Some surprising findings from researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies about education in England:

All ethnic minority groups in England are now, on average, more likely to go to university than their White British peers. This is the case even amongst groups who were previously under-represented in higher education, such as those of Black Caribbean ethnic origin, a relatively recent change.

These differences also vary by socio-economic background, and in some cases are very large indeed. For example, Chinese pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile group are, on average, more than 10 percentage points more likely to go to university than White British pupils in the highest socio-economic quintile group. By contrast, White British pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile group have participation rates that are more than 10 percentage points lower than those observed for any other ethnic group.

Combined with the Case-Deaton results about rising/not falling death rates among middle aged white Americans and the other measures of increasing social polarization among white Americans that Charles Murray discusses in Coming Apart this may be signs of a trend.

Hat tip: Tim Harford.

An article in The Wall Street Journal explores higher education as a lobbying force, and find colleges to have large and effective representation in Washington. Based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the article finds that higher education had 1,020 lobbyists in 2014, third among industries (after pharmaceuticals and electronics). In terms of effectiveness, the article notes the extent to which the Obama administration pulled back on its initial plans for rating colleges.

That is from InsideHigherEd, there is nothing more at the link.  And here is another, meatier piece from the same issue, perhaps not totally unrelated, excerpt:

…they [the researchers] found that on only one of the five measures, cognitive complexity of the course work, did the elite colleges in the study outperform the nonelite institutions.

On two, standards and expectations of the course work and the level of the instructors’ subject matter knowledge, there were no meaningful differences by prestige level. On two others, though — the extent to which the instructors “surfaced” students’ prior knowledge and supported changes in their views, the lower-prestige institutions outperformed the elite ones.

That is from a new study which tries to measure, through classroom visits, whether classes at elite colleges are really any better.  That article has many interesting points, including the usual evasive reply from commentators as to whether this really measures anything (“If I’m teaching a 15-week course, does one class really represent the quality of my teaching?” — TC says yes).  Believe it or not, three elite institutions actually permitted such visits to take place, even though they presumably had nowhere to go but down.  I cannot however find a copy of the paper on-line.

Please note by the way that I still adhere to my transformational/acculturation theory of higher education.

Against kindergarten?

by on November 8, 2015 at 8:11 pm in Data Source, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

A new study on the mental health effects of kindergarten enrollment ages found strong evidence that a one-year delay dramatically improves a child’s self-regulation abilities even into later childhood.

According to the study co-authored by Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Thomas Dee, children who started kindergarten a year later showed significantly lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity, which are jointly considered a key indicator of self regulation. The beneficial result was found to persist even at age 11.

“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11,” Dee said, “and it virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal,’ or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioral measure.”

The study, aptly titled, “The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health,” was published Oct. 5, by the National Bureau of Economic Research. A version of the article is also available here as a working paper from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis at the GSE.

I have not yet read the study, but it seems to me this paper, along with some other recent results, does not exactly help the case for preschool…

For the pointer I thank Peter Metrinko.

This is from a recent paper by Stanford’s Scott Rozelle:

We also seek to explain why parents in rural China appear to be engaging in poor parenting practices. The paper brings together quantitative results from a survey of 1,442 caregivers of 18- to 30-month-old children in children in 11 nationally designated poverty counties as well as analysis of interviews with 20 caregivers in 8 rural villages. The results of the quantitative analysis demonstrate that 42 percent of children in the sample are cognitively impaired and 10.2 percent experience delayed motor development [emphasis added by TC]. According to the quantitative data, the poor cognitive development is not due to the fact that parents do not care for their children, as the majority reported that they enjoyed spending time with their child (88.6%). Nor are the delays due to a lack of a sense of parental responsibility, as almost all caregivers responded that they believed it was their responsibility to help their child learn about the world around them (94.6%). Yet poor parenting practices appear to be in part to blame: quantitative analysis shows a significant positive correlation between singing, reading, and playing with a child and their cognitive and psychomotor development. The empirical data shows, however, that 87.4 percent of parents do not read to their children; 62.5 percent do not sing to their children; and 60.8 percent do not play with their children. In the qualitative section of the paper we provide evidence suggesting that the prevalence of poor parenting practices does not stem from inadequate financial resources or parental indifference to the child’s development. Instead, the three main constraints influencing parental behaviors are (a) not knowing that they should be engaging in these parenting behaviors at this stage in the child’s development, (b) not knowing how to properly interact with the child, and (c) not having time to practice such behaviors.

Like all papers, this one is subject to various cavils and caveats, or perhaps the sample is not truly representative.  Still, it is a useful antidote for assuming that factors of IQ and human capital necessarily give China a big growth advantage in the decades to come.  Chinese test scores are good, but rural China does not always meet the Chinese average, and that is where much of the next wave of growth needs to come from.

Of course for more on these issues you need to read Garett Jones’s forthcoming The Hive Mind.

For the pointer I thank Christopher Balding, here is his new post on how stressed are the major Chinese banks?: “Chinese banks are slush funds to direct capital to preferred companies.”

Eduarto Porter has an excellent column on that topic, here is one bit:

In a report released last week, Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma García from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, suggest that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools.

“Once we adjust for social status, we are doing much better than we think,” Professor Carnoy told me. “We underrate our progress.”

The researchers started by comparing test scores in the United States with those in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland, South Korea, Poland and Ireland. On average, students in all those countries do better than American children.

Then the researchers divided students into groups depending on the number of books in their homes, a measure of the academic resources at families’ disposal. This adjustment significantly reduced the American deficit, especially among students on the bottom rungs of the resource ladder.

American students from families with the least educational resources, as it turned out, scored better on the PISA math test than similar children in France and about the same as Britons, Germans and Irish.

Read the whole thing.

Here is the Stanford report of his passing, well done, and here are previous MR mentions of Girard.  He was one of the world’s great thinkers.

The study, due for public release on Tuesday, shows China fell 10 places to 47th in a ranking of 70 countries compiled by EF Education First, which based its rankings on test data from more than 900,000 adults sitting online tests.

EF said most of the countries that moved ahead of China this year were from Latin America. “These Latin American countries have kicked off ambitious national initiatives focused on English-language training, including Brazil’s English Without Borders programme and Mexico’s Project 100,000,” EF said in a statement.

Here is more from Patti Waldmeir at the FT.

Free Market Food Banks

by on November 3, 2015 at 7:27 am in Economics, Education, Food and Drink | Permalink

Feeding America, the third largest non-profit in the United States, distributes billions of pounds of food every year. Most of the food comes from large firms like Kraft, ConAgra and Walmart that have a surplus of some item and scarce warehouse space. Feeding America coordinates the supply of surplus food with the demand from food banks across the U.S..

Allocating food is not an easy problem. How do you decide who gets what while taking into account local needs, local tastes, what foods the bank has already, what abilities the banks have to store food on a particular day, transportation costs and so forth. Alex Teytelboym writing at The Week points out:

…Before 2005, Feeding America allocated food centrally, and according to its rather subjective perception of what food banks needed. Headquarters would call up the food banks in a priority order and offer them a truckload of food. Bizarrely, all food was treated more or less equally, irrespective of its nutritional content. A pound of chicken was the same as a pound of french fries. If the food bank accepted the load, it paid the transportation costs and had the truck sent to them. If the food bank refused, Feeding America would judge this food bank as having lower need and push it down the priority list. Unsurprisingly, food banks went out of their way to avoid refusing food loads — even if they were already stocked with that particular food.

This Soviet-style system was hugely inefficient. Some urban food banks had great access to local food donations and often ended up with a surplus of food. A lot of food rotted in places where it was not needed, while many shelves in other food banks stood empty. Feeding America simply knew too little about what their food banks needed on a given day.

In 2005, however, a group of Chicago academics, including economists, worked with Feeding America to redesign the system using market principles. Today Feeding America no longer sends trucks of potatoes to food banks in Idaho and a pound of chicken is no longer treated the same as a pound of french fries. Instead food banks bid on food deliveries and the market discovers the internal market-prices that clear the system. The auction system even allows negative prices so that food banks can be “paid” to pick up food that is not highly desired–this helps Feeding America keep both its donors and donees happy.

Food banks are not bidding in dollars, however, but in a new, internal currency called shares.

Every day, each food bank is allocated a pot of fiat currency called “shares.” Food banks in areas with bigger populations and more poverty receive larger numbers of shares. Twice a day, they can use their shares to bid online on any of the 30 to 40 truckloads of food that were donated directly to Feeding America. The winners of the auction pay for the truckloads with their shares. Then, all the shares spent on a particular day are reallocated back to food banks at midnight. That means that food banks that did not spend their shares on a particular day would end up with more shares and thus a greater ability to bid the next day. In this way, the system has built-in fairness: If a large food bank could afford to spend a fortune on a truck of frozen chicken, its shares would show up on the balance of smaller food banks the next day. Moreover, neighboring food banks can now team up to bid jointly to reduce their transport costs.

Initially, there was plenty of resistance. As one food bank director told Canice Prendergast, an economist advising Feeding America, “I am a socialist. That’s why I run a food bank. I don’t believe in markets. I’m not saying I won’t listen, but I am against this.” But the Chicago economists managed to design a market that worked even for participants who did not believe in it. Within half a year of the auction system being introduced, 97 percent of food banks won at least one load, and the amount of food allocated from Feeding America’s headquarters rose by over 35 percent, to the delight of volunteers and donors.

Teytelboym’s very good, short account is working off a longer, more detailed paper by Canice Prendergast, The Allocation of Food to Food Banks.

Canice’s paper would be a great teaching tool in an intermediate or graduate micro economics class. Pair it with Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society. Under the earlier centralized system, Feeding America didn’t know when a food bank was out of refrigerator space or which food banks had hot dogs but wanted hot dog buns and which the reverse–under the market system this information, which Hayek called “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” is used and as a result less food is wasted and the food is used to satisfy more urgent needs.

The Feeding America auction system is also the best illustration that I know of the second fundamental theorem of welfare economics.

Even monetary economics comes into play. Feeding America created a new currency and thus had to deal with the problem of the aggregate money supply. How should the supply of shares be determined so that relative prices were free to change but the price level would remain relatively stable? How could the baby-sitting co-op problem be avoided? Scott Sumner will be disappointed to learn that they choose pound targeting rather than nominal-pound targeting but some of the key issues of monetary economics are present even in this simple economy.

The perfect Lot 1 will double or triple its presale estimate, igniting high spirits in the salesroom that encourage enthusiastic bidding.

That is from a new and excellent NYT Judith H. Dobryzynski feature story on how art markets work, interesting throughout.  Here is some nudge, through the whetting of the appetite:

As at a bad play, people may well leave in midauction. So it’s good to set conservative estimates, Mr. Pylkkanen explained: “Then they come in feeling that they may win the object, and when they have that idea in their head, it’s psychological; they go longer. They’re thinking about the celebration they are going to have” if they win.

It’s not the focus of this article, but I believe the art world to be one of the more corrupt sectors of the American economy, once you consider the prevalence of fakes, the amount of looking the other way, and also the use of high appraisals to get favorable tax breaks on donations.  Along other lines, here is one bit:

When asked if they would help get a collector’s child into college to get a great consignment, Mr. Rotter and Mr. Shaw both laughed and nodded yes.

The NYC auction season starts quite soon.

For the pointer I thank Claire Morgan.

Value-added is also known as “marginal product,” an economic concept of some import.  It is supposed to be what we care about.

I am pleased to see that George Mason comes in at number forty, well ahead of Yale University at number 1270.

For the pointer I thank the estimable Chug.

One of the themes of our textbook, Modern Principles, is that Markets Link the World. Here’s a great illustration of that theme showing how markets link China’s One Two Child policy to New Zealand dairy farmers and the New Zealand dollar. It’s also a great example of how quickly financial markets incorporate new information.


For another example see our MRUniversity video I, Rose and the discussion in our textbook.

Hat tip: Lars Christensen.

As a leader I would never institute a one-child policy, which I consider to be an immoral restriction on personal liberty.  But if we ask whether this policy had benefits for China, it absolutely did.

For instance the policy made China a more educated society more rapidly.  It is simple economics that putting a lot of money into the education of each child is easier to do with a single child than with three or for that matter seven kids.  The effects of the one-child policy are illustrated through a natural experiment of sorts.  Chinese children who ended up born into twin pairs showed significantly slower rates of schooling progress, worse grades, lower chances of college enrollment, and worse health.  These differences do not follow mainly from the lower birth weight of twins or other birth-related problems (though that is one factor), but rather they stem from the lower resources which are invested in children in larger families.

See Rosenzweig and Zhang, Review of Economic Studies 2009.

By the way, the one-child policy was not the main reason why Chinese fertility fell.  Between 1970 and 1979, before the policy was put in place, the total fertility rate fell dramatically from 5.9 to 2.9.  After the policy was introduced, the total fertility rate actually fell more gradually than during that earlier stretch, settling into 1.7 by 1995.  The best estimate we have is that the one-child policy lowered Chinese births by an average of 0.33 per woman, which is a noticeable but not drastic change.

Even in purely practical terms, it is highly likely the policy has been obsolete for some while.

See Therese Hesketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years.” New England Journal of Medicine, September 15, 2005, 1171-1176, and Marjorie McElroy and Dennis Tao Yang. “Carrots and Sticks: Fertility Effects of China’s Population Policies.” American Economic Review, May 2000, 389-392.

Apple Should Buy a University

by on October 28, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

Apple has more than $205 billion in cash. What should they do with the money? Apple should buy a university and rebuild it from the ground up.

In recent years, some private equity firms have bought universities and turned them into for-profits. The for-profit model, however, has yet to produce a world-class university. But consider Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, it was only established in 1984 and yet today with its online students it’s the largest private, non-profit university in the United States. Liberty University doesn’t get accolades but it is a technology leader and it shows what is possible starting from a small budget.

Apple_Campus_2_renderingApple is a for-profit corporation not a charity but there are plenty of ways to make money from a non-profit university. Aside from the tax breaks and other deductions, Apple University would be a proving ground for educational technologies that would be sold to every other university in the world. New textbooks built for the iPad and its successors would greatly increase the demand for iPads. Apple-designed courses built using online technologies, a.i. tutors, and virtual reality experimental worlds could become the leading form of education worldwide. Big data analytics from Apple University textbooks and courses would lead to new and better ways of teaching. As a new university, Apple could experiment with new ways of organizing degrees and departments and certifying knowledge. Campuses in Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Berlin, and Sao Paulo could provide opportunities for studying abroad. Apple’s reputation would attract top students, especially, for example, if it started with a design and business school. Top students would lead Apple University to be highly ranked. The more prestigious Apple University became the greater would be the demand for Apple University educational products.

Apple already has the beginning of this model with iTunes U and its own internal Apple University for training in business and design. By buying a university, Apple would commit to a learning process to develop these technologies in entirely new ways.

More than a century ago Stanford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller used their industrial-age fortunes to build some of our best universities. Isn’t it time for another great university built for the information age?

…the personality trait most strongly correlated with programming ability was not introversion or conscientiousness, but openness: a trait that’s related to being creative and imaginative. What’s more, over time to the present day, openness has become a more important correlate of programming ability, while conscientiousness has become less important. This is speculation, but perhaps more creative people are today drawn to careers in programming because of all the opportunities for imaginative expression in a world of apps, video games, snazzy websites, and social networks. Finally, the traits of agreeableness (essentially how friendly someone is) and neuroticism (how anxious and emotionally unstable) were not correlated with programming ability, pretty much refuting the tired stereotype of the socially awkward programming geek.

A final thought: knowing someone’s personality and mental ability doesn’t actually tell you a great deal about their likely computer programming skills. Personality traits and IQ in fact only accounted for around 12 per cent of the difference between people in their programming abilities, which just goes to show that the very idea that there is such a thing as a computer wiz “personality type” is nonsense anyway.

There is more here, original research here.  I would put more weight on the second excerpted paragraph than the first.

China fact of the day

by on October 26, 2015 at 8:02 am in Current Affairs, Education, Law, Television | Permalink

The number of people sitting the 2015 qualification exam for broadcasters and TV hosts more than doubled from the previous year as China has tightened the ban on hosts without a certificate.

A total of 13,311 people sat the test on Sunday, compared with 5,908 in 2014. Some well-known hosts also took Sunday’s test, according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

The soaring number of examinees was believed to be resulted from a circular the administration issued in June. The circular banned guest hosts in any TV shows, including news, commentary and interview panels, reiterating that all TV hosts must have vocational qualifications.

The article is here, via Adam Minter.