January 8, 2011

Jets 17 - Colts 16: The Sailer Legacy in Action

Placekicking coach Chris Sailer's legacy, that is. His pupil Nick Folk connected on a field goal with zero time left for the New York Jets to send them into the second round of the NFL playoffs over Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts.

I mention this because in the past, in discussing how nature and nurture -- selection and training -- often work together (leading to the Matthew Phenomenon of "To those who have, more shall be given"), I've often used the example of the microtradition of outstanding football field goal kickers such as Folk at my old high school, Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks, CA. This goes back to Chris Sailer (no known relation) 16 years ago when he kicked four field goals of at least 50 yards in the playoffs. After making All-American at UCLA, Sailer washed out of the NFL, so he started up a successful placekicking and longsnapping tutoring business. 

This combination of expert coaching, advertising, and channeling has meant that NDHS has routinely had for the last decade field goal kickers who have connected on 50+ yard field goals. That would have been extremely unlikely for any high school a generation ago before all this specialized tutoring and channeling of talent got going.

January 7, 2011

Advanced Advanced Placement

The spread of Advanced Placement tests has been mostly a success story in recent decades (e.g., they provide a fashionable rationalization for tracking), but Advanced Placement classes tend to be forced marches to try to get high school students to more or less memorize a lot of material: lots of worksheets, little time for class discussion.

From the NYT:
by Christopher Drew

As A.P. [testing] has proliferated, spreading to more than 30 subjects with 1.8 million [high school] students taking 3.2 million tests, the program has won praise for giving students an early chance at more challenging work. But many of the courses, particularly in the sciences and history, have also been criticized for overwhelming students with facts to memorize and then rushing through important topics....

All that, says the College Board, is about to change.

Next month, the board, the nonprofit organization that owns the A.P. exams as well as the SAT, will release a wholesale revamping of A.P. biology as well as United States history — with 387,000 test-takers the most popular A.P. subject. A preview of the changes shows that the board will slash the amount of material students need to know for the tests and provide, for the first time, a curriculum framework for what courses should look like. The goal is to clear students’ minds to focus on bigger concepts and stimulate more analytic thinking. ...

The changes, which are to take effect in the 2012-13 school year, are part of a sweeping redesign of the entire A.P. program.

Instead of just providing teachers with a list of points that need to be covered for the exams, the College Board will create these detailed standards for each subject and create new exams to match. ...

The new approach is important because critical thinking skills are considered essential for advanced college courses and jobs in today’s information-based economy. ..

WHEN A.P. testing began in 1956, memorization was not yet a dirty word, and it was O.K. if history classes ran out of time just after they finished World War II.
... And it did not take long for instructors to start teaching to the test, treating the board’s outline as the holy grail for helping students achieve the scores of 3 or higher, out of 5, that might earn credit from a college.
That obviously became harder to do as breakthroughs in genetic research and cellular organization, and momentous events like the cold war, the civil rights movement, Watergate and the war on terror, began to elbow their way onto the lists. College professors could pick and choose what to cover in their introductory survey classes. But because the A.P. test can touch on almost anything, high school juniors and seniors must now absorb more material than most college freshmen.

So perhaps it is no surprise that while the number of students taking the A.P. biology test has more than doubled since 1997, the median score has dropped to 2.63, from 3.18.

One critical thinking skill that should be taught in schools is "selection."

I doubt if the increase in the amount of biological knowledge in the world between 1997 and 2010 is the main cause of the decline in average AP score. Instead, the expansion of the number of test-takers would be a much more plausible candidate for primary reason.

On the other hand, I've spent a lot of time looking into this, and it appears to me that diminishing returns have not yet badly hit AP testing. As I wrote in VDARE.com in 2009:
Although the quantity of AP tests taken by whites grew 155 percent over the last decade, their mean score dropped merely from 3.04 to 2.96. The fall-off for Asians was even less, from 3.10 to 3.08. ... The “pass rate” (the percent of test takers scoring 3 or higher) is almost the same for whites (62 percent) and Asians (64 percent). But Asians are much more aggressive about signing up for AP tests, taking almost three times as many per year (1.79 per capita per year versus 0.63 among whites). 

There has been a big push to get more NAMs to take AP tests, with predictable results:
The tremendous growth from 1998 to 2008 in Hispanics taking AP tests drove down their average score on the 1 to 5 scale from 2.99 to 2.42. Their passing rate dipped from 60 percent 42 percent.

(And keep in mind that Hispanic mean scores are exaggerated because so many native Spanish-speakers take the Spanish Language test, which ought to be, but isn’t always, a free throw for them. Indeed, 56 percent of all 5s earned by Hispanics in 2008 came on the Spanish Language exam. Excluding it, Latinos in 2008 averaged a 2.17 score with a 35 percent passing rate.) ...

Black scores fell a comparable amount over the last decade, from a mean of 2.21 to 1.91 (with the passing rate dropping from 35 percent to 26 percent).

Still, despite depressingly diminishing returns, more than quadrupling the number of AP tests taken by blacks from 1998 to 2008 helped the absolute number of tests passed by blacks to triple.

So, even with blacks, the number of passing scores is still rising rapidly, so we don't seem to have topped out yet.

In general, there's a big blue state - red state divide in AP testing that goes back, in part, to the regional divide between states on taking the SAT (which, like the AP, is sponsored by the College Board -- and is most popular on the coasts) and the ACT (run out of Iowa and most popular in the middle of the country). The ACT part of the country could probably try taking more AP tests without much harm.

Back to the NYT article:
For biology, the change means paring down the entire field to four big ideas. The first is a simple statement that evolution “drives the diversity and unity of life.” The others emphasize the systematic nature of all living things: that they use energy and molecular building blocks to grow; respond to information essential to life processes; and interact in complex ways. Under each of these thoughts, a 61-page course framework lays out the most crucial knowledge students need to absorb. 

This seems reasonable at first glance. What do you think?

However, I suspect there's a lurking ethnic agenda that's one motivation for this change: there's a common assumption that a shift away from memorization toward critical thinking will narrow the racial gaps that currently exist between Asians and whites and between blacks/ Hispanics and Asians / whites.

But, is there much evidence for this widespread assumption?

I don't know. Asians do well on the AP tests, but they also do well on the Ravens Progressive Matrices, too.

In general, educationalists tend to assume that because they are for (at least in theory) critical thinking skills and against (at least in theory) disparate impact, that, therefore, upping the critical thinking demands of a test will lower the disparate impact. This often turns out to be untrue.

Another questions is whether memorization shouldn't be a dirty work in high school. Maybe that's a better age for memorizing, while grasping the big picture best waits until college. I don't know...

"Business Background Defines Chief of Staff"

The New York Times explains the "background" of Obama's new chief of staff, William M. Daley:
He is a top executive at JPMorgan Chase, where he is paid as much as $5 million a year and supervises the Washington lobbying efforts of the nation’s second-largest bank. He also serves on the board of directors at Boeing, the giant military contractor, and Abbott Laboratories, the global drug company, which has billions of dollars at stake in the overhaul of the health care system. 

Funny, I always thought Bill Daley was a big shot (e.g., he's head of JP Morgan Chase's "Office of Corporate Social Responsibility") because his father had been mayor of Chicago for 20 years and his brother for 22.

Obama's chief of staff picks (first, Rahm Emanuel, now a Daley) suggest he still doesn't seem to know many people outside of Chicago. It's not like he knew Emanuel or Daley well in Chicago, it's just that he knows them less less well than non-Chicagoans. Who will be Obama's next chief of staff? Mike Ditka? Oprah's friend Gayle? Stedman Graham?

January 5, 2011

"The Rise of the New Global Elites"

Chrystia Freeland writes in the Atlantic:

... But today’s super-rich are also different from yesterday’s: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunity—and the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind.

... I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” 
... Wilson’s distinction helps explain why many of America’s other business elites appear so removed from the continuing travails of the U.S. workforce and economy: the global “nation” in which they increasingly live and work is doing fine—indeed, it’s thriving.

For the super-elite, a sense of meritocratic achievement can inspire high self-regard, and that self-regard—especially when compounded by their isolation among like-minded peers—can lead to obliviousness and indifference to the suffering of others.
Unsurprisingly, Russian oligarchs have been among the most fearless in expressing this attitude. A little more than a decade ago, for instance, I spoke to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at that moment the richest man in Russia. “If a man is not an oligarch, something is not right with him,” Khodorkovsky told me. “Everyone had the same starting conditions, everyone could have done it.” 

By the way, just because Khodorkovsky is an SOB doesn't mean that his jailer, Mr. Putin, isn't an SOB-squared.

Though typically more guarded in their choice of words, many American plutocrats suggest, as Khodorkovsky did, that the trials faced by the working and middle classes are generally their own fault. When I asked one of Wall Street’s most successful investment-bank CEOs if he felt guilty for his firm’s role in creating the financial crisis, he told me with evident sincerity that he did not. The real culprit, he explained, was his feckless cousin, who owned three cars and a home he could not afford. One of America’s top hedge-fund managers made a near-identical case to me—though this time the offenders were his in-laws and their subprime mortgage. And a private-equity baron who divides his time between New York and Palm Beach pinned blame for the collapse on a favorite golf caddy in Arizona, who had bought three condos as investment properties at the height of the bubble.

... The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. 

Not surprisingly, the word "immigration" never comes up in the article. Dissent suppression seems to be working fine.

I've argued for citizenism as an alternative to the reigning ideologies in part because globalism is so endlessly vulnerable to manipulation by clever elites.

Hall of Fame and Steroids and Naked Ballplayers

Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today. Nate Silver wonders if too few players are getting in these days, what with there now being 30 teams and larger populations to draw from. In his first year of eligibility, Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell didn't get in. Silver says:
Steroid use — actual or suspected — is another issue. Rafael Palmeiro, whose case was debatable on the statistical merits anyway, and who was actually suspended by Major League Baseball for steroid use, would not have made my ballot. Like Tyler Kepner, however, I cannot understand docking Bagwell for mere suspicion of steroid use when there is no evidence of it. 

I can. For one thing, players have 15 years of eligibility to get voted into the Hall (and if they fail there, can get picked by a Veterans Committee later). But they can't get kicked once they're in. So, what's the rush? Blyleven had to wait 15 years to get voted in. Why not wait awhile to see what shakes out? Let's see what turns up. This would only be a major injustice to Bagwell if he suddenly drops dead before he gets in. And if he suddenly drops dead ...

One advantage that working sportswriters have over statistical analysts like Silver in voting on whether players who hit a lot of homers during the steroid years should be entrusted with permanent Hall of Fame membership is that many of the sportswriters, unlike the stats analysts, saw these players naked in the locker room. For example, when Jeff Bagwell went from a .516 slugging average at age 25 to a .750 slugging average at age 26, how much different did he look with his jersey off? Statistical analysts like Nate don't know. I don't know either. Some of the sportswriters who get to vote for Hall of Famers do know, and have, I would guess, talked to other voting sportswriters about it.

Personally, I don't know, I've never heard any rumors about Bagwell. 

Tyler Kepner in the NYT says he's voting for Bagwell and all the other sluggers who haven't gotten official caught:
Circumstantial evidence can be used against anybody. Mike Piazza might have been the most productive offensive catcher in baseball history. But suspicion of steroid use has dogged him, even though, like Bagwell, there has never been a tangible link.

Did Piazza use steroids? I don’t know. He denied it in 2002 by explaining, “I hit the ball as far in high school as I do now.” [Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round out of high school by the LA Dodgers, and he was the brother of Tommy Lasorda's godson, so he wasn't all that awesome in high school.]

All I know for sure is that Piazza played like a Hall of Famer and should be enshrined for that. The New York Times does not allow its writers to vote for the Hall of Fame, but to me, the playing record is the only fair way to measure those who were never suspended for using steroids. 

The rumor I heard in the 1990s was that sponsors often wanted to feature Piazza shirtless in ads, but his back acne was so bad this made for a major issue. (Acne on the back is one possible symptom of juicing.) I recall finally seeing a commercial of Piazza shirtless, but with so much backlighting he was more or less in silhouette.

To me, the tough question is Barry Bonds, who was a first round Hall of Famer before, evidently, he started juicing in 1999. A lot of these other guys might not have gotten close to the Hall without the juice. Rafael Palmeiro, for example, was traded away by the Cubs because they had Mark Grace to play first base instead of him. Grace is the model of the pretty good player, the slick-fielding firstbaseman who never hit more than 17 homers in 15 seasons in little Wrigley Field, who doesn't belong in the Hall. He got only 4% vote for the Hall in 2009 and was dropped from consideration.

Copyright News: Gerry Rafferty, RIP

Scottish pop-rocker of the 1970s (Stuck in the Middle with You and Baker Street with the unforgettable sax solo), Gerry Rafferty, has drunk himself to death at 63.
"In the 2009 interview, Mr. Rafferty called the music industry “something I loathe and detest.” Nevertheless, he earned nearly $125,000 a year in royalties for “Baker Street” alone." 

So,  his daughter or her heirs will collect on Baker Street until 2081.

What were the best movies of 2010?

Put your recommendations in the comments.

Does spending more on education improve test scores?

Conservatives have been saying for a long time that spending more on schools doesn't raise test scores: just look at how much D.C. spends per student or how much the U.S. spends versus Finland.

But Tino at Super-Economy crunches the test scores (PISA internationally and NAEP in the U.S.) after adjusting for demographics, and finds positive correlations between spending and test scores:
However the left in the United States doesn't use this argument, because they are ideologically averse to demographic adjustments having to do with race and ethnicity (most of them consider all statistical generalizations about race and ethnicity somehow offensive, regardless of why you are doing it).

The result of liberals' political correctness is that they are depriving themselves of a very important argument in a very important debate.

True, but there are other adjustments that need to be made, such as for cost-of-living and/or wealth. Compared to Mississippi, New Jersey has expensive public schools, but then it's an expensive place to live full of expensive people. In Tino's comments, I suggest a few methodological wrinkles he should add.

In general, Americans spend a lot of money on schools. The architecture and landscaping of American colleges, for example, is often absurdly lavish. Do expensive buildings raise, say, LSAT scores among individual undergrads, as opposed to attracting better applicants? 

Probably not much. Other reasons are more important, such as social climbing, monument building, regional pride, and so forth. One reason that's often overlooked is that school isn't just preparation for life, it is part of life. For example, Rice has a lavish campus due to the generosity of some rich people and I appreciated my four years admiring the aesthetics that they had arranged for my edification. Similarly, one point of hiring high quality teachers is to have your kids talked to by high quality people.

A reader writes:

Of the 8,320 people who took the GRE between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2008, and indicated that Secondary Education was their chosen field of graduate study, exactly *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test.

Of the 5,901 people who indicated that Elementary Education was their chosen field of study, *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test.

And of the 1,521 people who indicated that Early Childhood Education was their chosen field of study, *zero* scored an 800 on the verbal test. 

If you widen the net to catch those in the 700-790 range, the results aren't much better. I think this supports the conventional wisdom (or is it the conventional unconventional wisdom?) that teaching in the U.S. is low-status and low-pay, so it inevitably attracts the low performers among the college-educated. Improving the quality of our public schools is contingent upon changing the composition of the teaching pool.
I scored an 800 on the GRE verbal section, but I attend, however improbably, a mid-tier education school in a master's program. Most classes are a waste of time, and insulting to my intelligence, to boot. I was dismayed enough last fall to send off a fusillade of applications to law schools and PhD programs in history. I will do a round of student teaching at a Chicago public magnet school, and then probably bolt.  

I think this is a big, unspoken problem: teacher indoctrination in  Ed Schools and in professional development can be painful to self-respecting intelligent, independent minded people. It's hard to get first rate people to be teachers when they have to put up with so much inanity to earn their credentials.
My publishe articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

January 4, 2011

Intellectual Property Rights

Reading up on how Rep. Howard Berman (D-Disney) works to extend copyrights (while many others, such as Lawrence Lessig, consider copyright laws the work of the devil), I was reminded that I've never been persuaded why I should much care pro or con about the copyright controversy. Every time I try to think it through, it all seems to come out a wash.

For example, Matthew Yglesias today laments all the books and movies from 1954, such as Lord of the Flies, Horton Hears a Who, and On the Waterfront, that would have entered public domain these days if the old 56 year copyright had been maintained.

Today, copyright extends for 70 years after the date of the author's death. This length seems pretty absurd, and it creates a tiny gentry of people who have inherited lucrative copyrights. For example, Hugh Grant's selfish character in About a Boy has never bothered to work because his father composed the 1950s novelty Christmas song Santa's Supersonic Sleigh.

But, I have a hard time seeing how length of copyright does much, pro or con, for the quality of entertainment.

I went to the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain and was underwhelmed by their vision of a utopia in which Creature from the Black Lagoon enters public domain this year:
Think of the movies from 1954 that would have become available this year. You could have showed clips from them. You could have showed all of them. You could have spliced and remixed and made documentaries about them. (You could have been a contender!)

Or you could mash up your favorite movies from 1954 and release Creature from the Waterfront. But it all sounds pretty tedious.

It seems to me that a lot of the anti-copyright enthusiasts are stuck in an adolescent fan-boy stage where you just want to remake your favorites and you don't feel worthy of making up your own stuff. 

I'm reminded of this story that Keith Richards likes to tell about how the early Rolling Stones just wanted to perform cover versions of American songs, but manager Andrew Oldham kept telling them about how much money there was in writing original songs. So, he locked Mick and Keith in a kitchen until they'd written a song. After they'd eaten all the food in the kitchen, they decided they might as well try writing a song. So they came up with "As Tears Go By."

Warning: not all of Keith Richards' memories are wholly reliable.

January 3, 2011


In VDARE this week, I compare two examples of how the press has treated two Members of the House of Representatives who have been major beneficiaries of racial gerrymandering: the media has portrayed Howard Berman's gerrymandering with appropriate cynicism but Luis Gutierrez is repeatedly profiled with near-complete credulity.

January 2, 2011

Canadian Border Alert

In the NYT, Nicholas Kristof writes:
Professors Wilkinson and Pickett crunch the numbers and show that the same relationship holds true for a range of social problems. Among rich countries, those that are more unequal appear to have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.

They find the same thing is true among the 50 American states. More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better. 

So, it's not the ice hockey that's behind Moynihan's Law of Proximity to the Canadian Border, it's the inequality.

Now, it could be that the Rich Getting Richer is, overall, a bad thing. I don't know. But, the single most obvious quantitative example runs in the opposite direction.

Here's one historical experiment in the effects of the Rich Getting Richer that ought to be familiar to subscribers to the New York Times: homicides in New York City.

New York City always had a lot of income and wealth inequality, but it really took off with Wall Street's boom that started part way through 1982. The rich in New York City became unbelievably rich in the 1990s and 2000s. And what happened? Homicides in New York City hit 2,245 in 1990, then dropped 79 percent by 2009.