Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Education Reform: back from the grave?

It has been a while since we did a post on education reform.  But Karl Smith Adam Ozimek reported on a recent paper by Jesse Rothstein on teacher firings. Since this was similar to a discussion here on Observational Epidemiology. I thought that I would quote it in full:
But they assume that replacement teachers can be hired without limit, with no increase in compensation, from the same quality distribution from which current teachers are drawn. This is implausible. The elasticity of labor supply to teaching is unlikely to be infinite. Moreover, one would expect reductions in job security to require a compensating differential even to maintain the current level of supply. Thus, if salaries are not adjusted, filling positions vacated by fired teachers would likely require reducing hiring standards and thus, presumably, quality.
And then quote a line from Karl Adam Ozimek:
As a theoretical exercise I wouldn’t draw too strong conclusions from the study, but it does tell an important story that I think is often ignored in the education debate: many reforms increase risks to the teaching profession, and absent some offsetting benefits, this will decrease labor supply.
What I find interesting here is the need to hedge on very simple economics when they have a non-conservative conclusion.  Of course labor is not infinitely elastic.  But we take economists deadly seriously when they discuss things like dead-weight loss in taxation.  In these cases we are often willing to accept the theoretical conclusions of high taxes = lower growth despite inconvenient empirical examples (compare growth under Eisenhower to Kennedy, or Clinton to George W Bush).

That being said, to give credit where credit is due, Karl Adam Ozimek does then go on to talk about the policy implications of these changes.  What comes out is the story of a tough trade-off in policy and the need to cleverly design a system.  That is a possible path to improvement.  Careful rethinking and redesign may work, as might seriously questioning ideas like credentialism.

But these ideas are not a clear path forward with risks or costs.  Thoughtful reform can work and does work.  Cutting resources because you dislike "government workers" is a very strong belief in the absence of public goods.

EDIT: Name error noted in comments is corrected


  1. The blog post that you are referencing was written by Adam Ozimek, not Karl Smith.

  2. Thank you for the correction, Murali