Measuring College Learning Outcomes

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Pressure is growing for outcomes testing in higher education, Stephen Hsu notes, but the CLA+ (Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus) exam, which purports to measure critical-thinking and written-communication skills that other assessments cannot, seems to measure the same general cognitive ability as the SAT, ACT, and GRE.

Community College: What is the Right Price?

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Arnold Kling is skeptical about free community college:

Just based on my gut feeling, I think that the vast majority of students attending community college do not have favorable outcomes. [...] I am not even sure that students in the lower tier of four-year colleges have favorable outcomes. Instead, the true cost, including what the students pay out of pocket plus subsidies plus opportunity cost, exceeds the benefit for many who attend college. In contrast, President Obama seems to endorse the fairy-dust model of college, where you can sprinkle it on anyone to produce affluence.

Politicians and policy wonks face different incentives:

If I were President Obama, of course, I would champion universal “free” community college. Worst case, my proposal becomes law. A lot of money gets wasted, but it’s not my money. Best case, the Republicans vote it down and I call them anti-opportunity meanies.

Never Allowed out of the Hood

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A promising “Black Ivy” football star got shot in a home-invasion robbery — he and his friends were doing the invading — and the Z man blames racial solidarity:

The explanation for this that jumps out to me is the extreme racial solidarity in black America. In white America, keeping the good kids away from the bad kids is the focus of everyone. Even back in the paleolithic when I was coming along adults had no trouble culling the defects from the herd. Somewhere around puberty, the stupid and uncontrollable ended up in “special” classes, away from the rest of us. That is not permitted in black culture.

The result is Terrance gets to hang with Jakobi as an equal, but they are not equals. Jakobi, I’m guessing, is high status in the hood. His ghetto name is what I’m going on here. In the white world, Dakota is not allowed anywhere near Dwayne and that was the case from about the fifth grade. By the time Dakota is at college, Dwayne is long gone. In black America. Terrence is never allowed out of the hood. He has to “keeps it real.” Otherwise, he runs the risk of being a “Tom” or acting white.

Until blacks drop the racial solidarity, this story will be a common one.

(Hat tip to our Slovenian Guest.)

Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Political diversity will improve social psychological science, some (daring) social psychologists suggest:

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity — particularly diversity of viewpoints — for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of nonliberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

I enjoyed this passage:

Fourth, we note for the curious reader that the collaborators on this article include one liberal, one centrist, two libertarians, one whose politics defy a simple left-right categorization, and one neo-positivist contrarian who favors a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in which scholarship should be judged on its merits. None identifies as conservative or Republican.

(Hat tip to Bryan Caplan.)

Weakness and Cowardice

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

While getting his graduate degree in psychology, David Grossman (On Killing) fulfilled his practicum requirement by serving as a junior high school counselor:

I worked in group sessions with many troubled young men, and one thing they consistently wanted from me was help in getting their way with the adults — parents, teachers, and others — whom they saw as “the enemy” on their adolescent battlefields. I told them that I knew a way to increase their “charisma,” a “charm spell” that was guaranteed to increase the probability of having things go their way by 10 to 20 percent or more.

They were eager, they were excited. “Charm spells” and “charisma” were terms from Dungeons and Dragons-type role-playing and video games, and they wanted to learn this piece of psychological magic. The trick is, I told them, to appropriately use the magic words “please, sir, and ma’am.”

A few were excited and convinced by these mercenary and manipulative application of the old “magic word,” but most were disgusted. They would never do such a thing. They could never debase themselves in such a weak and cowardly manner. Their self-esteem, their image, was so weak that they could not permit themselves to say these hateful words of appeasement. They wanted the “enemy” to submit before the superior force of their will power, but they did not have sufficient will to use the means available to them. The only method they could conceive of using was some form of physical posturing or brute strength: to out-yell, out-pout, or out-hit their opponents. But in this as in all human interactions, the victory goes most often not to the strong, nor to the swift, but to the sly.

We must never underestimate the power of the desire to maintain one’s self-image. In the case of these children (and of many adults), it prevents them from using simple courtesy as a social stratagem. In combat, the desire not to be seen as a coward in the eyes of others is the single most powerful motivating force on the battlefield, a force sufficient to overcome the instinct for self-preservation and make men face certain death without wavering. But, in addition to sustaining men on the battlefield, the demands of the self-image also have a long history of constraining combatants.

A friend of mine was the sponsor for a visiting Central African officer who was attending the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Advance Course. This experienced, intelligent, and articulate African officer almost failed the tactics portion of the course because he could not and would not devise any plan nor select any answers that involved a flank or rear attack. To even imagine doing so would be profoundly dishonorable and was simply unthinkable.

It is easy to feel superior to such an officer today, but he is only an obvious aspect of a long heritage. From the ancient Greeks, who preferred “manly” face-to-face combat and refused to use projectile weapons, to the French, who were offended and shocked that the Germans refused to meet them in honorable World War I-style combat and came around their Maginot line, history is full of sacrifices made on the altar of the “warrior” self-image. Today that legacy of self-inflicted constraint can be seen in the resistance to the use of maneuver concepts.

Sports and Creativity

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Researchers explored the relationship between childhood leisure activities and creativity in young adults, and the results were stark:

Time spent playing informal sports was significantly and positively related to overall creativity, while time spent playing organized sports was significantly and negatively related to overall creativity.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the difference between those participants whose scores placed them into “above-average” creativity bracket was only about two hours per week of unstructured sport participation throughout their school-age years.

What could account for such distal results? On a theoretical (and, frankly, intuitive) level, informal sports played in unstructured, unsupervised environments capture many of the elements that are linked with the developmental benefits of play for children. These environments offer children the freedom to self-govern, create rules, problem-solve and resolve social conflicts on their own terms.

Organized sports, on the other hand, tend to replicate hierarchical and militaristic models aimed at obedience, replication, adherence to authority, and a number of other qualities that, on a theoretical level, would be unlikely to be conducive to creative development.

[...]

Perhaps the single-most intriguing finding from our analysis was the fact that those individuals whose scores on the creativity assessment identified them as “above-average” were not children who eschewed organized sports in favor of the activities we traditionally associate with creativity (art, music, theater, etc.). Instead, the respondents with “above-average” creativity simply appeared to strike more balance between their time spent in organized and unstructured sport settings.

In fact, those scoring in the “above-average” creativity bracket reported spending 15% of their total childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 13% playing organized sports. The participants with “below-average” creativity, on the other hand, spent only 10% of their childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 22% in organized sports.

Seasons Greetings!

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Last year, around this time, friends and acquaintances offered Peter Frost all sorts of religiously neutral salutations:

Seasons Greetings! Happy Holidays! Joyeuses fêtes! Meilleurs vœux! Only two people wished me Merry Christmas.

One was Muslim, the other was Jewish.

They meant well. After all, isn’t that the culturally correct greeting? In theory, yes. In practice, most Christians feel uncomfortable affirming their identity. And this self-abnegation gets worse the closer you are to the cultural core of Anglo-America. Immigrants of Christian background enjoy being wished Merry Christmas. Black people likewise. Catholics seem to split half and half, depending on how traditional or nominal they are.

But the WASPs. Oh, the WASPs! With them, those two words are a faux pas.

[...]

What about other cultural groups? Why single out just one? But I’ve heard the answer already. WASPs and their culture dominate North America. The path to power, or simply a better life, runs through their institutions. Minorities can affirm their own identities without restricting the life choices of others, but the same does not hold true for WASPs. Their identity affects everyone and must belong to everyone.

I’m still not convinced. Yes, WASPs did create the institutions of Anglo-America, but their influence in them is now nominal at best. The U.S. Supreme Court used to be a very WASPy place. Now, there’s not a single White Protestant on it. That’s a huge underrepresentation for a group that is still close to 40% of the population. We see the same thing at the Ivy League universities, which originally trained Protestant clergy for the English colonists. Today, how many of their students have any kind of Christian European background? The proportions are estimated to be 20% at Harvard, 22% at Yale, and 15% at Columbia.

Sometimes reality is not what is commonly believed. WASPs are not at all privileged. In fact, they have been largely pushed aside in a country that was once theirs.

[...]

WASPs believe in getting ahead through rugged individualism. Most of the other groups believe in using family and ethnic connections. Guess who wins.

Smart People Read Biographies

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Smart people read biographies, Ryan Holiday says, because they’re some of most actionable and educational reading you can do, so he recommends his favorites:

  1. Plutarch’s Lives, Plutarch – Aside from being the basis of much of Shakespeare, he was one of Montaigne’s favorite writers.
  2. The Power Broker, Robert Caro – Like Huey Long and Willie Stark, Robert Moses was a man who got power, loved power and was transformed by power.
  3. Socrates: A Man for Our Times, Napoleon: A Life, Churchill, Paul Johnson – Paul Johnson is the kind of author whose sweeping judgements you can trust, so you leave this book with what feels like a very solid understanding of who his subjects are a people.

He recommends many more.

How You Know

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Paul Graham (Hackers & Painters) remembers little of what he’s read:

I’ve read Villehardouin’s chronicle of the Fourth Crusade at least two times, maybe three. And yet if I had to write down everything I remember from it, I doubt it would amount to much more than a page. Multiply this times several hundred, and I get an uneasy feeling when I look at my bookshelves. What use is it to read all these books if I remember so little from them?

[...]

Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.

The place to look for what I learned from Villehardouin’s chronicle is not what I remember from it, but my mental models of the crusades, Venice, medieval culture, siege warfare, and so on. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t have read more attentively, but at least the harvest of reading is not so miserably small as it might seem.

This is one of those things that seem obvious in retrospect. But it was a surprise to me and presumably would be to anyone else who felt uneasy about (apparently) forgetting so much they’d read.

Realizing it does more than make you feel a little better about forgetting, though. There are specific implications.

For example, reading and experience are usually “compiled” at the time they happen, using the state of your brain at that time. The same book would get compiled differently at different points in your life. Which means it is very much worth reading important books multiple times. I always used to feel some misgivings about rereading books. I unconsciously lumped reading together with work like carpentry, where having to do something again is a sign you did it wrong the first time. Whereas now the phrase “already read” seems almost ill-formed.

Intriguingly, this implication isn’t limited to books.

Parenting and Verbal Intelligence

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores, Beaver et al. find, suggesting that IQ is in the genes:

To find out, the team pored over information from a study of more than 15,000 U.S. middle- and high-school students. It’s called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Starting in the 1994-to-1995 school year, researchers had asked students a series of questions. For instance: How warm and loving are your parents? How much do you talk with them? How close do you feel to your parents? How much do you think they care about you?

Students also were given a list of 10 activities. Then the questionnaire asked how many of those activities students had done with their parents in the previous week. Did they play sports together? Go shopping? Talk with each other over dinner? Watch a movie together?

Students also answered questions about how permissive their parents were. For example, did their parents let them choose their own friends, choose what to watch on TV or choose for themselves when to go to bed?

The researchers then gave the students a test to gauge their IQ. Called a Picture Vocabulary Test, it asked the students to link words and images. Scores on this test have been linked repeatedly to IQ. Later in life, between the ages of 18 and 26, these people were tested again.

Beaver’s group was especially interested in results from a group of about 220 students who had been adopted. The parents who raised them had not passed on any genes to them. So if there was a link between the students’ IQs and the way their parents raised them, the researchers should see it most clearly in the adopted students’ scores.

But no such link emerged. Whether students reported their parents cared about them and did things with them — or reported that they did not — it had no impact on the their IQ.

Kettlebell Lessons with a Firearms Instructor

Friday, December 5th, 2014

While perusing Pavel’s fitness site, I was surprised to come across this story from a firearms instructor:

To illustrate the importance of dry fire, consider the story of Dave Westerhout.  Mr. Westerhout is known as one of the founders of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) and a trainer for the Rhodesia Defense Force.  In the late 70’s, ammunition was particularly scarce in the African nation of Rhodesia.  This ammunition shortage was due in large part to how unpopular Rhodesia was politically. The native African population was disenfranchised and Rhodesia was breaking away from the British Empire.  Other nations weren’t recognizing them as a nation and multiple trade sanctions were imposed.  One side effect of these sanctions was an extreme ammunition shortage.

Westerhout adapted to the severe ammunition shortage the only way he knew how: dry fire practice.  He conducted experiments with two groups of soldiers.  One would use live fire, the other dry fire.  The results were impressive.  The dry fire group was outscoring the live fire group!  This convinced the leadership to adopt the dry fire practice for the entire force.

Then, in 1977 at the first World Practical Pistol Championship, the Rhodesian team produced some astounding results.  Dave Westerhout took the first place and another Rhodesian took the second, the Rhodesian team won the overall team event!

An American took the third place. All of this happened when the US was considered the dominant force in competitive shooting. All of this happened while Rhodesia faced an ammo shortage. How is this possible? Lots of dry fire!

The advantages of dry fire are obvious. You can do it in your home very quickly and easily. You are not driving somewhere and spending money on range time or ammo. You are getting a LOT of repetition and working on the most difficult of all fundamentals — the trigger control. Anyone can squeeze a trigger. Anyone can align the sights. Can you maintain sight alignment through a smooth yet quick trigger squeeze? If not, DRY FIRE! Start with what takes the least time and costs the least money. Add complexity later!

Now, it should be noted: Dry fire practice does NOT fully replace live fire training. It is just a great supplemental training tool. There are certain fundamentals you just can’t practice without sending rounds down range. For starters, you can’t practice Recoil Management. This stands to reason, as it’s hard to practice managing a gun’s recoil w/out feeling it recoil in your hands. Secondly, you can’t practice the Follow Through. In this instance, that simply means you can’t get a feel for how quickly you can get the gun back on target and send additional rounds down range (should it be necessary). All of that aside, you can practice the most difficult fundamental with dry fire training: the Trigger Control.

Another similarity I noticed is that Frequency Trumps Duration.

Are you training only once in awhile for a long dragged out session that leaves you wiped out? Or are you training more frequently for shorter periods leaving you “stronger or better” than when you started?

The Monster Factory

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

A cop who previously worked as a youth care worker calls his old job a monster factory:

I have seen it over and over again. Due to their behavior a child or teenager needs ‘intervention’, ‘help’, or is ‘at risk’. Teachers at first usually, and then a combination of teachers, social workers, and case managers come up with various ‘treatment’ and ‘goals’ for the child/teenager to strive for in their behavior. If the child or teenager ‘acts out’ the members of one of the institutions staffed exclusively by graduates of an approved social-work or education school, or some form of ‘line-worker’ like a (youth care worker) that has been vetted for ‘professional disposition’ by one of those graduates will ‘confront’ the child or teenager about their behavior. It is these confrontations about behavior that lie at the source of the problem. They happen almost entirely on the child or teenagers terms. By design.

A teacher, social worker, mental health professional, or case manager will for good reason make sure they do not touch, lay hands, or physically restrain their ‘client’. The fact that they can be sued is only the start. You may well have a teenager or even a child who is bigger and stronger than you. There are techniques for attempting to resolve the issue at hand or at least deescalate tension that may arise during a confrontation over behavior or that was present prior to it. However, these techniques all belie what is at issue and at stake; that the child or teenager has violated a rule or norm and that someone with the authority to command their behavior is telling them to stop and they are not doing it out of either ignorance or willful defiance. If you have the authority to command a stop to a certain behavior or change in it you do not need to negotiate your position on the matter. That is ceding authority to the kid. That is a horrible decision and especially practice to make but we do it anyway. Because it would be foolish to command behavior that you have no ability to back up with some form of consequence. THAT is why teachers, social workers, mental health professionals (I am thinking of them in institutional settings) and case managers do not physically restrain or push matters too far usually. Because you call the cops to do that. That is what we are for.

There is a problem with handling confrontations in this manner for children and teenagers who are treated this way their entire lives by institutional employees. They come to believe that when handling confrontations with employees of institutions (any institution: a school, a social work institution, law enforcement, companies, etc) that they can always dictate terms through their refusal to obey ‘the rules’ and by physically resisting or even physically escalating against whatever order they’re being given. ‘You can’t tell me what to do or else I’ll!…’ fill in the blank. This works fine if you’re in one of the institutions that is staffed by people who are given to avoid physical confrontation anyway (not everyone obviously) and are governed by rules that dictate that that is how confrontations will go, but if you run into people who won’t follow those rules in the real world you quickly run into problems.

A cop cannot get yelled at and simply back down. By law and certainly by case-law there is no requirement of a cop to cede ground. As a matter of fact in general you’d better not. You ARE required by law to enforce it whether you like it or not. We have discretion only when we know intervention will definitely cause more damage to life and property than can be reasonably justified, but as always, you’d better be ready to articulate it in court. You might back up to tactically gain advantage but that had better be the only reason you’re doing it. No law enforcement agency will employ a cop who backs down from enforcing the law. You aren’t ordered to take a suicidal position when enforcing the law, but you have to make your best effort and call back-up if you need it. This isn’t a chest-thumping, braggadocio’d position to take. It is the bare minimum required of any law-enforcement officer.

[...]

I see this day in and day out in the behavior of criminals and inmates in the jail and on the streets of the county I work for. My favorite situation is when fresh from being whisked from the juvenile detention center on their eighteenth birthday an inmate new to the jail will demand to see a supervisor when, “I don’t like the level of service being provided.” It’s the same on the street. After a few years the criminal type will get to know their rights in the system due to familiarity and their expectations will change. They won’t complain about things they can’t legally expect. They certainly don’t try to take your gun away and understand that it’s suicide to try. But the young ones… the ones that have only their prior experience with their schools or the juvenile system to operate on, they make very bad decisions. The world does not have to conform to your barbaric yawp. You must learn that no one kow-tows to you.

Or, as Ed Realist put it, “One could say that Michael Brown is dead because he was foolish enough to treat a cop like a teacher.”

How to Train Your Voice to Be More Charismatic

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Researchers are studying how to train your voice to be more charismatic:

In his experiments, Dr. Signorello analyzed recordings of speeches by leaders speaking French, Italian and Portuguese, including François Hollande, the current president of France, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president of Brazil. He also studied speeches given by two Italian politicians, Umberto Bossi and Luigi de Magistris, and by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

To isolate acoustic properties, Dr. Signorello used a speech synthesizer to eliminate the actual meaning of the words being spoken. The frequency, intensity, cadence, duration and other vocal qualities remained intact.

Then, to understand how acoustic traits affected perceptions, Dr. Signorello and his colleagues asked 107 female and 26 male volunteers to rate a speaker’s charisma on a scale using 67 positive or negative adjectives, ranging from eloquent and bewitching to egocentric and menacing. To ensure that only perceptions of vocal qualities were measured, they also had the Italian speeches rated by 48 people who didn’t speak Italian, and the French speeches rated by 48 people who didn’t speak French.

Generally, someone speaking in a low-pitched voice is always perceived as big and dominant, while someone speaking in a high voice is perceived as small and submissive. When speaking to crowds, the political leaders typically stretched their voices to extremes, with a wide range of frequency variation, Dr. Signorello said.

“In the three languages, I see a similar pattern,” he said. “My research shows that charismatic leaders of any type in any culture tend to stretch their voice to the lower and higher limits during a public speech, which is the most important and risky context of communication for leadership,” he said.

These leaders adopted an entirely different tone when speaking to other high-ranking politicos or when the subject strayed from political topics. “They stretch their voice less when they speak to other leaders, keeping the vocal pitch very low. They stretch the voice limits even less when they speak about nonpolitical topics,” Dr. Signorello said.

In one experiment, he found he could change the way people perceived President Hollande of France by artificially dialing the pitch of his voice up or down.

Aspiring executives should take note, Dr. Signorello said. “The voice is a tool that can be trained,” he said. “Singers and actors train their voices to reach higher or lower frequencies. A leader-speaker should do the same.”

In another 10,000 years the Bene Gesserit will have mastered this.

The Power of High-Leverage Practice

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Daniel Coyle discusses the power of high-leverage practice:

Here is Odell Beckham Jr. last night, making what might be the greatest catch in NFL history.

That video is beautiful, but there’s something that’s even more beautiful: Beckham Jr. before games, practicing exactly this type of catch.

This reveals the deeper truth behind his great catch: it was no accident. Watch how Beckham keeps one hand at his side, as if pinned by a defender; how he controls the nose of the ball with his index finger; how his eyes follow the ball into his palm. We normally think of this kind of catch as a feat of athleticism. This shows that it’s really a feat of preparation.

This is a very particular kind of preparation, systematically pre-creating the most difficult situations. You might call it High-Leverage Practice, because it shows how focusing relentlessly on pre-creating pressure conditions can set a performer apart from their peers.

Developing Cliques

Monday, November 10th, 2014

A new study finds that some schools are more likely to foster cliques than others:

Cliques form because people are often attracted to people of the same race, class, gender, and age as themselves—this is not a novel idea, and in sociology, this concept is called homophily (“love of the same”). But Daniel McFarland, an education professor at Stanford and the lead author of the study, discovered that this tendency to segregate is much more prevalent in large schools and schools that provide students with more academic freedom. A news release about the study explains: “Schools that offer students more choice — more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in a classroom—are more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated.”