Category: Education

Very interesting Edward Nevraumont review of *Talent*

The review makes many points, here is one excerpt:

 Everywhere I have worked, the organization’s hiring processes were tilted in favor of experience over intelligence. Interviews include behavioral questions or assessments of specific skills. Rarely is anyone on the hiring loop running problem-solving sessions that require the candidate to demonstrate how they might deal with the real-world challenges they will encounter in the workplace.

And:

Most of the time you can win candidates by getting the basics right:

  1. Reach out to people, don’t wait for them to come to you.
  2. Build relationships before you need them.
  3. Develop followership (so people that work with you once will want to work with you again).
  4. Get candidates excited for the job before you start screening them.
  5. Make your workplace a good place to work for smart and talented people (which is NOT the same as making it a “good place to work” generally, or anything from the HR/PR lists.)
  6. Be the type of manager that top talent will want to work for.
  7. Ensure that you have someone selling the candidate once you know you want to make an offer and start the selling process before the offer is made.
  8. Be polite.
  9. Be fast.

Interesting throughout, though I feel the author significantly overestimates the extent to which we think the current talent assessment market is efficient.

Grade non-disclosure agreements

I had never heard of those, but it turns out they are common at top business schools.  Egads!  Here are some results:

We study the effects of grade non-disclosure (GND) policies implemented within MBA programs at highly ranked business schools. GND precludes students from revealing their grades and grade point averages (GPAs) to employers. In the labor market, we find that GND weakens the positive relation between GPA and employer desirability. During the MBA program, we find that GND reduces students’ academic effort within courses by approximately 4.9%, relative to comparable students not subject to the policy. Consistent with our model, in which abilities are potentially correlated and students can substitute effort towards other activities in order to signal GPA-related ability, students participate in more extracurricular activities and enroll in more difficult courses under GND. Finally, we show that students’ tenure with their first employers after graduation decreases following GND.

That is from a new paper by Eric Floyd, Sorabh Tomar, and Daniel Lee, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What is exactly the right way to model this practice?  If you believe in the signaling model of MBA education, is this an attempt to game the signal and avoid zero-sum comparisons?  Can that boost the overall aggregate value of the signal?

Or maybe you believe the MBA is a mix of learning/networking and signaling.  You want to encourage more learning at the margin, without the person having to incur a signaling penalty through some lower grades.

Or does this simply show that top prospective MBA students hold the bargaining power, and these arrangements help recruiting by making life easier for those students?

What else?  Here are other readings on the practice.  Where adopted, the policies seem quite popular with students.  And the policies do not restrict showing the grades to other schools, though perhaps for MBAs that is not so relevant?

Does economic literacy encourage polarization?

Hume’s revenge!

Previous research highlights the role that political knowledge plays in forming political positions and how financial literacy influences personal economic decisions. But even among economists, how economic knowledge affects policy views remains little studied. We measure economic literacy among a representative sample of U.S. residents, explore the demographic and socioeconomic correlates of this measure, and examine how respondents’ policy positions correlate with their economic knowledge. We also estimate counterfactual policy positions as if respondents were fully economically literate. We find significant differences in economic literacy by sex, race/ethnicity, and education, but little evidence that respondents’ policy views are related to their level of economic literacy on average. Examining heterogeneity by political party, we uncover an interesting if polarizing pattern: estimated fully economically literate policy views for Democrats and Republicans are farther apart than respondents’ unadjusted views.

And:

We find that men, older Americans, Americans without children, Republicans, and the more educated have higher economic literacy. Family income is unrelated to economic literacy, though Black and Hispanic Americans have lower economic literacy (including conditional on education and income).

Here is the full paper by Jared Barton and Cortney Stephen Rodet.

My excellent Conversation with Marc Andreessen

I’ve been wanting to do this one for some while, and Marc did not disappoint.  Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  Here is the summary:

Marc joined Tyler to discuss his ever-growing appreciation for the humanities and more, including why he didn’t go to a better school, his contrarian take on Robert Heinlein, how Tom Wolfe helped Marc understand his own archetype, who he’d choose to be in Renaissance Florence, which books he’s reread the most, Twitter as an X-ray machine on public figures, where in the past he’d most like to time-travel, his favorite tech product that no longer exists, whether Web will improve podcasting, the civilization-level changes made possible by remote work, Peter Thiel’s secret to attracting talent, which data he thinks would be most helpful for finding good founders, how he’d organize his own bookstore, the kinds of people he admires most, and why Deadwood is equal to Shakespeare.

And the opening:

COWEN: Simple question: Have you always been like this?

ANDREESSEN: [laughs] Yes. I believe that my friends would say that I have.

COWEN: Let’s go back to the junior high school Marc Andreessen. At that time, what was your favorite book and why?

ANDREESSEN: That’s a really good question. I read a lot. Probably, like a lot of people like me, it was a lot of science fiction. I’m one of the few people I know who thinks that late Robert Heinlein was better than early Robert Heinlein. That had a really big effect on me. What else? I was omnivorous at an early age.

COWEN: Why is late Robert Heinlein better?

ANDREESSEN: To me, at least to young me — see if older me would agree with this — a sense of exploration and discovery and wonder and open-endedness. For me, it was as if he got more open-minded as he got older. I remember those books, in particular, being very inspiring — the universe is a place of possibilities.

COWEN: What’s the seminal television show for your intellectual development in, say, junior high school?

ANDREESSEN: Oh, junior high school — it’s hard to beat Knight Rider.

COWEN: Why Knight Rider?

ANDREESSEN: There was a wave of these near science fiction shows in the late ’70s, early ’80s that coincided with . . . Some of it was the aftermath of Star Wars, but it was the arrival of the personal computer and the arrival of computer technology in the lives of ordinary people for the first time. There was a massive wave of anxiety, but there was also a tremendous sense of possibility.

Recommended, excellent throughout.

Cognitive Endurance as Human Capital

A favorite topic of mine:

Schooling may build human capital not only by teaching academic skills, but by expanding the capacity for cognition itself. We focus specifically on cognitive endurance: the ability to sustain effortful mental activity over a continuous stretch of time. As motivation, we document that globally and in the US, the poor exhibit cognitive fatigue more quickly than the rich across field settings; they also attend schools that offer fewer opportunities to practice thinking for continuous stretches. Using a field experiment with 1,600 Indian primary school students, we randomly increase the amount of time students spend in sustained cognitive activity during the school day—using either math problems (mimicking good schooling) or non-academic games (providing a pure test of our mechanism). Each approach markedly improves cognitive endurance: students show 22% less decline in performance over time when engaged in intellectual activities—listening comprehension, academic problems, or IQ tests. They also exhibit increased attentiveness in the classroom and score higher on psychological measures of sustained attention. Moreover, each treatment improves students’ school performance by 0.09 standard deviations. This indicates that the experience of effortful thinking itself—even when devoid of any subject content—increases the ability to accumulate traditional human capital. Finally, we complement these results with quasi-experimental variation indicating that an additional year of schooling improves cognitive endurance, but only in higher-quality schools. Our findings suggest that schooling disparities may further disadvantage poor children by hampering the development of a core mental capacity.

Here is the full paper by Christina L. Brown, Supreet Kaur, Geeta Kingdon & Heather Schofield. What are you doing to improve your cognitive durability?

And don’t forget that the Candidates’ Match starts today!

What the AEA does and does not cover

This new blog post by John Cochrane is too good to excerpt, but here is one bit of it anyway, noting two points that on the AEA program do not receive a whole lot of attention:

  • Education, another policy issue that should be the top of progressive concern. Choice vs. teachers unions and the horrible results, especially for minorities and the poor. On the top of things that entrench social and income inequality in the US, this is it, and teachers’ unions arguably bear much of the blame. But we should ask the question.
  • Since we’re veering off to social science, if we care about equity and gender, do facts on low income single motherhood not matter at all? In many states more than half of all children are born to single mothers on medicaid.

Definitely recommended.  Can you guess at what does receive a lot of attention?  By the way, who today is “the next John Cochrane” and where is he or she being trained?  That is what I would like to see discussed most of all.

Direct Instruction Produces Large Gains in Learning, Kenya Edition

In an important new paper, Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya, Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Anthony Keats, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti and Owen Ozier evaluate Bridge International schools using a large randomized experiment. Twenty five thousand Kenyan students applied for 10,000 scholarships to Bridge International and the scholarships were given out by lottery.

Kenyan pupils who won a lottery for two-year scholarships to attend schools employing a highly-structured and standardized approach to pedagogy and school management learned more than students who applied for, but did not win, scholarships.

After being enrolled at these schools for two years, primary-school pupils gained approximately the equivalent of 0.89 extra years of schooling (0.81 standard deviations), while in pre-primary grades, pupils gained the equivalent of 1.48 additional years of schooling (1.35 standard deviations).

Who are Bridge International Academies? - YouTubeThese are very large gains. Put simply, children in the Bridge programs learnt approximately three years worth of material in just two years! Now, I know what you are thinking. We have all seen examples of high-quality, expensive educational interventions that don’t scale–that was the point of my post Heroes are Not Replicable and see also my recent discussion of the Perry Preschool project–but it’s important to understand the backstory of the Bridge study. Bridge Academy uses Direct Instruction and Direct Instruction scales! We know this from hundreds of studies. In 2018 I wrote (no indent):

What if I told you that there is a method of education which significantly raises achievement, has been shown to work for students of a wide range of abilities, races, and socio-economic levels and has been shown to be superior to other methods of instruction in hundreds of tests?….I am reminded of this by the just-published, The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research which, based on an analysis of 328 studies using 413 study designs examining outcomes in reading, math, language, other academic subjects, and affective measures (such as self-esteem), concludes:

…Our results support earlier reviews of the DI effectiveness literature. The estimated effects were consistently positive. Most estimates would be considered medium to large using the criteria generally used in the psychological literature and substantially larger than the criterion of .25 typically used in education research (Tallmadge, 1977). Using the criteria recently suggested by Lipsey et al. (2012), 6 of the 10 baseline estimates and 8 of the 10 adjusted estimates in the reduced models would be considered huge. All but one of the remaining six estimates would be considered large. Only 1 of the 20 estimates, although positive, might be seen as educationally insignificant.

…The strong positive results were similar across the 50 years of data; in articles, dissertations, and gray literature; across different types of research designs, assessments, outcome measures, and methods of calculating effects; across different types of samples and locales, student poverty status, race-ethnicity, at-risk status, and grade; across subjects and programs; after the intervention ceased; with researchers or teachers delivering the intervention; with experimental or usual comparison programs; and when other analytic methods, a broader sample, or other control variables were used.

Indeed, in 2015 I pointed to Bridge International as an important, large, and growing set of schools that use Direct Instruction to create low-cost, high quality private schools in the developing world. The Bridge schools, which have been backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, have been controversial which is one reason the Kenyan results are important.

One source of controversy is that Bridge teachers have less formal education and training than public school teachers. But Brdige teachers need less formal education because they are following a script and are closely monitored. DI isn’t designed for heroes, it’s designed for ordinary mortals motivated by ordinary incentives.

School heads are trained to observe teachers twice daily, recording information on adherence to the detailed teaching plans and interaction with pupils. School heads are given their own detailed scripts for teacher observation, including guidance for preparing for the observation, what teacher behaviors to watch for while observing, and how to provide feedback. School heads are instructed to additionally conduct a 15 minute follow up on the same day to check whether teachers incorporated the feedback and enter their scores through a digital system. The presence of the scripts thus transforms and simplifies the task of classroom observation and provision of feedback to teachers. Bridge also standardizes a range of other processes from school construction to financial management.

Teachers are observed twice daily! The model is thus education as a factory with extensive quality control–which is why teachers don’t like DI–but standardization, scale, and factory production make civilization possible. How many bespoke products do you buy? The idea that education should be bespoke gets things entirely backward because that means that you can’t apply what you learn about what works at scale–Heroes are Not Replicable–and thus you don’t get the benefits of refinement, evolution, and continuous improvement that the factory model provides. I quoted Ian Ayres in 2007:

“The education establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the evidence says.”  As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that “Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school market.”

Direct Instruction is evidence-based instruction that is formalized, codified, and implemented at scale. There is a big opportunity in the developing world to apply the lessons of Direct Instruction and accelerate achievement. Many schools in the developed world would also be improved by DI methods.

Addendum 1: The research brief to the paper, from which I have quoted, is a short but very good introduction to the results of the paper and also to Direct Instruction more generally.

Addendum 2: A surprising number of people over the years have thanked me for recommending DI co-founder Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

What should I ask Matthew Ball?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, here is some background:

Metaverse, metaverse, metaverse! You hear it everywhere. It’s mainstream, it’s a trendy buzzword, it’s even corporate strategy du jour.

But that wasn’t the case in early 2018. And this is when Matthew Ball, a former head of strategy at Amazon Studios, began writing a series of metaverse-themed essays – long, lucid, influential essays – that are almost uncanny in their prescience.

Matthew is now a venture capitalist as well and he has a forthcoming and already much-discussed book The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything.  Here is his home page and here is Matthew on Twitter.  So what should I ask him?

Stop school shooting drills

…this article applies machine learning and interrupted time series analysis to 54 million social media posts, both pre- and post-drills in 114 schools spanning 33 states. Drill dates and locations were identified via a survey, then posts were captured by geo-location, school social media following, and/or school social media group membership. Results indicate that anxiety, stress, and depression increased by 39–42% following the drills, but this was accompanied by increases in civic engagement (10–106%). This research, paired with the lack of strong evidence that drills save lives, suggests that proactive school safety strategies may be both more effective, and less detrimental to mental health, than drills.

That is from Mai ElSherief, et.al., published in 2021.  Via Gabriel Demombynes.

Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya

From Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Anthony Keats, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti, and Owen Ozier:

We examine the impact of enrolling in schools that employ a highly-standardized approach to education, using random variation from a large nationwide scholarship program. Bridge International Academies not only delivers highly detailed lesson guides to teachers using tablet computers, it also standardizes systems for daily teacher monitoring and feedback, school construction, and financial management. At the time of the study, Bridge operated over 400 private schools serving more than 100,000 pupils. It hired teachers with less formal education and experience than public school teachers, paid them less, and had more working hours per week. Enrolling at Bridge for two years increased test scores by 0.89 additional equivalent years of schooling (EYS) for primary school pupils and by 1.48 EYS for pre-primary pupils. These effects are in the 99th percentile of effects found for at-scale programs studied in a recent survey. Enrolling at Bridge reduced both dispersion in test scores and grade repetition. Test score results do not seem to be driven by rote memorization or by income effects of the scholarship.

Promising results, to be sure…

When should rhetoric be racially salient?

Utilizing a correlational design (N = 498), we found that those who perceived COVID-19 racial disparities to be greater reported reduced fear of COVID-19, which predicted reduced support for COVID-19 safety precautions. In Study 2, we manipulated exposure to information about COVID-19 racial disparities (N = 1,505). Reading about the persistent inequalities that produced COVID-19 racial disparities reduced fear of COVID-19, empathy for those vulnerable to COVID-19, and support for safety precautions. These findings suggest that publicizing racial health disparities has the potential to create a vicious cycle wherein raising awareness reduces support for the very policies that could protect public health and reduce disparities.

Here is more from Skinner-Dorkenoo et.al.  Via D.  There may be broader lessons as well.

Tim Harford covers *Talent* and parallel design

And Brian Eno.  Here is one opening bit from the FT:

Consider the advice for job interviewers in Talent, a new book by economist Tyler Cowen and venture capitalist Daniel Gross. They suggest asking a routine question, such as “give me an example of when you resolved a difficult challenge at work”. Then ask for another example. And another. The pat answers will be exhausted quickly, and the candidate will have to start improvising, digging deep — or perhaps admit to being stumped.

“If the candidate really does have 17 significant different work triumphs,” write Cowen and Gross, “maybe you do want to hear about what number 17 looks like.”

Indeed, one way to describe this tactic is that the interviewer is asking for answers in parallel rather than answers in series. Instead of stringing together a logical sequence of 17 questions, the interviewer is asking for 17 different answers to the same question.

Recommended, a great piece, subtle, and goes well beyond the topics of the book.

My Conversation with Jamal Greene

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

Jamal and Tyler discuss what he’d change about America’s legal education system, the utility of having non-judges or even non-lawyers on the Supreme Court, how America’s racial history influences our conception of rights, the potential unintended consequences of implementing his vision of rights for America, how the law should view economic liberty, the ideal moral framework for adjudicating conflicts, whether social media companies should consider interdependencies when moderating content on their platforms, how growing up in different parts of New York City shaped his views on pluralism, the qualities that make some law students stand out, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: There is a crude view in popular American society — even possibly correct — that, simply, American society is too legalistic. There’s that book, Three Felonies a Day. If you have expired prescription medicine in your cabinet, you’re committing a felony. People who are very smart will just tell me, “Never talk to a cop. Never talk to an FBI agent.” I’m an upper-class White guy who’s literally never smoked marijuana once, and they’re telling me, “Don’t ever speak with the law.”

Isn’t something wrong there? Is the common intuition that we’re too legalistic correct?

GREENE: I think that we are too apt to submit political disputes to legal resolution. I think that for sure. What your friends are telling you about police officers is slightly different, insofar as one can have a deeply non-legalistic culture in which the correct advice is to not talk to police officers if those people are corrupt, if those people are abusive.

When I hear that advice — and I might be differently situated than you — that’s what people are saying is, someone might be out to trick you. And that might be a mistrust of state power, as you mentioned before. Maybe it’s a rational mistrust of state power, but I don’t know that that’s about legalism, which again, is a separate potential problem.

We tend to formulate our problems in legal terms, as if the right way to solve them is to decide how they are to be resolved by a court, or how they are to be resolved by some adjudicative official, as opposed to thinking about our problems in terms of just inherent in, again, pluralism, which has to be solved through politics, has to be solved through conversation.

COWEN: But we still have whatever is upstream of the American law, the steep historical and cultural background, so anything we do is going to be flavored by that. We’re not ever going to get to a system where the policemen are like the policemen in Germany, for instance, or that the courts are like the courts in Germany.

Given that cultural upstream, again, isn’t the intuition basically correct? Just be suspicious of the law. We should have fewer laws, rely less on the legal process, in essence, deregulate as many different things as we can. Why isn’t that the correct conclusion, rather than building in more rights?

Interesting throughout.

Fact Checking Increases Fake News

Florian Ederer and Weicheng Min have an interesting new paper called Bayesian Persuasion with Lie Detection which shows that under some conditions fact checking can increase fake news.

How does lie detection constrain the potential for one person to persuade another to change her action? We consider a model of Bayesian persuasion in which the Receiver can detect lies with positive probability. We show that the Sender lies more when the lie detection probability increases. As long as this probability is sufficiently small, the Sender’s and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoffs are unaffected by the presence of lie detection because the Sender simply compensates by lying more. However, when the lie detection probability is sufficiently high, the Sender’s equilibrium payoff decreases and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoff increases with the lie detection probability.

The paper is difficult so here’s my stab at the intuition.

Suppose that politicians always want war but war is not always good. If voters can always detect a lie, politicians would always report war-is-good only when war was good and not-war when war was bad. Now suppose that voters can never detect a lie and also that the true probability of war being good is low. In this case, if politicians always report war-is-good then the voters would always ignore the politicians and choose no-war. But suppose that politicians always report war-is-good when war is good but sometimes report war-is-bad when war is bad (and, of course, sometimes report war-is-good when war is bad). In this situation, voters could be better off listening to politicians than ignoring them completely and the politicians will also be better off because they will get war more often—always when it is good and sometimes when it is bad. So, even though they always want war, how often should politicians report war-is-bad when war is bad? Just enough so that the voters are indifferent between following the politician’s advice and ignoring it altogether. In other words, voters have a threat point—ignore the politician completely. Knowing this threat point, politicians should tell the truth just enough so that voters prefer following the politician’s advice to ignoring them completely. Thus, even though voters can never detect a lie, politicians should sometimes tell the truth.

Now assume that there is (imperfect) lie detection. It’s immediately obvious that holding all else equal voters will be better off because now they will detect some of the times politicians say war-is-good when in fact war-is-bad. But precisely for this reason, all else will not be held equal, politicians will now report war-is-good when it is bad more often, i.e. they will lie more often. Working “backwards”, the voters threat point—ignore the politicians altogether—hasn’t changed and so their expected utility won’t change but that means that lie detection can’t make them better off and the reason is that politicians will lie more often.

In fact, lie detection doesn’t help the voters unless it is very accurate–perhaps more accurate than in our world.

Note that in this model voters cannot punish politicians for lying nor is there any opportunity for politicians to signal, to take costly actions that could separate truth tellers from liars. The model is all about “senders” and “receivers” of information–it’s a model of Bayesian persuasion not Bayesian punishment. In a model with punishment the ability to detect lies–even the ability to detect lies ex post–could result in more optimistic scenarios. Similarly, signaling might help, at the expense of some cost.

Nevertheless, the lesson I take is that information revelation is rarely pure. Information revelation is strategic–what is revealed and when it is revealed are choices in a game that may have complex and counter-intuitive equilibria.

For more, see Peter Coy’s interesting article on Bayesian persuasion in the New York Times.