On the perils of arguments.
Not literally, of course. Valerie Strauss’ “The Answer Sheet,” my favorite of the blogs hosted by The Washington Post has had some great stuff this week and the week before 9as a bonus, they’re all pretty short and fast to read:
1) I Am a Bad Teacher (Heartbreaker)
2) Unanswered Questions about Standardized Tests (Incisive)
3) Teaching Effectiveness Linked to Height (Funny)
4) The Unfortunate $1 Million Contest (Correct)
5) Ravitch on Reformers and Their Data (Close to Home)
6) Alfie Kohn on Hidden Curricula and Teaching Impoverished Students (Tightly Argued)
7) Singapore’s Holistic, Aristotelian Education (Fascinating)
8) On Class Size and Student Load (Things Learned by Experience).
Read one, read them all. Read the rest, too…
I’ve had this piece by Stanley Fish in the holding pen for the last week, and now I’m glad it stayed there because today there was a follow up piece by Robert Archibald and David Feldman, the authors of Why Does College Cost So Much?, that makes an argument that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Between the late 1940s and today, the inflation-adjusted prices of dental services and of higher education have behaved in a strikingly similar way. A wide variety of other personal services (ranging from the services of lawyers and physicians to bank service charges and life insurance) also display this same basic pattern of price change. These similarities could be coincidences. Perhaps each industry requires its own separate explanation. We don’t think so. We think one explanation fits them all.
College cost, and cost in the other similar industries, is rising for three broad reasons. First, over time we have found ways to reduce the number of labor hours and kilowatts of power needed to produce most manufactured goods and agricultural products. By contrast, many services remain artisan-like. The time of the service provider is the service itself, and labor-saving productivity gains are very hard to achieve. As a result, the cost of a year of college or an hour of a lawyer’s time must rise compared to the price of a ton of steel or a bushel of wheat.
You’ll have to read the article for numbers 2 and 3, but they are equally interesting and intuitively compelling, I think. Many of the readers commenting seem to have misconstrued the point of the original piece, and in the second the authors make clear that one thing they are not saying is that college is inexpensive. That is NOT their point. They do suggest that college is not significantly less affordable now for anyone than it has been in the past. The details are worth reading; a mini version goes like this:
In our book, we do not make light of affordability problems. Many families are indeed priced out of the market or forced to choose education options that are less desirable. Anyone who loses a job is a prime example. We have no doubt that the recent recession has made college and university charges less affordable no matter how one measures affordability.
In addition, rising income inequality in the United States drives longer-term affordability problems as the unskilled fall further behind the well-educated. For these families, affordability is a real issue. Solving these real affordability problems is hard. Blaming dysfunctional universities for cost increases is easy.
Read the rest when you have the chance. It’s interesting.