Results for “average is over”
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Average is over

Thirteen-year-olds saw unprecedented declines in both reading and math between 2012 and 2020, according to scores released this morning from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Consistent with several years of previous data, the results point to a clear and widening cleavage between America’s highest- and lowest-performing students and raise urgent questions about how to reverse prolonged academic stagnation.

The scores offer more discouraging evidence from NAEP, often referred to as “the Nation’s Report Card.” Various iterations of the exam, each tracking different subjects and age groups over several years, have now shown flat or falling numbers…

both reading and math results for nine-year-olds have made no headway; scores were flat for every ethnic and gender subgroup of younger children — with the exception of nine-year-old girls, who scored five points worse on math than they had in 2012. Their dip in performance produced a gender gap for the age group that did not exist on the test’s last iteration.

More ominous were the results for 13-year-olds, who experienced statistically significant drops of three and five points in reading and math, respectively. Compared with math performance in 2012, boys overall lost five points, and girls overall lost six points. Black students dropped eight points and Hispanic students four points; both decreases widened their score gap with white students, whose scores were statistically unchanged from 2012.

In keeping with previous NAEP releases, the scores also showed significant drops in performance among low-performing test-takers. Most disturbing: Declines among 13-year-olds scoring at the 10th percentile of reading mean that the group’s literacy performance is not significantly improved compared with 1971, when the test was first administered. In all other age/subject configurations, students placing at all levels of the achievement spectrum have gained ground over the last half-century.

Here is the full story, please note these are pre-Covid test scores, arguably now the problem could be worse.  Via Luke, a concerned human.

American distress (average is over)

The proportion of the US population in extreme distress rose from 3.6% in 1993 to 6.4% in 2019. Among low-education midlife White persons, the percentage more than doubled, from 4.8% to 11.5%. Regression analysis revealed that (1) at the personal level, the strongest statistical predictor of extreme distress was “I am unable to work,” and (2) at the state level, a decline in the share of manufacturing jobs was a predictor of greater distress.

As for the definition, exceptional distress is the percentage who reported major mental and emotional problems in all 30 of the last 30 days.

That is from Blanchower and Oswald, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Average is Over, installment #1437

Over the past few decades, we find that about 80% of the widening residual wage inequality to be within jobs.

Furthermore, performance-pay incidence is the single largest factor behind that, accounting for 42% of those changes.  Of course this brings us back to the least popular explanation for growing income inequality, namely that we measure productivity better than before, and reward it accordingly.

That is all from a new NBER working paper by Rongsheng Tang, Yang Tang, and Ping Wang.

Average is Over: Newspaper Edition

Joshua Benton at the LA Times illustrates average is over for newspapers. On the left the print circulation of major newspapers in 2002. The NYTimes is the leader but other newspapers follow closely behind in a slowly decaying curve likely related to city size. On the right, 2019 digital subscriptions. The NYTimes dominates. Only the Washington Post is even in the same league (The Wall Street Journal, however, should also have made Benton’s list at 1.5 million digital subscribers.) Without classified ads and other local information, for which there are now multiple online substitutes, there isn’t a big demand for local newspapers. News is now national and only a handful of newspapers can survive at national scale. Moreover, the few who can survive at national scale are now so much better than their competitors precisely because they can afford to be better.

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Average is Over, installment #437

Taking logs of computer activity, or even screenshots, and running them through big data analytics programs allows these firms to create detailed reports for executives about productivity, they claim. How employers use the data, they add, is up to them.

According to Gartner, more than half of companies with over $750m in annual sales used “non-traditional” monitoring techniques on staff in 2018, while the workforce analytics industry will be worth nearly $2bn by 2025, according to San Francisco’s Grand Review Research.

Products developed by companies such as Activtrak, which raised $20m in a series A funding round in March 2019, allow employers to track which websites staff visit, how long they spend on sites deemed “unproductive” and set alarms triggered by content considered dangerous.

And:

If combined with personal details, such as someone’s age and sex, the data could allow employers to develop a nuanced picture of ideal employees, choose whom they considered most useful and help with promotion and firing decisions.

Here is more from Camilla Hodgson at the FT.

The great retrogression average is over

White, non-college-educated Americans born in the 1960s face shorter life expectancies, higher medical expenses, and lower wages per unit of human capital compared with those born in the 1940s, and men’s wages declined more than women’s. After documenting these changes, we use a life-cycle model of couples and singles to evaluate their effects. The drop in wages depressed the labor supply of men and increased that of women, especially in married couples. Their shorter life expectancy reduced their retirement savings but the increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses increased them by more. Welfare losses, measured a one-time asset compensation are 12.5%, 8%, and 7.2% of the present discounted value of earnings for single men, couples, and single women, respectively. Lower wages explain 47-58% of these losses, shorter life expectancies 25-34%, and higher medical expenses account for the rest.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Margherita Borella, Mariacristina De Nardi, and Fang Yang.

Mid-level urban average is over?

Forty years ago, Nashville and Birmingham, Ala., were peers. Two hundred miles apart, the cities anchored metropolitan areas of just under one million people each and had a similar number of jobs paying similar wages.

Not anymore. The population of the Nashville area has roughly doubled, and young people have flocked there, drawn by high-paying jobs as much as its hip “Music City” reputation. Last month, the city won an important consolation prize in the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters: an operations center that will eventually employ 5,000 people at salaries averaging $150,000 a year.

Birmingham, by comparison, has steadily lost population, and while its suburbs have expanded, their growth has lagged the Nashville area’s. Once-narrow gaps in education and income have widened, and important employers like SouthTrust and Saks have moved their headquarters. Birmingham tried to lure Amazon, too, but all it is getting from the online retail giant is a warehouse and a distribution center where many jobs will pay about $15 an hour.

That is from Ben Casselman (NYT), interesting throughout.  Ben is yet another example of just how good the Times is at talent selection…

College average is over

Concord University in West Virginia and Clemson University in South Carolina were both founded shortly after the Civil War. During the 20th century, each grew rapidly. Now, the two public universities that sit just 300 miles apart face very different circumstances.

Clemson, a large research university, enrolled its largest-ever freshman class in 2017 and in December broke ground on an $87 million building for the college of business.

Concord, a midsize liberal-arts school, has seen its freshman enrollment fall 19% in five years. It has burned through all $12 million in its reserves and can’t afford to tear down two mostly empty dormitories…

According to an analysis of 20 years of freshman-enrollment data at 1,040 of the 1,052 schools listed in The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking, U.S. not-for-profit colleges and universities are segregating into winners and losers—with winners growing and expanding and losers seeing the first signs of a death spiral.

The Journal ranking, which includes most major public and private colleges with more than 1,000 students, focused on how well a college prepares students for life after graduation. The analysis found that the closer to the bottom of the ranking a school was, the more likely its enrollment was shrinking.

That is from Douglas Belkin at the WSJ, via multiple MR readers, some of them excellent.

Many of you have asked me for further commentary on Bryan Caplan’s education book, which is doing very well.  I’ll be doing a Conversation with Bryan, but for the time being I’ll say this: everyone obsesses over the mood-affiliated “I’m going to lower the status of education signaling argument.”  Hardly anyone has discussed what to me is Bryan’s strangest assumption, namely a sociologically-rooted, actually anti-economics “conformity is stronger than you think” argument, which Bryan uses to assert the status quo will continue more or less indefinitely.  It won’t.  To the extent Bryan is correct (and that you can debate, but at least he is more correct than most people in the educational establishment will let on), competency-based learning and changes in employer behavior will in fact bring about a new equilibrium…not quickly, but certainly in well under two decades.

And what about on-line education?  Well, a lot of students don’t like it because they have to actually work on their own and pay attention.  To the extent education really is just signaling, that should give on-line options a brighter future all the more.  But not in the Caplanian world view, as conformity serves once again as an intervening factor.  For better or worse, Bryan’s book subverts economics as a science at least as much as it does education.  Bryan of course is smart enough to see the trade-offs here, and he knows if the standard model of economic competition were allowed to reign supreme, we would (even with subsidies, relative to those subsidies) tend to see strong moves toward relatively efficient means of signaling, if only through changes in the relative sizes of institutions.

Average is over, NYC private school edition

Compensation for the heads of some elite private K-12 schools in New York City is nearing $1 million.

Much in the city’s private school world can seem beyond the norm: the tuition and fees (topping $50,000 a year), the kindergarten application process (interviews for 4-year-olds), the facilities (climbing walls). And so too executive compensation that exceeds the pay of many college presidents.

Pay packages often include deferred compensation and perks like housing, housekeeping, social club dues and free tuition for heads’ children. Chiefs of New York City schools earn far more than the national average, due to the high cost of living, ambitious fundraising duties, competition for talent, relatively large enrollments and other factors, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

The median base salary for heads of the city’s private schools is $493,478 this academic year among 44 city schools in a survey by the association. That compares to $275,000 nationwide. The group says the city’s pay for heads grew faster as well: Its median salary jumped 70% in a decade, compared with 45% nationwide.

At least nine heads of private K-12 schools in New York City earned total yearly packages topping $800,000, according to 2015 federal tax forms, the most recent year available.

Here is the WSJ piece, via the excellent Samir Varma.

There is no great startup stagnation crow average is over

The winners of the Dutch Accenture Innovation Awards, the Crowbar (Crowded Cities) startup offers a smart machine that trains crows to pick up cigarette butts from the street, The Next Web reports.

The incentives work like this:

The machine is designed to autonomously train crows to pick up change and bring it back in exchange for peanuts.

The first step presents the crow with food and a butt on a tray in the machine. The food is always there, next to the butt, so the crow learns to come back for more.

The second step takes away the food, and only drops it just after the crow arrives. “So the crow gets used to the machine doing things,” Bob says.

“The third step is crucial,” the authors say. In this step, the food is completely removed, leaving only the butt on the tray. The crow, used to getting food only for being there, will start to nose around, eventually knocking the butt off the tray into the butt receptacle. The food drops when that happens.

Here is the full story, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Italian average is over

Michele Fontefrancesco, an economic anthropologist and honorary fellow of Durham University, says: “Jobs have been getting more precarious in Italy since the late-1990s. What is becoming more and more common in Italy and other Mediterranean countries is the erratic movement of workers from firm to firm.”

He adds: “It’s becoming harder and harder to access professions with social capital. You study for three or four years longer than your father and you earn less money than him.”

For Agnese Bellieni, a 31-year-old resident of Alessandria, in Italy’s north-west, years of education are failing to pay off, and the eurozone recovery feels intangible. After finishing her doctoral studies in literature her dream was to become a full-time teacher, but in recent years she has been bogged down in a series of continuous but part-time, precarious work assignments — from market research, to Latin and ancient Greek tutoring — that, at best, have earned her €1,500 a month.

That is by Claire Jones in the FT, mostly about how the new eurozone jobs have lower wages and less job security.

Those new service sector jobs average is over spelling bee tutor edition

In the world of competitive spellers, Sylvie Lamontagne is known as a juggernaut. She placed fourth in last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, and ninth in 2015. Last summer, she traveled to California and won the Spelling Bee of China’s North America Spelling Champion Challenge, a contest for kids in the United States and China.

Now that the 14-year-old from Denver is no longer eligible to compete in this week’s National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland — which is televised on ESPN and often turns kids like Sylvie into momentary celebrities — she’s focusing on a new vocation: spelling bee coach.

Sylvie’s rate? $200 an hour.

Hiring coaches isn’t new. But bee aficionados say a recent surge in competition, and a tightening of rules meant to limit co-champions, has spawned a demand for younger coaches such as Sylvie: high-schoolers or college kids, months or just a few years into their bee retirement, who can pass along fresh intelligence on words to memorize and how to decode bizarre words based on their language of origin.

That is from Ian Shapira at WaPo.