Thursday assorted links

by on August 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. How sheepdogs do their job so well.

2. Is delayed gratification the best kind? (speculative)

3. Some data on grade inflation experiments.

4. Interview with David Bromwich.

5. Zebra-suited urbanists of Bolivia.

6. FT update on Swedish private schools.

Kevin Erdmann August 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

6) If a public agency is found delinquent, the solution is to increase public oversight and public dispensation. If a private agency is found delinquent, the solution is to increase public oversight public dispensation. It’s surprising that we are able to retain as much private activity as we do.

david August 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

the drive toward greater public oversight leads to budgetary separation from the general fund, and thence to eventual privatization when the entity becomes functionally private.

Steve Sailer August 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

I like how Vox spins its last point on Wellesley’s attempt to combat grade inflation:

“4) Black students were disproportionately affected
“After the grade cap was imposed, the proportion of B’s increased as the proportion of A’s fell. This suggests that students who were receiving the “lowest A-minus” — barely meeting the bar for the grade — were more likely to receive a B-plus after the change. Black students saw a larger-than-average drop in grades, as did students with lower SAT scores.

“The researchers put the best possible interpretation on this, suggesting that a more even grading policy among different departments at the college will do a better job of demonstrating which students need help. But grading is an imperfect, subjective science, and the burden appears to have fallen more on black students than on others.”

You see, as we all know, Science Proves that all races are equally intelligent and hard working and there’s no such thing as affirmative action in college admissions, so the reason blacks do worse when grading is toughened up if because “grading is an imperfect, subjective science.”

andrew' August 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

The “burden” is the best part. As if one could not be better without owing that privilege to those not better.

But don’t you feel little sorry for them that they have to say that?

I do. Then again, you use your real name.

Andrew' August 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I thought, btw, that if anyone on the planet understood bell curves it would be professors. Behavioral economics FTW.

gwern August 28, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Yes, my instant response was ‘obvious ceiling effect/range restriction’ ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceiling_effect_%28statistics%29 / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_conclusion_validity#Restriction_of_range): when the average was an *A-*, then there is hardly any room to see the pre-existing racial disparities.

Michael August 28, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Another great link: At Koch Retreat, Top GOP Senate Candidates Credited Koch Network For Their Rise http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/26/koch-brothers-ernst-cotton-gardner_n_5718773.html

Andrew' August 28, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Because, as we know, all Democrats run Skinny Cats campaigns…oh wait…I only know the term Skinny Cats campaigns because a libertarian told me it once.

Urso August 28, 2014 at 2:35 pm

#2 seems far less speculative than the average link marked (speculative)

Paul August 28, 2014 at 3:02 pm

3
“They point to examples of web-based job application systems that will not let them proceed if their GPA is below a 3.5,”

I guess they don’t want engineering majors.

Andrew' August 28, 2014 at 4:15 pm

They don’t want many. This brings me to the point I wanted to make. When the rep from the career help (sic) office would speak to us and she’d tell us we could sub our major GPA we would all laugh.

It is also nearly impossible to use an engineering degree, which is outstanding from a non-signaling perspective, as a pre-med route. It’s a shame.

The story wrings its hands over the first-mover problem. So, let’s work with the concept of using a more representative GPA. Why isn’t there an internal GPA and then a standardized GPA.

mkt August 28, 2014 at 9:41 pm

There have been a number of proposals to calculate some sort of standardized GPA. The most statistically sophisticated one is the “Achievement Index” created by Valen Johnson, who’d been a Duke professor. (Duke’s also where Rojstaczer, one of the most frequently quoted grade inflation critics, had been a professor. Rojstaczer is cited in the Wellesley article but somewhat surprisingly Johnson is not.) Duke considered adopting the Achievement Index but decided not to; so did UNC.
http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=1844#.U__UbK1dUfg

But UNC did recently adopt a “report the median and percentile in addition to the grade” policy:
http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=1844#.U__UbK1dUfg

Other schools have tried similar tactics; reportedly Cornell started reporting the median grade in classes, as well as the student’s grade, so that people looking at the transcript could see the context for the student’s grades. But the students allegedly responded by flocking to the high median grade classes, so they could raise their (raw) GPAs.

Princeton several years ago pursued a policy similar to Wellesley’s: tell the profs to give lower grades. But Princeton is reconsidering that policy, for a reason similar to the complaints at Wellesley: the Princeton students claim they are disadvantaged when applying to grad school and jobs.
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/08/princeton-panel-urges-changes-grading-rules-wellesley-scholars-warn-impact-strict

And there have been a myriad other suggestions, e.g. a “Composite Index” which combines the student’s relative grade (in percentage terms) and relative rank (also in percentage, or really percentile, terms). But AFAIK these have not been adopted by colleges.
https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/07/01/katz

This doesn’t answer the question of why isn’t there an internal and a standardized GPA. But it hasn’t been for lack of trying, by some individuals. But institutions and in many cases students are generally against it.

andrew' August 29, 2014 at 3:28 am

Some combination of major degree of difficulty, rank in major, and median sat score in major would do the heavy lifting.

Ed August 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

GPA is a measurement of how well the student is able to suck up. Engineering jobs are just about the only jobs where this skill isn’t important. People know enough not to employ engineers in jobs where it is.

Even the use of GPA as a proxy for being able to suck up is questionable because its a skill that people are quite capable of picking up as they get older.

Lord Action August 29, 2014 at 9:35 am

This misses the point that the people who are hurt by more accurate grading don’t want more accurate grading.

If higher quality numerical evaluation of student outcomes comes about, it will probably be through something like third party certifications that can draw a market of good students. Harvard is selling an entree to the upper-middle class to hopeful parents. It’s not selling some gauntlet for their children to run. And low end schools are selling a path to a career in an office, not an opportunity to distinguish yourself. The only people interested in better quality grading are students who are doing better than their school brand signals they should be doing. They’ll never be the majority.

rayward August 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm

4. David Bromwich criticizes Obama. Man bites dog. The candidate who would be the transformative president was run over by events before he took office, events that were attributable to the policies of his immediate predecessor, events that demanded not a transformative president but a fearless president, one ready to undo the mistakes of his predecessor, not take the middle course but the opposite course. I suppose only a red-baiting conservative could go to China, and only a class-baiting liberal could undo the damage done by Obama’s predecessor. Would Bromwich’s favored liberaltarian have done it? I think not.

triclops August 28, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Impressive.
This manages to distill out all argument leaving only pure demagoguery and blame shifting.

Donald Pretari August 28, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I enjoyed the Bromwich interview, and am currently reading his excellent, so far, book on Edmund Burke. The interview did remind me that, around the time of our invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was quoting Pat Buchanan, not a favorite of mine, quite a bit, because I agreed with him that the war with Iraq for us would be like Israel fighting in South Lebanon or Gaza. Living in Berkeley at the time, my comment was generally met with agreement, and, on no account, could the agreement be due to an argument from authority. But Buchanan did first articulate my view in this way, so I felt it was just common decency to give him credit for this.

FC August 28, 2014 at 11:06 pm

No one cares.

Donald Pretari August 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Who cares? Actually, I might not care what people post, but if they say who they really are and take the time to comment, I will read their comment. It’s called learning. I’ve learned quite a bit from commenters on this blog over the last six years. My name as far as you’re concerned is FU.

Donald Pretari August 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Really? Because of FU? It was a joke. I wouldn’t seriously say that even to FC.

Phil S. August 28, 2014 at 6:18 pm

#3 The issue of grade inflation and hitting the right grading curve for a given institution is troubling.

On the one hand, feedback to students, and probably to some extent their motivation to work hard, is hampered if the grading range is truncated, roughly, to B+ to A.

OTOH, students are punished when communicating with outside entities (potential employers, grad schools, etc.) if the grading curve they were subjected to was below norms of similar instituations (or similar difficulty classes within the same instituation).

Real world:

The issue is also problematic at the high school level (i.e. for the college admissions process), where there is tension between relying on nationally standardized test scores (SAT, ACT) for tests that seem at least somewhat gameable, versus GPA that may result in rather unfair comparisons across schools.

We have been considering for our son, off and on, a private school that, relative to the public school he’s in, has many appealing features (low student to teacher ratio, apparently rigorous writing standards and high caliber classmates). One significant hurdle for me is that the private school is rather proud to be fighting the good fight against grade inflation, with average grades falling, to my recollection in the B- to B range. This among what is purported to be a very strong student body overall.

So our son could go to this school, work harder than he would in the public school (and learn more), and come out with perhaps a 3.2 GPA, versus perhaps an unweighted 3.9 GPA at the large public alternative. The private says they work hard to communicate to colleges that their grades are low across the board and so on, but I am nervous that his application to an elite school would look far weaker with SAT scores of XXXX and a 3.2 GPA from this small private school than with the same SAT and a 3.9 from the public high school.

triclops August 28, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Curious to hear any insights on this dilemma as well.

Anonymous August 29, 2014 at 12:14 am

I have some experience with this issue, although perhaps a little out of date, as once upon a time I helped prepare a very thorough internal admission analysis document for a “select” group of colleges. In general I would say you are right to be concerned but a lot depends on which school your child applies to, and of course how high you estimate the SAT score might be. ie moving private plus lower GPA would have to generate ~100 SAT points and the ability of the school to impress upon any given college depends on network and geographic considerations that can be hard to evaluate. I am sorry this probably doesn’t help much.

Phil S. August 29, 2014 at 1:18 am

Another data point: (or set of them, anyways…)

The chart here
http://features.thecrimson.com/2013/frosh-survey/admissions.html
doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the “they’ll understand your low GPA when we explain about how we’re combating grade inflation!” argument.

Li Zhi August 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Phil;
I ignore the apparent (and contrfactual) view that class size matters. Obviously it does **ceterus paribus** (which is virtually never the case); but otherwise, it don’t. OTOH, being able to demand that the students come to class prepared does amazing things to the level of instruction. I went to a private H.S. and my wife went to a very well regarded (nationally ranked) public H.S. (in an affluent community). Simply put, I was exposed to more (and learned more) than she did. My opinion is that with some exceptions (for exceptional students), the major public Universities deliver as good an education as the Ivy League, but his skill set and goals are vitally important in making this claim. Cream rises to the top, so agonizing too much about which school to send him to is probably not productive. I recommend you spend more time encouraging him towards self-motivation, discipline, persistence, confidence, belief in hard work, enthusiasm, people skills, and love of learning. (easier said than done, LOL). You don’t mention location and what age he is. The average teen’s peer group is much more inflluential than parents. If his friends are admirable then experimenting by mixing that up is a real issue. If his friends are low-life gang members, then there isn’t any issue at all, seems to me. Keep in mind that H.S. GPA only matters for about 1 year out of a total lifetime of 90 years. I think college GPA (for students ending with their bachelor’s) is a bit more important, but chances are 10 years out, it wont matter much. You also need to remember what HE wants matters. Rich kids (private schools) might be less prone to make poor choices (drugs, crime), but this depends on the homes the kids come from, and the difference isn’t huge (imho) between socio-economically equivalent cohorts regardless of public or private schooling. Some parents believe that little Jimmy should play soccer because everyone wins a trophy and other parents believe that learning how to win and how to lose matters more, and the disrespect for kids efforts “everybody is a winner” communicates is NOT a good life lesson. I think my advice would be that if your son has moderate potential, that grade inflation might be a good thing to get him, possibly, into the next level up of Universities, if he is not academically oriented, he might do worse by being asked to do more, and if he is well above average then a private school could make a positive difference (kids there tend to be more goal focused, I think). Man, all the stereotypes I just touched on are really unfortunate. The most important thing is that he be happy. Next (imho) is he learn to get in control of his own life, learn to take chances, and make some good friends. Education is a lot less important than that (especially since so much of Freshman year is “review”). Why not ask him to help decide? (kids tend to be super conservative, change is hard for them, as I’m sure you know…but still he should be involved, shouldn’t he?) Oh, have you considered asking guidance office for their opinion? And one thing that shocked me is the high drop-out rate during the first years of college for my H.S. classmates – it was above 50%!!! Ask private school the % of their graduates getting a BA.BS in 4 years. Private does not equate to excellent. How do classes do in standardized testing and % seniors being accepted at their #1 college?

Phil S. August 29, 2014 at 3:25 pm

FWIW, our son is in 8th grade, and if he were to apply to private school, this would be the last good year to do so (it would be possible later, but sub-optimal).

I spent perhaps a little too much time this morning comparing one measure of high school outcomes – matriculation of their students at elite colleges. Did some tabulation of matriculation lists on various alternatives, plus some non-realistic alternatives useful for norming. The private that I was describing (with anti-GPA inflation philosophy) appears to fare relatively poorly in matriculations at elite schools, compared to some peers with similar student bodies (judging by ACT/SAT data). My guess (a rather rough one admittedly), is that their GPA policy is a non-trivial hindrance to their graduates.

Thomas August 28, 2014 at 11:12 pm

3. “grading is an imperfect, subjective science, and the burden appears to have fallen more on black students than on others.”

Grading is racist.

ChrisA August 29, 2014 at 1:20 am

Some great quotes from the FT article on Swedish private schools;

“The expansion of the highly popular Rytmus model to Gothenburg, Malmö, Norrköping and Orebro is financially driven, the teacher argues.” – in other making profits is bad despite good results.

“It’s not always the fact that the private schools get worse results . . . but they do harm [to the system] because traditional municipality schools have to adapt to a market system and they often lose their best pupils,” says Mr Sjöstedt.” – forcing state schools to compete is bad because….well it’s just bad.

“If you really want to improve education you have to invest in the training of teachers and raising the teachers’ competence and it takes time,” Mr Östberg says. “And if you’re a [private equity business] or venture capitalist . . . do you really have the interest to make sure that the results are better in a 10-year perspective?” – why would private investors not want to invest if it made sense? Investors are quite willing to invest in long term projects lasting decades before profits (e.g. mining, oil and gas, Amazon).

The romantic view that state employee are saintly but private employees are evil endures. The article demonstrates the usual fallacy of comparing the private sector against an ideal, not the public sector (have there never been failed schools in the public sector?). It presents motivating people through financial means as bad, even though that is how the entire western capitalistic system works, including such vital areas as food supply, transport and energy. And the huge benefit of allowing people a choice and permitting them to make their own decisions about what schooling their children get is entirely ignored. Finally the article constantly talks about the Pisa problem, where the private schools are being blamed for a drop in performance in the Pisa rankings without actually presenting any analysis of this at all.

Fortunately I suspect the Swedish experiment is irreversible now.

andrew' August 29, 2014 at 3:33 am

I love how Microsoft pushes cause the kid’s laptop to reboot thus starting all the pause YouTube videos at max volume.

Off topic, but since I’m up file under “we now officially work for the machines.”

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