Stop wasting money teaching millions of students content they already know

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Large percentages of students perform above grade level:

Based on the Wisconsin and California Smarter Balanced, Florida FSA, and multistate MAP data, we estimate that 20–40 percent of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading, with 11–30 percent scoring at least one grade level above in math.

Moreover, we also found large percentages of students performing well above grade level—more than one grade level ahead. Using MAP data, we estimate that 8–10 percent of Grade 4 students perform at the Grade 8 level in reading/English/language arts, with 2–5 percent scoring at similar levels in math. Relying specifically on the MAP data, one out of every ten fifth-graders is performing at the high school level in reading, and nearly one child in forty at this age is performing at the high school level in mathematics. Because of the MAP test’s computer-adaptive format and high measurement ceiling, these results cannot be explained away by the correction that commonly applies to pencil-and-paper grade-level achievement tests. On the latter tests, a fifth-grader with a ninth-grade-level equivalent score amounts to a ninth-grader’s completing a fifth-grade test. By contrast, a MAP test score that is equivalent to ninth-grade performance is in fact based on ninth-grade content knowledge and skills.

Converting these percentages to numbers of children provides a sobering picture of the number of students who are not well served under the current grade-based educational paradigm. In Wisconsin alone, somewhere between 278,000 and 330,000 public-school students are performing more than a full grade above where they are placed in school. And as mentioned above, in the much larger state of California, that number is between 1.4 million and 2 million students.

Federal and state education policies are largely irrelevant for this huge number of students. Getting kids to grade-level proficiency has been a focus of U.S. education policy and practice for well over a decade. Yet the U.S. likely wastes tens of billions of dollars each year in efforts to teach students content they already know.

This structure centered on age-based grade levels, therefore, needs serious rethinking. One option is whole-grade or single-subject acceleration. Indeed, this is consistent with the literature, which has documented uniformly positive benefits when academic acceleration is implemented thoughtfully. Academic acceleration is particularly beneficial for students pursuing professional careers that require substantial academic preparation and credentialing, a point that has been recognized for more than eighty years. Acceleration would also reduce the difficulty of differentiated instruction because students within a given classroom are selected to be far more homogeneous in ability and prior knowledge than they are in the traditional system.

[...]

The current K-12 education system essentially ignores the learning needs of a huge percentage of its students. Knowing this, twenty years from now we may look back and wonder why we kept using age-based grade levels to organize K–12 education for so long.

Migrant Competence

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

James Thompson explores migrant competence:

Europe is experiencing enormous inflows of people from Africa and the Middle East, and in the midst of conflicting rhetoric, of strong emotions and of a European leadership broadly in favour of taking more migrants (and sometimes competing to do so) one meme keeps surfacing: that European Jews are the appropriate exemplars of migrant competence and achievements.

European history in the 20th Century shows why present-day governments feel profound shame at their predecessors having spurned European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. However, there are strong reasons for believing that European Jews are brighter than Europeans, and have greater intellectual and professional achievements. There may be cognitive elites elsewhere, but they have yet to reveal themselves. Expectations based on Jewish successes are unlikely to be repeated.

I am old enough to know that political decisions are not based on facts, but on presumed political advantages. The calculation of those leaders who favour immigration seems to be that the newcomers will bring net benefits, plus the gratitude and votes of those migrants, plus the admiration of some of the locals for policies which are presented as being acts of generosity, thus making some locals feel good about themselves for their altruism. One major ingredient of the leadership’s welcome to migrants is the belief that they will quickly adapt to the host country, and become long term net contributors to society. Is this true?

With Heiner Rindermann he analyzed the gaps, possible causes, and impact of The Cognitive Competences of Immigrant and Native Students across the World:

In Finland the natives had reading scores of 538, first-generation immigrants only 449, second-generation 493. The original first-generation difference of 89 points was equivalent to around 2–3 school years of progress, the second-generation difference of 45 points (1-2 school years) is still of great practical significance in occupational terms.

In contrast, in Dubai natives had reading scores of 395; first-generation immigrants 467; second-generation 503. This 105 point difference is equivalent to 16 IQ points or 3–5 years of schooling.

Rather than look at the scales separately, Rindermann created a composite score based on PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS data so as to provide one overall competence score for both the native born population and the immigrants which had settled in each particular country. For each country you can seen the natives versus immigrant gap. By working out what proportion of the national population are immigrants you can recalculate the national competence (IQ) for that country. Rindermann proposes that native born competences need to be distinguished from immigrant competences in national level data.

The analysis of scholastic attainments in first and second generation immigrants shows that the Gulf has gained from immigrants and Europe has lost. This is because those emigrating to the Gulf have higher abilities than the locals, those emigrating to Europe have lower ability than the locals.

The economic consequences can be calculated by looking at the overall correlations between country competence and country GDP.

[...]

The natives of the United Kingdom have a competence score of 519 (migrants to UK 499), Germany 516 (migrants to Germany 471), the United States 517 (migrants to US 489). There, in a nutshell, is the problem: those three countries have not selected their migrants for intellectual quality. The difference sounds in damages: lower ability leads to lower status, lower wages and higher resentment at perceived differences. On the latter point, if the West cannot bear to mention competence differences, then differences in outcome are seen as being due solely to prejudice.

Why Universities Should Get Rid of PowerPoint and Why They Won’t

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Universities measure student satisfaction but they do not measure learning:

When we do attempt to measure learning, the results are not pretty. US researchers found that a third of American undergraduates demonstrated no significant improvement in learning over their four-year degree programs. They tested students in the beginning, middle and end of their degrees using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an instrument that tests skills any degree should improve – analytic reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving and writing.

Paul Ralph’s main argument is against PowerPoint:

A review of research on PowerPoint found that while students liked PowerPoint better than overhead transparencies, PowerPoint did not increase learning or grades. Liking something doesn’t make it effective, and there’s nothing to suggest transparencies are especially effective learning tools either.

Research comparing teaching based on slides against other methods such as problem-based learning – where students develop knowledge and skills by confronting realistic, challenging problems – predominantly supports alternative methods.

PowerPoint slides are toxic to education for three main reasons:

  1. Slides discourage complex thinking. Slides encourage instructors to present complex topics using bullet points, slogans, abstract figures and oversimplified tables with minimal evidence. They discourage deep analysis of complex, ambiguous situations because it is nearly impossible to present a complex, ambiguous situation on a slide. This gives students the illusion of clarity and understanding.
  2. Reading evaluations from students has convinced me that when most courses are based on slides, students come to think of a course as a set of slides. Good teachers who present realistic complexity and ambiguity are criticised for being unclear. Teachers who eschew bullet points for graphical slides are criticised for not providing proper notes.
  3. Slides discourage reasonable expectations. When I used PowerPoint, students expected the slides to contain every detail necessary for projects, tests and assignments. Why would anyone waste time reading a book or going to a class when they can get an A by perusing a slide deck at home in their pyjamas?

“Good teachers who present realistic complexity and ambiguity are criticised for being unclear.”

These people really do control our society

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Professor Julian Stanley’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals and generated more than 400 papers:

With the first SMPY recruits now at the peak of their careers, what has become clear is how much the precociously gifted outweigh the rest of society in their influence. Many of the innovators who are advancing science, technology and culture are those whose unique cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years through enrichment programmes such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth — which Stanley began in the 1980s as an adjunct to SMPY. At the start, both the study and the centre were open to young adolescents who scored in the top 1% on university entrance exams. Pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng were one-percenters, as were Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and musician Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), who all passed through the Hopkins centre.

“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

[...]

His interest in developing scientific talent had been piqued by one of the most famous longitudinal studies in psychology, Lewis Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius. Beginning in 1921, Terman selected teenage subjects on the basis of high IQ scores, then tracked and encouraged their careers. But to Terman’s chagrin, his cohort produced only a few esteemed scientists. Among those rejected because their IQ of 129 was too low to make the cut was William Shockley, the Nobel-prizewinning co-inventor of the transistor. Physicist Luis Alvarez, another Nobel winner, was also rejected.

Stanley suspected that Terman wouldn’t have missed Shockley and Alvarez if he’d had a reliable way to test them specifically on quantitative reasoning ability. So Stanley decided to try the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now simply the SAT). Although the test is intended for older students, Stanley hypothesized that it would be well suited to measuring the analytical reasoning abilities of elite younger students.

In March 1972, Stanley rounded up 450 bright 12- to 14-year-olds from the Baltimore area and gave them the mathematics portion of the SAT. It was the first standardized academic ‘talent search’. (Later, researchers included the verbal portion and other assessments.)

“The first big surprise was how many adolescents could figure out math problems that they hadn’t encountered in their course work,” says developmental psychologist Daniel Keating, then a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University. “The second surprise was how many of these young kids scored well above the admissions cut-off for many elite universities.”

[...]

The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field. Acceleration is common in SMPY’s elite 1-in-10,000 cohort, whose intellectual diversity and rapid pace of learning make them among the most challenging to educate. Advancing these students costs little or nothing, and in some cases may save schools money, says Lubinski. “These kids often don’t need anything innovative or novel,” he says, “they just need earlier access to what’s already available to older kids.”

How Hobby Games Introduce Coding Concepts

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Game-designer Jay Little explains how hobby games teach basic coding concepts:

For me, no other game influenced this more than Magic: The Gathering. I’m a firm believer that if you can play Magic: The Gathering (or just about any other collectible or living card game), you are well on your way to understanding coding and the logic behind it. Even if you never touched a lick of code — even if you never see the Matrix in all those ones and zeroes — you understand the basics. Enough to really cut down the learning curve for a number of visually-based drag-and-drop game design programs like Game Salad, Game Maker, or Stencyl.

Intellectuals are Freaks

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Intellectuals are freaks, Michael Lind, an intellectual, reminds us:

It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Universities Without Ideological Diversity

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Liberals outnumber conservatives on university faculties:

The liberal-conservative ratio among faculty was roughly 2 to 1 in 1995. By 2004 that figure jumped to almost 3 to 1. While seemingly insignificant, that represents a 50% decline in conservative identifiers on campuses. After 2004, the ratio changed even more dramatically and by 2010, was close to 5 to 1 nationally.

What’s more surprising is how extreme the difference is in one part of the country, Tyler Cowen notes — New England:

For college and university faculty in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont — the liberal to conservative ratio is above 25 to 1!

Liberal-Conservative Ratio

On the Reading of Old Books

Friday, August 5th, 2016

I’ve cited Joseph Sobran on reading old books before. Here’s C.S. Lewis on the reading of old books:

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united — united with each other and against earlier and later ages — by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century — the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” — lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth.

None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

Monday, August 1st, 2016

H.P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers earns a snicker from anyone familiar with where his work was published — and what beliefs he held:

It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto followed, be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible. An excellent habit to cultivate is the analytical study of the King James Bible. For simple yet rich and forceful English, this masterly production is hard to equal; and even though its Saxon vocabulary and poetic rhythm be unsuited to general composition, it is an invaluable model for writers on quaint or imaginative themes.

This certainly sounds like Lovecraft though:

One superlatively important effect of wide reading is the enlargement of vocabulary which always accompanies it. The average student is gravely impeded by the narrow range of words from which he must choose, and he soon discovers that in long compositions he cannot avoid monotony. In reading, the novice should note the varied mode of expression practiced by good authors, and should keep in his mind for future use the many appropriate synonymes he encounters. Never should an unfamiliar word be passed over without elucidation; for with a little conscientious research we may each day add to our conquests in the realm of philology, and become more and more ready for graceful independent expression.

But in enlarging the vocabulary, we must beware lest we misuse our new possessions. We must remember that there are fine distinctions betwixt apparently similar words, and that language must ever be selected with intelligent care.

A four-year education in character and self-management

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

J.D. Vance and his father both transcended the chaos of their lives through discipline:

For my dad, the way he tells it is that he was a hard partier, he drank a lot, and didn’t have a lot of direction. His Christian faith gave him focus, forced him to think hard about his personal choices, and gave him a community of people who demanded, even if only implicitly, that he act a certain way. I think we all understate the importance of moral pressure, but it helped my dad, and it has certainly helped me! There’s obviously a more explicitly religious argument here, too. If you believe as I do, you believe that the Holy Spirit works in people in a mysterious way. I recognize that a lot of secular folks may look down on that, but I’d make one important point: that not drinking, treating people well, working hard, and so forth, requires a lot of willpower when you didn’t grow up in privilege. That feeling — whether it’s real or entirely fake — that there’s something divine helping you and directing your mind and body, is extraordinarily powerful.

General Chuck Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps, once said that the most important thing the Corps does for the country is “win wars and make Marines.” I didn’t understand that statement the first time I heard it, but for a kid like me, the Marine Corps was basically a four-year education in character and self-management. The challenges start small — running two miles, then three, and more. But they build on each other. If you have good mentors (and I certainly did), you are constantly given tasks, yelled at for failing, advised on how not to fail next time, and then given another try. You learn, through sheer repetition, that you can do difficult things. And that was quite revelatory for me. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. If I had learned helplessness from my environment back home, four years in the Marine Corps taught me something quite different.

The other thing the Marine Corps did is hold our hands and prevent us from making stupid decisions. It didn’t work on everyone, of course, but I remember telling my senior noncommissioned officer that I was going to buy a car, probably a BMW. “Stop being an idiot and go get a Honda.” Then I told him that I had been approved for a new Honda, at the dealer’s low interest rate of 21.9 percent. “Stop being an idiot and go to the credit union.” He then ordered another Marine to take me to the credit union, open an account, and apply for a loan (the interest rate, despite my awful credit, was around 8 percent). A lot of elites rely on parents or other networks the first time they made these decisions, but I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. The Marine Corps ensured that I learned.

7 Things Learned in Architecture School

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things Things I Learned in Architecture School includes these 7 nuggets of wisdom:

Be specific. “The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be. Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one. But drawing upon a specific observation, poignant statement, ironic point, witty reflection, intellectual connection, political argument, or idiosyncratic belief in creative work can help you create environments others will identify with in their own way.”

Ideas can take away from or add to the essential idea. “When designing a stair, window, column, roof, lobby, elevator core, or any other aspect of a building, always consider how its design can express and reinforce the essential idea of the building.”

Throw away your best loved ideas. “A good designer isn’t afraid to throw away a good idea.”

The most important skill for a designer to develop. “Being process-oriented, not product-driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop.”

Think about how you think. “The most effective, most creative problem solvers engage in a process of meta-thinking, or “thinking about the thinking.” This means you’re aware of how you’re structuring your thoughts while you’re thinking. You want to test ideas, challenge yourself, see if you understand the other side of the argument, criticizing, and redirecting your thought process.

Don’t make it too complex. “Create architectural richness through informed simplicity or an interaction of simples rather than through unnecessarily busy agglomerations.”

Consistent and repeatable results come from a process. “True style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely—even accidentally—out of a holistic process.”

Our Dumb World

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

As far as average IQ scores go, Gregory Cochran notes, this is what the world looks like:

national_iq_per_country_-_estimates_by_lynn_and_vanhanen_2006

But there are two relevant tests: the Stanford-Binet, and life itself. If a country scored low on IQ but at the same time led the world in Cavorite production, or cured cancer, or built spindizzies, we would say “screw Stanford-Binet”, and we would be right to do so.

Does that happen? Are there countries with low average scores that tear up the technological track? Mostly not – generally, fairly high average IQ seems to be a prerequisite for creativity in science and mathematics. Necessary, although not sufficient: bad choices (Communism), having the world kick you in the crotch (Mongols), or toxic intellectual fads can all make smart peoples unproductive.

[...]

You could improve the situation, raise the average, by selection for IQ. But that takes a long time, and I know of no case where it was done on purpose. You could decrease inbreeding, for example by banning cousin marriage. That only takes one generation. You could make environmental improvements, iodine supplementation being the best understood. People assume that there are a lot of other important environmental variable, but I sure don’t know what they are. In practice the rank ordering of populations seem to be the same everywhere, which is not what you would expect if there were strong, malleable environmental influences.

Is it easy to notice such differences? Well, for ordinary people, it’s real easy. Herero would ask Henry why Europeans were so smart – he said he didn’t know. But with the right education, it apparently becomes impossible to see. Few anthropologists know that such differences exist and even fewer admit it. I’m sure that most have never even read any psychometrics – more importantly, they ignore their lying eyes. Economists generally reject such explanations, which is one reason that they find most of the Third World impossible to understand. I must give credit to Garret Jones, who is actually aware of this general pattern. Sure, he stepped on the dick of his own argument there at the end of his book, but he was probably lying, because he had to. Sociologists? It is to laugh.

Generally, you could say that the major job of social science is making sure that people do not know this map. Not knowing has its attractions: practically every headline is a surprise. The world must seem ever fresh and new to the dis-illuminati – something like being Henry Molaison, who had his hippocampus removed by a playful neurosurgeon and afterwards could not create new explicit memories.

So when we tried a new intervention aimed at eliminating the GAP, and it failed, Molaison was surprised, even if 47 similar programs had already failed. Neurologically, he was much like a professor of education.

Researchers Examine Family Income And Children’s Non-Cognitive Skills

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Why do children of the successful do better than children of the unsuccessful?

VEDANTAM: Well, we’ve known for a very long time that family income really matters. This could be because schools in richer neighborhoods are better schools. But it could also be that rich parents are able to give their children more learning opportunities outside of school. I was speaking with the economist Barbara Wulf. She’s at the University of Wisconsin. Along with Jason Fletcher, she recently decided to explore another explanation. She asked if income disparities might also be linked to disparities in what are sometimes called non-cognitive skills. Many researchers think that it’s these skills that undergird not just academic performance in school but a host of other abilities later in life, including in the workplace. Here’s Wulf.

BARBARA WULF: When we think about who is a good employee and who’s likely to succeed in the workplace, you hear a lot of attention paid to these what I’ll call non-cognitive skills. So they pay attention, they are persistent, they are eager. So they have a set of characteristics that make them good employees.

GREENE: OK. So people who have these non-cognitive skills – better employees. But tie this to American education and sort of the income disparity.

VEDANTAM: Wulf and Fletcher analyzed data from a national survey, David, that tracked children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The survey data allowed the researchers to track the effects of family income on what parents and teachers were reporting about these children as they went through elementary school. The researchers find there’s a very strong correlation between family income and these non-cognitive skills. In other words, when it comes to being cooperative or dealing with conflict productively, children from wealthier families on average seem to have more of these skills than children from poorer families.

GREENE: OK. So this is actually making the connection. We’ve always known that there’s this income disparity. Now we’re sort of understanding that income disparity might be because if you’re less affluent, I mean, you’re just not developing these skills you’re talking about.

“NPR searches valiantly, blindfolded,” in Charles Murray‘s words.

Football-Crazy Iceland

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Iceland, more than virtually any other nation on earth, is football crazy:

Yet for decades, it was a game denied to them for most of the year. The Arctic cold and scarce daylight made outdoor turf football impossible for eight months of the year. Most coaches were enthusiastic parents, and most pitches were rough gravel tracks that would take all the skin off your legs if you went down. Hallgrimsson shows us the pitch he grew up on in Heimaey. Goals with no nets. No markings on the pitch. It is the most basic footballing infrastructure imaginable.

In the early 1990s, Norway started building full-size indoor football pitches in the north of the country. The Icelandic FA sent a delegation there to investigate, and returned with its grand idea: a heated indoor “football house” in every town in Iceland.

The timing was fortunate. The economic boom had fuelled massive bank lending. Huge loans were available for infrastructure projects. The first football house was built near the airport at Keflavik in 2000, and over the next few years seven full-sized indoor arenas and hundreds of smaller all-weather pitches sprung up. There is an artificial pitch next to every school in the country.

One of the clubs to benefit was Breidablik, in the southern suburbs of Reykjavik. They built the country’s second football house in 2002, and now it has the most comprehensive youth setup in Iceland. A constant stream of taxpayer-funded minibuses rolls up at the entrance to bring kids – some as young as three – to training. They train 11 months of the year, up to six times a week.

“The accessibility is what sets us apart,” says Dadi Rafnsson, the club’s head of youth development. “You don’t have to drive far to find a good facility. It doesn’t cost very much to train. And everyone can play. We don’t pick kids out at 10 or 12. This is the problem with big academies. They choose too early.”

Multiply the success of Breidablik by seven or eight, and you have yourself a golden generation: a group of players who are not only the best technical footballers the country has ever produced, but who have all come through the same system. Four of Iceland’s Euro 2016 squad came from Breidablik, including Charlton’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, the team’s best player.

Along with the new facilities came new coaches. Breidablik alone has 31. There is one Uefa-qualified coach for every 500 people; in England, it is one in 5000. “Because we don’t have to pay for the facilities, we can spend the money on coaching,” says Rafnsson. “And coaching has now become a viable second profession. Also, when a player like Gudmundsson or Alfie Finnbogason does well abroad, we often get a fee.”

Thorsteinsson is quick to point out the role that Uefa and Fifa have played in the development of smaller nations. “This is overlooked by many when they speak negatively about them,” he says. “Sharing the wealth of football to the smaller countries has given us the financial support to grow.”

[...]

The current generation is the only one to have experienced both worlds: the character-building gravel pitches and the indoor greenhouses. Sigurdsson developed his toughness on frozen pitches in sub-zero temperatures and only spent a couple of years in the indoor halls before moving to Reading. The question is what happens when you get the first batch of kids who have known nothing of the old ways.

(Hat tip to Doug Lemov.)

The Greatest Archimedian Lever

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Bryan Caplan explores the value of history — to his sons:

Today my homeschooled sons are taking the Advanced Placement United States History Exam.  I took the exam when I was 17.  They are 13.  Given how often I deride the practical value of history in The Case Against Education, you could fairly ask, “What’s the point?”  Signaling is the easy answer.  Anyone can be homeschooled, but only a select minority can ace an A.P. test.  Strong A.P. scores are especially impressive if you’re years younger than your competitors.

But that’s hardly the whole story.  After all, we could have done other A.P.s instead.  So why history?  To be blunt: While I think history is a waste of time for 99% of people, I think my sons are in the other 1%.  They aren’t just highly intelligent; they’re good students.  More specifically:

1. Unlike almost everyone, my sons are interested in being social scientists.  And while the historically ignorant certainly can succeed in social science, you can’t be a good social scientist without broad, deep historical knowledge.  Can’t!

2. As you age, you lose your ability to master and retain large bodies of facts.  The best way to durably learn history – like foreign language – is to learn it young.  I acquired 90% of my historical knowledge between the ages of 10 and 20.  So age 13 seems like an ideal time for this task.

3. Unlike almost everyone, my sons genuinely enjoy learning about history.  (I was the same way).  As I’ve argued elsewhere, this is the crucial ingredient that transforms otherwise useless learning into a merit good.

4. The APUSH is a fantastic exam.  If a test can teach a person “how to think,” the APUSH is such a test.  If you’ve got 195 minutes to spare, take it.

5. To be honest, I’m not convinced any test actually can teach anyone how to think.  That’s why #4 says If.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that people who will ultimately learn how to think can learn how to think sooner.  How?  By practicing intellectually demanding tasks.  Since my sons are in the select category of people who will ultimately learn how to think, I have sped them toward their potential.

I was a bit surprised by his second and fourth points. I’ve certainly learned far more history on my own, as an adult, than I ever learned in school. And I didn’t realize the AP US History exam was especially good.

Michael Strong doesn’t think so highly of it:

Most AP US History preparatory materials, and often sample exams, propound a straightforward progressive narrative of American history: The robber barons, promoting an evil laissez-faire system, were happily overcome by the muckrakers and Teddy Roosevelt. The rise of progressive legislation saved Americans from suffering and misery. The Great Depression was caused, in part, by inequality. FDR’s activist government saved the US after Hoover’s attachment to laissez-faire almost destroyed us. Etc.

I see the AP US History program as the single greatest obstacle to economic literacy in the US. Many (most?) of our elite students take it in preparation for college admissions. It provides a powerful morality tale that is sanctioned as absolute truth by the College Board.

Later courses in economics, either at university or in summer programs such as those by IHS and FEE, may counteract some of the damage done. But I suspect more students take the US AP exam than take economics courses. Moreover, most economics courses come across as dry problem-solving rather than an inspiring moral narrative. Moreover, they rarely address economic history at all. The number of students who actually take a course in U.S. economic history, to address the many economic fallacies in the progressive narrative, is vanishingly small.

Add to this university history departments that mostly emphasize and elaborate on the progressive morality tale in US history. The result is that most college graduates continue to believe that laissez-faire was harmful to the working class, that heroic reformers improved conditions through legislation, the Great Depression was caused by inequality, etc.

Reform of the AP US History program, if it were possible, might arguably be the greatest Archimedian lever available to libertarians. Imagine a world in which instead of social signaling among intellectuals consisted not of “I’m more progressive than thou,” but rather “I don’t make idiotic mistakes regarding economic history or economics.”