The past couple of days have been pretty interesting when it comes to news in education. Former Indiana state superintendent, Tony Bennett, was found to have been in talks with a charter school system his donor supports to make some alterations to their grade. In states such as Indiana and Florida, schools are graded A-F based on standardized end of the year assessments. In an era of high stakes testing and accountability, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an episode like this occurred and many more are sure to follow if they have not already taken place. Anthony Cody over at Education Week believes that this could mean the the beginning of the end for corporate K-12 education reform. I agree with him so long as incidents like these begin to occur so the public sees corporate reform for what it  is. Even more importantly, is the research and data corporate reformers are hoping to rely on since the theory for the past two decades has been: if we privatize education then achievement gains will follow. So far, the results are fuzzy and are not in their favor.

With  K-12 market reform under attack, the pendulum seems to be swinging towards another target by corporate reformers: higher education. The Wall Street Journal published an article a few days ago titled the “$4 Million Teacher“. The premise of the article is that we should look at South Korea as evidence that market reforms work because a few superstar mentors make a lot of money by selling recordings of  their lectures . Sound familiar? Over the past couple months, corporate reformers have been talking a lot about MOOCs(massive open online course) as the solution to driving down higher education cost while achieving the same outcomes. That is similar to what they said about K-12 reform as well. What is most interesting to me though is how the hagwons reinforce inequalities which is a common critique of many MOOC critics. Affluent parents, wanting their children to get into the best universities in South Korea, bid up the price of these mentors which becomes a form of social proofing. Right now, most MOOCs are free though corporate reformers are hoping the kind of processes that occur in South Korea will happen in the states so they can try and systematically try and destabilize higher education.

Old news,  but Scott Sumner has written an excellent series of guides that serve as an introduction to market monetarism. I have no formal training in economics, but Scott Sumner’s blog was the first economics blog I came across and I learned a lot more about macro through his blog than I did  in my intro macro course. So check it out here. Once you’ve finished reading through those I also recommend checking out these entries from him here and here.

High frequency is a bit of an exaggeration of course, but that is what I was thinking as I was reading this piece by NPR from yesterday morning pertaining to the job market for college graduates entering the labor force. My favorite bit of advice from the article comes from economist Justin Wolfers who states that you should

Approach your career ambitions the same way you approached your romantic ambitions at college. Sure, you’re looking for “The One,” but the only way to find that is by going on a lot of dates. And you should think about your first job as a good first date. Try it out. If you like it, stick around for another year. But if not, ask another employer out. And keep playing the field until you’ve found the job you want to stay with.

This pattern of hopping between jobs while young, before settling down, is in remarkably common. And it makes sense, too. Romantic success never follows from trying to improve your partner; it follows from moving on and finding a better match. The same is true in the world of work.

Indeed, economic research shows that most large pay gains come not from your boss promoting you, but rather from moving to a job that’s a better fit, with a different employer.

So for now, play the field. You’ll discover what you like, you’ll discover what you’re good at, and at some point you’ll be ready to settle down.

This is really excellent advice and a pretty good analogy as well. It reminds me of what I wrote a few weeks ago about whether or not college should be about attaining a “marketable” degree.  College students shouldn’t concern themselves with degrees they think are in demand and concern themselves more with attaining a unique experience that fits their personality and then using that to hone in on and develop skills that make them valuable to future employers. It’s normal for new college graduates to switch jobs often for the first few years they graduate as they learn more about their interest and realign their interest and skills to jobs that suit them better. There’s a catch though: the ability for young graduates to do this is highly dependent on the economy. This chart from the St. Louis Fed illustrates this:

fredgraph

Prior the recession, there was plenty of labor mobility as workers quit at a rate of  about 2.3%. Since then it has a dropped down to 1.6% up from 1.2% which was the height of the recession. Unfortunately for new graduates, there are some other ramifications to lower rates of labor mobility outside of just being unable to change jobs easily as seen in the graph below:

Desired Wage

At the height of a healthy economy when there are a lot of job openings, workers have much more flexibility and leverage in where and who they want to work for which allows them to negotiate a higher wage. Employers, wanting to hire the best candidate for a position will raise the wage or negotiate a higher wage if it means attracting the most qualified candidate for a position.  In a recession or a slow recovering economy such as the one the US economy is one, you have the opposite. During a recession wages drop as the market clears. For the new worker entering into the labor force, this means accepting a wage lower than the one you desire so long as it is higher than their reservation wage.

So imagine worker A graduates and enters the labor force while the economy is healthy. Worker B graduates and enters the labor force during a slow recovery.  Worker A starts out with a much higher wage than worker B and because the economy affords him much higher labor mobility, he can switch jobs when he feels there is skill mismatch or his employer isn’t paying him what he believes his market value is. Worker B on the other hand has less options when it comes to negotiating his starting wage and as a result he is already at a disadvantage compared to worker A. Worker B also does not have the option of high labor mobility so while worker A saw his wages increasing, worker B’s wages remained fairly stagnant. Of course worker B has the potential to catch up to worker A, but as you can see, there are some initial losses in earnings that result from entering the labor force in a weak economy. What is likely to happen is that the losses will compound over a lifetime leading to overall lower earnings for worker B.

The Center For American Progress posted an interactive map that compares the US to other developed countries in terms of universal pre-k investments based on 4 criteria:

  1. Enrollment by ages 3 & 4
  2. Ratio of students to teacher
  3. Expenditure as a % of GDP
  4. Usual starting age

The US lags behind as expected. What I find interesting about the map though is Finland compared to other developed countries. Finland generally performs better than most European countries so I wonder how they get roughly the 50% who don’t attend caught up to their peers when they start attending Kindergarten.

 

A while ago I watched this TED talk by Susan Cain about introverts:



Afterwards I went out and purchased her book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and I just finished it not too long ago. While I wished it focused more on studies and less on anecdotes, I did find it to be a very powerful book and relevant to my life. I happen to be introverted and have found that on more than one occasion  the word “introvert” is often misconstrued to mean “socially awkward” , “social anxiety” , or “shy”. This has all kinds of social implications since it now means something that carries with it a negative connotation.

Even when people do know what it means, there is still a stigma that comes with the term. In her book, Cain does a good job of showing how there tends to be a bias towards extroverts even when half the population is probably introverted. A good example of this how we tend to view someone more positively if they can give a speech and sound knowledgeable even when he isn’t compared to someone who gives a speech on the same topic, but dislikes public speaking and conveys that through his speech.

As I mentioned, I am a bit introverted and have experience some of the pro-extrovert bias, mostly at the hands of extroverts who will usually make it a point to try to make me come out of my “shell “or tell me that I “don’t talk much”. The worst is when it has affected my professional life when my temperament is misinterpreted to mean  unenthusiasm despite the quality of my work. Despite these setbacks, I persist. Overall I am glad I read this book and highly recommend it especially to those who think of their introversion as a setback or that they’re living their life the wrong. As a former adolescent and  now young adult, I used to be one of those people.

Great post from Jeffrey Selingo about whether or not the type of degree matters.  This part in particular was what I thought to be the best insight from his post:

Hiring managers complain that they often find today’s college graduates lacking in interpersonal skills, problem solving, effective written and oral communication skills, the ability to work in teams, and critical and analytical thinking.

Regardless of what someone chooses to major in, a motivated student should able to to develop the skills listed and use it to his or her advantage when looking for a job after graduation.

What began as a Twitter conversation lead to David Phillippe linking me to some thoughts he had previously about the purpose of high education here and here. My first reaction was to think about the higher premium in income that a college degree yields for those who hold degrees despite the type of degree. In the end, that just reinforces the idea of degrees being more marketable at the expense of degrees that are less vocational such as those found in the liberal arts.

On another level, you see the idea of marketable degrees being pushed by people in more conservative circles who place a great deal of emphasis on the quantity of an outcome. What I mean  by that is that someone might pursue or push someone towards this kind of education by just looking at what that education will tangibly yield in the short to medium term. That is why there such a huge push right now for people to go into STEM fields. On the other end, you would have people who place more value on the quality of the outcome. So they would pursue an education for the intrinsic benefits and the spillover effects it might produce without a lot of emphasis on monetary benefits.

I have to wonder how the former will end up changing the culture of higher education and learning. There’s no doubt that the uncertainty created by the economy growing sluggishly has helped fuel the idea of higher education as being job training, but could it possibly lead to degrees deemed as less marketable being more stigmatized and emphasized(funded) less in k-12 education and institutes of higher learning? The economy will eventually improve, however, the amount of debt students are taking on will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future and that will push more students and parents into the former, rather than latter, idea of a higher education. Where I grew up, a lot of people from my high school choose not to go to college because they did not want to take on a load of debt to pursue a degree. That is reasonable. However, a lot of them went the vocational route into fields that might not even exist in two decades such as welding and the jobs related to that industry. Policy makers should take note of this. In the long run, these types of decision making are not good for young people(myself included in this category) today since it comes at the expense of positive externalities such as not being able to save a lot for retirement resulting in more assistance later in life and deadweight loss due to less human capital talent clustering to innovate.

I’ve been pretty busy this week trying to keep ahead of my workload so I have not had much time to think about blogging. Below are some links to articles and my thoughts on them.

According to a poll, many Americans are worried about falling out of the middle class and much of that is attributed to the economy. With the recent fallout from the Reinhart-Rogoff error, maybe policy makers can finally gain the support for fiscal intervention instead of worrying about  pro-cyclical policies such as deficit reduction in a period of slow growth.

For those who have a bit more disposable income, high income cities can offer you a lower cost of living(outside of housing) and raise your quality of life at the same time.

I was a bit more optimistic about the medicaid expansion, hoping that most citizens in most of the states opting out would pressure legislatures in their states to do so. In the short run this could spell trouble for the bill since it won’t allow it to work as it is intended. In the long run, it could gain more traction in the current states opting out  if the issue of the uninsured becomes problematic in those states compared to states choosing to expand.

 

The senate bill to reform the immigration system was released the other day and yesterday, the eight senators who created the bill gave their case for it. These are some of the major points from the bill:

  • Homeland Security needs to submit a plan for gaining control of the border and has 4.5 billion to do it. Legal residency status won’t be granted until the department  does this and and meets the goals outlined in its plan.
  • Workers must apply for a provisional license and then wait 10 years before they can gain permanent residency. Along the way they must pay $2000+ in various fees every six years.
  • A new type of visa  called the W Visa that ranges in the tens of thousands are granted for some workers in low skilled occupations. The amount would fluctuate depending on labor demands.
  • The number of H-1B visas available for highly skilled workers in technical or artistic fields is much more than the ones available for low skilled workers ranging from 110,000  to 180,000 a year depending on labor conditions.
  • There is also a merit based system that takes into consideration education level and employment which will help some highly skilled immigrants gain permanent residency status faster. The cap on this will grow  to up to 250,000 a year.
  • Employers looking to employ H-1B workers would have to pay higher wages to these workers. Before they hire them they have to post a listing in the Department of Labor’s website. If they become dependent on foreign workers then they will be forced to pay the H-1B workers higher wages.

The senate proposal can be viewed here

The path for permanent residency and the future W visa program are without a doubt the most important parts of this bill from my point of view. The former sets up a path for citizenship for undocumented workers residing in the US while the latter creates a path of citizenship for future workers who will immigrant to the US to improve their standard of living. It is these two measures by that I think(if they’re in the final bill) will really determine whether or not this bill is a success since the purpose of doing this is to cut down on the amount of workers who are undocumented.

Jason Palmer wrote a pretty interesting post here about a current legislative proposal in Tennessee which ties welfare to student achievement. I do agree with David Phillippe who states that this type of legislation is a form of poverty punishment and it is indeed. This legislation basically ignores any  research that indicates that parent income and educational levels are a strong indicator for child achievement and presupposes that low student achievement from low income students stems from parents living in poverty not caring about their childs education.

Parents from all income levels want the best for the child, but the difference between a highly educated high, earning parent compared to a  low educated and low earning parent is that the former can better acquire and mobilize resources to help their child achieve at a high level in school compared to the latter.  There is no better example of this in my opinion than preschool and early reading, both of which stimulate children and help with their cognitive development and vocabulary acquisition. It is higher income children, not those in poverty, who are put in these environments where they can get this kind of  positive development in the first place. Expound that over a child’s lifetime and these kind of missed opportunities begin to add up for the low income child and the child begins to fall behind from where he or she should be at compared to his or her peers. Again, the higher educated ,high earning parent is going to know how to seize these opportunities for their child.

I don’t think the solution is to incentivize parents through forms of poverty punishment. Low income students are much more likely to not complete school for a multitude of reasons including not seeing it as purposeful when they’re so far behind that they’re just being pushed through the system. What I think will happen if this legislation becomes law is that it further lead to disparities in income since parents will be penalized for their child not doing well in school. Lower income communities tend to be very supportive of each when it comes to the family as a collective unit so I think it will lead to more children dropping out when they are of age to help bring in extra income for their family and take care of their parents. That’s not very good outcome for anyone. Resources should be better spent on trying to help low income children achieve higher and that’s a long term commitment.

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