The report reveals some pretty depressing information. For instance, while both 9 and 13 year-olds made modest gains in math and reading, high school students have been stuck in neutral since the 1970′s (which is when the first assessments were made):
These results eerily mirror America’s college graduation and retention rates, which have also both been stagnant for two decades.
All of this ties back to America’s falling rate of educational attainment, which for young people has slipped to tenth in the world. America’s overall ranking in terms of education has been inflated for some time by the success of previous generations, but in recent decades we’ve been in a holding pattern, while other countries have surged ahead. As Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out, “we’re lifting the basic skills of young kids,” but “not lifting 21st-century skills for the new economy.”
One good step towards fixing all of this could be the Fast Track to College Act, which was introduced last month by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI). The bill is aimed at streamlining the transition between high school and college, encouraging partnerships between high schools and college, and “exposing [students] to the rigors of college-level work” at an earlier age. The government should also make investments at all levelsof the education system to encourage human capital growth and ensure that stagnation doesn’t turn into outright decline.
To a much greater extent than other language, the United States suffers from confusing spelling. A point that’s well-illustrated by this video:
And all this is to say nothing of the fact that the same word is often spelled differently (“colour” vs “color”) depending on which country you’re in. This all makes it more difficult for immigrants to English-speaking countries to become literate and, in general, it’s an extra disadvantage for children whose family background puts them at a relative disadvantage. And as English has increasingly become the international language, it’s particularly problematic for the world to be operating with one of the languages in which it’s hardest to communicate.
Obviously, you wouldn’t want to organize some kind of totalitarian effort to force everyone to adopt a new, more logical spelling system. But spelling conventions have changed over the years, and other languages are easier to spell in part because there’s more deliberate effort by leading institutions to play a custodial role and implement periodic reforms. Something similar for English could be very useful.
Joanne Voorhees, the chairwoman of the Kent County Republican party in Michigan, has “abruptly canceled” an upcoming fundraiser with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R). Voorhees “said that hosting the moderate Utah governor would mean abandoning the party’s conservative principles.” The cancellation comes as Republicans are pushing for a more narrow party focused on hard-right principles. In a new interview with ABC News, Huntsman sharply criticizes the national GOP leadership, giving them an “incomplete” grade on their first 100 days as an opposition party to President Obama. “Instead of just kind of grousing and complaining, it would do us all a whole lot of good if we actually started engaging directly in finding compromises and common ground and shared solutions,” said Hunstman.
– Paying for health outcomes: Currently, the system pays hospitals and providers for reporting data on quality, the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) is proposing to pay for actual improved outcomes. That means paying hospitals that meet certain quality performance standards and lowering preventable hospital readmission by reducing payments to hospitals with high preventable readmission rations.
– Encouraging care coordination through payment reform: SFC is proposing developing payment innovations that encourage independent health care providers to work cooperatively for the benefit of the patient. They would bundle hospital stays with post-acute care services, allow groups of providers who voluntarily meet quality thresholds to share in the cost-savings they achieve for the Medicare program, and pay for a health care professional to help patients transition out of the hospital.
– Expanding electronic health records: Electronic health records lower medical errors, improve care quality and reduce health care spending, but many providers are reluctant to invest in a system with limited national standardization and slow financial return. Nationally, less than 25 percent of hospitals, and less than 20 percent of doctor’s offices, employ health information technology systems (HIT). The stimulus provided $19 billion to encourage providers to implement electronic health records and SFC is looking to expedite health care’s push into the 21st century by “exploring the possibility of expanding eligibility” for electronic health records by offering incentive payments not just to doctors but also to nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other providers.
– Improving comparative effectiveness research: The stimulus bill already includes $1.1 billion for research that compares the effectiveness of different treatments and procedures. SFC would establish “a private, non-profit corporation that would generate and synthesize evidence on what works in health care.” The institute would remain independent and diverse “so that no stakeholder interest dominates” and would “establish a national agenda for research priorities.” To ensure patient safety, Medicare “could be allowed to use the findings only in circumstances where the process by which it uses the information is transparent, relies on all available evidence, considers the potential effects on subpopulations of beneficiaries, and allows for public comment on any draft proposals that use the information.”
– Dealing with the shortage of primary care providers: Some studies have shown that “the trajectory of the supply of primary care physicians for adult patients is now falling behind the growth of the adult population” and HHS estimates that “by 2020 there will be a shortage of 66,000 primary care doctors nationwide.” Lower primary care salaries discourage medical students from practicing primary care and residency slots for primacy are physicians have decreased in recent years. SFC is proposing redistributing unused residency slots to encourage training in primary care and general surgery and establishing bonuses payments “for general surgeons practicing in newly defined rural general surgeon scarcity areas.” Primary care providers could also receive 10 percent bonus payments.
– Linking Medicare Advantage payments to quality: Currently, the federal government subsidizes private insurers to provide Medicare beneficiaries with some extra benefits and care in rural areas. But numerous studies have demonstrated that rather than using the extra federal dollars to provide better quality care (and coordinated care), insurers are pocketing the extra dough. SFC is promising to tie “some portion of payment” “to performance and quality measures,” modify payment to encourage plans to provide care more efficiently and play plans a bonus for chronic care management.
Individually these reforms seem small. For instance, the document places some restraints on the use of data obtains from comparative effectiveness research (for instance, considering effects on ‘subpopulations’ may very well prevent CMS from making serious reimbursement decisions) and does not call for the elimination of Medicare Advantage overpayments. But collectively, these reforms start the slow process of re-orienting the system from one that encourages providers to over-prescribe treatments, to one that rewards quality care and outcomes.
100 Days of Change? Evaluating Obama’s First 100 Days:
Thursday, April 30, 2009 6:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M. Center for American Progress, 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC 20009. Join us as we examine the first 100 days of the new administration. The panel will feature Matthew Yglesias, Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Amanda Carpenter, Reporter and Blogger for The Washington Times, Biko Baker, Executive Director of the League of Young Voters, and Khalil Thompson, Southern Regional Deputy Political Director for the Obama Campaign. Refreshments will be served. Click here to RSVP for the Panel Discussion.
My in-person insights are twice as good as the ones I blog.
I highly recommend this Barry Eichengreen article on the failures of the economics profession in the pre-crisis years. I think it’s an excellent explication of what went wrong intellectually and an okay rough sketch of why it went wrong. His solution is a turn to a more empirically driven research program:
The late twentieth century was the heyday of deductive economics. Talented and facile theorists set the intellectual agenda. Their very facility enabled them to build models with virtually any implication, which meant that policy makers could pick and choose at their convenience. Theory turned out to be too malleable, in other words, to provide reliable guidance for policy.
In contrast, the twenty-first century will be the age of inductive economics, when empiricists hold sway and advice is grounded in concrete observation of markets and their inhabitants. Work in economics, including the abstract model building in which theorists engage, will be guided more powerfully by this real-world observation. It is about time.
I think that looked at realistically, three different strands—political, economic, and intellectual—are inextricably tied together in a mutually reenforcing way. It’s naive to think you just change what economics departments do and you get different policy outcomes. But it’s also wrong to see the intellectual trends as irrelevant.
The House is scheduled to vote today on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill, also called the Matthew Shepard Act, would “permit greater federal involvement in investigating hate crimes and expand the federal definition of such crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.” Yesterday, President Obama urged Congress “to act on this important civil rights issue,” and pass the bill. Indeed, in 2007, the most recent year for which statics are available, there were 7,621 single-bias hate crimes that involved 8,999 offenses, more than 50 percent of which were racially-motivated.
The right wing, unsurprisingly, is up in arms over extending protection to victims of anti-gay crimes. Led by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), House Republicans took to the floor last night to warn that the bill would impose “tyranny,” create a “Big Brother” government, and end religious freedom:
REP MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): I feel that this hate crime legislation could be considered the very definition of tyranny.
REP. GRESHMAN BARRET (R-SC): This bill would inhibit religious freedom in our society — a scary thought.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): You think a pregnant mother does not deserve the protection of a homosexual? You think a military member doesn’t deserve the protection of a transvestite?
REP. STEVE KING (R-IA): I, Mr. Speaker, oppose and I defy the logic of the people that would advocate for such legislation the very idea we could divine what goes on in the heads of people when they commit crimes.
Apparently unbeknownst to House Republicans, a federal hate crimes law already exists: Passed in 1968, it allowed federal investigation and prosecution of hate crimes based on race, religion, and national origin. The new law would simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected groups, and allow local governments to get needed resources from the federal government for investigations and prosecutions. The need for such parity was made starkly clear more than a decade ago, in 1998, during the investigations of two different murders:
The Laramie, Wyoming Sheriff’s Office had to furlough five deputies in order to cover the more than $150,000 that it cost to investigate Matthew Shepard’s murder. Yet when Jasper, Texas investigated the lynching of James Byrd, Jr., it received $284,000 in federal funds because Byrd’s murder was motivated by race, rather than sexual orientation.
Since then, members of Congress have sought to pass an expanded hate crimes law. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed bothhouses in 2007, but was stripped from a larger bill after President Bush vowed to veto it.
More than thirty states already have hate crime legislation that includes anti-gay crimes — and in none of those states has notorious gay hater Fred Phelps been arrested for his speech. It’s clear what the GOP is really concerned about is any perceived infringement on their right to discriminate against gay people.
,Statement from CAPAF Senior Vice President Winnie Stachelberg: “The Center for American Progress Action Fund applauds today’s passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 by a vote of 249-175 in the House of Representatives. From Matthew Shepard in 1998 to Angie Zapata in 2008, too many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans have been killed by hate-motivated violence. I am optimistic that the Senate will swiftly pass the companion Matthew Shepard Act, delivering this essential legislation to President Obama’s desk.”
Olympia Snowe’s op-ed on how the increasingly narrow and dogmatic conservatism of the Republican Party drove Arlen Specter from the fold is worth a read. But I think it’s noteworthy that she seems more interested in a rote recitation of the plight of socially moderate northeastern Republicans than she is in actually looking at the particulars of Specter’s situation. It’s true that Specter was nominally pro-choice. But for the past 15 years, he’s assembled a voting record that’s pretty orthodox. He led the charge on behalf of Clarence Thomas, he worked mightily for all of Bush’s judicial appointments, and he still says he’s eager to filibuster Dawn Johnson.
Indeed, what’s notable about the Toomey-Specter grudge match is that it’s not primarily about cultural issues, it’s primarily about Specter’s alleged deviations on economic policy.
More broadly in the intellectual arena, the orthodox conservative position has started to include controversial—and, frankly, false—claims about which things are problems. To be a conservative in good standing, for example, you’re supposed to join with Alan Reynolds in denying that inequality is increasing. You’re supposed to join with George Will and David Boaz in denying that climate change is happening. Basically, if you say that there are any problems in the United States other than high taxes, you’re out of the tent. That, much more so than the continued prominence of conservative social issues, constitutes a radical narrowing of the definition of “conservatism” from where it was 25-30 years ago.
President Obama spent part of the 100th day of his presidency today in Arnold, Missouri where he hosted a town hall meeting with local residents. During the town hall, Obama recognized criticism he’s been receiving from the far right. “I know you have been hearing all these arguments about, ‘Oh, Obama’s just spending crazy, look at these huge trillion dollar deficits, blah, blah, blah.’”
Obama then noted that the real fiscal problem facing the United States is the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid, not the Recovery Act or bank bailouts, which he said are “one-time charges.” “If we aren’t careful, health care will consume so much of our budget that ultimately we won’t be able to do anything else,” he warned.
Obama then mocked the right wing’s tea bagger gatherings for their misplaced anger and, indirectly, Fox News for promoting them:
OBAMA: So, you know, when you see, you know, those of you who are watching certain news channels, on which I’m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term how we’re going to stabilize social security. [...] [L]et’s not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act because that’s just a fraction of the overall problem that we’ve got.
“That’s why I have said we’ve got to have health reform this year to drive down costs and make health care affordable for American families, businesses, and for our government,” Obama said. Referring to the tea baggers’ grievances, he later added, “We tried that formula for eight years. It did not work, and I don’t intend to go back to it.”
Fox News’s Mike Huckabee responds via Twitter: “Astounded Pres. Obama still doesn’t know tea parties were led by moms, dads worried about future…that’s serious and no game!”
On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.
Dave Weigel observes that all Democratic politicians are always much more popular among blacks than among whites, so it’s not clear why York would spin this as a unique attribute of Obama’s. But more to the point, what is York talking about here? How does the fact that much of Obama’s support come from African-Americans mean that he’s not “actually” popular?