Just one quick observation from the second chapter.
Tyler Cowen's second chapter involves demonstrating slowing productivity across several sectors of the American economy. It also describes some of the epistemological issues regarding the measurement of productivity in regards to medicine, education, and government.
Dr. Cowen makes a fairly convincing case for the lack of gains in productivity in the education sector. But I have a quibble with the discussion: the words "special education" don't appear in the section. It is essential to understand, when we consider education today, that we are educating an entire class of students who for decades were ineligible for public school entirely, or, if they were allowed in, were kept in virtual holding pens where they received no genuine education at all. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 meant a monumental change in education.
The commitment by this country to educate everyone, regardless of whether they suffer from developmental and cognitive disabilities, is a commitment that I think we all can agree is necessary and honorable. But it is not cheap. There are almost 7 million students in the United States who are in special education In the 1999-2000 school year, the most recent year for which I can find statistics, special education in this country cost almost $80 billion dollars. (It's also worth saying that, despite what many people assume, special education students are not all exempt from standardized testing. Only a small minority of students are checklisted out.) If we're looking for losses in productivity for dollars, the introduction of a new population that is uniquely difficult and exceptionally expensive to educate certainly seems like a major piece of the puzzle.
In the higher education picture, I have said that a similar dynamic is operating, as broad swaths of the population who historically would have been denied entrance into college (and often have unique educational disadvantages) gain entry, and the system struggles to adapt. (I am not equating the challenges facing special education students with those facing students traditionally denied college education.) But that's an issue for a different time.
Sadly, I'm afraid these kinds of dynamics are ignored by the conservative media, as they detract from the conservative media's incessant attacks on education and educators. I'm not accusing Dr. Cowen of that, of course. But consideration of special education is a glaring omission and I hope he addresses it at some time.