LINKS May 3, 2022

Well, the topic du jour is clearly the leaked Alito opinion draft, which makes the case for over-turning abortion.

Hannah at Ballerina Farm showed a video of her birth of her latest kid. Check it out. I showed it to Ian, because we realized only last month that he had no sex education in high school. Our therapist and I are teaching him all this stuff. So, thanks, Hannah!

The biggest gains to reading/math scores came after states began making schools accountable for student learning. WITH TESTING. In more recent years, the gains leveled off, when states reduced oversight and expectations. Bottomline — TESTS WORK.

2/3rds of undergraduate certificate programs left their students worse off than the typical high school graduate, making an average of less than $25,000 per year.” Many certificates don’t pay off, but colleges want to keep them. (Also, don’t get a MA.)

I’m just not excited about canceling student debt — which would benefit Jonah — when I can’t find a good post-high school program for Ian. When the government provides good post-high school programs for ALL students, then I’ll get more excited about college loan debt.

Watching: Finished Yellowstone (love), finished Outlander (meh), finishing Moon Knight (good), Russian Doll

PICTURE: Bought a set of about 100 leather bound books this weekend. Now, I’m conditioning all that leather. Will more pictures later.

22 thoughts on “LINKS May 3, 2022

  1. Have to say I agree with you on cancelling student debt, which isn’t a popular position in the liberal crowds I normally run with. Don’t disagree with your reasoning, but I also feel like it’s curing the symptom not the disease. Let’s say we cancel student debt now. Are we going to do that again every 10 years? Or do kids that are in college now (or are younger) get screwed? I’d much rather see us cancel interest on student debt – permanently. Pay back what you borrowed, but all of your payments go towards principal.


    1. Oh yeah, I have a lot of reasons for not being excited about student loan debt. Implementing this policy fairly is a big issue.

      When Steve and I got married, we combined our student loan debt. Over $70K. We finally paid them off about six years ago. But I don’t think that we should have had that much debt. We probably shouldn’t have been allowed to go to grad school without being fully funded by our institution.


      1. My understanding is that the institutions really aren’t funding grad students nowadays at anything like how it was when we were in college 30 years ago. Would you make the next inference and say that you and Steve should therefore not have gone to grad school at all?

        I’m just not seeing a lot of options for most kids other than having well-off parents, taking out loans, or forgoing it entirely. The costs have risen past all possibility of earning your own way, even for cheap state schools.


      2. EAB said, “My understanding is that the institutions really aren’t funding grad students nowadays at anything like how it was when we were in college 30 years ago.”

        I keep hearing about pretty solid grad student TA pay. But that might be more true of elite institutions…


      3. I’d like to see the data on how universities changed their policies. My understanding is that undergraduate student loans are still capped. I’m seeing a quick take of 5-12K/year for the degree (max, for the student). That’s a lot, but the really big numbers are for graduate degrees. We know undergraduate tuition has outpaced inflation (though probably not just because of the money that is “free” to the school, if not to the student).

        I do see the changes programs implement after government policies and their consequences as a reason to consider the policies carefully even when I might say I don’t care (as about student loans). Schools and testing are an example, and so are schools and “free” money that is a burden to the student but not the school. I’ve heard troublesome stories about the USC social science program, which partnered with for-profit online vendors, weakening its selective degree, but providing a means for students to burden themselves with debt for a degree that they thought was going to be selective.

        Practical advice to young people (“don’t pay for your degree with loans”) is skewed by the government policies that change the landscape. As EAB says, it could be that there are degrees you can’t get now without loans (unless your parents can pay). Some might pay for them in the long run, but only if plans don’t go awry (i.e. you graduate, find a job, don’t have life circumstances that require you to pull back from that job, . . . .).


      4. A parent asked on a FB college page whether her daughter could pay off a 20K loan (I think per year) for a CS from the university. The general take was, yes, probably, given that many CS majors were being offered generous salaries at Google/FB/ . . . . (the school was an elite, where those companies recruited).

        But, in practice? maybe her daughter would change her mind about her degree, or find it too burdensome to continue, maybe the economic landscape would change in 4 years. What then with the 80K in debt? Also, this question might mean that the child could get a CS degree with the same earning potential from another university with no debt since the prestige of the school doesn’t matter as much.

        (BTW, the school is one that offers “full need” without loans, so it is the parent’s belief that loans will be needed, not the schools, for a family presumably in the donuts where families can’t afford what schools think they can).


      5. “I keep hearing about pretty solid grad student TA pay. But that might be more true of elite institutions…” From what I understand (BIL who is a humanities professor and really struggled to get on the tenure track), the issue is more lack of availability of those jobs. There are so many disposable adjunct instructors out there who will work essentially for circus peanuts and the hope of getting a tenure-track job. Schools use adjuncts for managing the grunt work they used to give grad students, and correspondingly only fund grad students for roles where they actually want to mentor students.

        The pay might be decent for those spots, but only if you are fortunate enough to get one. It’s not a solution for most.

        That also tracks with my experience getting a master’s in computer science, where I think we had like one grad student in the whole department (small school). I self-paid, which was more doable for me since I did one class per semester over several years while working as a software engineer. But that’s a very, very different path, and every single thing about comp sci and software is basically unique to our field.


  2. I’m not excited about canceling student debt, either, but I don’t mind if they do. I don’t see the other things coming, so I’m not going to oppose one immediately helpful thing because there are other priorities. I do wish there were more efforts to fully fund mandated services and I don’t really understand why there isn’t a coalition as a kind of political question.


  3. I agree with Shannon on the notion of forgiving interest on student debt but requiring payback of principal. Then again, we’ve allowed this discussion to rest on caricatures, almost as limiting as the “welfare queens” of the 1980s, The folks with the largest amounts of individual debt are physicians and dentists, as well as many attorneys–20% of all student debt is owed by just 3% of the borrowers, almost all with professional degrees. Federal graduate student loans have double the interest rate of undergraduate loans.

    I think McArdle’s comments misrepresent what is happening–in red states like mine, Missouri, the legislature is both majority male and majority Republican; they need the votes of rural whites to stay in power, so they propose or pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws to keep from being primaried from the right. Though there are women Republican legislators who agree with them (Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a state rep running for state senate here, has proposed a Texas-style law that would punish women who seek abortions out of state–it hasn’t gotten much traction), it’s still mostly men. McArdle ignores the composition of the state legislatures who make these laws. One other point–women alone will have to bear the child–the man who is necessary to cause the pregnancy is nowhere targeted by any of these restrictions. McArdle doesn’t address that, either. I wonder whether a woman could make an equal treatment before the law case in a state supreme court about this if Roe v. Wade disappears.

    I should mention I’m a weekly mass-going Catholic who opposes most abortions, but I don’t think any denomination’s religious beliefs should be written into law. We shouldn’t live in a theocracy.


  4. “The biggest gains to reading/math scores came after states began making schools accountable for student learning. WITH TESTING. In more recent years, the gains leveled off, when states reduced oversight and expectations. Bottom line — TESTS WORK.”

    I appreciated the link to the Leonhardt column, though I find his columns generally disingenuous in reporting the data and even Leonhardt doesn’t say “Tests work” and neither do the studies he cites, though they do say that tests might work, sometimes.

    The analysis linked at the end of the study, “When does accountability work” was excellent and produces a nuanced answer. I’m now a big fan of David Deming.

    From the study:

    Schools trying to avoid a lower performance rating (“Low performing schools”) made changes that improved the low performing students performance on tests AND had measurable effects on high school graduation, college attendance, and earnings at the age of 25 (they made about 300 dollars more per year). That is, tests worked (as much as causation can be established) in improving outcomes for low performing students in low performing schools

    Schools trying to move into a higher performance rating (“High performing schools”), made efforts to exclude the low performing students in their high performing school from the testing evaluation (most often by classifying them as special needs). Those low performing students in high performing schools then saw their earnings at 25 drop by $700 per year (potentially because they then had less access to academics). So after the high stakes testing was put in place, low performing students in high performing schools did worse.

    The tests and high stakes accountability had no effect on the high performing students outcomes measures. So the effect of testing was different in low and high performing schools and had no measurable effects on high performing students.

    The analysis design is clever, comparing cohorts of students in the same schools when the schools were on the cusp of getting either a better or worse rating as the pass rates required increased by year (and, the rating was based on the performance of the lowest performing students).

    Overall, since there were more low performing students in low performing schools than low performing students in high performing schools, the net effect was positive. But, the low performing students in the high performing schools paid a cost.


  5. I wonder why you wouldn’t you be happier to get one good thing (some of Jonah’s debt paid off) rather than not getting anything at all?

    It’s not like anybody/society/government is planning on funding school programs for Ian (and other people like him) with the money not spent on reducing college debt.

    Wouldn’t you be happier to get, at least, one good thing to help your family and society?


    1. cy said, “Wouldn’t you be happier to get, at least, one good thing to help your family and society?”

      Student loan forgiveness is probably at least somewhat inflationary.

      If there’s anything we don’t need in the current environment (8.5% annual inflation), it’s young professionals with more discretionary money in their pockets.

      If people are genuinely over their heads in terms of disparity between earnings and student loans, I’m happy to re-extend bankruptcy protection to student loan borrowers.

      But if they aren’t over their heads, and can pay it off with some reasonable sacrifices, I’d like to see them suck it up and do so. As somebody mentioned upthread, the biggest student loans are disproportionately held by very high earners.


  6. All great comments and I’m itching to reply, but it will have to wait until later. I spent all morning on the phone with College Board and the high school, so Ian could take the SATs this week. Disability issues. The school couldn’t find a teacher who wanted the proctor money. And then I did this newsletter for an hour. I need to clear my head with a run and some video games. Be back later.


  7. I had an epiphany last month. Sure, pundits and education officials talk a good game about the need for alternate career pathways, but… then nothing happens. I’ve been watching this go on for more than 20 years, since I started paying attention to education news.

    So. The world looks different when you pay attention to what people and institutions do, rather than what they say. They don’t want change. Politicians, colleges, high school guidance counselors, all of them. They don’t want change. So they will not solve the problem, because it is a threat for all of them.


    1. “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back.” , this Tolstoy quote, right?

      I am not so despairing, but do understand what you mean. It’s hard to imagine a different structure for education if you benefit from it the way it is. And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, many who comment on topics like these (here in this blog, on twitter, . . . ) and those who are charged with thikning about the issue are those for whom the classical path of education is a good one.

      My son was recently bemoaning what we call “practical degrees” (say, none of us understand what a business major is). He didn’t understand why you would go to *college* to learn practical skills. I said, I know, I understand, but that’s because we are who we are. Other people want different things out of life. And college (and maybe even K-12) is set up for people like my family.


  8. Oh, and had thoughts about the 2/3 of students earn less with certificates than with HS degrees WaPo article. I haven’t read the original study, but I thought the WaPo article didn’t give me a real understanding. The article eminded me of one of my complaints about despair about change in education: we expect education to fix everything. Here’s the numbered list of why one might see the result, some of which can’t be blamed on the education related to the certificate:

    1) the CC did not teach a valuable skill (the teachers were bad, the skill was unnecessary, . . . .))
    2) the student did not learn the skill (they were unprepared, unsupported, uninterested)
    3) the student learned the skills taught by the CC certificate, but the certificate did not result in higher earnings
    a) because the skill is paid for by the government at a fixed cost (say, home health care aides) for the most part and the skill does not mean you get paid more
    b) because the market doesn’t value the skill enough to pay more for it (say, you prepare better food, but unless you win and establish your own restaurant and make it a success, you don’t get paid more for that skill)
    c) more generally, people don’t have money to pay for the extra skill you’ve obtained
    4) the student does earn more money for their skill but they work fewer hours at higher wages (which is truly a beneft of the skills training.

    Some of those factors (including hourly pay) might have been addressed in the real study and the reasons impact what the CCs should be doing (the home health aide sticks in my mind).


  9. While I am worried about the women who will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies, I’m also worried about the women who will be forced to carry dead babies inside them, possibly developing life or fertility-threatening infections, as doctors will no longer treat missed miscarriages with “abortion” procedures. I’m worried about women who will find out at 10 or 12 or 20 weeks that their baby has serious health conditions “incompatible with life,” only to be forced to carry the pregnancy to term at the expense of their physical and mental health and potentially future fertility. I’m worried about the women who will bleed to death when their ectopic pregnancies rupture. I’m worried about the women who will have to choose to let a tube rupture rather than treat an ectopic pregnancy with fertility-preserving methotrexate as it will be considered an “abortion.” I’m worried about parents who will have to choose to let their twin baby die rather than undergo a selective reduction when it turns out the nonviable twin is actively killing the viable twin. But most of all, I’m worried about how little we care about women’s life, fertility, or well-being when we politicize medical care and take it out of the hands of OBs and MFMs put it into the hands of politicians who would fail high school biology.

    I wonder how it’s pro-life to deprive women of life-saving medical care. I’m wondering how it’s pro-life to damage or ruin women’s fertility by depriving them of modern medical obstetric treatments. I wonder how it’s pro life to make a woman walk around for 6 months with a dead or headless baby inside of her.


    1. The current track puts us into a grand experiment on women’s health and the well-being of children, especially the most vulnerable of women and children. I have had to step away from the discussion but all we can do is fight on.

      Legal abortion might remain available to many women (and medication abortions also change the health care, both positively and negatively — the young woman who was arrested in Texas had started an abortion with medication, which, I suspect, will be the “back alley” of the modern age). But if more unwanted children are born, with the continuing lack of support for women and children, the consequences may be widespread for society.

      Donahue & Levitt examined the consequences of legalized abortion on crime in 2001, drawing on the consequences to children of being unwanted and showing that in the decades following Roe, decrease in the rate of crime could be connected to mostly wanted children being born; they made a prediction then for the next two decades which seems to have panned out:

      Note that the key here is every child a wanted child — mothers should decide and we should support the children they choose to have. Outlawing abortion as Republican politicans are doing flips this; the state decides whether children should be born and mothers have to support the children they are forced to have (Rob Johnson’s quote that it’s not society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children).


  10. I might write a longer post about student loans tomorrow. Hit me with your best reasons why I should be excited by student debt relief.


  11. Laura wrote on twitter: “I’m getting tons of notices from LinkedIn and other places advertising for adjunct professor openings. Almost tempted. Wonder if colleges are having trouble filling those positions, because people are finally smartening up and refusing to work for minimum wage.”

    Oooh, I have an anecdote!

    I have an old friend with a math PhD who was teaching remotely for a US college (presumably as an adjunct) for quite a number of years as her family went on various adventures around the globe.

    Anyway, her family is back in the US right now and settling down, and she is packing it in with college teaching and is going back to school so she can teach math in K-12 (not sure which level).


Comments are closed.