The best success measure for schools

On Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen, has a good post about school vouchers. I particularly like this:

Frankly, I find a lot of the voucher advocates unconvincing, but let’s not forget the single most overwhelming (yet neglected) empirical fact about vouchers: they improve parent satisfaction.

I wrote something similar in this 2009 post on How to Save Education:

Ultimately, the true measure of the quality of a school isn’t the students’ scores on a standardized test, or the teachers’ level of certification.  Neither provide reliable information on quality of education.  A truer measure of the quality of a school is how many people are trying to get in relative to how many people are trying to get out.

Think about restaurants. If a thing such as standardized test scores existed for restaurants, how much would that influence your choice of where to eat dinner?

I’m guessing, not much. You would still have your preferences and be happy to have a selection to choose from.

Don’t let facts get in the way of a good story

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Roger Pielke Jr. writes about his Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic.

This is another exhibit of the sorry state of discordant discussion and beliefs — especially among political matters — in today’s society and why many of us little people are skeptical of anything the experts say.

They act like big babies when someone disagrees with them or brings up facts that get in the way of their good story.

Pielke “believes climate change is real,” but his research led him to a politically unpopular conclusion that there is “scant evidence to indicate that hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought have become more frequent or intense in the U.S. or globally.”

In the article, he chronicles the witch hunt against him from everyone from his editors at the popular news analysis site, a Congressman, reporters and even the White House.

He ends with:

But the lesson is that a lone academic is no match for billionaires, well-funded advocacy groups, the media, Congress and the White House. If academics—in any subject—are to play a meaningful role in public debate, the country will have to do a better job supporting good-faith researchers, even when their results are unwelcome. This goes for Republicans and Democrats alike, and to the administration of President-elect Trump.

Academics and the media in particular should support viewpoint diversity instead of serving as the handmaidens of political expediency by trying to exclude voices or damage reputations and careers. If academics and the media won’t support open debate, who will?

Here’s a guy that agrees with the general narrative — that climate change is real — but just doesn’t think there’s evidence to support a minor point of the narrative, that it’s causing more extreme weather.

So they paint him in broad strokes to discredit him. As Tomi Lahren pointed out on The Daily Show, isn’t that how hate groups behave?

I find it interesting that one of my go-to sites for a list of logical fallacies is a hosted on The Nizkor Project website, which is dedicated to Holocaust education and ensuring history doesn’t repeat itself.

I’m assuming the list of fallacies was included because fallacies are commonly employed by hate groups to further their cause.

Fallacy Watch: Trevor Noah uses Equivocation

I happened to channel surf past this much discussed discussion between Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren a few nights ago.

I came in at the part where Noah used the logical fallacy of equivocation when Lahren asked, “What did the KKK do?”

He pretended Lahren asked because she didn’t know, so she must be ignorant.

Yet, her question came after listing several things that took place at Black Lives Matter events that mirrored actions KKK has been known for. Her question was meant to make that connection: that BLM acts like a hate group.

The fallacy got the response that fallacies like equivocation often gets from people on the 6th grade level discordant discussions — a rousing applause.

It also had another typical outcome. It put Lahren in a defensive mode and she had a tough time articulating her points after that, at least for the 20 seconds I continued to watch it before I continued my channel surfing, since I don’t find 6th grade level political discussions interesting.

When a logical fallacy is used, I find it more productive for the conversation to put the conversation on pause and point out the fallacy.

If I was Lahren it might have said something like this:

Hold on, Trevor. Let’s unpack what just happened.

You used an informal logical fallacy called equivocation to change the meaning of what I said.

You know, I know and all the people in the audience who just cheered you for using a fallacy that is common among 6th graders know that I’m not ignorant of what the KKK does.

Everyone knows that my point is BLM, in some cases, has acted like a hate group.  So, rather than making fun of a point I did not make, how about we stick to the point I did make?

Do you agree or disagree that BLM is stooping to that level?


re: US Soccer firing Jurgen Klinsmann

This Warren Buffett quote came to mind:

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.
There are structural challenges (like ‘bad economics’ in business from the Buffett quote) in the U.S. soccer environment that keep its soccer talent from developing to a level that can consistently compete with talent developed in countries where the soccer culture is more optimized to produce top 10 talent.
The current soccer landscape produces talent that allows the U.S. to hang around on the edge of the Top 25. Think about that in terms of college basketball or football. #25 won’t often beat a top 10 team.
Until those challenges are removed, firing the US Soccer coach will happen every so often on disappointments like the latest two US losses in the World Cup qualifiers, because I’m skeptical that any coach can turn Top 25 talent into Top 10 talent.
What’s missing isn’t a coach that can take a group of Top 25 players to the next level. What’s missing are key steps in soccer development the players go through long before they ever get their US Men’s National team call up.
Putting so much expectation on the coach, and players, is like thinking you can take a group of good 8th grade math students and compete, in a math competition, against college math majors. They won’t be successful because they’re missing 5-7 years of math progression.
With our soccer environment, we get good athletes with sound fundamentals and good X’s and O’s, but they will get beat by the top 10 talent that adds creativity and ninja-like abilities to control the ball and read the game (and think 1-3 steps ahead) that come from amassing 5-10x the amount of soccer playing time against good competition and soccer learning time in their life times — starting from a very young age.
Here’s the kicker…if those structural challenges were removed, I believe the US could produce talent that would make the current crop of soccer greats — e.g. Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Suarez — look pedestrian.
So, what are those structural challenges? I’ll cover what I think they are in another post.

VIP (Very Important Post) from Scott Sumner on capitalism

The VIP was written by Scott Sumner on Econlog. It’s titled, Capitalism has a PR Problem. Here’s Scott:

My image of capitalism is the rich and happy bourgeoisie of Zurich, Switzerland, and my image of socialism is the tens of millions who starved in famines in China, Russia, the Ukraine, Cambodia, North Korea and elsewhere. But that’s not the image of Pope Francis, it’s not the image of Bernie Sanders supporters, and it’s not the image of most intellectuals.

There’s an interesting discussion in the comments following that post.

One commenter said his image of communism is Starship Enterprise.

Another commenter noted that image of communism was produced in California on a soundstage by actors who were working under capitalism, where they only get fired if they don’t do their job, instead of being sent to the prison or worse.

For those with Starship Enterprise view of communism, it would be good for them to know that Communism leaves a major problem unsolved in a world with scarcity — the knowledge problem.



A grasshopper explains why the ants voted for Trump

The latest Harvard Business Review Ideacast (i.e. podcast) features a college professor explaining why she thinks Trump won.

Here’s here take (emphasis added):

The fact is the Democrats almost won. That’s important to keep in mind. But, one of the key reasons they lost is what I call class cluelessness. That among American progressives there has been a very, very insistent focus on the poor, on gender, on race but there has not been a focus on the white working class. That’s the group that in some ways, by some analyses, delivered this election to Trump.

The white working class, it’s very well documented, over decades of studies resents professionals but admires the rich. They feel the people who are more educated are often looking down on them, feel superior to them and I must say, that Hillary’s “deplorables” comment seemed to confirm their worst fears as did Obama’s early comment about some people clinging to their religion and guns.

I don’t really fault these two candidates. I fault the environment that both of them grew out of, which while it has been exquisitely attuned to racial and gender disadvantage, sometime has really been tone deaf to class disadvantage.

This kindles an image in my head of couple old fuddy-duddies trying to explain how kids act these days through the filter of what things were like when they were kids.

Of course she doesn’t fault Clinton and Obama for looking down on the working class, because she interprets the election through the filter of the same ‘environment’ that she says ‘they grew out of’.

As I listened to the podcast, I got the sense that she looks down on them, too.

She thinks in terms of ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’ to classes of people and how the government can balance those out.

The “working class”doesn’t think her way.

They judge folks on their character, work ethic and spunk, not on their class identifiers.

They understand life isn’t fair and government attempts to fix that often results in shifting it or in unintended consequences that may cause more.

They know excuses make it too easy to stop trying and fosters victim mentality for people who are capable.

They know people from all walks for life who have made it. They know the best way to become successful is to encourage the values above and avoid excuses. They know how empowering that is.

They resent professionals because professionals LOOK DOWN ON THEM, like the grasshoppers looked down on the ants in Aesop’s classic fable.

They also feel many professionals simply haven’t earned their status.  .

They admire the rich who earned it with above values and also some gut wrenching risk-taking along the way.

That’s one reason they admire (or maybe tolerate?) Trump. They see him as self-made. Did he have a big loan from Pops? Sure. Despite the grasshoppers’ attempts to use that to discredit the self-made story, the ants didn’t buy it. Why? Because lots of people get loans from pops and blow it. Trump didn’t.

One thing I agreed with this college professor about is Hillary’s ‘deplorables’ comment. That was a glass-shattering moment (How I Met Your Mother TV show reference).

Before that the ants were paying about the same attention to this election as any other.

At that moment they realized — Oh. I see. They think we’re idiots. Sound of glass shattering.

After that, every smug  commentary, unbalanced, hyped news report, crying wolf, condescension from the media, Hollywood and the political class — both left and right — was seen in the newly cleared up world where the ants were no longer oblivious to what the grasshoppers really thought of them.

Make no mistake. They really do think we’re idiots. How about that. 

In my oversimplified explanation of the election results, what I saw wasn’t so much a vote for Trump.

Rather a message sent to both Republicans and Democrats of a desire to return to some basic principles of hard work and taking pride in earning it.


You can’t regulate affordability

The parts of the economy with the least affordability also happen to be the parts of the economy that have the most government involvement.

There are 3 sectors of the economy where prices have consistently outpaced inflation:

  • Health care/health insurance/prescription drugs
  • Housing
  • Education

Check it out.

In other sectors, prices have kept pace or lagged inflation.

Is this correlation or causation? Causation.

The idea that these things are so important that we can’t leave them to the whims of the market is what gets the government involved to begin with.

That causes distortions in the market, which causes problems.

Few recognize those problems were caused by government distortions, so they call for more government involvement, which causes more problems.

The cycle continues. Very rarely, if ever, do we ever revisit the initial root causes of the problems — the initial government involvement — and try to correct those.