Category Archives: Education Reform

Counterpoint to Friedman’s Assessment of PISA

Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times, has noted that the United States continues to trail other countries on the PISA assessment of student learning in primary and secondary school.

One important note on the PISA tests, and other international benchmarks of student learning, is that the United States has  never led the globe in student achievement — it has always been about where it is today, sitting around 15th place internationally, yet we have the largest GDP and most productive workforce. This suggests that educational achievement is the only factor in productivity and employment.  As Friedman notes, this is partly due to the fact that we once had an economy rich in manufacturing — which required less skill in the workforce. Some believe the preference toward education and skill is overstated though.   Harry Holzer and labor economists have shown that there is still, and will continue to be, a significant middle skill job sector in America.  What they find is that these middle jobs will require some postsecondary training — in programs that may only be a few weeks or months at venues like community colleges.

Most American workers (about 70 percent currently) do not work in jobs that require a college degree (nor does 70 percent of the population hold the degree).  Even as the country becomes more “high tech” and more “new economy” only 40 percent of workers (in the highest of estimates) will need a college degree.  The major gap in learning is for workers who will need “some” postsecondary training, but not a degree.  Our educational system doesn’t address the educational needs for future non-degree holding workers as well as it does for those continuing to a four year college.

Friedman is also correct that students who do best on PISA tests feel some ownership over their education.  America could build more student “ownership” over education by providing more than one track of learning.  This could happen by building out a significant career and technical training program in America’s schools.  The Harvard Graduate School of Education makes a similar argument in its important Pathways to Prosperity report.

 

Texas Technical Colleges to Receive State Funding Based on Students’ Post Enrollment Earnings Starting 2015

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that starting in 2015, state technical colleges will receive funding based on the post enrollment wages that students earn.  (Link requires subscription – if you don’t have one, your library may have one!)  Traditional funding metrics like degrees granted, credit hours taught, and total enrollment will be out the window (just for these technical colleges).  Instead, funding will be given out based on how much students make afterwards.  Students who complete about three classes will be considered in the formula, not just degree earning students.  This model will ensure that short term certificate students are also considered.

Some are concerned about how state funding will account for other issues related to unemployment – particularly local structural unemployment or cyclical unemployment.  While valid concerns the leaders of the technical colleges sound up to the test saying, “[T]he major thrust of what we do is employability.  It doesn’t scare us.” (Michael Reeser, the system chancellor – reported by Eric Kelderman in the article linked above).

Earlier this summer, Oregon considered parallel plan, where university students would pay off tuition as a percentage of their income – no matter how high or low – for a number of years after graduation.  Under the Oregon proposal, a bachelor’s degree earner would pay about 3 percent for 20 years.

The Downside of Incentivizing College Loan Debt or Home Debt For Educated Workers

Garance Franke-Ruta recently wrote a piece for the Atlantic suggesting that using debt reduction to incentivize young, debt-strapped professionals could be a good way to increase urban populations, especially in distressed cities.  Given that the country has a serious student loan debt problem AND a number of distressed cities, it seems like the suggestion could be a way to “kill two birds with one stone.”  A policy like that could help reduce student loan burdens as well as bring people to a city that would not have otherwise lived there.

In fact, policies like this have been close to passing.  Recently the New Jersey Legislature considered providing refundable tax credits (that would turn into student loan payments) to college educated residents that moved to either Jersey City, Camden, or Trenton.  New Jersey proposed giving new college educated residents $7,000 for two years of residence in one of the three cities.  (The program did not pass).

On first brush a policy like this – paid for either by federal, state, or local government – seems to make a lot of sense – it could reduce student loan debt and get people to move into a city.  But from both the national, state, or local government perspective, there are serious flaws in the implementation.  I’ll outline a few of them for each level:

National

Regressivity – The main critique I have at the national level is that a program like this is regressive.  It gives money to college graduates who are likely to make more money than their non-degree holding counterparts.  National policy – with respects to higher education – are about making it more affordable, therefore more equitable and accessible to more people.  The country does have a student loan debt problem, but there is a good chance that providing money to solve the debt problem without addressing the cost of education would not do this.  As incentives were more available, college costs will simply “price in” the incentive and  outpace any tax credit or debt reduction programs.  Student debt is a symptom of flawed student finance.

A progressive program would increase access to college for people who could not afford it, thereby increasing access.  The proposed program in the Atlantic rewards people who were able to finance and finish college – a group that least needs incentives.  This is a similar critique to those who would like to see the mortgage interest deduction eliminated or phased out at higher incomes.

Congressional District Politics – urban policy has been limited because of Congressional District politics.  How would a program like this pick the “winning” cities where incentives would be provided and “losing” cities where they weren’t.  Hopefully Congress would use some type of objective criteria to identify the cities most in need of highly educated new workers and residents or that would benefit most from their presence.  (Most in need and most likely to benefit are not synonymous either).  But given the history of other urban related policies like Clinton’s Empowerment Zone programs, we should suspect that twice as many cities will be designated with half as much funding.  Alice O’Connor gives a good review of this in her 1999 essay, “Swimming Against the Tide.”

State and Local

State and local policies are similar so I will discuss them at once:

The Enduring “But-For” Problem – young adults want to live in built up, walkable urban areas.  Urbanist and urban planning media presents some evidence of this phenomenon constantly.  Economic developers are criticized for giving unnecessary incentives to businesses that would have come to an area with or without any government intervention.  This is called the “but-for” problem.  Tim Bartik, an economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, suggests that incentives can be beneficial if a company would not have located in the area otherwise.

If states or cities pay young college educated workers to live within their boundaries they should be sure that the new residents they attract would not have moved to the area “but-for” the student loan forgiveness.  The proposed programs seem to suggest that incentives between $7,000 and $20,000, will be paid one time, in the future after a certain length of residency.  Young college educated adults are smart and intuitively discount future payments, further reducing the value to individuals.  The young bright people might not be swayed to move to an area just by the sum, but would take advantage if they moved to the area for other reasons.

Buffalo Hunting – this is similar to a main criticism of economic development.  Another important assumption of these programs is that a small amount of money will induce the new residents to stay for a long time.  If people stay for a long time, they will ultimately pay their incentive back through taxes and other economic and social benefits.

Economic development sees a small set of “footloose” businesses that move from one locality to another, constantly taking advantage of different tax incentive programs.  Individuals could do this even more easily.  College educated workers are the most mobile people in the workforce and can move more easily than any other workers.  Theoretically, someone could bounce from one residential student debt incentive to the next and pay off all of their loans.  This would be great for that individual, but every municipality or state that gave them money under the hope that they would pay their money back would be left without much return on that hope.  “Clawbacks” or provisions that protect the locality would need to be stronger, but they would reduce the efficacy of the incentives.

Conclusion

Helping distressed cities and making college more affordable and accessible are very important, but I am not sure that incentivizing completion and residential location in this way works to solve the issue.

 

Recapping Lincoln Education and Land Policy @LandPolicy Conference

This post is somewhat belated.  The 8th Annual Land Policy Conference was held by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, MA in early June, and this year’s topic was Education, Land, and Location.

Eric Hanushek, an educational and urban economist from Stanford, was the keynote speaker where he gave an overview of research that he had conducted for the OECD that identified a economic benefit to the United States of somewhere in the range of $40-50 trillion dollars (in present terms) associated with closing the achievement gap between minority and white students in America.

The rest of the conference was made up of thorough discussions of national and international research on how land policy and education are inter-related.  Presenters (and chapters in the upcoming volume) will provide a vast overview on some relatively traditional research topics – including how school quality is capitalized in home values and why people without children in schools still support taxes for education (the answer is that it supports home value and community quality according to William Fischel’s “Home-Voter Hypothesis).  The conference papers also covered how newer policies like school choice and residential mobility programs affect individual outcomes in education and the labor market.  While there was some disagreement on the topic, choice and mobility might contribute to further inequality – but this could be just a short term effect.  There were also great papers on homeschooling, the role of segregation in educational outcomes, and how school choice affects municipal transportation costs.

I was encouraged to see urban economics, urban planning, education policy, and land policy being discussed in nuanced and innovative ways! I learned a lot at the conference and the work of the scholars at the Lincoln Conference has influenced by dissertation.

 

TOMORROW!!! Penn IUR Book Launch Event!

Join Laura Perna and contributors for a book launch for Preparing Today’s Students For Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America on January 30th at 5:30 pm.  I co-authored a chapter with Laura Wolf-Powers in the book titled: “Aligning Secondary and Post-Secondary Credentialization with Economic Development Strategy or ‘If Low Educational Attainment = Poor Metropolitan Competitiveness, What Can be Done About It”

Preparing

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America offers useful insights into how to bridge the higher education gap and provide urban workers with the educational qualifications and skills they need for real-world jobs. Written by researchers in education and urban policy, this volume takes a comprehensive approach. It informs our understanding of the measurement and definition of the learning required by employers. It examines the roles that different educational sectors and providers play in workforce readiness. It analyzes the institutional practices and public policies that promote the educational preparation of today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs. Please join Laura Perna, the book’s editor and Professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education and panelists for a discussion on the books central themes. Panelists include Thomas Bailey, the George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and Director of the Community College Research Center; Lori Shorr, Philadelphia’s Chief Education Officer; Alan Ruby, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; and Laura Wolf-Powers, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania.

Tweet about this event using the hashtag #PreparingStudents

Book Launch Event – Preparing Today’s Students, January 30th, 2013

Join Laura Perna and contributors for a book launch for Preparing Today’s Students For Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America on January 30th at 5:30 pm.  I co-authored a chapter with Laura Wolf-Powers in the book titled: “Aligning Secondary and Post-Secondary Credentialization with Economic Development Strategy or ‘If Low Educational Attainment = Poor Metropolitan Competitiveness, What Can be Done About It”

Preparing

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America offers useful insights into how to bridge the higher education gap and provide urban workers with the educational qualifications and skills they need for real-world jobs. Written by researchers in education and urban policy, this volume takes a comprehensive approach. It informs our understanding of the measurement and definition of the learning required by employers. It examines the roles that different educational sectors and providers play in workforce readiness. It analyzes the institutional practices and public policies that promote the educational preparation of today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs. Please join Laura Perna, the book’s editor and Professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education and panelists for a discussion on the books central themes. Panelists include Thomas Bailey, the George and Abby O’Neill Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and Director of the Community College Research Center; Lori Shorr, Philadelphia’s Chief Education Officer; Alan Ruby, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; and Laura Wolf-Powers, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania.

Tweet about this event using the hashtag #PreparingStudents

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

Early childhood intervention and support is arguably the best way to improve the life chances and economic opportunities of individuals.  Economists, pediatricians, educators, and sociologists are increasingly lining up in agreement.

Thinking back, starting early with children is not a new idea because it is common sense.  Settlement houses in the late 19th and early 20th century worked to improve living conditions for families by improving housing and ameliorating overcrowding.  Even before this movement, Frederick Douglass stated, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  Current research continues to confirm this advice and settlement house efforts.  Children and youth who experience housing related stress – especially overcrowding – do worse than their peers in reading and math and are less likely to graduate from high school.  As a result, they are less likely to succeed in the labor market for the rest of their lives.

Economists Pedro Carniero and James Heckman show that early interventions in education have the highest social return.  Their analysis shows that returns decay exponentially, and that by around middle school age, interventions may be ineffective enough so as to not be net positive investments.  Their conclusion is that early learning begets more learning later.  Teaching a child how to learn early benefits him or her, and society, for the rest of their lives.

Tim Bartik explores childhood investment and confirms the utility of early investments.  He also shows that they are strong local economic investment tools.  In addition, early education is a great way to stimulate government sponsored employment because it creates jobs for adults who work with, care for, and teach children.  Education and care is still labor intensive.

Critics suggest that the learning benefits decay quickly, but long term studies experimental studies provide strong evidence that this isn’t the case.  A few good examples include the Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Harlem Children’s Zone (a newer program with less long-term evaluation, but very long term intervention with youth).  Both of these projects worked with children and the parents.  In When Work Disappears, William Julius Wilson suggests that visitors to disadvantaged neighborhoods easily understand any decay in gains from Head Start or other similar programs.  This suggests that long term intervention and wrap around programs and support are needed.

Recent pediatric health researchers found that supportive home environments from birth to age two were vital to the economic and educational outcomes for youth.  Nicholas Kristof outlines the work in the New York Times.  Children with parents who participated in programs to provide supportive home environments were a third less likely to have behavior or intellectual problems by the age of six.  By age 15, they were half as likely to have been arrested.  Stressful home situations may permanently damage children – the researchers found higher rates of heart disease and other chronic illness.  Kristof suggests that these interventions start with a hug.

Where do planners and economic developers fit into this policy agenda?  They are unlikely to provide services and there needs to be some local “place benefit” (or neighborhood spill overs) in order to meet traditional metrics of success.  As Bartik suggests, these lead to better economic outcomes, so the research foundation is set, but there is a publicity problem.  Progressive professionals need to get the message out.  Planners can work to ensure that day care facilities are legal neighborhood uses in zoning codes and economic development offices can ensure that these businesses have equal access to support.  Some localities might see the benefit of opening their own facilities in underserved neighborhoods if the market isn’t providing them.

Public housing redevelopment should also be sure to include buildings and space for the wrap around services, children’s centers, class rooms, and community space.  The ways that we redevelop determines whether or not some of the activities are possible or not.

Working towards housing improvement is always important.  Adequate high quality space makes a big difference.  This matters for certifying voucher housing and how public housing is redeveloped.

Children’s welfare, health, and education is often thought of as new area for planners and economic developers, but efforts and programs date back to the origins of the profession. Settlement houses may be gone, but knowledge has moved from common sense to rigorous experimental research.  Planners still have a large role to play, not in providing services, but in ensuring that services are available to their communities, and especially supporting service provision in underserved communities.