Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Relationship Blend

Brooks is exactly right, especially the part about fundamentally reforming schools!  But if you're a typical Democrat, that would involve some an uncomfortable confrontation so -- SURPRISE! -- the proposed solution is to spend a lot more money, even if there's little evidence that it will work.  This aspect of my party drives me NUTS! 

These are some of the smartest and best people in politics today. And yet their proposals won’t work. Tuition tax credits and grants have not produced more graduates in the past and they will not do so in the future. Bridget Terry Long of Harvard meticulously studied the Clinton administration’s education tax credits and concluded that they did not increase enrollment. Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia concludes, “Very broad-based programs such as tuition subsidies or across-the-board grants to low-income students are likely to have minimal effects on college completion while imposing large costs.”

It’s easy to see why politicians would want to propose tax credits as a way to bribe middle-class parents into voting for them. But if you actually want to increase the share of college graduates, you have to get into the ecology of relationships.

You have to promote two-parent stable homes so children can develop the self-control they need for school success. You have to fundamentally reform schools.

July 27, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Relationship Blend

In the world of public policy, there are ecologists and engineers. The ecologists believe human beings are formed amid a web of relationships. Behavior is shaped by the weave of expectations and motivations that we pick up from the people around us every day.

The engineers believe all this relationship talk is so much mush. They believe behavior is shaped by incentives. You give people the resources they need and socially productive, rational behavior will usually follow.

Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office. They know how much relationships mattered to their own success. But in government, the major tool they have is a budget appropriation. So suddenly every problem turns into a question of resources.

This transition, unfortunately, leads to a misleading view of human nature and often, policy failure.

A case in point: Over the past three decades there has been a gigantic effort to increase the share of Americans who graduate from college. The federal government has spent roughly $750 billion on financial aid. Yet the percentage of Americans who graduate has barely budged. The number of Americans who drop out of college leaps from year to year...

 Subscribe in a reader