Category: Education

Good advice from Patrick Collison

Here is the whole post, here is one excerpt:

If you’re 10–20: These are prime years!

  • Go deep on things. Become an expert.
  • In particular, try to go deep on multiple things. (To varying degrees, I tried to go deep on languages, programming, writing, physics, math. Some of those stuck more than others.) One of the main things you should try to achieve by age 20 is some sense for which kinds of things you enjoy doing. This probably won’t change a lot throughout your life and so you should try to discover the shape of that space as quickly as you can.
  • Don’t stress out too much about how valuable the things you’re going deep on are… but don’t ignore it either. It should be a factor you weigh but not by itself dispositive.
  • To the extent that you enjoy working hard, do. Subject to that constraint, it’s not clear that the returns to effort ever diminish substantially. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy it a lot, be grateful and take full advantage!
  • Make friends over the internet with people who are great at things you’re interested in. The internet is one of the biggest advantages you have over prior generations. Leverage it.
  • Aim to read a lot.
  • If you think something is important but people older than you don’t hold it in high regard, there’s a decent chance that you’re right and they’re wrong. Status lags by a generation or more.
  • Above all else, don’t make the mistake of judging your success based on your current peer group. By all means make friends but being weird as a teenager is generally good.

Are economists really extroverted?

Consistent findings across studies were that students of arts/humanities and psychology scored high on Neuroticism and Openness; students of political sc. scored high on Openness; students of economics, law, political sc., and medicine scored high on Extraversion; students of medicine, psychology, arts/humanities, and sciences scored high on Agreeableness; and students of arts/humanities scored low on Conscientiousness. Effect sizes were calculated to estimate the magnitude of the personality group differences. These effect sizes were consistent across studies comparing similar pairs of academic majors. For all Big Five personality traits medium effect sizes were found frequently, and for Openness even large effect sizes were found regularly. The results from the present review indicate that substantial personality group differences across academic majors exist.

Economics majors are also conscientious, not neurotic, less agreeable, and less open.

That is from a recent paper by Anna Vedel, via Shea Matthew Kennisher.

My Conversation with Michelle Dawson

Here is the transcript and audio, I am very pleased (and honored) to have been able to do this.  She is an autism researcher, and so most of the discussion concerned autism, here is one excerpt:

COWEN: What would be the best understanding of autism, from your perspective?

DAWSON: The best understanding is seeing autism as atypical brain functioning, resulting in atypical processing of all information. So that’s information across domains — social, nonsocial; across modalities — visual, auditory; whatever its source, whether it’s information from your memory, information coming from the outside world, that is atypical. So that is very domain-general atypicality.

What autistic brains do with information is atypical. How it’s atypical, in my view, involves what I’ve called cognitive versatility and less mandatory hierarchies in how the brain works, such that, for example, an autistic brain will consider more possibilities, will nonstrategically combine information across levels and scales without losing large parts of it, and so on. And that applies to all information.

That is strictly my view. I’m not sure anyone would agree with me.

And:

COWEN: Now often, in popular discourse, you’ll hear autism or Asperger’s associated with a series of personality traits or features of personality psychology — a kind of introversion or people being nerdy in some regard. In your approach, do you see any connection between personality traits and autism at all?

DAWSON: There is a small literature that shows some connection. I think it’s very weak, and I say no, I don’t think autism is about personality. Autism is sort of orthogonal to personality. The two are not related. Whatever relation there is does not . . . arises from some third factor, let’s say. If there is one — and again, the evidence is, I think, very weak connecting autism to personality — so just say that maybe, if there’s something, let’s say that personality in autistics might be more high variance. That would be my totally wild guess, but I don’t think autism itself is about personality.

And here is Michelle again:

We don’t — I hope we don’t look at a blind person who is a successful lawyer and assume that he is only very mildly blind or barely blind at all, and then look at a blind person who has a very bad outcome and assume that they must be very severely blind.

We do make those kinds of judgments in autism, saying, “The more atypical the person is, the worse they must be in some sense.” That kind of bias has not only harmed a lot of autistic people, it really has impeded research.

Here is Michelle on Twitter.  We discuss and link to some of her research in the discussion.

Hiring is becoming less discriminating

In the first half of 2018, the share of job postings requesting a college degree fell to 30% from 32% in 2017, according to an analysis by labor-market research firm Burning Glass Technologies of 15 million ads on websites such as Indeed and Craigslist. Minimum qualifications have been drifting lower since 2012, when companies sought college graduates for 34% of those positions.

Long work-history requirements have also relaxed: Only 23% of entry-level jobs now ask applicants for three or more years of experience, compared with 29% back in 2012, putting an additional 1.2 million jobs in closer reach of more applicants, Burning Glass data show. Through the end of last year, a further one million new jobs were opened up to candidates with “no experience necessary,” making occupations such as e-commerce analyst, purchasing assistant and preschool teacher available to novices and those without a degree.

That is from Kelsey Gee at the WSJ.  One neglected benefit of an economic recovery is simply that it lowers signaling costs.

Bob Luddy and the Thales Academy

Scott Alexander reports:

Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem: children given private tutoring will do two sigmas better than average (ie the average tutored student will be in the 98th percentile of nontutored students). But see here for some argument that the real value is lower, maybe more like 0.4 sigma. Some further discussion on the subreddit asks the right question – can we simulate this with some kind of clever computer-guided learning? – and gives the right answer – apparently no. TracingWoodgrains has a great comment. Especially interested in their discussion of Direct Instruction: “One of the few schools to use it as the basis of their program for math and English, a libertarian private school in North Carolina called Thales Academy, is reporting results exactly in line with the two-sigma bar: 98-99th percentile average accomplishment on the IOWA test. Their admissions process requires an interview at the elementary level, but no sorting other than that, so it’s not a case of only selecting the highest-level students.” (though note that IOWA is nationally normed, and Thales is in the well-off Research Triangle area). On the other hand, it costs half of what public schools do, so file this under “cost disease” too.

By the way, I have been enjoying my read of Robert L. Luddy’s Entrepreneurial Life: The Path from Startup to Market Leader.  Luddy is founder of Thales Academy, and the final chapter of his memoir covers his thoughts and praxis on education.

The longest history lesson ever is about Texas

n August 24 at 9 a.m., Andrew Torget will take the podium in a University of North Texas auditorium, clad in a suit and armed with 500 pages of notes. Forty-five students will be seated in front of him, notebooks — no laptops! — at the ready.

He’ll open his notes, clear his throat, and begin his lecture. If he’s going to successfully teach the longest recorded history class ever, he won’t be able to stop, aside from occasional brief breaks, for the next 30 hours. At least 10 of his students will have to stick it out, too.

Torget, an associate professor of history at North Texas, is gunning for an official Guinness World Record — for longest history lesson. What will the class cover? Texas history. All of it, he says, “from cave people up until last week.”

Here is the story by Sarah Brown, via Anecdotal.

Facts about economics papers

The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them. At this year’s American Economics Association conference, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David Autor compared a 94-page working paper about the minimum wage to “being bludgeoned to death with a Nerf bat” and started a Twitter hashtag, #ThePaperIsTooDamnedLong.

…Between 1970 and 2017, the average length of papers published in five top-ranked economics journals swelled from 16 pages to 50 pages, according to an analysis by University of California, Berkeley economists Stefano DellaVigna and David Card.

Longer papers can include more-robust statistical analysis, engage in multifaceted arguments or address complex topics. Some economists speculate paper inflation is also the product of the laborious peer-review process, in which other economists act as referees and read drafts, then demand any number of additions before publication…

Economists also tend to write defensively, including redundant material even in early versions of papers to head off possible quibbles that might come up during the review process, said Samuel Bazzi, an economics professor at Boston University.

That is from Ben Jeubsdorf at the WSJ.  One question is whether longer papers are better from a scientific point of view.  A second and more important question is whether long papers are better for attracting genius talent to the economics profession.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Educational sentences to ponder

Of course, poor kids can still soar in school, and rich ones can flunk out, but few would deny that money is a powerful influence on people’s futures. Now, consider that household income explains just 7 percent of the variation in educational attainment, which is less than what genes can now account for. “Most social scientists wouldn’t do a study without accounting for socioeconomic status, even if that’s not what they’re interested in,” says Harden. The same ought to be true of our genes.

And:

“Education needs to start taking these developments very seriously,” says Kathryn Asbury from the University of York, who studies education and genetics. “Any factor that can explain 11 percent of the variance in how a child performs in school is very significant and needs to be carefully explored and understood.”

The researchers are to the point:

What policy lessons or practical advice do you draw from this study?

None whatsoever. Any practical response—individual or policy-level—to this or similar research would be extremely premature and unsupported by the science.

Here is the story, via Michelle Dawson.  Here is the underlying paper, here are the FAQ.

Higher education update occasionally we innovate

Income-share agreements:

To pay for his professional flight degree at Purdue University in Indiana, Andrew Hoyler had two choices. He could rely on loans and scholarships. Or he could cover some of the cost with an “income-share agreement” (ISA), a contract with Purdue to pay it a percentage of his earnings for a fixed period after graduation.

And:

Around a third of graduate education in America is now online, according to Richard Garrett of Eduventures, a consultancy. Many universities take a do-it-yourself approach, but the better-known ones tend to go into partnership with the OPMs. 2U, a ten-year-old startup, led the way, and has been followed into the business by, among others, Pearson, an educational publisher, and Coursera (which started off as a provider of MOOCs). Coursera joined up with UoI to create its online MBA programme.

Both are from The Economist.

For Epistocracy

Vox’s Sean Illing has an excellent interview with Jason Brennan about his book Against Democracy:

…Illing: Let’s return to the “competence principle.” Why does the right to competent government trump other fundamental rights, like the right to participate in the democratic process?

Brennan: I think the real question is why should we assume there’s a right to participate in democratic process? It’s actually quite weird and different from a lot of other rights we seem to have.

We have the right to choose our partner, to choose our religion, to choose what we’re going to eat, where we live, what job we’ll do, etc. While some of these things do impose costs on others, they’re primarily about carving out a sphere of autonomy for the individual, and about preventing other people from having control over you.

A right to participate in politics seems fundamentally different because it involves imposing your will upon other people. So I’m not sure that any of us should have that kind of right, at least not without any responsibilities.

So how do we create an epistocracy?

Brennan:…Here’s what I propose we do: Everyone can vote, even children. No one gets excluded. But when you vote, you do three things.

First, you tell us what you want. You cast your vote for a politician, or for a party, or you take a position on a referendum, whatever it might be. Second, you tell us who you are. We get your demographic information, which is anonymously coded, because that stuff affects how you vote and what you support.

And the third thing you do is take a quiz of very basic political knowledge. When we have those three bits of information, we can then statistically estimate what the public would have wanted if it was fully informed.

Under this system, it’s not really the case that you have more power than I do. We can’t really point to any individual and say you were excluded, or your vote counted for more. The idea is to gauge what the public would actually want if it had all the information it needed.

Lots to think about. Read the whole thing.

Housing Costs Reduce the Return to Education

In normal times and places house prices are kept fairly close to construction costs by the ordinary processes of supply and demand. Average house prices didn’t rise much over the entire 20th century, for example. Even today, house prices are kept close to construction costs in most of the United States. But extreme supply restrictions in a small number of important places (San Francisco, San Jose, LA, New York, Boston etc.), have driven average prices well above any seen in the entire 20th century.

Over the last several decades high productivity industries have become more geographically concentrated. As a result, a substantial share of the productivity gains from technology, bio-tech and finance have gone not to producers but to non-productive landowners. High returns to land have meant lower returns to other factors of production.

The return to education, for example, has increased in the United States but it’s less well appreciated that in order to earn high wages college educated workers must increasingly live in expensive cities. One consequence is that the net college wage premium is not as large as it appears and inequality has been over-estimated. Remarkably Enrico Moretti (2013) estimates that 25% of the increase in the college wage premium between 1980 and 2000 was absorbed by higher housing costs. Moreover, since the big increases in housing costs have come after 2000, it’s very likely that an even larger share of the college wage premium today is being eaten by housing. High housing costs don’t simply redistribute wealth from workers to landowners. High housing costs reduce the return to education reducing the incentive to invest in education. Thus higher housing costs have reduced human capital and the number of skilled workers with potentially significant effects on growth.

Housing is eating the world.

Educating animals (not just signaling)

Formal training programs, which can be called education, enhance cognition in human and nonhuman animals alike. However, even informal exposure to human contact in human environments can enhance cognition. We review selected literature to compare animals’ behavior with objects among keas and great apes, the taxa that best allow systematic comparison of the behavior of wild animals with that of those in human environments such as homes, zoos, and rehabilitation centers. In all cases, we find that animals in human environments do much more with objects. Following and expanding on the explanations of several previous authors, we propose that living in human environments and the opportunities to observe and manipulate human-made objects help to develop motor skills, embodied cognition, and the use of objects to extend cognition in the animals. Living in a human world also furnishes the animals with more time for such activities, in that the time needed for foraging for food is reduced, and furnishes opportunities for social learning, including emulation, an attempt to achieve the goals of a model, and program-level imitation, in which the imitator reproduces the organizational structure of goal-directed actions without necessarily copying all the details. All these factors let these animals learn about the affordances of many objects and make them better able to come up with solutions to physical problems.

The paper is by Ken Cheng and Richard W. Byrne, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Steve Teles on the Federalist Society and the Left

Here is one bit from what is an excellent story with good material in every paragraph:

Mr. Teles makes sure to emphasize that his sympathy with the conservative legal movement here grows out of not his policy preferences, which lean left, but his belief in the importance of a “powerfully structured” constitutional system. “I don’t think the purpose of the Constitution is to get a government so small you can drown in a bathtub,” he says. Rather, it is to ensure the government “is democratically responsible.”

Mr. Teles believes that one of the most salient projects for the newly conservative Roberts Court will be to roll back administrative-state prerogatives. That could revitalize Congress and restore the constitutional structure, vindicating two longtime goals of the conservative legal movement. But he thinks this could also end up serving certain policy ends of progressives.

For the past several decades, Mr. Teles says, many progressive victories in the economic realm have been achieved through “administrative jujitsu”—difficult-to-understand maneuvers involving taxes, fees, mandates, regulations, and administrative directives. If courts start to block technocratic liberal plans for social reform because they violate the separation of powers, the left may find it easier to mobilize for pure redistribution as an alternative. Think of postal banking instead of CFPB regulation, or a carbon tax instead of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, or a reduction in the Medicare eligibility age instead of ObamaCare subsidies and exchanges.

That might be good for democratic discourse, Mr. Teles suggests. “In some ways liberalism has been deformed” by relying on administrative agencies, “as opposed to making big arguments for big, encompassing social programs.” In the short term, though, conservative courts will probably prove “radicalizing for the left.” Democrats may fully jettison Clintonism and say: “We’re going straight for socialism.” Steeply redistributive programs enacted by legislatures would be “easier to defend in court,” even a conservative court, than unaccountable bureaucratic diktats.

That is from Jason Willick at the WSJ.  I am a big fan of Steve Teles, and in fact here is my Conversation with him (and Brink Lindsey).

Managing Incentives

Lesson one in our textbook chapter on managing incentives is “You get what you pay for (even when what you pay for is not exactly what you want)”. Case in point is the California cleanup of the 2017 wildfires, at $280,000 per site it’s four times more expensive than similar past cleanups and by far the costliest cleanup in CA history. The state emphasized speed and farmed the job out to the Army Corp of Engineers who hired contractors who were paid by the ton excavated! Paying by the ton created highly u̶n̶p̶r̶e̶d̶i̶c̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ predictable consequences as KQED reports:

…Dan said he saw workers inflate their load weights with wet mud. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said he heard similar stories of subcontractors actually being directed to mix metal that should have been recycled into their loads to make them heavier.

“They [contractors] saw it as gold falling from the sky,” Dan said. “That is the biggest issue. They can’t pay tonnage on jobs like this and expect it to be done safely.”

…Krickl pointed to where his home used to stand. It’s a 6-foot deep depression that he affectionately called his “pond”.

That “pond” was created when contractors removed the foundation, soil and an entire concrete pad for Krickl’s garage, leaving behind a large hole.

Here’s my favorite part:

So many sites were over-excavated that the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services recently launched a new program to refill the holes left behind by Army Corps contractors. That’s estimated to cost another $3.5 million.

Hat tip: Carl D.

Who’s complacent? Virginia is complacent

My wife and I are the proud (and exhausted) parents of two young sons, and we live in Falls Church, Virginia. Our oldest is “two half” and will be starting a “cooperative” preschool down the street this September. That means we volunteer in his classroom and help run the school—charity auction, field trip transportation, etc.—and in return we save on tuition. It’s a win-win.

Currently, co-oping parents in Virginia must undergo four hours of annual training before they can volunteer in the classroom—basic things like first aid and certain laws relevant to child care. As reported by the Washington Post, however, the Virginia Department of Social Services is considering regulations that would require co-oping parents instead to undergo approximately 30 hours of training—just to help in the classroom a few hours each month, completing daunting tasks like passing out snacks and sweeping the floors.

Here is more from Ilya Shapiro.