Tag Archives: education

Will Today’s ‘Stupid’ Become Tomorrow’s ‘Smart’?

Back in November, both presidential candidates acknowledged that we had to reform our education system. Like most everything else, Obama and McCain naturally disagreed on how to solve this issue. Perhaps we need to pay teachers more and get the best-qualified educators to head our classrooms. Perhaps we need to have more vouchers and charter schools to foster competition. Perhaps we just need parents to get more involved in building shoebox dioramas and helping their kids with algebra problems.

Or, perhaps we’re just getting dumber. (After all, we elected George W. Bush twice. Enough said).

Now that Obama’s education team is in place, here is my billion-dollar proposal: tell smart people to start making babies. Seriously. Set up some mood music in grad school dorms, dim the lighting in the labs, and arrange for some conjugal visits at the space station. Let’s do everything we can to encourage reading and breeding amongst the nation’s intellectual elite.

Why? Consider this: over the past few decades, we have seen significant declines in the birth rates across the country. As more and more young people started going to college, and women became more prevalent in the workplace, births in the U.S. have naturally declined. With that, the composition of mothers has also changed:

“Fertility tends to decline as education level increases. Women may put off marriage and children to further their education, then to get established in the labor force. Women age 40 to 44 with no high school education had about 2.5 children in 2004, compared with 1.6 children among women with a graduate or professional degree.” – Mary Kent, Population Reference Bureau

So keeping this in mind, let’s look at the following charts from the National Center for Health Statistics, which show the birth rates by state in 2002.

In this graphic, the blue states are the most fertile, while the green states are the most sterile (somewhat ironic).  We can see that the states with the highest birth rates are typically in the Midwest and South, whereas East Coasters and Californians are apparently too busy to procreate.  The state with the highest birth rate was Utah (20.9 for every 1,000 people), which may not be all that surprising. (Go to full report)

Now here is a graph from a U.S. Census report, on the percentage of college graduates by state:

So it looks like the states with the most college grads are also the states which tend to have the lowest birth rates.

Hmm…

Consider if this trend continues: the least-educated areas of the country are popping out babies like hotcakes, while the sterile Ivy Leaguers in the Northeast are busy trading mortgage-backed securities on Wall Street. Thus, the composition of the American population is skewed towards those with parents who are less educated. One may argue about the degree to which parents’ educational attainment affects their children’s test scores, but there is undoubtedly a correlation between the two. And while Texans and Idahoans may rightly argue that causality cannot be determined by a few colorful graphs, the data is in line with what we know: women who attain less education have more babies. There is a greater likelihood then that their kids will get less education than children born to snooty PhD candidates in Washington. And their kids will have more kids and more kids, while the slice of snooty intellectuals gets smaller and smaller.

So what can turn this around? In the end, we need to build a universal culture that values learning, instead of a dumb-is-cool culture that values a self-righteous idiocracy. We need to get students excited about education, and close the achievement gap that too often divides along racial and socioeconomic lines. We may need to rehaul our schools, implement student incentive programs, or pay our teachers more…

And we could also start encouraging smart people to make some babies, too.

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Filed under Politics, Random

The Relative Poverty of Teachers in the U.S.

Yesterday, I read a blog post from a friend about teacher vacancies in Washington D.C. The public school chancellor there recently made it a priority to cut out unqualified teachers. This initiative, however, has resulted in an increase in the number of teacher vacancies in D.C. public schools.

My first thought was that teachers, like everyone else, are responsive to the market. With better qualified teachers, there must also be better pay. Perhaps there just aren’t enough “qualified” candidates that are willing to work in urban areas of DC and take a teacher’s low salary (on average, less than $45,000 in the U.S.). So, it got me thinking… just how important is teacher pay? And what effect does it have on student achievement?

To take a stab at this question, I decided to look at differences in teacher pay between countries, using data from a 2008 report by the OECD (If you want to see the data below in Excel, email me for the consolidated reports from the OECD).

It’s often been reported that across the U.S., we spend the most money per student. From the OECD report, we see that this is true: the U.S. spends over $12K per student, versus $8K in other OECD countries.

educspending

However, higher per-student spending in the U.S. is not translating into higher teacher salaries. On an absolute scale, American teachers with 15 years experience make less money than similar teachers in 11 OECD countries, including the U.K., Germany, and Ireland. Not surprisingly, U.S. test scores are lower than 9 of the 11 countries where absolute teacher salaries are higher abroad than in the U.S. (with Luxembourg and Spain being the only exceptions).

educteachsal

educscores

What’s more interesting is that even after 15 years of experience, the average teacher in the U.S. is making less than the average GDP per capita — something that we only see in a handful of other countries (just 8 OECD countries have teachers making less than 100% of GDP per capita after 15 years, vs. 25 countries where veteran teachers are better compensated than the average worker).

educteachsalratio

Finally, not only are teachers in the U.S. poorly compensated relative to their international counterparts, but they also work the most. American teachers spend close to 1100 hours per year teaching, vs. ~800 hours for teachers in other OECD countries.

educteachhrs

Of course, there are many reasons for our mediocre test scores in the U.S., and this analysis is incomplete given that we’re just looking at correlations through graphs. We also need to consider such drivers as cultural differences, student motivation, parent involvement, and the payoff of an additional year of schooling. But teacher pay is obviously a hot topic, and although we can’t determine causation through these charts, it would be interesting to see how U.S. test scores would fare if our teachers were paid comparably to educators in other countries.

Earlier this year, an article in the New York Times highlighted a NYC charter school opening in 2009 that plans to pay its teachers $125,000 a year. With this kind of salary, I’m guessing that teacher vacancies will not be an issue. It seems like the problem in D.C. may be reflective of an overall problem in the U.S. — where we just can’t pay teachers enough to teach. After all, if we’re not rewarding teachers financially, then the number of viable candidates goes down, quality suffers, the system fails, and kids bear the burden.

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Filed under Economy, News, Politics

Thanksgiving on Wall Street

thanksgivingWith the holiday season rapidly approaching, we are all looking forward to seeing our loved ones.  Thanksgiving is a time to catch up with old friends, hang out with obscure members of the family, and gorge ourselves on mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and turkey and tofurkey.  Of course, Thanksgiving is also a time to stretch the truth about how amazing our lives actually are, in order to one-up our cousins and give our parents something to brag about.  So, in order to impress Uncle Jerry and crazy Aunt Lisa, here are some responses that may be better than the cold hard truth.

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “So, what are you up to these days?”

You: “Well, I’m working in New York at [prestigious company] as a credit derivatives trader.” 

(Translation:  I’m probably going to be unemployed soon.)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Wow, that sounds mighty impressive!  So you work in one of those tall, shiny skyscrapers?  What do you do as a trader?”

You: “Essentially, we run complex financial risk models and look for arbitrage opportunities.  My personal responsibility is to oversee all the trades that come through my desk.  Right now we’re in a bit of a liquidity crunch, as I’m sure you’ve heard, so even though it’s been tough, we are working through it.”

(Translation: I spend most of the day trying to break down the firewall that prevents me from checking my fantasy football stats.  At lunch, I serve as the designated pizza bitch for the traders on the floor who are actually making trades.  A few months ago, I used to carry six or seven pizza boxes back to the office.  Now, given the tanking credit markets, I’m ordering by the slice.  The rest of the day, I take bathroom naps and think about how I spent $120,000 on my education to get to this point: where, after a year on the job, I am a glorified delivery person with a Brooks Brothers suit and the financial modeling skills of an orangutan.) 

orangutanCrazy Aunt Lisa: “My goodness… and at such a young age!  So do you get to see friends a lot, given your busy job?”

You: “Even though the job is demanding, I definitely try and make time to see my friends.”

(Translation: If I didn’t see my friends, I would jump out the window of my shiny office building.)

Uncle Jerry: “How are you all liking New York?  Are you staying out of trouble?”

You: “Oh, of course.  My friends and co-workers are all young professionals, and we are always trying to do something different in the city.  There is so much culture in New York.”

(Translation: Yesterday I woke up sprawled outside my apartment door with the imprint of my floor mat on my cheek.)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “That sounds like so much fun!  You are just so accomplished already… I hope [your screwup cousin] can follow your lead. Do you know of any job openings there?”

You: “I can talk to the HR rep about it.  Getting into the business is tough right now given the market, but I will check, definitely.”

(Translation: I would not wish this job on anyone.  Not even my screwup cousin.)

Uncle Jerry: “So, do you think this is it?  Found your calling?”

You: “Well I’ve enjoyed the work, and it’s been a great learning experience so far… I’m not sure I want to settle on anything just yet, because I’m still young, but I’ve learned a lot about myself.”

(Translation:  I’m peacing out after two years.  I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I know that it’s not this…)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Sounds like you have it all figured out!  To be so young and so driven… what a success!”

You: “Yep, that’s me… Could you please pass the sweet potatoes?  And take some more of my BS… I’ve had too much.”

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Of course, dear.

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Correct the Injustice of Prop 8? Yes We Can.

On Tuesday, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency marked an historic night that won’t easily be forgotten.  But, democracy also pointed us in a different direction on Tuesday.  Arizona, Florida, and California all voted to ban same-sex marriage

prop8In California, the passage of Prop 8 (a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage) was especially significant, given that it had been the first state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in 2005.  Throughout the past few months, over $70 million was spent in California on Prop 8 alone.  Supporters of Prop 8 argued that endorsing gay marriage would lead to a breakdown of the traditional family.  More importantly, most “Yes on 8” ads focused on the impact in classrooms, claiming that children would be taught about same-sex marriage.  As an example, these ads often cited a class trip, where first-graders attended a gay wedding in San Francisco.

Education officials and those against Prop 8 tried to combat these misstatements.  California public schools superintendent Jack O’Connell appeared in a “No on 8” ad to dispute the claims that children would be taught about gay marriage.  The “class trip” turned out to be organized by parents as a surprise for the teacher, who was marrying her longtime partner.  But, even while celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Itzhak Perlman, and Samuel L. Jackson made their voices heard against Prop 8, it still wasn’t enough.  A 52% majority of California voters passed the amendment on Tuesday.

Thus, it was a bittersweet day for progressives… we got Barack Obama, but we weren’t able to get equal rights for all.

prop83The popular case against gay marriage/civil unions focuses on the traditional family.  The “Yes on 8” ads running through California were just a small microcosm of a widespread fear that, if we allow gay people to marry, we might just end up with more gay people.  If we tolerate homosexual culture, then we might have more homosexuals one day.  In fact, these arguments sound very much like why we ban prostitution, or why we crack down on drug lords.  By portraying homosexuality as akin to committing a crime, we immediately have a gut reaction against it.  If those first graders were brought to a heterosexual wedding, it’s doubtful that anyone would object.  But because they were brought to a lesbian wedding, they became front-page news and campaign fodder.  Is this necessarily right?  No.  But it’s the culture we live in–a culture that still can’t shake that gut aversion.

Some people might argue, “Well, as long as gay couples still get the same treatment as straight couples, then it’s just an issue of calling it a marriage vs. calling it a civil union.  It’s just semantics.”  Indeed, Barack Obama himself does not support gay marriage, as he favors civil unions. However, according to the New York Times, only “a handful” of states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.  On the other hand, more than 40 states now have laws that ban gay marriage (versus two that allow it: Massachusetts and Connecticut).  And on Tuesday, Arkansas passed a law banning same-sex couples from adopting children.  Thus, whether it is semantics or not, there is an inherent injustice when anyone is denied civil rights granted to all. 

obamanewsInterestingly, while the Western world cheered the United States for becoming the first to elect a black president, we can look to their example when it comes to gay rights.  The following countries guarantee civil rights for gay couples: Canada, Britain, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Luxembourg and South Africa (even given its apartheid past).  France, Germany, and Argentina recognize civil unions but do not include full rights as heterosexual couples.  The United States?  We’ve left it up to the states, and apparently, our states just aren’t ready for it yet.

So, with this in mind, I just want to end with an excerpt from Obama’s speech.  Hopefully a hundred years from now, we can look back and be proud that we corrected the injustice of this generation’s civil rights issue.  One day, I hope we can see the progress we have made: a more open society, a more tolerant culture, and a country that truly treats us all as equals.  

“This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves — if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”

From Barack Obama’s speech at Grant Park in Chicago, 11/4/08 

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Pretty Soon, Today’s ‘Stupid’ Will Be Tomorrow’s ‘Smart’

Last week, both presidential candidates acknowledged that we had to reform our education system. Like most everything else, Obama and McCain naturally disagreed on how to solve this issue. Perhaps we need to pay teachers more and get the best-qualified educators to head our classrooms. Perhaps we need to have more vouchers/charter schools to foster competition. Maybe we just need parents to get more involved in building shoebox dioramas and helping their kids with algebra problems.

Or, perhaps we’re just getting dumber. (After all, we elected George W. Bush twice. Enough said).

Consider this theory: over the past few decades, we have seen significant declines in the birth rates across the country. As more and more young people started going to college, and women became more prevalent in the workplace, births in the U.S. have naturally declined:

“Fertility tends to decline as education level increases. Women may put off marriage and children to further their education, then to get established in the labor force. Women age 40 to 44 with no high school education had about 2.5 children in 2004, compared with 1.6 children among women with a graduate or professional degree.” – Mary Kent, Population Reference Bureau

So keeping this in mind, let’s look at the following charts from the National Center for Health Statistics, which show the birth rates by state in 1990. The chart on the top shows the birth rate, while the chart on the bottom shows the growth in births from 1990 to 2002. The state with the highest birth rate was Utah (20.9 for every 1,000 people), far surpassing Texas as the place where the most babies are made (or at least birthed). (Go to full report)

The states with the highest birth rates are typically in the Midwest and South, whereas East Coasters and Californians are apparently too busy to procreate. Unsurprisingly, these are the same areas where birth rates have declined the most in the past ten years, whereas states like Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina have stepped up their baby-making game.

Now here is a graph from a U.S. Census report, on the percentage of college graduates by state:

So, the states with the most college grads are also the states which tend to have the lowest birth rates.

Hmm…

Consider if this trend continues: the least-educated areas of the country are popping out babies like hotcakes, while the sterile Ivy Leaguers in the Northeast are busy trading mortgage-backed securities on Wall Street. Thus, the composition of the American population is skewed towards those with parents who are less educated. One may argue about the degree to which parents’ educational attainment affects their children’s test scores, but there is undoubtedly a correlation between the two. And while Texans and Idahoans may rightly argue that causality cannot be determined by a few colorful graphs, the data is in line with what we know: women who attain less education have more babies. There is a greater likelihood then that their kids will get less education than children born to snooty PhD candidates in Washington. And their kids will have more kids and more kids, while the slice of snooty intellectuals gets smaller and smaller.

So what can turn this around? In the end, we need to build a universal culture that values learning, instead of a culture that values moose huntin’ and a self-righteous idiocracy. We need to get students excited about education, and close the achievement gap that too often divides along racial and socioeconomic lines. We may need to rehaul our schools, implement student incentive programs, or pay our teachers more…

And we could also start encouraging smart people to make some babies, too.

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Filed under News, Politics