Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
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common-coreWhat is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics.

What do the educational standards entail?

Common Core is intended to cover fewer topics in greater depth at each grade level. In English language arts, the Common Core State Standards require certain content for all students, including: Classic myths and stories from around the world; America’s Founding Documents; Foundational American literature: and Shakespeare. The remaining decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Common Core State Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In Mathematics, the Common Core State Standards lay a solid foundation in: whole numbers; addition; subtraction; multiplication; division; fractions; and decimals. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges in an attempt to prepare students to think and reason mathematically.

Did the federal government implement Common Core?

No, the program is not being implemented by the federal government — though the Obama administration has had some influence over the program. Common Core is an initiative driven by state governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). However, President Obama is a strong supporter and the federal government poured $438 million of economic stimulus funding into developing standardized tests aligned to the Common Core. Additionally, the federal government strongly encouraged states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards” in the competitive grant program Race to the Top and through No Child Left Behind, which outlines consequences for schools that do not meet goals.

Have all the states adopted Common Core?

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icon_22372Over at NRO, Thomas Sowell takes on what he calls the “lie” of “trickle-down economics.” Thus, writes Sowell, “the ‘trickle-down’ lie is 100 percent lie.” Sowell cites Bill de Blasio and Barack Obama as figures perpetuating the “lie,” along with writers in “the New York Times, in the Washington Post, and by professors at prestigious American universities — and even as far away as India.”

But we should also note that “trickle-down theories” get a mention in Evangelii Gaudium, too: “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

In the midst of his discussion, Sowell asks the following penetrating questions:

Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman?

Whether or not there is such a thing as “trickle-down economics” in the discussions about the market economy, isn’t there something akin to what Sowell asks about at play in usual redistributive welfare programs? Don’t we “give” something to governmental bureaucracies and agencies in the hopes that they will in turn redistribute it (hopefully in more than a trickle) to the poor?

And as for the “trickle” part of trickle-down welfare economics, Juan de Mariana long ago observed that “money, transferred through many ministers, is like a liquid. It always leaves a residue in the containers.” So why not give directly to the poor and cut out the middleman, as Sowell wonders?

That’s precisely the discussion that’s been going on over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, among other places, about direct cash transfers to the poor instead of bureaucratic welfare programs. Head on over to the BHL blog to check it out.

elementary-school-student-and-teacher-look-at-computerWhat is the key to improving education in America? Stuart Buck says that Barker Bausell’s book, Too Simple to Fail: A Case for Educational Change, provides the answer:

His main thesis: that the only thing that improves education is spending more time on instruction at a given child’s level. In his words:

All school learning is explained in terms of the amount of relevant instructional time provided to a student.

That’s it: more time + suitability for a child’s level.

This may seem too simplistic at first glance, but Bausell marshals evidence that his theory explains, well, a lot. Possibly even the achievement gap. Studies of home behavior have shown that middle-class families spend much more time talking and reading to their children at a high level. This is the most elegant explanation for why those children do better in school — they have had much more time devoted to their learning.

Read more . . .

KOPPITZ 0010Reading this profile of UPS’s “Mr. Peak,” Scott Abell, is an enlightening exercise, particularly after the close of this holiday season. Mr. Peak is the guy in charge of making sure that the thing you ordered the Friday before Christmas gets there by Christmas Eve. Or as Devin Leonard puts it, “It’s become so easy for people to shop via computers and smartphones that they frequently delay their purchases until the last minute. Mr. Peak’s job, in effect, is to fulfill the Internet’s promise of instant gratification.”

In my Christmas commentary, I wondered about what a civilization organized around the principle of instant gratification might look like. It wasn’t a pretty picture: “A society that sows the gratification of its material desires everywhere and always, without limitations of rest or Sabbath, will reap a harvest of barbaric sensualism.”

If the Internet promises instant gratification, is the world wide web a force for barbarism rather than civilization? No, but perhaps only if we are willing and able to adjust our expectations. The civilized thing to do might be to order your Christmas presents with more than a few hours to spare. It would certainly make life a bit easier on Mr. Peak. He had a pretty rough season this year.

Mr. Peak “tries to get his family to avoid Internet shopping altogether after Thanksgiving. ‘I’m not going to tell them not to shop,’ he says. ‘But I tell them that they should do it early. Early’s better.'”
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Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 6, 2014
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The following is a letter written in response to a post from my friend Brad Littlejohn on the topic of the minimum wage

Dear Brad,

Thank you for your thoughtful and substantive engagement on the question of the minimum wage. I don’t think the conversation we had on Twitter earlier did justice to your work here, so I’m offering this response in hopes of furthering the conversation. I hope you find it fruitful. I certainly have. I should also note that I have been assuming the context of policy proposals to increase the minimum wage at the federal level in the United States. There are certainly aspects of what we’re discussing that apply to a greater or lesser extent in other contexts and at other levels of government, but at the level of individual states, for instance, the stakes are somewhat reduced and ameliorated by the realities of federalism.

You write that you “want to reflect a bit more fully on what’s wrong with one of the common conservative arguments against the minimum wage: that the laborer is only worth his productivity.” I have significant concerns with equating someone’s worth with the economic value of their labor in the marketplace. I do not argue that the laborer is only worth his or her productive work. I argue that a worker’s work is only valuable in a market setting insofar as someone is willing to pay for it. I agree that there is a subjective element to work that is in some ways intimately identified with and inseparable from the person doing the working. But I do maintain that the worker and the work can, and indeed must, be distinguished. Perhaps what we disagree about is that you think the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person is valued. I think that the wage someone is offered is primarily a signal about how much that person’s work is useful to others.
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Related to some recent discussions about the market for Christmas trees, an irreducibly commercial aspect of the holiday, I ran across this delightful post about a little-known poem by T.S. Eliot, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.”

In this piece, Eliot introduces the Christmas tree as a source of wonder for children, a source which can be cultivated into maturity so that at the end of times the fullness of the Christmas message might be harvested. As Maria Popova introduces the verses, they “speak to a very secular concern: our struggle to hold on to our inborn capacity for wonder, that same essential faculty that fuels both science and spirituality.”

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Thus, for Eliot, as the poem opens,

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish — which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder…

Read the rest at “T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.'”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, December 27, 2013
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keep-calm-and-christmas-on-169In this week’s commentary, I examine the link between delayed gratification and civilization. I use the image of children waking up on Christmas morning to a cornucopia of presents under the tree. But for many this year, the delivery of presents was delayed.

Ray Hennessey writes over at Entrepreneur that our consumption habits and expectations, which exemplify an ethic of instant gratification, have a lot to do with delivery failure. As he writes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but the buck stops, so to speak, with we the buyers: “consumers taking to Twitter and Facebook claiming the shipping giants are modern-day Grinches should spend a moment this Boxing Day examining what role their own habits had in stopping Christmas from coming.”

My advice if your presents didn’t arrive by Christmas morning? Keep calm and Christmas on. There are, after all, a whole eleven days after Christmas morning to continue the celebration!

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 27, 2013
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povertycureForbes contributor Jerry Bower recently interviewed Fr. Robert Sirico about the documentary film series PovertyCure:

Jerry: “Let’s talk a little bit about PovertyCure. Where did this idea come from? What was the original conception of PovertyCure?”

Fr. Sirico: “From the inception of the Acton Institute, which was now 24 years ago, we have always been concerned that economic education–a real understanding of how a market functions–will first and foremost help the most vulnerable, so we’ve done various things over the years to attempt to demonstrate or teach or model that for people. And a number of years ago we were talking about what really helps the poor… Obviously, what helps the poor is access to work. But as we looked into the good intentions of so many people, we see that a lot of them just think that solidarity with poor people means giving them things, and from our understanding of how markets function (and from our understanding of human beings), you really find that human beings themselves are the producers of their own wealth and of their own way out of poverty. What we try to do, and what we have now I think beautifully accomplished in this DVD series, is show–very often from the mouths of the poor and also experts–how wealth is created, and the nature of people even in the middle of their poverty to be creative and produce more than they consume. That’s what’s called wealth: When you produce more than you consume.”

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 26, 2013
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utopiaShannon Love reminds us that what great-great-grandparents would consider utopia is what we consider modern life:

Star Trek is often used as a starting point for musing about this or that utopia because everything in Star Trek seems so wonderful. Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry‘s vision of New Frontier democratic socialism evolved to a utopia so perfect that individuals have to head out into the wilds of deep space just to find some adventure. Watching Star Trek, one naturally begins to wonder what it would be like to live in a world so advanced that all of the problems we deal with today have been resolved or minimized to insignificance.

Well, we don’t actually have to imagine what it would be like to live in a Star Trek-like, radically egalitarian, technologically advanced, “post-scarcity” society because we live in a Star Trek-like utopia right now, right here, in contemporary America.

How can I say that? Simple, Star Trek the Next Generation takes place 353 years in the future from 2364 to 2370. If we were to think of ourselves as living in a futuristic science-fiction society we would likewise look back 353 years in the past to 1658.

Image what modern America would look like to the people of any of the world’s major cultures back in 1658! Any novel, movie, TV or comic book set in day-to-day middle-class America would read like astounding science fiction to anyone from 1658. Our society looks even more utopian in comparison to 1658 than Star Trek world 2370 looks to us today.

I’m not just talking about all the amazing and frightening technology like nuclear power/weapons, spacecraft, cars, cell phones, computers, the Internet, etc. I’m also talking about issues of want, individual dignity and social/political equality.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, December 20, 2013
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[Note: A version of this article ran last year around Christmastime. I’m posting it again because I love talking about Frank Capra and everyone else seems to love talking about Ayn Rand.]

Frank Capra and Ayn Rand are two names not often mentioned together. Yet the cheery director of Capra-corn and the dour novelist who created Objectivism have more in common than you might imagine. Both were immigrants who made their names in Hollywood. Both were screenwriters and employees of the film studio RKO Pictures. And during the last half of the 1940s, both created works of enduring cult appeal, Capra with his film It’s a Wonderful Life and Rand with her novel The Fountainhead.

The pair also created two of the most memorable characters in modern pop culture: Howard Roark and George Bailey. To anyone familiar with both works, it would seem the two characters could not be more different. Unexpected similarities emerge, however, when one considers that Roark and Bailey are variations on a common archetype that has captured the American imagination for decades.

Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s book, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey, the hero of Capra’s film, is an idealistic young would-be architect who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in his hometown of Bedford Falls.
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