended results just get spit out. That’s one reason I’m not a (capital L) Libertarian, actually. But it’s also one reason I’m inclined towards (little L) libertarianism as an ethos.

                I’m also very suspicious of the idea that speeding up kids learning curve is a good thing. I tend to think that idea is confused on a bunch of levels.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Ah… the “angle theory”.

                A 1-degree shift in an angle seems small, perhaps meaningless at the start. But extent the rays of that angle out a mile and suddenly the gap is huge. Thus, even a 1-degree shift at the start can have huge ramifications down the road.

                Which is true… presuming that ray stays straight. The reality is it is going to change direction a multitude of times for a multitude of reasons.Report

            • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

              No, that’s not right, and anyone who says so doesn’t know what they are talking about.

              See my commentary to Tod below. Head Start was originally designed as a 6-8 week summer school “catch up” program, which was expanded to year-round when it was shown to need more time. Its entire purpose is and has always been, from original proposal until today, to bring disadvantaged kids up to parity level on entering kindergarten. And it does so astonishingly well.Report

          • Scott Fields in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Is it a fair characterization to say the intent of Head Start is two years up front and then significantly better results than their peers throughout their K-12 experience?

            My understanding is the problem Head Start is designed to address is at-risk children performing well BEHIND their peers in K-12 because they start in a hole in regards to social development, physical health or general well-being. Isn’t it more accurate to say the intent of Head Start is two years up front and then significantly better results for these students throughout their K-12 experience than they would see in the absence of Head Start?Report

          • Lyle in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Actually the same sort of thing happened to my sister in the 1960s a new initiative would be implemented but then the idea would not be followed up in later grades because the different levels of schools did not talk or communicate with each other (this was the middle schools and the high school, in that district at the time there was just one high school). So many of the initiatives would fail because they were not followed up on in later grades. So the Head Start story is typical that the various parts of the educational establishment have built better silos than elsewhere in our society.Report

      • Scott Fields in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Thanks, Tod, for the thoughtful response. I don’t know that we disagree (we are both “getting the job done types) and it’s damn hard not to be jaded.

        The dynamic you describe in #4 is real and pernicious. What I am coming to understand is the importance of confronting this dynamic with a crystal clear differentiation between “the ends” (the objective of a government policy) and “the means” (the government policy itself). As you note, the pattern with poor results is to have one side attacking the ends as invalid (“those people are lazy – don’t even try”) with the other side defending the validity of the means (“look at the data in the right way – you’re wrong about the policy”). The way to break that pattern, I believe, is to keep the points separate – the ends are valid or they are not, the means result in the outcomes we desire or they don’t. One question is a value judgement and the other is analytical.

        As you’ve written over time, the two “sides” do not approach values vs. analysis in the same way. The distinction is important.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        3. I *am* worried that no one from the Dems is going to rush in to say that one of the programs its spent the past 40 year pointing to as being necessary doesn’t actually do what it’s intended to do. I think that the timing of the report’s release underscores this. If it turns out I’m wrong, then my bad (which would of course be good).

        Given what passes for Democrats in politics today (who would likely have been Republicans a generation ago) don’t be so sure. And as to intention . . . they had to write something down as a goal, but I bet if you went back in time and actually asked the framers of Headstart, they’d probably acknowledge they never really expect the effects to last through highschool. Lot’s of legislation written in the late 60’s and early 70’s was wildly aspirational and flowery in its language (e.g the Endangered Species Act) and has been shown in practice to be less effective then one might think from reading it. That doesn’t always mean we need to trash the program and start over though.Report

  5. Damon says:

    “Head Start has become a sacred cow because it performs two functions: It inspires us to acknowledge that we can do better for those among us who struggle, and it allows us the lazy comfort of saying that we’ve already got that covered, so there’s no need for us to bother ourselves with it any longer. Better for everyone that we embrace the first and abandon the second. It’s time to consider killing the cow.”

    Actually, it’s at least 3 functions: It’s a nice fat bureaucracy that ensures there are some jobs to spread around the country.Report

  6. Mike Schilling says:

    Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation


  7. Angela says:

    Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has been discussing the link between lead exposure in early childhood and later crime statistics. Also, lower IQ and poorer school performance.
    I *really* don’t want the Head Start money to go to a tax cut or similar, but I could support using the $8 billion for serious lead abatement.

    My very limited exposure to Head Start (brief tutoring stints in High School during the ’70s): there were lots of very dedicated and well-intentioned people. And lots of money was spent paying adults rather than teaching kids. At least as it worked in my neighbor hood (north side of Chicago), there was a lot of effort to also hire the parents and try to get them integrated into the schooling system. The hope was to teach both the kids and the moms so that when the kids transitioned to grammar school, the moms would support the academics better (attendance, homework time, etc). I think it diluted the focus of Head Start, at least as it was done at that time and place.Report

  8. zic says:

    I hope everyone’s heard the This American Life piece on how Oklahoma came have the best publicly funded pre-school in the country. It’s the second sound-clip down. And worth the listen.

    Kazzy, up thread, got to what I’d say is the heart of the matter — boredom. This may matter more then we realize, because bored kids don’t develop good study habits; there’s no need.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to zic says:

      I haven’t heard this yet, thanks.

      Interesting side note: My kids went to a magnate school in Portland with an accelerated program that was developed exactly for exactly this reason. A few years ago Portland Public Schools was threatened with a lawsuit, since an accelerated program by definition provided unequal education. The school board, which was never thrilled with idea of an accelerated program to begin with, caved and a compromise was reached with those that had concerns about the school.

      The school still exists, but it is far less accelerated than before. And now instead of relying on teacher recommendations and testing for admittance, kids are chosen at random by lottery. Before, kids rarely left the program. Now, kids regularly drop out in all grades due to grades, unhappiness, etc.; they are replaced by other kids in a random lottery.

      I’m not convinced that there’s a political party that supports making things better in public schools. I’m sure there’s a party that supports making things better for *private* schools; and I’m sure there’s a party that supports making things *equal* in public schools. But better in public schools? I’m not so sure.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I’m not convinced that there’s a political party that supports making things better in public schools. I’m sure there’s a party that supports making things better for *private* schools; and I’m sure there’s a party that supports making things *equal* in public schools. But better in public schools? I’m not so sure.

        Ouch. This is…I hope you are wrong, but I fear you are not.


        My kids went to a magnate school

        Now I am picturing little kids with monocles and such. I didn’t realize y’all were so ritzy in Portland! 🙂Report

      • zic in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Harrison Bergeron and Diana Moon Glampers.

        Next thing you know, we’ll be clangers in the smart kids ears every 30 sec.

        I actually get pretty peeved that we don’t accelerate kids where they can accelerate, that we make those that mastered sit through several weeks or even months of refresher for those who only sorta got it.

        A learning disability is considered a 30-point difference (or was, 10-15 years ago when I dealt with this things). Both my kids where at the high end (90+ percentile) in math science, both on off the charts in verbal skills, but on the very low end (30- percentile) in writing/spelling skills. So I fought hard for them; not just to get remedial help for their dyslexic spelling/sequencing problems, but for gifted/talented resources for their verbal, their math, and their science abilities. I pointed out the laws at the time — 30 point difference and deviation from median, and that their gaps existed and deviated in both directions. The law didn’t say anything about the direction of the deviation. (But hey, I was looking at kids with 70 point deviations just within the language arts learning clusters.)

        I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be finished with that phase of life, even if it does mean I’ve gotten old in the process.Report

        • A Teacher in reply to zic says:

          I’ll say that part of the educational philosophy is that having 10 really smart kids in an average class is that those 10 will help raise up the other 20 with their natural leadership.

          The problem is that it is really really hard to motivate all 10 of those top kids to enage their classmates in positive peer interactions and to get the other 20 to accept that kind of help/ support/ leadership.Report

          • Kim in reply to A Teacher says:

            “natural leadership” yeahright. teaching is an art, and it’s not something that always comes easily I was a bright kid, but a really poor teacher.Report

            • A Teacher in reply to Kim says:

              It’s also not helped by the fact that “Tracking” was done away with because in some areas it was used to keep minorities from being prepared for college.

              Used correctly it established a 4 year plan for high school students based on their ability and prior knowledge coming into the school. It looked at what they were supposed to learn, how much they could probably learn, and then laid out a 4 year plan to get them through.

              Ideally it also provided break points where a student could shift between tracks so that if after their 9th grade year it seemed like they could handle a faster pace they could shift between tracks. In some cases this might put them in a class as an “older kid” then some classmates but usually not by more than a year.

              It also allowed those students who could really move to actually MOVE through the material.

              When abused, however, it could be used to take minority students and ensure they never got far enough in any curriculum area to be college ready and thus limit them to non-college-based futures.

              It was further hampered by the desire for EVERY parent to have their kid have the word “Honors” next to a course name so that they’d feel they had a smart kid.Report

              • Kim in reply to A Teacher says:

                our “tracking” was done away with by making history, and only history, untracked.
                We had plenty of kids double up and get into the honors classes (at least in math).Report

              • Morat20 in reply to A Teacher says:

                Tracking wasn’t done away with, at least nowhere around here. They don’t call it that — they have the standard classes, then the AP, honors, or dual-credit versions. They also have remedial setups (we even have a new extra period for students who wish to take more electives or need extra help).

                It is, in effect, tracking — but the only labels are applied to the kids zipping ahead. And they’re a massive discipline and motivation problem if you leave them untracked. (Seriously, they sleep through class, get in trouble, disrupt class, annoy other students — it’s an unneeded problem).

                Parents pushing their kids into classes they weren’t ready for or capable of is, of course, always going to be a problem.Report

              • Kim in reply to Morat20 says:

                tracking is done away with, generally, by not having “the gifted children” but by letting kids be gifted each in tehir own way, and giving them the right classes for it.Report

          • zic in reply to A Teacher says:

            I almost mentioned the benefits of more advanced students helping those who struggle; teaching something helps you comprehend your own weaknesses in a topic, reinforces the things you’ve mastered. Thank you.

            I don’t much like the way tracking got used to discriminate against the less-then-stellar students.

            But I also don’t like the way stellar students get held back.

            There must be a better way, a way that fosters individual potential.Report

            • Kim in reply to zic says:

              It does… but! I had a lot of growing up to do before I could get to the point of being an even tolerable teacher — and to expect a teacher to actively work against what my parents were drilling into my head, might be a bit much.
              At least in America.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to A Teacher says:

            Mainstreaming like that never really worked out in practice, that’s why they got rid of it.

            It might have worked, in perfect classrooms or setups, but large scale it was an utter failure. Similar to open-concept and a lot of other ideas that worked if you had a total-buyin from educators, the exact right mix of (generally) top tier teachers and a lot more attention per-kid than Ye Olde Average School can afford.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    Curiously, a report on the OPRE report is one of the assigned readings for today for my research methods class (part of their first set of readings, the other part being about the Nate Silver controversy). It’s my way of persuading young political scientists of–mostly–a distinctly non-scientific mindset that knowing how to do quality research really does matter.

    HeadStart has long been one of my bugaboos because there has been such fierce resistance to real assessment of it, via a controlled study (which is what was finally–finally–done in the study detailed in the OPRE report). The standard objection was that it would be harmful to deny some kids the opportunity to attend Head Start, just so we could compare them with those who did–a stupid objection since it assumes the accuracy of the hypothesis that is to be tested.

    It reminds me of the old story of a surgeon who was giving a lecture about a new live saving surgical technique he’d developed. A voice from the audience asked, “did you test it by randomly assigning some patients to the new technique and some to the traditional treatment?” “Of course not,” the surgeon bristled, “that would have consigned half my patients to death!” The voice piped up again, “Which half?”

    Of course with Head Start there are places where there are more qualified children applying for admission than there are seats, so some were going to be left out anyway. So the resistance to studying it looks suspiciously like plain ol’ fear of being evaluated because you might be found wanting.

    [Full disclosure: One of my daughters attended Head Start for a year. She loved it. It’s not a bad program; it just doesn’t accomplish its stated goals, and it doesn’t do so at a relatively high cost.]Report

    • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

      It’s not a bad program; it just doesn’t accomplish its stated goals

      It accomplishes the stated goals very well, of lifting impoverished kids up to get them ready for kindergarten.

      That liars constantly misstate the goals is no indictment of the program.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to M.A. says:

        Dude, I love having you here, but you need to back off from calling people here liars.

        Seriously; not joking right now.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

        The differences shown between the test and the control groups are small and disappear by the end of first grade. That indicates that the control group is as well prepared, if not for kindergarten itself, then at least for second grade. Preparing kids for kindergarten with an effect that disappears by the end of the next school year is the very definition of not creating any lasting benefit, and a lasting benefit is in fact one of

        By the way, I’m willing to stand by everything I write here with my real name, so to be insulted by a rabid ideologue hiding behind a pseudonym makes me laugh.Report

      • A Teacher in reply to M.A. says:

        Then it’s stated goal is kinda useless.

        What’s the ~point~ of having kids “more ready” for Kindergarten if over the next few years the “less ready” kids do just as well as the “more ready” ones?

        I can teach the daylights out of the Pythagorean Theorem, and even have kids do very well on a test on the Theorem, but it’s all pretty useless if a few weeks later they can’t figure out how to find the diagonal in a rectangle using it. I can pat myself on the back for my high test score but at the end of the day that “goal” was kinda useless compared to the wider goal of “learn and retain”.

        So if the stated goal of Head Start was simply Kindergarten readiness, then the goal itself needs to be re-evaluated given that the goal doesn’t achieve much on its own.Report

  10. Annelid Gustator says:

    “Nate Silver controversy”


  11. Annelid Gustator says:

    Oh, I see-I would call that a nontroversy.Report

  12. Roger says:

    Last month Rose did a post on our dysfunctional/exploitative college system and how ill prepared many high school kids are to enter this world. This month Tod reveals the inadequacy of Head Start, and once again portrays the troubles with primary education.

    Our education paradigm is broken. We spend more than we should to get less than we could.

    The common denominator in all these issues is a top down master planning process. We are trying to socially engineer the education of our citizens. There is another alternative. I suggest we explore it.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

      That would be, just to be clear… mass subsidization of poor & likely middle-class families to enroll their kids in a variety of private educational ventures, paid for by the phased liquidation of the public schools system? Or not – something else? Or do you mean to say there are many other alternatives?Report

      • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Hi Michael,

        I would suggest systems which foster choice and responsibility for parents and which foster freedom, local competition and market incentives for educators.

        International studies* reveal we could get substantially better results on pretty much every dimension for substantially less money. I suspect the teachers would benefit every bit as much as the students, the parents and society.


        • Michael Drew in reply to Roger says:

          Long term, you think there should be a system of schools in the U.S. run by the government that serves as the presumptive backstop for all students whose caregivers don’t find better/alternate arrangements for them in the private ed market: yes or no, Roger?Report

          • Roger in reply to Michael Drew says:

            No. No more than I think there should be government run food outlets.

            As a society we need to ensure that all children receive a capable education. That entails standards and minimums, just as we have standards and minimums for food or restaurant quality. It does not entail top down master planned food delivery. Nor does it require local top down master planned food delivery.

            If you are asking whether I support the “right” of a parent to refuse to provide a good education to a child, I believe my answer is NO. If you are asking whether the govnment, federal, state or local is the delivery mechanism for that requirement, my answer is also NO.Report

  13. James Hanley says:

    The common denominator in all these issues is a top down master planning process. We are trying to socially engineer the education of our citizens. There is another alternative. I suggest we explore it.

    Hallelujah. And in response to Michael Drew, I would note that more bottom up approaches, allowing lots of experimentation, is different than saying “we should try educational method X,” whether it be private school vouchers or that unknown something else. It means some places would try vouchers, some places would try something else, and others would try a variety of other something elses.

    The problem with the top down approach is it invests too much in a single approach whose value is as yet unproved, and creates such a large constituency for that single approach that their resistance to really carefully evaluating it has great political force. It’s often wise to let the states (and municipalities) be actual laboratories. Yes, some will do an absolutely suck-ass job, engaging in actual educational malpractice, but the current alternative–our current set of policies–is doing educational malpractice on a national scale.

    My daughter’s high school, for example, was in the state’s bottom 5% for standardized test scores. To avoid being punished by the state they have to show improvement, but the standard they have to meet is one set by the state based on No Child Left Behind, and it’s all about standardized test scores. So they are consciously and intentionally putting a huge effort into learning to take standardized tests. My daughter’s a sophomore, and today she’s taking what is I think her 4th or 5th practice ACT. And they spend a great deal of time prepping for each of these. And their teachers specifically tell them, “don’t think” while you’re taking the test, because it will slow you down.

    If this was driven by local policy, I’m confident I could muster enough public support to force change (it’s a small community). If it was a state-level policy it would be harder, but I’d know where the efforts could be most effectively targeted. But it’s ultimately being driven by a national level policy that dictates whether my state’s schools get any federal funds, so nobody at the state or national levels dares to buck it. I hate what my daughter’s school is doing, but I don’t blame the principal or superintendent–they aren’t in control of the system that is forcing them to take actions detrimental to my kid’s education.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

      I worry that this approach would create a greater urban vs. rural educational disparity over time.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It could. But it’s a value choice as to whether that’s worse than having both urban and rural suck balls.Report

      • Roger in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Why? What would you suggest institutionally to avoid this from occurring?Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to Roger says:


          For one thing, I worry that science curriculum would be gutted. There are a lot or rural areas in Oregon where, if it were up to them, wouldn’t teach biology for all the obvious reasons.

          A while ago we we had a local conservative magnate & newspaper publisher named Bob Pamplin make a public push to eliminate anything from public education that people didn’t need for basic jobs (or sports). He wanted to eliminate not just music, theatre and art, but also literature, any writing other than the most basic ability to communicate, most science classes, calculus and trig. It obviously went nowhere, but in the conservative rural areas of Oregon it was largely treated as good old fashioned common sense.

          Not to pick on the lowest common denominator, but what if the school board in Akins’ district in Missouri decided that health classes needed to teach kids that if a woman was raped she couldn’t get pregnant?

          What would you suggest institutionally to avoid this from occurring?

          I dunno. I’m not entirely comfortable with a top-down system either, for all the obvious reasons. I might be open to national baseline standards, but leave the method of achieving them up to local districts. Maybe.Report

          • Kim in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I’d hope we wouldn’t leave it up to Wyden and the Senate.
            But that’s what we appeared to do with sex ed… so…Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            We don’t have a top-down system. We have a mix, and the “top” is the state government, not the feds.

            Federal government’s involvement in education is minimal. School lunches? Sure. Curriculm? Nothing.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Morat20 says:

              They shut you down if your kids don’t do X on certain test too many years in a row. But before 2001, what you say was largely true.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:


              The Fed also has minimum say in drinking age policies. The age is set state by state. But you lose road funding money if you don’t set it at 21 or higher. If a state wants to pay for all its road repairs itself, it’s free to lower the drinking age.

              Similar with NCLB. While you’re right that the Feds don’t set specific outcome standards and don’t set curriculum or methods, they do say states must demonstrate improvement on standardized tests or they will lose their funding. But standardized tests of the sort where the results are most readily demonstrable, and that you can most readily do a job of teaching to, are crap for evaluating whether students actually learn. So by a process of top down extortion to meet an ill-chosen standard, indeed the Feds are determining what happens in schools.

              Oh, they’re not determining what happens in the “good” schools–the ones where the kids can all easily do the test because they’re upper middle class and have well educated parents who taught them to read prior to entering kindergarten and ride them to do their homework and get good grades so they can get into a good college. Those schools can keep on doing what they’ve always done and their kids will do well on the standardized tests–they could probably devote half their days to meditation and their kids would still pass the test.

              Where the Fed is determining what schools do is in the not so good and poor schools where kids’ parents aren’t doing the groundwork. And what they’re doing in those schools is teaching kids to pass a college entrance exam, but emphatically not preparing them for college.

              Just another policy that fucks over the poor, affects the well-off not at all, and yet perversely is supported by a surprising number of liberals because they approve of its goals and ignore its actual effects. (To be fair, too damn many conservatives approve of it, too, ultimately because of the same logic, desiring a particular goal and ignoring actual effects.)Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Um, I don’t know of any liberals that heavily support the standardized testing regime. Neoliberals and centrists? Sure. But, every liberal and hippie I know hates standardized tests for a variety of reasons.

                Also, from friends in some states, the “overpreperation” for those tests is just as bad in ‘good’ schools as in ‘bad’ schools because God forbid they lose their A-rating. Now, this means different things for the kids in those schools than the kids in the D and F schools, but it’s not as if they get off scot free either.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Liberals don’t necessarily support this particular regime, but they are the ones who have strongly supported an extensive federal role in K-12 education, and this is the product of it. Conservatives generally opposed such a role, until the GWB administration jumped on the accountability bandwagon and sponsored NCLB. (It was a strange turnaround for the GOP.)

                In the House, 95% of Democrats voted for it, and 85% of Republicans. In the Senate, 96% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans supported it.

                The Left may regret what its efforts have brought to pass, but their side of the aisle supported the act even more strongly than the other side of the aisle did.Report

          • Roger in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Yeah, that might mitigate the issue.

            I might also look internationally for best practices at addressing these problems.

            Just spitballing, I would see if any places have a recommended comprehensive curricula which allows parents to let their kids opt out of certain controversial classes but which notes this in the child’s transcript. Again, just brainstorming here.

            A lot of the problem is that today curricula is a divisive political football which has been infiltrated by politics and ideology. Politics is a zero sum, win lose game and the goal isn’t necessarily to educate kids, it is to get your team elected. Open markets in education would reduce, though not eliminate, this tendency. An education franchise which refused to at least offer a course on evolution would harm its brand. Employers and colleges can and should discriminate against losing brands. Parents would be reluctant to take their kids to franchises that had bad brands.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            That would be a magnate school.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      I don’t think anyone is against some variation on the mix of bottom-up approaches and top-down standards that has characterized American education for years and years. I don’t think you’ll get any consensus to completely strike either national or state standards in curriculum or even performance (high stakes being something else entirely), but you will be able to sustain a consensus against NCLB. If Roger’s proposal is to repeal the standards given in NCLB, whether maintaining the funding increases or scaling them back, do you think he’d get anything but loud agreement essentially across the political spectrum (except maybe from loyalists of the particular administation who put it into place)?

      The fact is, what you describe was basically what we did until 2001. We don’t traditionally have a top-down education system in this country, unless you count local government running schools under some state-level guidelines top-down (which you may, but that indicates [what I would call] relatively radical reforms). Are you saying that the traditional 20th-century American model, where bottom-up mixed with top-down much in the way you call for was too top-down? Then what should take its place?

      If ditching NCLB is what Roger is putting on the table, great, but that’s not very interesting, because practically no one would object. But it’s not. He’s talking about something much more radical that he doesn’t actually want to spell out. You, though, are basically talking about pre-2001 American education as far as I can tell. That would be good; I’d like to go back to that too.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I can’t tell from your argument whether you think the 20th century was characterized by a top-down approach or a non-top-down approach. You seem to say both, so I don’t really know how to respond.

        But I’d say most of the 20th century was not top down. That only began in the late ’60s, when we first started handing out federal funding for local schools, and it came with the stipulation that recipient schools had to be integrated. But it said nothing about national educational standards. That’s something that grew over time and really only became prominent in the last decade of the century. I don’t think there’s much evidence that it has made things better.

        As to NCLB, if there’s no damned support for it, why is it still in place? Because in fact while most people would like to change it, nobody actually is willing to simply repeal it and go back to the status quo ante. Nor are enough people willing to pony up the bucks it would take to set up and implement a more useful testing standard, which would require paying people to evaluate written answers for millions of students instead of running a bunch of fishing scantrons through a machine. No, NCLB is a nice safe status quo now, something everyone can bitch about but because it exists as the national policy they can use to justify not agreeing on anyone else’s approach.

        But, yes, we seem to agree on both preferring to go back to the pre-NCLB status quo. I’m with you there. I’d even say if we’re going to do federal funding for K-12, it should be targeted toward disadvantaged school districts–urban or rural–that are going to experiment. Pay for the experiments, don’t pay for doing the same old thing.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

          Both is indeed what I say. In my view, there was a mix of top-down and bottom-up. So i would deny that it was fundamentally the top-down approach Roger describes. If we’re saying local government control (inasmuch as it taxed and acted to run schools for public attendance by all children) is bottom-up, which I think we are saying it is but Roger would say it isn’t, then I’m saying that 20th-century American education started out as basically entirely characterized by that, and moved away somewhat but always so that there was a mix, with the basic tradition of local control always controlling the fundamental structure. I’d say that NCLB fairly seriously altered that balance, but even that didn’t fundamentally upturn the model. So I’m basically saying that, while top-downism did grow over the course of the 20th century, there was always clearly either mostly or a great amount of bottom-up still happening. So i would deny that is a fundamentally top-down approach (by the definition where a central local authority over education is still bottom-up). After NCLB, I would say the description is a wild card. Basically you have a system of local institutions that were manhandled by federal top-down authority. I don’t really know what you call that, but I don’t have a problem with any rejection of that degree of top-downism.

          But again, the point is that that is not the top-downism Roger is talking about. By his definition, a town that taxes its citizens to put into place a backstop system of public schools and decides at the town level what will be taught in them, more or less how, and what the outcome measures are, is engaging in the top-downism he wants to eliminate.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

            What is your “top,” for defining top-down? Municipality? State? Feds?Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              Feds definitely top, obviously. State would be the debating point. Municipality control for me would satisfy bottom-up conditions, though in fact municipalities with de jure control over ed policy in fact promote much more sub-municipal experimentation, down to the school and classroom level, than they tend to be given credit for. But I would hardly be willing to tar a town or even city as having an unacceptably top-down approach for enforcing some set of standards and procedures across its public schools. Obviously, some such sets will be dumber than others. Ultimately, I’m not completely against some possible requirements emanating from any given level, so long as there’s an argument that it’s in fact smart to do that at that level.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

          On NCLB politics, I didn’t say there’s no support for it. i said there’s be no loud resistance to getting rid of it. It enjoys the presumption of efficacy from simply being in place. Just like an assault weapons ban would if it had had no sunset. Whatever the numbers said, opponents would have on their side the basic fact that it was a thing of the past to add to the general impression that it failed (which I’m not saying it didn’t). I also kind of meant among people like us who sit around talking about the question and whose opinions we would value on the question. But I didn’t say so, so fair enough.

          I’m curious, do you feel like the opinion of NCLB you developed experiencing it as a parent is in the minority among those of other parents who developed their opinions of it in the same way?Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

            i said there’s be no loud resistance to getting rid of it.

            It may not be loud, but it’s obviously there, else we would have gotten rid of it.

            I’m not sure what other parents think. I’m very aware of what other college profs think, but that’s based on our classroom experiences, not child-rearing experiences. I think with child-rearing we have less to compare it to–I don’t have any kids who went to school in the pre-NCLB era, and education has changed in a variety of ways since I was in school (I have a hard time helping my kids with math because they’re using new terminology or new solution methods that I never heard as a kid, for example). So it may be hard for parents to judge. I don’t know, though. They may be making judgements and I’m not aware of it. I certainly don’t see many letters to the local paper bitching about it, but that’s about all the evidence (or absence of evidence) I have on that issue.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              It may not be loud, but it’s obviously there, else we would have gotten rid of it.

              I didn’t think you believe in that model of explaining legislative outcomes. You do? That’s what you think?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                The preference order for nearly all of them is:

                1. Change NCLB to my preferred policy among the set of {A, B, C….Z} alternatives. (Where no policy among the set of {A, B, C….Z} commands majority support.)

                2. Keep NCLB.

                3. Eliminate NCLB and return to the prior model.

                That’s the legislative model in which I believe.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Sure. My point wrt NCLB is just that if Benevolent Dictator announced into the State Media Box Transmittor that “NCLB will now be changed to” and that’s all he said, then for a moment you’d have lots of parents all over the land looking over to the Box with excited, hopeful faces wanting to hear what he was going to say next, not angry, perplexed faces unhappy with what had just been announced.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Sure, but I think a majority of those faces would immediately become angry and/or perplexed when they saw what was in the Box, and if they got an up or down vote, NCLB would beat the box because it would be less disliked than what’s in there.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think that’s immaterial to my point, though.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                …And actually, I’d maintain that, again, from the on-the-ground consumers of ed policy in this country, if the announcement was not of change but rather of repeal and return to Year 2000 status quo ante wrt NCLB, you’d hear little in the way of howls of rage or outcry. They’d be unhappy about the special ed funding losses, but I think there’s be some confidence that those could be restored given that the “accountability” piece that was the price for them proved to be such an unpleasant disaster (as they experienced it).Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I think so, too, but I also think nobody would be satisfied with that as an outcome, rather than as just a waypoint.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Agreed. But it’s not really that important. My point was just that saying that NCLB represents a degree of limitation of local government control over education policy that you could easily get majority agreement is not welcome (whether just here at LoOG, or among parents nationwide) even more that that, my point was that I don’t believe that gets at all to the critique that Roger has of American education policy structures.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                …I mean, I don’t deny I could be wrong that that’s where things stand. But that’s my impression. My impression could be a locally-based one based on a lots of conversations in a few disparate locales. Things could be very different in Texas. I assume they are. That’s my view of NCLB, though.Report

          • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

            Actually, I said there would be nothing but loud agreement if it were proposed to be struck. I think that would be true from parents, teachers, and much of the public. I overstated when I said “across the political spectrum,” because I think the D.C. policy establishment is heavily invested in the idea that NCLB was a Great Centrist Advance. So, forget the elites. All I’m trying to say is that I think you wouldn’t hear anything but cries of joy from parents, teachers, academic ed policy people, and etc. if it was announced, “Oh wait, we wrote a sunset into this thing after all, we just never saw it,” and current partisan gridlock meant it couldn’t be renewed. That’s my honest experience of the politics of NCLB on the ground. You seem to be reading legislative behavior back onto public opinion in a way I wouldn’t have expected you to do.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I’d say that’s mostly my view, although I will hedge on the issue of parents since, as I noted, I don’t think I know if there’s a parental consensus of any kind or not.

              I don’t think your last sentence is clear to me at all, but I’d say we should let that go.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

                As far as I can tell? No one likes NCLB. Not teachers, not parents, not administrators, not education theorists, nobody. It’s got no actual constituency.

                Except one: The appeal of “standards”. It sets “tough standards”, which ergo must be good, and therefore repealing it would be “loosening standards” which ergo must be bad.

                It doesn’t exactly help repeal that it’s been tinkered with yearly to patch out the stupid — or at least kick it down the road. It’s like the AMT’s yearly inflation fix. Surely if you’re gonna HAVE the AMT, and fix it yearly for inflation, it’d just be smart to just index it to inflation and call it a day. But no one does it, because it’s all suddenly tax hikes and deficits and blahdy-blahdy blah even though it literally changes nothing except reduce a yearly vote that’s gonna pass down to just the one.

                NCLB is like that. Repealing it is like telling America you want to loosen education standards at the same time you’re shouting about how awful education is. It’s easy to attack, even though everyone who knows anything about NCLB thinks it’s BAD for education.

                Frankly, for all the fuss about American schools — the public school system is great. Unless you’re dirt poor. In which case, not so good, mostly on account of the griding poverty and often crime and drug problems associated with it.

                Which, as far as I’m concerned, is not so much an educational failure as a seperate problem that interferes with education. Surely things can be done, but I’m pretty sure there’s no magic teaching method that’s gonna turn poverty striken students from broken homes, 2 or 3 job single parents, and other kinda of sizeable “life sucks for you” problems into straight A students.

                Because, you know, their non-school life sucks. And even if their school was a shiny new school with billions of dollars and the best teachers, public or private, and the best methodology — those kids would still wake up every morning in a crap life that interferes with their school, go home every day to a crap life that interferes in their education, and have a social and family support system that’s full of people who view education dimly because day-to-day problems are more pressing.Report

              • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:


                Sounds like much of the problem is bad parents. How would you address the problem that people who do poorly in life tend to have kids who also do poorly in life (intelligence and personality and time preference are all inherited) and tend to also provide minimal investment into their children. On the other end we have two parent households where both parents are successful, intelligent, diligently investing in their own and their kids future.

                We have a cycle of failure for one class and a self amplifying cycle of success at the other end. Throw in dysfunctional politically driven schools into the mix and you have our education system.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                No, the problem is poverty. You can be a great parent, but if you’re working 60 hours at two part-time jobs, you’re not going to have a lot of time to keep track of whether Billy and Mary did their homework, unfortunately.

                By the way, your wish to turn public education into a choice of what fast food restaurant to eat at for lunch is just as political as my wishes to keep public education a common good.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Roger says:

                I’ll tell you what won’t fix the problem: Education, whether public or run by Jesus H Capitalist himself, sent down from heaven with the best private education system designed by God himself.

                I suppose the best analogy to poor school districts lies in, say, the human body. In general, it’s a good thing to eat right and exercise. It makes me healthier.

                If I have cancer, however, no amount of eating right or exercise is gonna cure my cancer.

                Education is like eating right and exercising. Poverty is like cancer. The best fitness coach and nutritionist in the world isn’t gonna cure your cancer.

                And the general approach to poor school districts with godawful problems is to say “You’re too fat and need to eat more brussel sprouts” and shove them onto a fad diet or new exercise regime, while ignoring the cancer entirely.

                Or to yank all the healthy cells out and leave a massive tumor behind and say “Look at this healthy mass of cells? Aren’t we great?”Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Roger says:

                Also “politically driven schools”? Come on, try not to sound like a stereotype.Report

              • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:


                Politically driven is the operational term that separates my (empirically validated*) model from the decentralized alternatives. One argument in this thread has been that schools are decentralized as they are run by thousands of local school boards.

                I am expressly rejecting this based suggestion upon the belief that the consumer, or in this case the parent, should be sovereign. The curriculum and institutional designs and salaries and standards should not be designed top down based upon political and philosophical conceit, but based upon actual success as proven in a free and competitive market where various institutional players compete openly for students.

                The international data clearly reveals that market based solutions are superior in effectiveness and efficiency on pretty much every dimension. We should try it here. Start small. Learn. Adapt. Grow. Change. Above all give everyone the freedom to choose and the freedom to compete.

                If your expensive cost, mediocre result model consistently beats mine then I will concede yours is better. Will you grant mine the same fighting chance? Which is best for the kids?Report

    • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

      Master planning process? You know, when talking about public schools — if you don’t start from the realization that there are, minimum, 50 seperate public school systems in the US (the states) and in reality thousands (the individual districts), you’re just fooling yourself.

      Federal education policy is weaksauce. NCLB is an atrocity (not surprising considering it’s roots — Rod Paige’s Houston miracle which, like many such, was basically “We cheated to look better!”) sure, but flatly put not only does each state have a MASSIVE degree of control over education (seriously, federal standards are ridiculously non-existant. The lunch program? Sure. The curriculm? Nothing), but each local school district does as well.

      Just around me, right now, are five seperate school districts — not one of which approaches, say, the teaching of English in the same way. (I can’t vouch for other subjects, but I can for English!). One district is currently in transition, updating it’s entire English curriculm to meet what they consider better teaching methodolgy for writing. Another uses what I personally consider the most atrocious method of teaching writing one can imagine.

      They all, of course, have to meet state standards for which subjects are covered and when (but no federal standards, other than the Special Education ones which are often cursed and ignored — they are expensive and unfunded, although personally I think necessary. The shenanigans, generally pulled by school superintendents at behest of the local school boards on that subject are legendary. I am aware of one district who decided that every student labeled “learning disabled” was to be handled by…enrolling them in classes and tutoring sessions for dyslexics. Yes, that’s right. They treated every learning disablity, from dyslexia to Down’s Syndrome, as dyslexia)..

      But each school district has entire different teaching methodologies, pay scales, contract rules for teachers and administrators, a great deal of curriculm differences inside the large framework the state provides….

      And even then the “Master Planning” of the state of Texas is done entirely by an elected school board. Almost half of whom are on the board entirely because they wanted to stop the teaching of evolution and sex ed and return to rote memorization and other methods of the 30s and 40s, and of the other half I believe exactly one member has spent any time actually working for a school. I haven’t followed the last set of elections.

      I can assure you that however, say, Massachusettes runs it’s schools, Texas does so in an entirely different manner. And Louisiana in yet a third.

      And inside Texas, Houston ISD has an entirely different methodology than Spring ISD, Plano (either East or West) ISD, or Austin ISD.

      The first step in talking about “public schools” is admitting there is no monolithic US “public school” system one can draw conclusions about. There are 50 seperate school systems, each comprised of hundreds of subsidiaries who are only loosely connected to each other.Report

      • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:


        Feudalism is indeed a decentralized version of monarchy. But it is not in any way shape or form what I am talking about. It is just local top down control.

        I can give a longer answer, but to get the essence of my argument consider the difference between a franchise of a hotel or food outlet competing as opposed to a locally planned, politically fought-over system of delivering hotel rooms or food. Consider the mess we would make of vacationing if the political philosophy of good hoteling was designed by the local self important busy bodies of every town in America. What a cluster f.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

          The current system of food and hotels allows some people to eat filet mignon at the Ritz, while other people can only eat at the IHop next to the No Tell Motel. Some people prefer a system where we all eat at the Applebee’s next to the Super 8.Report

          • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

            For $9000 per year, we each get to have a personal Trabant that doesn’t actually move.Report

          • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

            Because of course, lodging and the education of children should be treated as the same thing.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


              “They’re not the same thing” is a pretty weak argument. We know they’re not the same, but then dining and lodging are also not exactly the same, and they’re sure as heck not the same thing as books, movies, sports, furniture, cars, and so on.

              The question is whether education is different in a way that makes it unsuitable for being provided by the private market. I have some reasons for thinking it’s at least partly unsuited for being provided by the private market. But “it’s different!” just doesn’t cut it.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                If you choose a crappy motel for one night, you might have some back problems for a week or two. If your only choice due to the fact you live in a “school desert”, much like there are “food deserts” where the only option for education is a 7-11 style experience, that’s much worse.

                As Morat said above, our public schools work pretty well, aside from those in low-income areas. There are some niggling issues, but nothing that requies the whole scale destruction of the whole system.

                And the problems in those low-income schools isn’t the fact they’re public institutions responsible to a public that can democratically vote them out instead of being beholden to a board of directors worried about profits. The problem is, the amount of money to make these kids even start from the same starting line as you, me, or most of the people in this thread is simply massive and would require quite bluntly, some redistribution of wealth.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse, our public schools in many areas are those crappy motels, and have been for decades under the current system, and your response to a proposal for a radical reform is that Zomygod! Some of the school souls then be crappy motels! … It’s not persuasive. The idea that schools absolutely positively have to be kept under control of public officials to make them better, when they have been failed by public officials for year after year, generation after generation… There’s an awful lot missing in that argument.

                Just niggling issues–easy for us privileged white guys to say, eh?Report

              • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

                he’s saying swapping between private and public is like re-arranging deck chairs on the titanic.

                You’re not addressing the problem. These schools have crappy results not do to the inherant goodness or badness of the schools, but because the kids in them have such phenomenally crappy lives OUTSIDE of school.

                Really, the best you can do on the “education” side is cherrypick out the kids with either massive innate talent or drive, or with some form of support structure. Magnet schools do it. Kids going for the lottery scholarships to private schools or whatnot do it. It’s basically yanking out the kids that CAN succeed despite their crappy life.

                But it doesn’t matter who runs the schools for the rest, because good or bad, the school isn’t THE problem. (It might be A problem, insofar as those schools also tend to be crappily funded, but as I said – -best school in the world ain’t gonna fix it).

                Look, surely you’ve had bad days at work — a death in the family, money-woes, a fight with your spouse or family — something that distracted you and made your work productivity crap. You got nothing done because your non-work life was interfering.

                Imagine that you’re 10 y ears old, and going to school, and that’s your every day. The problem isn’t the school — it’s these kids lives outside of school. And you can’t fix that through any sort of classroom technique or magic private administration regime.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:


                I don’t disagree that the primary problem is kid’s home lives. My daughter’s high school ranked in the bottom 5% in the state for standardized test scores, but I know a large number of kids who have gone from there to top colleges. I know a recent grad who went to Bates and is now working on a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and I know a guy whose daughters graduated from there and both went on to become MDs. Some decent education is definitely going on there, so why are the test scores so low? The answer is that there’s a large chunk of kids who don’t perform–most of them don’t care, because their parents either don’t care or don’t have the energy to demonstrate they care.

                But, and this is the part that I think you are overlooking, the school isn’t taking effective action to helping those kids. It’s dumped a lot of money in recent years into its arts programs (which I like), and it’s adopting the International Baccalaureate program, which my daughter is participating in. But those are primarily targeted toward those kids who are already doing well and are actively engaged in school.

                Your argument implies–even if you don’t intend it–that nothing can be done for those other kids. I say that’s wrong, even if I don’t know what the answer is. Can public schools do what needs to be done for them? Sure, they probably can. But they’re not.

                And surely part of the problem is that they don’t have to, because they have a monopoly. NCLB is supposed to make them do it, but it’s creating the wrong incentives, stimulating the wrong approaches. We don’t like monopolies in general–liberals as much as anyone else–so why do we insist that there needs to be a near-monopoly in education, most especially a monopoly for those being most poorly served?

                The magic isn’t in the word “private.” The magic is in the word competition. Competition creates incentives, brings out the best, and yet people want to protect our public schools from competition. We don’t do this at the college level, so there’s some inconsistency in this.

                I suppose it might be possible that, unlike just about everything else in the world, the best K-12 educational results are produced by monopolies protected from competition, but it seems to be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence/Report

        • Kim in reply to Roger says:

          You are obviously unfamiliar with hostelry.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Roger says:

          Just to get this straight: My local school board, running a school district in a town of 20,000 people is “top-down” control of education?

          Should each school be running itself individually? Wouldn’t that be “top-down” from the principle? Or whomever was drafted to do curriculm?

          Should each teacher invididually just assemble a classroom and instruct them? Is that top-down?Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:

            For the record, that’s taking top-down too far for my taste.

            But I do think the local school board should be allowed to say “we want to experiment with letting private organizations run our schools, so we’re going to publish a call for proposals and if we find one we like we’ll give them a 5 year contract.” I’m not making any claims about how well the experiment would fare; I’m just saying they should be allowed to.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

              See, in theory I’m totally okay with charter schools and the like — you know, public funds for public education going to private, semi-private, for-profit,not-for-profit, what-have-you schools under this rubric of “Let’s see if there’s a better way/harness the free market/set the teacher’s free” or whatever hippy-dippy or corporate love-fest reason somebody sells the thing under.

              ‘Cause I’m all about doing things better. Now, color me a little bit cautious when it comes to kiddies, so you’ve got a bit of a higher bar than say colleges (a wasted school year for an 8 year old is far more damaging than a 22 year old, who can at least get his tuition money back), but nothing big.

              My problem is, well — standards and oversight. it’s public money. Louisana is case in point right now. I’m all for proving you can do it BETTER — but if you’re gonna take taxpayer funds for it, you need to define better relative to the status quo.

              And that means holding them to the same standards as public schools — test scores, graduation rates, and the like. Because you can’t show you’re making better use of taxpayer dollars if no one is allowed to check, can you? And you can’t do that if you’re cherry-picking students, either — because sure it’s a big handicap that public schools have to take EVERYONE from the geniuses to the troublemakers to the mentally retarded, but you can’t really claim you’re doing “better” if you just snag the straight-A kids, can you?

              Heck, I don’t have a problem at all with purely private schools. Your kids, your money, have at it.

              But taxpayer dollars? Come on, it’s just common sense to say, at the bare minimum, if you want the dollars you take the strings associated with it — and that means adhering to the same rules as the public schools. Play with your curriculm all you want, but you take the state mandated tests. Experiment with classroom design and methodology all you want — you don’t cherrypick kids, you take all comers.

              Now as to your point about local school boards letting private organizations run the schools, well — why on earth would they? That’s like the CEO of IBM turning over his company to Apple. Local school boards run the schools.

              heck, even being on a local school board means one of three things: You really care about education — generally having an obsession with something (creationism, sex-ed, whatever), you’re a micromanaging parent, or you really, really like being in charge. (You don’t get more raw petty power than school boards).

              Turning over their power to someone else? Please. In practice, local school boards are slaves to fads, trends, and consultants but they’d never turn over an iota of actual power. Sure, force the schools to adopt some plainly flawed and not even remotely applicable methodology because a 250k consultant sold you on it (and the 500k in books and materials he’s selling for it). Most will eat that crap up, and teachers will spend a year or two trying to work around it before either the obvious badness of it in practice finally percolates into the board’s head or the next consultant arrives to magically fix up the suddenly flagging test scores…

              But privatize their own district? Please.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Morat20 says:


                “Privatization” is a word that’s used too broadly. I’m one of the culprits, and only a few months ago really copped to the problematic use of the term. There’s PRIVATIZING–completely divesting control of something from the public to the private sphere–and then there’s privatizing–which is just contracting something out to the private sphere. We need (and that “we” definitely includes me) to stop using the same word for both things.

                If the school system opted out of public education altogether, and said “it’s all up to the private sector…if they care to do it,” that would be PRIVATIZING, and indeed that would be saying so long to standards and oversight (although, of course then there’s no public money at stake).

                But if we privatize, or as I think is clearer language, contract out the production of the service, there’s still public money involved and a need for standards and oversight.

                But–and here I am going to put on a carefully pre-meditated and long-considered liberal-bashing hat–to say “Oh, but standards and oversight!” is the weakest sauce argument liberals have ever found for just about anything at all. The fundamental need for, and the fundamental difficulties of, standards and oversight vary almost not at all based on whether the policy is implemented wholly publicly or as a public-private partnership. Public agencies sometimes do great, and other times they perform very badly and are never held to account–there’s not standards and accountability magic to doing something through a public agency.

                And there are and have been contracted out public services provided by private firms for one hell of a long time, and it continues to be a functional model because they can be held accountable to standards. State governments rarely build their own roads–they hire private firms to do it. They don’t build their own city halls, but hire private firms to do that. Many–perhaps most–municipalities contract out their garbage collection service. Quite a few contract out the right to generate power for the city, overseen by a public utilities board.

                The only magic there is in how the contract is written. If public officials are stupid enough to write contracts that don’t hold their vendors accountable, on what basis would we trust them to be smart enough to do a good job of holding any of their public agencies appropriately accountable?

                There are most probably limits to contracting out public services to be fulfilled by private firms. I’ve become extremely skeptical about private prisons, and it would be a hard sell to get me to support privatization of the police or military. But the cases of successful contracting out are so vastly more numerous than the cases of unsuccessful contracting out that those who think contracting out education cannot work are the ones who bear the burden of proof. And to object that a local school board shouldn’t be allowed to experiment with it–with a well written and time limited contract–on the basis of “but standards and accountability” just doesn’t meet the burden of proof.

                As to school boards and power, you’re mistaking the idea. Contracting out isn’t giving up power–it’s retaining the power and control. The mistaken idea that the local officials give up control through contracting out is a fundamental misunderstanding of the process. My local school districts contracts out its food service and its bus service, but it hasn’t given up control over them–all the control is right there in the contract, and the ability to renew it or to seek other bids.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

              Don’t school boards all over the country do this all the time? I don’t understand anything to be preventing them from it. Both state and federal standards dictate to a some extent what must be taught, and what the outcome measures are, whether in government-run or government-contracted schools (they dictate this to fully private schools in some measure as well!), but I’m not aware that they say they generally prevent localities from trying out contracting with private organizations to run some of the schools to which they send kids seeking education through the public system. I’m sure there are some places where this is made difficult. Is it a widespread problem?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michael Drew says:

                In theory, there are some State Constitutions that specify a “public education” but let’s be honest here. In most of the states where selling off the public school system to Corporate Schools Inc. would even be a possibility, I’m sure either the legislature or an amendment would pass to get rid of that pesky thing. Or wait another decade for a series of right-wing justices to be named to the Supreme Court by Republican Governors.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Not sure exactly what provisions you mean, but if it’s the requirement that municipalities provide the public with free education up to an age, I doubt those provisions bar them doing so by contracting private orgs to do the providing for some of those kids. But if you have an example, I’d like to see it.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Googled this article up with the education clauses in all 50 states. Some would be easy to bypass, others not so much.


              • Michael Drew in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                That’s a remarkable resource, Jesse, thanks.Report

          • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:


            Yes, they are using local government institutions to design, plan and micro manage local education. This is absurd. We have created a situation which politicizes every aspect of education, and which encourages ideology and inefficiency over pragmatism and effective institutional knowledge dissemination.

            I would instead suggest a model which establishes minimum standards and which allows private firms to compete in a manner not unlike what you would see with franchises. Parents should be able to choose education franchise brand A, B or C. The various brands should compete for students with transparent and widely advertised performance measures that reflect the things we value in education. This includes subject mastery, creativity, life outcomes, ability to improve challenged students, etc.

            True competition (albeit with standards) would tend to drive dysfunctional education practices and institutions and rent seeking parasites out of business. Education needs the same processes of creative destruction which allow other industries to improve effectiveness over time.

            By the way, I would weight educational subsidies toward challenge households. Poor people and those with disabilities should get significantly larger subsidies than the wealthy.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

              Roger, While I’m largely with you on trusting competition, I think the following is a hard sell as an argument:

              they are using local government institutions to design, plan and micro manage local education. Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:


                Could you clarify please? I want to respond, but I am not sure yet what the area of concern is and suspect my response will be misdirected.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                James point, and he can correct me if I’m wrong is that it’s going to be difficult to convince people that instead of local control being described as local people voted on by a local populace deciding education policy for their local schools, those local people should instead contract out education policy to various groups, whether they’re local co-ops, national chains, or regional interests who will decide education policy for the school they’re opening.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                I would go so far as to agree it would be almost impossible to convince the local fiefdoms to free the serfs. If this is the argument, I agree.

                My take on history is that things like this resist change for ever until they change in a flash as the system breaks through to another level.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                Yes, the problem is you don’t want to free the serfs. You just want them to be under the management of an empire instead of a local fiefdom as you stated in that article you linked to below.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                Jesse, that’s either inaccurate or unfair, depending on whether you understand what Roger is saying or not.

                If you have a real choice between alternative service providers, you’re not under the management of any of them. Now maybe it would work out to have real alternatives and maybe it wouldn’t. But if you’re saying that Roger wants there to not be that kind of choice, you either mis-read or mis-represent him.

                And to say he wants “empires” to run local schools is also inaccurate. He wants the market to work it out. Maybe it would work out that there are some big private education firms that run lots and lots of schools, or maybe not. And if there are, that doesn’t mean there may not be alternatives available. My town has McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s, and they obviously do very well, but there are also plenty of local joints I can patronize, too. So both of your implications about what he “wants” are inaccurate.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse’s close, at least (that’s a whopper of a sentence, J!–a bit hard to decipher). What I mean is that telling people that local control of a local issue is too top-heavy an approach is going to be a really hard sell. Most people are going to think that local control of local issues is exactly where the control should be at.Report

              • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

                Then I concur.Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:


              I’ve pointed this out many times. Nothing is stopping conservatives, libertarians, and billionaires from joining together to create a free open alternative to public schools. Yes, you won’t get any of the sweet sweet taxpayer money, but why would you want your experimental nirvana to be ruined by money taken with the barrel of a gun?

              I’m sure people will just flock to a school run by the same corporate overlords that parents have to deal with daily and they’ll happily let their children be taught by teachers who are paid less with worse benefits than public school teachers since after all, benefits like health care and a pension cut into profits, all while having to follow Sigma Six-style business school guidelines.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


                Wealthy people have no problems getting their kids well educated via a free market. I am sure you need no examples. The issue is that the rest of us are currently spending more than any other nation for results which are below our expectations and desires, especially for those most in need.

                I believe every child in America should be provided a quality education, and that it is not asking too much of our government to ensure this occurs. I do not believe it needs to be required at the barrel of a gun, but my explanation of work arounds to this would take us astray.*

                I responded on the other post earlier today why I suspect widespread free markets will lead to a better and more professional class of teacher which gets paid better and works under massively better working conditions. Productive professionals** tend to be treated much better by private firms than by government bureaucracies.


                I could be wrong on this though. Lots of variables.

                *short answer is via burdensome opt outs
                ** low skilled, rent seeking, unproductive parasites are much better off in government bureaucracies of course. Indeed they are drawn to such.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                We’re spending more on education because we’ve decided to spend less than those other countries on a welfare state that lowers child poverty. And actually, the vast majority of people in America can get a quality education for their child. Much like Congresspeople get good scores in their own district, most people actually give their own schools good scores, it’s just the rest of the education system that’s broken. 🙂

                As for the rest of your post, it isn’t a Roger post about the government if he doesn’t gratiously insult a whole class of people simply because of where their paycheck comes from. Guess what, Roger.

                I’ve just had as much trouble with idiots in government and corporate bureaucracies. I’ve also just had as many good results from both government and corporate employees. It’s been about even, in my view of the world. There are just as many lazy people sitting around, using their time at work to play Farmville and text their boyfriend in both public and corporate employment. To act as if one is full of low skilled unproductive people simply shows the type of person you are.Report

              • Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


                I’ve challenged you guys before on this, and the best I can tell, our poor are better off than most other nations. Please let me know the case for another view.

                Do read more carefully though. I did not insult government workers. I said parasites were attracted to these jobs and productive creative people are repulsed. I will readily admit that many potentially productive people are trapped in stifling government monopolies and that bureaucratic boobs also infest private firms. It’s a matter of degree and the effects of feedback and incentives. Please let me know where I am wrong.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                It simply isn’t true the American welfare state is more generous than most in Western Europe. Yes, I know, if you somehow qualify for all 87 programs that local, state, and federal governments offer, you can live high on the hog. Other people, with me adding an assist have thrown the cold bath water on that idea.

                Now, the income of our lowest 25% GDP might be slightly higher or they may have better access to cable TV and air conditioning than the lowest 25% in Sweden or France, but that doesn’t mean they’re better off since they’re also don’t have easy access to health or dental care, and every other problem living poor in America has.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

                You’re wrong that in my experience, there is no great teeming mass of parasites in the public sector. There are lazy people there, just as there are in every segment of life. Yet, you haven’t called those people parasites numerous times. Is it that you’re fearful that somewhere, there’s a lazy person out there who might have a better retirement plan than you?Report

              • M.A. in reply to Roger says:

                Oh, I’m not fearful of it. I know perfectly well that there’s someone incredibly lazy with not only a much better income, but a much better retirement plan than I have.

                Round here we call him “Congressman.”Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:


                Nobody argues that anyone qualifies for every program. The question on the table is whether our poor are better or worse on average than other western nations which are riding our entrepreneurial coat tails. My reading is that the average standard of living of our poor is not below the norm and extensive discussions with the liberals on this site has never led to any convincing arguments to the contrary. At a minimum they are no worse off. And by the way health care is provided to our poor as part of many of those programs.

                I am happily retired and not resentful of anyone who got what was due to them absent exploiting others.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

          BTW, I like this. All I hear from libertarians is, “the government closer to you is the best government.” Now, school districts? “Oh, they’re just mini tyrants in their own little fiefdom. Turn it all over to the private sector.”Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

            Dude, I live in a nice part of town.

            My school district? It’s awesome. It’s the envy of the school districts in the crappy part of town.Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

              Which is why I believe in consolidation of school districts. We don’t actually need 15,000-odd school districts, especially when many of them were deliberately carved out to avoid any property tax money being sent to the “wrong” schools. I mean, would be a destruction of local control if there were only 5,000 instead of 15,000?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                It’d have the added bonus of boosting home sales and moving truck rentals!Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:


                Consolidation of school districts has been studied. It’s no magic pill. Economies of scale come from capital intensive activities, while education is a labor intensive activity, where economies of scale aren’t so readily available.

                And in most consolidated school districts there are still the rich schools and the poor schools. One city I’m very familiar with is Fort Wayne, Indiana–all the high schools are in the same school district, and yet there are the schools that do well, the schools that do poorly, and they are the same ones year after year after year.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

                It doesn’t work for one simple reason:

                While “dirt poor” school districts have a lot of problems that interfere with education (inability to attract good staff, inability to purchase enough supplies, etc) it is dwarfed by the even bigger problem of poor school districts…

                The students attending them are poor. Their parents and households are poor. Being poor, they are more likely to live in violent neighborhoods, to experience crime, problems with drugs, and basically have a crapsack life.

                People whose home lives are a wreck tend to do poorly in school, because school comes secondary to trying to get through the rest of their life.

                Which is why “the public schools are failing” is such an odd statement. The public schools for the dirt poor are failing (all the rest seem fine) and it’s been shown that the best way to get the dirt poor (whether rural or from crime ridden urban ghettos) is to, you know, make them not dirt poor.

                No teaching methodology will overwrite the crap life these kids have. No teacher can make their parents need to work less (assuming they are so lucky as to have two), drop crime rates, reduce the amount of substance abuse issues and violence that directly affect these kids….

                You can, of course, take all the salvagable kids out and put them in special schools, which will look like magic. Which is often what vouchers and charters do, since they are quite self-selecting in terms of picking only students who (or whose parents) are quite serious about education.Report

              • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:

                Does it ever end?

                We give almost a trillion dollars a year to the poor, but their lives are still a wreck. Progressive answer… “Give us more!”

                We spend more than any other nation on schooling and get mediocre results at best. Progressive answer .. “Give us more!”

                We waste thousands of dollars per student for a program that never leads to more educated citizens. Progressive answer… “Give us more!”

                Let’s just be done with them and give them everything. Then everything will be perfect.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                Are you seriously suggesting that we adopt the Japanese method of schooling elementary students? Or the Chinese? Both are obviously less expensive (due to fewer teachers).

                MAKE a fucking argument. Then STAND BY IT.

                I Love discussing cross-cultural stuff. But don’t be birdbrained about it. Pick something, and let us peck it to pieces.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Roger says:

                Do we spend a trillion dollars on the poor? Over what timescale? What programs are you counting?

                Let’s establish a baseline here. What do you mean by “poor”? What funds and what spending do you consider?

                Social Security? Is that spending on the poor? (The original goal was and remains to prevent poverty amongst the elderly, which used to be a serious problem). Medicare? Medicaid? Unemployment insurance? Head Start? The entire HUD budget?

                Grab the last budget and toss some numbers up there. Let’s see what we’re working with.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:


                Nope, just $927 Billion. Here is from Robert Rectors testimony to Congress….


                “In FY 2011, federal spending on means-tested welfare came to $717 billion. State contributions into federal programs added another $201 billion, and independent state programs contributed around $9 billion. Total spending from all sources reached $927 billion.

                About half of means-tested spending is for medical care. Roughly 40 percent goes to cash, food, and housing aid. The remaining 10 to 12 percent goes to what might be called “enabling” programs, programs that are intended to help poor individuals become more self-sufficient. These programs include child development, job training, targeted federal education aid, and a few other minor functions.

                The total of $927 billion per year in means-tested aid is an enormous sum of money. One way to think about this figure is that $927 billion amounts to $19,082 for each American defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau. However, since some means-tested assistance goes to individuals who are low-income but not poor, a more meaningful figure is that total means-tested aid equals $9,040 for each lower-income American (i.e., persons in the lowest-income third of the population).

                If converted to cash, means-tested welfare spending is more than sufficient to bring the income of every lower-income American to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, roughly $44,000 per year for a family of four. (This calculation combines potential welfare aid with non-welfare income currently received by the poor.)

                Total means-tested spending on cash, food, and housing programs is now twice what would be needed to lift all Americans out of poverty. Why then does the government report that over 40 million persons live in poverty each year? The answer is that, in counting the number of poor Americans, the Census Bureau ignores almost the entire welfare state: Census counts only a minute fraction of means-tested cash, food, and housing aid as income for purposes of determining whether a family is poor.

                The 79 means-tested programs operated by the federal government provide a wide variety of benefits. The federal welfare state includes:

                12 programs providing food aid;
                12 programs funding social services; 
                12 educational assistance programs; 
                11 housing assistance programs; 
                10 programs providing cash assistance; 
                9 vocational training programs;
                7 medical assistance programs;
                3 energy and utility assistance programs; and,
                3 child care and child development programs.

                Another way of examining spending levels is to look at welfare spending on families with children. In FY 2011, total means-tested spending was $927 billion. About half of this spending ($462 billion) will go to families with children. (Around one-third of this spending went to medical care.)

                If the $462 billion in welfare spending were divided equally among the lowest-income one-third of families with children (around 14 million families), the result would be around $33,000 per low-income family with children.

                In addition, most of these lower-income families have earned income. Average earnings within the whole group are typically about $16,000 per year per family, though in the midst of a recession, earnings will be lower. If average welfare aid and average earnings are combined, the total resources is likely to come to between $40,000 and $46,000 for each lower-income family with children in the U.S. ”

                End quote.

                Either we are giving a whole lot of aid to the poor, or we are giving a whole lot of means tested aid to people who shouldn’t be passing the means test.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20 says:

                We give almost a trillion dollars a year to the poor, but their lives are still a wreck.

                And how much money did TARP give to rich people? Their lives must have been deprived too, or they wouldn’t have wrecked the economy in their frantic need for more.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That’s apples to oranges, Mike. Rotten apples to delicious, ripe oranges.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                You guys know perfectly well that I think the trillion we gave them was idiotic too, so are you guys making a bad argument or just posing? And if it is my word choice on the lives of the poor which you disagree with please note that I was just riffing on the theme started by Morat.

                I patiently await your formal apologies.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                The alternative to giving them the trillion dollars was to watch (or, at the very least, risk the likelihood) of worldwide economic collapse. And we got in that situation by letting rich people act like rich people. It’s their brand of sociopathic behavior that’s the real danger.Report

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                not all rich men are like that, I promise. and even rich folks with numbered credit cards can still be small fish in a big pond.

                But we did come pretty damn close to some awful shit. Anarchy ain’t pretty, just ask Argentina. And fixing anarchy is kinda like fixing a broken egg. Ya lose all your innocence that way.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I understand, Kim. Some of my best friends are rich, but it’s because they’re not like the rest of them. I’ll give you one piece of advice, though: stay away from their Chuck-E-Cheese’s.Report

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                yeah, the quants, the self-made folks tend to be good news. Also Democrats (though some of them are of the “kicking and screaming” variety. as in “had to be dragged into the party”), these days.

                Aww, restaurants is a tough biz. I don’t envy anyone in that.

                The smart cookie I know runs a server farm (among… other things).Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                So, now YOU are arguing for TARP? Whatever….

                I think your summation of the recent problem with the financial markets as being that we let rich people act like rich people is pretty shallow. Is your model really that rich people are sociopathic, or is it perhaps a tad bit more sophisticated? Does your model make any room for dysfunctional institutional incentives? If so, how much influence on these incentives, regulations and institutions did those in your political camp contribute? Or was the problem the other camp?

                There is a common denominator in the institutional inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of schools, finance, health care. health insurance, welfare, and government employee retirement planning and I suspect it isn’t sociopathic rich people. Care to guess what it is?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Pro- or anti-TARP is a silly argument. Needing to put out a fire doesn’t make you pro-arsonist.

                There is a common denominator in the institutional inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of schools, finance, health care. health insurance, welfare, and government employee retirement planning and I suspect it isn’t sociopathic rich people. Care to guess what it is?

                That we live in a world that isn’t a perfectly spherical free-market paradise.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I never argued against putting out fires, however I dont believe the best way to do so is by hiring and training arsonists to try to drown the flames by throwing money on it.

                I do not believe free markets solve all problems. I do believe that consume choice, competition and/or freer markets have a lot to offer in the above mentioned areas. The last two hundred years have been long running experiments that compare the relative tradeoffs of top down master planning vs bottoms up consumer sovereignty. We have a hundred nations and a hundred industries. In every case, when we gravitate too far in your desired direction things start going to hell. Maybe ten thousand experiments aren’t enough?

                Try my recommendation on a small scale and let’s see where it goes. Sound fair?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                It’s possible that TARP was unnecessary. I’d have preferred putting them all in prison, myself. Surely the enemy combatant designation fits well enough. But 2008 and the S&L debacle show what unregulated finance capitalism lead to. How many times do we need to run that experiment?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                But 2008 and the S&L debacle show what unregulated finance capitalism lead to.

                No, no, no, and a thousand and one times more, no. To say these things were unregulated could not be more wrong. They were badly regulated. And specifically in the case of the S&Ls the problem was not that they were too free market, but that they were neither free market enough nor government constrained enough. Rather,the combination of the FSLIC and no constraints led to recklessness because they could reasonably anticipate that they would be bailed out.

                The government created a situation of moral hazard that it could have eliminated either by ending the S&L safety net or enforcing reserve amounts. But please let us stop the pretense that it was a case of pure unregulated market behavior. That way lies a never ending morass of misunderstanding of causes and solutions.Report

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Mike and Roger,
                You’re talking martial law without it. Bank runs to beat the depression, money meaningless.

                Roger, yeah, lotta things can get solved by the free fucking market. Lotta things you don’t want to see the free market solving. Slave trade, assassinations, lotta pretty scary shit that most folks don’t like thinking about. Sony may have their own fucking Tanks, but most global American Enterprises are backed by the entire US Fucking Army.

                Yeah, we had a “free market” solution if everything went sideways… But, trust me, you like this world better.

                Do I think that you’re often more than half right? sure… but I think you’re often willfully blind to the manipulators. The cocksure son-of-bitches. Charterschools are a stalkinghorse for pulling all public funding for schools. Those SOBs want to get rid of veterans benefits too, ya know? And of course the ADA… Anything that makes them have to pay a pinch. You’re not like that, so it rankles some when I see you taking their side. Yanno what might make me sit up and shut it? You calling for MORE funding for public schools (double it! okay, that’s unreasonable. but more, and by enough to make people notice) — and more choices. Public, Private, Non-Profit. All with the same rules. It seems every single time we do public education, people say, “but the public school has to take everyone!!” So, same rules, same funding.

                Mike was mentioning above people who are sociopaths. I know a /smart/ sociopath — a proper mensch, though he’d never tell you that himself. The dumb ones have an awful lot more money, though.Report

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah, and if you want a mess of a state because of finance, look at Argentina. What we ALMOST had in Iceland. And you’ll recall, we still had the riot.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Rather,the combination of the FSLIC and no constraints led to recklessness because they could reasonably anticipate that they would be bailed out.

                This might be TMI, but I did some work for FSLIC as Receiver back in the day, when Bush the Elder was bailing out the S&Ls. It doesn’t exist any more. You’re thinking of FDIC, but that doesn’t work either.

                Here’s the big difference: there are (or were) investment banks on one side of the Glass-Steagall wall, uninsured. On the other side, regulated chartered banks, deposits insured by FDIC. This wasn’t an issue of badly-regulated banks, it was an issue of DE-regulated banks. The repeal of G-S allowed the regulated banks (now follow closely, this is important) to sell mortgages to Wall Street investment banks, which weren’t.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                Correct, FSLIC no longer exists, but did back then. It was folded into FDIC only in ’89 (TY, Google) due to its insolvency as a consequence of the crisis.

                (For those unfamiliar with the acronyms, FDIC is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which ensures bank customers’ deposits (up to some amount). The FSLIC was the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, same thing except for S&L customers. I have no idea why there were originally separate entities or whether there’s any real policy logic to that. Both were created during the Depression, with the FSLIC being born a year before the FCIC).Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                What part of my argument seemed pro sociopath? What makes you think i am arguing for using free markets for defense or to fight slavery?

                What I have argued for is more competition, freedom and consumer empowerment in schooling and less top down political shenanigans and special interest rent seeking. You don’t cure intestinal worms by eating more.

                And just to be clear, I am anti worm too.Report

              • greginak in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                James- But weren’t many of the worst offenders in the mortgage BS of the 2000’s were companies that weren’t under the FDIC. Countrywide as an example. Sallie and Fannie were latecomers. It was the unregulated/ much less regulated Countrywides that led the field. They didn’t have a gov safety and didn’t give a squat either.

                I’ve heard the explanation you are presenting here; the gov provided a safety net so businesses didn’t feel they had to be responsible or care if they crashed and burned. That has never worked for me well since:
                1) people really don’t like to see the business they created/built/work for go under. Its bad for the ego and the bottom line.
                2) I’ve never seen much of any evidence they actually thought they were auguring their businesses into the ground. They thought they were making piles of money and doing well.
                3) If there were those who thought they were skating on this ice as a general practice i’ve never seen any evidence they cared that the gov would pick them up. Nor have seen any evidence they cared if people would get screwed if they went under.Report

              • Kim in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, sorry. No you clearly aren’t for the Fuck You I’ve Got Mine crowd. But you’re /enabling/ them by siding with ’em. Let’s get rid of the poison first, and then we can start fixing the system, ya?

                Half of your solutions I’d go with, if these fools weren’t there to cut every fucking solution off at the knees (your solution and everyone else’s) and send us back to the fucking Middle Ages.

                Half the time I see you dancing to their tune, and it makes me want to shout Wake Up!Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Moral hazard is a real thing, and I see no reason to think it stops applying just because someone is running a business (as opposed to driving closer to the car in front because you have anti-lock brakes).

                That doesn’t mean lessons don’t have to be re-learned regularly.

                How many people in the investment banks understood that they were unlikely to face serious consequences if their decisions went south? My guess is most all of them.

                And once again, the mortgage crisis would not have occurred without Fed participation in and encouragement of subprime loans, particularly the adjustable rate mortgages which were the great majority of the problem. Not to absolve the banks of their responsibility for so eagerly taking on such opaque investments, but to treat it as a phenomenon of the pure free market, which only occurred because government was not involved, is to trade in historical fallacies and myth making.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That is, James, that something intended to protect normal people (FSLIC insured the depositors, not the S&L itself) wasn’t careful enough not to enable the natural sociopathy of the S&L’s owners and management. You’re not doing much of a job of defending themReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                How many people in the investment banks understood that they were unlikely to face serious consequences if their decisions went south? My guess is most all of them.

                The fact is, they didn’t understand the risk they were creating. More to the point, they didn’t understand their own risk exposure. A sells risk to B, B sells off risk to C, C sells off risk to A — and not one of them has a clear picture of the risks thus created. That’s the problem here. If these were regulated markets, winners could be separated from losers. I’ve made this point a thousand times. You just don’t get it.

                And once again, the mortgage crisis would not have occurred without Fed participation in and encouragement of subprime loans, particularly the adjustable rate mortgages which were the great majority of the problem.

                Wrong. The banks didn’t have to write up those mortgages. The banks were greedy because they could sell that risk upstream. For them, it was just picking peaches.

                Not to absolve the banks of their responsibility for so eagerly taking on such opaque investments, but to treat it as a phenomenon of the pure free market, which only occurred because government was not involved, is to trade in historical fallacies and myth making.

                Absolutely wrong, from top to bottom. This misunderstanding arises from your lack of understanding in how bonds and commercial paper works in the real world.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That is, James, that something intended to protect normal people (FSLIC insured the depositors, not the S&L itself) wasn’t careful enough not to enable the natural sociopathy of the S&L’s owners and management. You’re not doing much of a job of defending them

                First, why do you think I’m trying to defend someone? I assure you I’m not defending anyone. Period.

                Second, I think you missed the point. Completely. There are three scenarios.

                1. If your depositors are not insured by the government, but instead you are on the hook for them, you have an incentive to be careful.

                2.If your depositors are insured by the government and the government regulates how much reserve you must keep, you have an incentive to be careful (technically a requirement, but any rule can be broken: some rules we have an incentive to follow, some rules we don’t).

                3. If your depositors are not insured by the government, so that you are not on the hook, and the government does not regulate how much reserve you keep, you have no incentive to be careful.

                We can reasonably debate whether 1 or 2 is the superior condition, but we can’t reasonably argue that 3 is. And yet 3 is what we got. A lot of the Reagan’s (really Carter/Reagan) deregulation policies were quite good and have had very beneficial effect, but not that one.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                We don’t need conspiracy theories about sociopaths to explain 2008, Mike.

                When you require someone to give mortgages to someone who can’t afford them and then allow them to pawn off the risk on to someone else, you create a situation where people can become rich by doing something which is personally rational and not just legal, it was considered socially progressive. This was institutional and regulatory absurdity. It was not the free market in action.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                I agree that they didn’t understand the risks they were creating. There the disagreement stops, and you are flatly wrong to say I’m wrong “from top to bottom.”

                The crisis happened from a confluence of public policies. One was Clinton’s reduction of capital gains taxes on houses that had been owner-occupied for 2 years, the second was the Fed’s early 200s easy money policy, and the third was the Federal Gov’t’s pressure on mortgage originators to make more subprime mortgages available (you’re wrong that they didn’t have to write those mortgages, at least some of them–they were threatened with charges of redlining).

                Add up subprime mortgage availability with easy money and reduced capital gains for short-term ownership and you create the conditions for bubbles and land speculation.

                As to Glass-Steagal repeal, I can’t say it didn’t have any effect, but I think it’s too simplistic as a complete explanation. I do think it’s an appealing explanation to a lot of people because it’s a nice understandable storyline that confirms their beliefs. I may write a guest post just outlining the arguments for and against the crisis being a consequence of G-S repeal (without taking a position, because it’s not something I’m sufficiently persuaded either way to make it worth arguing; I just don’t think enough people have ever bothered to look at the argument against its having an effect).

                As to greed, it’s not a useful explanation because it’s a constant, not a variable. It simply can’t explain why something happens at T2 instead of T1 or T3.

                Now, that’s my word on it. I’ve stated the position before, so I’ll just state it here before I head off to the hockey game, but I’m not going to argue about it. Feel free to disagree and rebut, of course, but can we please keep it civil?Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I really am not dancing to their tune. I think you misread me by an entire level of abstraction.

                I am not pro Raiders or Cowboys. I am pro football. Part of being pro football is acknowledging that both teams will cheat to win, even if it harms the sport over the long run.

                I believe the best defense against cheating teams is to have consistent, thin set of fair rules which are administered by judges or refs that are not actively trying to manage outcomes on the field.

                I am totally aware that cheating is widespread in sports. I an well aware that we need rules and impartial refs to counter this harmful practice. However, I also argue against activist refs who try to influence the outcomes of games. This is every bit as harmful to the sport.

                Being for a thin set of consistent and impartial rules does not make me pro cheating or pro Raiders. Agreed?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I agree that they didn’t understand the risks they were creating.

                I’m not sure you understand the risks they created.

                The crisis happened from a confluence of public policies. One was Clinton’s reduction of capital gains taxes on houses that had been owner-occupied for 2 years, the second was the Fed’s early 200s easy money policy, and the third was the Federal Gov’t’s pressure on mortgage originators to make more subprime mortgages available

                No. The public policy we’re concerned about here is the elimination of the bright line between Wall Street investment banks and the FDIC controlled, retail banking institutions. Everything else is immaterial. Had those mortgages been kept on the retail side, this wouldn’t have happened because the banks wouldn’t have been sufficiently well-funded with Wall Street money to make more mortgages. Again, this arises from your imperfect understanding of how commercial paper and mortgage underwriting works.

                Add up subprime mortgage availability with easy money and reduced capital gains for short-term ownership and you create the conditions for bubbles and land speculation.

                Indeed we do! Trillions of dollars worth of bad mortgages were written. But where did that money come from? Selling mortgages to Wall Street.

                As to Glass-Steagal repeal, I can’t say it didn’t have any effect, but I think it’s too simplistic as a complete explanation. I do think it’s an appealing explanation to a lot of people because it’s a nice understandable storyline that confirms their beliefs.

                James, all I do, all day long, is manage a system which manages bond sales for a big multinational. About half of this corporation is financial and the other half is industrial. They’re trying to keep the industrial side bigger than the financial side because different regulations would apply to that corporation.

                As to greed, it’s not a useful explanation because it’s a constant, not a variable. It simply can’t explain why something happens at T2 instead of T1 or T3.

                What are you talking about, this T1 ? Let me explain it to you, as one might to a civilian: greed is what happens when investors take on more risk than they truly understand. Nobody gets greedy for a dollar bill flapping around in the middle of expressway traffic: get out of your car and chase it down and you’ll end up squashed like a bug.

                But stupid people like the retail bankers and their accomplices in the investment houses played each other for fools. This was all seen before in the Great Depression. That’s why Glass-Steagall was enacted, to keep mortgages away from the commercial paper market. Houses and land they occupy are always subject to speculation pressures. There’s lots of illusory capital locked up in land and property. Stupid people think that’s real money. And it’s not. That’s why they call it Capital in accounting: it’s the difference between what you have and what you owe. That’s why we have cost-based accounting, too. It’s not money until you sell it.

                You really are wrong on this, James. Has nothing to do with civility. You just don’t understand this well enough. If you did, you’d be making different noises.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “As to greed, it’s not a useful explanation because it’s a constant, not a variable. It simply can’t explain why something happens at T2 instead of T1 or T3.”

                Plus 100

                It’s like the kid who told his mom entropy was responsible for his messy room. Even when true, it is a non explanation. Good explanations lead you toward solutions, not personal ego gratification.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Let’s restate this in terms of what really happened:

                When you require someone to give mortgages to someone who can’t afford them

                Not one bank was required to give anyone a mortgage. The retail banks wrote mortgages to people who couldn’t qualify for them because they could sell them to someone else, thereby avoiding mortgage defaults, hence the liar loans. If those banks were on the hook for those defaults, no such mortgages would have been written.

                and then allow them to pawn off the risk on to someone else, you create a situation where people can become rich by doing something which is personally rational and not just legal,

                Oh bullshit! Glass-Steagall had prevented exactly such pawning-off of risk. The Wall Streeters fobbed that risk onto gullible investors who couldn’t imagine the investment houses didn’t know how exposed they were. It was all perfectly legal. Thank the Free Marketeers for that.

                it was considered socially progressive. This was institutional and regulatory absurdity. It was not the free market in action.

                It was the Unregulated Market in action. Social progressives had been howling about the deregulation of Wall Street since G-S had been repealed.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                You just blew the chance for a discussion with your “if you understood as well as me you’d agree with me” line. There are folks on both sides of this issue who have studied it more closely than either of us, so your claim has no empirical validity. Plus the arrogant pretention of it is just too much of a bore.

                We might not be able to have a good discussion anyway. Our styles are too different.* Your approach is too intuitive and impressionistic for my taste, which is why I’m so rarely persuaded by you. My style obviously is just as ineffective at persuading you, as well.
                *I was intrigued the other day when a commenter (Stillwater?) mentioned several folks here whose style he liked, and included both of us. Intrigued because our styles are so very very different, which showed that he admirably did not limit himself to liking only a single writing style.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                You just don’t get this, James. I’m dead serious. This isn’t a joke. This is Finance 101 stuff. You’re a great guy, but sincerity and goodwill simply won’t substitute for the fundamentals here. You’re out there saying this is because the Gummint made banks loan money. That’s just not true and you can’t go on like this, attempting to gin up some umbrage about a personal attack in lieu of the simple facts of the matter. The failure over-the-counter market in mortgage backed securities is absolute proof positive your notional constructs about the Free Market are made of marzipan.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                When you require someone to give mortgages to someone who can’t afford them and then allow them to pawn off the risk on to someone else

                And all the crappy mortgages that had nothing to do with the CRA, that is, the majority of them? And there’s a word for the shell game that was CDOs: fraud. That used to be illegal.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’m not seeing it, James. I’m in a position of authority at a financial institution. I’m making a ton of money in salary, fees, and commissions doing stuff that I know is risky as hell. I keep at it because, well, ton of money. Also because if I stop, I’ll be replaced with someone who’ll keep it up. I know that if the house of cards falls over, my employer will likely be taken over by some healthier bank, and my job eliminated.

                Why do I give a crap whether the depositors get paid off? Other creditors won’t, and none of them are coming after me personally. I say they act exactly the same way without deposit insurance, and my best argument is to point at financial institutions that weren’t banks and were every bit as irresponsible.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                I respond knowing that your next move will be to try to belittle me and call me names, but in the spirit of Charlie Brown to Lucy, here goes anyways…

                This is from
                A Summary of the Primary Causes of the Housing Bubble and the Resulting Credit Crisis: A Non-Technical Paper
                By JEFF HOLT*

                “In the mid 1990s new governmental policies were enacted that contributed to a relaxing of standards for mortgage loans. In 1995 the Community Reinvestment Act was modified to compel banks to increase their mortgage lending to lower-income house- holds. To meet the new requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act, many banks relaxed their mortgage lending standards.
                Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are gov- ernment-sponsored enterprises that increase the funding available in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from loan origina- tors. Fannie and Freddie buy only mortgages that conform to certain standards for down payment requirements and income require- ments. Historically, mortgages taken out by lower-income households often did not con- form to these strict standards. Beginning in 1996 the Department of Housing and Urban Development began to increase the per- centage of mortgage loans to lower-income households that Fannie and Freddie were required to hold in their portfolios. This caused Fannie and Freddie to relax the stan- dards that mortgages had to meet to be classi- fied as “conforming” and thus eligible for purchase by Fannie and Freddie. Down payment requirements and income require- ments were reduced.”

                Please refrain from arguing with an imaginary foe on deregulation. My argument is that the industry was stupidly regulated. I blame the usual suspects, the industry being regulated, the regulators, the politicians. When you set up bad institutional incentives and feedback mechanisms, which allow and encourage pocketing profits and pawning off risk, expect problems.

                Or perhaps it was just greedy rich sociopaths.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                “I’m in a position of authority at a financial institution. I’m making a ton of money in salary, fees, and commissions doing stuff that I know is risky as hell. I keep at it because, well, ton of money. Also because if I stop, I’ll be replaced with someone who’ll keep it up. I know that if the house of cards falls over, my employer will likely be taken over by some healthier bank, and my job eliminated.

                Why do I give a crap whether the depositors get paid off? Other creditors won’t, and none of them are coming after me personally. I say they act exactly the same way without deposit insurance, and my best argument is to point at financial institutions that weren’t banks and were every bit as irresponsible.”

                Just to clarify that you are no longer describing greedy sociopaths. You are portraying rational actors set within dysfunctional institutional constraints. We established institutions which pretty much guaranteed pocketing benefits and passing on risk and dismissing the stupidity. Bad idea.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                You want to abolish finance capitalism? Cool. What’s the plan?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                JEFF HOLT is absolutely wrong. A bank cannot be compelled to make a loan. CRA eliminated redlining. But again, Roger, the facts are simply not on your side. Most of the bad loans weren’t even made by banks. They were made by mortgage service companies, often direct subsidiaries of Wall Street. They weren’t subject to CRA oversight. These outfits were running exposed, absolutely fucking dependent on the next round of Wall Street funding.

                I’m all through with this discussion. You don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m not going to put up with this uninformed crap. I’m not here to give anyone an education, least of all someone who’s trying to bring up FSLIC, which hasn’t existed for decades. Cost me time and money to learn all this. Maybe you can take this up with Schilling, he understands this stuff. Me, I just implement the rules people like Mike create.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                I’m tired of your cheap accusations about not understanding this issue, and astounded that a man of your intelligence seems to believe that disagreement with you proves a lack of understanding when it’s such a simple task to find intelligent educated people on both sides of the Glass-Steagall claim.

                I began a detailed response here, but it became far too long for this comment space (particularly at this level of indent). I’ll send it to Tod as a guest post, and hope he finds it worthy of posting. Suffice it to say here that I think you ignore the origins of the problem and focus on an alleged cause–Glass-Steagall repeal–that is wholly insufficient as a univariate explanation; much too thin a reed to hang the whole story on.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’m not here to give anyone an education, least of all someone who’s trying to bring up FSLIC, which hasn’t existed for decades.

                This can’t go unanswered. Blaise seems to think I mentioned FSLIC in relation to the mortgage crisis. He would do well to go back and actually read my comment. I mentioned FSLIC in relation to the Savings and Loan Crisis, which began in the 1980s. FSLIC was abolished in 1989, after it had already been recapitalized at least twice–because of the massive payouts it was making as a consequence of the S&L crisis–but was still insolvent.

                This is all public knowledge. Please look it up and check me on it.

                At time you seem to want good relations between us, but this is how you burn through good will, not how you build it. If you want enmity between us, say so forthrightly. If you don’t want enmity between us, don’t do this kind of thing.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                James, I said I’m done with this discussion. I’ve made several points, you haven’t responded substantively to any of them. This isn’t going to turn into another Cleaner Fish argument. I’ve had my last argument of that sort with you.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                They’ll be addressed in my (presumptive) guest post, as I said. Whether you engage in that discussion or not is your choice.Report

          • Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

            Actually, we are pretty consistent in prefering non government solutions where practical, then local, then state then federal as a last but sometimes necessary step..

            Morat asked a similar question on October 1st, and this was my response….

            Let me respond by quoting from Michael Strong from the attached link:


            “Successful school reform only requires a virtuoso principal if one is starting from scratch every time, at every new school.

            Whole Foods offers fantastic produce sections at store after store all over the country not because of one virtuoso produce manager, but rather because of a corporate culture that replicates key store features at site after site, reliably time and time again. The fact that educating students is a far more sophisticated process than is managing a produce section only reinforces the need for educational management organizations to develop in-house training of teachers and administrators in order to bring quality to scale. 

            Corporate success in service and retail industries is largely defined by the corporation’s ability to replicate a specific experience of a specific quality standard over and over and over again. This has been achieved thousands of times outside of education; it is not an accident that the most successful school replicators are using either a franchise or corporate ownership model as they expand. This is how quality control is achieved. Looked at from this perspective, one examines previous public school reform initiatives in vain for any sort of quality control mechanism. Millions of dollars have been spent on thousands of initiatives with no mechanism in place whatsoever to ensure that the reform was replicated to any given quality standard. And how can one control quality if the reform is to be implemented in thousands of diverse districts, with politically-rotating boards, politically-appointed superintendents, and no ultimate ownership of anything? While it may sound pious to claim that “the public” owns the public schools, all that means in practice is that no one knows who will be on the school board in five years or what their agenda might be.

            … large-scale, high-quality replication of well-managed franchises or school chains is the only effective means of leveraging investments in particular educators, methods, or programs. This should not be a surprise; franchises and chains are the way that businesses replicate successful organizational characteristics. If academia and politics had not controlled education for the past hundred years, this strategy for the replication of educational success would have become obvious by now. The best 19th century private schools would have developed into effective national chains that brought superb education to millions of young people but the rise of government-managed, increasingly regulated and centralized “public education” prevented this.”Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

              That whole argument boils down an argument against democracy in general. Which hey, if that’s the argument you want to make, go ahead. But, I doubt it’ll work well.

              But, it does show the libertarian fetish for local control is just a cop-out for entirely too many libertarians to their real fetish, eliminating the commons and selling it off as quickly as possible. As that article states, you don’t want “local control.” You want the ability of local governments to have the option to either sell off public education to Corporate School Inc. X or Corporate School Inc. Y.

              That whole article reads to me like every messianic article written about “business strategy x and how if we just expand it to all of society, we’d live in nirvana” that I’ve heard about for years. In ten years, instead of Apple and Whole Foods being the society we should copy, it’ll be two other companies with an entirely different way of doing things.

              My worst world is where corporate managers get to train teachers. It’s like something out of a third-rate Blade Runner knock off.Report

            • North in reply to Roger says:

              Are there any international or other privately operated chain schools that would be a good example of these principals in action? I’m not familiar with any nation or region that uses a school system like you describe to provide education to the masses but then I don’t follow the issue very closely.Report

              • Roger in reply to North says:

                I just have the Cato article which studied free market education, but it does not provide details on which of these operated in a franchise fashion. So, in other words, I do not know either.

                I will say that if nobody has tried it I would certainly count that as one strike against the idea. If it has been tried multiple times and consistently failed I would count that as a bigger strike against it.

                As you probably know, I led product development and innovation at a major corporation. My experience is that most seemingly good ideas fail.* And my standard for seemingly good is several miles higher than it seems good enough to me to mention it on an Internet site. In other words, I think it is extremely likely that what I am suggesting here will not work. Gasp!

                But that is not an argument against it. It is an argument that before we do move forward that if it did prove to be a reasonably sound idea that it should be tested locally, tweaked, revamped, improved and scaled methodically only if and when it proves empirically superior to alternatives.

                If Jesse is sure the status quo is superior, then all I ask is make room for challengers. If we can empirically provide better education more efficiently then we should…right? But the only way forward is to actually create an environment which encourages experimentation and constructive, competitive learning.

                * and also that most people reject and resist the successful ideas as well.Report

  14. KatherineMW says:

    The results don’t suggest to me that the program should be cancelled. They suggest that it has a positive effect that is outweighed by the cumulative effects, over time, of the situations that at-risk children live in. It suggests the need for programs at additional levels of education for at-risk students – or, even better, for addressing the factors that make them at-risk in the first place.

    If something’s being achieved, and it’s being lost over time, the answer is to find ways to sustain it, not to call off the whole thing.Report

  15. More thoughts about that sacred cow. Whether or not Head Start has favorable developmental effects on some children is an interesting question but I don’t think it is the most relevant or important policy issue to be addressing. Early childhood professionals love their favorite programs and promote them, and parents often are enthusiastic about their child’s good fortune. But a program such as Head Start is not a universal solution.

    Let’s be practical. For many families, it is too far from home—geographically inaccessible to many. The hours of parent’s work schedules may conflict with center hours for child or parent participation. Or parents may believe their child needs care in a family setting, and parents may have more than one child to make arrangements for. Head Start will never be a feasible or desirable option for many families.

    Whether childcare professionals or the public like it or not, decisions about the use of childcare, as a legal right, belongs to the parents. Parental choices reflect the values and special circumstances of each family. And, in my research I have found that parents have the ability to make the best childcare arrangements that are feasible. It all depends upon how much flexibility they can muster from their immediate environment—from their family resources, their job and work agreements, and from accommodating childcare.

    The task for public policy is to promote the wellsprings of that flexibility by improving the working conditions, safety nets, and economic capacity of all families. Then parents can make their best feasible choices. (At Amazon, google “emlen solving.”)
    Art EmlenReport

  16. beagle says:

    Head Start I feel Head Start is not working, some children, learn nothing, i know i worked
    Head Start,Report