yes, spending more money on schools leads to better outcomes

There’s a new paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics that addresses an old puzzle: why do increases in spending on K-12 schools seem to yield small payoffs in terms of educational outcomes? Jackson, Johnson, and Persico use new evidence and various causal inference techniques to show that the naive prediction holds: more spending on schools leads to better educational outcomes, especially for poor students. Here’s how the authors summarize their findings:

Although we find small effects for children from affluent families, for low-income children, a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school is associated with 0.46 additional years of completed education, 9.6% higher earnings, and a 6.1 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty. The results imply that a 25% increase in per pupil spending throughout one’s school years could eliminate the average attainment gaps between children from low-income (average family income of $31,925 in 2000 dollars) and nonpoor families (average family income of $72,029 in 2000 dollars). (Jackson et al. 2016: 160)

These results are strengthened by related findings that increased spending from school reforms led to reductions in student-teacher ratios, higher salaries for teachers, and longer school years. In other words, more money led to higher quality inputs to the educational process, which in turn produces better outcomes, especially for kids who need the most from school itself.

guilt and entitlement

I teach an “ethnic studies” course so I’m always in interaction with students about how to think about legacies of the past as the impact the present. I had a new thought this year in responding to the standard white student comment that goes “my ancestors weren’t here when genocide/slavery happened, so why should I feel responsible/guilty?” I asked the students: so who is more entitled to possess land or privilege in the US today, whites who are descended from the white people who participated in the genocide [slavery] or the whites who are benefiting from that past even though their ancestors did not participate? The students had no easy answer (of course), but it did seem to me to move the conversation in a new direction. Because maybe the people who went to the trouble to have blood on their hands in some way are more entitled* than those who just reaped the benefits of White supremacy without paying its material and moral costs.

I also called their attention to the way in which White Americans typically view themselves as the spiritual/national descendants of the Pilgrims and as inheritors of the national [White] dream, even when, in fact, their ancestors arrived after 1880. If you are going to claim the Pilgrims, you have to claim the whole package of Manifest Destiny and the White nation, seems to me.

* Since you don’t know me, I’d better make it clear that I’m trying to push a conversation here. I’m not actually arguing that White supremacists ought to be entitled if they committed murder, I’m trying to challenge the idea that there is no moral weight to inheriting and benefiting from a system created by past crimes. And I’m not comparing Whites to indigenous people or Afro-descent people here, either, but different groups of Whites to each other.

feet, doors, and saying “no”

“You spend the first part of your career trying to get your foot in the door. You spend the rest of it trying to get your foot out of it.”

My advisor gave me this pearl of wisdom during my first month of graduate school. At the time, it seemed farcically false. I was, after all, trying to feel out my first opportunties for research, feeling insecure about the experience and confidence that my cohort-mates brought to grad school, and wanted nothing more than to get my foot in the door.

Now I want it out.

While I’m being too flip to say I don’t welcome the opportunities that I have, one of the most frequent pieces of advice I have received is to “say no.” This simple statement has the benefit of being true, and the disadvantage of being unhelpful. It’s easy to know to say no, it’s much more difficult to do so. Having some experience saying “no” (and much more saying “yes” even when I later regretted it), I thought that I would write down some strategies that have proved helpful. I want to acknowledge that my ability to do many of these things without substantial penalties relates to the privilege I have of being a white, straight, cis-gendered man whose dad holds a Ph.D. Continue reading “feet, doors, and saying “no””

race, selective universities and graduation rates

Higher Ed Data Stories is a lovely blog run by Jon Boeckenstedt, an administrator at DePaul University. On the blog, Boeckenstedt produces interesting, relatively simply interactive visualizations using large national data sets. This week, he’s focusing on graduation rates using data from the NCES. His most recent post looks at graduation rates by institutional selectivity. His main takeaway is that selectivity and graduation rate are highly related, probably because selective universities have the luxury of picking students who are best suited to graduate:
Continue reading “race, selective universities and graduation rates”

rocket mortgage scares me, but not for the reasons it scares others

Quicken Loans has managed to cause quite a stir with their Super Bowl ad marketing their new app, the Rocket Mortgage.

The commercial touts the reasons why homeownership advocates support increased homeownership. The justification that housing leads to a stronger economy squares with both conservative justifications for a market economy and progressive efforts to increase homeownership for poor and racial minority households. One can argue about the wisdom of making this reasoning explicit as a marketing strategy; but, the ad makes explicit what lots of people already think (part of me wonders if the ad wasn’t aimed at consumers as much as preempting policymakers who might want to regulate interstate products like Rocket Mortgage).

Unsurprisingly, critics pounced on the idea that a smartphone app foretells the return of the housing crisis. I think that they might be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Continue reading “rocket mortgage scares me, but not for the reasons it scares others”