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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Still Left Behind

Katharine B. Stevens has an AEI report titled "Still Left Behind: How America’s Schools Keep
Failing Our Children."

  • Since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law, K–12 public schools have assumed an increasingly prominent role in American society, now constituting the nation’s core strategy for promoting social and economic mobility across generations.
  • Over the same period, the US has undertaken ever-intensifying school reform and steadily increased spending, in ongoing attempts to raise the chronically low achievement of the disadvantaged children targeted by the ESEA.
  • Yet more than one-third of lower-income eighth graders still fail to demonstrate even minimal competence in reading and math, and wide achievement gaps persist in every state.
  • Pursuing a broader range of strategies to advance child well-being may yield greater value than continued reform efforts and further increased spending on public schools.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Slim Majorities in Congress

 Katherine Schaeffer at Pew:

Election Day is in the rearview mirror, but it’s still not clear whether Republicans or Democrats will have the majority in the U.S. Senate next year. That won’t be decided until early January, when voters in Georgia fill two seats in runoff elections. Leading up to the runoffs, Republicans have secured 50 Senate seats and Democrats have 48 (this includes the two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats).

Regardless of how the elections in Georgia turn out, the Senate will be closely divided next year. And that is part of a long-running trend: Narrow partisan divides in the Senate and the House of Representatives have become more common in recent decades, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of historical data going back to the 88th Congress (1963-1965), the first Congress with 100 senators and 435 representatives.

The largest majorities in the Senate and House during this stretch occurred in the 1960s – and both were Democratic majorities. Democrats held 66% of Senate seats in the 88th Congress and nearly seven-in-ten House seats (68%) in the 89th Congress of 1965-1967. Since then, the size of the majorities in both chambers has generally trended downward. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the partisan split in both chambers hovered around 50-50.

Next year’s 117th Congress has the potential to be one of only two in the last six decades in which Democrats and Republicans have the same number of Senate seats at the beginning of the term. The last time it happened was the 107th Congress (2001-2003), when each party held 50 seats.

In the House, Democrats are expected to have a slim majority next year. The narrowest House majorities in the six decades we examined occurred in the 106th and 107th Congresses, when Republicans made up just over half (51%) of the chamber, holding 223 and 220 seats, respectively. (A party usually needs at least 218 seats for a majority in the House, but, due to vacancies, the number can be lower.)

Monday, November 30, 2020

Following the Election

 From Pew:

About a third of U.S. adults (36%) say they followed the results of the presidential election “almost constantly,” according a Pew Research Center survey of 11,818 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 12-17, 2020, as a part of the Center’s American News Pathways project. Another 34% say they checked in fairly often, while about two-in-ten (22%) did so occasionally. Just 7% of Americans say they tuned out the results entirely. What’s more, about four-in-ten U.S. adults (38%) say the sources they turned to most did very well in helping them understand the results after polls closed. A similar portion (40%) say they did somewhat well, for a total of 77% who gave positive marks. Only 14% say their most turned-to sources for election results did not too or not very well. 

Cable TV was the most relied-on platform for election night news among those asked about, with news websites and apps and network TV the next most likely places to turn. Three-in-ten Americans say that in following the results, they turned most to cable TV. About a quarter (24%) say they turned most to news websites or apps while about two-in-ten (22%) relied most on network TV. Only 9% say they turned most to their social media feeds – a platform that some were concerned would serve as a place for misinformation and conspiracy theories to spread. A mere 2% focused most on what the candidates and their campaigns had to say, while 6% say they mostly turned somewhere else.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


 From the Center for Presidential Transition:

The time between the election and the inauguration is about 75 days. During this two and a half months, the transition team must handle the influx of campaign staff, integrate them into the daily operations and prepare to take over the functions of government. Key activities in this phase include:

  • Staffing the White House and agencies.
  • Deploying agency review teams to visit agencies.
  • Building out the president-elect’s policy and management agendas and schedule.
  • •Identifying the key talent necessary to execute the new president’s priorities.


Following the inauguration and transfer of power to the next president, a new administration has a narrow window of approximately 200 days in which to achieve quick wins and build the momentum necessary to propel significant policy initiatives forward. The focus in this phase tends to be on identifying and vetting the right staff and appointees based on the president’s top priorities—a formidable task given that the new administration will fill roughly 4,000 political appointments, including more than 1,200 that require Senate confirmation. The administration also will have to officially close down the transition operation and preserve important records for historical value and to aid future transition teams. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Racial and Ethnic Categories

  Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg at WSJ:

The government, which plays a dominant role in setting racial and ethnic categories, hasn’t developed the tools to keep pace with a shifting population, demographers say. Four decades ago, for example, the U.S. Census added an ethnic “Hispanic” category to its authoritative survey of America’s demographic contours. Today, Hispanics include a vast population of both new immigrants and multi-generation American families with varying depths of ties to Latin America. New research suggests that many Hispanics are assimilating in ways that echo how Italian, Polish, and other European immigrants a century ago were eventually absorbed into the American mainstream. As they do, they are diverging economically, socially and politically.


Sociologists say that projections for a white minority rely on outdated concepts of race. The federal government generally counts anyone with nonwhite lineage as a minority, a practice that echoes the “one drop” rule that once allowed discrimination against people with even minimal Black ancestry. The Census Bureau currently projects that the share of people defined as white by this restrictive definition will drop below half of the population by 2045. But by using a broader definition—including as “white” anyone with a white parent and a parent of another race—whites would be about 55% of the population and would remain a majority even in 2055.
The government’s majority-minority projections use almost exclusively the “one drop” way of counting. For example, 42 million people checked “Black” on the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey and an additional 4.7 million marked “Black” and another race. But historically, the bureau hasn’t distinguished between these two ways of self-identifying as Black. Moreover, roughly 60% of mixed-race babies have one parent conventionally considered white, and another who is Hispanic, Asian or mixed race (typically white and minority). They are more likely to live alongside whites and, once they grow up, to marry whites than their single-race minority counterparts, research shows.

The majority-minority story that we’ve all imbibed, that is very widely believed, is a distortion,” said sociologist Richard Alba. In his new book, “The Great Demographic Illusion,” the City University of New York professor argues that the projection assumes a rigidity to racial and ethnic boundaries that does not reflect surging intermarriage or America’s experience with immigration.


Friday, November 27, 2020

Social Isolation and Nonresponse to Surveys

Across the board, public opinion surveys overstated Democratic support in the 2020 election.

In our pre-election survey on the strength of Americans’ social networks, we found that nearly one in five Americans (17 percent) reported having no one they were close with, marking a 9 percentage point increase from 2013.1

[T]here is good reason to believe that the polls might be missing some of these people who don’t have strong social ties. Social isolation, or the lack of social integration, has long been thought to reduce willingness to participate in surveys. Americans who feel alienated or isolated from society do not feel compelled to participate in surveys out of a sense of civic obligation.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Hiroshima University have shown that Americans with weaker social connections are less inclined to cooperate with survey requests and that some survey estimates may be “systematically biased due to nonparticipation from socially isolated people.” Our survey was not suited to uncover the reasons for why people didn’t participate, but we did find that those with smaller social networks are far less politically engaged. For example, Americans with at least four social ties are three times more likely than those with none to have contacted an elected official in the last 12 months.

However, there may not be an easy solution to this problem. Providing financial incentives to bolster cooperation might help, as would increasing the duration of the survey field period. These are standard practices in survey research to increase representation among difficult to reach groups. But it’s not clear at this point whether incentivizing respondents or lengthening the interviewing period would increase participation rates among Americans who are socially isolated. A 2000 study found that increasing an interview period from five days to eight weeks made little difference in the final results — although perceptions of the Republican Party were more positive in the survey that included the longer interviewing schedule.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving and Constitutional Gratitude

 Yuval Levin and Adam J. White at National Review:

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789, like so many other aspects of his presidency, set a precedent. Even if they were spurred by a congressional resolution, Washington’s words went far beyond Congress’s, offering the newly constituted people an example of what to be grateful for, and how to express that gratitude.

Washington went on to further exemplify constitutional gratitude at the end of his presidency, in his 1796 farewell address. There he expressed thanks not just to those who created the Constitution, but also to the Americans now tasked with sustaining it. They had entrusted Washington with the first presidency, and his farewell address is replete with statements of gratitude to Americans, of love for America, and of a profound sense of that with which he had been entrusted.

The man who had devoted his life first to the revolution, and then to the Constitution, left office not suggesting that the people were indebted to him, but the opposite: He offered “deep acknowledgement of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country,” he wrote, “for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment.” The presidency was not a prize that he had earned, but an “important trust” that soon would be committed to his successor.

Washington would not be the last president to speak in such terms, nor should these themes be the exclusive province of presidents. Statesmen in Congress can offer such examples, too. In Federalist No. 57, James Madison writes that members of Congress would be motivated by more than just ambition and self-interest; he also counted duty and gratitude among “the chords by which [those members] will be bound to fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people.”

Some more than others, of course, and if the likes of Washington and Lincoln are rare in the White House then they are rarer still on Capitol Hill. But when members of Congress, like presidents, are able to define their office not just in terms of power but also in terms of gratitude both to their fellow countrymen and to their forefathers, they help to perpetuate the Constitution that creates their offices; and they offer an example for the people whose own constitutional gratitude is indispensable for this perpetuation.

This Thanksgiving, when the nation is battered by a pandemic and fractured by political strife, we can hope that statesmen will step forward to exemplify constitutional gratitude. But more important, we can rediscover the sources of our own gratitude, for those who wrote the Constitution and those who perpetuated it — not just for our own sake, but for the sake of posterity.