Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why We Should Pay Teachers More

Just wanted to write a bit about this while I was starting to read The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen. I don't know what fuller picture he'll give of his opinions on what we should do to improve/reform education, if at all, but one point that was made early in this book was that, as measured by a variety of tests, we don't seem to have made much progress in K-12 education since the early 70's even though we've been continuing to spend more money per capita on K-12 education since then. I've heard variations of this before from people basically saying we should cut public education spending, or at least not have increased it. I think that's wrong.

First, I don't want to suggest there are not things that could be cut from public schools that are not worth the amount of money we put towards it. Just think of how much more money some schools are spending on football stadiums and such. And a lot of increased spending over time will just be because we, as a nation, become wealthier, and in proportion to that, people demand "nicer" schools in ways beyond just what is actually providing more education.

But, despite the disheartening statistics that seem to show we've very little gains in K-12 education despite increased spending there, I think it's oversimplifying things to say this means that we shouldn't have spent more. That assumes that if spending had not increased, education results would have stayed the same as they had been. But I think the quality of our education would have decreased had we not spent more...

The main reason comes from this book that I recently blogged about. A few decades ago, if you were a smart, educated woman who wanted to start a career, your options were much more limited than they are today. Because there were only so many jobs that were viewed as "appropriate" for women, in 1970, about half of all college-educated women were teachers. Even though it's never been a high paying job, we were able to get many of the best and brightest women to teach. Today, those cultural barriers are either gone or much weaker, and now 47% of our teachers come from the bottom 1/3 of their college classes. Because of the freedom that women have gained, we can't get away with paying teachers low salaries and expecting as many highly skilled people to do it.

This does not mean sexual discrimination was ever a good thing... likewise, ending slavery made farming more expensive but that doesn't justify slavery at all. And because I know this is coming: no Tracy, what I'm saying should not be interpreted as an insult toward you or any of the teachers you work with. This is about averages, not about every individual teacher. And it would be expected that a high-end district like FISD would have access to the highest quality teachers and therefore wouldn't really be an example of an "average" American school.

So anyway... all things held the same, we should have expected the quality of K-12 education to decrease after 1970. But we haven't seen that, so the extra money we've put into it must have done something right. Paying teachers more is not a waste of money. And if we want a better educated nation, one of the main things to do would be to make teaching a better paying profession!

But more importantly: my wife is a teacher, so if we give teachers a raise, I get a raise!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Policy Contributions to the Deficit

Everyone knows our budget deficits have gotten huge over the past 10 years (after having a surplus in 2001). But one of the things people don't often take into consideration is how much a recession impacts our budget. When the economy takes a hit, that lowers the amount of taxes the government collects; surely the worst recession since the Great Depression is going to be responsible for worse deficits for a while. And part of the reason we went from a surplus under Clinton to deficits under Bush was the stock-bubble-recession when Bush took office.

So ignoring the effect of the economy on our budget in the past 10 years, here's the actual policy contributions to the deficit from Bush and Obama:

I understand being concerned about the national debt. But what blows my mind is how many people consider that a reason to vote Republican. How many Republican congressmen that voted for our biggest budget-busters of the past 10 years are now the same ones feigning concern for the national debt? And how many people are falling for it?

It's also important to remember, when people claim "we have a spending problem not a taxing problem", that the Bush tax cuts are the biggest policy contribution to our deficits. And the graph above only shows their cost within Bush's presidency, not the full long-term cost.