School Choice Has No Impact. And Your Point Is..?

Steven D. Levitt writes about some of his cohorts whose studies indicate that sending kids to “better” schools doesn’t guarantee better results.

Part of the answer is likely that the definition of “better” is based on outputs, like how high the test scores are at the school or what fraction of its students attend good colleges. That sort of metric ignores the fact that “better” schools tend to attract “better” kids. These are kids with strong families and good academic backgrounds. So even if the school is not at all good at adding value, it will still have the best outputs, because it had the best inputs. If the school does not have high value added, there is no reason to expect that a child who transfers there will do better than she did at her previous school. Parents don’t have good information on the inputs to a school, only the outputs, so it is difficult for them to accurately assess value added.

If this is an argument against school choice, it is a weak one. Parents should be able to choose what school their kid attends not because of the expected outcome, but because he is their kid!

In thinking about the broader implications of this research, it is important to bear in mind that the school choice program that Julie and Brian analyze is just one kind of school choice (albeit the most common one), operating within a single public school system. It differs from voucher programs or school choice across school districts, and increased competition may be more effective in those settings.

It is a very slippery slope to decide policy based completely on the predicted outcome without regard for the rights of the individual to choose. Here’s why…

In Levitt’s conclusions in his book, Freakonomics, he contends that the drop in crime rate of the 1990s was a result of Roe vs Wade. Essentially, many would be criminals from difficult socio-economic backgrounds were never born, and therefore never grew up to be criminals two decades later.

Assuming this is true, would it be a valid policy to require all mothers in stressed economic conditions to have ablortions? Would we set a policy to kill all babies born into difficult socio-economic conditions in order to reduce the crime rate later on? Of course not.

No matter the expected outcome, it is wrong to violate the rights of the individual to choose, so long as the choice does no harm to anyone else.

Sorry, but where we send our kids to school is none of anyone else’s business. Period.

Student Loans–Education by Doctor Evil

Student loans–yet another thing I’m against. I’m not against the fact that they exist, mind you, I just don’t think think they are a good idea for me or my posterity. You can do what you want, but Katherine Coble and several other people agree with me.

I still think that the student loans I took out were some of the biggest financial mistakes of my life.

And from the comments, Jim Voorhies adds this.

Being able to do what you love is the goal all of us should have. Knowing what that was at a time early enough in life to be able to mesh it with your degree is remarkable.

It’s totally contrary to the norm, but I think many 18 year olds would be a lot better off if they didn’t go to college right away. They’d be better off getting a job doing something, getting their partying out of the way, learning what it means to have real bills, saving some money (for school) and figuring out what they really want to do. It would have been good for me.

Maybe a good rule of thumb is to have two of these three things in place:
1) Absolutely sure of what you want to study
2) Can pay for it without loans
3) Have done enough real labor to know you don’t want to wash dishes for the rest of your life.

A Possible Book Ban?

SomeONE apparently didn’t like a couple of paragraphs of Lee Smith’s “Fair and Tender Ladies”, and wants the book banned from Washington County Schools.

Makes sense. High school kids these days really aren’t prepared for that kind of language, mostly because they’ve been failed by our school systems. Back in my day, we could to hande the “F” word and anything else a book could fire our way because we’d already learned all about that stuff in middle school–on the bus.

Seriously, be glad if your high schooler is reading a book at all. Didn’t book banning go out of style some time in the 70s or 80s? Weren’t all of these kids running around named Holden and Pheobe named so in commemoration of its death?

via Michael Silence

Five Quick Tips On Evaluating Your Kids’ Teachers

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a conversation between the missus, a former elementary school teacher and education consultant, and a couple of her teacher friends. They were talking about good teachers, bad teachers, and the differences between them. For once, I just shut up and listened–they brought up a lot of interesting observations of their peers that help them make a quick judgments about the effectiveness of the teacher. There were a few that I thought were really interesting and could help parents when they head out to open house or when visiting the school.

1. Where is the teacher’s desk located in the classroom?
If the teacher’s desk is located in the back or on the side of the classroom, this is an excellent sign. This means that your child’s teacher most likely spends most of his instructional time standing and moving around the classroom, which helps hold the kids’ interest and helps the teacher interact better with all of the kids, not just the ones up front. If the desk is located in the front of the room, check to see if it looks “lived in”. The best sign is if the teacher doesn’t have a desk at all, or if it is located in an office separated from the classroom.

2. Are the kids’ desks in rows, or are they in groups, a circle, or some other configuration?
Rows may be fine for older kids, but in the younger grades U-shaped or grouped desks help the kids better interact with the teacher and one another. If your child always has an unobstructed and close view of the teacher during instructional time, chances are better that he’ll be paying attention. These configurations also allow the teacher to more easily keep tabs on what each student is doing and pick up on important physical cues as to whether or not the kids are absorbing the lesson. The ability to interact with other students fosters cooperative learning. Kids often learn things from one another that they don’t learn from the teacher.

3. What activities does your child do for homework?
Most of us grew up copying each vocabulary and/or spelling word three times or copying the definition from the book. The latest research has shown that while wrote memorization is a valuable component to learning when used in conjunction with other activities that reinforce understanding, it is at best marginally effective when used by itself. Words need to be made meaningful to the child in order for them to internalize them. If these are the only activities your child is given for homework, her teacher may be a little “old school”. He may not be up to date on the latest research, or may just be ignoring it altogether.

4. Are the materials on the wall functional, or just pretty?
Motivational posters from Wal-Mart are nice, but the classroom walls are best used by good teachers to reinforce what is being taught in the curriculum. Another positive sign is an abundance of materials made by the teacher and/or the students themselves.

5. What does the class look like when walking down the halls
Is the teacher a “mama duck”–heading up the line down the hallway while a chaotic mass follows her? Is he a “shusher”–constantly having to remind the kids to be quiet while they walk? Both of these are strong indicators of teachers who may lack discipline and control in the classroom. If the teacher really has control and respect in the classroom, that will carry over with her kids outside the classroom. The best teachers walk in the middle, beside the line. At corners, they stand at the apex so that they can view both the front and back of the line.

These tips are just a few starting points to help you get a feel for your child’s teacher, but just because your child’s teacher doesn’t meet every point outlined here doesn’t mean she is a bad teacher. Of course, you will learn much more by meeting with the teacher face to face and asking specific questions about your concerns for your child. Hopefully the tips covered here will give you some ideas about what questions you may need to ask.

Webkinz–Who Knew?

It seems like the frenzy may not have fully hit Knoxville/East Tennessee yet, but I think a full blown Webkinz craze may be coming. It may actually already exist here, but I was unaware of it. I am admittedly out of touch with what is “cool” with young kids, and I have been for quite a while. I know of, but am not completely knowledgeable about Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer, but I had never even heard of Webkinz until this weekend.

My sister in law and her kids, 10 and 7 years old, are visiting from Florida, and they were super excited the other day after they got home from Dollywood. Not because of the rides they rode, but because of the huge selection of Webkinz that were available for purchase there.

I got a quick rundown from them about Webkinz, and it actually sounds like a pretty cool idea. It is a pretty simple concept, and is completely viral in terms of web use and marketing.

First, you buy a Webkinz plush toy. This toy comes with a code that you enter online where you then adopt and name a virtual version of this “pet”. You get to build a room for your virtual pet, then participate in all sorts of activities online that allow you to build up virtual cash to buy more cool things for your pet.

If you are like me and had not heard of Webkinz before, look out. It seems to be the latest thing, and I actually get why.

Great-Grandmothers, Tact, and Spanking

I had a conversation with a really nice lady while waiting outside at the OB’s office yesterday. I would have never guessed her as a great-grandmother if she hadn’t told me she was there with her granddaughter who had a 10 month old baby.

We talked about a lot of things having to do with kids, and of course she gave me some parenting advice. She’d obviously had a lot of practice in giving advice without seeming like she was giving advice, and I even though I picked up on what she was doing, I appreciated the fact that she made an effort to disguise it.

The point is, I knew what she was driving at, and actually appreciated what she had to say.

Her main point was that we shouldn’t hesitate to spank when needed. Of course, she didn’t come right out and say this. She gave a couple of anecdotes about kids misbehaving in the store, at the doctor’s office (hint, hint to the other lady waiting with her 3 year old), and at church. She followed that up by saying that she was sure that my parents had spanked me when I needed it, and look at what a nice young man I’d turned out to be.

Well, at least she was half right. 😛

I’m down with spanking. No doubt about it.

Luckily for Becky, she doesn’t have to question herself on spanking. She has plenty of other people to question it for her.

Half Full in Knoxville, Half Empty in Nashville

A report called Kids Count was released today that ranks states on child welfare, infant mortality, etc. There were headlines about the report in both the Knoxville News Sentinel and The Tennessean, but they put opposing spins on the story.

According to the KNS:
Report shows state improving on health of children, teenagers

But The Tennessean says:
Tennessee ranks low in well-being of kids

Oddly enough, these stories seem to be working towards the same end, glorifying the use of state funds to improve the well being of our children. It’s always about the children, isn’t it?

Minnesota ranked at the top. It will be interesting to see how the papers there spin this, won’t it?

Overheard at the Hospital

I just returned to the hospital from running a couple of errands, and I came in through the cafeteria entrance, which has a nice outdoor dining area. There was a group of people unpacking their cooler (white bread, baloney, mayonnaise, and Lay’s potato chips) and I overhead the following statement:

“He’s got four warrants out, owes $14,000 in back child support, and he ain’t even lookin’ for a job.”

That’s funny.

Have you ever noticed that most of the people at the hospital look really unhealthy? I don’t mean the people that are in the hospital, I mean the people visiting. There are tons of overweight people (haha), and most of them are standing outside smoking. I’m not talking about heavy people–I could lose a few pounds myself. I’m talking about really obese people puffing away. It makes you wonder if the people they are there to visit are there mostly because they share a similar lifestyle.

Worse than the friends and family doing this outside are the nurses.

Is this what our money would go to support with nationalized health care? It’s no more fair for them to chip in and pay for my knee surgery because I chose to play a collision sport with a bunch of 20 year old kids than it is for me to chip in to pay for their health problems due to their lifestyle.

Happy Cost of Government Day!

Doug Mataconis points us to the report by Americans for Tax Reform that declares today the day of economic liberty in the United States. That’s right–beginning today, and every day for the rest of this year, every dollar you make actually belongs to you! This is very exciting. It’s a Festivus miracle!!!

It now only takes a little over half a year’s worth of work to pay your share of the bountiful gifts of government. Here are just a few examples of the wonderful things you have earned from your toils this year alone:

Failing education for all the kids in your neighborhood, whether you have any or not

A nation building project, err “war” that you probably don’t support

Housing for homeless alcoholics (offer good for Seattle residents only)

A fat pension for your former sheriff (Knox County residents only)

Substandard healthcare for wounded servicemen

A bankrupt government pension retirement fund–a.k.a. socialist security

Countless government subsidies for private industries–a.k.a. corporate welfare

Good job! I think you deserve a raise!!!


The idea that Americans should have to work more than half the year to pay for the state should be offensive to anyone. Instead we all just seem to blindly accept it.

Newsflash–High School Kids in a Fight!

Is anyone else bored/disgusted/irritated/dumbstruck by news (and I use that term lightly) stations like Fox and CNN spending hours covering important stories like kids posting fights on YouTube?

I just went to warm up my lunch and there were 20 people in our dining area fixated on a story on Fox about a “savage beating” that was videotaped and posted on YouTube. Of course, the anchors were telling us how horrible this is, and of course you couldn’t see them, only hear their voices over the video of the horrible fight that YouTube is showing.

So there were at least 20 people watching this fight on the “news” who never would have watched it otherwise. These news stations are just a pathetic joke.