Education

Taking a test on a hot and polluted day can result in a measurably lower score which, if the test is for something like a university entrance exam, can have permanent consequences. I find both of these results hard to believe which doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be believed.

Heat Stress and Human Capital Production by Jisung Park

How does temperature affect the human capital production process? Evidence from 4.6 million New York City high school exit exams suggests that heat stress on exam days reduces test scores and educational attainment by economically significant magnitudes, and that cumulative heat exposure during the school-year prior may affect the rate of learning. Taking an exam on a 90°F day relative to a 72°F day leads to a 0.19 standard deviation reduction in exam performance, equivalent to a quarter of the Black-White achievement gap, and a 12.3% higher likelihood of failing an exam. Teachers clearly try to offset the impacts of exam day heat stress by selectively boosting grades just below passing thresholds, while existing air conditioning seems to have a limited protective effect.  These findings may have implications for estimating the social cost of carbon, for designing education policy, and for understanding of climate in explaining income gaps across individuals and nations.

The Long-Run Economic Consequences of High-Stakes Examinations: Evidence from Transitory Variation in Pollution by Avraham Ebenstein, Victor Lavy and Sefi Roth.

Cognitive performance during high-stakes exams can be affected by random disturbances that, even if transitory, may have permanent consequences. We evaluate this hypothesis among Israeli students who took a series of matriculation exams between 2000 and 2002. Exploiting variation across the same student taking multiple exams, we find that transitory PM2.5 exposure is associated with a significant decline in student performance. We then examine these students in 2010 and find that PM2.5 exposure during exams is negatively associated with postsecondary educational attainment and earnings. The results highlight how reliance on noisy signals of student quality can lead to allocative inefficiency.

Equally, in a world where academics are obliged to offer up each piece of work to be evaluated as internationally significant, world leading etc., they will seek to signal such a rating discursively. A study by Vinkers et al. in the British Medical Journal uncovered a new tendency towards hyperbole in scientific reports. They found the absolute frequency of positive words increased from 2.0% (1974-80) to 17.5% (2014), which amounts to a relative increase of 880% over four decades. 25 individual positive words contributed to the increase, particularly the words “robust,” “novel,” “innovative,” and “unprecedented,” which increased in relative frequency up to 15 000%”). The authors comment upon an apparent evolution in scientific writing to ‘look on the bright side of life’.

That is by Liz Morrish, via Mark Carrigan.

The Department of Justice has sent a letter to UC Berkeley threatening a lawsuit unless the university modifies all of its free online educational materials to meet conditions of accessibility. In response the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education writes:

…we have attempted to maximize the accessibility of free, online content that we have made available to the public. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice has recently asserted that the University is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because, in its view, not all of the free course and lecture content UC Berkeley makes available on certain online platforms is fully accessible to individuals with hearing, visual or manual disabilities.

…We look forward to continued dialog with the Department of Justice regarding the requirements of the ADA and options for compliance. Yet we do so with the realization that, due to our current financial constraints, we might not be able to continue to provide free public content under the conditions laid out by the Department of Justice to the extent we have in the past.

In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free. We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.

In short, the DOJ is saying that unless all have access, none can and UC Berkeley is replying that none will. I sympathize with UC Berkeley’s position. The cost of making materials accessible can be high and the cost is extremely high per disabled student. It would likely be much cheaper to help each disabled student on an individual basis than requiring all the material to be rewritten, re-formatted and reprogrammed (ala one famous example).

An even greater absurdity is that online materials are typically much easier to access than classroom materials even when they do not fully meet accessibility rules. How many teachers, for example, come with captions? (And in multiple languages?) How about volume control? How easy is it for the blind to get to campus? In theory, in-class materials are also subject to the ADA but in practice everyone knows that that is basically unworkable. I guarantee, for example, that professors throughout the UC-system routinely show videos or use powerpoints that do not meet accessibility guidelines. Thus, by raising the costs of online education, the most accessible educational format, the ADA may have the unintended consequence of slowing access. Put simply, raising the costs of online education makes it more difficult for anyone to access educational materials including the disabled.

Addendum: By the way, if you are wondering, all of MRU’s videos for our Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics courses are captioned in English and most are also professionally captioned in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

After Texas high school builds $60-million stadium, rival district plans one for nearly $70 million

Need I say more?  I will nonetheless:

In Frisco, which neighbors Allen and McKinney, the district will pay $30 million over several years to use the Dallas Cowboys’ new 12,000-seat practice field for high school football and soccer games, as well as graduation ceremonies.

Here is a nice bit of fiscal illusion:

In McKinney [one of the stadium-building districts], school taxes for property owners amount to $1.63 per $100 of assessed valuation. The tax rate had been higher in the recent past, but it fell 5 cents this year, partly because the district had dropped some old debt. Because of the 5-cent decrease, district officials repeatedly note, property owners will see their taxes go down, even as the new stadium goes up.

Jim Buchanan would be proud.  And it’s a good thing we have the public sector to protect us from negative-sum status-seeking games!

The original pointer is from Adam Minter.

I will second Bryan Caplan’s post:

Last week, my colleague Dan Klein kicked off the Public Choice Seminar series.  During the introduction, I recalled some of his early work.  But only after did I realize how visionary he’s been.

In 1999, when internet commerce was still in its infancy, Klein published Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good ConductSeventeen years later, e-commerce towers before us, resting on a foundation of reputational incentives – everything from old-fashioned repeat business to two-sided smartphone reviews.

In 2003, long before Uber, Airbnb, or serious talk of driverless cars, Klein published The Half-Life of Policy Rationales: How New Technology Affects Old Policy Issues.  This remarkable work explores how technological change keeps making old markets failures – and the regulations that arguably address them – obsolete.  (Here’s the intro, co-authored with Fred Foldvary).  Fourteen years later, the relevance of Klein’s thesis is all around us.  Transactions costs no longer preclude peakload pricing for roads, decentralized taxis and home rentals, or full-blown caveat emptor for consumer goods.  So why not?

I’m not going to say that Klein caused these amazing 21st-century developments.  But he did foresee them more clearly than almost anyone.  Hail Dan Klein!

Some of Dan’s work, and later work (much of which is covered at MR), you will find here and here.  For instance, his later work on academic bias also was well ahead of its time and prefigured subsequent events, so this is actually a running streak.

I can think of a few candidate theories:

1. His views are the right views, more or less, and American voters recognized this.

2. A quite significant percentage of America is very directly racist.  I don’t mean statistical discrimination here, I mean “downright racist.”

3. Give Ray Fair (NYT) his Nobel Prize right here and now, economic conditions truly predict election results at the national level.

4. The “third term Party fatigue” effect is stronger in national elections than we had thought.

5. Hillary Clinton is a weaker candidate than many people had thought.  Maybe so, but that has to be unpacked a bit more.  I would try “the Democratic national establishment doesn’t understand why much of America trusts it so little, so it keeps on doing and saying unpopular things.  Those things include elevating some candidates and also encouraging them to take particular stances.”

6. As Robert D. Putnam suggested, ethnic diversity can lower the quality of governance, and this is one step along that path toward greater fractiousness.  This may blend into racism, but much of it is simply “fear of being in the losing coalition.”  The common claim that the electorate is more polarized than before fits into this.  You might try Ezra Klein’s podcast with Arlie Hochschild.

7. America is not ready for a woman president.  Or maybe it has to be a different kind of woman president, noting that Hillary, while she has passed through many filters, has not passed through the “truly popular with normal voters filter” in the same way that say Thatcher and Merkel did.  And no, New York isn’t normal, sorry people.

8. The Democrats have plenty of policy proposals, but only the Republicans are running on ideas.  And very often an idea beats no idea, even if the idea on the table is a bad one.

I don’t agree with #1, and while #4 sounds like a plausible part of the story to me, as a truly major explanation I find it hard to square with Obama’s continuing popularity.  #3 kicks in but as a dominant force, it seems hard to elevate when median household income just grew at 5.2%, inflation is low, there is no major war, gas prices are low, and asset prices are high.

On #2, I see #5 as a more convincing statement of related ideas, while admitting #2 is a factor.  How well the Democrats do in the Senate might give us some bead on the relative import of #5.

Overall I am seeing a lot of room for #5 and #6 and #7 and #8.  Presumably 5, 6, and 8 are hard for many Democrats to admit, and I genuinely wonder how their thoughts run in the quiet of their homes.  Some are plugging hard for an extreme version of #2, but, as long as we are considering matters of prejudice, I find the gender bias of #7 easier to swallow.  We did after all just elect Obama for two terms in a row, and we have never ever had a woman president or even a serious contender before.

If, I wish to stress that word if.  But that he is still in the running, and making it close, is reason enough to ponder these questions.

Charting Charts Chart

by on September 15, 2016 at 7:24 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

charting

From Priceonomics which notes:

In our sample of Times pieces, we only found one chart used outside the Business section before 1990….By the late 2000s, charts had become central to the journalism at the Times. The newspaper had a team of graphics reporters infusing the paper with innovative visualizations. For the Times web edition, those data visualizations were often interactive.

…The New York Times cemented their prioritization of visual journalism when they launched the data-driven news site the Upshot in 2014. The Upshot’s original team of fifteen included three full-time graphic journalists.

Computers are the obvious driving factor. Data analysis and visualization are powerful tools. I would guess that data IQ has been increasing ala the Flynn effect.

1. Jacobs was born in Scranton, PA, but moved to NYC in 1932 and as early as 1935 she had published some of her impressions of the city in a multi-part series in Vogue magazine.  Earlier, she had written poetry for the Girl Scouts’s magazine, American Girl.

2. She published a 1941 book on the intellectual foundations of the American Constitution, with Columbia University Press under her maiden name Jane Butzner and the title Constitutional Chaff.  At about the same time her manuscript was being accepted, she was kicked out of Columbia for taking too many extended studies classes, and not allowed admission to Barnard.

3. In 1940 she wrote an article based on her study of the embossed acronyms on manhole covers.

4. She then worked as writer during WWII for the Office of War Information and the State Department.  Before Pearl Harbor, she had been an isolationist.

5. Henri Pirenne’s work on medieval cities was one of the biggest influences on her.

6. In the 1940s, she also worked for a metals industry magazine, and smoked a pipe in her office.  They started to wonder whether she was a troublemaker.

7. She married an architect in 1944, then taking the name Jacobs.  They enjoyed bicycling and sociometry together.  She had sons in 1948 and 1950.

8. Alger Hiss had been her superior at the State Department, and in the late 1940s Jacobs was investigated for possible Communist ties, in part because she had tried to apply for a visa to Siberia, using Hiss as her contact.  She stated in response that she abhorred communism and favored radical decentralization.

There is much more!  But that is a taste from the new and excellent Becoming Jane Jacobs, a runs-up-through 1972 biography by Peter L. Laurence, definitely one of the best books of the year.  This is the biography of Jacobs I have wanted to read for forty years.

Addendum: There is a new Jane Jacobs movie coming to the Toronto film festival.

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.

There is a new NBER paper on this topic by Fali Huang, Ginger Zhe Jin, and Lixin Colin Xu, the results are striking:

While parental matchmaking has been widespread throughout history and across countries, we know little about the relationship between parental matchmaking and marriage outcomes. Does parental involvement in matchmaking help ensure their needs are better taken care of by married children? This paper finds supportive evidence using a survey of Chinese couples. In particular, parental involvement in matchmaking is associated with having a more submissive wife, a greater number of children, a higher likelihood of having any male children, and a stronger belief of the husband in providing old age support to his parents. These benefits, however, are achieved at the cost of less marital harmony within the couple and lower market income of the wife. The results render support to and extend the findings of Becker, Murphy and Spenkuch (2015) where parents meddle with children’s preferences to ensure their commitment to providing parental goods such as old age support.

Here is an earlier SSRN version.

A miniature donkey can change your life. Ten of them can change it a lot.

And:

Five years ago, Mr. Stiert was a software engineer at IBM. A bunch of things happened — divorce, a layoff, a sort of reckoning. Now, at 57, he says, “Every day is donkey day.”

And:

Ms. Hill, 26, said she kept returning because donkeys “don’t judge.”

“They understand, even though they don’t talk,” she said.

And the dreaded regulatory state raises its feared hand:

(Before you run out to shop for donkeys yourself, make sure they’re legal in your town. They are not in New York City, for instance, where the Health Code bans “all odd-toed ungulates” — hoofed animals — other than domesticated horses, “including, but not limited to, zebra, rhinoceros and tapir.”)

Those are not the only good sentences about miniature donkey therapy meet-ups, Andy Newman at the NYT has more.  Here is a final winner:

For all their surprising virtues, donkeys can be a little stubborn.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Rowe that college has been oversold and that we need a greater focus on and respect for vocational education. I’ve also been impressed with Rowe’s honesty and intelligence as is evident in this recent post discussing his work with Charles Koch on vocational education.

If you haven’t seen it, my name appeared a few weeks ago in a headline next to Koch Industries. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s have a look.

Pablo Elvira says…Mike – I’ve never written a “protest” email before now, but I’m compelled. Your association with The Koch Brothers has obliterated my trust in you.

Steven Stahl writes… I have lost a huge amount of respect for you. Mike, you are better than this.

Mande Smogor says…Charles Koch promotes fear mongering on climate change, and basically destroy minorities, the elderly, anyone who isn’t rich, and unions. Morally and ethically I am profoundly disconnected from Mike Rowe right now. #SoLongDecadeLongCelebrityCrush…etc, etc.

You can set your watch by it. Whenever my name appears next to an individual on someone’s “List of Known Enemies,” people line up to tell me why they can no longer be my friend, or watch my shows, or support my foundation. From Glenn Beck to Bill Maher, my proximity over the years to the “wrong guy” has prompted hundreds of Facebook friends to scoop up their marbles and stomp off in a huff….

Like most of you, my opinion of public figures is influenced by what I read in the press, and what I read about The Brothers Koch leaves little doubt they they ride with The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse. Over the last few years though, my opinion has changed. Partly, because I took it upon myself to read beyond the headlines, and partly because I came to learn that our foundations are aligned on a number of issues important to me.

…We met a few years ago in California. I had just given a speech about the disastrous consequences of removing vocational education from high schools, and Charles was in the audience. One of his people invited me to lunch, and I said sure. I was eager to see the horns and smell the sulphur for myself. Surprisingly, I found neither. What I found, was a 78-year-old man with more energy and enthusiasm than I could match. We spoke at length, and I learned a number of surprising things.

I learned for instance, about his passion for criminal justice reform. He’s frustrated by the fact that punishments no longer fit the crime, and angered that minor drug offenders and rapists often serve comparable sentences. He’s proud that Koch Industries does not ask those applying for employment to “check the box” with regard to previous incarceration. He told me that once a debt is paid, the balance sheet should be clear. I was surprised, because the man I had read about seemed very much at odds with a crusader for the formerly incarcerated.

We then talked at length about the dangers of a two-tiered economic system, and his belief that cronyism was at the heart of so much unfairness in today’s society. Charles told me about a documentary his foundation funded that exposed the obscene policy of charging people (black women, primarily) thousands of dollars for a license that allows them to legally braid hair in their communities. I watched it later, and it made me angry. It also made me think about the hundreds of entrepreneurs I’d met over the years who expressed similar frustrations in their own industries. Again, I was surprised. I had read nothing from anyone about Koch’s concern for the little guy. Not what I expected.

But I was most surprised by his commitment to reinvigorate the skilled trades. I knew his foundation focused on many forms of higher education, but I had no idea we shared a common view regarding the skills gap. He pointed out that countless small businesses begin with a tradesperson who learned a skill that was in demand. I shared my belief that a chronic skills gap was more troubling than chronic unemployment, because the existence of opportunity that people don’t care about is more alarming than a lack of opportunity overall.

In short, we found ourselves in violent agreement on a number of things important to us both, and after lunch, he told me to let him know if mikeroweWORKS could ever use his help. (In hindsight, it’s entirely possible he was just being polite, but he would soon learn just how literal I can be.)

When I got involved with Project Jumpstart in Baltimore, I called Charles and told him about their incredible track record preparing inner city kids and non-violent offenders for a career in the trades. At base, Jumpstart is a pre-apprenticeship program for the construction trades. The placement rate is an astonishing 80%. Jumpstart not only trains people for the job at hand, it helps them solve problems that often prevent people in their position from succeeding. They pay a stipend, for instance, while being trained. They help with transportation to the job site, and provide extraordinary mentorship and follow up. But there are also consequences. Trainees can lose their stipends if they don’t comply with the rules. I spoke with many of the graduates, and they all talked about how important the “real world training” was to their success. When I told Charles about the program, his foundation stepped up.

When SkillsUSA came around this year, I told him I was speaking at their opening ceremony. He wasn’t familiar with the program. When I explained its impact on the next generation of skilled tradespeople, he was once again intrigued. He wanted to know how an organization that did so much good, and consisted of nearly 400,000 kids, was unknown to so many. I told him the challenge facing SkillsUSA was not so different than the challenge facing many companies looking to recruit skilled labor – basic awareness. I told him my foundation made sure that kids who qualified for the National Finals had their transportation and lodging covered, if they couldn’t afford to get there on their own. Charles liked that, and he doubled the resources we had allocated for this year’s event.

Most recently, The Koch Foundation allowed mikeroweWORKS to help more people than ever before through our Work Ethic Scholarship Program….

So – to Pablo, Steven, Mande, and anyone else compelled to share their disappointment – I get it. But look – if I only associate with “approved people,” or limit my relationships to those who see the world exactly as I do, then I might as well build a church and preach only to the choir. Where is the fun in that? The truth is, progress only happens when people find common ground and build something on it. And when it comes to closing the skills gap, we need progress.

Good for Rowe! It’s well known, of course, but my own institution, George Mason, has also benefited from Charles Koch’s investments in education.

Here is one bit from Steve Lohr’s longer article at the NYT:

For the moment, Amazon seems to be the most aggressive recruiter of economists. It even has an Amazon Economists website for soliciting résumés. In a video on the site, Patrick Bajari, the company’s chief economist, says the economics team has contributed to decisions that have had “multibillion-dollar impacts” for the company.

Another Amazon jobs site lists openings for economists. As of Friday, there were 34.

Seeing this emerging job market, the National Association for Business Economics held its first meeting for technology company economists in April in San Francisco. Another is set for October in Silicon Valley.

The article has many other interesting segments.

In the four years that Ayanna Chisholm has worked collecting tolls out of tiny glass booths at the Holland Tunnel and elsewhere in New Jersey, there have been several constants. There are familiar commuters, malfunctioning toll arms, occasional scofflaws — and an incessant barrage of come-ons, sexual comments, lecherous stares and crude gestures from male motorists.

Some of Ms. Chisholm’s colleagues say they have been subjected to drivers exposing themselves. The fusillade is especially menacing because it is inescapable, the workers confined to small hutches on the highway.

Like other women in her profession, Ms. Chisholm, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has learned to wear little makeup, crack her booth’s window open as little as possible, and drop change into waiting hands to avoid drivers who try to stroke her palm.

That is from the NYT, and of course the same was true decades ago.  No one from New Jersey should be surprised at how most internet comments have turned out.