Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, July 15th, 2006.

The Leading Embarrassment of the Free World

Bush Administration

If we can’t impeach him, maybe we can lock him up in the White House basement until 2009 so he’s not trotting around the world making a fool of himself. Dear Leader upstaged again:

During a press conference today at the G8 summit in Russia, President Bush told President Vladimir Putin that Americans want Russia to develop a free press and free religion “like Iraq.” To laughter and applause, Putin responded: “We certainly would not want to have same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, quite honestly.” CNN’s Ed Henry called it a “tough jab.”

The exchange underscores how the war in Iraq has damaged the standing of the United States, to the point where even modest encouragement for democratic reform is met with ridicule.

I can’t think of any time another head of state ridiculed the President of the United States to his face.

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So Much for “School Choice”

Bush Administration, Education

Everybody bookmark this. And be ready to retrieve it every time the righties wheeze about the “failing” public schools.

The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better.

The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, also found that conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind public schools on eighth-grade math.

The study, carrying the imprimatur of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department, was contracted to the Educational Testing Service and delivered to the department last year.

The Bushies put the study through extensive peer review. Apparently unable to dispute the presented facts, they’ve dismissed the report as being “of modest utility.” Of course, if the report had found that private schools were better … well, you know. The Republicans would be pushing for complete demolition of the public school system so that children can be herded into private schools and receive the proper religious indoctrination.

The report mirrors and expands on similar findings this year by Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Illinois who examined just math scores. The new study looked at reading scores, too. …

… The two new studies put test scores in context by studying the children’s backgrounds and taking into account factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ educational backgrounds to make the comparisons more meaningful. The extended study of charter schools has not been released.

Interesting tidbit:

The report separated private schools by type and found that among private school students, those in Lutheran schools performed best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst.

Reaction from anti-public school activist:

Joseph McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an umbrella organization that represents 80 percent of private elementary and secondary schools, said the statistical analysis had little to do with parents’ choices on educating their children.

“In the real world, private school kids outperform public school kids,” Mr. McTighe said. “That’s the real world, and the way things actually are.”

In the real world, ideologues out-bloviate non-ideologues. They don’t need no steenking data to tell ’em what goes on in the real world, hombres.

Back in the 1950s, at least in the Bible Belt where I come from, conventional wisdom said that public schools were better than parochial schools. Somehow, the desegregation wars of the late 1950s and early 1960s caused a whole lot of white parents to change their minds. The school prayer flap of the 1960s added more alarm to the mix. Since then the movement to destroy the public school system (MtDtPSS) has moved on from its segregationist roots, and now it’s a movement to destroy the public school system because too many public school teachers are godless liberals. And in recent years, the MtDtPSS has come full circle; anti-public school activists have been working overtime to persuade African American parents to support voucher systems and send their kids to the proper indoctrination facilities private schools.

I’m not saying that all private schools exist for the purpose of indoctrination, but that that indoctrination is the essential motivation of the MtDtPSS.

Anti-private school activists argue that vouchers would create market competition and cause all schools to improve because they are competing. But Milwaukee has had vouchers for 15 years now, and that’s not how it’s worked out:

An investigation this June by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found problems in some voucher schools that—even to those numb to educational horror stories—break one’s heart. No matter how severe one’s criticisms of the Milwaukee Public Schools, nothing is as abysmal as the conditions at some voucher schools.

Some of them had high school graduates teaching students. Some were nothing more than refurbished, cramped storefronts. Some did not have any discernible curriculum and only a few books. Some did not teach evolution or anything else that might conflict with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

At one school, teacher and students were on their way to McDonald’s. At another, lights were turned off to save money. A third used the back alley as a playground.

One school is located in an old leather factory, another in a former tire store, a third is above a vacuum cleaner shop and hair salon. …

… The summaries show that a disturbing number of schools are beset by two overriding problems: inadequate facilities and unqualified teachers. (I’ll leave concerns about fraud and scams to the district attorney’s office.)

At the Sa’Rai and Zigler Upper Excellerated Academy (K4–1), principal Sa’Rai Nance doesn’t even have a teaching license. She said she opened the school after she had a vision from God. Nance also said that “excellerated” is a fusion word combining accelerated and excellent and is “spelled wrong on purpose.” The word “upper” refers to “the upper room where Jesus prayed.”

Carter’s Christian Academy (K4–1) is described as “essentially a small storefront building with a couple of tiny rooms redone as classrooms. …There were no visible books or toys or paper.” The school’s two teachers have high school diplomas, and the highest-paid teacher makes $8 an hour.

At Grace Christian Academy (K4–7), one staff member privately told reporters “that there was no curriculum. Several classrooms were using worksheets downloaded from the Internet. …There were few books or schools materials on [the] shelves or anywhere in sight.” In at least one case, the summary continued, “the teacher was giving inaccurate scientific information to kids. [Principal Reginald] Armstrong says teachers use Biblical principles. He taught his class the story of Adam and Eve recently, from a literalist position.” Armstrong has a teaching license, but none of the other teachers do.

Among the several reasons Why Market Forces Don’t Work in this situation is that the really excellent private schools generally are way disinterested in taking voucher students. Conversely, private schools eager to get voucher money are, um, often not so hot.

See also Steve Gilliard and Echidne.

Update: Flaming idiot Pejman Yousefzadeh of RedState links to the same article and concludes it proves private schools are better than public schools. He manages to do this by extremely, um, selective editing — excerpting commentary by Kevin Drum, stripped of context, and leaving out the data that showed public schools outperform private schools.

Kevin notes that public school students do less well in secondary school than do private school students. There might be several reasons for this that have nothing to do with school performance however. Kevin Drum writes,

But what does seem to show up over and over again is the effect of concentrated poverty. Nearly everything I’ve read suggests that when the number of kids in poverty reaches about 50% in a school, teaching becomes nearly impossible — and that this matters much more in secondary school than in elementary school.

Private schools can dismiss disruptive students and expel non-performers. The poorest of the poor don’t go to private schools, vouchers or no vouchers. ESL students don’t go to private schools. Don’t bother trying to explain this to Yousefzadeh, who suffers a serious lack of critical thinking skills. Maybe he went to a private school.

Seriously, if you google for information about public versus private school you find all manner of “reports” claiming that private school students are “better prepared” or more likely to get advanced degrees than public school students. As for the first claim, there is always a curious lack of supporting data compiled from independent and disinterested sources.. As for the second — if you’re talking about elite “prep” schools like Phillips Academy, sure. If you’re talking about some of the places described above, like “Carter’s Christian Academy” — I doubt it.

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Bush Administration, economy

Taking a break from blogging World War III — Paul Krugman describes a typical “debate” on the economy with a rightie:

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

Informed economist: “But it’s not a great economy for most Americans. Many families are actually losing ground, and only a very few affluent people are doing really well.”

Bush supporter: “Why doesn’t President Bush get credit for a great economy? I blame liberal media bias.”

Ain’t it the truth?

“To a large extent,” Krugman continues, “this dialogue of the deaf reflects Upton Sinclair’s principle: it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” But there is data showing that, in fact, most people are not enjoying the benefits of our wondrous economy.

Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. … growth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere.

Even the real income of college graduates fell in 2004; a college degree is no guarantee of shelter from a failing economy. Bottom line, it’s only a great economy “if you’re a high-level corporate executive or someone who owns a lot of stock. For most other Americans, economic growth is a spectator sport.”

Ezra Klein provides an interesting analogy to describe what’s happening to our economy:

Growth is almost a misleading word for this phenomenon: When we think of growth, we imagine what happens to us during adolescence — we get bigger. But imagine if all the growth happened in your forehead. Limbs, torso, weight — all the exact same. But your forehead was now six inches long. Would you be excited about that change? Would you celebrate your newfound height? Would you categorize that as normal “growth”? …

…In fact, it’s no longer just the middle class and the poor who’re falling behind. The distribution has grown so uneven that the 95th percentile is making meager headway — even the merely rich are falling behind. It’s the richest of the rich making headway. But they now account for so much wealth and holdings that their acceleration can effortlessly outweigh everyone else’s deterioration.

Some of the best economic blogging on the web goes on at The Blogging of the President, provided by Stirling Newberry, Ian Welsh, and Hale Stewart. Last week Hale posted “Income Inequality In the US: A Primer.” He quotes the CIA World Factbook:

    Among countries with modern economies, the United States is the clear leader in income inequality under the gini measure. Income inequality in the U.S. is more comparable to the third world.”

According to the CIA Factbook, the US has a Gini index of 45. By way of comparison, a large number of countries with a higher gini number are in South America and Africa. From South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay. From Africa: Botswana, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Namibia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

FYI, according to the chart linked in the paragraph above, Hungary, Sweden, Norway, and Belgium have the least income inequality. Eastern Europe and Scandinavia generally are less economically unequal than most other parts of the planet.

In the United States, income inequality declined from 1947 to 1968; since 1968, inequality has increased. As these graphs show, however, inequality increased dramatically during the Reagan and Bush I Administrations (especially the Bush I Administration) and leveled off during the Clinton Administration.

(Remember “It’s the economy, stupid“? Republican folklore says that Bush I lost the 1992 election because he had reneged on his “no new taxes” pledge, but I have never believed that. The income shift from 1989 to 1992 was palpable, and Poppy clearly was oblivious to people’s concerns. I don’t think most folks who were not movement conservatives gave a hoohah about the tax increases.)

Via Economist’s View, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses recent trends:

The data show that income gains between 2003 and 2004 were particularly large for those at the very top of the income spectrum, resulting in a nearly unprecedented one-year increase in income concentration. …

  • From 2003 to 2004, the average incomes of the bottom 99 percent of households grew by less than 3 percent, after adjusting for inflation. In contrast, the average incomes of the top one percent of households experienced a jump of almost 17 percent, after adjusting for inflation. (Census data show that real median income fell between 2003 and 2004. …[T]he 3 percent rise among the bottom 99 percent seems to largely reflect gains by households in the top quintile of the income spectrum…)
  • The top one percent of households garnered 36 percent of the income gains in 2004.
  • This disparity produced an exceptional jump in income concentration in 2004. The share of the pre-tax income in the nation that goes to the top one percent of households increased from 17.5 percent in 2003 to 19.5 percent in 2004. Only five times since 1913 (the first year that this data set covers), and only twice since World War II has the top one percent’s share risen by as much in a single year (in percentage point terms). Each percentage point of income is equivalent to $68 billion in 2004.
  • The share of total U.S. income that the top one percent of households received in 2004 was greater than the share it received in any prior year since 1929, except for 1999 and 2000.
  • Income gains were even more pronounced among those with the very highest incomes. The incomes of the top one-tenth of one percent of households grew more rapidly than the incomes of the top one percent of households. The share of the national income received by the top one tenth of one percent of households increased by 1.3 percentage points from 2003 to 2004; in other words, more than half of the increased share of income going to the top one percent of households actually went to the top one-tenth of one percent of households.

    Here’s the punch line:

    In May 2006, CBO suggested that continued growth in income inequality may be one cause of the recent rapid growth in federal revenues. Increases in income inequality boost revenue growth, in part because high-income households are subject to higher federal income tax rates than are households of lesser means.

    In other words, the revenue increases Dubya is so proud of are a symptom of economic pathology.


    It should be noted that wage and salary growth has been unusually weak during this recovery, while the growth of corporate profits has been exceptionally strong. This contributes to growing income inequality, since high-income households own a highly disproportionate share of corporate assets and derive significant income from those assets. With weaker-than-normal wage growth and stronger-than-normal growth in corporate profits having continued into the first part of 2006, it is likely that the increase in income inequality that Piketty and Saez have documented through 2004 has continued since that time and that the nation’s already-large disparities in income are growing yet wider.

    As Hale points out, income disparities are a major cause of civil and political instability. “[N]ot only is the US a debtor nation in the tradition of Latin America circa the 1980s,” he says, “we are also following a similar path in the area of income distribution. It’s very important to ask ourselves: is this what we want?”

    This is not what most of us want, I suspect, but discussion of this issue by the MSM mostly consists of Chris Matthews chirping about how great the economy is. We as a nation aren’t exactly being asked what we want, are we? We’re just being told what we want by the VRWC echo chamber.

    See also: Hale Stewart, “Bush’s Historic Tax Revenues Aren’t So Historic” and “If the Deficit’s Decreasing, Why Is Total Debt Increasing?

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