The Arizona Desert Lamp

Living in the Third World today

Posted in Education Policy, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 28 May 2009

My colleague has already commented on Michael Crow’s absurd claim that Arizona was on the path to a “Third World” style education, but unfortunately common sense rarely wins in the public sphere. Thus, the newly formed Arizona Economic Council – the left-leaning counterpart to the Goldwater Institute – has debuted its first media campaign in a video entitled “Third World.”

There’s a lot of things wrong with this campaign, and they start with the opening still:

Still 1

Where exactly in the “Third World”? AZEC doesn’t care – because after all, Rwanda, Somalia, Honduras, and Papau New Guinea are just the same people with different little clicks, right? It doesn’t really matter which country they come from – we just don’t want to end up like Them. It’s a surprisingly ignorant approach for an organization that purports to speak for higher education – that place where people are supposed to be able to locate countries on a world map. In this rhetoric, the Arizona Economic Council echoes no one more than Tom Tancredo, who described Miami as a “third-world country” back in 2006. His fellow Republican, Governor Jeb Bush, denounced the remarks as “disparaging” and “overheated rhetoric.” (HT: Freakonomics) More curious than this nativist connection is the fact that the pushback against using “Third World” as a term comes more often than not from the academy, where “developing world” is the preferred nomenclature.

The gawking continues:

Still 2

“See kids? This is what happens when you privatize your roads!”

Still 3

Quelle horreur, no Uggs!”

The punchline, of course: “Poor Arizona.” The children of whatever African nation (PC Police, help me – am I allowed to infer Africa from this spot, or is that a sign of my Yakub-engineered mindset?) turn up their nose in disgust at your parsimonious state.

Still 4

The Goldwater Institute shoots this claim out of the water, but even more interesting than the numbers that they cite is this OECD paper on education spending in Latin America, with the following graph:

Spending v. Results

My French is a little rusty, but the basic conclusion here is that there are diminishing marginal returns on primary and secondary (i.e. K-12) education spending starting at around USD 5,000. In the Goldwater piece, Matthew Ladner writes that, “I could dig up comparisons on academic outcomes, but that would just be running up the score.” Yet the point isn’t to score points – the point is to ensure not just that kids are getting a good education, but are getting an education that will provide opportunities for them to sustain themselves. Outcomes matter much more than spending levels, and should be emphasized, not de-emphasized. As the OECD piece points out:

Education is an excellent example of the challenges facing Latin America as it pursues higher-quality fiscal policy more generally. More money would help, but how that money is spent matters as much or more. The current reform efforts in Chile and Mexico further illustrate that each case demands solutions tailored to the needs of their education systems and political contexts.

The OECD isn’t talking about Luxembourg, or Canada, or France here – even in those Third World countries that the AZEC so fears and loathes, sheer spending is not the answer. It most certainly is not in Arizona. Being “Third World” isn’t based on spending levels, but on a variety of factors; such nuance is lost entirely in Crow and AZEC’s rhetorical bombast.


2 Responses

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  1. Honest Abe said, on 30 May 2009 at 9:30 am

    This is really good. I watched the videos and i have to agree on this. Before reading this, I had no clue as to what PISA was. Our schools need to be first world and Gov. Brewer needs to have her agenda geared toward education.

    Great job on this article!!

  2. […] many organizations that have been formed to lobby on education’s behalf. We’ve already discussed the Arizona Economic Council.  They stand alongside the university-backed Expect More Arizona, as […]

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