Wednesday, March 02, 2011

On teachers unions 

Lest by some small chance you have not already seen the awesome destruction of Paul Krugman's claim that the collective bargaining of teachers somehow helps students, please be my guest. Indeed, in Paul Krugman's ideological circles an assertion like Krugman's would ordinarily get one accused of racism, unless of course one is Paul Krugman.


By Blogger PD Quig, at Wed Mar 02, 11:43:00 PM:

You sure you're not an illegal alien? I mean, there you go again 'doing jobs Americans won't do' like reading NYT columnists.  

By Blogger Carolyn, at Thu Mar 03, 01:53:00 AM:

Every once in a while, Iowahawk comes up with one of these brilliant, totally down-to-earth statistical analyses as a counterpoint to his brilliant totally from-somewhere-other-than-earth satires.  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Thu Mar 03, 07:26:00 AM:

From IowaHawk's post: Conclusion: instead of chanting slogans in Madison, maybe it's time for Wisconsin teachers to take refresher lessons from their non-union counterparts in the Lone Star State.

Possibly with emphasis on 3rd grade statistics. If the Wisconsin teachers can read that well.

Eric Hines  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 03, 08:33:00 AM:

So much for Krugman.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 03, 10:14:00 AM:

The irony here is that Iowahawk's clear, comprehensible explanation of the data and math is very reminiscent of the writing Dr. Krugman used to do in the 90s, before he decided that his comparative advantage lay in political vitriol.  

By Blogger Neil Sinhababu, at Thu Mar 03, 11:18:00 AM:

I don't see why you're impressed with the Iowahawk post. He ignores most of the states Krugman cites as well (GA, NC, and SC look really bad) to focus on TX.Just look at the raw data on graduation rates. Wisconsin does a far better job than the other states.

Iowahawk makes a big deal out of the black / hispanic numbers, but the fact is that black and hispanic minorities are so small in Wisconsin (about 6% and 3%) that the data about them could easily be hostage to other factors. If you want to get an apples-to-apples comparison, white-to-white might be better. And then Wisconsin comes out 2nd in the country. (Second to Iowa. Okay, Iowahawk, be proud of that.)

The way he plays with dropout rates at the end is kind of hilarious. He takes the 4-year dropout rates and slices them into year-by-year comparisons so the numbers will look less different because they'll all be smaller. Hey, why not slice them into day-by-day dropout rates so you really can't see a difference? Look, everybody knows what a 4-year dropout rate means. It's how many HS freshmen don't graduate. There's no need to play around with it. And the differences there are big. Just looking at the white kids, we've got 92% graduating for WI, to 76 for TX, 68 for NC, 61 for GA, 78 for VA, and SC doesn't report by race but the statewide number is 62.

Krugman's central contention is one that fans of free markets everywhere should appreciate: pay teachers more, and more smart people will become teachers, so you'll have better teachers. Unions drive up teacher salaries and benefits, getting you better teachers. This is how markets work. Pay more for stuff and people will see profit in making more of it (or if it's a job becoming it). It's pretty straightforward.  

By Blogger Stack Trace, at Thu Mar 03, 11:37:00 AM:

Unions work for the benefit of the union, not for the benefit of the union members. Sometimes, those two things align, but often they do not. A union benefits primarily by increasing its membership, and increasing the dues its members pay. Thus, unions benefit by increasing the number of members. Holding other variables constant, you can only increase the number of members by *decreasing* their net pay.

Many unions have gotten around this by bargaining for more non-pay benefits (entitlements). This looks great on paper for the union members, and when union members actually exercise their benefits, it does help them. But, as WI and NJ demonstrate, it accrues massive future debt. When future debt becomes present debt, and tax revenue is less than that debt, then you have a severe problem.

But the union still got its increased union dues, so the union leaders are happy.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 03, 12:33:00 PM:

Just to be sure, I reread the Krugman piece. He mentions Texas 12 times in the piece. Neil criticizes Iowahawk for ignoring Krugman's other evidence in his demolishment of Krugman's argument, pointing to the other "states Krugman cites", specifically GA, NC and SC.

Krugman mentions those states exactly zero times in his piece. Krugman's comparison is entirely between Wisconsin and Texas. So, your first and last paragraphs make no sense at all.

Neil, did you even read the Iowahawk takedown? Your second paragraph is essentially a restatement of Iowahawks primary criticism of Krugman, yet you somehow seem to think it works against Iowahawk (!). It is precisely the homogeneity of the Wisconsin demographic numbers that explains the achievement levels, and Iowahawk's basic argument is that Krugman is an idiot for ignoring the obvious. You want to climb in Krugman's boat, voluntarily, and I can't stop you from doing so, but I would ask you to at least read the two pieces before doing it.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Thu Mar 03, 12:36:00 PM:

Thanks Neil. I agree with the need to look up stats independently before agreeing with Iowahawk's conclusion that graduation rate differences aren't statistically significant. And that was the only sentence in Krugman's entire column that Iowahawk attempted to address (after being told to do so by emailers). The rest was folderol.  

By Anonymous SkepticalCynical, at Thu Mar 03, 03:27:00 PM:

Neil, I'd suggest you re-read Dr. Krugman's column, whose entire subject matter is that Texas spends too little on its children, has mislead the public about its educational system, and has terrible outcomes for its children. IowaHawk convincingly demonstrates that despite all that, Texas somehow manages to educate its white, black and hispanic children better than does high-spending Wisconsin. He's also intellectually honest enough to admit that TX does indeed have a slightly higher drop-out rate than WI. How is that unresponsive to Krugman's column?

Look, Dr. Krugman knows everything that IowaHawk posted - a social scientist in 2011 who is unaware of the racial education gap would be sort of like a physicist unaware of gravity. Krugman is careful in his column to avoid obviously false claims - he does NOT say, for example, that low state spending and lack of unions are the primary cause of the outcomes in Texas. He just heavily implies that, and knows that he can rely on his less-educated readers to incorrectly fill in the blanks. As IowaHawk quotes, "M.S." at the Economist was happy to oblige here, leaping from correlation to causation without a shred of thought or evidence.

No matter how sympathetic you are to Dr. Krugman's politics, does it not strike you as perverse to craft arguments intended to mislead rather than enlighten ones readers?  

By Blogger Ryan, at Thu Mar 03, 05:17:00 PM:

RE: Neil:

"He takes the 4-year dropout rates and slices them into year-by-year comparisons so the numbers will look less different because ..."

Where exactly are you seeing Iowahawk doing this? I'm pretty sure you are looking at ghosts.  

By Blogger PD Quig, at Thu Mar 03, 06:19:00 PM:

Hey Neil,

What kind of free market is it when the employee can't be fired for cause without a costly seven year court battle? Where the customers who don't like the service must still pay for it along with the alternative? Where taxes aren't one of the largest expenses that the employer has to pay?

We fans of free markets would LOVE for the government school monopoly to be exposed to real competition. Right now, it has exactly virtually nothing in common with a free market.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Thu Mar 03, 06:42:00 PM:

"He's [Iowahawk is] also intellectually honest enough to admit that TX does indeed have a slightly higher drop-out rate than WI."

No he's not, he says the difference isn't statistically significant, which he does by slicing down to a single year increment and slicing it again by ethnic group. And it's not a small difference in drop out rates, it's a large one.

And again, that's the only sentence in Krugman's article that he "refutes". Iowahawk should try again, by quoting passages from Krugman and refuting them. His attempt to refute one sentence has failed, but maybe he could do better if he tried some more.  

By Anonymous SkepticalCynical, at Thu Mar 03, 08:57:00 PM:

Brian, looking at the data by ethnic group is not an attempt to hide anything - it's the whole point of IowaHawk's article. Dr. Krugman misleads his readers by comparing statewide averages without controlling for ethnicity.

I agree with you that IowaHawk does not support his claim that the TX/WI difference in graduation rates is statistically insignificant. OTOH, the NCES graduation rate data shows TX substantially better than the national average for all ethnicities. How do you see this as supporting Dr. Krugman's claims about the "cruelty" that Texas is showing to its "blighted" children who it is "leaving behind"?  

By Blogger Neil Sinhababu, at Thu Mar 03, 10:42:00 PM:

Sorry, the NC / SC / GA / TX / VA thing wasn't from Krugman after all -- it was from the Economist, and it's cited in the Iowahawk post as the "lefty factoid du jour". Forget Krugman, just go back and read Iowahawk and you'll see it right there at the top. That makes this whole thing even weirder -- Iowahawk mentions it, makes fun of it, and then has no case against it whatsoever.

Ryan, look at the 'update' at the end of the Iowahawk post. In the last sentence Iowahawk says this is what he's doing. That's what Brian Schmidt is talking about.

Quig, I'd definitely support making it easier to fire bad teachers. The sort of grand bargain I'd support is one where we raise teacher pay dramatically, funded by huge tax increases or deficit spending (though that'd require a greater federal role) or cuts elsewhere, and also eliminate a lot of barriers to firing underperforming teachers. We've been doing the opposite thing for a while -- underpaying teachers in raw salary and compensating with excessive job security because that costs us nothing in the short term. It's a foolish and shortsighted policy. If you deficit spend to hire great teachers, you're going to end up with really smart kids who'll create awesome technologies that grow the economy. You can pay it back plus you get to keep the cool technologies.

Whatever you say about the education system as a whole (and of course it isn't a free market, markets are regulated all across the economy, some in bad ways, some in good) this one part is a free market: offer higher salaries for teachers and better people will apply.  

By Blogger Ryan, at Thu Mar 03, 10:50:00 PM:

RE: "offer higher salaries for teachers and better people will apply."

It's not really that much an incentive if the supply side is more concerned with forcing a base salary/compensation than rewarding better workers.

It's not as though schools not don't do that much at all, but the for the unions' sake a higher base salary at best means less disgruntled workers.

I fail to see why a higher base salary will lead to workers with better skill.  

By Blogger Ryan, at Thu Mar 03, 11:00:00 PM:


I had already seen that section.

Nowhere in there are the report's 9th-12th grade scores broken down by grade.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Fri Mar 04, 12:37:00 AM:

Ryan: the NCES dropout rate is for a single year, 2006-2007, defined as the "percentage of public school students in grades 9 through 12 who dropped out of school between one October and the next."

In other words, not the total dropout rate (especially because some kids will drop out before 9th grade). And as a single year, it means smaller numbers, divided by ethnicity (so still smaller numbers) and therefore harder to get statistical significance.

As for national comparisons, that's not what Krugman was talking about. The question is whether Iowahawk "masterfully" refuted anything Krugman wrote.  

By Blogger Ryan, at Fri Mar 04, 05:25:00 PM:


That's true. I read Neil's observation as looking for a breakdown of a 4-grade by grade as opposed to a complaint that the report only looks at one year.

I still see the Iowahawk article refuting Krugman's since Krugman tries to draw a correlation between spending and education levels and somehow infers that unions are a necessity somewhere in this chain.

Secondly, the break down by ethnicity even though a seemingly a distraction does help discredit Krugman's use of Texas as an example.

As far roundly rejecting Krugman's arguments I believe Krugman does himself in rather than Iowahawk: it comes down to how well Krugman shows that spending on schools is driven by unions.

Since the topic is unions, I presume that if one isn't showing that union wages are driving the education levels rather just spending on other things, then these reports that Krugman is touting are beside the point.

I wonder how Krugman draws these conclusions without proving that high spending on teacher compensation as a result of union bargaining.

It could very well be a side effect of states wisely spending money on schools but dealing with unions as either a consequence or perhaps a benefit.  

By Blogger Ryan, at Fri Mar 04, 05:34:00 PM:

As far as my earlier comment,

".. I fail to see why a higher base salary will lead to workers with better skills."

Allow me to clarify a boggling statement that obviously is false absolutely.

Sure: you pay more for a position, you will draw more people to it that will bring better talent.

Sure: if the wages are too low you will lose 1) people and 2) effort of people who remain.

What I wonder when the focus is on the base salary and the profession, while difficult and arduous, does not require nearly as high of specialization as other professions say doctors, technicians, etc., how will bumping the salary when already stuck in the middle class salary range increase the skill level of the majority of teachers.

Unless this bump in salary comes with a requirement for some sort of certification or secondary discipline, how will this bring in better talent from people who would otherwise not seek that education or choose higher-paying positions?  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Sat Mar 05, 02:15:00 AM:

"the break down by ethnicity even though a seemingly a distraction does help discredit Krugman's use of Texas as an example."

While the breakdown makes it harder to reach statistical significance because it involves fewer numbers, it doesn't discredit Krugman. Iowahawk's only good point is to try to compare apples to apples and take out ethnic/demographic distortions, and if you do that, white students do much better in WI than TX. See, e.g., here:


(Note that black students do terribly in WI, which is worth looking into, but they're also a very small number in that state.)

As for whether Iowahawk refuted Krugman, you could do Iowahawk's job for him by quoting Krugman and then quoting Iowahawk to attempt t show how Iowahawk refuted Krugman, but Iowahawk failed to do it himself.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Mar 05, 04:31:00 AM:

Why do some unionized blues states (California, Massachusetts, Connecticut) have white graduation rates "only" around that of Texas rather than close to Wisconsin's? Especially striking in the case of CT and MA where higher education is so prominent - I've heard tell they have a college or two in the Boston area.  

By Blogger Ryan, at Sat Mar 05, 10:28:00 AM:


Minorities under the numbers you have show a different story than what IH.

The point was made with the numbers IH used that the with breakdown by ethnicity being pretty close and the ethnicities with the lower scores having a higher weight on the population that the overall Texas is dragged down. So I don't understand what is possibly missing here in your eye.

Other stats, states, et al. can help Krugman; IH partially, not wholly, discredited Krugman by showing that Krugman needed a bit more than just blue/high-ed-spend/union state educational scores.

It wasn't as if IH shot a silver bullet at Krugman's essay.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Mar 05, 02:32:00 PM:

So what do we have after all this?

1) Texas students through 8th grade perform as well as better than Wisconsin students as measured by standardized tests after cultural adjustments.

2) Wisconsin students are much more likely to graduate from HS. Note: some people have been known to graduate from HS without being able to read. Not necessarily the case in WI.

3) Other well-educated blue states have HS graduation rates close to TX. Significant because clearly Krugman's larger point isn't just TX vs. WI, but that good, unionized blue states are better than those bad anti-union red states populated mostly by clones of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

IH's refutation of Krugman is not bulletproof but it's pretty damned strong.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Mar 05, 02:34:00 PM:

In 1) above meant "as well or better", not "as well as better"  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sat Mar 05, 07:59:00 PM:

Also should have said "refudiation", not "refutation" :^) :^) :^)  

By Blogger Stephen, at Sun Mar 06, 01:56:00 PM:

IH tears his critics and Krugman a new 'A':


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