Saturday, November 20, 2010

Do teachers with Master's degrees deserve higher pay?

According to the latest news meme being flogged, people all the way up to Bill Gates think that we need to stop giving pay increase to teachers earning Master's degrees. According to research, which has been around for some time, teachers with Master's degrees don't necessarily do any better job as teachers, particularly when it comes to having their students perform on high-stakes testing.
One has to wonder, given this extraordinary abrogation of the social contract by bean counters, who think they can use such a shabby argument to cajole teachers into working cheaper, whether they have applied the same standards to any other profession. Seriously, does having an MBA guarantee that an employee will be more productive than they would have been otherwise, in a randomly chosen business situation? One suspects that research would not even be necessary to confirm that merely having an MBA is no guarantee that a person will automatically be more productive in business, in general. In fact, some have argued that even a bachelor's degree is often a waste of both time and money, which likewise does not guarantee better performance than people who forgo such training. Yet businesses often pay people more for having an MBA. Where is the outcry from Bill Gates about this?
For that matter, when people in the financial industry drive their companies into bankruptcy, requiring government bailouts, we see many in the business industry defending the award of massive bonuses to these individuals. There has been some outcry on that, but not nearly what there should be given the enormity of those bonuses compared to education budgets.
Similarly, one might ask whether the enormous salaries of educational administrators produces better outcomes in education. Indeed, there are many things upon which educational funds are spent that we could attack on the grounds that they do not necessarily improve educational outcomes. How strongly connected are custodial services and student test performance? Do sports programs really contribute more than they cost in terms of opportunity costs, both financially and academically? The point is that singling out increased pay for teachers with advanced education seems out-of-line, compared to other expenditures.
Now, granted, pointing to other people making similar mistakes does not make one's own position any less mistaken. That is why I spoke of a social contract being abrogated. We have generally accepted in society that people with higher levels of education are worth more and should be paid more. The reality is that, when we try to measure how true this is, and to what degree, we might have a hard time proving that someone with an MBA or a Masters in Education is really worth the additional amount we may have decided to pay them. Especially given the possibility that we may be failing to measure all the ways that such individuals may contribute to society, it seems both foolish and unfair to push for cuts in pay for one particular group, like teachers. Given that so many other professions are dependent upon the basic education received in the k-12 system, this kind of tampering, in fact, seems nothing short of reckless.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Inside Job, a tale of plutocracy run amok

Anyone who wants to maintain the fiction that the recent financial crisis, or some before it, was just the result of "a few bad apples" or even the result of a single political part had better not view the documentary _Inside Job_. In it they reveal a system-wide effort, over the course of several decades to deregulate the financial industry, up to and including infiltrating the economics departments of Ivy League universities.
It is popular, particular with right-wingers, for example, to blame the whole financial crisis on Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, but clearly this does not account for the fact that the ratings institutions themselves were giving Fannie and Freddie top ratings up until the day they were taken over. Furthermore, a scenario like this wouldn't explain the collapse of Countrywide, or AIG where the government oversite and influence was effectively non-existent.
No, the rabbit hole goes far deeper. When Congress passes laws that specifically forbid the regulation of derivatives, and repealed Glass-Steagall simply so that Citibank could merge with Traveller's, one has to say that there is more afoot than a few bad loan practices. The industry was systematically restructured so that would not have the accountability or regulation that traditionally protected the system since the Great Depression.
When one combines this with the fact that many of our treasury officials, like Summers and Paulson have been in leadership positions at Merrill Lynch, one cannot help but question the incestuous nature of our financial sector.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Junk Food Is Not Pro-life, Sarah

It is not particularly surprising to see Sarah Palin peddling junk food to elementary school students, much as she peddles junk science, and junk raw meat political commentary to her contracting constituencies. However, what I find particularly ironic is how anti-life and pro-choice her actions are. I have long told self-proclaimed "pro-lifers" that it is easy for them to claim this position, but hard to prove that they really live up to it, and Sarah Palin's actions demonstrate this point exactly. How can you claim to be "pro-life" and then serve children food that is poisoning their health to the point that their life expectancies are actually shorter than their parents. In a time when obesity is literally epidemic and type 2 diabetes threatens to double or triple in coming decades, this is not the time for her to be pro-choice about cookies. This is the time for her to follow the advice of every single credible health book for the last several decades and advocate against sugar and empty carbohydrates. As much as the right-wing seems determined to spin absolutely everything, we cannot afford for their denialism of basic science to now expand to nutrition, as it already has for evolution, climate change, and industrial pollution.

The point which needs to be re-emphasized more clearly is that many of the causes of conservatism these days are utterly contradictory to a pro-life position. You cannot say that you are pro-life, but that you think people should have the right to choose if they want to kill themselves with cholesterol. After all, these same people say that euthanasia should be illegal, yet it should be OK to kill yourself with hamburgers, alcohol, cigarettes, and the CHOICE to not wear your seatbelt, among other right-wing crusades de jour. We all have moments of inconsistency, but it would do the disarrayed right-wing some good to think about the fundamental contradictions in their professed pro-life position. Are they really pro-life when they support the rights of polluters to put toxins into our air and water? Are they really pro-life when they want to weaken or eliminate worker safety standards that may lead to more people dying on the job? Who is really more pro-life when their opponents are the ones who want health care for all, and they adopt the pro-choice position that people should choose whether they want to purchase health care coverage at all?

If life really is a right, as the so-called right-to-life movement professes in three word bumper sticker prose, then a right is not an option or something that others can choose not to recognize. If they really want others to take their "pro-life" rhetoric more seriously then they have not try to use abortion as an excuse to abort health care for millions of Americans, as they attempted to do with congressman Stupak. If they really want to promote life then they need to be in favor of public safety relating to the regulation of speeding, and the use of safety equipment, instead of claiming their freedom to choose not to abide by those standards, even when the exercise of that "freedom" ends up endangering or injuring other people.

In the end, I don't see Republicans making much effort to be pro-life, but just using it as an empty, self-righteous gimmick for preaching (literally) and fundraising. Few of them really believe in doing things that protect or respect life when they make the lives of gay people hellish, and rail against immigrants who come to the US in search of a better life. It is hard to believe that people with so much hatred for the living can be "pro-life". Right-wingers may take some of this to heart, turn over a new leaf, and prove me wrong some day, but I am too "pro-life" to hold my breath waiting for that.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rand Paul's Toupee Voted Worst In Universe

I have conducted an admittedly unscientific poll in the days since the primaries closed last week, and 97% of people I have surveyed thus far agree that the godawful dead possum Rand Paul wears as a toupee surpasses even Donald Trump's infamous bird's nest in sheer horrific rattiness. Let us compare:

Exhibit A: The RandRoid:


Versus Exhibit 2: The Donald.

Granted, it can be a tough judgment call. Ultimately, I am hoping for Larry King to perform a similar examination of Rand Paul and issue his authoritative judgment. However, until then, I think most people find Rand's toupe a little more disturbing.