Category: Education

U.S.A. facts of the day

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline, the Journal analysis found.

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.

Here is more from Douglas Belkin at the WSJ.

Is there a value of application thoroughness?

Ultimately, hiring outsiders is always going to be fraught. But I think Katsenelson was on to something with a ploy he used a few years ago to recruit an analyst. Determined to find someone who really cared about investment research, not just money, he devised a tediously time-consuming job advert. It asked candidates to list all the books they had read in the past 12 months; talk about the three books — and two people — who had influenced them most; provide a stock idea analysis and write a cover letter to say why not hiring them would be a massive mistake.

About 50 applications came in, only a dozen of which answered each question. But the successful candidate is still with the firm and for Katsenelson, “it worked out great”. This tactic won’t suit every company, or every job. But I bet it does better than the average algorithm.

Here is more from Pilita Clark from the FT.

Two brutal tests — can you pass them?

We all give people “tests” when we meet them, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  Here are two of mine:

1. The chess test.  When I played chess in my youth, I would commonly analyze games with other players.  You would then rapidly learn just how much and how quickly the other player could figure out the position and see imaginative variations.  Some players maybe had equal or even inferior results to mine (I had a good work ethic and took no drugs), but it was obvious they were greater talents at analysis.  Top chess players who worked with Bobby Fischer also attest that in this regard he was tops, not just “another great player.”  That was true even before he was good enough and steady enough to become world champion.

When talking ideas with people, the same issue surfaces — just how quickly and how imaginatively do they grasp what is going on?  You should put aside whatever they have or have not accomplished.  How much do they have this Bobby Fischer-like capacity to analyze?  No matter what their recent results have been (remember how Efim Geller used to kick Fischer’s butt in actual games?).

2. The art test.  Take a person’s favorite genres of art, music, whatever.  But something outside of their work lives.  Maybe it can even be sports.  How deeply do they understand the said subject matter?  At what kind of level can they talk about it or enjoy it or maybe even practice it?

Remember in Hamlet, how Hamlet puts on a play right before the King’s eyes, to see how the King reacts to “art”?

Here we are testing for sensibility more than any kind of rigorous analysis, though the analysis test may kick in as well.  Just how deep is the person’s deepest sensibility?

If you are investing in talent, you probably would prefer someone really good at one of these tests over someone who is “pretty good” at both of them.

3. All other tests.

Now, people can be very successful while failing both “the chess test” and “the art test.”  In fact, most successful people fail both of these tests.  Still, their kinds of success will be circumscribed.  They are more likely to be hard-working, super-sharp, and accomplished, perhaps charismatic as well, while lacking depth and imaginative faculty in their work.

Nonetheless they will be super-focused on being successful.

I call this the success test.

Now if someone can pass the chess test, the art test, and the success test with flying colors…there are such people!

And if the person doesn’t pass any of those tests, they still might be just fine, but there will be a definite upper cap on their performance.

My dialogue with Lipton Matthews

I appeared on his podcast, and we discussed trust, Jamaica and Trinidad, what you can learn from visiting funerals for five years, what I want for my non-funeral and why, social media and outreach, neurodiversity and autism, the importance of Kant and Hegel, and more.

Here is Lipton’s broader podcast series, many good guests.  Here is Lipton on Twitter.

A simple illustration of the benefits of feminization

Fox’s Tucker Carlson, the most important nationalist voice in America, seemed to sympathize with the gender politics of Taliban-supporting Afghans. “They don’t hate their own masculinity,” he said shortly after the fall of Kabul. “They don’t think it’s toxic. They like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too. So now they’re getting it all back. So maybe it’s possible that we failed in Afghanistan because the entire neoliberal program is grotesque.” (By “neoliberalism” he seems to mean social liberalism, not austerity economics.)

From Michelle Goldberg (NYT), that in a nutshell is the case for the feminization of society, which I see as bringing strongly positive net benefits for both men and women, in most but by no means all cases.

Do note that if you ever see me describing this feminization in not entirely glowing terms, that is part of my desire to give you the entire unvarnished picture, as I would with most other topics.  (The most common reading mistake you can make in these parts is to over-infer an entire mood affiliation from a single post.)

When it comes to feminization, I also think sometimes of my grade and junior high school gym teacher, Mr. O (I will omit his full name, but in fact we also called him “Mr. O”).  He acted like a tough guy, but in fact was just a…grade school gym teacher.  Nonetheless he acted as if he was auditioning for the role of Patton in a Hollywood movie.

He smoked his cigarillos (?) in that kind of plastic thing-y, like the Penguin did on the original Batman show.

If a smaller or less athletic kid took a tough spill, or was picked on by the others, he would say “Suck it up, kid!”, with little sympathy.  (If you are wondering, the worst he ever said to me was “That was a stupid foul, kid,” in a fifth-grade basketball contest.  So I didn’t bear a personal grudge against him.)

He seemed to love the game of Bombardment, as in fact I did too.  (I still remember being one of the last two men standing, but losing to Jimmy Gravelis, who caught my too-weak toss.)

He was a Roman Catholic and a veteran of the Korean War.  He seemed to stare too long at the boys entering and leaving the shower, after the exercise period of gym.  But no one really questioned this.

Even as a kid, I thought he was a bit…sick and also over the top.  In some ways though he was a good teacher and he definitely maintained discipline.  Kids were afraid of him.  And he toughened them up for the world to come.

Still, at the end of the day I am not wishing to return to the cultural ascent of Mr. O.

I would rather live in a more feminized world, even if I still miss Bombardment.  But if you are not a fan of this new arrangement…hey, “Suck it up kid!”

Addendum: You might argue that I had the best of both worlds, namely to grow up in the “tougher” society, but live most of my life in the more feminized society — maybe so!

Toward a theory of Emergent Ventures

Tony Kulesa, a biomedical venture capitalist, has a very nice new piece up about how Emergent Ventures works.  He overrates me in particular, but the overall account is quite accurate and insightful, and the piece is based on a considerable amount of detailed research.  Here is one excerpt:

Tyler’s success at discovering and enabling the most talented people before anyone else notices them boils down to four components:

  1. Distribution: Tyler promotes the opportunity in such a way that the talent level of the application pool is extraordinarily high and the people who apply are uniquely earnest.
  2. Application: Emergent Ventures’ application is laser focused on the quality of the applicant’s ideas, and boils out the noise of credentials, references, and test scores.
  3. Selection: Tyler has relentlessly trained his taste for decades, the way a world class athlete trains for the olympics.
  4. Inspiration: Tyler personally encourages winners to be bolder, creating an ambition flywheel as they in turn inspire future applicants.

Self-recommended!  The piece is interesting throughout, and has much social science in it.

Those new service sector jobs? — drive your own kid to school

Bus drivers are in such short supply that EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, Del., is offering parents $700 to drop off and pick up their children for the school year.

The article is interesting throughout.  It turns out there is a shortage of bus drivers, a shortage of buses with working AC (chip issues), and some schools are flush with cash due to government stimulus.

Is this the correct market price?

This is totally immoral of course, but I am wondering about the elasticity of demand here:

One math lesson Prof. Edward C. Ennels taught at Baltimore City Community College was, according to prosecutors, pretty simple: $150 for a C; $250 for a B; and $500 for an A.

And in some courses, an A could go for as little as $300.

Over the course of seven months last year, Mr. Ennels, 45, solicited bribes from 112 students, and received 10 payments from nine students, totaling $2,815, the Maryland attorney general, Brian E. Frosh, said in a statement on Thursday.

In another scheme, Mr. Ennels sold online access codes that enabled students to view instructional material and complete assignments, prosecutors said. From 2013 to 2020, he sold 694 access codes for about $90 each.

Mr. Ennels, a professor at the college for 15 years who served on the faculty senate’s Ethics and Institutional Integrity Committee, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Baltimore County Circuit Court to 11 misdemeanor charges, including bribery and misconduct in office, according to prosecutors and online court records.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but one year of the term suspended and to be served in a local jail. He was also ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution and will be on probation for five years upon his release.

Mr. Frosh said in his statement that Mr. Ennels employed “an elaborate criminal scheme to take advantage of his students,” including using multiple aliases to hide his identity.

In March 2020, Mr. Ennels sent an email using one of his aliases, “Bertie Benson,” to another of his aliases, “Amanda Wilbert,” prosecutors said in a statement. In the email, “Benson” offered to complete “Wilbert’s” math assignments, guaranteeing her an A for $300, prosecutors said.

Then, as “Wilbert,” Mr. Ennels forwarded that email to 112 students enrolled in a class that he was teaching, prosecutors said. “Ennels often haggled with students regarding the amount of the bribe, and set different prices based on the course and grade desired,” according to the statement.

Most students declined to pay the bribes and Mr. Ennels “often persisted, offering to lower the amount of the bribe or offering payment plans,” according to the statement.

According to the statement, one student rebuffed the $500 solicitation for an A by saying: “Oh I don’t have that sorry. I will be sure to keep studying and pass my exam.” Mr. Ennels’s response, according to prosecutors: “How much can you afford?”

That student ultimately paid a bribe, according to prosecutors, who did not say how much that particular student paid.

I guess he was wondering about the elasticity of demand too.  Here is the full NYT story.

How many children are killed by the schools anyway?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Of course, with or without Covid, some number of children die at school. But it is surprisingly difficult to find out how many. In 2020, there were more than 50 million students in public elementary, middle or high schools, yet there is no systematic national database of student deaths at school. School shootings have claimed up to 75 deaths annually in recent years, and there are many other possible causes of death, such as traffic or sports accidents.

It’s entirely plausible that a few hundred students die each year for reasons directly related to school attendance. If suicides induced by school bullying but occurring off campus are included, the number could be higher still. Some 4,400 young people in America commit suicide in a typical year, and surely many of those deaths are attributable, at least partially, to events at school.

Adding up all these admittedly indirect chains of causation, it’s possible that school attendance leads to at least 2,000 deaths every year in the U.S. And those have nothing to do with Covid.

Fortunately, it is not customary in normal times to debate whether it is worth opening schools knowing that it could result in the death of perhaps 2,000 students. The true toll of opening schools is unknown, much less debated, and if there is a discussion it is over school shootings, which ought to be preventable (or at least limited) by measures other than closing schools.

This “head in the sand” approach is highly imperfect. Still, it is preferable to panicking and closing the schools every year.

It is difficult to calculate how many children have died of Covid, but perhaps the best estimate comes from England, where it caused 25 deaths of people younger than 18 in the year ended in March. The final tally is certainly higher in the more populous U.S., but as of July seven states still were reporting zero Covid deaths among children. This recent estimate suggests 358 deaths, though it is based on only 43 states.

Yes, it is worth considering whether school reopenings will lead to unacceptably high levels of Covid in the non-school population. It is also worth pointing out that Covid is spreading very rapidly in states with low vaccination rates — without the schools playing a role. In any case, it does not justify focusing solely on the safety of children in discussions of school reopening.

Economists have long studied the tendency of people to assign more value to a “known life” than to a “statistical life.” When a baby is trapped down a well, for example, many millions of dollars will be spent trying to save her. Her photo will appear on the evening news and on social media. Yet when it comes to saving lives in the aggregate, such as by installing more and better smoke detectors, there is only modest interest.

Right now too many Americans are trapped: Because the pandemic has been so dramatic for so many, every life looks like a known life rather than a statistical life. We all need to start working our way back to a bit more emotional distance.

Recommended.

What makes an interview podcast good or great?

A few people have asked me lately what makes for a good podcast.  Since my podcast is far from the most popular, and since most podcasts are not like mine, and do not (and should not) try to be like mine, perhaps I am not the right respondent.  Nonetheless I offered a simple formula:

A podcast really works when it is the dramatic unfolding of a story and mood between the guest and host.

Or expressed in other words:

What makes for a good podcast is the dramatic tension between the guest and host.

If you think of Russ Roberts at EconTalk, often “the story line” is something like “I am a Mensch and you are a Mensch, and we are going to talk this through together.”  In earlier times, it had more elements of “you are going to put forward some mainstream points, and I am going to push back with market-oriented economics.”

Many of the most famous podcasts are variants of: “We will pretend to be talking about something, but in fact we will exploring new visions of masculinity for a Woke and post-Woke world.”

The visual images and home pages associated with those podcasts are often so…manly.  The T-shirts!  The muscles!  It is also why those podcasts fail so badly at having significant numbers of interesting female guests, addressed on their own terms.

Many episodes of Conversations of Tyler are “I’m going to try to show people just how smart you are, but it will end up a wilder and more precarious ride than you might have thought.”  Occasionally a guest flunks the test (though they might still be smart).  Alternately, the podcast with Daniel Carpenter was the first episode of “Tyler gets upset at a guest, they really have at it!”

I called my podcast with David Deutsch “weird and testy” — that too is dramatic tension.  One listener tweeted: “Tyler’s delight at having a guest who doesn’t hedge or mealymouth is palpable.”  Few tweeted about the substance of the disagreements.

One woman wrote about it: “Without understanding everything he said, I find myself mentally stimulated & spiritually inspired. Such a purist, an idealist, a truth-seeker w/ religious zeal. Not religious myself, I could see myself eventually submit to his religion”

She meant Deutsch.

Some listeners enjoy how the guests are surprised and delighted by the questions.  With Alexander the Grate — the homeless guy — the question was how he would perform at all.  I thought he was excellent and very interesting, but there was real suspense leading up to that point.  “And will Tyler question him just like he does everyone else?”

Get the picture?  I’m not saying these listeners are indifferent to the content, rather they filter it through the unfolding story about the dialogical interaction.  I don’t know of any successful podcasts that violate this principle.

One reader wrote to me:

…some very few podcasts are high level professionals in the same field, with a lot of respect for one another, exploring the space and enjoying each other’s company, especially when effectively “meeting for the first time.” I feel like this is maybe on the order of 1-5% of podcasts I hear. Most podcasts I listen to are “just” very high quality interviews

My podcasts with Lex Fridman or Tim Ferriss would be examples of that, and there are plenty more out there without yours truly.

So, to use Hansonian rhetoric, “Podcasting isn’t about the podcast!”  If you are seeking to understanding a podcast, including your own, start by asking what the basic story line is.  Where the dramatic tension lies.  Do you have enough dramatic tension in what you are doing?  What is the actual reason why you are not attracting more quality guests of a particular kind?

I am not claiming comparable expertise, but to return to my own endeavors, they are most influenced by: Monty Python’s Flying Circus (especially the interview segments, which maintain remarkable dramatic tension), Seinfeld (wonderful ensemble work), Curb Your Enthusiasm (for how long can you keep people on edge?), and the TNT halftime show with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, etc. (what makes for a dramatic or memorable interjection?).  I doubt those are the right sources for your podcast, but perhaps you should look far and wide as well, rather than just listening to other podcasts.  Howard Stern is perhaps another useful source?

If they had had another season of Seinfeld, would Jerry have to have started (again) dating Elaine?  The dramatic stories in a podcast also need to change and evolve over time, and perhaps I will return to that topic in the future.

Are You More Strategic than a Fifth Grader?

Isabelle Brocas and Juan Carrillo have a new paper in the JPE testing when children develop strategic (k-level) reasoning. A clever game outlined below illustrates the basic idea. Players 1,2 and 3 are asked to make (simultaneous) choices to earn prizes (money for the adults and older kids, points for toys for the younger kids). The sophisticated, rational choice becomes successively more difficult as we from from player 3 to player 1. Player 3 is simply asked to match a shape. In the case shown, for example, player 3 earns the most by choosing the red square labelled C since it matches the shape of the blue square labelled A. Player 2 earns the most by choosing the color chosen by Player 3. Of course, Player 2 doesn’t know what color Player 3 will choose and so has to reason about Player 3’s actions. What color do you choose? Player 1 earns the most by choosing the same letter as Player 2 but now must reason about Player 2 which involves reasoning about how Player 2 will reason about Player 3. What letter do you choose?What do the authors find? First, for both adults and kids either they get it or they don’t. The ones who don’t make the right choice as Player 3 but then randomly choose when playing either Player 2 or Player 1. The ones who get it, play correctly at all three levels. In other words, almost everyone who reasons correct as Player 2 (1-level reasoning) also reasons correctly as Player 1 (2-level reasoning).

Second, there is a marked increase in the ability to perform k-level thinking between ages 8 and 12 but after age 12 (fifth grade) there is shockingly little growth. Together the first and second points suggest that k-level thinking is more of a quantum leap than an evolution in reasoning ability.

Third, most adults reason correctly in this simple game but a significant fraction do not. As the authors put it “some very young players display an innate ability to play always at equilibrium while some young adults are unable to perform two steps of dominance.”

Demographic factors are mostly as expected, children interested in STEM fields perform better (n.b. this implies that contrary to some opinions the STEM set are better at social interaction), kids from better socio-economic backgrounds perform better and slightly unexpected females perform better than males, perhaps because they are more disciplined.

As the authors conclude:

Adolescents are particularly exposed to situations in which strategic sophistication is crucial to avoid wrong decisions. Examples include engaging in risky activities, such as accepting drugs from peers or engaging in unprotected sex. Also, with the development of the internet, naive users are often preyed upon, asked to provide personal information, or tricked into making harmful decisions. Information deliberately intended to deceive young minds also circulates through social media. Making correct decisions in such environments requires understanding the intentions of others and anticipating the consequences of following their advice or opinions. More generally, children and adolescents are gradually discovering the dangers hiding behind social interactions and need to come equipped to detect them, assess them, and navigate around them. We conjecture that failures in these abilities are closely related to underdeveloped logical abilities, and we predict that the level of sophistication of an individual detected through a simple task matches their behavior in social settings.

What should I ask Claudia Goldin?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, so what should I ask?

Here is part of her Wikipedia page, which perhaps ought to have emphasized economic history more?:

Claudia Goldin…is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the Development of the American Economy program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Goldin was the president of the American Economic Association in the 2013–14 academic year. In 1990, she became the first woman to be tenured at the Harvard economics department. Her research includes topics such as female labor force, income inequality, education, and the economic gender gap.

Here are her pieces on scholar.google.com.  And I will take this chance to plug her new, forthcoming book Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity.