Liberals Are Innumerate

This post was edited the following morning to add more information.

Given the fact that leftists accept the WHO study mentioned in the last post as unassailable, cite the recent decline in the unemployment rate as proof that Obama’s policies are “working,” and fling around aggregate NAEP and SAT scores in their attempts to argue that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is the ideological love child of Mubarak and Hitler, this is the only conclusion I can draw: liberals are innumerate. Whence came their data? They have no idea.

Take the unemployment rate, for example. Who counts as employed? Who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS, you pretty much count as employed if you have any job at all, whether it is full-time or part-time. As SABR Matt observes in a reply to one of my posts below, this means that the simple unemployment number doesn’t tell us who is under-employed. How many people have settled for part-time work despite credentials which qualify them for full-time work? How many are settling for less pay than they have received in the past because they have no other choice?

And who counts as unemployed? According to the BLS:

Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work. Actively looking for work may consist of any of the following activities:

Contacting:
An employer directly or having a job interview
A public or private employment agency
Friends or relatives
A school or university employment center

Sending out resumes or filling out applications
Placing or answering advertisements
Checking union or professional registers
Some other means of active job search

Passive methods of job search do not have the potential to result in a job offer and therefore do not qualify as active job search methods. Examples of passive methods include attending a job training program or course, or merely reading about job openings that are posted in newspapers or on the Internet.

So it’s not simply a lack of a job that qualifies you as unemployed – you have to actually be looking for work to count. But what about those people who have been jobless so long that they’ve essentially given up? Well, the BLS has a third category for them – “Not in the Labor Force.” If you are not actively looking for work for any reason, you fall into this group.

We need to look now at what has been happening to the labor force participation rate:


Source: BLS

As you can see, over the past several years, it has been crashing precipitously. Almost certainly, this is in part because the “Baby Boomers” are starting to retire, but is there anything else that accounts for the decline? That’s another question we need to answer.

In addition to the commonly used unemployment rate, the BLS releases five alternative employment measures, including one that attempts to account for underemployment (U6). Here’s what has happened to those numbers over the past year:

  • U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force:5.8 5.7 5.6 5.5 5.3 5.3
  • U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force: 6.1 6.2 5.8 5.6 5.4 5.4
  • U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate): 9.7 9.8 9.4 9.0 8.9 8.8
  • U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers: 10.3 10.5 10.2 9.6 9.5 9.4
  • U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 11.0 11.2 10.9 10.7 10.5 10.3
  • U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force: 16.8 17.0 16.7 16.1 15.9 15.7

They all seem to be going down, which is good news. But again, the various unemployment rates don’t take into account our ballooning debts and their international context — and our shrinking labor pool should be a grave cause for concern given that we depend on that pool to fund things like Social Security.

In my experience, however, liberals consider contexts and nitty gritty details nothing but a bother to consider. Back when the Wisconsin battle was dominating the news cycle, a number of Facebook leftists – including a friend of mine who, frighteningly enough, is a professor – started passing around claims that states with weaker teachers unions (including those states – like Virginia – which have outlawed collective bargaining) have lower SAT/ACT and NAEP scores. When I jumped in to remind the aforementioned professor that correlation does not equal causation and that aggregate scores tell us virtually nothing because each state has a different socioeconomic composition, he dismissed my comment as a “Fox News phrase” and continued to insist that states with powerful teachers unions do better. His sheer arrogance left me utterly gobsmacked. Someone that ill-acquainted with elementary statistics is not justified in billing himself as an intelligent member of the “reality-based community,” and quite frankly, I fear for the education of the students under his charge.

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A Victory

Respecting Teachers in the Sunshine State
A new law largely dismantles Florida’s unfair, tenure-based system in the public schools.
by Marcus A. Winters @ City Journal

Last week, the Florida state legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s law for employing public school teachers. The new regime effectively eliminates tenure for newly hired employees; requires districts to evaluate teachers based in part on student performance on standardized tests; abolishes the rule that seniority determines teacher layoffs; and lets districts establish performance-based salary schedules. Former governor Charlie Christ vetoed a similar bill last year, which is one reason that he’s not a public official today (he lost in a bid for the Senate last year). Newly elected governor Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Not surprisingly, public school teachers in Florida have vigorously opposed the changes, as have teachers’ unions in other states considering similar, if less comprehensive, reforms.

In short: the current system makes no meaningful attempt to distinguish between great and not-so-great teachers. Its underlying premise is that anyone who becomes a teacher is doing just fine.

But everyone knows that not all public school teachers are good at what they do. Empirical research finds wide variation in teacher quality, and further, that the difference between being assigned to a high-quality or to a subpar teacher means as much as a grade level’s worth of achievement for a student over the course of a school year. Any education system that ignores the obvious variation in teacher quality devalues teaching. Treating teachers as if they’re all identical, as the union prefers, is ultimately no different from treating them as if they don’t matter.

Exactly.

The Triumph of the Therapeutic Mind (aka The Vision of the Anointed)

The Triumph of the Therapeutic Mind
Whether it’s budget deficits, teachers’ pay, or delta smelts, the therapeutic mind refuses to count the cost.

by Victor Davis Hanson @ NRO

There are several tenets of the modern therapeutic view. In such a utopian mindset, compensation is and should be based on what the employee considers necessary for the good life. The public employees in Wisconsin reject the three classical requisites for perpetually improved compensation: The employer has plentiful capital; the employee’s productivity creates new wealth or improves the efficiency of services; and the employee has market value and will go elsewhere should the employer be foolish enough to lose him.

Again, in the therapeutic mindset, perceived need is what matters, and all else must adjust accordingly. Teachers in Wisconsin rarely argue that their students’ test scores have increased or graduation rates have improved, or that their school districts are flush with cash, or that they themselves can always move to a parochial school or private academy if their talents are not better appreciated. Instead, in almost every contemporary discussion of budgetary discipline, from pensions and benefits to compensation, the argument is based on what one needs, in the teenage fashion of reminding a now unemployed parent that he once promised to buy the graduating senior a car.

Hanson then goes on to attack other left-wing policies, including the crusade to save the delta smelt, which has destroyed the economy in California’s Central Valley. Definitely a good read.

The New Civility

American Brownshirts
by Deroy Murdock @ NRO

On February 23, unionized government employees held a Providence, R.I., “solidarity rally.” As columnist Michelle Malkin reports, a local TV cameraman named Adam Cole was recording the event. After about seven and a half minutes, a YouTube video shows a pro-union thug screaming at Cole, “I’ll f*** you in the ass, you faggot!” whereupon he forcefully smacks Cole’s camera with his right hand.

Holding a sign that reads “CWA — Taking a Stand for Justice,” a Communications Workers of America member protested that day at the Washington, D.C., offices of pro-market FreedomWorks. As its employee Tabitha Hale recorded him exchanging words with an opponent, the CWA member physically attacked her, as her iPhone video confirmed.

Tea Party Express activist Rodney Stanhope, former executive director of the El Dorado County, Calif., Republican party, was among a group of limited-government advocates who rallied at the state capitol in Sacramento on February 26. MoveOn.org members, Teamsters, and other Big Labor types gathered across the street. For about an hour, Stanhope says, the tea partiers yelled, “We pay your salaries,” while the unionists replied, “Fascists, go home!”

YouTube shows a young, bullhorn-wielding Teamster heading menacingly toward Stanhope.

“I told this guy, ‘You need to leave,’” Stanhope recalls. The Teamster then “took a punch and knocked me back about two to three feet. I felt my hand was in pain. I stepped back up, and he threw another punch at my throat.”

In Atlanta that day, Dr. William Greene and several other free-marketeers protested near the Georgia state capitol in favor of Gov. Scott Walker (R., Wis.). According to Greene, two pro-union activists at a competing MoveOn.org demonstration crossed their anti-union picket line.

“Out of nowhere, all of a sudden, I get slammed to the side against a wrought iron fence and down onto the pavement, by one of these guys who wanted to push through,” Greene said online. “The guy came through and cold-cocked me from behind,” Greene recalled, and the blow slammed him into an older woman who stood nearby. “When he shoved me, he shoved her, too.”

Michelle Malkin has written a similar article here in which she documents other incidents that Murdock doesn’t mention.

Apparently, according to the left, “civility” means we conservatives should shut the f*** up while they scream at us, call us fascists, and (sometimes) rough us up. What a bunch of hypocrites.

Interesting Group of Posts at NRO on Public Employee Compensation

Jim Manzi kicks things off with the following article:

Are Wisconsin Public Employees Underpaid?

Ezra Klein and a variety of other thoughtful liberal bloggers have been pointing to an Economic Policy Institute analysis that they claim demonstrates that Wisconsin’s public employees, even after adjusting for benefits and hours worked, face a “compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector.” Unfortunately, when you get under the hood, the study shows no such thing.

Klein links to an executive summary to support his claim, but reading the actual paper by Jeffrey H. Keefe is instructive.

Keefe is considering almost any full-time employee in Wisconsin with the identical years of education, race, gender, etc., as providing labor of equivalent market value, whether they are theoretical physicists, police officers, retail-store managers, accountants, salespeople, or anything else. Whether they work in Milwaukee, Madison, or a small town with a much lower cost of living. Whether their job is high-stress or low-stress. Whether they face a constant, realistic risk of being laid off any given year, or close to lifetime employment. Whether their years of education for the job are in molecular biology or the sociology of dance. Whether they do unpredictable shift work in a factory, or 9–5 desk work in an office with the option to telecommute one day per week.

Keefe claims — without adjusting for an all-but-infinite number of such relevant potential differences between the weight-average public-sector worker and the weight-average private-sector worker — that his analysis is precise enough to ascribe a 5 percent difference in compensation to a public-sector-compensation “penalty.”

Kevin Williamson agrees:

As anybody who has ever met a high-school vice principal can attest, not all masters’ degrees are created equal. (The study controls for lots of things, like sex and ethnicity, but not the ones I’d be interested in, like I.Q. or standardized test scores. It also doesn’t control for such niggling factors as whether those government workers work, which strikes me as something that would be useful to know.)

This is basically what I was trying to explain in my long post a few days ago. Salaries are determined, first and foremost, by the public’s estimation of your worth, not by some cosmic judge who decides who “deserves” more (and a college degree is certainly no magic charm either). That’s why popular actors and professional athletes (who often drop out of school to pursue their careers) earn millions: because we’ve indicated that we’re willing to pay them that much. That may seem outrageous to you, but the alternative is to create an all-powerful government body to calculate the salaries of every single worker in America. I’m sure most reasonable people would agree that such a plan would place an unacceptable amount of power in the hands of a few bureaucrats. Again, if you want to be paid more, you need to demonstrate to the public that you’ve earned it.

Reihan Salam makes good points as well:

I don’t want to put words in Jim’s mouth, here’s what I consider a slightly more Manzian take: the problem with public sector compensation is that there is often very little clarity in terms of whether or not taxpayers are getting a good deal. One of the big reasons right-wingers are so hot for merit pay, based on my limited experience, is that they’re generally pretty comfortable with the idea of at least some public workers making much more than they are making now, provided other workers who’d be willing to work for less because they’re not likely to attract better offers are either paid less or fired.

Yes, exactly. As I said a few days ago, I’m definitely willing to pay the Mr. W’s of the world much more. But not everyone in the public sector is a Mr. W. As a resident of Northern Virginia, I’ve heard plenty of gripes about slack-jawed federal workers who spend their days surfing the internet instead of doing their jobs. As a matter of fact, a close friend of mine (who works in the federal government) wrote a play about one manager’s struggle to fire an incompetent government employee, and it’s been a hit at the Capital Fringe Festival for the past few years.

Moreover, as my co-author pointed out in his post on the bureaucratic redundancy at the NOAA, there’s quite a bit of dead weight in our federal and state governments, and that’s going to reduce the public’s perception of a public sector worker’s market value. I think we could afford to pay public sector workers more if our governments were leaner and meaner. You have a choice: Pay five guys $40,000 to do the exact same thing five times over, or pay one especially competent guy six figures to do it once. I know which option I would choose.

A Misnomer: "Democrat" Party


(Hat tip to the folks at Hillbuzz for this manip.)

Apparently, fleeing the legislature to prevent a quorum is now the new “in” thing among loser Democrats. As the Indiannapolis Star reports:

House Democrats are leaving the state rather than vote on anti-union legislation, The Indianapolis Star has learned.

A source said Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky. They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.

The House came into session this morning, with only two of the 40 Democrats present. Those two were needed to make a motion, and a seconding motion, for any procedural steps Democrats would want to take to ensure Republicans don’t do anything official without quorum.

With only 58 legislators present, there was no quorum present to do business.

The union-funded Democrat Party believes in democracy only when Democrats win. Democrats are friends of the “little people” only when the little people put them into office. Now that the electorate has handed the Democrats their asses in a historic landslide, their true loathing for us peons has been revealed in all its glory. Remember this in 2012, America.

Not All Degrees Are Created Equal

I don’t hate teachers. To prove this, allow me to sing the praises of one public school teacher in particular to whom I give a great deal of credit for my better-than-average math literacy: Mr. W.

I don’t remember now why I happened to be in Mr. W’s computer lab that day towards the end of my freshman year of high school. What I do remember are the particulars of our first – and fateful – meeting. Mr. W asked me if I had enrolled in his tenth grade computer math course. I replied that I hadn’t because I had not received the requisite recommendation letter. “Which math course are you taking right now?” he asked. I told him I was on the Calculus track and was currently taking Geometry. “And what’s your average?” “97%.” The requirement for computer math was a B in first year algebra, so Mr. W’s response was immediate: “Well, let me go fix that right now.” Thus began our three year relationship.

My clients at work usually react with shocked surprise when I tell them the number of M&T courses I took in high school. In addition to the standard courses – Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II/Trigonometry, Functions/Analytic Geometry, and AP Calculus BC – I also took Computer Math, AP Computer Science, Discrete Mathematics, Elementary Statistics, and AP Statistics. I received 4’s on both the AP Calculus BC and AP Computer Science exams and a 5 on the AP Statistics exam. And why was I such an extraordinary math geek? Mr. W. It did help that he had such a funny personality, but I think it’s more important to point out that the man knew his stuff. Mr. W kindled within me a love for mathematics because he explained mathematical concepts in a way that was fascinating and eminently understandable. I’m not surprised that he was named Teacher of the Year just before his recent retirement.

Where did Mr. W get his vast store of mathematical knowledge, and how was he able to communicate that knowledge to the teens under his charge? He was a career-switcher. Before becoming a public school teacher in Virginia, Mr. W was an Army man. (Ah, the fond memories I have of teasing him on the days before the Army/Navy game! I used to write “Go Navy!” on the top of my test papers just to see how he’d respond.) As a soldier, Mr. W was called to use math, science, and technology on a daily basis. In other words, as a soldier, Mr. W received content-oriented training in the aforementioned subjects. And that made all the difference in the world.

The tale of Mr. W brings me to the central point of this post. One complaint I frequently hear from those who support Walker’s opponents in Wisconsin is that teachers earn less than others in the state who have college degrees and work in the private sector. Believe it or not, I do believe quality teachers should be rewarded with decent pay; indeed, if the state of Virginia had decided to pay Mr. W $100,000 per year plus benefits, I would’ve supported that move. But here’s the catch: I don’t believe most teachers currently receive the kind of training that warrants pay on par with the compensation college graduates receive in the private sector.

The left believes that if we just increase teacher pay, the quality candidates will flock to the school-house doors. But that does nothing to address the pervasive and damaging lack of rigor in our teacher education programs. So far, in my tenure as a private sector tutor, I have helped two elementary teacher candidates prepare for the Praxis — and in both cases, I discovered that their understanding of basic mathematical concepts was severely deficient. If you yourself don’t comprehend place value in the base-ten number system, how can you possibly teach it to twenty third graders? Granted, the plural of anecdote is not data. But quite a few studies back up my experiences on the ground. Such studies have found that, for example, teacher candidates seeking mathematics certification are held to standards that are wildly variant. The very best programs do teach content, but that is certainly not the norm.

One recent report noted, for example, that America’s prospective middle school math teachers spend an average of 40% of their training time on the actual study of mathematics, while the remaining 60% was devoted to general pedagogy and math-focused teaching methods. (In high performing countries, 50% of the curriculum is focused on the study of mathematics and 30% is devoted to studying how children learn math.) Moreover, this same study discovered that only 66% of middle school math teacher candidates take linear algebra, and only 55% take basic calculus. (In high performing countries, the figure is 90% or more.) “So what?” you may reply. “Middle school teachers aren’t going to be asked to teach calculus, so why should they be expected to learn it?” Because you need to know what’s coming next in order to adequately prepare your students for math courses they will take down the road.

If teachers really want to be treated like professionals, they shouldn’t put the cart before the horse. They should demand that they be held to standards comparable to those faced by other professionals before they demand professional pay. I initially wanted to go to medical school, so after I graduated from the College of William and Mary, I took the MCAT. The MCAT, for those of you who have never experienced it, is an all day test in which medical school applicants must demonstrate that they are proficient in reading, writing, physical science, and life science (and my overall score was competitive, by the way, though I was disappointed in my physical science sub-score). Now, I don’t think we have to go that far when it comes to education school admissions tests, but we should have something, and it should be designed to decisively weed out the idiots. Moreover, once teacher candidates clear the admissions hurdle, they should be offered a curriculum that is at least 50% content-based, and the classwork should be challenging. Let’s not waste our time with courses on how teachers can advance the cause of “social justice.”

Do you know what much of the public concludes when they hear Wisconsin teachers demonizing their duly elected governor as the second coming of Adolph Hitler? They conclude that Wisconsin’s teachers are historically illiterate — and given what goes on in our ed schools, such a determination is probably not that far off the mark. Teachers: You are not as educated as you think you are, and that’s why people resent it when you demand more compensation. No one is entitled to great pay simply because he or she has decided to work in the schools. You need to earn professional status the way doctors and lawyers earn it: through years of exhaustive study in demanding professional schools.