Roland Fryer’s Outstanding Seminar

Roland Fryer gave an outstanding seminar last week on Education, Inequality, & Incentives as part of GMU’s Buchanan Speaker Series. Fryer was passionate, funny, and informed as he recounted his journey pounding away at Stata in the late 1990s in an effort to show that Neal and Johnson were wrong and that racism just had to account for differences in wages and other outcomes between blacks and whites; to coming to accept that a large portion of the difference is determined by differences in human capital; to his shocking discovery that the Harlem Children’s Zone was dramatically increasing human capital among minorities; and finally to abandoning the academic game of estimating the different effects of beef and chicken soup (but in really cool and precise ways!) to instead throw himself into the messy work of taking the lessons from the best charter schools and applying and scaling those lessons to public schools across the nation.

I had long been aware of Fryer’s academic work but I had not realized how much he and his team at the Harvard EdLabs have actually done on the ground to remake dozens of schools in Houston, Denver and elsewhere–in the process showing that the best practices of the best charter schools can be scaled to the entire nation. Remarkable.

He starts off at 3:10 slightly hesitant but he really builds.


Economics seems to be a branch of Sociology nowadays, all the work is about "inequality"

Is economics, and economic systems, not fundamentally about how resources are allocated? What's the good of discussing how things can/should/are be allocated if you're not going to discuss inequality?

If inequality were not an issue for a lot of people, then there would be no market/funding/support for work on inequality.

Did he discuss the impact of the black/white IQ gap? It seems to me (as a non-expert) like that has to explain a large amount of the performance gap in education.

Fryer has done research related to this question - see here:

The argument more-or-less is that observed IQ differences is a result of environmental or social factors rather than genetic factors. If that is the case, stating the IQ gap explains observed outcomes isn't really solving the problem at all.

I watched it. It was all about school performance and how that can be improved. The measures given were math and reading improvement, and as Ted says, those would show up as IQ if anyone looked for it that way

A good solutionist video.

"data set that includes a test of mental function for children aged eight to twelve months, we find only minor racial differences in test outcomes (0.06
standard deviation units in the raw data) between Blacks and Whites that disappear with the inclusion of a limited set of controls"

8 to 12 months. Hilarious stuff.

Basically, none of the children could do any of the multiplication questions they were given, so performance was essentially identical..

Haha. Funny comment :)

This "Testing for Racial Differences in the Mental Ability of Young Children" paper should make anyone with any sense skeptical of anything with Roland Fryer's (or Steven Levitt's) name on it.

I'm Sure This Study Will Get a Lot of Favorable Publicity,

"… because, judging from the abstract, it sounds intentionally stupid, and thus is likely to become part of the conventional wisdom."

The critic seems to be too easily impressed by the ability of IQ to provide an accurate assessment of intelligence. Observe that he doesn't actually criticize the purported measures of mental ability, he just points out that it's not an IQ test - not a very condemning observation on the part of the critic.

Note that it was Fryer and Levitt (not "the critic") who claimed to be investigating the emergence of "Racial Differences in the Mental Ability of Young Children" as reflected in IQ test score gaps.

This isn't about generating rocket scientists. It is about basic literacy and numeracy. What is the iq level below which a person can't learn to read?

I consider both the iq fixation and the racism fixation as evidence of the same thing; let's change the subject. Marginally competent teachers can get most kids reading using basic techniques as described with some feedback and accountability.

IQ is not na accurate measure of intelligence. It's affected by access to education, and it's a social problem not a biological limitation or what so ever.

"[T]he best practices of the best charter schools can be scaled to the entire nation." Of course, that's been the criticism of charter schools: they can't be scaled; maybe the "best practices" can be scaled, but not charter schools. I call it the Calvinist view of education, inequality, and incentives. I'm sympathetic. The question is whether public schools should be centered on the model student or the typical student? In my time (long ago in a segregated school in the South), the model student and the typical student were much the same. Not so today. By centering on the model student, the typical student can learn to appreciate the advantages and conform her behavior to it. Or be left behind for a lifetime of underachievement. Or to put it more directly: should public schools cater to the best or the worst? Harlem Children's Zone: Education plus family and community plus health equals results. Many of today's public schools contain a cross section of kids, and while there is a single school for all of the kids, the reality is that one school is comprised of two schools run side by side, one for the best students and the other for the rest. If you don't know what I mean, you haven't been to a public school lately. What the educational reformists would do is make de jure what is today de facto. Reward the best not the worst, but show the worst the model to which they can aspire. Rise up, to use Jeb's campaign slogan. But what if the second part of the equation, family and community, is missing?

More questions than answers. I like the "Calvinist" analogy you make; I assume you mean you're one of the Elect who is smart (predestined) or you're not, and no amount of education will change that. Against that view, you can train to become better in many things, not fluid IQ but things like chess, playing the piano, and the like. Even inventing IMO can be taught. Anyway, if you buy into the Great Stagnation theme, and believe those papers that say education is signaling, we're arguing a moot point.

The only thing I see wrong with running 2 schools side by side is that it's not 3.

Catering to the high performers does not increase costs. They move through the material quicker and thus can cover more. The middle, of course, consume average amount of resources. It's the lower than consume the most.

I have not problem with that, but at least when there are 3 groups, one is not conflicting with the others. Goldilocks!

It's rare that a blog post reminds me of a product-placement in a movie, but this is that exception.

come on, I want more posts that will get Nathan to post hilariously stupid defenses of Hillary and Obama

It is astounding how willfully misinformed he insists on being.

I have never once defended anything that either of them have done.

Any more posts to demonstrate how blinded you are by partisanship?

I think Republicans are being exceedingly stupid these days. Doesn't mean I have anything good to say about the Democrats. I cannot recall a single Democrat policy that I have ever defended.

I support universal healthcare - not Obamacare, I don't support the 2nd amendment at all - so never mind about background checks, I support school funding formulas that equalize resources (accounting for cost differences) across all communities - not racial quotas for schools, I support regulations and carbon taxes which promote the rise of green energy - not subsidies, I support full legalization and regulated age restrictions for all drugs - not just MJ, and the list goes on.

The Democrats are just as dirty and corrupt as the Republicans, just less stupid and less paranoid/racist. If there was a single thing I could change about American politics, it would be anything that would realistically allow for the ability of some third party to enter the scene and provide Americans with the ability to elect people into Congress and the Senate which were not beholden to either party.

Perhaps you're referring to my recent comments about the email scandal? Observe that I never defended Hillary. I just pointed out many obvious signs that it's clearly a political attack.

I'm not American, I don't care who wins the election as long as it's not a Republican (and as I just said, the fact that there's only one other alternative is what I see as the biggest problem in the USA), and I don't fit into the petty boxes you might try to shuffle me into.

The PPACA is supposed to get us universal health insurance. What is it that you want? A system like in the UK?

Watched the whole thing & enjoyed, thanks for sharing.

There is a pretty good book on the Harlem Children's Zone, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough, a vast expansion of his 2004 New York Times Magazine article The Harlem Project. The book might be a little dated by now, since it was published in 2008. It's been awhile since I read it but my recollection was that it seemed to me there was a bit too much of an emphasis on preparing to take standardized New York tests in the schools, but all the other social interventions seemed to make sense.

You know, if there were a right way to teach, and kids (of any color) would learn better in this right way---don't you think we would know that right way? You mean, all of these teachers and schools (in the public and private sector, in many nations) never stumbled on this right way?

But now some charter schools are working magic? The sort of strains credulity, does it not?

Well, I sure hope so. But...seems unlikely. People learn when they want to learn. Nobody stopped me from learning in the mediocre public schools I went to. I read books, and then re-read them. There were some good teachers, and I deeply appreciate them, but the real learning was always in reading the books.

Does anybody really believe that just changing teaching methods will undue results that appear cemented into place over generations? It's that easy?

Again, I sure hope so.

National education metrics are an expensive pain, but they have also shown that value-added varies more than many of us expected.

I wish he would throw his hat in the ring to run the Los Angeles Unified School District. HUGE budget, lots of neighborhoods. He could run his experiments. They're looking for a Superintendent...

This dude is super smart. I hope he's right. Everyone makes fun of the incredibly stupid public education establishment in this country (and they are right to do so) but they have one shining virtue that I commend them for having and which keeps them powerful and alive - they believe that every child deserves love and attention - especially the most disadvantaged. Who can really argue with that? Who would want to? We just gotta figure out how to do it. It sure ain't easy. Blessings to this guy for trying. (PS - there are a lot of idiot Nazis on this site. But bless them, too.)

"Everyone makes fun of the incredibly stupid public education establishment in this country (and they are right to do so) but they have one shining virtue that I commend them for having and which keeps them powerful and alive – they believe that every child deserves love and attention – especially the most disadvantaged. Who can really argue with that? Who would want to?"

Does "they believe that every child deserves love and attention" have any operational meaning? And how does this "one shining virtue" manifest itself in the doings of "the incredibly stupid public education establishment in this country"?

"Who can really argue with that? Who would want to?"
How about anyone who is can recognize meaningless idiocy and is annoyed by it?

Have a nice day.

Another Black man from Texas (my real home boy) speak truth to power.

I think he is right about one thing: you go to tutor to learn, you go to school to get credentials.

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