Friday, March 29, 2013

What's Upton, Sinclair?

Another day, another David Brooks column, another opportunity to point out what a twit he is.

In today's column, Brooks talks about a "dazzling" paper written by one of his students. In that paper, the author, Victoria Buhler:
wonders if the mathematization of public policy performs a gatekeeper function; only the elite can understand the formulas that govern most people’s lives.
The author, and presumably Brooks, think having people who understand mathematics as gatekeepers of public policy is a bad thing. Given that this situation is purely fictional, and the exact opposite of the current gatekeeper situation, I think it would be fantastic. Of course, I am biased. I understand mathematics. David Brooks does not. For example, in this same column, he says:
Moreover, today’s students harbor the anxiety that in the race for global accomplishment, they may no longer be the best competitors. Chinese students spend 12-hour days in school, while American scores are middle of the pack.
Brooks is comparing apples and oranges here--Chinese hours in class versus American test scores. What is the reader to make of this? Do the extra hours pay off for the Chinese? He doesn't say. What tests are we talking about? He doesn't say. It does seem like he thinks American kids should be spending 12 hours a day in the classroom.

I'm sure he would be appalled, but I'd like to apply some mathematics to this common sense, gut-feel, public policy proposal. Let's start by assuming teachers are currently paid for a 40-hour work week (8 hours of class, 5 days a week) at a rate of X. Next, let's see what happens when those same teachers get paid for a 60-hour work week (12 hours of class, 5 days a week) at the same rate of X, but typical time-and-a-half for overtime hours beyond 40.
Scenario A. 8 hours/day. Weekly teacher pay = 40X
Scenario B. 12hours/day. Weekly teacher pay = 40X + 1.5*20X = 70X
Spending increase = (70X-40X)/40X = 30X/40X = 75%!!!
So, given that teacher pay is by far the largest cost of our education system, is Brooks suggesting that we increase public education spending by 75%? Probably not. As an anti-union conservative, maybe he expects teachers to work those extra hours for free--for the children you know. Maybe to avoid the overtime pay, he wants to hire more teachers, which would limit the increase in education spending to a still whopping 50%. More likely, it probably just didn't occur to him to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations of the impact of his "solution". Like so many other Republicans--hi Paul Ryan!--Brooks simply cares more about messaging than mathematics. His livelihood depends on it.

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