Category: Education

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).

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 or

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?