Posts by Kevin Carey
December 12, 2008, 01:03 AM ET
A few years ago, while on vacation in Italy, my wife and I toured a winery in Tuscany and ended up spending an hour or so chatting with the in-house sommelier, a woman in her early 30s. After pouring a really terrific Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, she offhandedly mentioned that she had earned a law degree from a public university but had never practiced, deciding to pursue a career in wine instead. Tuition had been free, so it wasn’t an economically hard choice to make. Part of me thought this was great — she had a job she loved and wasn’t yoked by student loans. But another part started worrying about subsidy-induced overconsumption and the fact that some other student had been denied the chance for an expensive education that she had essentially wasted. Then I had another glass of wine and stopped worrying about it, because Tuscany is, in fact, just as nice as they say.
December 11, 2008, 03:37 AM ET
One of the benefits of spending a whole week doing nothing but learn about a single foreign education system is that it forces you to consider the totality of things in a way that’s actually very difficult in one’s home environment. For example, I spend very little energy wondering how America’s schools could be improved if we implemented a financing system whereby the federal government provides 80 percent of school resources, rather than the 10 percent it actually provides, because the odds of such a policy coming to exist in my lifetime are very low. That’s just not how we roll in the United States. But of course the basic finance structure does matter, a lot, and — crucially — affects how much other things matter. Every piece of the system is contingent on other pieces and the overall design.
This also underscores the absurdity of education-policy arguments that go something...Read More
December 9, 2008, 11:36 PM ET
Nordic countries are famous for their egalitarian attitudes and social policies, and so far the Finns have said nothing to contradict this. In the U.S., there’s significant variance in funding between school districts. (Contrary to popular wisdom, this is partially but not primarily a function of differences in local property wealth — state funding passed local funding as the single largest source of K-12 school revenue in the 1970s and roughly two-thirds of inter-district funding variance nationwide is a function of wealth differences between states, not differences within states. The richest states have roughly twice the taxable wealth per student compared to the poorest, and this matches interstate spending differences almost exactly.) In Finland, we are told, funding is centralized and equitable; this morning the principal of a school we were visiting claimed that “It doesn’t...Read More
December 5, 2008, 05:05 PM ET
I’m leaving tomorrow for a week-long junket fact-finding mission to Finland along with some other think-tank people and journalists who will be learning why the Finns are beating the world on PISA and other measures of education success. We’ll be in Helsinki, so if you have any suggestions about places to go and people to see — education-related or otherwise — send me an email, kcarey at educationsector.org. And if you actually live in Helsinki, we’re staying in the Sokos Hotel Vaakuna Helsinki — drinks are on me.
One of the nice things about vacationing in visiting Finland in an official capacity is that you get invited to the Finnish embassy here in D.C. for a pre-trip orientation/dinner/sauna bath. The embassy is just as you’d expect, all blond wood, glass, steel, and elegant Nordic design. The dinner included meatballs and I know just enough about Finnish history not to ask if...Read More
December 4, 2008, 10:52 AM ET
I’ll be on Rachel Maddow’s Air America radio show today at 1:15 6:00 PM, talking about why college keeps getting more expensive. Rest assured, state legislatures will get their share of blame. But I’ll also be pointing the finger at people like SUNY-Buffalo president John Simpson, who apparently sees the current economic crisis as the perfect opportunity to raise student tuition in order to fund a grand agenda of local economic development and institutional status-promotion. “It’s easier to push a conversation about this kind of substantive change today than it was a year or two ago, because the world wasn’t in such crisis,” Simpson said earlier this week. Call it the “shock doctrine” theory of making college less affordable. Some might say that SUNY would still be relatively cheap even if Simpson’s plan to raise tuition by 63 percent over the next decade were implemented. But that...Read More
December 2, 2008, 04:27 PM ET
Education Sector, the think tank where I work, sponsored a panel discussion in Washington this morning. The subject was “Is Technology the Answer to Rising College Costs?” You can listen to the audio here. The discussion centered on a recent article that I wrote for Washington Monthly on the same subject. Briefly, the argument goes like this: College is becoming increasingly expensive, which makes many people unhappy. This problem could be partially (although not fully) addressed if higher education did what many industries have already done: increase efficiency by using technology to make labor more productive. We know this is possible because many colleges and universities have already done it. But the cost savings aren’t being passed on to students in terms of lower prices — partly because public officials are cutting funding for higher ed, but also because universities operate in a ...Read More
November 26, 2008, 03:59 PM ET
Malcom Gladwell’s new book, Outliers, was released last week. I read it over the weekend, on the theory that I had roughly 60 days — 90 at the outside — before I’d heard it referenced at so many conferences that mere mention of the central anecdotes would cause me to reach for a hotel pen and stab myself in the eye as a distraction from the pain. I believe the medical term for this is “Thomas Friedman Syndrome.”
Outliers is a good book in many ways, and says a lot about education. It’s a critique of the standard narrative of extraordinary success, those inspiring tales of hard work and gumption that are often used to explain the achievements of sports stars and CEOs. The Bill Gateses of the world, in other words — and the Malcolm Gladwells. These stories are badly incomplete, Gladwell says, because they ignore context. Success is not just a matter of who people are, but where they come...Read More
November 26, 2008, 03:08 PM ET
Hi. My name is Kevin Carey, and this my first post to Brainstorm. It’s a privilege to be blogging for the Chronicle and I’m looking forward to becoming virtually acquainted with my fellow contributors. Brief bio: I work at a Washington, DC-based think tank called Education Sector. We’ve been around for a little over three years, working on a range of issues from pre-K through higher education. I manage the policy team and also handle the bulk of our postsecondary work, which is how I ended up here today. I have a B.A. in political science from Binghamton University and master’s of public administration from Ohio State. I spent the first six years of my career working in the Indiana statehouse, advising the Democratic caucus of the state Senate on fiscal issues, and then as the assistant state budget director for education. My wife and I moved to DC in 2001 and I’ve been working for...Read More