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Random variance likely accounts for the mistaken perception that small schools and small classes are better for students. Did Bill Gates waste a billion dollars on this misunderstanding of statistics?

The problem is that because small school don't have a lot of students, scores are much more variable. If for random reasons a few geniuses happen to enroll one year in a small school scores jump up and if a few extra dullards enroll the next year scores fall.

Thus, for purely random reasons we would expect small schools to be among the best performing schools in any givenyear. Of course we would also expect small schools to be among the worst performing schools in any given year! And in fact, once we look at all the data this is exactly what we see. The figure below shows changes in fourth grade math scores against school size. Note that small schools have more variable scores but there is no evidence at all that scores on average decrease with school size.

States like North Carolina which reward schools for big performance gains without correcting for size end up rewarding small schools for random reasons. Worst yet, the focus on small schools may actually be counter-productive because large schools do have important advantages such as being able to offer more advanced classes and better facilities.

Good teachers and principals are more important than small classes and schools -- and the smaller your classes and schools, the more good teachers and principals you need to find.


The linked article doesn't mention class size at all -- in jumped to that conclusion myself!

I love this idea -- the federal government is already involved with accrediting colleges, so why not create a National University that accredits courses and offer degrees? There's a plethora of great online courses, but none of the universities who created them are willing to offer online degrees because they don't want to dilute their brands or lose out on tuition money.

That's where the federal government comes in. With some authorizing language from Congress and a small, one-time start-up budget, the U.S. Department of Education could create a nonprofit, bipartisan organization with only two missions: approving courses and granting degrees.

Don't worry, federal bureaucrats won't be in charge of academic matters. Instead, National U. would hire teams of leading scholars to evaluate and approve courses. Some of the decisions shouldn't be difficult. ...

National U. would also map out which courses students need to take to earn an associate or bachelor's degree. This won't be difficult, since existing colleges have already established a standard set of requirements: a certain number of approved lower- and upper-division courses, plus an approved sequence in an academic major, adding up to 60 or 120 credits. Once students complete the credits, National U. will grant them a degree.

While many of the courses will be free, students will bear small costs for taking exams through secure online channels or in-person testing facilities. (Textbooks will be free and open-source). Students will also pay a modest fee of a few hundred dollars for the degree itself, enough to defray the operating costs of National U.

When my six-year-old goes to college I bet it will look a lot different than it does now.

Ugh, this makes me embarrassed to be a UCLA graduate: UC student government votes to divest from America:

The University of California Student Association board - which represents all 233,000 students enrolled in the UC system's 10 campuses - approved a resolution on Sunday that calls on the system's leaders to financially divest from the United States.

The measure cited alleged human rights violations by America such as drone strikes that have killed civilians, and claimed the country's criminal justice system is racist, among other accusations.

The "Resolution Toward Socially Responsible Investment at the University of California" passed with an overwhelming majority vote of 11-1-3.

If the state and federal government divested themselves of the UC system it would vanish -- as with all public university systems, tuition and fees cover only a very small portion of the system's operating costs (not to mention research).

This has got to be the stupidest thing I've read in months. Good luck finding jobs outside the grievance industry when you graduate.

Lots more at Legal Insurrection, who sums it up:

I'm not glad that the Israel divestment passed, but at least it passed combined with a resolution which made the anti-Israel students and U. Cal student government look like fools.

The primary reason that teenagers should work is because it puts them in a position of having to win approval from adults rather than from other teenagers. The "real world" and the "school world" are completely different. The behaviors and attributes that win acclaim in the school world won't get you far in the real world, and most kids aren't wise enough to learn this just by hearing their parents repeat it. Teenagers who work at a real job earn far more than a few dollars per hour -- the experience they get will pay huge dividends for their whole lives.

What's a BA? (Warning: the content at the link is pretty offensive.)

Imagine a large corporate machine mobilized to get you to buy something you don't need at a tremendously inflated cost, complete with advertising, marketing, and branding that says you're not hip if you don't have one, but when you get one you discover it's of poor quality and obsolete in ten months. That's a BA. ...

"I have a degree." No one assumes you're smart because of it, so what was the point? You were tricked, your parents were tricked, your peers were tricked, your employers were not tricked at all. "There's more to a college education than employability." No there isn't. I am not anti-liberal arts, I am all in on a classical education, I just don't think there's any possibility at all, zero, none, that you will get it at college, and anyway every single college course from MIT and Yale are on Youtube.

Don't forget that the government at all levels is pushing the scam. You, high school graduate: do you really think everyone is looking out for your best interests? Or might the system be urging you onto the lowest rung of a gigantic Ponzi scheme?

Regardless of whether you go to college or not, you've got to find a way to be productive and create value that other people will pay you for. It doesn't matter what some piece of paper says, no matter how much you pay for it.

Most parents I know use some form of "time-out" as a part of their discipline repertoire. However, many parents don't use time-outs the correct and most effective way. (The article starts on page 8 of that PDF.)

So just what are the key behavioral factors of time-out that help it succeed as a discipline strategy with children and, when absent, doom it to fail? The discussion below highlights the main components that influence the effectiveness of time-out for behavior change in children. These components are based on the initial behavioral underpinnings of Ferster,the behavioral literature in general, as well as on the clinical experience of the present authors.

Two things I learned:

  • Warnings are very counter-productive. I need to stop warning my kids and simply put them in time-out as soon as they begin misbehaving.
  • Don't lecture. The point of the time-out is to withhold attention, not deliver a lecture. The punishment should be as close in proximity as possible to the misbehavior.

Lots of interesting and instructive survival information from Robert Wayne Atkins.

For example: on how to survive as long-term house-guests:

Before you move in with your relatives or friends, have your entire family spend two consecutive nights sleeping on the ground under a bridge (unless the health of someone in your family would make this impossible). Someone will need to remain awake, and armed, and on guard duty all night to protect the family from harm. This can be done in shifts if you have enough qualified people. After the second night everyone in your family will have a totally new perspective on the value of the tiny bedroom that you will all share at your relative's or friend's home.

If you skip this step then you will have reduced the chance of your family successfully blending in by at least 50 percent. If you skip this step and you are evicted from the home of the family that was your first choice, then sleep under a bridge for two nights before you approach another relative or friend.

There is a tremendous difference between textbook knowledge and real world experience. Actually sleeping on the ground under a bridge for two nights is a real world experience. Simply thinking about what it would be like to sleep under a bridge for two nights is nothing more than an intellectual exercise.

As politicians begin debating whether or not we subjects citizens should be stripped of our right to self-defense let's notice that the official gun-wielding government representatives didn't get to Sandy Brook Elementary School until 20 minutes after they learned about the shooting. I'm sure the police did their best, but 20 minutes is a long time no matter what kind of guns a shooter has.

The school staff was there right when the shooting started, but of course they were unarmed. We trust them with our kids every single day, and yet we balk at arming them. At least one teacher gave her life attempting to shield her students from a hail of bullets... why shouldn't she have had a gun if she was willing to carry it? We don't need to put police in every school, we just need to train and equip the adults we've already got to protect our kids.

I hope this doesn't come across as sexist, but it seems to me that our primary education system has become very feminized. I'm sure that many people will be shocked that I would even suggest arming school staff and training them to defend students. If the staff is supposed to act in loco parentis then they need to be able to protect our kids while they're at school.

The future of education will look much different than the past few decades. My daugher's learning experience will be very different from mine. Salman Khan from Khan Academy predicts:

Here's what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let's say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

I think that is consistent with the mission. You are taking the cost of the credential down from thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. And the [software] system would tell them they are ready for it. So no paying tuition for community college and then dropping out, or even finishing the whole thing and saying "Oh, I'm $20,000 in debt and what did I get out of it?"

Now you are like, "Look, there is this micro-credential in basic accounting I can get for $150, and I basically know I am going to pass before I invest that money." That would be a huge positive for the consumers of education, and it could pay the bills on the learning side.

Removing the elite gatekeepers from education will be a huge benefit to human civilization. Cost will go down and quality/value will go up.

John Tierney says that Advanced Placement classes and tests are a scam. These paragraphs stand out to me because they reflect my experience:

AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn't begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.

The traditional monetary argument for AP courses -- that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits -- often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that's a bad idea, and that they're better off taking their department's courses.

I took eight AP courses in high school (if I'm remembering right) and passed all my AP tests. In 1995 I did receive credit for those courses at UCLA as well as being allowed to skip many introductory classes. Because of my AP chemistry test score I didn't have to take any chemistry classes at UCLA, even though I was an engineering student. (I was excited at the time, but now I regret missing exposure to college chemistry.)

At least two of these AP classes were harmful to me: Calculus AB and Calculus BC. Because I aced these AP tests I received credit for two introductory quarters of calculus and was skipped straight to the third calc class of the series. I struggled to make sense of the course content and was relieved to pass the class with a C-. The two AP calculus classes I had passed had left me completely unprepared for the material. I also received a C grade on my next math class before I figured out that I wasn't stupid, I was just way behind the other students. It took a lot of studying and make-up work for me to bring my grades and my comprehension up to an acceptable level.

Those were the only C grades I ever received in college, and I blame them on the Advanced Placement classes.

This is actually a pretty good primer on the differences between liberal and conservative political beliefs as the terms are actually used (rather than just in theory).

Despite my penchant for privacy I don't really have a problem with using tracking devices on kids at school as long as the parents consent.

A school district in Texas came under fire earlier this year when it announced that it would require students to wear microchip-embedded ID cards at all times. Now, students who refuse to be monitored say they are feeling the repercussions.

Since October 1, students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, have been asked to attend class with photo ID cards equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to track every pupil's location. Educators insist that the endeavor is being rolled out in Texas to stem the rampant truancy devastating the school's funding.

Obviously kids don't want to be tracked because they want to be truant without getting caught. If the students are minors and the parents consent to the tracking, then I've got no problem with it at all. Seems like a great idea.

A cool in-class experiment that shows students the value of property rights and free trade.

... I go around allocating trinkets to students at random.

I then ask students to assign a value to the trinket they have just received ranging from 0 to 10, with higher values meaning cooler trinkets.

We then go around the room recording those values. Because students often bring their laptops to lecture, it is easy to find a volunteer to record those values, but you can have a teaching assistant do it. Once all values are recorded, total welfare (i.e., the sum total of the values students assign to their trinkets) is announced.

I then tell students that they have five minutes to trade voluntarily between themselves, insisting on the fact that trades must be voluntary (i.e., no stealing) and cannot involve dynamic aspects, or credit (i.e., no "I'll give you my cool dinosaur if you give me your awful trinket and you buy drinks on Friday night.")

Once students are done trading, we once again go around the room recording the values they assign to their trinkets. Once all values are recorded, total welfare is announced once again.

And that's usually where the magic happens. When I ran the Trading Game last week, my class' "aggregate welfare" went from 128 to about 180, if I recall correctly, and you could just see that it had become obvious to students that (in this context of well enforced property rights) trade not only left no one worse off, but it increased aggregate welfare.

This is a great game that should be demonstrated to every elementary school student in the world.

(HT: Greg Mankiw.)

Walter Russell Mead describes how the cash crunch is hollowing out the university operating model.

What's going on here, however, is less about quality than it is about money and the outmoded foundations of American institutions and practices built in the post World War Two era. The baroque inefficiency of the academic enterprise--and especially the research model university, which transposes a vision of the intellectual life from the hard sciences and engineering into the social sciences and the humanities--has built a system that demands enormous outside resources to continue to function.

In a handful of cases, notably the best endowed private universities, there is enough money on hand to make this system work. But less affluent private universities and virtually all public universities face a harsher climate. And as state governments in particular face claims on their tight revenues from more powerful constituencies than university faculty and staff, the public universities are being systematically starved of cash.

Most universities are asking themselves: "how can we lean down our operations to survive this temporary cash crunch?" They make small cuts here and there -- deflating a balloon but keeping all the structure in place until more air is available to blow things back up again. But the money isn't coming back. The real question they need to ask is: "how can we thrive with [a lot] less money per student?" This will require re-inventing the whole operating model, not just saving nickels and dimes.

My daughter's college experience in 15 years will be completely different than mine was.

The student loan bubble is the result of government policy.

Just as the government sought to engineer people into houses, it now seeks to engineer them into higher education. Congress established Sallie Mae in 1972 to encourage banks to loan more money for college. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 allowed the government to loan money directly to students. The following year the Taxpayer Relief Act extended tax breaks to student loan borrowers. Predictably, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates at historically low levels, making college loans cheaper.

And the price of a college education soared--just as one would expect from a market flooded with cheap money. By law, lenders cannot even deny Stafford and Perkins loans (types of federal student loans) based on the borrower's credit or employment status. What other reason is there to deny a loan? And just as home buyers took out loans to speculate on houses they could never hope to afford, students are taking out loans to cover educations they often cannot complete and which often do not hold value in the market even when completed. Government meddling has again separated profit from risk. Universities get to keep the tuition profits while taxpayers are forced to shoulder the risk of students not paying back their loans. ...

From 1976 to 2010, the prices of all commodities rose 280 percent. The price of homes rose 400 percent. Private education? A whopping 1,000 percent.

When the student loan bubble pops it will be worse than the end of the housing bubble.

In the end, this bubble will be worse than the last. Even when homeowners got hopelessly behind on their mortgages, two options helped. First, they could declare bankruptcy and free themselves of their crippling debt; second, they could sell their houses to pay down most of their loans.

Students don't have either of these options. It's illegal to absolve student loan debt through bankruptcy, and you can't sell back an education.

The result is predictable: anything that can't go on forever, won't. The cost of education will drop. Congress will make student loans will be made dischargable. Many colleges and universities will go out of business.

Fortunately for the country, unlike the end of housing bubble, middle-class Americans won't be the ones who see their wealth evaporate. Many college degrees are already worthless, no matter what the balance is of the debt incurred to pay for the education.

Teacher crush creativity because the qualities that make a person creative also make them hard to handle in a classroom.

One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers' preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are "sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable." In other words, the teachers don't know what creative students are actually like. (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.) As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity.

Like Alex Tabarrok, I don't really blame teachers... it's hard to control a class full of children. The thing I take away as a parent is that I need to make sure not to enforce the rules so strictly that I stunt my daughter's growth even when she's not at school.

Ok, so you're not quite three years old yet, but I'm doing research on where you should go to pre-school and how to get you into the gifted program. I went to school for a bazillion years. School is good... right? Well, learning stuff is good. School is one way to do that, but not the only way. As your father, I insist that you learn things that will make you productive and happy. That might include going to college, but it doesn't have to. I think that going to college will be the default option for you, but if you can convince me that you've got another plan for learning, growing, and being productive then I will gladly support it.

As inspiration, see the following two blog posts.

Using discriminatory bake sales to advocate against affirmative action isn't a new tactic... I remember similar events when I was at UCLA.

Exit question: why do leftists gladly accept affirmative action in education but bristle at lower prices for baked goods?

More here.

Is the United States falling behind China and India in the creation of new engineers? That's conventional wisdom, but...

The logic behind this argument is flawed in many ways. First let's tackle the myth of the Rising East's mastermind engineers. China and India's engineering graduation numbers have been used for the past decade to justify arguments that the United States is in trouble. My research team at Duke University dispelled common myths about China's and India's engineering-education advantages in December 2005. The graduation statistics most commonly touted then were: China graduates 600,000 per year, India, 350,000, and the U.S., 70,000. We found that, in 2004, when comparing apples with apples, the U.S. had graduated more engineers (roughly 140,000) than India had (roughly 120,000).

What's more, China's tally of 350,000 was suspect because China's definition of "engineering" was not consistent with that of U.S. educators. Some "engineers" were auto mechanics or technicians, for example. We didn't dispute that China was and is dramatically increasing its output of what it calls engineers. This year, China will graduate more than 1 million (and India, close to 500,000). But the skills of these engineers are so poor that comparisons don't make sense. We predicted that Chinese engineers would face unemployment. Indeed, media reports have confirmed that the majority of Chinese engineers don't take engineering jobs but become bureaucrats or factory workers.

This situation reminds me of the common trope that US pre-university students trail their international peers. What usually isn't pointed out is that most countries don't have universal education systems that are required to admit (and test) every child. The result of this disparity is that America's student population includes a representative sample of all American youths, while tests results from other countries only include children who are smart/wealthy enough to attend school. It's no surprise that these top foreign youths outperform the median American student.

(HT: RD.)

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