Friday, September 4, 2015

Education Spending in the U.S. doesn't seem to be doing any good

I was caught up in a debate recently over whether school funding provides better student achievement. My tentative view is that extra spending have very trivial impact beyond a relatively low point.

When I take a few gulps  of the research on the subject, I find that the general trend is on my side with a few exceptions. I take away that schools with more money have higher student achievement, but schools very similar to each other, and with similar student body compositions but very different budgets, don't get these results.

The remarkable finding from combining the 377 estimates across 90 separate published works is that neither variation in teacher-pupil ratio nor variations in teacher educations are systematically related to student performance...
Teacher experience stands out in that about 30 percent of the parameter estimates are statistically significant in a positive direction. whereas 7 percent are statistically significant in a negative direction. But, again, this is far from unqualified support for the efficacy of employing more experienced teachers, since 71 percent are statistically insignificant or negative. Since these three inputs are combined to indicate variations in instructional spending per pupil, the results lead to the conclusion that there is no strong or systematic relationship between spending and student performance.
(Does Money Matter? Gary T. Burtless)

Why do schools with more money have higher achievement? The alternative story is that successful parents have successful kids regardless of where the kids go to school. It just so happens that successful parents also buy their kids sexy educations, if not by affording private school, then by buying an expensive house in a good school district. The expensive education isn't an investment, but a consumption good. The kid's experience is better, but it doesn't change where the kid is going.

The research also meshes with my experience. In the town where I grew up I knew lots of kids who didn't go anywhere because they had a "I don't care", "I live for today" mindset. No amount of spending was going to change that. The district, by the way, spent $2,000 more per student than average. You wouldn't have thought that if you went to school there.

There is little doubt that on a national scale education spending isn't the magic that some think it is. The U.S. governments spend about $ 1 Trillion on education now after ramping up the funding over a period when student achievement has only gone downhill. Most of it is spent on K-12. The U.S. spends  more than almost every other country on earth, beat only by Switzerland. All that increased spending didn't all go do the richest districts, although they were preferred they're also too few to consume all that extra spending.

I believe that many impressions people have of how dry the education budgets are in the U.S. come two places. One is a lot of political zealots manipulating data by citing only federal expenditure when states and local governments are the main spenders. The seconds is the anecdotal stereotypical "budget cuts" that are immediately accepted without so much as a whiff of skepticism. How do you know that there are budget cuts? Who did you hear this from? Does "budget cut" mean what we think it means? (The term is often used to describe the difference between what the district asked for and how much they got, rather than the difference between what they got and what they got last year. Bullshit, I know)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

SlatStar on My Id on Defensiveness

Here's another great post by the best blogger in town (high praise from both David Friedman and Bryan Caplan) Scott Alexander:

I like discussion, debate, and reasoned criticism. But a lot of arguments aren’t any of those things. They’re the style I describe as ethnic tension, where you try to associate something you don’t like with negative affect so that other people have an instinctive disgust reaction to it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

No Universals?

Though twilight may be long, there is a difference between night and day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Higher class correlates with charity?

A Large Scale Test of the Effect of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior

Across eight studies with large and representative international samples, we predominantly found positive effects of social class on prosociality: Higher class individuals were more likely to make a charitable donation and contribute a higher percentage of their family income to charity (32,090 ≥ N ≥ 3,957; Studies 1–3), were more likely to volunteer (37,136 ≥N ≥ 3,964; Studies 4–6), were more helpful (N = 3,902; Study 7), and were more trusting and trustworthy in an economic game when interacting with a stranger (N = 1,421; Study 8) than lower social class individuals.

If this finding is basically right, it might seem natural to say that money is causing this good behavior. I doubt it for the same reasons I doubt that lack of money causes many of the poor's systematic bad behaviors (like divorce, alcoholism, and single parenthood). Rather, bad behavior generally leads to failure, and good behavior lead leads to success.

Call off the beepocolypse

Call of the beepocolypse, for the love of God...

"As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA"

Nothing in the article is novel, I wrote this several months ago.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Great Summary of Minimum Wage

Tyler Cowen calls it the best summary of minimum wage he's heard. Minimum Wage Muddle.

Standard economic logic: when you raise the price of something people buy less of it. Raise the price of labor and you'll create disemployment effects; hurting the people you're trying to help.

Then comes empirical work: Card and Krueger can't find disemployment effects after minimum wage is raised in a couple of states. Some other studies find the same thing

Other studies do find disemployment effects. Sometimes quite significant.

Takeaway from the empirical work; measuring disemployment effects is messy business. Also, conditions matter. Obviously the important condition the minimum wage depends on is how far it deviates from the market wage.

The picture we have in our heads of the typical minimum wage earner is mostly false. Minimum wage earners are as likely to be from high income households as low-income households.

The cost of higher pay is (somewhat) passed onto consumers, who are often poor. How much of the cost is an important matter, and disappointingly neglected in the article.

Also, What economic ideas are hard to popularize?

Comparative Advantage is the most popular answer in the comments. It is the first thing that came to my mind.

Tyler Cowen gives tax incidence theory as an answer.