The Man of System

One sometimes hears arguments for busing or against private schools that say we need to prevent the best kids from leaving in order to benefit their less advantaged peers. I find such arguments distasteful. People should not be treated as means. I must confess, therefore, that I took some pleasure at the findings of a recent paper by Carrell, Sacerdote, and West:

We take cohorts of entering freshmen at the United States Air Force Academy and assign half
to peer groups designed to maximize the academic performance of the lowest ability students.
Our assignment algorithm uses nonlinear peer eff ects estimates from the historical pre-treatment
data, in which students were randomly assigned to peer groups. We find a negative and signi ficant treatment eff ect for the students we intended to help. We provide evidence that within our
“optimally” designed peer groups, students avoided the peers with whom we intended them to
interact and instead formed more homogeneous sub-groups. These results illustrate how policies
that manipulate peer groups for a desired social outcome can be confounded by changes in the
endogenous patterns of social interactions within the group.

I was reminded of Adam Smith’s discussion of exactly this issue in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

Do note that this discussion is not a critique of the paper which is very well done.


Too bad we have a particularly nasty man of system as President.

Not to mention, Obama is obviously a flaming Man of System exactly as described. If someone couldn't find the exact sentiment of good kids being used to sharpen the bad kids somewhere in Obama's transcripts I'd be surprised.

Kind of like how the young and healthy have to be forced into his medical boondoggle for it to succeed.

Andrew': what person among us in NOT "a flaming Man of System exactly as described" ... out of his own mouth?

except for you & me, of course. ;-{)}

i do suspect that Andrew' has 'found the enemy, and he is us'. Therefore, it is ESSENTIAL to find someone or something ELSE "to blame"... so I can 'just move on'....

now the animals... not being as 'better as us...kings of the earth... just move on... but the humans - being aware - never move on. About the 'best' we can do... is keep "dis-covering" ...what has always been, and is... there.

Well, some of us aren't President. As for the rest of your comment, can you be a little more specificl.

Actually, for someone who does think about systems, the enemy isn't us.

No, he can't be more specific and therefore he won't.

But he poses an interesting question about the President Andrew' administration.

I often wonder how my generally libertarian sentiments would fare in a system that is designed to be a system.

All that libertarians need is a good libertarian dictator.

Because it would totally suck to have someone looking into The Fed and Treasury, leaving guns alone, letting High Deductible/Catastrophic remain legal, not pursuing droneship diplomacy, not vacuuming up social media transcripts, not entrapping non-terrorists, maybe looking into nuclear warhead security rather than dicking around with third-world dictatorships, having a balanced view in trade and immigration, and not using kids as tools of social engineering. How could we possibly survive that?

For the record, the reply nesting is funked up because my comment was in response to a rude commenter that was deleted. It's a software problem.

The original comment by Rich Berger was that Obama is a "man of system" and then I ultimately supported that notion as is obvious from Obama. There isn't much point in contradicting that part. I guess you can say "Well, we are all men of system" except some of us are women. But then that is nonsense as a concept if it doesn't have any categorizing power. But, if you want to try to argue that libertarians are just as much men of system as the people who claim to the mantle as a point of pride, then let's do it.

Thanks for the context, Andrew'. Yes i started in the middle. Clarifying: all human beings are persons of system [if you will, beginning with the my system of my perceptions]. Applying: it is "nonsense as a concept"... in the same manner as 'whatever', 'appropriate'...and the rest of our conflicted non-sequiturs. If you will, the "non - sense" IS the deceiver's [oops, sorry, the 'caring'] friend. As in the Spencer Tracy acting quote, "once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made".

Your two subset illustrations, libertarians and pride, do 'let's do it'. But i'm not saying anything not already rationally obvious, or morally self-evident. That we keep doing it is a basic in explaining why [a] we are all in this together regardless of how i feel about it, and [b] if we are to try and build/better a person, a place, or thing, [i.e. e pluribus unum] ...a common foundation of essentials we agree on [even if containing elements we do not personally choose to believe in] ... is essential OR... the bigger the "success" the harder the fall....

E.g. "we hold these truths to be self-evident".... Enumerated powers c/f implied powers. Purposes c/f "visions". University c/f Diversity. Compare to the standard vs interpret/reinvent/evolve/separate/not enforce/omit a set standard. "Establish justice" c/f any modifier of justice.

in the spirit of your helping me with context, i hope this helps as well.

"everyone is men of systems"

So, just last night I started a discussion with my wife like this: Why is it that hot dogs and buns are never the right length or number? Why is it that trash cans never quite fit trash bags?

her response was: Well, that padding you put in the bottom of the trash can (to keep the bag from falling to the bottom and trash going everywhere) might be a bit too much for our current trash bags.

You think my wife is a 'man of system'?

"everyone is men of systems".

This is a semantic trick. There is a clear distinction between, say, Socrates and Plato. Smith was Socratic, Marx Platonic.

is your wife is manning your system? ;-{)}

my input here... a Perry Mason moment of "incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial"? ;-{)}

Andrew' what a fine and usual list of just a very few of the "totally sucks" of men. ;-{)} The List is long... and ever growing.

Please forgive me... i burst out laughing at the beautiful self-evident truth of your closing question. Applying, how HAVE we survived all these impossible to survives? Individualizing for me... why don't i instantly get plucked off the planet, vaporized, undone, never happened, and all other cute & quaint euphemisms for 'held accountable'?

what if i'm getting so many 'breaks' each moment... while i keep saying ... gimme a break... a shot? [But don't shoot me].

I don't disagree with most of that.

So 1) how are you going to get elected? And 2) when you become president, how do you change all of those? Drones, for sure. How about the rest?

yes, the US has 1 President in office.

tried to find basic, common, specifics to 'start'. Human nature is one. Perception v reality is another. "My" [system] is another.

speaking only for me, although i know i should not start with my conclusions... i need continual reminder from others and me not to do so. Otherwise... i 'bus' others to 'my private school' and deliver... all the usual stuff Science describes as 'pecking order behavior'.
accepting your premise "the enemy isn't us" for discussion... who is the enemy?

IMHO, It's too early in the day for you to be drinking or using mind-altering substances.

Buck 68 that is.

well then Rich, Help Buck68 The Lesser here... assign me my time and my place and, by all means, whatever else is ...appropriate.

[but, the List of my Assigners is quite long... and my assignments are legion already! ;-{)} ]

I believe I have read that Obama is a big proponent of "regionalism" which essentially means busing inner city trash to suburban "good schools" and vice versa, for exactly the purpose you described.

Not that I actually defend corralling people but I note that there are two different arguments going on.

First, there is the idea that gifted children help their less advantaged peers through social whatever. This study says this is not occurring.

But the second idea was that rich parents, if forced to send their kids, who might be dumb as rocks, it doesn't matter, to some given public school, they would fight for this school to be properly funded.

That's an entirely different argument. This one relies on the idea that rich parents are powerful and that rich parents will try and protect their kids in any given set of circumstances.

It might be cynical (though, that's the founding idea of 'nation' and 'national community') but that's not outright stupid. A similar case could be made for forbidding gated communities and thus making sure rich people insist on a decently funded police force for all...

The study says that the low-ability students self segregated into their own groups rather than being shunned by the high-ability students.

Did anybody else note that we are talking about a military academy, and not a private school (not to mention talking about yound adults, and not children)? Which is interesting, because I would have assumed anybody interested in an effective military would have rated 'academic performance' pretty far down on the list of what one seeks in officers.

I'll even quote a fairly detailed example of one of the finest armor commanders the world has ever seen -

'In his youth, Patton had difficulty learning to read and write, but eventually overcame these difficulties and was known in his adult life to be an avid reader.[Note 1] He was tutored from home until the age of eleven, when he was enrolled in Stephen Clark's School for Boys, a private school in Pasadena, for six years. Patton was described as an intelligent boy and was widely read on classical military history, particularly the exploits of Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Scipio Africanus as well as family friend John Singleton Mosby.[7] He was also a devoted horseback rider.[4] During a family summer trip to Catalina Island in 1902, Patton met Beatrice Banning Ayer, the daughter of Boston industrialist Frederick Ayer.[8] The two wed on May 26, 1910 in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. They had three children, Beatrice Smith (born March 1911),[9] Ruth Ellen (born February 1915),[10] and George Patton IV (born December 1923).[11][Note 2]

Patton never seriously considered a career other than the military,[4] so in 1902, he wrote a letter to Senator Thomas R. Bard seeking an appointment to the United States Military Academy. Bard required Patton to complete an entrance exam. Fearing that he would perform poorly in this exam, Patton and his father applied to several universities with Reserve Officer's Training Corps programs. Patton was accepted to Princeton University but eventually decided on the Virginia Military Institute.[8] He attended VMI from 1903 to 1904 and struggled with reading and writing but performed exceptionally in appearance and military drill, earning the admiration of fellow cadets and the respect of upperclassmen. On March 3, 1904, after Patton continued letter-writing and good performance in the entrance exam, Bard recommended him for West Point.[12]

In his plebe year at West Point, Patton adjusted easily to the routine.[13] Still, his academic performance was so poor that he was forced to repeat his first year after failing mathematics.[14] Studying throughout his summer break, Patton returned and showed substantial academic improvement. For the remainder of his career at the academy, Patton excelled at military drills though his academic performance remained average. He was cadet sergeant major his junior year, and cadet adjutant his senior year. He also joined the football team but was repeatedly removed after injuring his arm, and instead tried out for the Sword Team and track and field,[15] quickly becoming one of the best swordsmen at the academy.[16] Patton graduated from the academy ranked 46 out of 103.[17] He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry on 11 June 1909.'

Patton might not have been as educated as his Nazi opponents (though he might have been a better swordsman) - but then, not being confused as to his job, he simply defeated them. With more than a bit of scorn for those who didn't understand how to use armor -

'Some goddamn fool once said that flanks have got to be secure. Since then sonofabitches all over the globe have been guarding their flanks. I don't agree with that. My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I'll be cutting the bastard's throat.'
Conference with his officers (1 August 1944), as quoted in General Patton : A Soldiers Life (2002) by Stanley P. Hirshon, p. 502

Sometimes, I

need to do a better job deleting fragments.

All three military academy's have the highest ranked undergrad engineering programs in the country according to US News and World Report.

Because Patton was not very good in school means the military does not desire intelligence in their ranks??? That doesn't make sense.

They are highly competitive. Figuring out why would be an interesting thing.

Well, free, apart from the possibly having to go die a horrible death thing.

That's probably only true for the military academy, not so much the Air force or Naval academy I think.

Your criticisms were the first things I thought of. I believe the authors used a military academy as a control for some variable. Note that none of the students will have financial pressures since all of their tuition, books, clothing, housing, and food are provided.

I doubt that the authors extend the results to children, and it's questionable whether the results would apply to kids still in the formative stage of their development.

While I know many numbskulls who rose through the ranks through wile or ingratiation, the Army does prize intellect. Patton may have been a poor student in peripheral subjects, but he obviously studied military history and tactics. One should be cautious though to attribute his success to unconventional thinking. Disregarding the flanks may have been, by design or accident, the right thing for him to do as a spear head. But many armies have suffered disastrous losses when the enemy rolls up their flanks. Concentrating combat power on a weak spot is a basic tenet of war. A flank allows an opponent to gain the 3 to 1 advantage the offense usually needs for victory. It is a "salient" that tacticians have exploited for millennia.

Patton was a pioneer of maneuver warfare, ironically learning from the Blitzkrieg. That strategy worked to our disadvantage in Iraq where the fragments of destroyed divisions filled in and consolidated behind our forces. Patton was also notorious for outrunning his own supply chain, something that led to disaster for Napoleon who was a master of logistics.

The man of system might well advance your second argument... only to find that self-segregation is a heritable trait.

Self-segregation is a fairly natural tendency, iirc. Someone did a study, did they not, on how a small preference for neighbours of the same colour could easily lead to total segregation in neighbourhood according to race.

Racism may be fairly natural, like rape and murder, but I don't think we ought to indulge in it.

Hahaha, it was 2005 Nobelist Thomas Schelling one of Tyler Cowen's intellectual influences according to Wikipedia.

Segregation can be harmful even when there is no particular hierarchy of income or ability involved. At the extreme this can sustain deep political divisions and violence with a strongly negative-sum effect.

Also, Schelling-type separation forces are not the only ones in play. Religious and political leaders often benefit from segregation and act as "men of system" to promote it, using others as ends as much as any revolutionary. Parents too use their children as ends, conforming to their communities' norms - the children do not choose these.

I grew up in such a society, where the division was the dominant factor in social and political life. By any reasonable measure of freedom and well-being, there would have been a huge net benefit to children in an external government removing the power to continue schools-level segregation from community leaders and adopting integrated schools, prohibiting private / home schooling if necessary. The losers would have been those community leaders who owed their positions to standing up for "their side" of the division.

How much of the funding is required because of the bad kids?

If the argument was "involved" parents and involvement rather than "rich" parents and money, it would be more believable.


Right. I quote from Alex's earlier post on Jonathan Kozol's NYT interview:

"Interviewer: Do you not approve of private schools?

Jonathan Kozol : They starve the public school system of the presence of well-educated, politically effective parents to fight for equity for all kids."

That argument almost makes some sense, except that parents can't actually do that. Parents don't levy taxes. I doubt they can even affect the schoolboard or even the school much- especially if they are not even powerful enough to make their own escape.

Actually, I think people voting in local elections and stuff does have consequences.

In general, if those who got lucky enough to get meaningful amount of money pull apart from the rest of society and say "look, we got our own little club going (gated communities, private guards, private schools, private hospitals etc) and we're providing for all the services we need ourselves" then how do you justify taxing them? At all?

Why should countries even exist then?

You are saying that parents can overpower not only the general electorate but the other parents. I don't think the math works out.

It's virtually impossible to overcome the focused interest of unions in school board elections.

Seems like a hypothesis to me.

They also don't want "equity for all kids"

Yes indeed. That's a very different argument, isn't it?

"if those who got lucky enough to get meaningful amount of money pull apart from the rest of society "

Want to break this down a little? If it is really "luck" then how much does it matter if these people go Galt? If it is not "luck" then how much is society due their abilities?

Same with housing. If the gov't would just take the simple, reasonable step of requiring everyone to live in public housing projects, the new influx of well-educated, politically connected residents would *force* the government to increase funding to those projects, thus increasing everyone's standard of living. It's a win-win!

Kind of a silly reducto ad absurdum, but I do wonder why people want to do social engineering with children at the tip of the spear.

Is it? I really don't understand why the education system works the way that it does. The government provides housing, food, medical care, etc., only to those who cannot afford it on their own. You only go into gov't housing if it's a last resort. Yet it provides education to everyone, so you have rich people using public schools. And everyone seems to accept this as totally natural. I've never been able to understand this.

And this doesn't even go into why the government RUNS the schools, which is even more baffling. The government doesn't run grocery stores, it hands out food stamps. It does run some housing projects, but it's my impression that Section 8 is now the preferred, and more common, method for providing housing to the poor. So why does it run schools, rather than providing "school stamps" that the parents can use at the school of their choice? I just do not see the distinction.

I would never say this in public because people would think I'm nuts.

It's only silly rhetorically because you are so right about it. Noone is actually going to argue with you. They are either going to go full socialist or point out that those comparisons are fundamentally different. Alex makes that same argument when he points out (implicitly) that noone (except international communists I guess) would argue that people should be kept in East Berlin for the benefit of the East Berliners not willing to leave.

Why does the education system work that way? That's a good question. It might have something to do with scalability. Adding the marginal (no pun intended) student to a school is costless. It's basically the same reason rich people don't refuse their Social Security checks.

" reducto ad absurdum" not by much.
Ever hear of section 8. Purpose is to seed the poor around regular folks so they can rub off on the poor.

+1 to Urso's posts. Why do we not charge those with median income and higher directly for each child that they send to government schools? Those with below median income can pay based on income.
You certainly cannot subsidize everyone and you cannot subsidize those with above median income with money taxed from those subsidize those with above median incomes.

When you start charging people, they will start demanding actual service. We can't actually have that.

When you put people from different backgrounds together without an overarching goal or outside threat to pressure them to cooperate, you get more social stratification and separation, not less. Tribalism is king, and unless people are forced to make a bigger tribe, they will subdivide in order to better compete. "Busing" only reinforces to poor kids that rich kids are snobs and assholes, and to rich kids that poor kids are crime-and-drug-ridden underclass. The idea that you slap disparate groups together, love steers the stars, and everyone is educated about other cultures, leading to greater appreciation, is bullshit. Familiarity breeds contempt, the old saying goes. But really it is proximity that breeds both competition and familiarity. And competition also breeds contempt, anger, and the denigration of competitive groups.

That's a great point, but this and other similar work suggests that tracking students isn't as bad as many ed folks believe.

But the second idea was that rich parents, if forced to send their kids, who might be dumb as rocks, it doesn’t matter, to some given public school, they would fight for this school to be properly funded.

Given that the problem with should might be the result of something other than lack of funding, and that the barriers to funding might be the result of more than just the lack of rich parents lobbying, I think it is a grotesquely unethical policy to advocate.

You're talking about involuntarily throwing peoples *children* into known bad schools on theory that *maybe* *somehow* through some tenuous string of connections their presence there might result in political pressure and that political pressure might improve the schools, even though the likely result is a quantifiable negative impact on those children's education.

Why don't you just advoating taking a few children of rich parents hostage, strap bombs to their chests and threaten to blow them up unless their parents donate money to the poor school districts? it will probably take less time and do less long term damage to the children.

er. the problem with the SCHOOLS might be the result of something other than lack of funding.

I'll repeat what was said above. I find this argument distasteful.

Do you know why there are gated communities? It is because not too long ago that was the only way you could be reasonably assured that you wouldn't be victim of some crime. You say that it is because the rich wouldn't fund the police, and I ask for proof. The police, the academy, the government, the media had some notion that preventing crime was beyond them, they believed some Marxist stupidity that crime was a result of poverty. When this leftist consensus was rejected thoroughly then many of these cesspits became habitable once again.

So I suggest the you, really meaning you and your family move into an inner city, put your kids into one of the dysfunctional schools, live in the neighborhood. I'm certain you would be a good influence. Maybe you can argue with the city council. Argue with the police authorities. Argue with the school authorities. Get into public fights with the people who base their power on the dysfunction, who like being big fish in a very small pond. Who on the side benefit from the criminal activity. While you are doing this watch your children grow older and lose a future because of poor education or not being able to, I dunno, play outside.

This is distasteful and disgusting to suggest that people should be forced to do such a thing. About as disgusting as the people whose policies and actions doom the future of the children living in these conditions because they benefit from them.

It is the effect on teachers and what is taught that harms average students when all the high ability student are removed from a class or school. That is teachers dumb down the subject matter and lower expectations and unless the freshman were ability grouped in their classes this effect would not be in the results of the study

Isn't it kind of insane to talk about ability grouping in education like it is optional? Now that I mention it, doesn't every discussion around education issues usually sound pretty insane?

Now, if you want to do a Montessori-style older kids teach younger kids scenario, that would be a valid strategy against ability grouping, but that's now what anyone ever talks about.

Wasn't that the model of the one room school house?

I don't doubt the existence of peer effects. I just doubt the ability of planners to engineer them.

Ability grouping works well in physical activities where poor performers actually hurt the performance of high ability people. I think the difference relies crucially on how strongly success for the best is linked to average or median performance. Our "grade" structure of classrooms does a better sorting than the one room school house. Leaving student back or advancing them enhances sorting but has psychological and social consequences.

I'm beginning to be skeptical of peer effects. I wonder whether they are going to turn out like "priming."

Which is to say, there might or might not be some truth behind it, but there's a tremendous amount of wishful thinking on the part of researchers and that colors the results.

As a high ability student who was stuck in a pure social-promotion school, I can assure you that the teachers are already running things at the pace of the lowest ability student present. Removing the high ability students will not change the level of material presented in the least.

I think there are 4 classes of students: Smart and motivated, Smart and unmotivated, Dumb and motivated, Dumb and unmotivated. 3 of those 4 groups Can probably benefit from peer mixing, but that's just a wild guess on my part and it feels right. I think it's all about attitude and not about actual intelligence.

I think this is correct. I would only modify it by separating students who are high achievers between the native intellects and the hard workers. No reason to limit this to two dimensions.

AndrewL, it may be something similar to what you're saying, but it's cultural rather than "motivation". Motivation isn't an inherent trait. If given any sort of option, people will not compete in an individual system they have no chance of winning. Intelligence can play a role here. Put a group of standard deviation down IQs in with a group of standard deviation up IQs, and the lower group knows they cannot "beat" the higher group at academics. No amount of studying is going to bring them competitive advantage. When faced with the option of trying and failing, or not trying, people generally do not try. They opt out, and create a subculture focused on rejecting the values of the system they cannot beat. You see this in high school with nerds rejecting jock values, stoners rejecting nerd values, etc. It's ego protection, if people feel they can't win, or can't contribute to a team effort, they will defend their self-importance by changing their values. The only way to short circuit this process is by an absolutely brutal commitment to forcing every single person to pass a stringent standard. This works for the military, but it's not going to work for public schools, the public won't stand for the level of control and punishment required.

Motivation is almost certainly at least partly inherent

One reason why it's probably good to continue art and shop classes. So the lower-IQ students can continue to reject jock values and nerd values, and instead focus on learning to work with their hands, instead of turning into total stoner-loser-droppouts.

Interesting study, but with hindsight maybe they could have realized that they did something a bit stupid. Their sorting procedure created either (a) squadrons consisting of high + low ability students or (b) squadrons consisting solely of middle-ability students.

Now if you're in squadron type (a), what do you _think_ might happen? Yes, it did. The highs and lows couldn't communicate effectively and didn't mix. There's also what Tarrou suggested above: In squadron type (a), the lows felt outclassed and gave up; In squadron type (b), the middles got motivated (maybe they though hey these guys aren't so smart, I can beat them) and their results improved.

The interesting comparison to me would be the relative performance of low ability students in (i) a random squadron versus (ii) a squadron consisting solely of low-ability students.

Similarly, do high ability cohorts perform better in a random mixed group or a segregated high performing group.

Well, if my hypothesis is correct, then high ability cohorts should produce even higher achievement on average and at the top, but the lowest of the "high ability" group should see a drop in performance as they suddenly go from competitive to not.

The same pattern should hold for a low-ability group, the smartest in that group would increase their effort to take advantage of their sudden rise to the top of the cognitive heap. The lowest will "opt out" and thair personal performance gets even worse.

But broadly speaking, anything that homogenizes a group should increase group performance. Whether that be by mental ability, social norms, entertainment, race or social class, people relate best to people like them, and are more willing to make sacrifices for the group if they think that people similar to them will reap the benefits. This provides a reason for cultural cognition and the social miming effects.

If public schools were funded equally (pro-rated for number of students, say or even local cost of living index) I doubt people would object to kids leaving one school for another or segregating themselves into peer-groups based on IQ etc.

The crux of the problem seems the local tax mode of funding public schools.

This is a red herring. Virtually all the states have adopted policies that add back money to school districts with lower local tax values. In New Jersey, where I live now, Newark's per-student spending is as much as 50percent greater than spending in self-funded suburban districts.

I did not know that. Interesting.

Do you have a citation? It'd be interesting to compare per-student spending across locales in the nation. If what @Mcd says is true I'll have to be extremely skeptical of complaints by inner city school teachers that they are underfunded.

Well they get a boost, but not to parity.

Parity of what? Pay, funds per student, total inputs?

Teachers in low income school districts get their Perkins loans forgiven. That is equivalent to a salary increase.

School lunches are a subsidy for parents. Many students in biasing cities get free or cheap public transit. The list of subsidies is nearly endless.

Head start is a government funded day care program.

Take a look at

The relevant numbers are DC public schools at $18,667 per student and suburban Montgomery County at $15,582 per student. Or Fairfax County at $12,554 per student. Or Prince George's County at $14,020. There are also a number of smaller DC-area suburban districts that have per-student spending in the $18k/year range cited there, but none spend more than DC

At the same time, the schools in Montgomery County or Fairfax County are _far_ better than those in DC. The article does point out that part of the issue is that dealing with unprepared kids (more the case in DC than Montgomery) is more expensive, of course.

And it's not like DC is special. has a nice table for Massachusetts that shows a good bit of variance but has Boston at a fairly reasonable spot on the list. Pretty comparable to rich Brookline, say, or Lexington, or Newton, and higher than Wellesley. Of course then there's things like Cambridge, which has 1.5x the per-pupil spending of all of those, largely due to low class size caps.

All of which says that just raw per-pupil spending is not everything. _How_ you spend it is very important.

Thanks. Personally, I blame the Unions. Tenure is insidious.

not gonna happen- much of the benefit of the involved parents IS NOT taxes- it is other forms of support. Equal funding that attempts to equalize other forms of funding will lead to flight from public schools. Parent volunteers, form booster clubs etc. If you "tax" the booster club etc and try to offset volunteer activities by motivated parents at highly functional schools, you will get less input overall from the motivated parents (who see the gov't removing the net benefit of their work). Heck, just getting parents to monitor the kids homework is a middle class value. This is the exact problem with gov't social engineering. Just as "mixing" kids doesn't work- try to micro engineer middle class values won;t either- the great evil is treating people like bags of cement to be shifted around by liberals for their pet causes.

Two things to always remember:

1: Pecking order. Call it status, call it whatever you like, people always angle for social advantage. If you can't be the smartest kid in school, you might be able to be the funniest, or the coolest, or the scariest, or the one with a good pot connection.

2: Tribalism. People separate into groups of people like them in order to better compete, and to shrink the pecking order down to a manageable size. You may not be the smartest kid in school, but if you can also play a little ball, you can be the smartest kid on the basketball team.

But there is evidence for positive peer effects in more relevant contexts (e.g., schools for school-age children), right? I thought that that was one of the findings of the paper discussed here (, namely that vouchers worked for certain students because they promoted intermixing between high and low SES children.

No, no, that is something completely different.

Really, pay no attention to it.

And stop quoting older posts - it isn't as the site's co-authors can actually keep track of whatever narrative it is they are currently emphasizing.

It's my observation that the co-authors fairly present alternative viewpoints as a rule. That's why I read this blog instead of others. I get convenient links to opposing views. The opponents are not as gracious, and that in and of itself is remarkable.

In my experience (which in the case of GMU and its various oh so carefully affiliated centers, going back to the earlier 80s), this site's co-authors are careful to stay within certain bounds. Of course, that is their right, but anyone unaware of the contours probably hasn't worked along with or for any DC policy institutions attempting to influence public debate.

For example, I'm sure that the Mercatus Center project to correct its numerous policy and research papers based on inaccurate data concerning debt and growth is going along swimmingly.

This tension happens a lot in law.

In litigation, each side is a strident opponent of the other, advancing arguments that they know are weak, flawed, or outright lies. But in academic debates when there is no outcome at stake, each side can be more collegial.

So while this or that institute might stridently push its agenda without compromise in opposition to equally enthusiastic opponents, individual members of both groups can see and understand the weaknesses and strengths in each other's positions. Part of the problem is that political decisions are often winner-take-all, and one extreme outcome (however imperfect) is preferable to the other extreme.

The hope of the moderate is that their preferred extreme position will be eroded over time by the voice of reason and the sense of experience. So I'm forgiving of those who take extreme positions but really don't believe everything they say. I can tell the difference. I think you can too.

There is a difference between low SES and low ability. Per the discussion above, I'd gladly take the black kids that were friendly over the ones who wanted to fight. This is not an issue.

Maybe part of the effect is getting the 'good' low SES kids away from the 'bad' low SES kids (in the paper, blacks). Maybe the point is the exact opposite of what it seems on the surface..

You don't see the difference between voluntary, student driven, transfers as in a voucher system and coerced, district driven transfers as in a busing system?

'You don’t see the difference between voluntary, student driven, transfers as in a voucher system and coerced, district driven transfers as in a busing system?'

I went to a high school named after a former Fairfax school superintendent, who also had a busing program -

'Fairfax County refused to let black students attend and bused them out of the county to Manassas. Despite the 1954 Supreme court ruling to end racial segregation Fairfax County Schools did not allow any black students into designated white schools until 1960.'

Strangely, that busing program had broad support at the time, as this quote should help illustrate -

'W.T. Woodson High School was named for one of the superintendents of Fairfax County Public Schools, Wilbert Tucker Woodson. Woodson served in his position from 1929 to 1961, according to the Fairfax County Public Schools website. The school had to break a rule set by the school board at the time, which prohibited naming a school after an individual who was still alive. The board willingly made the exception in the case of the county’s much-loved and long-standing leader.'

I guess my experience of what coerced busing means in the place I was born is a bit different than what you mean. Wilbert Tucker Woodson's busing program kept everyone in their supposedly proper place, which is probably why he was 'much-loved.' But I will admit, I bet Woodson would have opposed vouchers as vehemently as he opposed anyone or anything that forced him to teach his black students in the same schools as his white ones.

How are vouchers meant to promote mixing between high and low SES children?

I suspect the argument is that private schools price low SES students out of attendance and vouchers make up the difference.

The priciest private schools will always be priced high enough to keep out anyone but the upper-upper-upper class. The goal is only have their kids mix with other upper-upper-upper class kids, and you'll never stop them.

But there's a lot of normal upper-middle class and upper class folks who just want their kids to attend a good school that can kick out anyone who tries to start a fight, and won't mind other kids being brought in. They aren't made of money and they do care about the cost.

I believe the best reason to force people to send their kids to "diverse" schools is it will end their support for open borders.

That's another reason for Alex to oppose it then. He needs those cheap Guatemalan gardeners.

And your life runs entirely on American-born labor? Did you check the ethnicity of whoever unloaded the pallets at your grocery store?

Some comments aren't even respondable. I attended public school, and numerous mixed race altercations, and yet have almost zero racial feelings on anything. I'm not a total d.a. on race like progressives, but I'd say I ended up race neutral either because of or more likely despite a relatively diverse education environment.

It does not. In our district, the school board adopted a policy for forced transfer of white students to those schools that are deemed 'too vibrant': (this draft was later adopted after a contentious process, the adopted policy is not online).

Impossible to edit. Read "forced transfer of white **and Asian** students"

aside from our usual "I'm only human" zero-sum games, denying other authority while asserting our own, and orders for others... comparatively by reason, this discussion is unusually... rational ...compared to what i encounter in my daily surfs and inbox.

relational hypothesis: government ~ education : controlling ~ learning.

perhaps the major premise behind this hypothesis; behind the term definitions; before morals... is "human nature".

meanwhile, what is going on here [WIGO]? Perhaps we individuals gifted of sentience, choice [free will], reason, many blends of skills, and endless opportunities as we breathe... often take the wider path of 'my story', instead of the narrow path of "what is truth"? Or even the simple 'maintenance' vs 'task' question: "what comes first"?

For, upon what comes first... all else depends. Surely, 'we' 'need a study' to assert this is ...or isn't... whatever we've already sincerely felt about ...whatever. ;-{)}

...a relational quote: "professing to be wise, they became fools...."

...uni-versal application: if i would teach...become a student follower of the Perfect Teacher. Shall i convince you that I am 'not him'? Or tell you which who she is? ;-{)}

Am I the only one bothered that they used an Air Force class as a means to show that you shouldn't use people as a means?

Alex, do you think forced integrative bussing was distasteful, too? Was it just like the Berlin wall? Did the man of system doom the efforts to fail?

I should have read Smith more closely.

Now you tell us.

All you gotta do is program some shock collars with GPS units to keep people from re-segregating themselves outside your ingenious design. Problem solved.

They talk about this study in the new book "top dog" that I recommend. Some of this may be gendered since boys tend to withdraw in competitive situations if they think they can't win. Apparently this does not happen to girls.

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