Misusing Facts to Support Political Ends

One problem with debating various solutions to US education problems arises when well-known figures use statistics in political rather than rational ways.  One such essay appeared on the website, Market Watch and was written Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a highly respected economist who has served three Presidents (Reagan and both Bushes) in addition to acting as chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2003-2005.  The article, which can be found at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/money-is-not-the-answer-for-our-bloated-public-education-system-2014-08-29?link=MW_home_latest_news, claims that “Money is not the answer for our bloated public education system.”  Ms. Furchtgott-Roth points to a program in South Carolina, the Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC), as proof that there are more cost-effective ways than public education to help children from low-income homes to improve, as well as lowering crime rates.  But the reasoning she uses to reach her conclusion—that programs like this should receive funding that would otherwise go to public schools—is flawed.

The NOC program rented out some space and began tutoring students from low-achieving schools in Low County, South Carolina.  Not surprisingly, the extra tutoring gave those students in the program an edge, leading to improved test scores. Furchtgott-Roth then determines that instead of spending money on teachers and support staff, we should divert more resources to programs like this.  Her logic is that since a supplemental program is benefitting students, the main program (the schools) should receive less so the supplemental program can get more.  Essentially, it would be the same to claim that since people taking vitamins tend to have better health than those who don’t, everyone should spend less money on healthy food and exercise so they can stock up on vitamins.  It simply doesn’t logically follow.

No one is suggesting that this good program should be eliminated, any more than anyone would argue that the Bayer Corporation (which makes One A Day vitamins) should be shut down.  It’s just that Furchtgott-Roth is using poor reasoning to attack schools that need all the help they can get, including adequate funding.  Just because neighborhood watch groups can help make communities safer in no way should lead to the conclusion that we should spend less on our police departments in order to shift that money to the Guardian Angels so they can buy better binoculars or berets.  Nor should school systems, especially those in poorer areas, be diverting their precious funding to volunteer organizations.  Private citizens who see the value of the NOC should definitely give more, but taxpayer dollars must be spent on the schools themselves.  It’s unfortunate when notable figures use their positions to advocate defunding schools.  Ms. Furchtgott-Roth really needs to take a look at fundamental logic before she makes more suggestions like this.

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