Archive for the ‘education’ Tag

People know more about American Idol than about America

Since Paula Abdul is not in this picture, most Americans probably have no idea what is going on.

Since Paula Abdul is not in this picture, most Americans probably have no idea what is going on here.

Most Americans—56% to be precise—know that Paula Abdul is a judge on American Idol, but less than half can name the three branches of their government, according to a study administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the University of Connecticut.  It also found that only 27% of us could correctly identify what the First Amendment explicitly proscribes—and these were multiple choice questions (20% chance just by guessing). 

You can take the 33-question quiz for yourself here.  Hopefully all readers of this blog get the 7th question correct.

High school graduates averaged 44% correct; college graduates did only slightly better, 57%—getting one more question right for each year of higher education.  The quiz was given to 2000 Americans this past spring and only 29% received what would be a passing mark on it.  Amazingly, elected officials actually scored lower than the general public.

Politicians … scored five points lower than the Average Joe, a performance that former Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok labeled “abysmal and alarming.”
 
— Seventy-nine (79) percent of elected officeholders did not know that the Bill of Rights expressly forbids the government establishing an official religion for the U.S.
 
— A large number (43 percent) of politicians did not know what the Electoral College does.
 
Only 32 percent of politicians can actually define what the free-enterprise system is – even though many of them may have campaigned for office pledging to defend it.

I’m guessing that most of those politicians were local officials and not national figures, though I could be wrong.  Anyway, why should we expect our officials to know what they’re doing when we don’t?  You get the government you deserve.

Further information on the study is available at http://www.americancivicliteracy.org

Why I’m voting NO on Maryland’s slots referendum

Maryland's flag is one of the best in the Union

Maryland's flag is one of the best in the Union

With Maryland certain to cast its 10 electoral votes for Barack Obama in tomorrow’s presidential election, the most controversial state-wide ballot question is the Constitutional amendment that would legalize slot machines at five locations in the state.  The purpose of the measure is to raise tax revenue for education, but, after a lot of thought, I am going to vote no on the amendment and urge my fellow Marylanders to do likewise.

The problems with gambling are well known: gambling addiction, increased alcoholism and bankruptcy, and the potential for increased crime and family problems.  Treatment and response to these issues could cost $228 million to $628 million annually, absorbing some of the revenue the state would gain through legalizing slots.  Liberals and those interested in social issues should note that these challenges all fall most heavily on the poor, both because they can least afford to gamble and because these taxes are very regressive, they take a much larger percentage of a poor gambler’s income than of a rich one’s—and this is after the General Assembly just increased the regressive sales tax by 20%.  There are good reasons why our state Comptroller, Peter Franchot, opposes the measure.

These are bad for Maryland

Don't believe the hype; these are bad for Maryland

Just as importantly, the many promises of the pro-slots side are unlikely to be fulfilled.  The revenue estimates were made before the current economic downturn and are therefore too high.  Additionally, some of those estimates assume that 100% of the money that Marylanders currently spend on slots in neighboring states will be spent in-state if the measure passes, clearly an unreasonable assumption.  The money won’t be staying here in the Seventh State; the biggest beneficiaries of slots will be wealthy, out of state license holders and horse breeders, not our school children and local business owners.  Many stores and restaurants near the gambling locations will suffer, as just about every dollar stuck in a slot machine is a dollar that would have been spent elsewhere.  And the five locations that slots would be limited to under the current measure are not particularly good spots for such devices; it’s quite possible that this amendment is only allowing slots their foot in the door before a future measure will be needed to fix this one and make slots even more profitable.

Fiscal conservatives may want to note that this measure doesn’t just raise an existing tax, or create a new tax; it creates an entirely new industry—that brings with it all sorts of economic and social problems—just so the state can tax it.  And, since money is the most fungible of all resources, in the future this will probably result in a net increase in state spending, since general revenue dollars that otherwise would have been needed for schools will then be free to be spent elsewhere.  Conservatives like me should also be concerned about subsidizing the horse racing industry.  If I were going to give welfare to an industry, it certainly wouldn’t be one that is non-vital and essentially a form of entertainment.

The Washington Post joins me in urging Marylanders to oppose slots.  You can read their editorial here, and they provide additional information about the issue here. See also what the non-aligned Ballotpedia has to report about the measure.

The revenue raised will likely be much lower than advertised, and less than half the profits would go to education in any event.  Besides, it’s immoral to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor with a regressive tax like this.  The biggest gainers if we amend our Constitution for this will be already rich out of state casino owners who won’t have to worry about the problems we’re creating for ourselves here.  Maryland did well to get rid of slots in 1968; let’s not bring them back in 2008. Vote NO on Question 2.

Obama on education

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has made news by coming out in support of Charter Schools, for which he would double federal funding to $400 million; he points out that many in his party oppose charter schools due to the influence from teachers unions.   Obama also said that, while he is skeptical of school vouchers, “he wouldn’t allow his skepticism to stand in the way of doing something to help them. … You do what works for the kids.”

While teachers unions do much good for both teachers and students, they often oppose experimentation, reform, or any changes to existing education institutions–and they strongly oppse merit-based pay and the removal of underperforming educators, two other ideas that the Illinois Senator has indicated he supports.  Barack Obama has demonstrated courage by openly disagreeing with an influential constituent of the Democratic Party’s base that often acts like the only “reform” they’ll consider is more money.

I think Obama would be more likely to get these sorts of education reforms through, since Republicans will likely (grudgingly) support him and he could drag enough Democrats along to pass reform measures.   I support efforts to see how well charter schools, school vouchers, and market forces can work in improving education, whether public or private.   Obama is correct in his non-dogmatic willingness to try new things until we find out what works.  FDR would be proud.