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August 9, 2009
Real education reform

The New York Times has an excellent report on the promise of digital education:

"I don't believe that charters and vouchers are the threat to schools in Orange County," [Superintendent William M. Habermehl] said. "What's a threat is the digital world -- that someone's going to put together brilliant $200 courses in French, in geometry by the best teachers in the world."
The economics of digital courses will be so compelling that no vested interest will be able to stop it.

If each course is approximately $200, students can sign up for 10 digital courses for approximately $2,000 plus the cost of a computer and a broadband connection versus -- in the case of the D.C. public schools, for example -- somewhere between $8,322 and $25,000 that was reportedly spent on each pupil last year.

Plus, entrepreneurial educators can cater to a wide variety of individual interests and learning abilities and make a good living doing it.

Imagine being able to study economics in high school with someone like Milton Friedman (or Paul Krugman, if you prefer) or creative writing with the likes of J.K. Rowling.

So maybe instead of advocating charters and vouchers, educational reformers ought to emphasize credits for digital courses.

March 7, 2009
Give Obama an "A" for effort

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert laments in "Miracles Take Time" that

Barack Obama has only been president for six weeks, but there is a surprising amount of ire, anger, even outrage that he hasn't yet solved the problems of the U.S. economy, that he hasn't saved us from the increasingly tragic devastation wrought by the clownish ideas of right-wing conservatives and the many long years of radical Republican misrule.
So he is trying. He has potential. His heart is in the right place. And don't forget he is a symbol.

It's not just that the administration is still grasping for a blueprint for relieving the banking problem, the impact of which may be spiraling (a report in the same NYT edition notes that whereas before it was troubled firms who were laying off workers, now healthy companies who are shedding workers and shutting down operations out of concern they may soon lose access to credit.

Obama inherited a recession, but he is in danger of creating a depression with his prescription for massive taxes, spending and debt.

Donald Luskin observes

We can't blame President Obama for the mess he inherited. But we can definitely blame him for making it worse. Stocks are off 28.4% since his election, 15.2% since his inauguration, and 17.2% since his so-called "stimulus" bill was enacted. To say the very least, whatever he's doing, it ain't working.
Professor Boskin notes
Mr. Obama's $3.6 trillion budget blueprint, by his own admission, redefines the role of government in our economy and society. The budget more than doubles the national debt held by the public, adding more to the debt than all previous presidents -- from George Washington to George W. Bush -- combined. It reduces defense spending to a level not sustained since the dangerous days before World War II, while increasing nondefense spending (relative to GDP) to the highest level in U.S. history. And it would raise taxes to historically high levels (again, relative to GDP). And all of this before addressing the impending explosion in Social Security and Medicare costs.
* * * *

Increasing the top tax rates on earnings to 39.6% and on capital gains and dividends to 20% will reduce incentives for our most productive citizens and small businesses to work, save and invest -- with effective rates higher still because of restrictions on itemized deductions and raising the Social Security cap. As every economics student learns, high marginal rates distort economic decisions, the damage from which rises with the square of the rates (doubling the rates quadruples the harm).
* * * *

The pervasive government subsidies and mandates -- in health, pharmaceuticals, energy and the like -- will do a poor job of picking winners and losers (ask the Japanese or Europeans) and will be difficult to unwind as recipients lobby for continuation and expansion. Expanding the scale and scope of government largess means that more and more of our best entrepreneurs, managers and workers will spend their time and talent chasing handouts subject to bureaucratic diktats, not the marketplace needs and wants of consumers.
One wonders what Obama is thinking. Is he simply prepared to reject the truth that lower taxes and limited regulation promote economic growth -- which raises living standards for all -- because he dislikes the fact that some get richer sooner than others? Does he seek a socialist revival even though every socialist experiment throughout history has failed?

Or is he just a politician? What I mean is: You've just been elected to office because the opposition fumbled. Your supporters think anything's possible. They expect a lot from you. You realize it may not be so easy. Or even if it is possible, pushing your supporters' agenda through may spark a backlash that could harm the reelection prospects of you or your allies.

What do you do?

You don't dash the expectations of your supporters. You let the opposition do that. You send a pie-in-the-sky proposal knowing the opposition will tear it to shreds and prepare to comiserate with your naïve supporters when your proposal fails.

Is that what's going on here? Is Obama smart enough to realize his budget will lead to disaster? Is he hoping Republicans (and a few moderate Democrats) will save him? Who knows. But that is how he wins politically.

October 8, 2005
Surprising Media Numbers from the Heartland

Ball State University has released findings from Middletown University Studies 2, which it terms "the most comrehensive observational media use study ever undertaken": involving 400 participants, 5,000 hours of media use in Muncie and Indianapolis, recording information every 15 seconds on the use of 15 varieties of media--print, broadcast, telecom and Internet.

The study's key findings:
(1) per waking day (figure 16 hours), 30% with media as sole activiy, 39% with media while doing something else and 21% work activity;
(2) in any given hour 30% had the TV on, with 70% in peak hours;
(3) TV still tops at 240.9 minutes (4 hours). cedon is the computer at 120 mins. (2 hours);
(4) 30% of all media time is with more than one simultaneous media exposure;
(5) ages 18-24 spend less--yes, LESS--time online than any age group save over 65;
(6) ages 40-65 show more concurrent media exposure than ages 18-39;
(7) women multitask more than do men;
(8) Web, e-mail and phone usage is "substantially higher" than any other day of the week.

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