Valuing Children

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 15, 2008

Finally and long overdue, here is my book review of Valuing Children, Nancy Folbre’s latest book. The overall goal of this book is to show how and why children matter for economic life, to provide estimates of the economic value of family (nonmarket) childcare and parental expenditures in the USA, and to raise critical questions about the size and kinds of public spending on children in the USA.

Folbre formulates four questions which she sets out to answer: (1) Why should we care about spending on the children? (2) How much money and time do parents devote to children? (3) How much money do taxpayers spend on children? And (4) who should pay for the kids (in other words, which share of the costs of children should be borne by parents and by the government)?

In answering the first question, Folbre rightly points out that children do not fit well as a category in economic thinking. Economists have often described child rearing as an investment (expecting to generate a flow of future happiness) or similar to a pet or a durable consumer good. Yet unlike these other categories, children cannot be bought or sold. And, Folbre argues, children provide important benefits to future fellow workers and taxpayers. Parents thus provide not only services of great value to the children, but also indirectly to those who will benefit from these children’s future societal contributions. Acknowledging this crucial (re-)productive role of parents prompts us to reconceptualise households as units of primarily producers of human capabilities, rather than as consumers. This creation and maintenance of human capabilities is argued to benefit the economy as a whole. Reconceptualising the economy to take this into account thus raises questions of both efficiency and fairness – and this is why we should care about spending on the children.

Folbre knows that in this world one has to measure things to make them count – and hence in the middle part of the book she provides estimates of the costs of children. I found this the most exciting part of the book – and a very valuable contribution to knowledge on parenthood, the economics of families, and public policies affecting families and children.

Children remain to a significant extent invisible in economic studies. Of course, for many decades mainstream economics has provided estimates of the private costs of children. The problems with these estimates can perhaps best be illustrated by looking at the standard construction of household equivalence scales. These are the factors economists use if they want to compare the welfare of households with different composition. For example, a common equivalence scale to compare households with different sizes divides household income by the square root of the number of household members. So a household of two members is considered to have exactly the same material welfare if it has 1.4 times the income of a person living alone. At first sight, this seems to make sense, since there are large economies of scale from joint household consumption (e.g. a couple needs the same number of durable consumption goods like a TV or a refrigerator as a single adult). Yet equivalence scales typically give children the same weight as adults (as in the just mentioned scales) or give them smaller weights as adults – following the assumption that children need less food and other such items. The scales treat children as if their needs are far lower, or at best the same, than adults. But this assumption ignores the large costs for childcare and education that children need. Either childcare has to be bought in the market, or else its costs are the forgone lifetime earnings of the person caring for the child – in either case significant sums of money. The underestimation (in equivalence scales) or the entire neglect (in GDP) of the cost of family childcare is important for several reasons, including the fact that these equivalence scales are used to calculate poverty statistics. All other things equal, the number of children in poverty will be underestimated. Moreover, ignoring nonmarket work in GDP calculations leads to the conclusion that countries which have commodified childcare are, all other things equal, better off than those where parents and relatives are caring for children. There are many reasons to doubt that this is the case – for example, according to UNICEF Dutch children are the happiest in the world, yet the Netherlands has by North-american standards very high levels of nonmarket family childcare.

Folbre then moves on to provide estimates of the cost of children, which fall into two main categories: expenditures and family work. Data needed to calculate the per-child expenditures in the USA in 2000 are provided by the US consumer spending surveys, and range on an annual basis from $ 6,700 per infant in families with three or more children, to just over 12,000 for teenagers in one-child families. In a one-child family, the total cost of expenditures for a child during their entire childhood will amount to $205,383. For a child in a family with three or more children, this lowers to just under $128,000. High-income parents spend more than low-income parents, but whatever the family size and household income, parents spend large sums on raising their children.

Using time diaries administered by the Child Development Supplement of the US Panel Survey of Income Dynamics, and the American Time Use Survey, Folbre estimate the time parents devote to family work (child care and domestic work), and what this work would be worth in financial terms. The first hurdle to take is to sort out the conceptual questions – what counts as work, and what counts as leisure, and what is a useful typology of family work? Folbre proposes to distinguish between a number of different conceptual categories for parental care: “participation with a child in a primary activity, participation in a secondary activity, supervisory responsibilities, being on call, and engaging in tasks that indirectly benefit the child (such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, or making appointments and arrangements for special activities)” (p. 106). Folbre produces a very interesting overview of the time spent on the different components of family care by parents, and how it differs according to the age of the children (aged between 0 and 11), and on the number of parents in the household. These detailed statistics allow us to compare children and parents in different situations. For example, the younger the child, the more she is engaged in activities with her parents. A child with two parents present enjoys on average 32 hours a week of active parental care (with either or both of the parents present) whereas for children of single parents this number is 23 hours. Children spend much less time alone with their fathers than with their mother: in two-parent households children aged 0 to 2 spend 19.5 hours with their mother alone, and 7.9 hours with their father alone – and this parental gap remains significant when they get older (e.g. 11.4 versus 4.3 hours when they are aged 9-11). I would have been very interested in finding out if this parental inequality in family child care is also present in gay couples: but the data did not allow for such analysis, nor for an analysis for different racial/ethnic groups, where fatherhood may be experienced differently.

How could these time allocations be translated into a monetary value? Folbre argues that the replacement cost approach is the most appropriate way of valuing labour inputs: use the wage rate required to hire a replacement for the work done, rather than the actual or potential wage rate of the person doing the work. Folbre opts for a lower bound estimate. In her estimates she values the hours of active care by the wages of an average child care worker ($7.43 in 2000, which is low compared to the median for all workers at $13.74). For the passive care hours she uses the federal minimum wage. In both cases she assumes the presence of two children. Sleeping time and overlapping parental time are not included in these estimates. Under these, in my opinion very modest assumptions, the annual cost of parental family care in a two-parent two-child household would annually amount to $13,352; in a one-parent family $11,024. (p. 129). If we add to these the direct monetary expenditures, then the total parental expenditures annually average $23,243 in two parent households, and $17,125 in one-parent households. The time cost of parenting takes about 60 to 65% of this total cost.

Having analysed what parents spend on their children, Folbre moves on to investigate what the government spends on children. She shows that in the US federal policy provides better protection for the old than for the young and that there are great inequalities in access to health care and education. Folbre also lays out the different US public policies that affect parenting and children; for a non-American audience this is a very useful overview for those wanting to start getting a grip on the different types of American family-related policies.

If I have one criticism on this book, then it is the way Folbre has answered the fourth and final question: Who should pay for the kids? Which share of the large cost of raising children should be borne by parents and society? Folbre outlines that there are three related but distinct reasons for public spending on children: social investment, intergenerational reciprocity, and moral obligation. The social investments argument highlights that investments in children’s health and early childhood development programs provide benefits that far exceed their costs. Concerning intergenerational reciprocity, Folbre argues that most of us are repaying the older generations for what they spent on us, or making equivalent gifts to the next generation – but that “we do so unevenly, in an institutional structure that reproduces existing inequalities and rewards reproductive free riding.” (p. 183). As for the moral obligations, “parental efforts should be rewarded in ways that both honor and reinforce the profound moral commitments they represent” (p. 183). My concern with this concluding chapter of Valuing Children is that these are huge questions in moral philosophy – and I know of several people who have been breaking their heads over these issues for years, and are still struggling with finding the answers. Although as a parent I hope Folbre’s answers are the right ones, as a political philosopher I am not so sure. For one thing, stressing the argument that children will provide future societal contributions may lead to the morally perverse effect that we will steer public resources to the most potentially-productive children, and that we value children for what they will be, rather than worrying about their well-being right now independent on how that affects them as future-adults. And what do we do if there are trade-offs to be made in policies aiming at children-as-children versus children-as-future-adults? Moreover, philosophically speaking, even the most radical views such as those of David Benatar who argues that we are harmed by coming into existence require serious consideration: if Benatar were right, what would be the implications for Folbre’s analysis? Also if one wishes to develop a more pro-family argument relative to the current political arrangements, it needs to be developed carefully and confronted with all possible objections if it wants to stand the test of critical scrutiny.

Folbre has provided a very valuable contribution to knowledge in revealing the size of parental expenditures and family work and in arguing for their relevance in economics and public policies; yet as far as the normative justifications of public spending on families are concerned, more work is needed. It is time that those philosophers who have been procrastinating with their unpublished thoughts, books and papers, contribute their share of the work needed to be done in thinking about the value of children and parenthood (… alas, this procrastinating crowd includes me too).

{ 86 comments }

1

Harry 09.15.08 at 3:54 pm

Hey, is that last sentence a criticism of me?

2

HH 09.15.08 at 3:55 pm

One of the most durable taboos in American society is acknowledgment that the local financing of education creates a zero-sum mentality among affluent suburbanites, leading them to view the inferior funding of education in less prosperous (urban) school districts as a competitive advantage for their more fortunate children.

This unfortunate gaming of educational resources in America leads to the planned destruction of approximately 20% of the US workforce, because it is so poorly educated that it cannot participate productively in a modern economy. Until the American middle class stops playing a zero-sum game with school funding, our global competitiveness will continue to slip against nations that value all of their children.

3

Ingrid Robeyns 09.15.08 at 5:15 pm

Harry, I know at least 5 political philosophers who are trying to answer the question “who should pay for the kids” (or closely related questions such as what grounds do we have to partly socialise the cost of parenthood) – and only Adam and you have published several papers – so NO, while I am eagerly anticipating your book, it is addressed to those other 3, which also includes myself. But there may be more people out there – it would be great if they would join this debate. And it would be even better if more philosophers would join this debate, since it is such an important question imo (as Folbre’s figures clearly show).

4

mpowell 09.15.08 at 5:24 pm

One additional factor that deserves consideration is what the target reproductive rate should be. If sharing the cost of childcare across society leads to a reproductive rate that is higher than desirable, should that argue against sharing those costs? And will this even have any noticeable effects? I think you might even be able to form policies that decouple the cost to families of having children and the resources the children consume in terms of care.

5

HH 09.15.08 at 5:27 pm

As long as prodigies are born into poor families and scoundrels inherit wealth, the assertion of any moral basis for hereditary favoritism in the education of children is nonsense. Our children are our shared investment in the future of humanity. To discriminate among them on the basis of tribes or clans is to clothe primitivism in philosophical trappings.

By what philosophical law does a child born into unspeakable misery in Kinshasa “deserve” an education inferior to that of George W. Bush, Jr?

6

John Emerson 09.15.08 at 6:49 pm

Becker’s treatment of the family is especially insane. My comment is at my URL.

7

lindsey 09.15.08 at 7:38 pm

harry, if only this book had been out when I was working on that paper… (maybe it’s better that it wasn’t though, might not have left me anything to say)

8

Harry 09.15.08 at 7:42 pm

No, Lindsey, it would have left you plenty to say (that’s what Ingrid is implying in her last couple of sentences)!

9

John Emerson 09.15.08 at 7:47 pm

American school funding is also tied in with de facto racial segregation and with the whole complex of issues connected to home ownership: the mortgage exemption, half the American financial system (as we’ve been seeing), the tax structure, and the myth of the middle class.

Many homeowners own much less than they think, and I suspect that for many of them home ownership is a much worse deal than they think. For example, a lot of the appreciation of homes comes from sweat equity and investmenst in maintainence and improvements, and in many cases people could do just as well taking a second part time job and investing the surplus elsewhere. And in some cases the compulsion to own a home leads people to move to neighborhoods where the public and shared goods and social capital are inferior, just for the sake of owning a home.

I’ll never be able to develop these hunches, and for all I know they’re delusory, but I’d love to see what someone else could do with these questions.

10

Slocum 09.15.08 at 9:03 pm

One of the most durable taboos in American society is acknowledgment that the local financing of education creates a zero-sum mentality among affluent suburbanites, leading them to view the inferior funding of education in less prosperous (urban) school districts as a competitive advantage for their more fortunate children.

Actually, I think that’s one of the most durable myths. Michigan has had state-wide, equalized funding for about 15 years. Some districts that were already high-spending were grandfathered and allowed to use local taxes to maintain funding above the minimum with the differential to be gradually eliminated. However, this is not critical. In local area here, for example, the Ann Arbor school district is one of the ‘hold harmless’ districts allowed to raise and spend more. But several of the smaller suburban districts surrounding Ann Arbor (Saline, Dexter, Chelsea) are at the state minimum but still perform at high levels comparable to Ann Arbor.

Why? The bottom line is this — what schools get in those suburban districts is not more money (they get only the state’s standard per-student allocation). What they get is isolation. Isolation from social disorder, from lower-achieving students whose families don’t have middle-class educational backgrounds and incomes. It does not take a particularly large amount of money to educate kids who come to kindergarten ready to go, whose parents are financially stable college graduates.

Eliminating the funding gap between districts makes little difference because the demographic gap doesn’t change at all, and that’s what really matters the most.

11

John Emerson 09.15.08 at 9:41 pm

Anecdotal, Slocum, based on four school districts in one state.

12

Markup 09.15.08 at 9:52 pm

Funding does make a difference. It’s more than school funding though. It takes opportunity, real or even perceived sometimes, in things beyond mere k-12 education. Blight comes in many forms and once deposited takes much effort to recover from. Sweat equity is needed in one home [often] and in raising the next generation; a ‘nice’ village does help.

13

Sebastian 09.15.08 at 9:53 pm

Ok, but California (serving more than 1/6 of all the school-age children in the US) has had equalized funding for almost 20 years, but has significant variation among districts, and has very low performance overall.

14

Righteous Bubba 09.15.08 at 9:54 pm

Anecdotal, Slocum, based on four school districts in one state.

If true I think it’d mean that your parents should be wealthier and perhaps some redistribution of wealth is in order.

15

HH 09.15.08 at 11:18 pm

In every affluent district, the PTA shovels money into the school for supplemental materials. The parents also spend heavily on tutoring and test preparation to improve the performance of their children. By comparison, there are public schools in NYC with leaking roofs and rules that prevent textbooks from being removed from the classroom.

If the highly-educated parents of the high-performing suburban districts thought that they were wasting their money, why would they spend so lavishly on their local schools?

16

Slocum 09.15.08 at 11:50 pm

The parents also spend heavily on tutoring and test preparation to improve the performance of their children.

Yes, and they read to them from the time they’re old enough to pay attention, and buy them educational toys and games, and take them to museums and on interesting trips, and pay for music lessons, and so on. And, in contrast, lots of lower class kids come from homes where little of that happens. Which is why equalizing funding has so much less impact than you might imagine. Don’t get me wrong, equalizing funding is worth doing. But even afterward, the schools and kids in affluent areas will still outperform and parents will still pay a premium to live in those school districts.

17

Harry 09.16.08 at 12:07 am

I think slocum was illustrating rather than offering anecdotes. What he (he, right?) is saying is not at all controversial — consider the UK in which funding is targetted to need (ie, unequal in the other direction), but in which inequality of outcome is barely better than in the US.

18

HH 09.16.08 at 2:05 am

The argument for balanced funding of public schools is challenged by a dogmatic insistence that every dollar of shifted resource must produce a dollar of benefit. Why not allocate according to NEED rather than to PRIVILEGE? If it costs twice as much per pupil to make competent adults out of inner city kids vs. lucky suburbanites, why not allocate at that level? Is not the measure of justice here the attainment of opportunity rather than a false accounting equivalence?

We are all too willing to pay more for policing and incarceration than we are for education that will break the cycle of poverty. As long as each community believes that it is playing a zero-sum game with all other communities, education funding will remain distorted.

The logic and the data suggest a needs-based allocation strategy. Those intent on preserving the competitive advantage of their children insist on “equitable” allocation of funds, knowing that the playing field is tilted, and a “fair share” will continue to favor their kids.

There is a quantum of education investment that is the minimum that will result in a competent high school graduate, and this quantum will be different for different districts, so a procrustean funding scheme will achieve “fairness” only in an accounting report.

This argument takes us to Federalizing of US public education funding, since there is insufficient trust among local taxing entities to make a functionally fair allocation.

19

Dan S. 09.16.08 at 5:06 am

Here in Pennsylvania, in the affluent Main Line township of Lower Merion
median income for a household . . .$86,373 . . . .median income for a family . . . $115,694. . . The per capita income for the township was $55,526. About 1.9% of families and 4.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.8% of those under age 18 and 5.6% of those age 65 or over.” [2000 census figures, from Wikipedia
the school district spent $17,184  per student in 2005-06.

A few miles to the southeast, here in Philly,
median income for a household . . . $30,746 . . . median income for a family . . .$37,036. . . .The per capita income for the city was $16,509. About 18.4% of families and 22.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.3% of those under age 18 and 16.9% of those age 65 or over.” [2000 census via Wikipedia]
the Philadelphia school district spent $9,947 per student.

I definitely agree that equalizing funding is only the first faltering step towards equality of opportunity (I would be very interested in any study that attempted to estimate and compare total monetary & non-monetary investment in children’s mainstream academic success, to say nothing of costs imposed -just to start – by things like lead exposure, poor nutrition, limited resources, etc.). The truly sad thing is that in so many places, even that first faltering step seems impossible.

20

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 7:54 am

Okay, to jump on my hobbyhorse again, when you look at the Direct Instruction material, and material from other educational programmes that are successful with children from poor backgrounds, it’s no surprise that there is no evidence that increasing funding for kids from poor backgrounds increases educational achievement.

For example, look at this rubric for identifying authentic Direct Instruction programmes. http://www.zigsite.com/PDFs/rubric.pdf. Page 21 includes a set of rules for presenting information, eg “1.e. The presentation introduces all discriminations that are
necessary for a reasonable test of what is taught and none
that are not necessary.”
Now this sounds reasonable enough. If you are going to teach kids what a triangle is, it makes sense to show them not just equilaterial triangles, but isosceles triangles and scalene triangles, and triangles that are just made up of three lines and triangles that are made up of solid blocks of colour and so forth, but too much information will confuse kids.
Or take rule 3.g on page 25. “3 g. The examples in the set do not have spurious cues or
patterns (such as a pattern of correct responses, yes, no,
yes, no, yes, no).”

Again, fair enough. In a class there is likely to be some kids who would get confused if there was a spurious pattern and remember the pattern, not the rule they were trying to use.

Or look at this synthesis of Effective Schooling Practices at http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/esp/esp95toc.html.
“2.2.3 Administrators and teachers:
a. Schedule school events so as to avoid disruption of learning time.

e. Keep unassigned time and time spent on noninstructional activities to a minimum during the school day; they keep loudspeaker announcements and other administrative intrusions brief and schedule them for minimal interference with instruction.
” (http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/esp/esp95_2.html#2.1.1)

Again, sensible, logical.

I can’t see anything in the rubric that requires large amounts of money to implement, and most of the things in the synthesis are cheap as well. But the flip side of that is that there is no reason to believe that more money will lead to any more of these cheap things happening.

21

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 7:59 am

Why not allocate according to NEED rather than to PRIVILEGE? If it costs twice as much per pupil to make competent adults out of inner city kids vs. lucky suburbanites, why not allocate at that level?

There is no reason to believe that the lack of performance of inner city kids is due to a lack of funding. Or to put it another way, there is no evidence that at developed-world levels of per-pupil funding increasing funding leads to better educational performance or higher incomes as an adult (this being the easiest measure of “competent adults”).

We do know how to improve the performance of inner city kids. Project Followthrough has shown that (http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/ft/becker.htm). What we don’t know is how to get schools to adopt effective educational practices, and how to get administrators to support real educational achievement, as opposed to whatever is politically popular.

22

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 8:16 am

Dan S. – is there any evidence that the Main Line township schools educate those 2.8% of students below the poverty line to a higher level than Philadelphia schools educate their 31.3% of students?

23

Sister Y 09.16.08 at 8:16 am

I can’t speak for Benatar, but I can answer from a vaguely Benatar-ian perspective as to who should pay for the kids. On the one hand, it’s a bit rich to ask those of us who think reproduction is wrong to subsidize the reproduction of others – on a moral par with asking most citizens of the United States to pay for its government’s occupation of Iraq, or asking people concerned with cost-benefit analysis to pay for abstinence-only sex education, or asking people who support forced birth to subsidize abortions.

On the other hand, I think any negative incentives (or removal of existing positive incentives, a la “pay for your own kids”) are going to land ultimately, not on the reproducers, but on the innocent children themselves. The costs will be passed on, in the form of fewer resources available for investment in the children. Also, there are reasons to believe that reproduction, at some level, has very inelastic demand – like drugs or prostitution – and won’t respond to incentives, at least negative incentives. I don’t think there’s a tidy and practical answer to “who should pay for the kids” from an antinatalist perspective (at least a philanthropic antinatalist perspective, which is concerned with the well-being of children). Note that antinatalism does not deny that procreation provides benefits to society (a sort of positive externality) – only that it is morally wrong to the children themselves. The question is something like: should people be required to subsidize actions they deem morally wrong, but that benefit them in some way?

24

Lex 09.16.08 at 8:26 am

“Note that antinatalism does not deny that procreation provides benefits to society (a sort of positive externality) – only that it is morally wrong to the children themselves.”

And where exactly does that get you? Except perhaps a warm self-righteous glow of non-standard moral sanctimony?

25

Sister Y 09.16.08 at 8:37 am

I mean that, if Benatar is right, public subsidies for children are still a good thing, because we all still benefit from reproduction (all except the babies). If the choice is between, on the one hand, helping children and thereby “encouraging” more “immoral behavior,” and on the other hand not helping children and failing miserably to eradicate immoral behavior, the first option is preferable – especially if existing people benefit from said “immoral behavior.”

26

aaron_m 09.16.08 at 9:41 am

Sister Y,

Your moral argument is question begging. One could just as easily say asking anarchists to obey laws and pay taxes in on a moral par with asking those who think reproduction is wrong to subsidize the reproduction of others.

Your empirical claim that reproduction choices are not affected by financial incentives just does not seem to be supported by evidence; e.g. studies showing that the absence of secure retirement planning in poor countries is a casual factor in higher birth rates or that the levels of financing for parental leave, day care, etc… helps explain variation in birth rates in wealthy welfare states.

27

Slocum 09.16.08 at 11:18 am

Why not allocate according to NEED rather than to PRIVILEGE? If it costs twice as much per pupil to make competent adults out of inner city kids vs. lucky suburbanites, why not allocate at that level?

Two problems. First of all, rightly or wrongly, parents and school districts think they’re underfunded pretty much everywhere (and teachers think they’re underpaid pretty much everywhere). To continue to use Michigan as an example, the idea that suburban voters (and suburban teacher unions) are going to support cutting their own funding to send double the per-pupil funding to Detroit and Flint is pretty far-fetched politically. Especially because, as Tracy W points out, there’s no evidence that this would actually produced the desired benefits.

What might fly politically would be a need-sensitive voucher system, where low-income families received vouchers worth more. Politically, I think that’s conceivable (as opposed to redistributing large amounts of additional funds to disfuncti0nal inner city school systems that operate more like patronage jobs programs than educational institutions). But vouchers are a non-starter on the left.

28

Dan S. 09.16.08 at 11:34 am

Tracy W, I was just thinking of you! As I stumbled out of bed in the early morning darkness to take a shower before Mrs. S. got up – so she wouldn’t have to rush en route to her classroom of 30 low income kindergartners (without an assistant for any part of the day, however briefly) , filled with materials often purchased with her own money – I thought to myself, ‘Self, I should write another comment on that CT valuing kids thread, about how I don’t know how it is overseas, but here in the U.S. one can pretty much count on folks jumping up to insist that better funding just won’t help! no no no! – and it’s true, Self, if given the choice I would go with an end to de facto segregation and massive socioeconomic inequality first, but, well . . . .’

29

Matt McIrvin 09.16.08 at 11:39 am

Note that antinatalism does not deny that procreation provides benefits to society (a sort of positive externality) – only that it is morally wrong to the children themselves. The question is something like: should people be required to subsidize actions they deem morally wrong, but that benefit them in some way?

In practice, though, most people I’ve seen who are opposed to reproduction aren’t antinatalists in the Benatar sense; they primarily argue that procreation (either in the specific situation of the modern West, or (less typically) in general) is bad for society or for the environment, not that the children are being harmed by existing. So they don’t actually believe they’re getting any benefit; they believe they’re being forced to subsidize an action that is harmful to them and to others as well as immoral, and may well believe that the benefit to the children is outweighed by that harm.

30

engels 09.16.08 at 11:59 am

Valuing Children

Why not use market-based approach?

31

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 12:28 pm

As I stumbled out of bed in the early morning darkness to take a shower before Mrs. S. got up – so she wouldn’t have to rush en route to her classroom of 30 low income kindergartners (without an assistant for any part of the day, however briefly) , filled with materials often purchased with her own money

There are two possibilities here for the sad plight of Mrs S. One is that those nasty-minded taxpayers are not funding schools enough. Another is that schools have ample money from taxpayers, but school administrators have very limited incentives to spend it on things that improve educational outcomes (like, presumably, the materials Mrs S purchases with her own money).

A guy has done a light-hearted analysis of California school spending: http://republican.sen.ca.gov/web/mcclintock/article_print.asp?PID=292 . He reckons that Californian schools could, with current levels of funding, spend about $158,000 a year on luxury commerical office space, new desk, teachers being associate professors from the California State University, textbooks, students names engraved in gold leaf on the cover of the textbook, each student having a membership at a private health club for $39.95, leaving over $1000 per student to pay for anything else.

If the reason your wife has to buy her own school supplies is that the educational bureaucracy is soaking money up in things that don’t add anything to educational outcomes, then the taxpayers spending more money isn’t going to make any difference.

but here in the U.S. one can pretty much count on folks jumping up to insist that better funding just won’t help!

So why do you keep saying that it will help?

By the way, while I am very fond of many things about the USA, I am not a citizen and have not lived there for several years, and nor do I want to live there (I am very fond of many things about a lot of countries). I don’t see any reason that more funding would help in any developed country, not just the USA.

Self, if given the choice I would go with an end to de facto segregation and massive socioeconomic inequality first, but, well .

So you’d prefer an idea that has failed time and time again, to an idea like Direct Instruction that has actually worked?

When kids from low socio-economic backgrounds are put in schools full of rich kids, they still do badly. Ending de facto segregation is not effective. See
http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2007/09/take-look-at-what-48-million-buys-you.html
Meanwhile there are schools that have not done anything about de facto segregation and massive socioeconomic inequality, but are performing miracles with a very poor intake.

Call me a radical empiricalist, but I think that educational policy should be motivated by evidence about what works. Can you please tell me what you think about Direct Instruction? Why do you think schools aren’t climbing over each other to implement it, or other programmes that have shown themselves to be as effective?

32

engels 09.16.08 at 12:36 pm

Can you please tell me what you think about Direct Instruction?

It’s a fascinating topic which up until now has been criminally neglected on the internet!

33

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 12:41 pm

As is clear from your link, it won’t continue to be neglected if I have anything to do with it. :)
Of course if someone has another educational programme with a better research base than DI I might change my mind.

34

Lex 09.16.08 at 12:45 pm

It strikes me that many of the arguments for the benefits of education are surrounded by a fallacious glow of nostalgia. It is true enough that once upon a time people escaped from ghettos of material deprivation through scholarship; as it is also true that 200 years ago, English and other working men strove to educate themselves to fight political and social oppression. However, they did so in a cultural climate that provided strong positive reinforcement for doing so. There once was a time, and it is in its rosy glow that we debate, when a) being ignorant was widely seen as wrong, and b) grinding poverty really did grind.

Nowadays, is that really the case?

One might phrase the issue in any number of ways, from a variety of perspectives: Curmudgeonly Rightist: the working class wallow in their subsidised ignorance; Bitter Gauchist: the elite dominate education with their money, and if it ever became universal, they’d just change the rules and make something else the criterion of success.

The underlying basic issue seems to me to be this: can an ‘advanced’ society educate itself out of inequality and stagnation? Isn’t it more likely that it will just be overtaken by a less ‘advanced’ one, where point b) above still gives point a) a real sting?

Is there not a really toxic blend of racism and desperation in the mantra repeated since the 1990s, that the USA, UK etc have to educate themselves to stay ‘ahead’ in the prosperity stakes? The idea that the products of multi-generational welfare-dependence can magically be brought to compete with those who know what it actually means to risk falling back into a tropical slum is laughable, isn’t it?

35

J. Bogart 09.16.08 at 12:58 pm

What is the range of current subsidy of children? Not only of tax subsidy, but things like insurance. Does the book address the connection between subsidy and control (e.g., if I subsidize your family life, do I get some say in how the creatures are raised?)

36

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 1:02 pm

The underlying basic issue seems to me to be this: can an ‘advanced’ society educate itself out of inequality and stagnation?

Why do you think this is the basic issue?

My own opinion is that education is good as a preparation for adult life – as well-informed citizens, as capable of further study in wider fields, as useful in day-to-day life (eg being able to write shopping lists), as an enlargement in the mind by appreciating more arts, as being able to be more productive in an economic sense. All those to me are good things, even if society is still unequal, and stagnant. Though the more I learn of history the more that I doubt any society was ever stagnant for long, so I don’t worry at all about that one. There are way too many serious issues like global warming to worry about.

Is there not a really toxic blend of racism and desperation in the mantra repeated since the 1990s, that the USA, UK etc have to educate themselves to stay ‘ahead’ in the prosperity stakes?

Why racism? I can see the desperation, but I am surprised that anyone would argue that wanting to teach every kid to read and write and do basic maths is racist.

The idea that the products of multi-generational welfare-dependence can magically be brought to compete with those who know what it actually means to risk falling back into a tropical slum is laughable, isn’t it?

Well I suppose it depends on your sense of humour. Personally I prefer the Marx brothers’ sense. Leaving aside laughter for a moment, I think a more relevant question is “Can the products of multi-generational welfare-dependence be brought, by hard work in the application of methods that have already been shown to be successful in terms of educational achievement, to be able to support themselves and to be engaged citizens?”

37

abb1 09.16.08 at 1:31 pm

The idea that the products of multi-generational welfare-dependence can magically be brought to compete with those who know what it actually means to risk falling back into a tropical slum is laughable, isn’t it?

Right, Lex. It’s just as laughable as the idea that labor productivity of a free person can be higher than that of a slave. As soon as we all get smarter and realize that fear is the only motivation we will laugh with you.

38

Lex 09.16.08 at 1:31 pm

I think you’re missing my point, which is that ‘education, education, education’ has been politically touted as a solution – specifically – to international competitiveness in a ‘flattening’ world. Since as the world ‘flattens’, many more people with much greater individual incentive to do the ‘educated’ stuff for themselves will become equipped to do so, I can’t see the implicit agenda of the ‘solution’, that ‘we’ will always remain better at it than ‘them’, if ‘we’ try hard enough, can ever work – and it’s both racist and desperate to think that it might.

I’ve nothing against education, I think we’d all benefit from a lot more of it. It’s a shame politicians and the people at large haven’t agreed, for their assorted reasons. Your last rephrasing of my point was very telling, speaking as it does to the failure over the last half-century to sustain the interest of the working classes in education that was once their pride.

39

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 1:40 pm

How did we get from valuing children to mercantilistlike-views of international competitiveness in a mere 37 comments? (Says she who was probably most responsible for the switch). Not, of course, that I am accusing Lex of being a mercentalist, based on Lex’s comments he/she is probably as little a mercantilist as I am. Just I’m feeling a bit amazed at the speed of the change.

40

Lex 09.16.08 at 1:48 pm

abb1, do you have any actual evidence that the real productivity of labour rises with the availability of welfare? What does the curve look like? Up to what point does someone who would be paid almost as much for not working at all continue to put him/herself out to maintain a competitive advantage over someone else for whom working actually matters to sustain their household’s standard of living?

I take it in your world that people work for their employers out of the goodness of their hearts? Funny that, you being an unreconstructed Marxist and all.

Look at the charts here: http://www.poverty.org.uk/29/index.shtml especially Chart 3, European households of working age with nobody working: the average is almost 10%. That’s the extra load the economy is carrying. That’s welfare-dependency. You can be all Marxist about it and blame the system, wave your hands and pretend it’ll all be better in some lovely shiny People’s Democracy, but someone is paying for the food these people eat. Right now that someone is often an Indian or a Chinese worker. When their standards of living rise, what happens? It would be nice to think we could expropriate a few capitalists, but as we’re finding out these days, they don’t have any real money as soon as someone goes looking for it, and you can’t eat yachts.

41

Lex 09.16.08 at 1:51 pm

Educational mercantilism is actually a fairly good description of the assumption that the West’s superiority can be maintained, if only we force enough of our kids through college… And it seems to me quite relevant to where we started.

42

HH 09.16.08 at 1:55 pm

This discussion resembles a demolition derby among dilapidated paradigms. A fresh solution would take the educational resource allocation decision down to the individual child, just as the future of medicine is to administer drugs specific to an individual’s genetic makeup.

In a more enlightened future, each child would be screened for talents and deficits upon entering the educational system, and an allotment (state-issued voucher) of resources would be made specific to the child, with a customized instructional plan. The resource pool would be national, to avoid regional distortions, and the technology base for screening and curriculum engineering would be the product of Federally funded research.

The word the future is whispering in our ear repeatedly is “precision,” and moving the target of educational strategy away from the school district by aiming directly at the pupil is accepting that future education should be tailored to individuals rather than institutions.

43

Markup 09.16.08 at 2:04 pm

Can the products of multi-generational welfare-dependence be brought, by hard work

I have to ask, does this apply to folks who for example were given vast estates because they married the queens 2nd cousin, or mineral rights and land given to former family members who say were involved in rail way construction, or current folks on wall street? Is multi-generational welfare-dependence an issue with Boeing or KBR employees? How about Brad Kelley, or the King or Koch family. Perseverance and hard work account for a lot, as does a pre-existing condition [unless you’re trying to get health insurance].

Yes, it is readily possible to over fund education, and a look at recent decades show the big growth has been in admin. Opportunity can have many meanings and most of us are caught in the western and white constricted definition of what it and welfare are.

44

John Emerson 09.16.08 at 2:18 pm

If you’re going to bring Benatar’s arguments into this discussion, you might as well bring in the Marquis de Sade’s theory of desire, and Elron Hubbard’s engram theory, and the Manichean doctrine that matter is evil.

One more reason why analytic philosophy does more harm than good. The goal of analytic philosophy is to develop every single argument and every criticism of every argument, so that you end up with a complete inventory of every possible argument. The goal is that, whatever any non-philosopher says, a philosopher will be able to say “Yes, A and B argued that, and C and D argued that they’re wrong”. It’s like an enormous pattern shop.

We should stipulate the Benatar, Hubbard, Sade, and the Manicheans are wrong, and go on with the discussion. The alternative is a fifty year long argument ending in terminal boredom while the world goes on without us.

45

Lex 09.16.08 at 2:33 pm

All good points. So, being strictly practical, what is the outlook for the West once the multi-generationally-accumulated ill-gotten gains of imperialism run out, and ‘we’ don’t have an inbuilt advantage any more? Or will so many people have died of Bird Flu by then that it won’t matter that only the Chinese can afford to buy the world’s last half-dozen barrels of oil to keep the pumps going against the rising sea-level?

46

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 3:03 pm

I have to ask, does this apply to folks who for example were given vast estates because they married the queens 2nd cousin, or mineral rights and land given to former family members who say were involved in rail way construction, or current folks on wall street?

Well I may be missing something here, but I would say that the answer is yes. The US senate I understand is dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds, and being a US senator I think thoroughly counts as being an engaged citizen. Okay, while I cannot speak for US senators, I do think that NZ would be better off if some NZ politicians had instead lived lives of political apathy, and perhaps the same is true of US senators. But I don’t think

Is there any reason you are particularly concerned about the children who expect to inherit wealth? I know that children with low-income parents on average do badly at school far more often than the children of middle-income backgrounds, I didn’t know that the children of the ultra-rich tend to have similar problems. Can you cite some statistics?

47

Lex 09.16.08 at 3:28 pm

I’m afraid, Tracy, that you appear to be the only one still taking this discussion seriously. Unless, indeed, your own touching persistence is itself merely a screen for your ironic consciousness?

48

abb1 09.16.08 at 3:32 pm

abb1, do you have any actual evidence that the real productivity of labour rises with the availability of welfare?

It seems to me that empirical evidence of a close correlation between public welfare and productivity of labor is overwhelming.

But perhaps when you say “welfare” you mean something like “free stuff given to undeserving poor people”? Well, even with this definition the correlation is still there and it’s still very obvious. You are not likely to find high productivity and good education in places where people starve and live in slums.

49

Tracy W 09.16.08 at 3:46 pm

Lex, I thought engels had already made it perfectly clear that I’m a total obsessive about these matters. :)

50

Sister Y 09.16.08 at 4:46 pm

Ingrid Robeyns says (in the original post):

Moreover, philosophically speaking, even the most radical views such as those of David Benatar who argues that we are harmed by coming into existence require serious consideration: if Benatar were right, what would be the implications for Folbre’s analysis? [Emphasis mine.]

51

lemuel pitkin 09.16.08 at 5:00 pm

do you have any actual evidence that the real productivity of labour rises with the availability of welfare?

Hey Lex, here’s a test for you. If you plot countries on a graph with social spending (“welfare”) on one axis and GDP per capita on the other and fit a line to them, which way do you think it slopes?

52

HH 09.16.08 at 5:05 pm

Allocate educational resources to each child according to needs and talents. Is that too difficult? Rationing success means incubating failure and sowing the seeds of social upheaval.

53

Lex 09.16.08 at 5:37 pm

@47, 50 – so? That’s a historical artefact, a product of the collision between A) industrialisation and the European domination of the world market through imperialism and B) the rise of a social-democratic ideology that managed to take the rough edges off capitalism for a few decades.

The whole ‘welfare state’ phenomenon, apart from being cooked up by Bismarck to help breed healthy conscripts, is parasitic on rampant global capitalist exploitation by the same Euro-American societies who make the loudest noises about being forces for justice in the world. Sure they can pay their plebs to keep quiet, now. But project forward some of your graphs that include China and India in the mix – which way is it going to go then?

54

notsneaky 09.16.08 at 5:41 pm

“Allocate educational resources to each child according to needs and talents.”

The problem is that these usually point in opposite directions, aside from some obvious cases.

55

abb1 09.16.08 at 6:17 pm

So, how have the “products of multi-generational welfare-dependence” been able to keep dominating the world market through imperialism? Why don’t “those who know what it actually means to risk falling back into a tropical slum” dominate us, weak-willed decadent rabble, instead?

56

Markup 09.16.08 at 6:22 pm

Is there any reason you are particularly concerned about the children who expect to inherit wealth? I know that children with low-income parents on average do badly at school far more often than the children of middle-income backgrounds, I didn’t know that the children of the ultra-rich tend to have similar problems. Can you cite some statistics?

Going backwards;

No, not my field though I would say that two of the privileges of great wealth are privacy and elite numbers, both would ten to make good sats easy to come by. Our fearless Decider could be cited as an example, but he is far from alone. I’ve known growing up as well as taught many from well above median [income] who were quite the bad asses, who while not ignorant were uninterested. Most would snap out at one point or another, which from my POV was largely because of the ‘family carrot’ being dangled in front of them and its’ possible retraction. But my main point was that many of the “children of the ultra-rich” have indeed benefited from, like the rose under a different name, is welfare. It comes in many more forms than just direct monetary support or food stamps, it may in the form of the siting of a landfill or highway, or how legislative districts are drawn on a map, or how much inheritance they may lose to taxes.

57

Markup 09.16.08 at 6:24 pm

ed: … both would tend to make good stats not easy to come by.

58

HH 09.16.08 at 6:33 pm

Notsneaky,

Regarding 54, the case can be made that the farther the child is from the center of the normal distribution, in either direction, the greater the educational expenditure should be. At one extreme, a large investment is justified to avoid a significant future dysfunction. At the other extreme, a large investment is made to reap a favorable future return.

59

Ingrid Robeyns 09.16.08 at 6:40 pm

#35 had been in the moderation queue half a day, so you’ll have to move the numbers one place up accordingly… responding to that question in #35 – no, the book does not discuss these issues, and one could (but not necessarily should) believe that if one subsidizes children one may have a say in how they are raised. Of courses, most governments do put all sorts of constraints on how parents can raise their children, but these tend to be independent of funding issues.

I am not going to defend Benatar’s views, but I do think that we should not rule them out because they sound crazy to most of us. In the past there have been all sorts of widely shared intuitions in society that we now consider crazy or barbarian. Also, Benatar stressed in his book that there is an important difference between a moral analysis of coming into existence, and a moral analysis of beings that are already into existence. It may well be that propertly thought trought the latter requires us to relieve the harms of existing as much as we can (which would require gross redistribution of resources, I think), but that, as some of you have pointed out, this may be in tension with fertility incentives. But this is all speculative on my behalf – I think these questions require serious thought and they are not considered in Folbre’s book. Admittedly, she wants to write a book in economics and not moral philosophy, and hence this may plausibly be seen as an unfair criticism on my behalf, but I think that a careful answer to her fourth question does require thinking about these issues in detail.

60

John Emerson 09.16.08 at 7:24 pm

Ingrid, there are lots of other ideas that sound crazy that someone or another has said. Must we consider every single one of them? Benatar’s are so far from the beliefs and conviction of about 99% of the population anywhere in the world that taking them into consideration, unless they are refuted and rejected, will produce a conclusion that will convince almost no one, and for that reason will be effectively stillborn. And the refutation of Benatar will take decades. (Convincing the American population that Benatar is right would be more difficult and more unlikely than converting them to Buddhism, which has its attractive qualities).

25 or 30 years ago Rorty wrote something wondering why philosophers don’t seem to be named to blue ribbon panels discussing political and social issues. I immediately imagined a philosopher beginning a session on something like welfare reform with a brain-in-a-bottle argument about other minds. To me, in the present context Benatar’s argument of the the brain-in-the-bottle type.

61

notsneaky 09.16.08 at 8:07 pm

“Regarding 54, the case can be made that the farther the child is from the center of the normal distribution, in either direction, the greater the educational expenditure should be.”

Right, but the center of normal distribution is where most folks are and that’s where the tough choices need to be made.
I mean, sure, let’s prioritize “talented kid from poor background” at the top of the list, and “dumb rich kid” at the bottom. But what do we do with the folks in the middle?

62

HH 09.16.08 at 9:02 pm

If you follow the logic of maximizing return on educational investment, the distribution of subsidy should be the mirror image of the talent distribution, or a bathtub shaped curve, with the high needs and high benefits kids getting the most and the OK kids getting the least. The figure of merit is how much DIFFERENCE each dollar per kid spent will make to the future welfare of society. The OK kids will be OK with modest expenditures. The prodigies and handicapped will show a big swing in results per dollar.

Unfortunately, this optimal allocation gives the parents with the fewest votes the most money and the parents with the most votes the least money. Now you know why parents with handicapped OR gifted children feel shortchanged by their public schools. The schools favor the kids at the center of the talent distribution.

63

Sister Y 09.16.08 at 9:20 pm

Also related to return on investment – from a societal perspective, there are other ways to get the “goods” that reproduction produces, other than through (in-group) reproduction. If the “goods” are civic-minded, hard-working, educated adults, immigration is probably just as effective as reproduction, and from the perspective of a rich host country, much more cost-effective than procreation. This is definitely related to the question of the target reproductive rate mentioned in comment #4, and, on the way to that, the question of the ideal population size.

64

Markup 09.16.08 at 10:18 pm

Did Leo Strauss waltz?

65

Asher 09.16.08 at 11:41 pm

The 800-lb gorilla in the china shop is the unequal distribution of innate talent and the problems of personality disorder and substance abuse, all of which have heavily genetic influences. Someone with an IQ of 80 is probably capable of absorbing no more than 5 or 6 years of real, productive formal education. Hell, I’m not sure that such a person even has the ability to contribute much to society. But I am completely convinced that any societal resources that would benefit that person would involve basic life skills and rescuing them from a negative local environment, e.g. abusive parent.

What is good for the middle-class, today, is almost by definition bad for the under-class and vice versa. I’m quite convinced the middle-classes know this and are simply prevented from asserting it because it violates both left (more social spending) and right (family values) shibboleths.

I can tell you that when I get non-ideological, middle-class people one-on-one, sure of not being overheard, I have found that they accept that proposition without hesitation.

66

HH 09.17.08 at 2:23 am

“the unequal distribution of innate talent and the problems of personality disorder and substance abuse, all of which have heavily genetic influences.”

Isn’t it odd how each wave of poor immigrants in the US is diagnosed as having intractable personality disorders and substance abuse problems. (Drunken Irishmen were once considered physiologically incapable of responsible work.) Those candid middle class taxpayers are investing in their kids out of selfish instincts, and no amount of rationalization will conceal their motives.

67

Asher 09.17.08 at 3:20 am

HH, what’s odd is that I run into so many otherwise analytically rational people throw up that “they said the same thing about the Irish” meme so reflexifly. As if studying the homo sapien species over the past 150 years has produced absolutely no knowledge regarding how our evolved biology affects both similarities and variations in our behaviors. What you’re doing is akin to rejecting current maps because of the erronious maps of map-makers from 500 years ago.

We all have selfish instincts. We are genetically-based, and genes are selfish things. BTW, the only reason why people have to conceal their motives is because of the hysteria of blank-slaters and their religious obsession with eradicating all “nastiness” from the species.

But my point is that society is far better off from investing in the children of the 70 percent in the middle over the 15 percent at the bottom. That is in the general interest of society.

68

Asher 09.17.08 at 5:05 am

I would also like to add that I am not specifying any particular ethnic group where all the social challenges originate. There is a wide range of diversity of talent both within and between differently evolved ethnic clusters. There is not one population cluster from which the majority of individuals are incapable of contributing to a modern post-industrial society.

69

notsneaky 09.17.08 at 6:48 am

“all of which have heavily genetic influences”

Hmm. Neither eye nor hair color, nor the ability to fly are genetically determined so I’m not sure why all the weirdness of human behavior should be.

70

novakant 09.17.08 at 6:54 am

there are public schools in NYC with leaking roofs and rules that prevent textbooks from being removed from the classroom.

I’m not trying to disparage the discussion of educational policy at all, but how about we first make sure that all pupils are provided with a decent learning environment and access to educational resources.

71

abb1 09.17.08 at 7:27 am

Great, not a day without a new troll.

72

Tracy W 09.17.08 at 7:47 am

62: HH: The figure of merit is how much DIFFERENCE each dollar per kid spent will make to the future welfare of society.

You assume that an extra dollar will have an impact on the future welfare of society. There is no evidence that, at developed-country funding levels, an extra dollar has any impact on educational outcomes. I therefore find it doubtful that an extra dollar will have an effect on the future welfare of society.

The OK kids will be OK with modest expenditures. The prodigies and handicapped will show a big swing in results per dollar.

This assertion is wrong. If prodigies and the handicapped showed a big swing in results per dollar, we should see the countries and schools that spend more per student having better results than the ones that spend less (even if the OK kid doesn’t respond at all, the improvement in the prodigies and handicapped should bring up average test scores). We don’t see this.

The argument about dollars is a waste of time until we have an educational system that converts more dollars to better outcomes. We don’t.

73

Tracy W 09.17.08 at 8:34 am

Markup – 58 But my main point was that many of the “children of the ultra-rich” have indeed benefited from, like the rose under a different name, is welfare.

You sound like you’re channelling Milton Friedman here.

Asher: Someone with an IQ of 80 is probably capable of absorbing no more than 5 or 6 years of real, productive formal education.

Surely this depends on the quality of the formal education? As I understand it, an IQ of 80 is not the same as a limit on the ability to form new memories. It strikes me as plausible that a kid with an IQ of 80 who keeps getting exposed to new knowledge in an effective formal education system would keep benefitting from it, even if they were unable to ever draw the subtler insights that a smarter child can.

The Direct Instruction curriculum that I keep rabbiting on about is designed to work with kids with low IQ, by making the teaching very unambiguous. The rubric I linked before (http://www.zigsite.com/PDFs/rubric.pdf ) shows this. It’s all about leaving no room for misinterpretation. Apparently high-IQ kids tend to be better at figuring out the right interpretation than low-IQ kids. This may be because of the effect of “g” directly (g being whatever lies behind IQ scores), or it may be because high-IQ kids on average come from backgrounds where they are more likely to be exposed to various concepts that help them make sense of schoolwork. Or both, of course.

What is good for the middle-class, today, is almost by definition bad for the under-class and vice versa.

So if the “under-class” becomes better educated, I am harmed how, precisely? What are these dreadful bads I must face? Better doctors – as the initial pool of potential trainees is wider? Helpdesk operators who know the difference between 7 cents and 0.7 cents? Improved online poetry?

But my point is that society is far better off from investing in the children of the 70 percent in the middle over the 15 percent at the bottom. That is in the general interest of society.

Support for this assertion being?

74

HH 09.17.08 at 3:07 pm

Because we have such poor data on educational outcomes relative to investment, we are all groping and guessing on this issue, but it is indisputable that writing kids off leads to explicit downstream social costs. The low-performing dropouts are going to inflict direct and indirect costs that likely exceed the “savings” achieved from shortchanging them in their schooling. Pay now, or pay (more) later.

75

Markup 09.17.08 at 7:14 pm

@73 ”You sound like you’re channelling Milton Friedman here.”

No, more like common street observation [which perhaps Milt drew upon as well, but to which I draw no line]. Omnivores are somewhat experimental and opportunistic. An unlocked Lexus LX with the keys in it provides a different opportunity in a “bad” neighborhood than it would in the “good” elite gated one, as does say a community political event in those same two places. One wants to attain, the other already has so desires to preserve and protect.

76

Asher 09.18.08 at 4:45 am

Tracy,

Surely this depends on the quality of the formal education? As I understand it, an IQ of 80 is not the same as a limit on the ability to form new memories. It strikes me as plausible that a kid with an IQ of 80 who keeps getting exposed to new knowledge in an effective formal education system would keep benefitting from it, even if they were unable to ever draw the subtler insights that a smarter child can.

Not really. I spent 6 years as a part-time private tutor (well-paid) for kids from mostly a nearby prep school and one of the better high schools in the Seattle area. Alot of the kids were in the 1150-1400 SAT range, old test, so I had a good percentage who were AP Calc. But I did get some parents who wanted their Juniors to finish Algebra 1, so I had a very good panorama of the variation in ability.

Could I get almost everyone to laboriously memorize the Pythagorean Theorem (PT) and then apply it on a sterile sheet of paper? Sure, after lots of drilling. Did they remember it 2 weeks after they scraped by with their 2.1? Not a chance. It was gone. The ability to apply an abstract concept in many different scenarios like the PT is something that requires a fairly decent IQ. Now what is possible is that someone could apprentice as a framer and learn the PT over the course of a couple of years and eventually it would be an inextricable part of their routine as a framer.

But guess what? Take them out of that specific context and they wouldn’t have a clue in how to use the PT because they’re not able to recognize the general pattern.

Can I get alot of students to pass a non-AP Calc class? Sure, with lots of one-on-one. Intuitively, I’d say that maybe half, or even a little bit more. What percentage would actually be able to go beyond rote memorization and actually understand the concepts and follow the abstract patters? Maybe 20 percent, but I’d say it’s probably less than fifteen.

So if the “under-class” becomes better educated, I am harmed how, precisely?

But they won’t become better educated. They’re incapable of being “better educated” in the sense you mean. Now if you’re talking about basic life skills: how to plan a budget, how to avoid massive debt, how to accumulate the capital to start a family, etc., then that’s a different matter. FA Hayeks’ point that central government expenditures *for* one group will almost always be *against* others; governmentally spent dollars is always a zero-sum game.

Government expenditures spent in one area are expenditures not spent in another area.

HH

Because we have such poor data on educational outcomes relative to investment, we are all groping and guessing on this issue, but it is indisputable that writing kids off leads to explicit downstream social costs. The low-performing dropouts are going to inflict direct and indirect costs that likely exceed the “savings” achieved from shortchanging them in their schooling. Pay now, or pay (more) later.

So many targets, so little time … first, what the hell is up with this mindless “writing kids off” I keep hearing about from so many otherwise intelligent people? What in the world does that mean? If it does mean anything it means placing a kid capable of only rudimentary reasoning and expecting them to sit through 12 years of classroom education when they only have the cognitive capacity to access 5. It means making professional careers such an ideal that you demean contractors, self-employed and entrepreneurs.

I have a high-end yacht detailing service for which I charge 42/hr plus materials. I also have a dual Finance/Econ degree from the U of Wash. What reaction do you think I get from girls when I tell them I “detail boats”? Trust me, it’s often somewhere between bemused empathy and utter scorn, despite the fact that I make better money than most of those “professionals” and have an absolutely dynamite work environment, stay tan and fit, and have my choice of customers.

The problem is that all of this obsession with “education”, please note the scare quotes because a lot of it is just masturbation, you end up demeaning all the jobs that don’t require a formal education.

Finally, I’m not sure what sort of “pay now” you’d like to see. Early childhood programs like Head Start are complete failures. They do nothing, and some evidence seems to suggest that they instill a negative emotional prejudice against classroom time versus similar students not in these programs. But if there is something that can be done it is certainly not by throwing more money at kids for whom we are completely already wasting valuable social resources. Teach life skills (see above).

Since I like to stick things in people’s eyes, and I’m very very good at it, I will leave you with one disturbing thought: societal control of breeding will become a political issue. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who in private want “licenses” in order for people to have kids. And I live in Seattle, where 4 in 5 of my contacts are Democrats.

What’s been called “eugenics”, a misnomer btw, will be on your radar screen sooner than you think. A government (at all levels) that can take 60 percent of each dollar earned, which for me happens at around 1700 hours, can be used to prevent people with IQs of, say, less than 85 from breeding.

Have a good night.

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Asher 09.18.08 at 4:49 am

In my experience, this is my impression, many of the people like me who support Roe v. Wade do so not for “choice”, but in hopes as many low-IQ babies as possible are being aborted. “Choice” is just the genteel ruse that allows us to wash our hands of the dirty work.

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Righteous Bubba 09.18.08 at 4:56 am

In my experience, this is my impression, many of the people like me who support Roe v. Wade do so not for “choice”, but in hopes as many low-IQ babies as possible are being aborted.

I’ll be damned.

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Asher 09.18.08 at 5:43 am

I’ll be damned

Since God is Dead I really don’t think that option is available.

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abb1 09.18.08 at 7:24 am

Jeez…

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Tracy W 09.18.08 at 8:25 am

Because we have such poor data on educational outcomes relative to investment, we are all groping and guessing on this issue … Pay now, or pay (more) later.

The question of educational outcomes relative to investment has been studied to death. We don’t need to grope and guess. The data is around the world that at developed countries’ spending levels there is no particular relationship between the two. Some sources:
http://www.mackinac.org/article.aspx?ID=7761
http://www.bowgroup.org/harriercollectionitems/Ed%20Spend%20Final.pdf
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2007/wp07263.pdf
http://d-edreckoning.blogspot.com/2008/07/todays-chart.html

Now I doubt this is a rule of nature. It is plausible that we could have an education system where funding was converted into outcomes at a reasonably reliable level. It’s just that we don’t have one now. First priority is to get an education system that works well with the funding it has now.

With current school systems, we pay now and we pay later.

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Tracy W 09.18.08 at 9:36 am

So, Asher, your response is “I can’t do it, therefore no one can ever do it”. I find this argument rather unconvincing, just because you can’t do something doesn’t mean that no one can do it. So a question for you. Is there any evidence that could lead you to change your mind that low-IQ kids can be better educated? And if so, what is that possible evidence?

I also asked you earlier for some support for your assertion that “society is far better off from investing in the children of the 70 percent in the middle over the 15 percent at the bottom.” I also asked you to explain how I am harmed by the “under-class” becoming better educated. Can you please answer those questions?

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Asher 09.18.08 at 4:59 pm

Tracy

So, Asher, your response is “I can’t do it, therefore no one can ever do it”

Do what? I have no idea what “it” means in this context. Endlessly drill kids to memorize a mathematical formula for which they lack the capacity to apply in real world situations? Sure, I can do that. But it won’t affect their life outcomes one iota.

So a question for you. Is there any evidence that could lead you to change your mind that low-IQ kids can be better educated?

What in the world do you mean by “better educated”? Better educated … for what? I’m not sure that it’s methodologically possible to do a study on how many people actually use their education in their careers. I’ve seen estimates that only about 15 percent of college grads actually use their degrees in any field relating to their actual courses of study. It could be 25 percent, but I can’t image it’s anywhere close to 50 percent given that within a few years of graduation over half of all law school graduates are completely out of the legal field.

So what is the purpose of “education” today? Why, to sort people out by IQ and personality, given that it is functionally illegal to use aptitude and personality assessments in the hiring process. Yes, the vast bulk of “education” is simply used as one big, long, hideously expensive IQ and personality test.

Even people who actually use the degrees they earn in a field usually have to learn most of what’s useful while on the job; specific technical fields excepted. My girlfriend is a certified HR generalist with a BA specializing in human resources. She’ll tell you that 90 to 95 percent of the stuff she does after 5 years in the field has been learned in the working process. So, why did she even need the degree and certification? To demonstrate that she possessed the basic talent to enter the field.

Back to your specific question. What would lead me to change my mind about lower IQ people being able to access more education? Let’s take dishwasher. I will agree that it might be useful to teach dishwashers calculus if you can demonstrate that they could use anti-derivatives to calculate exactly how much dish soap it takes to coat 100 plates at .2 mm.

I’m sorry if that comes across as mocking, but what exactly am I supposed to say here? The world needs dishwashers and janitors. There are many people out there with no greater aptitude beyond that of becoming those things. If you really want to “educate for” something for people with IQs of 80 then teach them basic life skills and try to create communities where they can flourish rather than pretending that they could be rocket scientists with just a little more time.

I also asked you earlier for some support for your assertion that “society is far better off from investing in the children of the 70 percent in the middle over the 15 percent at the bottom.”

This is like asking someone to provide empirical evidence as to why $16,600 per taxpayer per year is spent by the federal government. That’s simply not how politics works. What we do know is that there is an underclass that is pretty much constitutionally incapable of contributing to society. Whether that is closer to 20 percent or closer to 5 percent is not explicable through one particular study. My concern is by refusing to admit this we are consigning those on the cusp to oblivion by not designing policies to meet their specific needs that will make them contributing members. Instead, we try to ram them through a system of policies that cater to the middle 70 percent and then walk away when they don’t turn out like everyone else.

I think 15 percent is a good starting point, but someone else might think 10 percent is more suited to our social needs. Quibbling over the specific point does not negate the clear reality one does exist.

I also asked you to explain how I am harmed by the “under-class” becoming better educated.

I really already answered this, but I’ll reformulate. For starters, as I noted above, people aren’t merely “educated”, rather they are “educated for something”. And a large part of my position, which you seem to studiously ignore, is that stressing formal classroom learning socially devalues people who are in fields that do not utilize such formal learning. If “education” actually affects specific outcomes then I’m fine with that, provided we get a decent return on that investment. My problem is that we are using socially valuable resources in ways that not only do nothing but that actually hurts the people we’re intending to help.

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Tracy W 09.19.08 at 1:59 pm

What we do know is that there is an underclass that is pretty much constitutionally incapable of contributing to society. Whether that is closer to 20 percent or closer to 5 percent is not explicable through one particular study.

Actually I don’t know that there’s such an underclass. That’s why I’m asking you for some evidence that there is.

Quibbling over the specific point does not negate the clear reality one does exist.

Well if it is a “clear reality” you should have no trouble finding some evidence to support your assertion.

As for the rest of your points, you appear to be arguing that the only value of education is to prepare someone for a career, and thus there is no point in further educating people who are destined to be janitors and dishwashers. This implies remarkable confidence on the ability of schools to identify those students who are destined to be janitors and dishwashers, and also ignoring the value of education in life more generally, from working out the correct dose of medicine to take to arguing with the local equivalent of IRD to providing mental occupation in leisure hours.

My own opinion is that schools show considerable variation in how effective they are with students of a similar background level, depending on the effectiveness of the school. We do have systems that have been shown to be replicable for drastically improving the effectiveness of schools, even with kids of low-IQs. See http://www.projectpro.com/ICR/Research/DI/Summary.htm for an example. The first priority should be to roll those out, so every primary school student gets a state-of-the-art education. The next priority, seeing if those techniques can be adapted for high school systems. If some kids can never get to college, then perhaps they can at least cite Rudyard Kipling’s “If” poem to themselves when times get tough. And perhaps later on we will figure out how to teach vector calculus more effectively.

I do agree with you that we are using socially-valuable resources in a way that may well even harm the people we are trying to help. That’s why I energetically advocate for a proven education system like Direct Instruction rather than mindlessly chucking more money at education.

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Asher 09.19.08 at 3:16 pm

I give up Tracy. Seriously. I live in a society filled with bleeding hearts such as yourself who obsess over the 5 percent of society that can do nothing to advance overall societal interests. There is an underclass that is there because of their genes. Every society has had one, and the only thing we can do is minimize their impact on the rest of us.

We’re watching the world burn and no one seems to care about anything besides what sort of creamer they want in their coffee or whether their shoes go with their shirt. Because of people like you who refuse to address reality, people like me are giving up in droves and simply withdrawing into our own personal worlds and waiting for the implosion.

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Righteous Bubba 09.19.08 at 3:29 pm

Because of people like you who refuse to address reality, people like me are giving up in droves and simply withdrawing into our own personal worlds and waiting for the implosion.

What a tragic waste of your life that I wholeheartedly encourage.

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