Monday, December 27, 2010

Pasi Sahlberg has an op-ed in the Boston Globe making the following claim:
What could the United States learn from the Finns? First, reconsider those policies that advocate choice and competition as the key drivers of educational improvement. None of the best-performing education systems relies primarily on them. Indeed, the Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation — not choice and competition — can lead to an education system where all children learn well.
The weasel word (or term) in the above is "relies primarily," because it certainly isn't true that none of the best-performing education systems offer school choice. Many of them do.

Consider Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and Belgium, all of which are significantly above the OECD average for the most recent PISA scores in reading, math, and science. Hong Kong is at about the same level as Finland (and ahead in math); the Netherlands and Belgium are somewhat below Finland, but are still among the world's top performers.

These nations all have extensive school choice.

Netherlands: "Almost 70 percent of schools in the Netherlands are administered by private school boards, and all schools are government funded equally." (Source.)

Belgium: All schools in Belgium, including privately-operated schools, are publicly funded. (Source.)

Hong Kong:
Hong Kong’s educational system, although dominated by the Education Bureau, certainly does offer genuine choices. In fact, compared with many western countries, the range of choices is quite broad. Just to recap, there are:

* a surprisingly small number of purely government-funded and operated schools;
* a very large number of schools that are government-funded and supervised, but that are run by private organizations, mostly religious ones;
* an increasing number of what are essentially charter or magnet schools, e.g. the Direct Subsidy Scheme schools; and
* genuinely private schools that receive no government funding.
In addition, consider New Zealand, also one of the world's top performers on all subjects in PISA. Although it has a checkered history, New Zealand has most definitely had school choice, including funding for private schools.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Does the Ruling Against the Health Care Mandate Actually Accomplish?

A federal district judge in Virginia recently issued an order declaring unconstitutional that portion of Obama's health care plan that required individuals to purchase health insurance. This decision is unsurprisingly controversial, and has already been the subject of much commentary.

What I don't see anyone mentioning is the fact that the judge's ruling applies only to the specific plaintiff -- the Commonwealth of Virginia -- not to anyone else nationwide. Indeed, it's not clear to me that the judge's ruling would apply to any of the private citizens of Virginia.

Why do I say this?

First, the district court did not issue an injunction here that would purport to prevent the federal government from enforcing the statute elsewhere.

Second, it seems very questionable to me whether the district court would have had the power to issue such an injunction in the first place. As the Ninth Circuit has noted in a case involving the INS, district courts are not supposed to issue injunctions that protect non-plaintiffs, absent a class action:
We must vacate and remand, however, because the scope of the injunction is too broad. On remand, the injunction must be limited to apply only to the individual plaintiffs unless the district judge certifies a class of plaintiffs. National Center for Immigrants Rights, Inc. v. INS, 743 F.2d 1365, 1371 (9th Cir.1984). A federal court may issue an injunction if it has personal jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter jurisdiction over the claim; it may not attempt to determine the rights of persons not before the court. . . . The district court must, therefore, tailor the injunction to affect only those persons over which it has power.
In another case, the Ninth Circuit similarly held:
In addition to rescinding Meinhold's discharge, the district court permanently enjoined DOD from "discharging, changing [the] enlistment status of or denying enlistment to any person," from maintaining files, and from "taking any actions" against gay or lesbian servicemembers based on sexual orientation in the absence of sexual conduct which interferes with the military's mission. The Navy argues that even if the district court did not err on the constitutional issue, its nation-wide injunction cannot stand. We agree.

An injunction "should be no more burdensome to the defendant than necessary to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs." Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 702, 99 S.Ct. 2545, 2558, 61 L.Ed.2d 176 (1979); see also Bresgal v. Brock, 843 F.2d 1163, 1170-71 (9th Cir.1987). This is not a class action, and Meinhold sought only to have his discharge voided and to be reinstated. Effective relief can be obtained by directing the Navy not to apply its regulation to Meinhold . . . .
Third, federal district judges do not have the power to issue binding precedential orders, even within their own district. As the Third Circuit has noted:
First, it is clear that there is no such thing as "the law of the district." Even where the facts of a prior district court case are, for all practical purposes, the same as those presented to a different district court in the same district, the prior "resolution of those claims does not bar reconsideration by this Court of similar contentions. The doctrine of stare decisis does not compel one district court judge to follow the decision of another."
Given this lack of precedential power, it would be startling if a federal district judge could nonetheless issue an order preventing the federal government from enforcing a federal law as to anyone in the entire country. Put it this way: if a private citizen had filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the same district court (the Eastern District of Virginia), there could be another ruling tomorrow that went the opposite way: upholding the individual mandate. Whatever federal district judge happens to be the first to issue a ruling shouldn't have the effective power to make all future rulings by other courts a nullity.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tax Disclosures

Sherman Dorn says the following:
There are legitimate criticisms I find of teachers unions, but then there are regular examples of foolish, illogical digs. . . .

Fordham's Chris Irvine tries to take a flying (or Flypaper) dig at various NEA expenditures, forgetting that the reason why he has access to this information is that union expenditures are reported publicly. Does Fordham report all of its staff salaries? What is the position of Fordham (or the anti-union source of the information) on disclosure of corporate campaign contributions? Hmmn…
The Fordham Foundation is required under section 501(c)(3) to file Form 990s with the IRS. Here's the 990-PF form for 2008, where you can see what the top employees, the directors, and even independent contractors at Fordham earned that year.