Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Taking education online (September 7, 2006)

(Addition below)

NPR's Neil Conan hosted an interesting discussion regarding the growth of online education on Wednesday's Talk of the Nation. While overall higher education enrollment growth is stagnant, growing at around 2% annually, online course growth enjoys over five times that rate. The online university market caters mainly to graduate students, and is billed as the ultimate in andragogy, being ideal for working professionals with schedules that make traditional semesters difficult to attend. But in my view there is no reason online's astronomical growth shouldn't continue.

The benefits are numerous. Academia is a bastion of leftist thought. Seventy-two percent of faculty members are self-described liberals (compared to about 20% of the US population nationwide). Only 15% are self-described conservatives (compared to about 40% nationwide). So the professoriate is about ten times more leftist than the population at large.

That's nothing new. A social groupthink that has preserved itself with little alteration for a half-century is monopolistic. It stifles ideas (or the professors who present them) that disagree with rigid sets of theoretical dogma about human nature, morality, politics, economics, and so forth. Online courses allow for competition, because students can scour the country for degrees and courses.

As astounding growth continues, I suspect universities will look at removing out-of-state tuition premiums (around three times the in-state rate) for online courses, or at least slashing them drastically, to compete with programs in other states. In absolute numbers, there are still lots of traditionalists, rightists, and empiricists out there teaching. Online courses, because of a lack of geographical and space constraints (why can't an instructor lead an online class with a few thousand students, with multiple online discussion topics and lots of TAs for grading written assignments and electronic grading for other forms of testing?), can break the academic orthodoxy that runs guys like Lawrence Summers and Andrew Fraser out of town. Let the market have a say. Additionally, this will eliminate preferable tuition rates for illegal aliens.

Putatively mature though they may be, lots of college students don't like to engage in in-class discussions. The larger the class, the more truth there is to that. Online discussions and virtual classrooms are different. Students can speak with relative anonymity, the time constraints and discomforts of a sterile setting are removed, and ideas can be expounded upon or more fully defended. Certainly some will thrive in this environment, anyway.

Online classes remove the need for physical classrooms, utilities, land, transportation (university busing, etc), maintenance crews, parking departments, and all the other costs that are incurred (with a government-subsidized, quasi-monopoly inefficiency premium added on) in the routine operation of a public university. Further, they remove the loss that is borne from student travel to and from class. KU has 30,000 students. Say they spend fifteen minutes commuting to and from campus three days a week, 32 weeks a year. At minimum wage, that's $7.5 million in deadweight loss. Not to mention room-and-board, which typically doubles the public in-state college cost per student to $15,500 annually.

Currently, online courses are comparable in cost to the $210 average public in-state credit hour. But a host of factors will push that down in the future. Skeptical professors are often paid a one-time bonus in the thousands to convert their courses to an online format, and get extra renumeration for teaching courses online rather than in the brick-and-mortar classroom. Public universities do not (yet) receive state funding. I suspect this will change when states begin to realize the revenue potential that opening up courses to students across the country represent. Also, for-profit private institutions are getting lots of the business. Apollo Group Inc., which owns the University of Phoneix (unless you block pop-ups, you've seen the ads) and has 10% of the online market (some 160,000 students at present), was $450 million in the black last year. As public universities continue to enter the market to challenge the new and existing Apollo's and DeVry's of the world, costs will come down.

Online's biggest obstacle revolves around the question of its effectiveness. Can courses via the web boast the same user competency as classroom courses? Can you really learn over the web? (A few hours spent on the 'insight' sites listed to the right should provide a definitive answer in the positive). Surprisingly, students aren't convinced even while most businesses are. Peter Stokes of Eduventures reported on Talk of the Nation that while only one-third of students believe that online courses are equal to or better than traditional ones, 63% of the business world does. If you've been hesitant to enroll for online out of a fear of resume damage, be stultified no more. The business world likes your efficiency. It evinces personal responsibility (assuming you perform well).

Ultimately, I hope online education ruptures the senseless marriage of instruction and research. Let good researchers research. Keep the direct state funding there and tag public funding to the student rather than the university. This will accelerate the growth of online courses, as it has been the private sector that has taken the lead, with public universities desperately trying to play catch-up. Separate research from the pedagogy of the teaching arena. There's little reason for someone to spend eight or more years working up to the doctoral level only to turn around and teach to undergraduates. Real-world professionals can generally do a better job as they operate in the real world, not a theoretical one. Top-notch researchers are notorious for neglecting teaching responsibilities and opting instead for spending time and energy on research interests.

++Addition++Although academia is ten times more leftist than the US at large, in absolute numbers there still exists plenty of professors with moderate or conservative, pro-empirical viewpoints. Business and engineering have a greater supply of said instructors, but even the humanities have a enough.

To combat the intellectually stultifying post-modernism that turns our brightest youths into knee-jerk leftists hostile to reality, we need to find a way to replace numerical superiority with content superiority. Online classes provide a way to do this.

Think of online course to brick-and-mortar course comparisons in the same way as debates with people at social gatherings versus online debates.

In the three philosophy courses I took in college, I inevitably was standing almost alone as the arguments heated up (especially in one class where we discussed 'practical philosophy' and took it into immigration/citizenship. Initially I shared the support of much of the class, but as I entered the IQ and disease realms, I became a lone wolf). When there are twenty people in the room and you're trying to argue against ten people at the same time, inevitably the ire of those in the room, the cacophony of charges you struggle to keep up with and answer, the feeling that you're hogging the discussion, the physical and mental exertion expended to keep on your toes and keep answering one charge after another and then trying to strike back, combine to weigh almost unbearably. Even if objective standards put your side (that is, your solo contribution) ahead of the opposition's (the sum of the rest of the debaters) ahead, commom perception will likely be that you're getting routed. Surround even a Spartan warrior (not that I'm at all analagous to one!) and even with Athenians you can bring him down.

But online discussions allow you to go into hostile territory and use borrowed tactics from the Battle of Thermopylae, or employ a 'choke' as the terminology goes in the world of my addiction. With infinite time (who currently reading hasn't stayed up until four in the morning letting it fly on some obscure or not-so-obscure discussion board/comment section?), and infinite space, every charge can be answered with due consideration, every counter argument examined and a thoughtful riposte offered, and total verbage matched word for word, even if you've wandered into rabidly hostile territory.

Online courses, without space and distance constraints, can potentially work in the same way. So there are one hundred Cornel Wests out there and one Richard Lynn teaching Psychology 205: The study of psychometric variance across groups. With brick-and-mortar nearly everyone gets some zaney shamanistic Marxist (?) viewpoint about racism and testing bias. Online, if Lynn is the best, theoretically everyone can be instructed by him. Let the market decide.

Online education presents a monumental opportunity for moderates and rightists to regain at least neutrality in the educational realm. Reclaiming this territory will do wonders for the future of empirical thought.

Maybe it's the teachers... (June 19, 2006)

Proponents of open borders and a seismic demographic shift unprecedented in history should be charged with a very exacting burden of proof that their policies are desirable. Instead, we get Holman Jenkins. And for some reason immigration is rarely ever tied to other issues (unless it involves the history of the Third Reich or the evilness of Colorado Congressman):
That the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country's second-largest after New York, faces a crisis is hard to dispute. Some 81% of the district's middle school kids attend failing schools, which might be one reason that one in three eventually drops out. L.A. schools superintendent (and former Democratic Colorado Governor) Roy Romer dutifully notes that elementary math and reading scores have risen in recent years. But the fact remains that only 13% of students are reading at grade level, and 11% are at grade level in math. The only word for such results is horrifying.

Among minority students in the district, who comprise the vast majority, the situation is even worse. Last year, nine out of 10 black and Latino fourth-graders scored below proficiency in reading and math. Eighth-graders fared worse. Just 8% of black eighth-graders are proficient readers, and 7% are proficient at math. For eighth-grade Latinos, the numbers are 9% and 6%, respectively.

The WSJ goes on to predictably blame the bloated and ineffective school district. The teachers' unions aren't doing much good, but that's obviously not a complete explanation.

Don't expect publications like the WSJ to explicitly tell you that the rapidly growing Hispanic underclass is coming to resemble the African American underclass. Look forward to more ethnic partisanship in politics, a continuing drop in the US student population's abilities as compared to other developed countries, and open border apologists blaming everything under the sun except the realities of human biodiversity.

Supreme Court to tackle race-based school standards (June 10, 2006)

One of the few areas for optimism for conservatives with regards to the performance of the Bush Presidency has been in the arena of judicial appointments. The US Supreme Court, currently electing to hear an historically small number of cases, has agreed to hear the first big test involving affirmative action in the Roberts' era:
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up two cases that could spell the end of
official efforts to maintain racial integration in U.S. public schools.

The justices said they would hear appeals from parents in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., who say it is unconstitutional for officials to consider a student's race when making school assignments. Both cities adopted voluntary integration programs in recent years that put limits on how many white or black students may be enrolled in some schools.
At first glance that excerpt seems as though it came from newsprint in the fifties, pre-Brown vs. Board of Education. Listening to the Laura Ingraham radio show on my way home from work a couple of days ago I heard a caller from Seattle tell of how he and his wife lived within spitting distance of the elementary school they both went to and wanted their children to attend. Because the school had already reached its white threshold, his oldest child was denied access and is being bused twenty minutes away to a school that can take her. Compare the similarities to the story of Linda Brown:
In Topeka, Kansas, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda's father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused.
Race is important. Regular readers are aware I'm cognizant of that. But explicitly race-based policies are almost always toxic (prisons excepted). Better to create standards that roughly proxy for it but allow for the numerous exceptions that are bound to exist. The societal regression is stunning.

The issue of race as a determining factor in education was most recently tackled by the Court in Grutter v. Bolinger et al, where now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority in favor of the use of "soft variables" like race in school acceptance decisions:
The policy makes clear, however, that even the highest possible score does not guarantee admission to the Law School. Id., at 113. Nor does a low score automatically disqualify an applicant. [Kafka's spinning in his grave] Ibid. Rather, the policy requires admissions officials to look beyond grades and test scores to other criteria that are important to the Law School's educational objectives. Id., at 114. So-called "'soft' variables" such as "the enthusiasm of recommenders, the quality of the undergraduate institution, the quality of the applicant's essay, and the areas and difficulty of undergraduate course selection" are all brought to bear in assessing an "applicant's likely contributions to the intellectual and social life of the institution."
But she's out, and Alito and Roberts are in. The fourteenth amendment's equal protection clause will probably be the basis for an overturn if one occurs.

Considerations of legality aside, it should be overturned. Diversity makes people unhappy (For those who must live immersed in it, as opposed to promoting it theoretically or even working to impose it on others, which tends to give many supercilious intellectual-types pleasure). Broad differences lead to resentment and jealousy, and foment an 'us versus them' attitude.

During adolescence this is especially true. Kids want to fit in. Individuality really only starts seminating in high school. Being a basket case is devastating. There exists a plethora of tragic stories about misfits. Urchins seek out differences among their peers and are brutal in cruelly pointing them out.

Race is salient, and kids are not blithely unaware of it. To the contrary, political correctness has trouble saddling children. Two of my thirteen year-old brother's three best friends are Indian and the other one is Korean. They are crassly candid. Recently I listened to them talk about the end-of-the-year awards ceremony at school and how the black kids got all the attendance and sports awards and that Indians won both the spelling and geography bees. Recently one of the Indians jocularly said "You're black to me", intended as an insult. Do we want to force more of this sort of situation by fiat?

Also, what precedent will this potentially set? Will it expand to encompass the workplace? Imagine the EEOC regulating business hiring decisions this explicitly.

Paraenthetically, privatization would do a better job in minimizing racial tensions than Seattle or Louisville will. Some schools would set rigorous testing standards for acceptance, others would focus on vocational training, others still would act as babysitters for less endowed kids, and so on. Young white students at the bright schools wouldn't see as many blacks or Hispanics as they might in public school, but their brown peers would be of similar intellectual ability. The cities are actually doing the opposite, by forcing geographical dispersement, putting poorer, disadvantaged children alongside the more capable offspring of more successful parents.

A working assumption I subscribe to in thinking about social questions is that 'natural' equality is good, that inequality is bad, and that forced equality is worse. This case merits an update in that maxim. I hereby add "and that forced inequality is worse still."

Testing causes learning (March 27, 2006)

Randall Parker over at FuturePundit points to a study out of St. Louis' Washington University about the benefits of testing for learning retention:
"Students who self-test frequently while studying on their own may be able to learn more, in much less time, than they might by simply studying the material over and over again," he adds. "Incorporating more frequent classroom testing into a course may improve students' learning and promote retention of material long after a course has ended..."

In an experiment in which students either took quizzes or were permitted to study material repeatedly, students in the study-only group professed an exaggerated confidence, sure that they knew the material well, even though important details already had begun slip-sliding away. The group that took tests on the material, rather than repeatedly reading it, actually did better on a delayed test of their knowledge.

The group that spent all its time studying the material initially had slightly better recall of it. But tested just two days later, the group that had only looked at the material three times and then been tested fared much better than the group that had seen the material fourteen times (61% to 40%) but hadn't yet been tested on it.

The results are not surprising. Kaplan and other test-prep companies succeed by basically getting a hold of old tests and having participants take several of them. Kaplan offers a full refund if test scores do not improve. If this works for standardized tests that are pretty g-loaded, it should work even better for material that lends itself more to being learned.

I find studying to offer a higher return when I use notecards and draw terms randomly or when I replace numbers and tweak wordings from accounting textbook questions than when I just pore over my notes. But the first method requires more mental exertion than the second, so I have to be driven to do it.

How many students are self-driven? Certainly not all of them. The study shows that if they are prodded by instructors who employ tests/quizzes more frequently then they will perform better and retain more information over the long-term. So an emphasis on ambigious projects instead of on traditional lecture/demonstration, sample problems, and testing is probably detrimental. In other words, instructors need to force students to internalize the information by giving them pop quizzes and thorough tests. Sure, that's harder for the students than the "creativity"-driven classrooms that encourage students to "explore different answers" through out-of-class, vague assignments, but it's also better for them.

Unfortunately, the KU business school is becoming increasingly obsessed with the former. Only one of my three courses in the school is strictly testing-based. The other two determine grades primarily by group projects that are very open-ended. Not surprisingly, when I was looking over material during spring break this week, the beginning of semester stuff in the first course came right back to me. In one of the other two, I remembered virtually nothing.

John Stossel supports school choice (January 17 2006)

ABC correspondent and co-anchor of 20/20 John Stossel made waves with his special report entitled Stupid in America last Friday:

The Belgians did better because their schools are better. At age ten, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age fifteen, when students from forty countries are tested, the Americans place twenty-fifth. The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.
The public school system is a disaster. Private schools in the US spend between $4,000 and $6,000 annually per student with better results than public schools that spent over $7,500 in 2000. A liberal think tank shows 19% of public education expenditures go to special needs children--if we chop that from the public school total (a magnanimous thing to do for the public schools, since extras for gifted children are included in this amount and because it inaccurately assumes that private schools have no special needs children of their own), we're just over $6,100. Taking $5,000 as a an overall average for private schools (the public school data goes from K-12 without distinguishing), public school still consumes over 20% more resources.

Much of the explanation for this disparity has an omerta on it. Because public school is "free", private schools are more greatly comprised of the children of the affluent than are public schools. IQ is both heriditary and correlated to income with statistical significance. Thus, smarter people tend to make more money, have smarter kids, and send them to private schools. In this way, the private schools have a leg up. Further, wealthy homes tend to provide an environment more conducive to social and cognitive development than do broken homes. The first reason is borne out of innate differences, something that is banned from the public debate to the public school advocate's loss.

Still, there is no question that public schools suffer from tremendous inefficiencies, as Stossel points out:

This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.
Monopolies can only work if there are huge economies of scale and benign price controls determined by an accountable body. Utilities, for example, make sense as quasi-public companies because serving an entire metro area cuts costs that are then passed on to the consuming public. If there were twenty utility companies, each time you wanted to switch providers you would need to install a new gas line. Each company would have to charge a premium for gas to cover fixed costs that are only spread over 10% of the city rather than all of it.

But the current educational system does not benefit much from economies of scale. Schools are geographically disparate, each teacher has a different teaching style and methodology, and students have varying abilities and needs. To make further use of the utility example, assume that each customer has a preference on how long the gas sits in the pipeline before being sent to him: some want it to be held for a day, others for an hour, still more for a week, and so on. Having only one utility provider in this scenario is inefficient because specialization becomes difficult (leading to a "diversification discount" in business lingo). It makes more sense to have utility companies that specialize in providing gas held for a certain amount of time. Utility X will hold all of its gas for a day before sending it out to its customers, all of whom desire that holding duration.

Public education is set up as that one utility provider when the consuming public has an incredible diverse set of needs. But providers like Utility X, that would better serve the public, are at a tremendous disadvantage because the big provider is heavily subsidized by the government. If the government instead decided to issue vouchers to the public in lieu of funding the favored utility, those like Utility X would flourish and consumers would be much better served.

Competition would lead to rigorous college preparatory curricula for the brightest kids. They would not be held back by less endowed children who become frustrated and gain nothing from such material. Conversely, kids who would benefit more from vocational, practical learning would be able to receive it. Instead of putting someone destined to be a plumber into a calculus class that he'll fail, why not let him go to a trade school and learn the ins and outs of plumbing? Urchins with disciplinary problems would be able to be dealt with harshly or expelled from the school altogether, greatly facilitating the learning of the rest of the students. Especially gifted and ambitious children would be able to attend institutions with longer hours and over the summer. If a student's circadian rhythm is not conducive to rising at seven in the morning, he could attend schools that began later in the day. The potential benefits are endless.

Some of the affluent understandably worry that vouchers would allow inner-city trash to be shuttled into their children's schools. But standardized testing would screen out most of these kids, leaving only the sharpest to actually have the opportunity to use these 'elite' institutions. And tuitions could always be raised above the voucher amount if need be.

As it stands, the public is hardly being served. This scenario is virtually unthinkable in the private sector:
In New York City, it's "just about impossible" to fire a bad teacher, says schools chancellor Joel Klein. The new union contract offers slight relief, but it's still about 200 pages of bureaucracy. "We tolerate mediocrity," said Klein, because "people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years, "He hasn't taught, but we have had to pay him, because that's what's required under the contract."

In a private school, the teacher would have been terminated immediately--the school's reputation would suffer irreparably if he wasn't. The NEA vociferously opposes school choice because it would inject their plush occupation with market forces that would mandate better performance and harder work. The mantra that teachers do not make enough is ridiculous. First, an education degree is among the easiest to obtain in college and being an effective teacher does not require astronomical intelligence. The average teacher makes $45,000 annually for 200 days of work. At eight hours a day (Stossel reports that in the New York public school system the average workday is only six hours and forty minutes), that's more than $28 per hour (more than $56,000 a year if they worked a standard 2,000 hour year) in addition to plush benefits.

Secondly, the reason good teachers do not receive greater compensation is that there's no school choice in the first place. As Klein alluded to above, there would be a premium for effective teachers with vouchers, as schools would scramble to find the best staff so as to bring in students. Bloated administrative costs hamper teacher salaries further. In the public arena, only 52.2% of education personnel are actually teachers--in the private realm, it's over 80%. A more accurate statement of the current situation: Good teachers do not get paid enough, and bad teachers get paid too much. That is the nature of anti-merit unions and the foundation upon which communist economic theory rests upon. Perhaps the lumpenproletariat need to be shown what is going on in greener pastures:
In the Netherlands, nearly 76 percent of school-age children attend private schools with state money going to the chosen school. Sweden and Denmark also have liberal school choice policies with school funding following children whose parents choose private schools. In all three countries, student performance is higher than in the United States, where 15-year-olds scored twenty-first on mathematics literacy and twelfth in science, according to international performance audits.
Support for school choice is there. Some 64% of Americans favor school choice, and it is only moderately skewed by political affiliation (68% of Republican and 54% of Democrats favor). The Florida Supreme Court recently struck down a voucher program that had been functioning for six years, demonstrates how harmful the egalitarian myth is:
Five of the seven presiding justices ruled that school vouchers violate the "uniformity" clause of Florida's Constitution. Far from being an arcane and forgotten technicality, this clause was amended and reapproved by voters just eight years ago: It mandates, among other things, "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education."
Every child in America attends school. It can't get any more diverse than that (well, immigration will accentuate this diversity further). Striving for uniformity is backwards. No Child Left Behind mandates that states bring their student body up to some state-set (see a conflict of interest here?) threshold. Meanwhile, students that are already able to meet NCLB requirements are inevitably going to suffer unchallenging classtime devoted to bringing the less endowed students up to snuff. The aspiration to insure that struggling students are literate and can perform basic arithmetic functions is a noble one that some schools would be devoted to with school choice, while the sharper kids to whom such work is a mundane waste of time would attend other schools that can best capitalize on their various aptitudes and interests. But if sharper students are forced to wait around while their peers with less intellectual ability are taught remedially, there's a big loss.

It's refreshing to see a network news figure take on a tough issue like this with the largest union in the country (2.7 million members) so adamantly opposed.

America the mediocre?
(November 19 2005)

More demographic trends to worry about. In addition to the baby boomers' exodus from the workforce into retirement and Western birth rates below the replenishment level, the US is becoming dumber:

America's educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly, warns a report released on Nov. 9 by the National Center for Public Policy & Higher Education, a nonprofit group based in San Jose, Calif. The key reason: As highly educated baby boomers retire, they'll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees.

This is not rocket science, although we wish more Americans would take that field up. Education correlatives positively with IQ, and IQ is linked to race. Not surprisingly then, education is influenced by race on average. This tells little about an individual of any given ethnicity, but spread over huge populations the affect is clear. There are as many as 1.5 billion people who would potentially like to come to the US--we need a merit immigration system coupled with absolute control of illegal migration that allows us to select applicants based on a set of qualifications that help insure they will succeed in the country while benefitting it at the same time.

Our economy cannot sustain internal losses while high IQ countries come online.

There are nearly as many college students in China as in the U.S. Within a decade, the Conference Board projects, students in such countries will be just as likely as those in the U.S. and Europe to get a high school education. Given their much larger populations, that should enable them to churn out far more college graduates as well. More U.S. white-collar jobs will then be likely to move offshore, warns National Center President Patrick M. Callan. "For the U.S. economy, the implication of these trends is really stark," he says.

America's incredibly high standard of living is a substantial competitive advantage in attracting high brainpower from all over the globe, but real wages are stagnating with high levels of unskilled immigration and the enormous costs that brings to the net taxpayer. Of course, this is not a tocsin for restrictionism. On the contrary, some groups of newly arrived immigrants kick the butts of the natives:

Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

The WSJ feature details the suburbs in the Silicon Valley area and how incredibly competitive the academic world is there, with children of Asian immigrants outperforming white natives. Great! The US needs more graduates in the hard sciences, where East Asians do especially well. As a group, Asians virtually never partake in criminal activity. It appears to me thinly veiled protectionism that argues against increasing the numbers of high merit immigrants to the US. We need more intelligent, erudite immigrants to come here while it is still a desirable destination.

(Previous post)

Education and eugenics in China (September 21 2005)

These thoughts come from an online discussion forum (I'm near the bottom) that I thought would be worth saving if for no other reason than to say "I told you so."

Special ed students cost, on average, over twice that of the average student--An astounding $17,000 per pupil. The utilitarian benefit is, of course, considerably less--certainly a net liability. Machiavellian as that sounds, it's fallacious to let a bleeding heart bludgeon the wallet to death. Today, special education consumes 20% of public education spending (used a very liberal source as an antidote to your incredulity :) in the US. The fluffy-feeling this may give you aside, does it make sense to invest the highest amount of resources into the least productive people?

Less intelligent people can actually be better at many menial tasks that bore more intelligent people into lethargic sloppiness--they should be trained for these sorts of tasks, not put into mainstream classes where they learn nothing and are patronized (benevolent as your intentions may be, taking care of a handicapped person like you'd take care of a pet qualifies as patronization in my mind).

Excerpted from a John Derbyshire column (the whole thing is a worthwhile five minute read). He's discussing the 91% of Chinese scientists who believe eugenics is a good thing the government should be involved in and how the discussion of eugenic practices has no sembelance of the Christian ethics we in the West (especially the lefties) pride ourselves on. In the PRC they pragmatically talk instead of how it should best be executed--whether or not it should be done is not even a question:

"A rough kind of eugenics has, in fact, been practiced in China for a long time. Several years ago, when I was living in that country, I mentioned Down's Syndrome in conversation with a Chinese colleague. She did not know the English term and I did not know the Chinese, so we had to look it up in a dictionary. 'Oh,' she said when she got it. 'That's not a problem in China. They don't get out of the delivery room.'

As I said: While we are agonizing over the rights and wrongs of it, elsewhere they will just be doing it."

Keep in mind that China has Asian expansionism in its plans (North Korea's tentative promise not to develop nukes means the PRC won't have to worry about Japan and Taiwan going nuclear--notice that China was the country that got North Korea to oblige after the other four countries could not) and in less than eleven years (using US GDP growth of 4% and PRC GDP growth of 9% to future value) China's total economy will be larger than that of the US. Their population also has a higher average IQ than the US, ties with ruthless regimes like Iran, Zimbabwe, and North Korea, and because of the one-child policy recently reneged, millions more young males than young females (as males are more "prized"). I point out the glut of young males because, well, what makes a better army than millions of young males with no one to marry? I'm coming at this with assumed prescience--that the PRC will be the next Soviet Union. Unfortunate, because I love far-Eastern culture and people, but inevitable given the Han's feeling of superiority and the insatiable energy appetite that is going to consume China in the coming years.

Can we afford to fall behind?

(Previous post)

From my last post on education spending it appeared that money might buy results, at least for some groups. The expenditure per student and teacher's salary were adjusted for the cost-of-living in each state, and the NAEP reading test scores of eighth graders across the nation were correlated from there. Afterwards, it occured to me that standard-of-living might shed some light on the spending as well as the results. To find the standard-of-living, I simply took the median household income of the state and divided it by the government's cost-of-living index. Using the standard-of-living in place of the cost-of-living as a means to adjust for expenditures on students and teacher's salaries obliterated the statistical significance and correlation between spending and results. In fact, only white students received any benefit at all, and it was marginal: .057 significance factor (putting it outside the 95% confidence interval) and an r-squared of .11 (meaning about 11% of the test scores could be explained by expenditures). The coefficients showed that it takes a whopping $200 increase per student to garner a single point on the test, something that is not realistically implementable. And money spent on teachers did absolutely nothing (it actually led to an innocuous decline in test scores).

The signficance factor for blacks was astronomical: .97 (compared to .25 with CoL). Simply put, the amount of resources given to black students across the country is not in anyway correlated to their performance. Ditto for Hispanics (.77) and Asians (.67).

The conclusion to be drawn from this puts even more ammo into the munitions of the nature crowd, although the nurture side could put a positive spin on it as well. When we look only at CoL (cost-of-living), the differences in expenditures have a palpable effect on student performance. But when we take into account the actual living conditions of an area, such disparities disinegrate.

Think of it in this way: There are three cities; Onett, Twoson, and Threed. Eagleland's government has determined that the cost-of-living in Onett is $200 per year, $50 in Twoson, and $100 in Threed. For simplicity's sake, you would expect a teacher in Onett to have a salary of $200, $50 in Twoson, and $100 in Threed. That is what the first analysis (CoL) adjusted for. So if teacher's were paid $180 in Onett (less than the CoL) and $100 in Twoson (twice the CoL), Twoson was actually the town spending "more" on teacher salaries for the correlation with test scores. Let's say Threed also spent $100. The students in Onett scored 200, in Twoson they scored 300, and in Threed it was 250. Thus, in Onett, where the teachers were paid less than the CoL the students fared the worst, in Twoson (where the teachers' pay exceeded the CoL) they did the best, and in Threed the students had average performance as the teacher's were paid a CoL equivalent. So it seems that trumping the CoL and giving the teachers big bucks does the trick, right?

Not so fast. Adding the standard-of-living (SoL) into the equation may explain the benefits. Let's say the average income in Onett is $160 (with $200 required to meet CoL and teachers being paid $180), in Twoson is $120 (with $50 to be CoL and teachers at $100), and in that bellweather Threed it is $100 (with $100 to be CoL and teachers at $100). So teachers in Onett are making more than most people in the community, in Threed they are on par, and in Twoson they are living worse than the average Twosonian. Yet the test scores run in the opposite direction (Twoson on top, Threed in the middle, and Onett at the bottom). It does not matter how much the money is put towards teachers relative to the standard-of-living. Instead, the students who come from areas where the living standards are the highest perform the most exemplary, with or without well-compensated instructors.

To recapitulate, in areas where people have a higher SoL, test scores are better. The CoL has little do to with how well students perform--how much their parents bring in relative to that CoL does matter, however (because when we adjust for it--that is, neutralize its effects--the disparities in test scores almost completely vanish). In areas where it is hard to make ends meet, test scores fall, irrespective of where teacher salaries or expenditures per student fall into the mix of the environment. There are two ways to go with this: boosting everyone's living standards will hoist up everyone's test scores (practicality of implementation aside!), or intelligent people make more money and have smarter kids which, when extended to the community at large, leads to areas with higher incomes having smarter children and then performing better on the performance evaulations. Given the slew of evidence that environmental factors have limited lasting influence on cognitive ability and the strong correlations between intelligence and educational achievement even after socioeconomic status is taken into consideration, the latter appears to me a better explanation. But it is likely some combination of the two, with the former providing a much smaller piece of the puzzle. In any case, the quality of life the students enjoy outside of the school environment explains almost all of the test score discrepancies--more money spent per student very modestly helps white kids (and no one else), while teacher salaries are absolutely meaningless for everyone (as aformentioned).

School funding is a hot topic here in Kansas. The Democratic governer and Kansas Supreme Court both want a 10% increase in school funding for next year. Inflation is running just over 3% annually, making this proposed increase significant well beyond simply keeping with the times. The Republican Kansas legislature resents court mandates on funding issues, and this is probably as much a political issue as it is one of policy. But the sinister conservatives want a modest increase of 5% in education spending. Even on the putative "extreme" they want a proportional increase in the amount of resources diverted to children.

But does money actually do anything? CATO's David Salsibury points out that private schools spend half the amount of money per student as public schools do, yet they see consistently better results. Part of this can be attributed to special needs children, who cost roughly twice as much as average students and make up around 13% of the public student body. The profligate spending on special needs is another issue entirely, but it does not come close to explaining the entire gap. Top-heavy administration is another qualm. But according to NCES data, these costs only represent 5% of the total public school budget, compared to almost 70% going to "instructional services." We could stand to cut out some of the middle-management fodder, but that's relatively innocuous as well.

So where is the explanation? The mind police might not like the suggestion, but it appears to reside largely in the children themselves. Looking at the four chief demographic categories in the US (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) shows that there are wide disparaties between children's performance based on racial categories. More interestingly, the way these groups appear to benefit from added education dollars varies substantially.

Using 2003 NCES eighth grade reading scores for each state and DC the data was compiled in Excel (by a state's overall average as well as by demographic categories) alongisde the state's expenditure per student and average teacher's salary according to NEA statistics. Finally, there is a cost of living index provided by state governments (there were two states that did not have data available for CoL so I estimated them by using income per capita by state and averaged it to that of the surrounding states). The findings follow.

Not surprisingly, neither expenditures per student nor teacher's salary had anything to do with test performance for all groups without a cost of living adjustment. The r-squared value was a risible .001 (.20 is considered a low correlation, .40 is moderate, and .60 is high) and the significance factor was .87 (essentially meaning that there was only a 13% chance that these two variables might have anything to do with test scores--generally the significance factor must be less than .05 or sometimes more liberally .10 to lend any credence to the validity of a possible correlation).

When CoL is taken into consideration, the picture becomes slightly more clear, although there is still nothing solid. The significance factor comes in at .12 and the r-squared at .08.

Thus, the right has ample evidence here that increased expenditures on students and teacher's salaries do nothing to increase test scores. The left could be correct, however, that more money might help. That is, it may help at least some groups. But given the cultural Marxism (ie political correctness) that infests public dialogue, the left is unlikely to take that route anytime soon. We will bravely forge ahead, nonetheless!

Taking white students only, the picture changes drastically. Adjusted for cost of living (as all the subsequent analyses are), expenditures per student show an r-squared value of .20 and an astounding significance factor of .001 (99.9% chance that the results are accurately correlated to spending). For roughly every $7 spent per student, white test scores increase by a point on average. Teacher's salaries initially seem to be marginally beneficial as well with an r-squared of .07 and a significance factor of .06 ($50 more per teacher "brings" a one point test increase). When the two variables are taken together, however, virtually all the benefit is shown to come from student expenditures. A plausible reason for this may be that districts that spend more money per student are likely to see some of that increase directed towards teacher's salaries even though the increased salaries apparently provide little benefit in and of themselves.

Now to Asians, who are in many ways beyond education very similar to whites. Because data were only available for 23 of the 50 states on Asians due to numerical paucity, the standard error for the category was 23 (compared to 4 for whites). Basically, these data are not as reliable because the sample size is considerably smaller. Nonetheless, strong indicators emerge. For student expenditures, the r-squared was .13 but the significance factor was .10, putting it at the outer-edges of a 90% confidence interval. Teacher's salaries showed an r-squared of .16 and a significance factor of .06. Given the small sample size, it is reasonable to assume that teacher's salaries are correlated with Asian student performance, albeit only modestly.

Blacks: For student expenditures the r-squared was a negligible .04 with no signficance (.20). Teacher salaries showed slightly less meaninglessness, although it appears money again does nothing beneficial for blacks. The r-squared was .06 and the significance factor was .14. Taken together, there was even more confusion: the significance rises to .25.

Hispanics: student expenditures had an r-squared of .01 and a significance factor of .54. With teacher's salaries r-squared became .09 but the significance became an interesting .07. With a sample size of only 37 and a standard error of 10, that catches attention. Roughly a $22 up in teacher's salaries buys a one point increase in test scores for Hispanics. Although dollars spent per student has nothing to do with the success of Hispanics, teacher's salaries seem to modestly correlate with Hispanic success.

For comparison, using a 95% confidence interval for whites and a 90% confidence interval for Hispanics, blacks, and Asians, the "cost" for one extra test point breaks down like this:

Whites: $7 per student
Hispanics: $22 per teacher
Asians: $3.50 per student as well as $5 per teacher
Blacks: N/A

Fascinating differences. Extrapolating, we see that more money means more results as average IQ increases. Based on Weschler IQ tests it is estimated that the average IQ for (all US) Asians is 106, whites is 101, Hispanics is 91, and blacks is 87. In the investment world, the better the business the more return the investor gets for his buck. Education probably works in a similar fashion. This does not bode well for the narrowing of educational attainment by individuals and by various groups displaying differences in cognitive ability. Of course, that is likely to be the great irony of globalization--as the playing field becomes increasinly leveled, the inequities in human accomplishment will become perpetually more pronounced, because environmental effects will become more and more controlled for, leaving nature as the chief variable.

Academic paths should be determined by early testing. A one-size-fits-all educational curricula is foolish--less intelligent children should spend less time in high school and be taught vocational skills while brighter kids should have access to intellectually stimulating material as early as they can handle it (high school-level courses for sharp 12 year-olds, college-level material made available in high-school, etc). More resources should be spent on those with the most intellectual potential. They should not be handicapped by receiving less funding than special-needs children as an artificial means of leveling (by bringing everyone to the lowest common denominator). Privatization of education would likely make this a reality (think private Ivy League schools like Harvard that stringently test for IQ versus state universities that do with much less restriction versus community colleges that basically let anyone in who has the drive to learn).

The data needs to be refined by including state population so that Montana and New York scores are given weights based on the number of students they contain rather than treating them as individual entities of equal weight. Yet average scores (by race) vary little between states, so this is unlikely to shake things up much. In addition, areas that spend more per student tend to be economically better off. And given the correlation of income and IQ, it may be simply that the areas able to spend more on education have brigther citizens (and by extension brighter children). However, given that the data is by state much of that should even itself out. That being said, it certainly appears that money being spent can have an impact on academic achievement, but only if population segmentation occurs. Without breaking groups up (in this case by race), there is no correlation between funding and results. It is yet more evidence of the veritability of human biodiversity and a demonstration of the ignorance that is brought on by intellectual fascism.

In the future I will be looking at math scores, controlling for state population, and controlling for standard of living (in addition to cost of living). As always, if you email me I will be happy to send you the excel data.

I've not given up on opining just yet! Currently I'm working on an analysis of reading test scores, teacher's salaries, and the amount of money spent per student. Some interesting finds thus far: $ spent per student (not adjusted for cost of living, though in the end it will be) is not correlated with test scores overall in any way. Yet, it is correlated with better performance for white students. However, it apparently makes no difference for blacks. Hopefully I'll have it finished in a few days.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why is it that when poor, carless blacks stay beind in New Orleans they become dummies, but white people in Chalmette do not?