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Archive for July, 2010

Getting Serious About Education: Why Can We Grade Students but Not Teachers?

Last week, Michelle Rhee, chancellor of D.C. public schools, made national news by firing 241 — six percent — of the District’s teachers deemed underperformers. Rhee’s move came after negotiations in June with the Washington Teachers’ Union that created a merit-based bonus system that permits well-performing teachers to earn up to a 21 percent pay increase. The agreement also allows the District to fire those who did not meet minimum benchmarks. Teacher assessment scores will be based half on student improvement and half on in-class teacher evaluations.

While performance-related pay has been around since the 1700s and affects the pay scale of over 85 percent of private sector employees, the debate over merit pay for teachers is still highly contentious. On one hand, proponents argue merit pay will help cash-strapped schools retain good teachers and shed bad ones. They also argue that this will create a salary scale that is fairer than the system of seniority pay that currently exists in most school systems. On the other hand, opponents contend that merit pay may work for seamstresses, but teaching is too complicated to base quality on student performance on a

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Everything Should Not be on the Budget Cutting Table: The Case for Expanding Public Investment

The International Monetary Fund recently scolded the U.S. government for running large budget deficits. Leaving aside the absurdity of cutting deficits when unemployment is still extremely high, it’s clear that at some point – as joblessness declines toward 5 percent – deficit reduction will need to begin in earnest. But the real question is how to do that. There’s a risk that the Washington economic class – grounded as they are in 20th century neo-classical economics — will fail to balance the twin imperatives of fiscal discipline and public investment.

Indeed the common refrain that has become the new “group think” in DC is that “everything should be on the table” when it comes to addressing the debt. For example, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force says, “everything should be on the table.” Even President Obama, who has at least rhetorically talked about the need for increases in public investment and fought to include public investment in the stimulus, now says that everything should be on the table. Other groups echo this intellectually easy, but intellectually simplistic, position. Pete Peterson’s Concord Coalition likewise calls for “applying budget

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ACTA Critics Oppose Strict IP Enforcement, Not Just Text of Agreement

As the ninth round of negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) comes to a conclusion and the White House has made clear its support for ACTA as part of its Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, opponents of the initiative have become increasingly vocal. The critics range from those who fundamentally reject the idea of intellectual property rights, to those who worry about empowering private sector actors to enforce digital IP rights, to those who feel that their civil liberties and privacy are under attack. Most notably an international coalition of critics, led by vociferous anti-IP rights groups, has signed on to a public letter condemning ACTA as “hostile to the public interest.” While the most recent draft of ACTA may still need refinement, the overall results of the agreement would be greater protection for intellectual property rights, a direct benefit for American companies, American jobs, and American consumers.

ACTA traces its roots back to 2007 when various countries came together to begin negotiations on a plurilateral treaty to improve “global standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights” and “to more effectively combat trade in

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The Failure of American Higher Education

Attend any policy discussion in Washington that deals with education and the standard line you will hear is “the American K-12 system is a failure, but thank God we still have the world’s greatest higher ed system.” Let me suggest that this is fundamentally wrong. Higher ed is failing almost as much as K-12.

Let me offer two pieces of evidence of this. One is purely personal. As president of a DC-based think tank, I have over the years hired many recent college graduates and interviewed many more. Because the quality of so many of the graduates was so poor, ITIF has taken to giving the small share of the most promising applicants (based on their resumes and cover letters) a short test that we email them to complete at home in one hour. The questions are pretty simple: “Go to this person’s bio online and write a three or four -sentence version of their bio for us to include in a conference packet,” or, “Enter these eight items in a spreadsheet and tell us the average for the ones that end in an odd number.”

What is amazing, at

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Giving Innovation Economics a Chance

Budget deficits are emerging as one of Washington’s chief economic obsessions, with both liberal and conservative economic camps opining about the deficit’s effect on the economy. Robert Samuelson’s recent column in the Washington Post describes how the major economic doctrines—particularly Keynesian and monetarists (or supply-siders)—interpret the fiscal impact of budget deficits.

Keynesians believe budget deficits (either from increased spending or reduced taxes) can stimulate the economy, leading to more demand and therefore more jobs. As Paul Krugman’s recent arguments have demonstrated, they believe that when unemployment rates are high job creation should not be sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction. In contrast, many neoclassical economists, especially conservative supply-siders, argue that big government deficits reduce national savings and increase interest rates while also contributing to financial uncertainty and reducing private sector investments.

While Samuelson rightly points out the differing perspectives of the Keynesian and supply-siders, he misses what they have in common. Neither of them considers the role of innovation in their growth models or distinguishes between spending and investment. And with this omission they fail to see what particular types of deficit spending can be harmful to the economy

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