Jesse's Big on Government

Jesse Ventura ("'The Body' Politic," April) may be a self-described libertarian, and sometimes his rhetoric is libertarian, but his governing, so far, is not. The teachers union is more than happy with Jesse's proposed budget, which throws more money down the rathole of government education. Minnesota already spends a third of its budget on K-12 education. Jesse states that the proposals to give parents the ability to send their children to private schools are too limited. Therefore, he supports "fixing" government schools instead of offering a choice. The Minnesota Libertarian Party has proposed that all taxpayers, whether they have children or not, be given an education tax credit. This tax credit could be directed to specific students, to a private scholarship program, or to a private or government school. Jesse should embrace this proposal.

Jesse's education views are the most glaring example of his big government slant. He also wholeheartedly supports building a light rail system and statewide land use planning. Jesse, a self-described libertarian? Yes. A libertarian at heart? I don't think so.

Jim Rongstad
Woodbury, MN

Y2K Possibilities

I read the editorial on Y2K ("Power Fantasies," April) and just loved it! I am a systems analyst/programmer working in a manufacturing environment and have spent the last eight months on Y2K changes. We converted two weeks ago. It was nasty for three days, then everything went back to normal. This is the usual pattern.

I would like to add a comment to the observation, "What Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers glibly dismiss as `the old system' are the lives of millions of people with no particular zeal to `re-create' their culture or communities." Rwanda and Kosovo are having their communities and culture re-created. It is a brutal process and always has been. Anyone who looks upon it with glee is deceived or plain nuts.

Dave Holland
Grand Rapids, MI

I believe freedom lovers should take advantage of any opportunity that might arise from whatever Y2K-related computer disruptions do occur.

Specifically, it is likely that governments at all levels will be unable to perform various functions; some may even raise taxes to pay for Y2K fixes or contingency plans. We can urge abolition and/or privatization of many of those functions. Should the U.S. military experience multiple problems in weapons systems or in supplying troops overseas, we should argue for downsizing the military and bringing troops home. Y2K is just one more opportunity to declare that freedom is what America is all about.

Carol Moore
Washington, DC

All A's for Teacher Column

As Thomas W. Hazlett points out ("The Education Precedent," April), the amount of "learning improvements [that] will follow from diminishing the average class size" is "none."

When President Clinton unveiled his proposal to hire 100,000 more teachers, he said "every parent already knows" that education improves when class size shrinks. Yet accumulated evidence demonstrates that reducing class size has less of an effect on educational performance than on generating campaign contributions and political support from the teachers unions.

University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek, one of the nation's leading education experts, points out that class sizes have already been shrinking for decades at an enormous cost and with no commensurate gains in test scores. Today's national average of 22 kids per classroom is down significantly from the 30-plus averages of the 1950s. In the last 45 years, the teacher-pupil ratio has fallen by 35 percent. The Asian nations that trounce us have vastly larger classes, often 40 or 50 youngsters.

The problem is not too few teachers. It's too many unqualified teachers. The Department of Education itself reports that 36 percent of public school teachers of academic subjects neither majored nor minored in the subject they teach. Yet, for example, a retired mathematician could not teach in a public school for the lack of teaching "credentials."

Indeed, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that class size and other resources have less effect on student performance than teacher quality. There are better ways to spend the money, such as providing annual scholarships to low-income pupils to escape from the educational prisons into private or charter schools, or tuition grants to the nation's teachers to actually learn more about the subjects they teach.

As Hanushek notes, "The evidence gives no reason to believe that reducing overall class size will have any effect on student performance." So why do it? Well, maybe because teachers get more jobs, unions get more members and more dues, politicians get more votes, and soccer moms feel all warm and fuzzy.

Daniel John Sobieski
Chicago, IL

A fascinating article. It cuts right through the circuitous hypothesizing that is so popular in the subject of education today.

Pat Collins
Sheridan, OR

I just have to say to Mr. Hazlett, "You're the Man!" Once again, in a clear, concise, factual, and insightful article, you have hit one way out of the ballpark!

David P. Reinhardt
Seattle, WA

Thomas W. Hazlett replies: Many thanks for the kind words–and the chance to plug one more deserving inner-city school working miracles: Saint Elizabeth's Elementary School (4052 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60653). Joe Klein turned me on to this little academic oasis with a piece he wrote in Newsweek in 1996, and I'm very pleased to pass the plate on its behalf.

TV Talking

I read with great delight "I Want My Satellite TV" (April). I've been a communications lawyer for more than 20 years, but I've never understood the issues and rules you describe–until your plain-English, real-life explanation.

I offer the following observations on the subject:

First, forbidding people in Area 1 to see local stations from Area 2, so as to preserve the monopoly of Area 1 stations over the people there, benefits a small but powerful group–Congress. For example, Congressman Bloop, who represents Area 1, wants "Re-Elect Bloop" ads to reach everyone in Area 1 (especially on the major network stations, which still get about 50 percent of the prime time viewers). If people in Area 1 can get Area 2 stations, it denies Congressman Bloop an unequaled concentration of the eyes and ears (voters) in Area 1.

Second, I wonder whether allowing satellites to beam down Area 1 stations in Area 1, Area 2 stations in Area 2, and so on, is really a solution. Specifically, I wonder if it's technically feasible with today's satellites. There are more than 1,000 local over-the-air TV stations in this country, and I wonder if any satellite a) has that capacity and b) can direct Area 1 stations just to Area 1.

Third, although the "must carry" rules were originally intended to save all over-the-air stations, they no longer benefit the big ones (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC). Those stations don't need "must carry" rules because any cable network must carry them to get customers. In fact, NBC may tell cable systems, "I'll let you show NBC on your lousy cable system only if you also show, for free, CNBC and MSNBC." The people who benefit today from "must carry" regulations are the small over-the-air stations.

Fourth, you are absolutely right that it was a masterstroke for the satellite people to build up millions of customers and then get challenged in court. That may be the only way to beat an incumbent industry that has the laws written in its favor. Cable TV had only a few thousand customers when the broadcast networks asked the Federal Communications Commission to crush it in the late '60s. The FCC agreed, and this country didn't get cable for about 15 years–probably the worst thing the FCC has ever done to consumers. A few years ago, the phone companies wanted the FCC to hobble the Internet, claiming that Internet usage (i.e., sociopathic teenagers watching dirty pictures) was clogging the phone network, preventing people from calling 911. (Do you want Granny to burn to death because she can't reach the fire department?) Sadly for the phone companies, by the time they began making the rounds at the FCC, the Internet had attracted millions of paying customers and had the support of the computer and software industries.

John Berresford
Rosslyn, VA

I really enjoyed "I Want My Satellite TV." I own both a large C-band dish and a small digital satellite service system. I have been following the Satellite Home Viewers Act controversy for several years. I would much rather watch WGN off a dish than the broadcast signal that I receive from the landbased transmitter 70 or so miles away.

Of course, the smart guys in D.C. (with a little help from friends at the National Association of Broadcasters) think they know the best way for us to watch TV.

Randall Schultz
Racine, WI