Category: Education

Is HOPE a virtue?

In response to middle-class anxiety about college costs, states have dramatically increased funding for "merit-based" scholarships.  Georgia’s HOPE program (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally), begun in 1993, is the model.  HOPE covers tuition, fees and book expenses for any high-school graduate earning a B average. 

David Mustard, who spoke here last week, and co-authors have written a series of papers asking in effect, Is HOPE a virtue?   Predictably, high-school GPAs increased markedly after 1993 with a pronounced spike at B.  SAT scores, however, did not increase so grade inflation, not academic improvement, appears to be the cause.  Once in college students must maintain a B average to keep their scholarship – the program is rather lax on how many or what courses must be taken however.  The result is that scholarship students take fewer classes, take easier classes and when the going gets tough they withdraw more often.  Apparently HOPE comes at the expense of fortitude.

HOPE increases the number of students enrolled in GA colleges only modestly and the bulk of the increase comes from students who are induced by the cash to stay in GA, instead of going to school in another state, rather than from students who, without HOPE, would never have gone to college.  What do the students do with the cash they save on tuition?  Cornwell and Mustard (2002) find that car registrations increase significantly with county scholarships!

Bottom line: HOPE is neither charitable nor prudent.  The bullk of the money is a simple transfer to students and their parents.  To the extent that HOPE has incentive effects these appear to reduce not increase educational effort and achievement.

Why I worry about essays for the new SAT

An essay that does little more than restate the question gets a 1. An
essay that compares humans to squirrels — if a squirrel told other
squirrels about its food store, it would die, therefore secrecy is
necessary for survival — merits a 5 [a good score]. Brian A. Bremen, an English
professor at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that the writer
provides only one real example. Nevertheless, he says, the writer
displays "a clear chain of thought" and should be rewarded, "despite
his Republican tendencies."

Read more here.

My Law and Literature class today

Today I start my Law and Literature class, my reading list is here.  If you are wondering what I am excerpting, from the Bible we are doing Exodus, Deutoronomy, and Job,
from Melville we are doing "Bartleby," and from Kafka we are doing "In
the Penal Colony."  All are favorites of mine.  Check out the list for
the rest plus five films.

By the way did you know the following?

Students asked to watch five seconds of soundless videotape of a
teacher in the classroom came up with evaluations of the teacher’s
effectiveness that matched those given by his own students after a full
semester of classes.

The link is here, already supplied by Alex immediately below.

Does academia discriminate against right-wingers?

Jonathan Klick — a smart economist, not unsympathetic to markets, writes me the following:

I’ve been thinking a bit about all the stuff regarding the small number of folks on the right in academics in the mainstream press and on blogs, and I think people have missed an important point regarding cross sectional variation — I think the fact that you also see relatively few people on the right in the arts supports the supply side view of the empirical regularity more than the discrimination view.  That is, there’s not really any differential barrier to entry into music, visual arts, writing, etc. for right wingers and yet those fields look at lot like academics in terms of personnel make-up.  To my mind, this supports the view that, by and large, relatively fewer of the right’s brightest want to go into academics than is the case with the left.

I agree, but with one caveat.  Many academic entrants are initially undecided in their political outlook, but social pressures sway them to the left.  That being said, so many academic leftists have held their views from an early age.  Academic life and discourse have, if anything, moderated their stances toward the center. 

Both academic life and left-wing attitudes are correlated with the same basic status markers.  Whether or not Democrats and academics are in fact more tolerant of others, at the very least they pretend to be.  They also are, or at least pretend to be, more thoughtful, nuanced, intellectual, and internationalist [TC: This doesn’t stop them from being wrong about many things.]  Most importantly, they take pride in identifying with these values.  This will put most academics into the Democratic camp.  Those that cannot become Democrats — such as myself — will often be libertarian or "independent" rather than registered or self-identifying Republicans.  The Republican "pride markers" are, for many academic tastes, too nationalistic, religious, and involve too much "tough talk."

So the market-oriented or "right-wing" anthropologists will, ex post, experience negative bias in academia.  Minority points of view are not always treated fairly.  But that bias is not the initial reason why they are so outnumbered in the first place.

Is it easy to start a new private school?

If David wants to start a private school, he must slay four Goliaths [in California]:

The State Environmental Quality Act, which imposes several obstacles to acquiring a piece of land or modifying a structure on that land;

City zoning requirements, which impose restrictions on the location of the private school;

City parking requirements; and

State and local building codes, which deal with the school building itself.

Plus, of course, tuition will not be free.  But we frequently underestimate the role of "micro-regulation" in stifling competition and innovation.  Read the whole thing, courtesy of the Reason Foundation.

Teacher cheating

Steve Levitt is hot on the trail of another scoop:

Along with Brian Jacob, I have written two papers that explore a very different concern regarding high-stakes testing — cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. As incentives for high test scores increase, unscrupulous teachers may be more likely to engage in a range of illicit activities, such as changing student responses on answer sheets, or filling in the blanks when a student fails to complete a section. Our work in this area represents the first systematic attempt to identify empirically the overall prevalence of teacher cheating and to analyze the factors that predict cheating.

…Empirically, we find evidence of cheating in approximately 4 to 5 percent of the classes in our sample…this estimate is likely to be a lower bound on the true incidence of cheating.

Here is a full account, courtesy of Mahalanobis.

How to avoid overshopping

Most shoppers have a "looking mode" and a "buying mode."  Once they shift into the buying mode, they can do enormous damage. 

"It’s a change in mindset," Dhar says. "You go from carefully weighing pros and cons to buying. You don’t stop to think. You get into a frenzied mindset. You start looking for things to buy."

[And a] utilitarian purchase, he says, apparently gives you the justification to do something fun. "Essentials drive momentum," he says.

To quote the study: "Shopping momentum arises from this reasonable idea that shopping has an inertial quality, that there is a hurdle to shift from browsing to shopping, which, once crossed, makes further purchases more likely."

Knowing this in advance, how can you constrain yourself?  Leaving your credit cards at home might be too costly.  Two alternatives are suggested:

1. Make your first purchase a guilty pleasure, not a necessity, thereby causing initial remorse to set in.  In other words, take your indulgence up front.

2. Go to stores with multiple checkout counters and use them; customers tend to spend more when they can take all purchases to the same counter.  Paying more than once tends to break momentum, and to focus your attention on the cost.

Here is the full story.

Addendum: Here is the fixed link.

The newspaper model of the future?

Las Ultimas Noticias (LUN) – The Latest News – is Chile’s most widely read newspaper today, setting tongues wagging, talk-show hosts chatting, celebrities and politicians denying, serious folks wailing, and advertisers calling.

No, it’s not a tabloid, insist the employees at the slightly shabby downtown newsroom. Rather, they say, it’s a revolution in journalism, a reader-driven product that reflects the changing values and interests of a postdictatorship public that grew up on a diet of establishment news and now wants more. Or, as some say – because of the often low-brow content – less.

This revolution has occurred, says the paper’s publisher Augustine Edwards, thanks to his decision to listen to "the people." Three years ago, under Edwards’s guidance, LUN installed a system whereby all clicks onto its Web site ( were recorded for all in the newsroom to see. Those clicks – and the changing tastes and desires they represent – drive the entire print content of LUN. If a certain story gets a lot of clicks, for example, that is a signal to Edwards and his team that the story should be followed up, and similar ones should be sought for the next day. If a story gets only a few clicks, it is killed. The system offers a direct barometer of public opinion, much like the TV rating system – but unique to print media.

What news, then, did readers choose in a week when a dozen world leaders gathered in Santiago for an important trade meeting? Among the top stories: Where Secretary of State Colin Powell went to dinner and what he ate (shrimp with couscous). Also, a rundown – with a photo of scantily clad waitresses – of which delegations gave the best tips (Japan).

Note that blogs, by drawing away some smart readers, may in fact hasten the "dumbing down" of some other media sources.  I predict that mainstream newspapers will become less intellectual in their coverage, while (and because) niche options expand dramatically.

Here is the full story.  Here is the newspaper, don’t worry about the Spanish, the photos make it easy to vote.  Circa Thursday, here was the leading entry under the category of "Economia", no we won’t ask her to guest blog.

Milton Friedman School for Tots

I blogged earlier on Roland Fryer’s experiment in paying children for grades.  A school near Detroit is taking the idea even further.


How do Beverly Elementary third-graders earn their paychecks? David
Snyder’s paycheck for the three school days before Thanksgiving looked
like this:

†¢ Spelling test — $2

†¢ Math warm-ups — $5

†¢ Idea with writing piece — $3

†¢ Class work — $3

†¢ Homework — $5

Being paid for schoolwork is part of the third-grade curriculum at
Beverly Elementary, in the Birmingham school district. Students earn
"Beverly Bucks" for homework, tests and class work, with a bonus thrown
in for good quality.

At the end of the week, they can take a paycheck home for endorsement.
Then the student can cash the check for Beverly Bucks and shop in the
class store….

The paycheck curriculum is part economics, part math and a very big part incentive.

"Their work has really improved," Knoper said. "When I come to work, I
get paid for it. We’ve really just likened it to the real world."

That’s cool but what I really like is this:

After the Christmas break, Knoper said the paycheck curriculum will be
ramped up a notch when the kids start paying taxes on the hallways (a
form of road tax) and playgrounds.

and the teachers even understand Beckerian efficiency conditions for crime.

Students can lose money, too.

"If I accidentally hit somebody, I have to lose $4 or $5," said Shane Holmes, 8, suggesting that losing that much money was horrifying.

I don’t suppose my children’s Montessori school will go for this. 

Thanks to Ted Craig for the pointer.

Time management tips

John Quiggin offers some time management tips over at  I’ll second his call for a daily "word quota", but express horror at his notion that you should ever devote a morning to "8-10 jobs that ought to take 5 minutes each."

Here are my suggestions:

1. There is always time to do more, most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

2. Do the most important things first in the day and don’t let anybody stop you.  Estimate "most important" using a zero discount rate.  Don’t make exceptions.  The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

3. Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them.  Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

4. Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to.  Better to approach your next writing day "hungry" than to feel "written out."  Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

5. Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always "now."

Speaking in rural West Bengal

1. My hosts retitled my lecture "Globalization Destroying the World Culture."

2. I arrived on time but the talk started over ninety minutes late.  Even after the midpoint of the talk, more people were filing in.

3. I was put on a dais at least twelve feet high.  A large purple, gold, and pink ribbon was pinned on me, perhaps to indicate I was the speaker.

4. Everyone listened with absolutely rapt attention, but it seemed only the communists understood much English.

5. Those same communists were greatly agitated about American world hegemony and the onset of "Hollywood lesbianism" in India.

6. Before speaking I was fed a delicious fish and shrimp curry in Bengali mustard sauce.

Charter Schools

Caroline Hoxby is mad, and rightly so. In August, the American Federation of Teachers released a study attacking charter schools because charter school students performed worse than their public school “peers.” The study got huge media attention, including a front page article and editiorial in the NYTimes, despite the fact that it is not a very good study – lagging far behind its peers in the academic literature.

The main problem is that the study doesn’t do a very good job at comparing peers. The most credible studies look at the achievement differences between randomly assigned students (as did the study on private schools in Colombia I discussed earlier). When charter schools are over-subscribed (which often occurs – a sure sign that parents think they are superior to more traditional public schools) students are sometimes selected by lottery. Using data on randomly assigned students in Chicago, Hoxby and co-author Jonah Rockoff find significant achievement gains for the charter school students (paper, executive summary). (Surprise! When given the opportunity, parents can pick good schools.).

Another problem with the AFT study is that it uses a relatively small sample, about 3% of charter students in the fourth and eight grades. In another paper, Hoxby examined tests from 99% of 4th grade charter students. It’s not possible to use a randomized study when you look at nearly all charter school students so instead Hoxby compares charter students to students in the nearest regular public school and the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition. For the latter comparison she found that charter students were 5% more likely to to be proficient in reading and 2.8% more likely to be proficient in math – small but meaningful improvements. And in places where the regular public schools are especially bad, like Washington DC, charter students were about 36% more likely than their peers to be proficient in reading and math!

Despite the fact that Hoxby’s studies are of far higher quality than those of the ATF and other groups you don’t see her work trumpeted across the front page of the NYTimes. And it’s not as if Hoxby isn’t well known, she is a Harvard professor whom several years ago The Economist listed as one of the best young economists in the world. As Brad DeLong might ask in another context, Why can’t we have a better media?

I have drawn from an op-ed by Hoxby in the Wall Street Journal from Wed. Sept. 29, 04 (sorry I don’t have the link).