Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Public Education in Texas: New York Performance at Half the Price

The New York Times's editorical pages writers are, as a group, deeply enamored with the fact that Texas has the one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

On February 27, Paul Krugman wrote:
And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings.
On May 27, Gail Collins also noted:
If Perry were elected president, perhaps he would do for the entire United States what he’s done for Texas, which ranks... 45th in high school completion.
So, are Texas's low-tax policies responsible for the state's poor high school graduation rate? Is Rick Perry ruining public education in Texas? Not really.

According to 2008 data on high school completion from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, 65.29% of freshman who entered a public high school in Texas in the fall of 2004 had graduated by the spring of 2008. That is 45th in the nation and below the national average (mean) of 70.06%.

However, a quick look at the 18 states that have graduation rates below the national average shows that states with low high school graduation rates are a politically and geographically diverse set.

Nevada 47.56
South Carolina 53.85
Louisiana 58.13
Georgia 58.77
Florida 59.56
New Mexico 60.61
Mississippi 61.69
Alabama 64.03
Texas 65.29
Delaware 65.68
Alaska 65.82
North Carolina 65.9
Arizona 67.13
New York 67.13
California 68.17
Hawaii 68.43
Washington 68.62
Kentucky 69.11

Southern states and conservative states are over-represented on this list. Eight of these states are in the south and twelve are red states (i.e. states that went for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election). However, the list also includes the bicoastal pillars of American liberalism and public education spending---New York and California---along with fellow blue states New Mexico, Delaware, Hawaii, and Washington.

According to the Census Bureau (Table 11), in 2008-2009, New York spent $18,126 per pupil in its elementary and secondary schools, the highest in the nation. California spent $9,657, per pupil, ranking 30th. Texas spent $8,543, 43rd in the nation. Looking over the list above and at these three data points, the correspondence between policy liberalism or education spending and education outcomes, at least in terms of graduation rates, is not clear.

That's a bit of a puzzle. More money should relate to better educational outcomes all else being equal. So, how can New York spend more than twice as much per pupil as Texas and still end with less than a 2% advantage over Texas in its high school graduation rate?

The answer is, of course, that all else is not equal.

Working with 2008 data on high school graduation rates and student performance on the math component of the National Assessment of Education Performance from National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the 2008-2009 Census spending data, the correlation between per-pupil state spending on education and high school graduation rates is a modest 0.26 (p=0.06; two-tailed test).

Now, here's where the data get really interesting. The correlation between per-pupil spending and the proportion of all 8th grade students scoring "proficient" or better on math components of the NAEP is 0.35 (p=0.02; two-tailed test). However, the correlation between per-pupil spending and the proportion of low-income 8th grade students scoring "proficient" or better on math components of the NAEP is only 0.04 (p=0.76; two-tailed test).

These results suggest that spending on public education has a positive influence on the educational performance of students from middle- and upper-income families while it has much more marginal influence, if any, on students from low-income families. The data suggest that students from advantaged backgrounds can be induced to perform at higher levels, on average, by spending more on public education. The academic performance of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, however, is not as upwardly malleable. There is no observed correspondence between marginal increases in per-pupil spending and student performance in the math sections of the NAEP.

Looking back at graduation rates, the NAEP data suggest that education spending is less likely to impact the propensity of poor or otherwise disadvantaged students to complete their formal secondary education. As a matter of state policy outcomes, this result suggests that states with large number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds---those with low incomes, non-English speaking families, weak social support networks, and/or those with little family history if educational attainment, for example---will have relatively lower rates of academic achievement. Texas, New York, and California, among others, have relatively large populations that fall into these disadvantaged cohorts. To determine whether these states are doing a relatively good job in terms of public education, it is, therefore, unreasonable just to look at aggregate graduation rates. Instead, we should look at, say, the performance of low-income students as an indicator of the extent to which states are providing educational services that actually reaching those most in need.

By this standard, Texas is doing relatively well. Fifteen percent of low-income 8th graders in Texas score "proficient" or better on the math sections of the NAEP. That's tied with Indiana for 18th place. New York is tied with four other states at 16% proficient or better. California is tied with eight other states at only 9% of low-income students scoring proficient or better. (Among all students, Texas and New York are tied with 31% of students scoring proficient or better. Only 22% of all students in California score proficient or better.)

No one should be doing cartwheels about this level of performance in public schools. However, The New York Times's editorial page writers are deeply misguided to waive disapproving fingers at Texas. In the aggregate, public schools in Texas are largely comparable to those in New York state... at half the price, thank you very much. There is clearly much room for improvement in Texas's public schools---but no more so than in the public schools in the Times's backyard and much less so than in California.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Santa Monica Also Considering a Ban on Male Circumcision: A Test Case for Popular Constitutionalism?

Last week, I wrote about a pending ballot initiative in San Francisco that would prohibit male circumcision---that is, the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis---for children under age 18. The proposal includes no religious exception, which is problematic for Jews, Muslims, and a growing set of Evangelical Christians, who practice the ritual circumcision of infant boys in fulfillment or commemoration of Abraham's biblical covenant with God. Though the proposed statute, therefore, obviously interferes with the free exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs, I noted that the Supreme Court's now-controlling interpretation of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause provides no remedy for those who would be so constrained by the proposed law.
In the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court ruled that "neutral laws of general applicability" which nevertheless interfere with the free exercise of religion are constitutionally valid. The Court reasoned that a requirement for religious exemptions from ordinary legislation would produce a chaos, with large numbers of people claiming religious exemptions from all sorts of important and otherwise reasonable policies, from:
compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws,, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races... environmental protection laws,
[Citations omitted.]
So long as a law has no discriminatory intent, states and the federal government may, therefore, regulate behavior in ways that contradict individuals' religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, no matter how important, sacred, or pivotal a particular practice may be to members of a particular faith, the First Amendment, as it is currently applied by the Supreme Court, offers little protection against policies that interfere with that practice.
Now, this morning, I learn via a story linked on the Drudge Report, that the city of Santa Monica, CA is also considering a similar ban on childhood male circumcision.

I have been thinking about these two ballot initiative efforts in the context of judicial power, constitutional interpretation, and legislative decision-making.

Almost inevitably, a law good-faith law of neutral application (i.e. a law that is not made with the intent of discriminating against members of a particular religious faith or set of faiths) that nevertheless interferes with some religious practices requires some sort of balancing to determine its constitutionality. Is the public purpose achieved by a law of sufficient importance or value as to justify the establishment of an impediment to religious freedom created by that law? This is precisely the sort of evaluation that courts make when considering laws that discriminate on the basis of race, for example.

Employment Division v. Smith and the Supreme Court's other recent Free Exercise cases, though, establish a rule that courts will not engage in evaluating the struck between the general welfare and individual liberty with respect to the exercise of religious faith. Under these cases, cases arising under the Free Exercise Clause are functionally not justiciable, unless they deal with discriminatory laws, which would not be the case under the proposed California circumcision bans. This lack of justiciability, however, neither eliminates nor attenuates the right of the people to freedom of religion. It does, however, relocate the principal venue in which that right must be protected from the judicial process to the legislative process---be that one involving a representative legislature or the people themselves acting through an initiative.

Barring a major reversal in the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause, the Supreme Court has created an important test case for the ideas of popular constitutionalists. Popular constitutionalism is a theory of constitutional interpretation and understanding that proceeds from the notion that the United States Constitution represents a limited grant of authority from the People, as they are currently constituted, to the federal government and, in some other respects, to the states. In other words, though the Constitution was written and ratified long a go it should be taken to represent the controlling views of the People today over what the government is empowered to do and what it is prohibited from doing. This perspective has several implications. At a minimum, it suggests that courts, including the Supreme Court, owe substantial deference to decisions made by elected institutions about the constitutionality of laws in general. More broadly, though, it suggests that the People have substantial authority and responsibility to determine the scope of government authority and, by extension, their own rights and liberties.

Laws that interfere with the Free Exercise of now offer the prospect of some actual experience with popular constitutionalism in practice. Since these laws will not be overturned by courts if they are passed, it is up to the people of San Francisco and Santa Monica to decide whether the purported harm done to infant boys who are circumcised is sufficiently large as to justify the prohibition of an important religious ritual for some of their fellow citizens. The People of San Francisco and Santa Monica are, therefore, now collectively the guardians of their own religious rights. I hope that they will use it wisely.

I add, in closing, a caveat about the extent to which the circumcision ballot initiatives could be considered an experiment in popular constitutionalism. Though current case law indicates that federal courts will not invalidate these laws, the judiciary's otherwise functionally boundless exercise of judicial review has created a broad expectation that it will perform this function among members of the general public. The existence and pervasiveness of the judicial safety-net of constitutional rights may have eroded the public's propensity to be vigilant about its constitutional rights.

This seems to be the case in San Francisco, where opponents of the circumcision ban seem to be proceeding on the basis of a strong belief that courts will ultimately prevent the ban from taking effect:
"For a city that's renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition ... it sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states," said Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds of Berkeley. Rabbi Leeds is a certified "mohel," the person who traditionally performs ritual circumcisions in the Jewish faith.

He said he receives phone calls every day from members of the local Jewish community who are concerned about the proposed ban. But he said he is relatively confident that even if the measure is approved, it will be abruptly—and indefinitely—tied up in litigation.
If People expect that courts will protect their rights against some deviant legislative process, then their expected incentives for taking on the costs of defending their own liberties through political action will be reduced. As a result, a false expectation of judicial review actually creates conditions that enhance the prospects of rights being violated. In some sense, courts have atrophied the political sensibilities and behaviors that allow the People to guard their own liberties and make reasonable judgments about the appropriate balance to strike between minority rights and the general welfare. It make take a substantial shock to the system to start a rehabilitation of the political muscles that must animate popular constitutionalism.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Supremes' Advice on Writing

I have seen link to the transcripts of Bryan Garner's interviews with seven then-sitting Supreme Court justices on writing and legal advocacy several places, but I thought it worthwhile to share it here in case anyone's missed them. I am a sucker for "how I do my work" type essays, and this is about the closest cousin to that I have seen from Supreme Court. The document is highly quotable, but I especially enjoyed this bit from Justice Scalia:
In my earlier days as a lawyer before the regression analysis took over the economic science, economic writing was so much more interesting than legal writing. There was not extensive footnoting; there were just references at the end of the piece. And it was written in a conversational, interesting style. I don’t know how we got off that track, but it’s a scary thought to think that economists were more interesting than lawyers [laughter]. It doesn’t have to be dull. To the extent that the writer can do so, I think he has an obligation to make what he writes interesting, if possible.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

80% of UT-Austin Faculty Are Not Bums

Yesterday, I wrote about a report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) which asserts that the distribution of teaching duties at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) are substantially skewed. Its authors write:
The data reveal a profoundly sharp disparity in the teaching loads for individual faculty members. The top quintile (20 percent) of the faculty with respect to teaching loads teaches 57% of all student credit hours. Conversely, the bottom quintile teaches only 2% of all student credit hours...
Since the power went out in my office this morning, and I have set-up for a working lunch at McDonald’s my ADD demanded that I revisit the issue by actually downloading the UT faculty data and having a look at the numbers myself.

A quick analysis---dollar menu fries at hand---of the preliminary data reported by UT indicates that report’s conclusions are a bit misleading. In particular, the CCAP analysis makes few allowances for the part-time status of many faculty members at UT and likely differences in the sizes of introductory and advanced courses in assessing teaching productivity. It similarly errs in the evaluation of research productivity. Indeed, observations about the likely distribution of faculty employment status, teaching loads, and class sizes cast serious doubt on the advisability and feasibility of potential savings advocated by CCAP through a restructuring of assigned teaching duties at UT.

First, a substantial portion of the faculty at UT are appointed on a part-time basis. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of UT’s faculty were employed on less than a full-time basis (i.e. employed at less than 100% effort) by the university in the 2009-2010 academic year. About a third (33%) were employed half-time (50% effort) or less, and 12% were employed at 25% of full-time effort or less. As one might suspect, these part-time faculty members are substantially over-represented among the ranks of individuals with relatively small cumulative teaching responsibilities.  (Here, the percentage of effort employed is a “Faculty member's percent of time in relation to a full or normal workload, summed and averaged across long semesters [fall 2009 and spring 2010)]” reported in the UT data as “Average Percent Appointment.”)

The following table (Table 1) illustrates the relationship between employment status and relative teaching output in terms of total student credit hours. Each row represents a quintile (or fifth) of the 4,200 professors and other instructors for whom UT reported teaching data. Each quintile includes 840 faculty members. The columns provide information on faculty employment status as a percentage of full-time effort. Reading down the first column of statistics, for example, indicates the percentage of each productivity quintile that is appointed for 25% or less of a normal, fulltime workload (essentially quarter-time or less employees).

Nearly two-fifths (39%) of the least productive quintile of faculty members are employed at 25% effort or less. Almost two-thirds (64%) of the least productive quintile are employed at 50% effort or less. Conversely, the most productive faculty are overwhelmingly those who hold full-time (75-100% effort) appointments. More than 85% of the most productive faculty have full-time appointments. Likewise, nearly three-quarters (73%) of faculty with full-time (at least 75% effort) are in the top three productivity quintiles.

[It is also worth noting here that nearly all tenured (95%) and tenure-track (92%) professors have fulltime (at least 75%) appointments and that the large majority of professors with full-time appointments are tenured or tenure-track professor (62%). The remaining faculty members with full-time appointments are likely to be full-time lecturers---individuals with terminal degrees in their field (e.g. a Ph.D.) who effectively work for the university as full-time teachers rather than splitting time between teaching, research, and service.]

The relationship between employment status and teaching productivity is further evident in the average (mean and median) student credit hours produced by members of each employment status cohort. These are reported in Table 2. Full-time faculty and half-time faculty (who I suspect, but do not know, generally have the same teaching load as full-time faculty without similar research or service obligations) typically teach comparable numbers of student credit hours. Faculty members appointed for less than half-time, however, typically produce substantially fewer total student credit hours. These figures make it clear that much of the discrepancy in teaching duties identified in the CCAP report is simply a function of lumping full-time faculty together with part-time faculty.

The differences in the mean and median values of the total student hours taught by various groups of faculty suggest a further explanation for the discrepancies identified by the CCAP report: a skewed distribution of class sizes. This skewness is likely to arise from a pattern of teaching assignments in which some faculty members teach introductory courses---which,  many fields, often enroll hundreds of students in any given section--- while others teach more intensive, advanced courses---which, in contrast, often only enroll 35 or fewer students. So, a three hour introductory course with 300 students will produce 900 credit hours, while a three hour advanced course with 30 students will produce only 90.

Yet, it is a serious mistake to presume that the former represents ten times as much work or educational value as the latter. Surely, the instructor of an introductory course may effectively convey basic information on a given subject to a large number of students, but it would be impossible for him or her to supervise laboratory sessions or independent research projects, carefully evaluate extensive written work, or otherwise closely monitor and engage such a large group of students. Though UT’s data provide no indicator of the level of undergraduate instruction represented by its count of student credit hours, it is exceedingly likely that conclusions of substantial skewness in teaching duties rely, in part, on a false equivalence between individual student credit hours in large introductory courses and small advanced courses. This false impression is exacerbated in the analysis of a single year of data, which is unlikely to reflect faculty members’ normal rotation between introductory and advanced courses over time.

Similarly, the seemingly inequitable distribution of teaching duties discussed by the CCAP report are further explained by some faculty’s attention to graduate studies.  About one-fifth (21%) of the faculty at UT taught only graduate and/or professional students in the 2009-2010 academic year. These faculty members produce about 60 student credit hours per year, on average, teaching class sections of about 12 students each. The plurality of these faculty members serve in the Law School (23%) and the College of Pharmacy (15%), which exclusively or predominantly offer graduate-level courses, which, by their nature, serve smaller sets of students engaged in advanced, intensive coursework.

The small amount of preliminary data provided by the University of Texas do not provide much basis for more fine-grained analysis of the distribution of teaching duties at the university. The data, for example, do not differentiate between credit hours taught in introductory courses and those taught in advanced courses, nor do they provide indicators of class sizes or identify independent study courses, etc., in which a faculty member assumes (usually uncompensated) extra teaching responsibilities to supervise individual student research projects. Despite these limitations, though, it seems to me that the CCAP analysis is not the most obvious interpretation of the teaching data that are available.

The CCAP’s report is similarly misguided in its interpretation of UT’s faculty’s success in obtaining research funding. It is true that only 28% of all of UT’s faculty have won external research funding since 2006. However, a somewhat healthier 40% of fulltime (75% effort or more) faculty have been awarded research funds in that period. Among full-time faculty, these 40% of grantees are relatively evenly spread out among the top four quintiles of teaching productivity.

The CCAP’s report correctly notes substantial skewness in the size of the external research grants won. However, the report makes no mention of the reasonable difference in the necessity and availability of external research awards across disciplines. The average total external research awards made to faculty members in UT’s College of Natural Science and College of Pharmacy between 2006 and 2010 exceed $1 million. These grants typically support the establishment and maintenance of laboratory facilities and the purchase of costly equipment. Averaqe total grants to faculty in the College of Fine Arts, in contrast, are about $58,655 in the same period. Obviously, though, these grants support much less resource-dependent projects. The disparity in grant size is a function of the financial needs of the research being conducted and does not speak to the quality, industry, or value of individual faculty.

Looking at UT as a whole, as I read these data, the large majority of student hours at the University of Texas are taught by full-time faculty (at least 75% effort)---many of whom have won external grants to support their research and (though the data do not address the issue) many more of whom are nationally and internationally known scholars in their fields of expertise. Indeed, though full-time faculty are only about 62% of the instructors at UT, they “produced” nearly 78% of all student credit hours earned in the 2009-2010 academic year. Many of the remaining credit hours are taught by part-time faculty in graduate programs in law, pharmacy, and other professional fields who are often employed full-time in the private sector. Making some reasonable accounting for differences in total student credit hours produced by introductory undergraduate courses, advanced undergraduate courses, and graduate courses, it is very likely that the core research faculty at UT (i.e. those with tenured or tenure track positions) are undertaking substantial teaching duties, particularly in undergraduate programs.

Moreover, the data seem, to me, to argue strongly against the cost saving measures proposed in the CCAP report. SImply mandating that less productive faculty in terms of total student hours taught take on credit hour burdens commiserate with the most productive teaching faculty implies substantially expanding the size of advanced and graduate course enrollments and/or essentially turning many part-time instructors into full-time faculty. Leaving aside the questions of 1.) whether important fields of study like advanced mathematics can support large classes, 2.) the classroom facilities at UT could support a substantially larger number of high-enrollment classes, and 3.) the costs in terms of lost faculty research, the prospect of larger advanced and graduate courses stands to dilute the quality of teaching in those classes and up-end the ability of many valuable part-time instructors to teach at UT. While nontrivial cost savings could be achieved through the measures proposed by the CCAP, such reforms are likely to come at the expense of the scope and quality of education offered by the University of Texas or other similarly situated institutions. That may be a tradeoff the people of Texas are willing to make, but reducing faculty costs at UT are the the free lunch represented in the CCAP report.

Lastly, for what it's worth, I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections, feedback, etc. about this post. Higher education reform is a serious subject that deserves more serious attention than I was able to give it today. I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions I have made, and I look forward to refining this analysis moving ahead  as time permits.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Afghanistan's Gay Pride?

The UK Guardian reports:
If you are gay and proud, Afghanistan is quite likely the last place on earth to show it publicly. How, then, are we supposed to make sense of the recent very conspicuous appearance of the rainbow-coloured gay pride symbols all over the streets of Kabul and other urban centres?
Turns out, Afghans just like rainbows.

Afghan rainbow-philes' conundrum is universal. There's a Camry parked at my gym almost every day with a bumper sticker that says, "I'm not gay. I just like rainbows."

Canadians Try to Raise and Genderless Child

Canadian Parent Central reports on a couple trying to raise a genderless child, in part, by refusing to tell anyone their baby's sex.
Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby.

While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.
The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home on New Year’s Day.
“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.
“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.
When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...).”

Raise your kids however you want, just please don't name them Storm, Jazz, and Kio. One day, I'll have to call a class roll and keep a straight face. These are children, not American Gladiators, compact cars, or smart phones.

I will say, though, that this this experiment in child-rearing only "works" if the parents keep a completely blank slate. That doesn't seem to be the case. These parents (probably) model a particular set of progressive, semi-androgynous gender roles to their kids and (probably) work to exclude or downplay their exposure to traditional gender behaviors. In reality, they aren't raising baby Storm to be free to choose his or her own identity; they have simply substituted one pattern of socialization for another. That's their prerogative as his/her parents, but that's not how they have represented their project.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Report Concludes That Big Classes Enroll More Students Than Small Classes

The Austin American-Stateman reports that the Texas Public Policy Foundation has released a new studyclaiming that:

Twenty percent of University of Texas at Austin professors instruct most of the school's students, while the least-productive fifth of the faculty carry only 2 percent of the university's teaching load...

Really? Are one fifth of the faculty teaching half of the classes?

No. Of course not.

He [Economist Rchard Vedder, a Fellow at TPPF] calculated the most-productive fifth of UT 's faculty, about 840 instructors, taught an average of 318 students, and 896 credit hours, per year. That comes out to 57 percent of the campus's total student credit hours taught.

That sounds pretty skewed, but mostly all those figures tell us that UT-Austin offers big, high-enrollment (probably introductory) courses and small, low-enrollment (advanced or graduate courses) at a ratio of roughly 4:1.

I work at Texas A&M, not UT, but my own teaching load is instructive.

This fall, I will teach Introduction to American Government to two sections which enroll three hundred students each. That's 600 students and 1800 credit hours. Last fall, I taught one upper-level undergraduate course on Judicial Politics, which enrolled 35 students (105 credit hours), and a graduate seminar on Judicial Politics to 8 or 9 doctoral students (24 or 27 credit hours). In a typical year, I teach the big introductory courses for one semester and a pair of upper-level introductory courses during the other (about 70 students and 210 credit hours combined).

So, my introductory course semester produces a little less than six times as many credit hours as my upper-level course semester. If you looked at data from one of my introductory course semesters along with four of my colleagues who each taught two upper-level courses (210 total credit hours each), you would discover that twenty percent of us (me!) has taught just under 59% of the credit hours between us, which is rather similar to the 57% figure included in the TPPF report. The sizes of introductory and upper-level course varies greatly from college to college and department to department, but it is hardly surprising to find that a relatively small proportion of the faculty at any university teach a relatively large proportion of the credit hours.

Does this mean that the faculty teaching the large course are doing most of the teaching? Hardly. As I have explained here before:

Big (profitable) lecture courses have their place in higher education. The instructor can transmit information and ideas to large numbers of students and be around as a resource to answer questions, advise, deal with current events, etc. However, the size of those courses makes it impossible to provide much attention to individual students or their work. Teaching a smaller course, I can meet with each student individually outside of class to discuss the readings and lectures, go over term paper ideas, review outlines and read drafts of written work, go over old exams, discuss prospective tests, etc. That is physically impossible in a larger class.

The point is, larger classes offer higher numbers of less dense faculty-student interaction; smaller courses offer a smaller number of more dense interactions. At the level of the student, much more teaching is packed into the average small course than the average large course.

What about that least productive fifth, though, who are only teaching two percent of the student credit hours?

It's harder to generalize on this point, but the main reasons a professor would end up teaching such a relatively small proportion of credit hours are that he or she has been teaching graduate-level courses (usually for 5-10 students at a time) or that he or she has been temporarily excused from some teaching duties to assume administrative responsibilities (serving as a department chair, the director of an academic program, or an associate dean, for example). For example, the previous Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas A&M, Charles Johnson, was a professor in the Department of Political Science. As you might expect, Dean Johnson did not regularly teach undergraduate courses during his term leading the college, though he remained a faculty member in his home department. Aggregating up, I am a bit surprised to see that one-fifth of the faculty in UT-Austin fall into these categories (and perhaps some others), but only a very little bit.

The point of pointing all this out is to take issue with Dr. Vedder's conclusion that, "You could enormously reduce the number of people needed to fulfill the teaching obligation of the university."

That is only true by either turning small courses into large courses or replacing faculty administration of the university with some other management force. The former is likely to degrade the quality of education at UT-Austin (or elsewhere). The latter does not seem to offer much potential for savings.

Eliminating small courses would, of course, mean that faculty have less time and attention to devote to individual students in upper-level courses. This makes it more difficult to provide students with meaningful feedback on their work or to help them navigate more demanding material. In other words, an economy of scale can only be achieved by accepting some important reduction in the marginal quality of instruction being offered.

Replacing faculty administration of various university components and programs with other managers would not necessarily relate to a change in the quality of courses being offered. Indeed, I think that improved efficiency and cost-savings in university administration could be achieved by consolidating some administrative functions currently taken on by faculty. However, replacing faculty management with other management mostly reshuffles the costs of running a university rather than reducing them. Also, because the proportion of faculty taken away from teaching by administrative duties is relatively small, the savings to be had in terms of teaching efficiency by implementing administrative reform seem quite modest.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reforming Higher-Ed in Texas: High Priests of Academia v. Animal Science Majors?

Michael Sullivan, blogging at EmpowerTexans, takes "the high priests of academia -- the faculty senates, the administrators, the ivory tower crowd" to task for the substance and style of their (our?) opposition to higher education reforms.
Despite being public institutions, underwritten by taxpayers, students and parents, and enjoying the sovereign status as entities of the state, transparency is all but nonexistent once dollars enter the hallowed grounds of our major universities....
At a minimum, the higher ed establishment is exuding a nasty form of elitism that has little place in the body politic. For example, State Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) recently slammed Gov. Rick Perry for wanting more transparency and accountability brought to bear in higher education.
"Rick Perry doesn’t understand higher education,” she said in a published interview. “He doesn’t have a graduate degree, and he graduated a long time ago with a major in something like agriculture. I have a PhD, so I understand the value of research and teaching. He just doesn’t understand it."
That’s elitism defined. Since more than half of taxpayers don't even have a bachelors' degree, Sen. Zaffirini would obviously be even more dismissive of the public's right to know how their dollars are being utilized.
When it's being done on or with the taxpayers' dime, we should have very strict accountability and transparency. We should know how much professors are making, how many students they are educating, and what value the research they pursue provides. Frankly, “just-pay-the-bill-and-shut-up” is not a very attractive public policy, but one all too often embraced by the ivory tower crowd.
He's got a point. Two actually.

Substantively, most of the leadership and faculty at Texas's public universities are defending a status quo that is difficult to defend. While it is my belief that Texas's public universities provide important educational and economic benefits to the state and that, by and large, the public funds contributed to the state's universities are used efficiently and effectively, it is incumbent on the state's public universities to demonstrate the truth of these statements and to be responsive to legitimate questions about how well the universities are performing their public missions and using public resources.

This does not mean that state universities should necessarily embrace external pressures to reform in general or the Texas Public Policy Foundation's proposed "Breakthrough Solutions" in particular. Indeed, I have been critical of the many of the specific proposals included in the Breakthrough Solutions (see here, here, here, and here), though I am supportive of their stated aims of improved undergraduate education, reduced student costs, and increased efficiency in the use of public resources. It does, however, suggest that state universities responses to the current round of external criticisms has been off base. Rather than working to preserve the current system, universities should be working to generate alternative proposals to improve transparency, costs, and efficiency.

[Having said that, all of the information that Sullivan wants universities to disclose is already public. Anyone who cared to know could, for example, look-up my salary here and find out the number of courses and students I have taught (and the grades I awarded in each of those classes) here. You can also find my CV and syllabi here. These are already publicly available, so any member of the public, any advocacy group, or any part of the state government with internet access already has all the information they are likely to need to evaluate the "efficiency" of my research and teaching. The same bits of information are available for all faculty members at Texas A&M, and, I presume, all other state universities. It would take some work to compile and cross-reference the data, but they are all there for the taking. So, it is a bit misleading to say that A&M or other state universities are not transparent to a fairly large degree.]

Stylistically, Sullivan is also correct to point out that many in Texas higher education, as well as some of its supporters, have been unreasonably dismissive of criticisms of the state's university systems and those who have proposed reforms. One need not have a Ph.D. to understand higher education. These kinds of ad hominem criticisms of  the Board of Regents and other reform-minded bodies and institutions are not helpful. Dismissing Governor Perry because he studied animal science (an important and rigorous academic program here at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University, as you might imagine) or the Board of Regents because its members have fewer graduate degrees, on average, than other university governing boards is unfair, unhelpful, and wrong-headed. Doing so simply reinforce the caricature of unresponsive and out-of-touch academia and alienates many potential supporters in government and the public.

Instead, those of us inside higher education and our supporters should start from a presumption that those proposing to reform public colleges and universities in Texas have good intentions and bring a useful and different perspective to the table. In the same way that academic departments value external reviewers' evaluations of their performance, universities should value feedback from the public and those who are interested in improving higher education.

By the same token, of course, members of the Board of Regents, legislators, and interest groups should take the experience and insights of those of in higher education seriously and incorporate constructive feedback into proposals for reform. It is no more helpful to shake a finger at "the high priests of academia" than to make snarky comments about studying animal science. Those who are serious about reforming higher education in Texas should make a serious effort to engage and cooperate with university faculties and administrators rather than adopt an adversarial posture.

Higher education and higher education reform need not be battles between high priests of academia and animal science majors. There is a lot of common ground between those inside the states universities and those who seek to update and enhance our teaching and research practices. Improving education, reducing costs, and increasing efficiency, though, will only be achieved through a cooperative effort to reach these goals. I am certainly no hippy, and I don't expect professors and reforms to resolve their differences with group hugs and team-building exercises, but I hope it is not too much to ask everyone to calm down a little, and work together.

As a first step, perhaps the major Texas university systems, our alumni associations, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and representatives of the state's business community could form some sort of joint public-private task force to evaluate the state of higher education in Texas and propose a set of reforms to improve teaching, costs, and efficiency drawing on the combined expertise and experience of all these groups? The evaluation component of the commission's mandate could help identify the more troublesome aspects of higher education in the state as well as the areas in which improvements are most feasible. Using this information, it could then craft targeted solutions to address the identified problems. This is a vastly more systematic approach than using the TPPF's Breakthrough Solutions as the baseline for continuing discussions of higher education. Also, since this approach begins from a premise of cooperative input from various stakeholders in higher education, it seems likely that such a commissions proposals would be much more likely to be consistently adopted and implemented across the state's university systems than we can expect from the systems' varying and idiosyncratic responses to the Breakthrough Solutions.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Very Long Post: Thoughts on San Francisco's Proposed Circumcision Ban, Rights, and Courts

The Wall Street Journal reports that an initiative to ban male circumcision has qualified for the ballot in San Francisco.
A group seeking to ban the circumcision of male children in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter.

City elections officials confirmed Wednesday that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot, getting more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents. Initiatives must receive at least 7,168 signatures to qualify.
If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions. [Emphasis added.]
As you may know, Jews and Muslims traditionally circumcise young boys in fulfillment or recognition of Abraham's covenant with God. The practice is also increasingly common among Evangelical Christians. Banning circumcision altogether would, therefore, prohibit adherents of these faiths from performing an ancient, important, and richly symbolic religious rite, at least within the boundaries of San Francisco.

This would seemingly conflict with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment (applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Emphasis added.]
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal's report makes it clear that opponents of the ballot initiative are counting on a legal challenge to the law to prevent its enforcement should it be approved by the city's voters.
Banning circumcision would almost certainly prompt a flurry of legal challenges alleging violations of the First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom to exercise one's religious beliefs....

"For a city that's renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition ... it sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states," said Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds of Berkeley. Rabbi Leeds is a certified "mohel," the person who traditionally performs ritual circumcisions in the Jewish faith.

He said he receives phone calls every day from members of the local Jewish community who are concerned about the proposed ban. But he said he is relatively confident that even if the measure is approved, it will be abruptly—and indefinitely—tied up in litigation.
Article I, Section 4 of California's state constitution provides a fair extensive protection of religious freedom that may invalidate the San Francisco ordinance, should it pass:

Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed. This liberty of conscience does not excuse acts that are licentious or inconsistent with the peace or safety of the State.  The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.   

A person is not incompetent to be a witness or juror because of his or her opinions on religious beliefs.

However, the United States Constitution, as it is currently interpreted by the Supreme Court, offers surprising little protection from anti-circumcision legislation.

In the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court ruled that "neutral laws of general applicability" which nevertheless interfere with the free exercise of religion are constitutionally valid. The Court reasoned that a requirement for religious exemptions from ordinary legislation would produce a chaos, with large numbers of people claiming religious exemptions from all sorts of important and otherwise reasonable policies, from:
compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws,, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races... environmental protection laws,
[Citations omitted.]
So long as a law has no discriminatory intent, states and the federal government may, therefore, regulate behavior in ways that contradict individuals' religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, no matter how important, sacred, or pivotal a particular practice may be to members of a particular faith, the First Amendment, as it is currently applied by the Supreme Court, offers little protection against policies that interfere with that practice.

The Supreme Court's decision is completely reasonable, though others may prefer to strike a difference balance between individual faith and social order. Regardless of one's preferred interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause though, as a practical matter, free exercise rights currently enjoy remarkably little judicially enforceable protection. How then are those rights to be protected?

The answer is that they must be protected, if they are to be protected at all, by citizens acting through the ordinary political process. That is a scary proposition to many of us who have been taught to regard courts as the obvious, natural, and only defender of rights against the dreaded tyranny of the majority. Damon Root, writing about reemergent liberal criticisms of judicial power at Reason's Hit&Run blog, nicely reflects this perspective:
The American judiciary was designed to be an anti-democratic institution. James Madison called it “an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive." The idea is that the courts are uniquely situated to protect both individual liberties and unpopular minorities against the tyranny of the majority. Judges do this (if they do it) by striking down democratically-enacted laws.
However, Root is wrong when he uniquely weds rights to courts. (His is also wrong about James Madison---Madison was arguing, in this passage at least, that courts could protect the people from an abusive, i.e. unfaithful, legislature or executive, not that courts could, should, or would protect political minorities from majorities.)

Though it is surely the case that courts have stepped in to protect political minorities from oppressive actions by majorities at various points in American history, courts have also condoned or expanded horrible violations of personal liberty and freedom. For example, in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans of African ancestry were not citizens of the United States and invalidated federal legislation to prevent the spread of slavery in federal territories (Dred Scott v. Sandford). In 1875, the Supreme Court rejected the claim that the Fourteenth Amendment conferred the right of women to vote on equal terms with men (Minor v. Happersett). In 1898, the Supreme Court endorsed legal segregation of the races under the banner of "separate but equal," provoking a wave of new segregationist policies in the SouthPlessy v. Ferguson). In 1944, the Court ruled that the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII was constitutionally permissible (Korematsu v. United States). In each of the cases, the Supreme Court sided with or led opponents of basic civil liberties. (

The history of liberty in the country is at least as much about the (often painfully slow) extension of rights and freedoms by majorities (and those in power) to minorities (and those excluded from the political process) without the intervention of courts. Slavery was eliminated by executive order and constitutional amendment supported by the bloodiest war in American history. Women were granted suffrage by constitutional amendment. Japanese Americans were freed from interment by the same institutions that had imprisoned them and were later granted reparations by an Act of Congress. Even in the case of ending legal segregation in the South, judicial decisions commanding integration had little effect on the practice of integration without the backing of the elected branches of national government, such as President Eisenhower's use of the 101st Airborne to integrate Central High School in Little Rock or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted by Congress at the urging of President Johnson.

Not only is the federal judiciary's record of effective countermajoritarianism  inconsistent at best, the structure of the American separation of powers makes a strictly countermajoritarian court effectively impossible. A Supreme Court that always and only countermands majoritarian policy choices would sooner or later find Congress eagerly exercising its various prerogatives to curb, control, and undermine judicial power and independence. In the end, courts survive and institutionalize as majoritarian institutions. They are, in the long run, at least, no more able to protect individual rights and liberties from democratic political forces than other branches of government.

An important implication of the fragility of judicial power is that our space of rights and liberties is, actually, less fragile than it appears. Despite the common notion of courts as bulwarks against encroachment of our rights, the people are the principal guardians of their own liberties. We generally enjoy freedom of speech, press, worship, and conscience, among other liberties, because we demand these things of our government and work against those who trespass against our understanding of our rights and freedoms. Courts may be agents of these efforts from time to time, but such agency on behalf of liberty is not exclusively their prerogative.

Returning to San Francisco, the rights of those whose faiths prescribe the circumcision of male children will ultimately be protected, or not, by their fellow citizens in San Francisco, California, and elsewhere in the United States who vote against the initiative, seek to overturn it in the state legislature, or work for federal action to protect a greater space of religious freedom.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Most Beautiful Girl in the Lab

[Note: I published this post several days ago. Blogger automatically reported it when I altered its labels. This one is worth visiting again, though.]

Via Justin Vaughn:
Also, let's not forget the inspiration for this gem:

Drilling, Efficiency, and Energy Independence

[Note: I published this post several days ago. Blogger automatically reposted it when I altered its labels.]

My friend and colleague Kim Yi Dionne passed along this page from the National Resources Defense Council with the comment,"the graph says it all."

I agree that the graph says a lot, but what it says is probably not what the NRDC had in mind.

For some context, the graph is used to illustrate the NRDC's claim that increased energy conservation poses better prospects for increasing the United States's use of foreign energy sources than further development of domestic oil reserves.
The United States consumes 19 million barrels of oil a day, 25 percent of the global supply, but we have less than 2 percent of the world’s proved oil reserves. That means no amount of domestic drilling will reduce gas prices or provide enough to meet America’s daily demand for oil. The only solution: develop better cars and cleaner, safer sources of fuel. By 2025, we can reduce our reliance on oil through increased efficiency, transit, and alternative fuels, saving more oil than we can drill.
There are two incredibly silly things going on in this passage. First, the relative size of U.S. oil reserves don't tell us much of anything about the extent to which those reserves are actually developed and producing oil for the world market or how much of the oil used in the United states comes from domestic sources. Saying the U.S. has two percent of the world's reserves doesn't tell us much of anything about how much of the U.S.'s oil demand is met by domestic sources. In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. imported 11.75 million barrels of oil per day, on average, in 2010 (down from 13.71 million barrels in 2005, thank you very much). Presuming the NRDC's figure of 19 million barrels of daily oil consumption in the U.S. is correct, that means that about two-fifths of U.S. oil consumption is from domestic sources. Moreover, according to this vague and unsourced entry on Wikipedia, the U.S. produces about 70 of its own energy consumption, which sounds plausible considering our considerable domestic deposits of coal and natural gas. The NRDC text makes it sound like the U.S. gets 98 percent of its petroleum from foreign sources. It is sloppy, at best, and, perhaps, intentionally misleading.

The second incredibly silly aspect of this NRDC text is its claim that "no amount of domestic drilling will reduce gas prices." Prices rise and fall on marginal changes in supply and demand. So, the truth is exactly the opposite of the NRDC's statement. In fact, any increase in domestic oil production would result in lower gas prices, holding all else constant.

Back to the chart, though.

The point of the graph, I take it, is that reductions in petroleum use from various increases in energy efficiency are absolutely larger than increases in petroleum production. It shows projected energy savings from seven sources: increasing CAFE standards to 60 m.p.g. (from the current 27.5 m.p.g.), increased use of plug-in electric vehicles, increasing use pf public transportation and alternative commuting, more efficient trucks, retrofitting existing cars and trucks with better lubricants, tires, etc., clean fuels, and improved efficiency in air travel and heating buildings. It also indicates increased supply from "new drilling production."

Presuming all of these figures are correct, the graph still shows that increased supply from new drilling production is greater than fuel savings from four out of the seven of the proposed conservation measures (alternative fuels, retrofits, trucks, and plug-ins) and about the same as improved efficiency in air travel and heating (which are one combined category). Of the remaining pair of efficiency measures, one requires more than doubling current fuel efficiency standards. According to Autoweek (hat tip to Stephen Bainbridge), that kind of fuel efficiency mandate may raise new car prices by nearly $10,000 (from a current average of $28,400). So, the only way to achieve this fuel savings is to massively increase consumer costs in the auto market (essentially, an incredibly regressive indirect tax). The only single conservation policy without a comparable downside is investment in public transportation and various reforms to promote fuel-free commuting.

On the energy production side, the chart notes that "new drilling production" is really just new production from the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Presumably, ANWR is not the only place where oil exploration and development are currently proscribed. So, though we cannot know from the chart alone, the prospects for increased domestic oil production may be much larger.

Taken as a whole, the chart actually shows that increased domestic oil production is one of the single most effective ways to reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce consumer fuel prices. Also, since oil exploration and development are profitable, largely private-sector activities, increased domestic oil production may be achieved without additional public fiscal burdens or regulatory measures that inhibit individual choice or market efficiency. Moreover, the positive effects of increased domestic energy production are not mutually exclusive from the benefits that may be achieved through conservation. Decreasing energy use while increasing domestic energy supplies are both necessary measures for energy independence and both stand to reduce enegry prices, including fuel prices.

In the end, the chart makes it quite clear that taking steps to further develop America's petroleum reserves are an important part of any energy program that aims for energy independence and low energy prices to support economic development. Thanks NRDC!

...in the Biblical Sense

[Note: I published this post several days ago. Blogger automatically reported it when I altered its labels.]

Via Steven Hayward at NRO, this amazing video catalogs some of the myriad ways that the Bible (and particularly the King James Version) has shaped the English language and given it an incredibly rich idiom.

The video runs just over three-and-a-half minutes. It is well worth the time.

Visualizing City Segregation

Yesterday, I wrote about the relatively low levels of residential segregation in Nashville compared to New York and Chicago. Thinking about the post later on, I remembered Eric Fischer's stunning maps of census data showing the geographic distribution of racial groups in major American cities. In these maps, each dot represents 25 people. Red dots are white people; blue dots are black people; orange dots are Hispanic people. The data are from the 2000 census.

New York



The larger cities' higher population densities make the patterns of residential segregation amazingly sharp. In the NYC map, for example, the demarcation between where the white people live and where the black people live just north of Central Park in Manhattan (the random white rectangle) is amazingly clean. Chicago's map shows a reasonable amount of residential overlap between whites and Hispanics, but whites and blacks (and blacks and Latinos, for that matter) remain almost completely residentially segregated.

Nashville is hardly a picture of racial integration, but it shows substantially more overlap in the areas in which its black and white residents live than either New York or Chicago. Bordeaux and the Metro Center area of North Nashville remain almost exclusively black, but East Nashville and Inglewood are much more integrated. South Nashville, out toward Antioch and Tusculum, are pretty highly integrated.

The level of integration evident in these maps is not an illusion created by the relative densities of these cities either. These maps are based on the same data as the measures of residential segregation I reported yesterday. Almost a third of Nashville's residents live on a black-white integrated block. Only about 5% of Chicago or New York's residents live on integrated blocks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Nashville More Racially Segregated than New York or Chicago?

The New York Times reports on a decision of the Judicial Council for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow George C. Paine II, the chief judge on the federal bankruptcy court in Nashville, to retain his membership in the all-male, all-white Belle Meade Country Club. In an interview, Judge Gilbert Merritt, a liberal member of the Sixth Circuit and a dissenter in Judge Paine's case, made the following comment on Nashville:

Nashville may be liberal by Southern standards, Judge Merritt added, but it is still a Southern city. "It's not New York or Chicago, where full integration has taken place," he said. "Many people wish that it would. It's just the mores, and there is separation."

Nashville is my hometown. I love the place, but I would never deny the persistence of racial divides in the city. Still, Judge Merritt's comments on the comparative racial integration of Nashville, New York, and Chicago are ridiculous.

Nashville is one of the most racially integrated major cities in the country; New York and Chicago remain among the most segregated. Lois Quinn and John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, for example, report that (as of the 2000 Census) 29.4% of Nashville's residents live on a black-white integrated block. That is the third highest percentage among the 50 largest cities in the US behind Virginia Beach, VA (41.9%) and Charlotte, NC (31.9%). Chicago ranks 36th, with 5.7% of its residents living on black-white integrated blocks. New York is 38th, with just 4.1% of its residents living on integrated blocks.

I am sure that, by other measures, New York and Chicago are comparatively less segregated than they appear with this particular indicator. The fact remains, though, that it is ludicrous to call New York or Chicago "fully integrated," as any casual visitor to those cities would quickly gather. Likewise, it is unfair to single out Nashville as an especially segregated city.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On Undergraduate Education

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, write in The New York Times:
Commencement is a special time on college campuses: an occasion for students, families, faculty and administrators to come together to celebrate a job well done... We would be happy to join in the celebrations if it weren’t for our recent research, which raises doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the United States. Over four years, we followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. We found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.
Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?
The situation reflects a larger cultural change in the relationship between students and colleges. The authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.
 What to do?
Fortunately, there are some relatively simple, practical steps that colleges and universities could take to address the problem. Too many institutions, for instance, rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good grades. (Indeed, the 36 percent of students in our study who reported spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone still had an average G.P.A. of 3.16.) On those commendable occasions when professors and academic departments do maintain rigor, they risk declines in student enrollments. And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk. Distributing resources and rewards based on student learning instead of student satisfaction would help stop this race to the bottom.
So, what are the relatively simple, straightforward ways to "measure student learning instead of student satisfaction"? They don't say. And, there's the rub.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation's Excellent Stance on Federalism

So, I've had my disagreements with TPPF over their proposed higher education reforms (see here, here, here, and here), but we are very much in agreement on issues of federalism, it turns out. The TPPF has submitted an amicus brief in Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the constitutional challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e. health care reform or ObamaCare) filed by 26 states attorneys general. The amicus brief supports and develops an argument in Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson's ruling that PPACA is unconstitutional. Mario Loyola, an attorney who drafted the brief, describes it for National Review Online:
The case is on appeal from the federal district court for northern Florida, where Judge Vinson struck down the law, holding that the individual mandate exceeds the power of Congress to regulate commerce “among the several States.” Most attention has focused on this aspect of Judge Vinson’s ruling.

Our brief, however, focuses on another part of Judge Vinson’s ruling, namely his extraordinary finding of summary judgment for the government on the Medicaid expansion provisions of the new health-care law. (See pp. 6–13 of the ruling.) The states had argued that these provisions, which require states to expand Medicaid rolls and absorb part of the cost themselves, constitute an unconstitutional commandeering of state governments through a coercive use of conditional federal funds. This issue tests the limits of the Spending Clause (rather than the Commerce Clause) of the Constitution. Among the controlling cases is South Dakota v. Dole (1987), in which the Supreme Court upheld a federal law that threatened states with the loss of five percent of federal highway funds if they did not raise their drinking age to 21.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist noted, “Our decisions have recognized that, in some circumstances, the financial inducement offered by Congress might be so coercive as to pass the point at which ‘pressure turns into compulsion.’” But in the years since Dole, federal courts have barely paid lip service to the principle of coercion, while in fact upholding virtually every conditional federal grant. Judge Vinson concluded that the federal courts had failed to develop any meaningful doctrine of coercion, and implicitly the federal spending power is unlimited with respect to conditional federal grants. This ruling was perhaps a blessing in disguise. He essentially called the Supreme Court’s bluff: Either affirm coercion in this case, or drop the pretense of a coercion doctrine.

Developing this theme in our brief, we argue that the practice of federal grants to the states conditioned on state compliance with federal policy preferences must have some limit, otherwise there is no way to protect state autonomy or the structure of our Constitution from federal coercion.
Since states retain substantial police powers denied the federal government by the Constitution, establishing limits on the national government's ability to co-opt state governments are critical for maintaining a system of limited national government.these limits are especially important in light of the federal government's broad powers to tax and spend under the Constitution. Since federal taxation can crowd-out the ability of state governments to raise revenue, limits on fiscal coercion are essential for preserving the boundaries on federal power enumerated in Article I, Section 8.

More Important than the Second Amendment?

Via Michael Tofias, who comments that this is "More important than the second amendment." Wendy McElroy reports, "In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer."
The legal justification for arresting the [video] "shooter" rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where "no expectation of privacy exists" (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, "[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want." Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, "The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law - requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense."

The courts, however, disagree. A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler's license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.
These laws and prosecutions target people who are filming public employees performing their official duties in public spaces where ordinary citizens have no reasonable expectation of privacy and are lawfully subject to all manner of searches and surveillance. For the average person, who is much more likely to carry a digital recording device than a firearm and who is much more likely to be subject to police questioning (or to witness a police action) than to fight off a criminal or participate in a legitimate armed rebellion, the right to document interactions with police is a substantially more important tool for limiting abusive government than the right to bear arms. States that take their citizens' freedoms seriously should explicitly recognize the right to record police officers in public spaces along with taking other actions to limit their exposure to intrusive police actions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Texas Jobs Machine

Eleven of the top 25 cities on Forbes's "Best Cities for Jobs" list (which ranked all 398 standard metropolitan areas in the United States) are in Texas. That includes four of the top five large cities, three of the top five mid-sized cities, and three of the top five small cities. Bryan-College Station, home of Texas A&M and a new biomedical research corridor among other enterprise development areas, is fourth overall in the nation.
[N]o place displayed more vibrancy than Texas. The Lone Star State dominated the three size categories, with the No. 1 mid-sized city, El Paso (No. 3 overall, up 22 places from last year) and No.1 large metropolitan area Austin (No. 6 overall), joining Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood (the No. 1 small city) atop their respective lists.
Texas also produced three other of the top 10 smallest regions, including energy-dominated No. 4 Midland, which gained 41 places overall, and No. 10 Odessa, whose economy jumped a remarkable 57 places. It also added two other mid-size cities to its belt: No. 2 Corpus Christi and No. 4 McAllen-Edinburgh-Mission.
In contrast, California continues to stink it up.
Whatever they are drinking in Texas, other states may want to imbibe. California–which boasted zero regions in the top 150–is a prime example. Indeed, a group of California officials, led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, recently trekked to the Lone Star State to learn possible lessons about what drives job creation. Gov. Jerry Brown and others in California’s hierarchy may not be ready to listen, despite the fact that the city Brown formerly ran, Oakland, ranked absolute last, No. 65, among the big metros in our survey, two places behind perennial also-ran No. 63 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich.
Paul Krugman may not care to admit it, but Texas is, by far, the biggest center for job creation in the country.

Rand Paul Says One Smart Thing and One Colossally Stupid Thing

Yesterday, the DrudgeReport linked to video of remarks by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on the implications of a "right to health care." Here is the clip and one of the key passages:

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It's not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery.

Senator Paul makes one good point. A claim of a right to health care is a claim on someone else's property, skill, and labor. Indeed, a right to health care does imply the ability to "conscript" the service of health care providers. Though public conscription of private property and labor are permissible under our system of constitutional government---purchasing property through the power of eminent domain and a military draft spring to mind---doing so imposes substantial costs on individual freedom and should not be taken lightly or without the involvement of compelling public interests. The burden that a right to health care places on health care providers is, I think, rarely considered by its advocates. Senator Paul is entirely correct to draw attention to it.

Senator Paul is also completely wrong to equate the conscription of health care providers with slavery. A slave is the property of another person. A slave has no choice in the work he or she does and not control over the conditions under which he or she lives her life. Slaves have no more legal standing than livestock. The creation of a statutory claim on health care services would not make doctors, nurses, physicians assistants, or other health care providers slaves in any reasonable sense of the word. It is silly and politically tone deaf to say so.

Matt Welch expresses some similar thoughts at Reason's Hit & Run Blog.