Monday, February 11, 2013

Education Spending That Isn't Smart

Jonah Goldberg

Not long after President Obama proclaimed in his second inaugural that "an economic recovery has begun," we learned that the U.S. economy actually shrank in the last quarter. Many economists believe this is a temporary setback. This recovery may be the weakest in American history, but the economy isn't cratering either.

Still, you can bet that if the economy continues to contract, Obama will propose the same remedy he always has: more "investments" in education, infrastructure and various industries of the future. It seems that whatever the ailment, Dr. Obama always writes the same prescription.

This is hardly shocking: Building roads and schools is a big reason why God created Democrats in the first place. And identifying the Next Big Thing -- and taking credit for it -- is something of a vocation for many liberal policymakers.  But are these really the drivers of economic growth?

Higher education in particular is almost universally championed as the key to "winning the future" -- a buzz phrase the president borrowed from Newt Gingrich a while back. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt calls education the "lifeblood of economic growth."

Often channeling such writers as Thomas Friedman, whose fondness for the Chinese economic model borders on the perverse, Obama routinely elevates education to a national security issue. "There's an educational arms race taking place around the world right now -- from China to Germany, to India to South Korea," Obama said in 2010. "Cutting back on education would amount to unilateral disarmament. We can't afford to do that."

Now, obviously, education is important and necessary for a host of reasons (and nobody is calling for "disarmament," whatever that means). But there's little evidence it drives growth.

British scholar Alison Wolf writes in "Does Education Matter?": "The simple one-way relationship ... -- education spending in, economic growth out -- simply does not exist. Moreover, the larger and more complex the education sector, the less obvious any links to productivity."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of "Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder," argues that education pays real benefits at a micro level because it allows families to lock in their economic status. An entrepreneurial father can ensure his kids will do OK by paying for them to become doctors and lawyers. But what is true at the micro level is not always true at the macro level.

Think about it this way: Growing economies spend a lot on education, but that doesn't necessarily mean that spending makes them grow. During the so-called Gilded Age, the U.S. economy roared faster and longer than ever before or since, while the illiteracy rate went down. But the rising literacy didn't cause the growth. Similarly, in the 20th century, in places like China, South Korea and India, the economic boom -- and the policies that create it -- always come first while the investments in education come later.

Japan is now well into its third "lost decade." Over the years, it has poured money into "stimulative" infrastructure projects that have yet to stimulate and protected industries that have steadily lost their competitive edge. Economic growth has averaged less than 1 percent since 2000, while government debt is now more than twice its GDP. If a highly educated workforce, support for allegedly cutting-edge industries and lavish spending on infrastructure was the recipe for economic growth (and if debt didn't matter), Japan would be doing great.

Obama surely wants to see some real economic growth. Perhaps the problem is that he thinks investing in a much bigger cart to put before the horse will get him where he wants to go.


Maine girls hoops players scolded after disturbing Nazi salute‏

Good that the school avoided the usual hysteria when kids are "incorrect" about something

As reported by the Associated Press and a variety of Maine outlets, including Bangor CBS affiliate WLBZ, a photo surfaced online depicting three members of the Greely (Me.) High girls basketball team celebrating a Nazi salute. Two of the girls were actually giving the salute while a third sat beneath her friends accepting the salute with a peace sign.

While the preceding events that inspired the pose have not officially been revealed, the girls were all wearing their basketball uniforms in the photo, and they reportedly referred to one of their teammates as "Hitler."

The salute and ugly tweets that surfaced were apparently a disturbing reference to the three girls' dislike of a particular Jewish teammate, with the trio also tweeting multiple references to Hitler and other anti-Semitic trains of thought.

Two tweets pointed out by WLBZ left little doubt about the girls' feeling about their Jewish teammate.

One tweet, dated December 24th, says "So Jewish to have prac on Christmas Eve day."

Another says "If ---- picked me up, she would've made me do sprints, then put me in a gas chamber."

All three girls are reportedly minors, so their identities remain protected. Their actions were brought to the attention of school officials by another concerned parent, with the note also pointing out that at least one student athlete had re-tweeted comments from the virulently anti-Semitic Twitter account @dictatorhitler.

The school said that it had not planned long-term punishment for the three girls, instead claiming that they made an out-of-character mistake and had learned from the incident. Whether or not that is deemed appropriate by the other parents -- let alone the larger Jewish community in Southern Maine -- remains to be seen.

"...These events, while disturbing, also provide us with an opportunity to teach our children about tolerance and respect...," Greely Principal Dan McKeone and Athletic Director David Shapiro wrote in a letter to parents of team members. "We will be working with the team in order to help them gain a better understanding of the ramifications of incidents such as this. We will also been looking for additional opportunities to educate the greater school community..."


Cookery lessons back on the British school menu

Carpentry too?  Apparently not

Cookery lessons are to become a compulsory part of the school curriculum for the first time after pressure from leading chefs and health campaigners.

Children as young as eight will now be taught basic cooking skills and how to make a balanced meal.

From September next year, primary school students will be given practical lessons in how to combine ingredients to produce simple, healthy food.

At secondary school, pupils will then master a number of different meals and will learn a range of cooking techniques including baking.

The proposals, made in the new draft national curriculum, have been welcomed by health experts concerned that children are growing up without basic culinary skills or food knowledge, which they say has helped to fuel the rise in childhood obesity and dietary-related diabetes.

They warn the demands of modern life have left many children living on a diet of ready meals because their parents are often too busy to cook.

Food technology is currently a component of the design and technology syllabus, but is not an independent part of the national curriculum.

And although food education is part of the curriculum at primary school level, teachers often prefer to focus on the nutritional aspects rather than the practical side of cooking.

The move is part of the Government’s strategy to tackle obesity, with one in three children in the UK now overweight by the age of nine.

The NHS spends around £6billion a year on diet-related diseases, which is thought in part to be due to poor levels of knowledge about healthy eating in schools and at home.

The proposals follow years of campaigning by a number of groups including leading chefs, Olympians and health organisations.

In a letter to the Telegraph last week, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tom Aikens and Prue Leith, all chefs and restaurateurs, as well as Alex Partridge, the Olympic rower, and Paul Lindley, the founder of the baby food producer Ella’s Kitchen, warned that the country is sleepwalking into a “dietary crisis”.

Their campaign, Averting A Recipe For Disaster, urged the Government to commit to improving nutrition for children or face saddling future generations with a multi–billion pound health bill.

Other signatories include Rob Rees, chair of The Children’s Food Trust, David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum and John Vincent, co-leader of the Government’s School Food plan and founder of restaurant chain Leon.

A study conducted for the campaign found that that the number of children who fail to eat any fruit or vegetables had increased by a third between 2009 and 2010.

Seventy per cent of primary school teachers and 87 per cent of mothers and fathers questioned said that cooking should be part of the curriculum.

The Department for Education ordered a review into school meals last year led by Henry Dimbleby and Mr Vincent, the co-founders of Leon.

Their aim was to get all children eating good food at school and to increase the teaching of cooking in primary and secondary schools.

Paul Lindley, founder of Ella's Kitchen, said: "The announcement from the Department for Education that cooking will be reintroduced onto the National Curriculum at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 is a hugely positive development in the mission to improve our children's relationship with food.

"I wholeheartedly welcome this change, which has been driven by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby as part of the School Food Plan and shows the change that can take place when good ideas gain traction."

Libby Grundy, director of Food For Life Partnership, a national programme working with schools to teach them about healthy eating, said: “It’s exceptionally good news that the Government is serious about improving children’s health. Catching the children at a young age is the best way to tackle the problem, when it’s not too late to teach them how to cook healthy meals for themselves.

“In schools that already offer cookery lessons, we have seen pupils go home and teach their parents what they have learnt. We found 45 per cent of parents were saying the family now ate more healthily as a result.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “For the first time ever cookery will be a compulsory part of the curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 3. The new design and technology curriculum is about giving pupils the knowledge needed for their daily lives. Given the obesity issues that face our children today, it is vital that they know as much as possible about healthy eating and what constitutes a balanced diet.

“It’s also important that they can develop an interest and understanding of good food. By bringing this into the curriculum, we want to encourage children to develop a love of food and cooking that will stay with them as they grow up.”


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