Tuesday, March 29, 2011

School Choice, Drug Testing, and Santorum

Well, there's a lot going on, so this blog post presents a trifecta of insight:

First and foremost, school choice. I've been in favor of competition in schools, and have openly stated on more than one occasion how I am in favor of school choice vouchers, provided the religious institutions are kept out. The reason is basic, and fair: tax dollars should not be spent on indoctrination of a child into a particular religion on the pretext of basic education. Especially on the pretext of basic education!

But now, the numbers are in. After all its haughty promises, the school choice program has produced even lower test scores than MPS!

That's like a recently signed free-agent NFL quarterback actually under-performing Ryan Leaf!

Perhaps the private schools were under-prepared, and their teachers too little paid, to deal with the sudden influx of inner city students needing to play catch-up with the private school kids, and so the voucher students were simply ignored in favor of those parents who were paying out of pocket. This explanation makes the most economic sense. It's a little bit like low-rent housing having buildings that are treated worse than high-rent housing. You pay attention to that which you actually pay for. Conversely, you care more about those who actually pay. Or, perhaps after the vouchers were given, the parents chose the school, and then figured their job was done, problem solved, and went back to their old habits of apathy. Or, perhaps because the suburban schools were not a part of the program, the only private schools willing to take voucher students were institutions such as Messmer High, which frankly sucks.

A combination of all these factors is likely to blame, and maybe a few others. But whatever the reasons, one thing is clear: School choice is a failed experiment. It's been tried here, Boston, and D.C., and it has never worked. Pushing the poverty-stricken student into a private school where an under-paid administration hasn't the experience, skills, or willingness to help simply isn't the solution.

So why violate the separation between church and state for this failure?

You'll find that many politicians will remain firmly committed to school choice anyway, because more tax dollars spent on indoctrinating kids into Catholicism or Lutheranism translates to more votes for their variety of politician tomorrow. It's an investment in tomorrow's political economy.

Which brings me to my second rant: Rick Santorum.

In a recent trip to New Hampshire (Oh please run for president you fool! Please, please!) the former Senator from Pennsylvania stated that much of our Social Security woes can be blamed on abortion. The problem, he says, is that there aren't enough people being added to the population to sustain the retiring old people, and this has made the system unsustainable. We need less abortion, and more people, to save Social Security.

Of course! It's abortion's fault! What better to take the focus off of government overspending on entitlements and the military?

I shouldn't even need to deal with the logical fallacy of designing a system to be dependent upon worsening the looming population crisis. And if we really need more people to save Social Security, we can do that tomorrow by providing a fast-track for Mezzo-American immigrants and undocumented workers to become U.S. citizens. Of course, Santorum won't hear of that, so he blames responsible contraception.

Here's the economic reality: More teenage pregnancies means more mothers and kids living below the poverty line, which means less tax revenue for Social Security. On the other hand, fewer children, born later in life, means their parents are more economically secure, and can pay MORE money into the Social Security kitty!

An investment in proper birth control is an investment in the economy and Social Security of tomorrow, every bit as much as investing in childhood religious indoctrination is an investment in the Republican party of tomorrow!

It's pretty simple economics, really. Santorum's logic might work if every kid, unwed mother or not, were guaranteed an equal, and equitable, income as an adult. But, of course, that sadly isn't the case. Incomes are unequal, and an unplanned pregnancy is a virtual guarantee of permanent exile to the lowest rung. Unless Santorum wants to tax the poor, that's no solution to Social Security.

But some politicians actually do want to tax the poor! It comes in the form of drug testing.

What some supposedly small-government politicians want to do is drug test all welfare recipients. Never mind the fundamental right to be able to put anything one wishes into one's body, or the failed prohibition of cannabis which is every bit as idiotic as the one-time prohibition against alcohol. These geniuses would withhold welfare recipients any payments if they test positive for drug use.

In Florida, state employees are already undergoing mandatory drug testing.

Now, the 4th amendment strictly prevents unreasonable searches and seizures, and blanket drug-testing would certainly qualify. We're supposed to have probable cause before a drug test is done, which is why nearly all companies only require drug testing at time of hire, or if an accident on the job has occurred. (They know random tests can be legally challenged.) But somehow, enough legal wiggle-room has been found to test people and violate their rights anyway.

George Orwell would be proud.

All that would be enough to oppose this shit even if drug testing worked, which it doesn't! Case in point: Let's say a drug test were 95% accurate. Out of a population of 10,000 employees, let's say that 5% of them actually do drugs, that is, 500 people do drugs, and 9,500 do not.

Of the 9500 who do not do drugs, a 95% accurate test will test 9250 as non-using, but 475 will test as users (5% of 9500), even though they're clean. Of those who do do drugs, 475 will test as users, and 25 will test as non-users and get away with it.

Final score:
True negatives: 9250
False negatives: 25
True positives: 475
False positives: 475

Of those who test positive, 475 are really doing drugs and 475 aren't really doing drugs. That means the chances of a positive-test result being actually guilty are no better than 50-50!

A critic might say, "Well, just use a more accurate test." But if the test results are raised to, let's say, 98% accuracy, the results fare little better.

New final score:
True negatives: 9310
False negatives: 10
True positives: 490
False positives: 190

The above results indicate that almost 39%, or two in five, would be innocent, but presumed guilty. I don't like those numbers!

And what if, because employees fear the drug test, none of them uses drugs? That means that, no matter how accurate the test, 100% of all false positives are innocent!

A critic might say, "Well, just do the test again. 5% of 5% is only .25%, and that's way more accurate."

Wrong. The false positives come about because someone's body chemistry is different, regularly eats poppy seed rolls in sandwiches, or had an over the counter medication in their fatty tissues, or something similar. In other words, the false positive comes by biochemistry, not statistical variance. The repeated test would likely have the same results, would still be wrong, and the innocent would still be punished.

So why, oh why, do politicians still insist on drug tests when they're no better than lie detectors?

One can only assume they came out of the school voucher program.

Eric

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