High Expectations, High Support

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools, and the findings are stark:

Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.

Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as “high expectations, high support” schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.

“My mother has been teaching forever. My father has been teaching for 10 years,” Christopher Perez, a physics teacher at Match, told me. “They don’t get observed. I get observed every week and have a meeting about it every week.”

While visiting Match, I was struck that teachers hardly seemed to notice when I ducked into their rooms, midclass, to watch them. They are obviously used to having observers. They welcome it, as a way to improve.

The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the “high expectations, high support” model.

Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn’t. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.

When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that’s uncommon for academic researchers. “Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains,” said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.

Students who go to Boston’s charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take A.P. tests and to do well on them. Their SAT scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere — an average of 51 points higher on the math SAT. Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits don’t disappear over time.

The gains are large enough that some of Boston’s charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale fare as well on a state math test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school, the country’s oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.

A frequent criticism of charters is that they skim off the best students, but that’s not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically — boys, African-Americans, Latinos, special-education students like Alanna — are among the biggest beneficiaries. On average, notes Parag Pathak, also of M.I.T., Boston’s charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.

The Culture of Childhood

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

We adults have the adult-centric view that we raise, socialize, and educate children, Peter Gray says, when really children raise, socialize, and educate each other:

Perhaps the most important function of the culture of childhood is to teach children how to get along with peers. Children practice that constantly in social play. To play with another person, you must pay attention to the other person’s needs, not just your own, or the other person will quit. You must overcome narcissism. You must learn to share. You must learn to negotiate in ways that respect the other person’s ideas, not just yours. You must learn how to assert your needs and desires while at the same time understanding and trying to meet the needs and desires of your playmate. This may be the most important of all skills that human beings must learn for a successful life. Without this ability it is not possible to have a happy marriage, true friends, or cooperative work partners.

The need to learn how to deal with others on an equal power footing is the primary reason why children need to grow up in a culture of childhood. It underlies all of the rest of what children learn best with peers. The reason why children’s communications with other children are more authentic than those with adults, why they can practice independence and courage with other children better than with adults, why they can learn about the modifiability of rules with other children better than with adults, and why they can more freely practice adult skills with other children than they can with adults is that their relationships with other children are relationships of equality rather than relationships of dominance and subordination.

I think he misses a key point here:

Hunter-gatherer adults seemed to understand that children needed to grow up largely in a culture of childhood, with little adult interference, but that understanding seemed to decline with the rise of agriculture, land ownership, and hierarchical organizations of power among adults (Gray, 2012). Adults began to see it as their duty to suppress children’s natural willfulness, so as to promote obedience, which often involved attempts to remove them from the influences of other children and subordinate them to adult authority. The first systems of compulsory schooling, which are the forerunners of our schools today, arose quite explicitly for that purpose.

Presumably we’re well adapted to our ancestral environment and can learn hunting and gathering skills without an “unnatural” formal education, but watching Dad debug code or update spreadsheets isn’t interesting and doesn’t teach Junior those skills.

Arnold Kling’s Obamacare Notice

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Arnold Kling just got mugged by reality, when his Obamacare notice arrived:

Yesterday in the mail, my wife and I got our premium notice from the health care exchange. Our monthly premium is going up 70 percent, and our deductible is going up also.

I wonder if any of the pundits who claim that Obamacare is working are actually getting their health insurance through an exchange.

I wonder how many of us who have not supported Donald Trump are feeling mugged by reality.

The ‘F’ Word

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Nick Land talks about the ‘F’ word:

Fascism is back, apparently. At the very least, it might be getting more interesting to talk about.

In the period immediately following World War II, both of the triumphant blocs moved rapidly to define the word ‘fascism’ expediently. The critical objective, on each side, was to emphasize those features comparatively understated in its own domestic version of the phenomenon, in order to underscore the impression that they had unambiguously sided against it. ‘Fascism’ was, definitively, that thing recently and at an enormous cost defeated. The immense sacrifices — and, in fact, progressive fascist reconstruction of society that had been accelerated during the war years — was justified by the crushing defeat of an absolute evil. Distinction was imperative. Thus, the Soviets drew particular attention to the comparatively muted anti-capitalism of the Axis powers, while the Atlantic allies concentrated upon the exotic trappings of German anti-semitic Aryanism. It is particularly notable that the predominant Western definition of fascism is remarkably maladapted to even the most basic comprehension of the Italian original, and that both Western and Soviet anti-fascist narratives are compelled to downplay the revolutionary socialism of its roots, in both its Italian and its German variants.

This is all understandable enough, but it grotesquely mystifies the reality of fascism, which was epitomized — universally — by the 20th-century war economy. Every major contestant of WWII — including the great Asian powers Japan and China — developed fascist governance to an advanced state. The essential feature was state seizure of the economy’s ‘commanding heights’ in the delegated (and integrated) ‘popular interest’. During war time such interest is peeled back to sheer survival, and thus publicized with dramatic intensity, which is also to say with an unusual absence of skepticism. Fascism is therefore broadly identical with a normalization of war-powers in a modern state, that is: sustained social mobilization under central direction. Consequently, it involves, beside the centralization of political authority in a permanent war council, a tribal hystericization of social identity, and a considerable measure of economic pragmatism. Fascism is practical socialism, distinguished from its dim cousin by its far more sophisticated grasp of incentives, or of human nature in its motivated individual and tribal particularity. When compared to universalistic communism, fascism’s practical advantages are such that ‘actually existing socialism’ always soon turns into it. National socialism and socialism in one country are not sanely separable things. Everyone knows that the literal meaning of ‘fascism’ is bundling.

Like its Continental European and Soviet competitors, American fascism had been fully consolidated by the beginning of the war. The New Deal cemented its structural pillars into place. Socialization of the economy through central banking, the transformation of the Supreme Court into a facilitator of systematic executive over-reach, and a transformation of mass-politics through broadcast media technologies had composed a new, post-constitutional political order. It is this formation that is so flagrantly entering its phase of terminal dementia today.

Since the fascist state justifies itself through perpetual war, it naturally likes wars that cannot end. The Cold War looked like one, but wasn’t quite. The War on Terror is a better bet. In regards to their interminability, if not their moral intensity, ‘wars’ on poverty, drugs, and other resilient social conditions are more attractive still. Waging modern wars, and their metaphorical side-products, is what the fascist state is for. Winning them on occasion, and by accident, is only ever a misfortune. That lesson seems to have been thoroughly learned.

(Hat tip to Aretae.)

How One Man’s Bad Math Helped Ruin Decades Of English Soccer

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Charles Reep, the father of soccer analytics, made one big, glaring mistake that changed the course of English soccer for the worse:

More than 60 years before player-tracking cameras became all the rage in pro sports, Reep was mapping out primitive spatial data the old-fashioned way, by hand.

Poring over all the scraps of data he’d collected, Reep eventually came to a realization: Most goals in soccer come off of plays that were preceded by three passes or fewer. And in Reep’s mind, this basic truth of the game should dictate how teams play. The key to winning more matches seemed to be as simple as cutting down on your passing and possession time, and getting the ball downfield as quickly as possible instead. The long ball was Reep’s secret weapon.

“Not more than three passes,” Reep admonished during a 1993 interview with the BBC. “If a team tries to play football and keeps it down to not more than three passes, it will have a much higher chance of winning matches. Passing for the sake of passing can be disastrous.”

Did you spot the mistake?

Reep’s mistake was to fixate on the percentage of goals generated by passing sequences of various lengths. Instead, he should have flipped things around, focusing on the probability that a given sequence would produce a goal. Yes, a large proportion of goals are generated on short possessions, but soccer is also fundamentally a game of short possessions and frequent turnovers. If you account for how often each sequence length occurs during the flow of play, of course more goals are going to come off of smaller sequences — after all, they’re easily the most common type of sequence. But that doesn’t mean a small sequence has a higher probability of leading to a goal.

The Mid-Atlantic Accent

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Where did Katharine Hepburn’s accent come from?

In the 1800s, once relationships with England began to normalize following the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, the cities of Philadelphia, Boston, and, especially, New York City quickly became the new country’s most powerful. Financial and cultural elites began constructing their own kind of vaguely-British institutions, especially in the form of prestigious private schools. And those schools had elocution classes.


The upper-class New England accent of that time shares some things with modern New England accents. The most obvious of those is non-rhoticity, which refers to dropping the “r” sounds in words like “hear” and “Charles.”

But while parts of those accents are natural — some New Yorkers and many Bostonians still drop their “r” sounds today — the elite Northeastern accent was ramped up artificially by elocution teachers at boarding schools. Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut (where Jackie Onassis was educated), the Groton School in Massachusetts (FDR), St. Paul’s School (John Kerry), and others all decided to teach their well-heeled pupils to speak in a certain way, a vaguely British-y speech pattern meant to sound aristocratic, excessively proper, and, weirdly, not regionally specific.

The book that codified the elite Northeastern accent was Edith Skinner’s Speak With Distinction, which described “Good Speech”:

Good Speech is hard to define but easy to recognize when we hear it. Good Speech is a dialect of North American English that is free from regional characteristics; recognizably North American, yet suitable for classic texts; effortlessly articulated and easily understood in the last rows of a theater.

Skinner’s influence spread well beyond elite schools:

Skinner was born in New Brunswick, Canada, but studied linguistics at Columbia and taught drama for many years at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, and Juilliard, in New York City, all highly elite schools. It was in the Northeast that she created Speak With Distinction: an insanely thorough linguistic text, full of specific ways to pronounce thousands of different words, diagrams, lessons on the International Phonetic Alphabet, and exercises for drama students.

Yep, drama: by this point, movies with sound had begun to hit theaters, and then came the disastrous story of Clara Bow. Bow was one of the silent film era’s biggest stars, a master of exaggerated expressions. When the talkies came along, audiences heard her voice for the first time and it was a nasal, honking Brooklyn accent. Though the idea that speaking roles killed her career in film is not entirely accurate (there were plenty of other factors, ranging from drug problems to insane pressures of film studios), it’s certainly true that her career took a nosedive around the time audiences heard her voice, possibly creating a cautionary tale for newly heard actors.

It’s now the 1930s, and Edith Skinner is Hollywood’s go-to advisor for all things speech-related. And Edith Skinner has extremely strong opinions, bred in the elite universities of the Northeast, about exactly how people should speak. So she forced her own “Good Speech” accent on stars, and other voice coaches, and soon her accent became the most popular accent in Hollywood.

Speak With Distinction is incredibly dense, but it’s also very thorough. You can see very clearly, right there on the beat-up pages, why Katharine Hepburn speaks the way she does. “In Good Speech, ALL vowel sounds are oral sounds, to be made with the soft palate raised. Thus the breath flows out through the mouth only, rather than through the mouth and nose,” she writes. (She capitalizes things a lot.) “Each vowel sound is called a PURE SOUND, and the slightest movement or change in any of the organs of speech during the formation of a vowel will mar its purity, resulting in DIPHTHONGIZATION.”

She demands that “r” sounds be dropped. She demands that the “agh” sound, as in “chance,” should be halfway between the American “agh” and the British “ah.” (Interestingly, this is very different than the typical New England accent today, which is highly “fronted,” meaning that the vowel sound is made with the tongue very close to the teeth in words like “father.” The British, and Mid-Atlantic, vowel is pronounced with the tongue much further back.) She requires that all “t” sounds be precisely enunciated: “butter” cannot sound like “budder,” as it mostly does in the US. Words beginning in “wh” must be given a guttural hacking noise, so “what” sounds more like “ccccchhhhwhat.” She bans all glottal stops — the cessation of air when you say “uh-oh” — even between words, as in this phrase, direct from her book: “Oh, Eaton! He’d even heave eels for Edith Healy!” Go ahead, try to say that without any glottal stops. It’s enormously difficult.

She cracks down on the most obvious of regional cues, railing against what’s now called the “pin-pen merger.” Today, the pin-pen merger — in which the word “pen” sounds like “pin” — is a very easy indicator that a speaker is from the American South. Yech, the South. That will not do for Edith Skinner.

Collateral Alley Scene

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

When I was first learning to shoot, my defensive shooting instructor showed us the alley scene from Collateral. Here Larry Vickers takes us through it:

The Value of University

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

The Economist has ranked colleges based on the gap between how much money students subsequently earn and how much they might have made had they studied elsewhere:

We wanted to know how a wide range of factors would affect the median earnings in 2011 of a college’s former students. Most of the data were available directly from the scorecard: for the entering class of 2001, we used average SAT scores, sex ratio, race breakdown, college size, whether a university was public or private, and the mix of subjects students chose to study. There were 1,275 four-year, non-vocational colleges in the scorecard database with available figures in all of these categories. We complemented these inputs with information from other sources: whether a college is affiliated with the Catholic Church or a Protestant Christian denomination; the wealth of its state (using a weighted average of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia for Washington) and prevailing wages in its city (with a flat value for colleges in rural areas); whether it has a ranked undergraduate business school (and is thus likely to attract business-minded students); the percentage of its students who receive federal Pell grants given to working-class students (a measure of family income); and whether it is a liberal-arts college. Finally, to avoid penalising universities that tend to attract students who are disinclined to pursue lucrative careers, we created a “Marx and Marley index”, based on colleges’ appearances during the past 15 years on the Princeton Review’s top-20 lists for political leftism and “reefer madness”. (For technically minded readers, all of these variables were statistically significant at the 1% level, and the overall r-squared was .8538, meaning that 85% of the variation in graduate salaries between colleges was explained by these factors. We also tested the model using 2009 earnings figures rather than 2011, and for the entering class of 2003 rather than 2001, and got virtually identical results.)

College Expected vs. Median Earnings

For example, Caltech’s forecast earnings increase by $27,114 as a result of its best-in-the-country incoming SAT scores, another $9,234 thanks to its students’ propensity to choose subjects like engineering, and a further $2,819 for its proximity to desirable employers in the Los Angeles area.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” Tina Turner Soul Style

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Covering Queen songs isn’t easy, because Freddie Mercury could sing, but Melinda Doolittle performs a beautiful Tina Turner Soul Style cover of “Don’t Stop Me Now” with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox:

The ‘Secret History Of American Prosperity’ Needs To Become A Lot Less Secret

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

The Secret History of American Prosperity needs to become a lot less secret, Nathan Lewis suggests:

While we generally remember the 1950s as a time of economic good health — as indeed it was, compared to what we have become used to since 1971 — it was actually rather mediocre compared to the astonishing performance of the German or Japanese economies of the time, or the U.S. expansion of the late 1960s. Faced with four debilitating recessions in eleven years, Kennedy focused on creating 5% real GDP growth in his 1960 election campaign.

But how? Following the advice of Paul Samuelson, he assembled the leading lights of academia, who told him that he needed easy money and spending projects to take care of the unemployment (the solution John Maynard Keynes had recommended in 1936) and high taxes to prevent inflation. His Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon, however, was a wealthy Wall Street businessman wise to the workings of the real economy, and also a Republican. Dillon supported the extensive research of the little-known Stanley Surrey, a member of the faculty of the Harvard Law School — not, it should be noted, an “economist,” although he was later called “the greatest tax scholar of his generation,” with twenty books to his credit.

Surrey argued that the 91% top income tax rate of the time was a “phantom rate” that nobody paid: as inevitably happens wherever high nominal rates are found, lobbyists had been hired to punch extensive loopholes in the tax code. Lower rates, he argued, would change incentives and produce more growth. Kennedy actually experimented with the advice of his academics, before disregarding them for the path shown by Dillon and Surrey. The result was a tax reform that lowered the top rate to 70% and all other rates proportionally; and the best economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

The first Reagan tax reform of 1982 was basically an exact copy of Kennedy’s 1964 tax cut. This was deliberate, to help raise the needed support in the Democrat-controlled Congress.