Category: Education

What Colombia can Teach Us

Long-time readers will recall my discussion of Vouchers for Private Schooling in Colombia by Angrist, Bettinger, Bloom, King and Kremer in the Dec. 2002 AER. The paper is especially important because it uses data from a randomized experiment.

Angrist et al. estimate that attending private school increased the probability of finishing eighth grade by 13-15 percentage points or 25 percent. Test scores increased by .29 standard deviations which is equivalent to about an extra year’s worth of schooling which has been estimated to increase yearly wages by 10 percent. Other markers such as teen cohabitation also improved.

Angrist, Bettiner and Kremer are back with a follow-up study that looks at high-school graduation rates and test scores on college-entrance exams.

The results of our follow-up study point to lasting benefits for voucher winners, with substantially higher high school graduation rates and, after adjusting for selection bias, higher test scores among those who took the ICFES exam [a college entrance test, Alex]….The size and persistence of the impact suggests PACES was a cost-effective intervention … there is substantial economic return to high school graduation in Colombia.

MP3 blogs

Why not use blogs to become a virtual DJ? The latest blogging trend is to offer MP3 files to your readers, combined with commentary and useful links. The tracks tend to be obscure rather than from mainstream pop, which everybody knows about anyway. Copyright status is often black or grey but so far the marketing has proven useful and these blogs have not been a legal target.

Could this be the future of marketing in the music industry? Here is an article on the phenomenon.

Here is one example of such a music blog.

The bottom line: Why don’t econ bloggers post their classroom and public lectures? Or short answers to public questions of the day? Hmm…

Proxying Human Capital

One of the most puzzling results in the literature on economic growth is that it is difficult to show that increases in human capital increase economic growth. In regressions, sometimes human capital shows up positive and significant but sometimes it’s not significant, sometimes it’s null and sometimes it’s negative depending on the precise set of countries and time periods examined. (See Tyler’s earlier post for further skepticism on the link between human capital and growth).

A team of economists at the University of Ottawa, working with Statistics Canada, has concluded that the problem may be one of measurement. They argue that literacy scores (i.e. actual skills) might be a better proxy for human capital than the typical measure, years of schooling, and furthermore, literacy scores are not subject to the usual problems related to the comparability of education systems across countries. Their human capital indicators are based on the results of the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey, as nicely explained by The Economist:

They use the International Adult Literacy Survey, which tested 16-65-year-olds in [1994], to estimate the skills of people in 14 countries entering the workforce at different times between 1960 and 1995. This is achieved by looking at tests of different age cohorts. For example, the literacy levels of people aged [51-59 when tested in 1994] are used to estimate the competencies of 17-25-year-olds in 1960, and hence the human-capital investment that had just been made in the course of that cohort’s education.

The biggest flaw of that study is that the indicators impute levels of literacy to individuals earlier in their lives, without correcting for the adjustement in the quality of human capital that occurs during an individual’s lifetime through learning and human capital depreciation, however, as The Economist notes, “the fact that it finds such a strong correlation between skills and growth gives a significant boost to human-capital theory”. Click here to read the executive summary or click here to read the entire study.

Compared to what?

..a New York Times survey comprising scores of detailed interviews exploring the families’ [of September 11 World Trade Center victims] emotional, physical and spiritual status. That survey found lives colored by continuing pain. Almost half still have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. A few said they no longer flew on airplanes. About a third have changed jobs or quit. About one in five have moved since 2001, and a fifth of those who still live where they did on Sept. 11 would move if they could. Very few who lost a spouse have remarried.

What do these numbers mean? Without some comparision group, almost nothing. Robert Musil has the numbers and a good lesson in statistical thinking.

Addendum: Thanks to Newmark’s Door for the link. Of course, I take it as understood that proper statistical thinking in no way diminishes our profound sympathy for the victims of 9/11.

The Economists’ Voice

We–that is, Joe Stiglitz, Aaron Edlin, and I [Brad DeLong]–aim to start an online publication, The Economists’ Voice, to be “published” by Berkeley Economic Press, to try to remedy this situation. The two youngest of us are confident that we have a very good chance of succeeding. Our confidence is based on one fact: Joe Stiglitz thinks that this will work, and his judgment in this area is very good, as is shown by the remarkable success of the Journal of Economic Perspectives which has greatly increased the flow of information across the subfields of economics, and done a remarkable job of welding the American Economic Association into a stronger intellectual community.

The Economists’ Voice will aim for pieces longer than an op-ed and shorter than (and much more readable than) a piece for a standard journal. We thus avoid the op-ed problem–the problem that op-ed space is too short for an argument, and only provides space to be shrill. But we also hope to stay short enough to be readable, and understandable. And we will aim for quick turnaround–days rather than the years of journals.

The level will be non-technical but sophisticated: perhaps what one expects to read in the Financial Times and the news pages of the Wall Street or National Journal, or perhaps a notch above. The aim will be to provide an economist’s argument and point of view on some salient and interesting issue: a survey of something interesting happening in the economy, or a call for some change in policy or institutions–which would consist of a review of what the principal important factors are, what the objective function is, what the constraints are, why the objective function is maximized at the particular set of policies or institutional arrangements that the author prefers.

We will launch the The Economists’ Voice later this year. We will succeed if we become *the* place on the internet where economists, journalists, interested observers, staffers, and others turn in search of high-quality comprehensible economic analysis.

Here is Brad’s full post.

Most of all, something like this is badly needed.

More conceptually, I view this attempt as an implicit criticism of Google. There is nothing stopping economists from posting such writings right now, and of course longer pieces can be linked to. But who will find/read them? How much credibility will those writings carry? So Brad and Co. are betting they will prove better finders, branders, certifiers, and marketers than current institutions.

Is the initial problem one of generating a greater supply of readable but sound content for the web? (“Build it and they will write.”) Or is the problem that of mobilizing audience attention for work that is already being done? (“Build it and they will come.”) A related question is why most established economists have not found blogging to be a useful medium to date.

Should the functions of certifying and commissioning/editing always be combined? What about an additional economics blog or journal that simply selects the best material already out there, analogous to www.aldaily.com or www.artsjournal.com?

Stay tuned…

One of America’s biggest “export” industries is declining

U.S. graduate schools this year saw a 28% decline in applications from international students and an 18% drop in admissions, a finding that some experts say threatens higher education’s ability to maintain its reputation for offering high-quality programs.

The sharp declines, based on responses from 126 institutions, were reported in a study released Tuesday by the Council of Graduate Schools, a Washington-based nonprofit. About 88% of those schools reported a decline in international applications; 12% saw an increase.

Several factors contribute to the drops, council president Debra Stewart says. Those include changes to the visa application process after 9/11, a perception that the USA has grown less welcoming of foreigners and increased competition from universities abroad.

Applications from China show an especially steep drop, about 45%. Here is the full story. Will either Bush or Kerry come out for streamlined immigration procedures in this arena, or at least a greater allocation of resources toward speeding these visa applications? If we are devoted to the idea of nation-building abroad, what better way to start?

What makes New York City so wonderful

So used to the one measure of status in Washington — political power — the Republicans may find New York to be a disconcerting place.

No New Yorker wins every contest. In fact, every New Yorker is going to see someone in the next 15 minutes who will bring them down a notch. This gaze economy has so many scales of value that no one gets to triumph. Indeed, the higher we score on one scale, the lower we score on another. Interestingly, there is no exit scenario. Unless we spend all our time at home and the club, we must expose ourselves to diminishment. Or to put this in the form of a trade off, we cannot present ourselves for approval, without exposing ourselves to the reminder that we are, in someone’s world, a dolt.

In other words, life in a (relative) meritocracy is tough. But it is also good for you in the longer run. That’s from a longer post by Grant McCracken, my favorite anthropologist-blogger. Read the whole discussion, and thanks to Virginia Postrel for the pointer. Also scroll down on his blog to read a series of posts on the “gaze economy.”

Is education good for growth?

It has long been received wisdom that education spurs economic growth. The education variable pops up as significant in many cross-country regressions. And many of the East Asian countries have had high investment in education and high rates of economic growth.

So how might a skeptical take on this matter look? Here is one pithy excerpt:

…there is actually a striking global correspondence between the world economic slowdown since 1973 and ever-increasing levels of educational spending. Comparisons between countries also confound the idea that more education translates into more growth. For example, South Korea is often given as an example of a country that made education a priority since the 1960s and saw significant economic growth. But as Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College London points out, Egypt has also prioritised investing in education, but its growth record has been poor (4). Between 1970 and 1998 Egypt’s primary enrolment rates grew to more than 90 per cent, secondary schooling levels went from 32 per cent to 75 per cent, and university education doubled – yet over the same period Egypt moved from being the world’s forty-seventh poorest country to being the forty-eighth.

A retort might be that education isn’t the sole determinant of growth – other factors may offset its positive economic role – but it remains a necessary one. But this argument doesn’t stand up either. The rapid growth of Hong Kong, another of the East Asian tigers, wasn’t accompanied by substantial investment in education. Its expansion of secondary and university education came later, as more prosperous Hong Kong parents used some of their newfound wealth to give their children a better education than they had had.

William Easterly doubts the evidence:

‘African countries with rapid growth in human capital [the fashionable term for people’s work abilities, especially levels of education] over the 1960 to 1987 period – countries like Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Zambia, Madagascar, Sudan, and Senegal – were nevertheless growth disasters. Countries like Japan, with modest growth in human capital, were growth miracles. Other East Asian miracles like Singapore, Korea, China, and Indonesia did have rapid growth in human capital, but equal to or less than that of the African growth disasters. To take one comparison, Zambia had slightly faster expansion in human capital than Korea, but Zambia’s growth rate was seven percentage points lower.

‘…Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union compare favourably with Western Europe and North America in years of schooling attained. Yet we now know that [gross domestic product] per worker was only a small fraction of Western European and North American levels. For example, the 97 per cent secondary enrolment ratio of the United States is only slightly higher than Ukraine’s 92 per cent, but the United States has nine times the per capita income of Ukraine’ (6).

My main worry concerns the hoary distinction between correlation and causation. The consumption component of education is commonly underrated. Rich countries spend more on education for the same reason that they consume more leisure. See my previous MR post on education and economic growth.

The German earthquake, a continuing series…

A taboo in German higher education may soon be broken: Politicians of all parties are bracing for the possibility that German students will have to pay fees for their university studies for the first time since tuition was abolished in 1969.

Don’t expect large fees, but sense is being brought to Europe’s center slowly but surely. You can bet on the “slowly” most of all.

Here is the full story. Here is the last MR installment on German reforms.

Dad is a stinker

Children rate their fathers as among their least popular playmates because they are too competitive, according to research among more than 1,000 youngsters.

They “played to win”, lacked imagination or were simply at a loss as to how to play games, said the Children’s Play Council, which commissioned the survey with the Children’s Society.

Children up to the age of 12 would rather play with their friends, their mother or their brothers and sisters.

Only one in 16 chose their fathers as their ideal companion. Dads were rated slightly above grandparents (one in 33) [so what’s wrong with them, TC asks?]. One in 50 children said they would rather play on their own.

Tim Gill, director of the Children’s Play Council, said: “Dads have difficulty not being too competitive. Several fathers said they found it hard to get down to their children’s level. And they don’t find it easy to let children win.

And what does the resident sociologist say?

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury, said: “Fathers are living through their children much more which means they lose sight of the line that distinguishes adult from child.

“It’s also partly a power control issue. Fathers want to let their children know they are still ‘players’.”

Here is the full story.

Paul Krugman, Guilty Pleasure

There are lots of good reasons to be annoyed with Paul Krugman. (Like here, here, and here). But as a cock-eyed optimist, I’m very happy to have him around. Think about it: The world’s most famous left-wing economist:

1. Blames European unemployment on labor market regulations that hold wages above the market-clearing level. (The Accidental Theorist, Part 1)

2. Publicly and articulately advocates free trade without hemming or hawing. (Pop Internationalism)

3. Identifies anti-globalization activists as the enemies of the world’s poor. (The Accidental Theorist, Part 3)

4. Titles an essay “In Praise of Cheap Labor: Bad Jobs at Bad Wages Are Better than No Jobs at All” (The Accidental Theorist, Part 3)

5. Points out that if you oppose Big Government, you should favor cutting Social Security, Medicare, and other popular programs. (“The Lost Fig Leaf”) Sure, he’s hoping to scare us away from libertarian rhetoric, but there’s no use running away from the truth.

Yes, he’s been slipping. And it’s tiring to hear an economist so much more successful than me prattling about equality! I don’t begrudge you your publications, Paul, why can’t you let Bill Gates, Monty Burns, and Scrooge McDuck count their billions in peace?

Still, I can’t imagine Paul Samuelson doing any of the above, much less Galbraith. At least in economics, the intellectual climate hasn’t been as good as it is now for a century.

Think again!

Interested in “seductive math problems for the modern mind”? Every day Jan Nordgreen, a Norwegian living in Bolivia, posts a new puzzle on his elegant and fun blog, Think Again!

Here is a recent challenge:

A party consists of three couples. At the end of the party one of the husbands asks the others how many new acquaintances they made during the evening. Everybody gives a different answer. What did his wife answer?

Paying for Open Access

Ideas are public goods so open access publishing is theoretically ideal but how to pay for it? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the flagship journal of the National Academy of Sciences is trying an experiment. If you can’t charge the readers how about charging the authors? PNAS authors may now opt to pay $1000 to make their articles available for free immediately upon publication.

It’s an interesting idea – authors do receive benefits from publishing papers but in truth it’s more important that the paper be published than read. At $1000, I think the benefits are overpriced especially since some readers do pay for the journal and can read the articles from day one. Also PNAS opens access after 6 months in anycase.

Authors might pay $1000 if a combination of charity, peer-pressure and noblesse-oblige establishes a norm of payment. But therein lies a dilemma. The more authors that are willing to pay for open-access the less readers will be willing to pay for selective access. If every author pays who will buy the journal?

Can $1000 per author support a publication with no paying readers? The American Economic Review publishes about 100 articles a year and has costs in excess of one million dollars – so the economics don’t look good. True, those costs support a print journal and open-access would be electronic online so that makes the equation somewhat easier to balance but it’s still touch and go at best.

Even though I am somewhat skeptical I applaud the Academy for this experiment and I hope that other journals will be equally creative.

Thanks to Monique van Hoek for the pointer.