Saturday, March 1, 2008

We Don't Need No Thought Control

Tim Leunig is writing what is becoming a a must-read column on Lib Dem Voice. He's writing about our Lib Dem pupil premium policy. Overall, it's a step forward for our Education policy. It signifies what the Lib Dems should be about- spreading opportunity to those that lack it.

The problem is- it would take a lot of money to really equalise opportunity. And perhaps the upto £90bn that Leurig hypothesises might have better returns at the age of 3 or 4. We should be talking about the future of Surestart as much about secondary schools.

But, given that we are talking about secondary schools, what should a Lib Dem policy look like? Well, we should look at what actually does help equalise opportunity (note: not outcome). The first thing to realise is that selection is unfair, as the party have no unequivocally unfair (with a supposedly right-wing leader!). If you want to go to an academically selective school, by all means spend your money in the private sector or tutor your kid privately (normally the New Labour state school bypass).

Why is it unfair? Well, outcomes are not the result of just natural ability. If you run a factory, part of the best indicators of what your profit level will be, is how much capital an entrepreneur puts in. Equally, a middle class kid (full disclosure: like me. No class war here.) will have more behind him than a kid with no books in his house and a parent on welfare. Even at 11, grammar schools didn't select the 'brightest' kids, they selected those with the most natural advantages.

So, once we eliminate 'selection', what is wrong with the comprehensive system as currently constituted? Well, the answer is that it isn't very comprehensive. You see, it isn't just the private sector that has school fees, the state sector does too. But you pay them to the estate agent rather than to the school bursar.

So, what does determine educational outcomes? Well, if you run a basic regression analysis on the OECD's PISA test results, the answer is that peer effects, parents' education attainment, and parents income, are the three biggest determinates of pupil outcomes. Therefore a pupil premium would work primarily as a price signal to counteract the natural instinct of schools to select the plummiest pupils in order to get a shortcut to the best results. That way, it would mean that rich and poor would genuinely share a classroom. And that, as Robert Puttnam and the Joseph Rowntree Trust have pointed out, would have some major sociological benefits as well as educational ones.

Therefore, I would suggest, we need both more money for schools with pupils from poor backgrounds, and also a voucher system or a lottery so that we have genuinely mixed classrooms. More money is a start, but as educational economists like Eric Hanushek have pointed out, money isn't the total answer either. Thankfully, with thoughtful columns like Tim Leunig's, we'll get closer to finding a policy that truly fulfils our ideals.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Swift-boating the Presidency

So, John McCain may have had a romantic liaison with a female lobbyist and done favours for her corporate clients.

Barack Obama may have had improper dealings with Chicago-based 'dodgy fella', Tony Rezko. Now, he might be conniving with terrorists. For more on The Weathermen, I can recommend the documentary, The Weather Underground.

Of course, Hillary already has had Monicagate, Watergate, VinceFostergate, Furnituregate, MarcRichgate, RandombombingofSudangate and many others. GOP oppo researchers boast at the material they still have.

Most of us liberals are quite happy that the Democrats and Republicans look set to choose their best respective nominees. However, there is a very high chance that this could go from the most promising election in my memory, to something very, very ugly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Practical Jokes are Funny

It's baseball's Spring Training, but there is sadness in the camp of the Philadelphia Phillies, as Kyle Kendrick is traded to Japan...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Covering the Presidential Election

Memory Hole has an interesting, and quite important, post on the quality of the coverage of the U.S. presidential election. As someone who consumes a lot of information about the race and the candidates, there have been many, many more horse race columns, then ideological, policy or governing philsophy of the candidates. The two major issues on the Democratic side have been around the speed of paying down the deficit, and the use of mandates for healthcare reform. Ezra Klein, of American Prospect, and Johnathan Chait, of The New Republic, have been by far the best on healthcare issues. Mark Schmidt, of the former publication, has writen the best column on governing approach and the 'Theory of Change' primary.

Finally, the most interesting ideological issue has been the adoption of the, badly named, libertarian paternalism approach to public policy, greatly influenced by the University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein. Libertarian Paternalism will be the subject of an upcoming post when I am not at the office pretending to be working and not blogging! But, in the meantime, Memory Hole is right that the coverage of issues in general has been very, very poor. But we should not be shy about directing people to some of the better articles this primary season.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Weapons of Choice

This is pretty sweet- two Bristol-area graffiti artists do a 'live set'. Looks it would have been amazing to see in person. The blog itself is also worth a longer look. Not sure who it is by, but it seems to be an interesting look at the current debate on policy and thoughts around graffiti in the Bristol area.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Paddick on the Streets of London....

Ah, the Smiths! Anyway, work has been heavy and blogging has been light. I can only promise more when my schedule opens up a bit. In the meantime, here is an interesting profile of Lib Dem mayoral hopeful, Brian Paddick. Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Link

Here is a nice post from Simon Goldie about the absurd distinctions between social and economic liberalism.