Matt Kahn on improving education

The always-brilliant Matt Kahn has posted a few points on how to improve education. My favorite is:

Fifth; Professors who stink in the classroom should be identified and punished. There are lots of crappy jobs that have to be done in Departments. Give these assignments to the profs who stink in the classrooms . I recall that when I was a student at Chicago, there was one prof who had only 1 student registered for his class. He was rewarded for doing a bad job by having no work to do. Bad incentives! To pull this off requires a Chairman of the Department who is tough enough to deal out punishment. Most profs play nice but this holds back the university. Departments need enforcers. Charles Oakley should make a comeback.

I’m less a fan of punishment and more a fan of actually, well, recognizing teaching as part of the job and incentivizing. If you, like me, routinely teach 70+ students in a class when others are teaching 10 student classes, you should be given more course credit for teaching that student load than the 10 student classes. Yet, my 70+ student course counts as 1 class in my course load, and the person with 10 students counts that as 1 class in his course load. It’s baloney and we all know it.

Although it is tooting my own horn a bit, for classes that I routinely teach, I’m regarded as an excellent teacher and a good mentor to young folks who want to enter the planning profession or the academy.

In general, my colleagues and my administrators could care less about my contributions in this realm. It’s all about what I published recently. I don’t think there’s a direct tradeoff between teaching and researching well–I think you can do both well, and there are lots of exemplars of people who are wonderful at both. But good research takes time, and good teaching takes time, and there is only so much time. With the incentive structure I face, I am much, much, much better off publishing one more paper a year, however marginal that contribution, than giving that time to students.

I just call it like I see it.

Facing the reality of new infrastructure: LA Times story on CalHSR routing

Yesterday’s LA Times ran a story entitled California bullet train: The high price of speed. The tag line for the Facebook entry was “What HSR Would Destroy in California.”

From the story:

Almost every city and county along the proposed route loses something, but none more than Bakersfield. More than 228 homes and more than a half dozen churches would be taken, many of them in low-income minority communities on the city’s east side. The rail authority’s plans have both homeowners and government agencies confused.

Ok, now we need to quote somebody saying something along the lines “can’t make omelets without breaking a few eggs” right? We’d be right back to Interstate Era planning.

I’m not sure why this story is a surprise to anybody, as this is a huge, new project. There simply isn’t existing right of way for large stretches. And while you can criticize the HSR authority, the story of how Bakerfield boosters originally welcomed the plan only now to have misgivings as it gets more and more real should give us all pause. Are they just a bunch of hypocritical NIMBY folks? I don’t think so. The California High Speed Rail Authority has been pretty strategic in marketing the project early for ballot measures. Their mantra has been: ” The system will be great, don’t worry about the details, or the lines on the map, what’s important is that it’s coming to you.”

Then, with implementation, the lines on the map and promise of a new service accompany the very real sacrifices that come with building such a large project. It’s not what you envisioned. It’s your friends and neighbors being forcibly moved. The abstract jobs jobs jobs! idea constantly pushed comes along with the likely destruction of existing businesses.

It’s a hard, obviously redistributive act of government–and it always is, every time something like this gets built. We try to cloak everything in “win-win” language, but there are few real win-wins in projects like this. The building of the Interstate System was exactly the same.

My students in planning theory had to discuss this idea of how do you create knowledge about the future? It is, as Yoda says, always in motion. Your decisions shape it. What should have been done differently here, if anything?