The Financial Times is one of my favorite newspapers, with lots of good columnists. Rana Foroohar is my least favorite FT columnist. Her columns often attack neoliberalism by citing lots of economic problems that are in fact caused by counterproductive government regulations.
Foroohar recently posted a brief review of a book entitled, The Death of Public School. The first two sentences contain four important errors—can you spot them?
Education used to be a way to get ahead in America. But the defunding of public schools and the rise of private education is increasing, rather than reducing the wealth divide.
1. When I was young, blue color workers often made as much as college professors. My first job as a professor (in 1981) paid $19,300. At the time, there were UAW autoworkers at Michigan plants earning more than that. The obsession with getting into the top schools was much less pronounced in the 20th century, as the education/income gradient was much flatter than today. Thus, the first sentence in Foroohar’s review gets things exactly backward. Education is now a much more important way to get ahead than in earlier decades.
2. Not only have American public schools not been “defunded,” spending on public education has risen over time, even in real terms (and as a share of GDP). Spending in the US is high when compared to other developed countries. Spending is especially high in poor neighborhoods in some of our biggest cities. The quality of education at a given school depends largely on whether the students at that school come from families that emphasize education, not dollars spent. So Foroohar’s second claim is incorrect.
3. There is no “rise of private education” in the US. The Huffington Post reports that:
Proportion of U.S. Students in Private Schools is 10 Percent and Declining
Here’s the graph they provide:
4. And since private education is not on the rise, it hardly seems likely that the rise of private education is increasing the wealth gap.
Well meaning people can have different interpretations of recent trends. But any discussion of those trends should be based on rigorous facts, not lazy clichés.