Main


July 13, 2014

Harvard Rejects Christensen's Advice to Try Disruptive MOOCs



PorterMichaelHBS2014-06-01.jpg "Harvard Business School faced a choice between different models of online instruction. Prof. Michael Porter favored the development of online courses that would reflect the school's existing strategy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Universities across the country are wrestling with the same question -- call it the educator's quandary -- of whether to plunge into the rapidly growing realm of online teaching, at the risk of devaluing the on-campus education for which students pay tens of thousands of dollars, or to stand pat at the risk of being left behind.

At Harvard Business School, the pros and cons of the argument were personified by two of its most famous faculty members. For Michael Porter, widely considered the father of modern business strategy, the answer is yes -- create online courses, but not in a way that undermines the school's existing strategy. "A company must stay the course," Professor Porter has written, "even in times of upheaval, while constantly improving and extending its distinctive positioning."

For Clayton Christensen, whose 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," propelled him to academic stardom, the only way that market leaders like Harvard (p. 4) Business School survive "disruptive innovation" is by disrupting their existing businesses themselves. This is arguably what rival business schools like Stanford and the Wharton School have been doing by having professors stand in front of cameras and teach MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a modest investment by the school -- about $20,000 to $30,000 a course -- a professor can reach a million students, says Karl Ulrich, vice dean for innovation at Wharton, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Do it cheap and simple," Professor Christensen says. "Get it out there."

But Harvard Business School's online education program is not cheap, simple, or open. It could be said that the school opted for the Porter theory.


. . .


"Harvard is going to make a lot of money," Mr. Ulrich predicted. "They will sell a lot of seats at those courses. But those seats are very carefully designed to be off to the side. It's designed to be not at all threatening to what they're doing at the core of the business school."

Exactly, warned Professor Christensen, who said he was not consulted about the project. "What they're doing is, in my language, a sustaining innovation," akin to Kodak introducing better film, circa 2005. "It's not truly disruptive."


. . .


One morning, [Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria] sat down for one of his regular breakfasts with students. "Three of them had just been in Clay's course," which had included a case study on the future of Harvard Business School, Mr. Nohria said. "So I asked them, 'What was the debate like, and how would you think about this?' They, too, split very deeply."

Some took Professor Christensen's view that the school was a potential Blockbuster Video: a high-cost incumbent -- students put the total cost of the two-year M.B.A. at around $100,0000 -- that would be upended by cheaper technology if it didn't act quickly to make its own model obsolete. At least one suggested putting the entire first-year curriculum online.

Others weren't so sure. " 'This disruption is going to happen,' " is how Mr. Nohria described their thinking, " 'but it's going to happen to a very different segment of business education, not to us.' " The power of Harvard's brand, networking opportunities and classroom experience would protect it from the fate of second- and third-tier schools, a view that even Professor Christensen endorses -- up to a point.

"We're at the very high end of the market, and disruption always hits the high end last," said Professor Christensen, who recently predicted that half of the United States' universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years.



For the full story, see:

JERRY USEEM. "B-School, Disrupted." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., June 1, 2014): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 31, 2014, and has the title "Business School, Disrupted.")


Some of Christensen's thoughts on higher education can be found in:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.



ChristensenClaytonHBS2014-06-01.jpg
















"On the topic of online instruction, Prof. Clayton Christensen said: 'Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






July 3, 2014

Rickenbacker Wasn't the Best Pilot or the Best Shot "but He Could Put More Holes in a Target that Was Shooting Back"



EnduringCourageBK2014-06-03.jpg

















Source of book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9781250033772.jpg



(p. C6) With his unpolished manners, Rickenbacker encountered a good deal of arrogance from the privileged sons of Harvard and Yale, but after he had downed his first five enemies, criticism ceased. About Rickenbacker's killer instinct his colleague Reed McKinley Chambers had this to say: "Eddie wasn't the best pilot in the world. He could not put as many holes in a target that was being towed as I could, but he could put more holes in a target that was shooting back at him than I could."


For the full review, see:

HENRIK BERING. "Daring Done Deliberately." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2014): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 30, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Enduring Courage' by John F. Ross.")


The book under review is:

Ross, John F. Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed. New York: St Martin's Press, 2014.






June 19, 2014

Bowen Receives Standing Ovation for Calling Student Protesters "Immature and Arrogant"



BowenWilliamHaverfordCollegeCommencementSpeaker2014-06-01.jpg






"William Bowen, speaking at Haverford College on Sunday [May 18, 2014], criticized students who staged a protest over another scheduled speaker." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) William Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, criticized students who had objected to Haverford's invitation to Robert Birgeneau, a former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, to speak at commencement.


. . .


"He is a person of consequence," Mr. Bowen said. He said he told students, "If you expect to agree with commencement speakers on everything, then who will you get to speak? Someone totally boring." He added that he also called the subset of students who had objected to Dr. Birgeneau "immature and arrogant."


. . .


Phil Drexler, president of the Haverford Students' Council, said some in the audience were upset but others gave a standing ovation. "I felt validated by the speech because I had wanted to hear Dr. Birgeneau talk," said Mr. Drexler, a graduating physics major. On the plus side, he added, he likely won't soon forget his commencement.

A number of commencement speeches have been derailed by student and faculty protests this graduation season. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, withdrew last week from speaking at Smith College. Similar outcries foiled engagements by former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University and human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis University.



For the full story, see:

NATHAN KOPPEL. "Commencement Speaker Blasts Students on Protest." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 18, 2014, and had the title "Haverford Speaker Bowen Criticizes Students Over Protests.")






June 18, 2014

If Inventors Were Allowed to Educate



(p. 228) Along with the home projector, the company introduced a central clearinghouse for used films, which offered customers a way of replenishing the family's entertainment supply by using the postal service to swap titles with others for a nominal processing fee. Edison, however, wanted to use his projector not for entertainment but for education. For preschoolers, his idea was nothing less than brilliant. For teaching the alphabet, Edison explained in an interview, "suppose, instead of the dull, solemn letters on a board or a card you have a little play going on that the littlest youngster can understand," with actors carrying in letters, hopping, skipping, turning somersaults. "Nothing like action--drama--a play that fascinates the eye to keep the attention keyed up." (A prospectus for Sesame Street could not have made a better case.)


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: italics in original)






June 12, 2014

Bloomberg Blasts University Faculty Intolerance for Conservative Ideas



(p. A11) From former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's commencement address at Harvard University, May 29:

Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn. Intolerance of ideas--whether liberal or conservative--is antithetical to individual rights and free societies, and it is no less antithetical to great universities and first-rate scholarship.

There is an idea floating around college campuses--including here at Harvard--that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There's a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.


. . .


In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.

Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.


. . .


Diversity of gender, ethnicity, and orientation is important. But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous. In fact, the whole purpose of granting tenure to professors is to ensure that they feel free to conduct research on ideas that run afoul of university politics and societal norms.

When tenure was created, it mostly protected liberals whose ideas ran up against conservative norms.

Today, if tenure is going to continue to exist, it must also protect conservatives whose ideas run up against liberal norms. Otherwise, university research--and the professors who conduct it--will lose credibility.

Great universities must not become predictably partisan. And a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism.



For the full commentary, see:

Mike Bloomberg. "Notable & Quotable: Mike Bloomberg at Harvard." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 30, 2014.)






May 31, 2014

When Labor Markets Are Flexible, Workers Need Not Fear New Technology



(p. 6) Driverless vehicles and drone aircraft are no longer science fiction, and over time, they may eliminate millions of transportation jobs. Many other examples of automatable jobs are discussed in "The Second Machine Age," a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and in my own book, "Average Is Over." The upshot is that machines are often filling in for our smarts, not just for our brawn -- and this trend is likely to grow.

How afraid should workers be of these new technologies? There is reason to be skeptical of the assumption that machines will leave humanity without jobs. After all, history has seen many waves of innovation and automation, and yet as recently as 2000, the rate of unemployment was a mere 4 percent. There are unlimited human wants, so there is always more work to be done. The economic theory of comparative advantage suggests that even unskilled workers can gain from selling their services, thereby liberating the more skilled workers for more productive tasks.


. . .


Labor markets just aren't as flexible these days for workers, especially for men at the bottom end of the skills distribution.


. . .


Across the economy, a college degree is often demanded where a high school degree used to suffice.


. . .


The law is yet another source of labor market inflexibility: The number of jobs covered by occupational licensing continues to rise and is almost one-third of the work force. We don't need such laws for, say, barbers or interior designers, although they are commonly on the books.


. . .


Many . . . labor market problems were brought on by the financial crisis and the collapse of market demand. But it would be a mistake to place all the blame on the business cycle. Before the crisis, for example, business executives and owners didn't always know who their worst workers were, or didn't want to engage in the disruptive act of rooting out and firing them. So long as sales were brisk, it was easier to let matters lie. But when money ran out, many businesses had to make the tough decisions -- and the axes fell. The financial crisis thus accelerated what would have been a much slower process.

Subsequently, some would-be employers seem to have discriminated against workers who were laid off in the crash. These judgments weren't always fair, but that stigma isn't easily overcome, because a lot of employers in fact had reason to identify and fire their less productive workers.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN. "Economic View; Automation Alone Isn't Killing Jobs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)



The Brynjolfsson and McAfee book mentioned is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.


The Cowen book that Cowen mentions is:

Cowen, Tyler. Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. New York: Dutton Adult, 2013.






May 11, 2014

Fair Use Doctrine Allows Copying for Educational Purposes



(p. 23) I am a public-school teacher with a limited budget for supplies. Is it unethical to illegally download copyrighted instructional materials for use in my class? BEN L., BROOKLYN

It is not. In fact, it's sometimes not even illegal. In 1976, Congress created copyright exceptions for educational purposes. Copyright law allows "face-to-face" exhibition and presentation of a copyrighted work, assuming the purpose is academic. There is also the doctrine of fair use, which states that copies "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright."

Now, it's worth acknowledging that these guidelines were implemented before downloading a textbook was even possible. And even in an educational setting, using an entire copyrighted work, and thereby diminishing its market potential, might constitute a violation of fair use. But in my opinion, the principles are the same, even if you do violate copyright law: If your sole motive for downloading material is educational (and there is no free or low-cost equivalent that serves your purposes equally well), there should be no problem.



For the full commentary, see:

Chuck Klosterman. "THE ETHICIST; Piracy 101." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 30, 2014): 23.

(Note: italics and bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 28, 2014.)






May 10, 2014

Television Improved Test Scores



GentzkowMatthewChicagoBatesClark2014-04-26.jpg "Economist Matthew Gentzkow found media slant to be a function of audience preference." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A2) An economist known for pioneering work on slanted coverage in the news media won the John Bates Clark Medal, one of the profession's most prestigious honors.

Matthew Gentzkow, a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, on Thursday was awarded the Clark medal by the American Economic Association, which every year honors the nation's most promising economist under age 40.


. . .


A big theme in Mr. Gentzkow's work is finding innovative ways to tackle questions that expand economists' tool kits.

. . . , in 2008, he and Mr. Shapiro examined the fact that different parts of the U.S. got access to television at different times to gauge TV's effects on high-school students in the 1960s.

The economists found that children who lived in cities that gave them more exposure to TV in early childhood performed better on tests than those with less exposure. The work also suggested TV helped American children in non-English-speaking households do better in school.



For the full story, see:

NEIL SHAH. "Economist Honored for Work on Media Slant." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2014.)


The Gentzkow and Shapiro paper on the effects of television, is:

Gentzkow, Matthew, and Jesse M. Shapiro. "Preschool Television Viewing and Adolescent Test Scores: Historical Evidence from the Coleman Study." Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 1 (Feb. 2008): 279-323.






April 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College



HarboeLouisYoungTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg



"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.


. . .


Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."



For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)






March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 11, 2014

Khan's Cousins Liked Him Better on YouTube than in Person



KhanSalmanAtKhanAcademy2014-03-03.jpg "Salman Khan at the offices of Khan Academy, which reaches more than 10 million users. Bill Gates invested in the school." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D5) In 2008, Salman Khan, then a young hedge-fund analyst with a master's in computer science from M.I.T., started the Khan Academy, offering free online courses mainly in the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Today the free electronic schoolhouse reaches more than 10 million users around the world, with more than 5,000 courses, and the approach has been widely admired and copied. I spoke with Mr. Khan, 37, for more than two hours, in person and by telephone. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversations.


. . .


Did you have background as a math educator?

No, though I've had a passion for math my whole life. It got me to M.I.T. and enabled me to get multiple degrees in math and engineering. Long story shortened: Nadia got through what she thought she couldn't. Soon word got around the family that "free tutoring" was going on, and I found myself working on the phone with about 15 cousins.

To make it manageable, I hacked together a website where my cousins could go to practice problems and I could suggest things for them to work on. When I'd tutor them over the telephone, I'd use Yahoo Doodle, a program that was part of Yahoo Messenger, so they could visualize the calculations on their computers while we talked.

The Internet videos started two years later when a friend asked, "How are you scaling your lessons?" I said, "I'm not." He said, "Why don't you make some videos of the tutorials and post them on YouTube?" I said, "That's a horrible idea. YouTube is for cats playing piano."

Still, I gave it try. Soon my cousins said they liked me more on YouTube than in person. They were really saying that they found my explanations more valuable when they could have them on demand and where no one would judge them. And soon many people who were not my cousins were watching. By 2008, I was reaching tens of thousands every month.

Youtube is a search engine where producers can upload short videos at no cost. Would the Khan Academy have been possible without this technology?

No. Before YouTube, the cost of hosting streaming videos was incredibly expensive. I wouldn't have been able to afford the server space for that much video -- or traffic. That said, I was probably the 500th person to show up on YouTube with educational videos. Our success probably had to do with the technology being ready and the fact that my content resonated with users.



For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A Conversation With Salman Khan; It All Started With a 12-Year-Old Cousin." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 28, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original; the first two paragraphs, and the bold questions, are Claudia Dreifus; the other paragraphs are Salman Khan.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date JAN. 27, 2014.)






February 27, 2014

Fired Dissident Xia Yeliang Warns that Chinese Universities Do Not Value Academic Freedom



XiaYeliangFiredPekingEconomist2014-02-21.jpg "Xia Yeliang in New Jersey. Professor Xia, whose firing by Peking University provoked an outcry, is joining the Cato Institute." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) A Chinese dissident, dismissed from his job as an economics professor at Peking University after clashes with his government over liberalization, will become a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute on Monday, he said.

In an interview on Friday, the dissident, Xia Yeliang, warned that American universities should be careful about partnerships with Chinese universities. "They use the reputations of Western universities to cover their own scandals," he said.

"Perhaps Western universities do not realize that Chinese universities do not have the basic value of academic freedom, and try to use Western universities to cover their bad side," Professor Xia added.



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Chinese Dissident Lands at Institute With a Caution to Colleges." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014, and has the title "Chinese Dissident Lands at Cato Institute With a Caution to Colleges.")






January 27, 2014

The Use of Note Cards to Structure Writing



(p. A21) I tell college students that by the time they sit down at the keyboard to write their essays, they should be at least 80 percent done. That's because "writing" is mostly gathering and structuring ideas.

For what it's worth, I structure geographically. I organize my notes into different piles on the rug in my living room. Each pile represents a different paragraph in my column. The piles can stretch on for 10 feet to 16 feet, even for a mere 806-word newspaper piece. When "writing," I just pick up a pile, synthesize the notes into a paragraph, set them aside and move on to the next pile. If the piece isn't working, I don't try to repair; I start from scratch with the same topic but an entirely new structure.

The longtime New Yorker writer John McPhee wonderfully described his process in an essay just called "Structure." For one long article, McPhee organized his notecards on a 32-square-foot piece of plywood. He also describes the common tension between chronology and theme (my advice: go with chronology). His structures are brilliant, but they far too complex for most of us. The key thing is he lets you see how a really fine writer thinks about the core problem of writing, which takes place before the actual writing.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards, Part 2." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)


The article praised by Brooks is:

McPhee, John. "Structure." The New Yorker (Jan. 14, 2013): 46-55.






January 16, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell, on Harvard, Rings True to Debbie Sterling



SterlingDebbieGoldieBlox2013-12-29.jpg









Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox entrepreneur. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


















(p. 2) Debbie Sterling is the founder and chief executive of GoldieBlox, a toy company dedicated to encouraging girls' interest in engineering and construction.


READING I just started "David and Goliath," by Malcolm Gladwell. He has some really interesting statistics about how at the top-tier universities like Stanford and Harvard, freshmen who go into engineering often fall out versus if those same students had gone to a second-tier school, they would have been in the top of their class and therefore would have stayed in. It really spoke to me because I was definitely one of those engineering students at Stanford who constantly felt like I was surrounded by geniuses. I was intimidated, but I stayed because I am just so stubborn.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "DOWNLOAD; Debbie Sterling." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., December 22, 2013): 2.

(Note: bold in original, indicating that what follows are the words of Debbie Sterling.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date December 21, 2013.)


Book that "spoke to" Sterling:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






December 28, 2013

Carnegie Objected to $2 a Year Fee to Use Private Library



(p. 44) The story of Andy Carnegie defeating the villainous adults played well in his Autobiography and the biographies that drew from it, but there is another side to the tale which we should not neglect. The Anderson Library was not a free public library, funded by the city, but a subscription library, which relied in great part on the support of its patrons.* Although "working boys" should, as he had argued, have been allowed to borrow books without paying the two-dollar subscription fee, Andy Carnegie, six months from his eighteenth birthday, was hardly a "working boy." He held a man's job and received a man's pay of twenty-five dollars a month. Was it unreasonable for the librarians to ask him to contribute a two-dollar annual subscription fee to keep the library from having to close its doors for the third time in its young history?

Andy thought so. With a talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns, he made a premature case for free public libraries.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 12, 2013

Carnegie Attended a Private School Where Teacher Was an Entrepreneur



(p. 15) At the age of eight, Andra had begun attending school. Although he implies in his Autobiography that it had been his decision to put off school until then, eight, in fact, was the age at which most Scottish boys entered the classroom. There were numerous schools in Dunfermline in the early 1840s, thirty-three of them to be exact, almost half endowed or supported by the kirk (church) or the municipality. Andra was sent to one of the "adventure" schools, so called because they were started up and supported "entirely on the teachers' own adventure."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






October 12, 2013

"Professors Have Lost the Courage of Their Own Passions, Depriving Their Students of the Fire of Inspiration"



WhyTeachBK2013-10-04.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.




(p. C4) Mr. Edmundson loves to teach, but he hates the conditions under which much teaching takes place today, even at an elite university like Virginia.


. . .


He knows the studies showing that students spend less time than ever on their classwork, and he writes of an implicit pact between undergraduates and professors in which teachers give high grades and thin assignments, and students reward them with positive evaluations. After all, given all the other amenities available through the university, the idea that "the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd."


. . .


Mr. Edmundson worries that too many professors have lost the courage of their own passions, depriving their students of the fire of inspiration.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL S. ROTH. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; How Four Years Can (and Should) Transform You." The New York Times (Weds., August 21, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 20, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Edmundson, Mark. Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013.






October 6, 2013

Former Economics of Entrepreneurship and Economics of Technology Student Luis López Voted Crowd Favorite at Straight Shot Startup Accelerator Demo Day



LopezLuisPitchesCardioSys2013-10-05.jpg "Luis López pitches his startup, CardioSys, to investors during Demo Day at Aksarben Cinema this week. The event was the culmination of a 90-day Straight Shot startup accelerator program that offered new companies networking opportunities, advisers and investment dollars. Seven startups were in the inaugural accelerator class." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


Luis López, the entrepreneur who is featured in the article quoted below, was a student of mine in both my Economics of Entrepreneurship and my Economics of Technology seminars (and before that, in micro principles). I cannot say that I taught him everything he knows, but it appears that I did not do him much harm.


(p. 1D) The same day Luis López and his brother, Danny, were accepted into Omaha's Straight Shot startup accelerator for their new company, corporate America called.

The 25-year-old Central High grad had received a job offer from Gallup. But he turned it down, choosing to take an entrepreneurial risk over a predictable salary and benefits.

"I can always apply for a job in the corporate world," he said, but it's not every day that one's company is accepted into an accelerator program that offers $20,000 in investment, more than 300 mentors and more than $75,000 in in-kind services.

The risk paid off, López said last week as the 90-day program wrapped up. The López brothers' startup, CardioSys -- which uses predictive analytics to calculate a person's risk of developing conditions like heart disease and diabetes based on factors such as age, blood pressure and lipid profiles -- came out of the program with a group of nine advisers.


. . .


(p. 2D) Luis López said CardioSys is hoping to land some investment in the next month or two, and is now looking at applying for a short-term health industry-focused incubator program in California, which the founders were connected with via Straight Shot.

In the long term, however, López said that with its strong community of medical and insurance providers, Omaha is CardioSys' home. At Demo Day, the startup was voted crowd favorite. "I was surprised. It's an honor to have people excited about what we're doing," he said.



For the full story, see:

Paige Yowell. "Straight Shot at Success; Accelerator's First Startups Make Their Pitches." Omaha World-Herald (SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2013): 1D & 2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Straight Shot Accelerator's First Startups Make Their Pitches.")




LopezLuisCoFounderCardioSys2013-10-05.jpg






"Luis Lopez, who with his brother Danny Lopez, created CardioSys, gives his pitch at Demo Day." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.







September 23, 2013

Montessori Taught Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Always Ask Questions



(p. 122) "Their attitude is just like, 'We're Montessori kids,'" said Mayer. "We've been trained and programmed to question authority."

Thus it wasn't surprising to see that attitude as the foundation of Google's culture. "Why aren't there dogs at work?" asked Marissa, parroting the never-ending Nerdish Inquisition conducted by her bosses. "Why aren't there toys at work? Why aren't snacks free? Why? Why? Why?"

"I think there's some truth to that," says Larry Page, who spent his preschool and first elementary school years at Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan. "I'm always asking questions, and Sergey and I both have this."

Brin wound up in Montessori almost by chance. When he was six, recently emigrated from the Soviet Union, the Paint Branch Montessori (p. 123) School in Adelphi, Maryland, was the closest private school. "We wanted to place Sergey in a private school to ease up his adaptation to the new life, new language, new friends," wrote his mother, Eugenia Brin, in 2009. "We did not know much about the Montessori method, but it turned out to be rather crucial for Sergey's development. It provided a basis for independent thinking and a hands-on approach to life."

"Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule," says Brin. "It was a pretty fun, playful environment-- as is this."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 19, 2013

Key to Google: "Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids"



(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google's new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. "You can't understand Google," she said, "unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids."

"Montessori" refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.

(p. 122) "It's really ingrained in their personalities," she said. "To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They're always asking 'Why should it be like that?' It's the way their brains were programmed early on."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed name added.)






September 2, 2013

Jeb Bush Reads Clayton Christensen on His Kindle



BushJebCaricature2013-08-12.jpg














Jeb Bush. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




Clayton Christensen is a kindred spirit: he cares about making the world a better place through innovation in free markets. He research is almost always thought-provoking, and sometimes highly illuminating. So it speaks well of Jeb Bush that he has the good judgement to be reading one of Christensen's books on education.


(p. A11) Currently [Bush is] reading "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns" -- on his Kindle electronic reader.


For the full interview, see:

FRED BARNES. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with JEB BUSH; Republicans Must Be a National Party Florida's former governor on immigration, school choice, and the GOP's limited-government foundation." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 14, 2009): A11.

(Note: words in brackets added.)


The Christensen book mentioned on education, is:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

(Note: a revised edition of the book appeared in 2011.)






August 22, 2013

"We Just Begged and Borrowed" for Equipment



(p. 32) Google was handling as many as 10,000 queries a day. At times it was consuming half of Stanford's Internet capacity. Its appetite for equipment and bandwidth was voracious. "We just begged and borrowed," says Page. "There were tons of computers around, and we managed to get some." Page's dorm room was essentially Google's operations center, with a motley assortment of computers from various manufacturers stuffed into a homemade version of a server rack-- a storage cabinet made of Legos. Larry and Sergey would hang around the loading dock to see who on campus was getting computers-- companies like Intel and Sun gave lots of free machines to Stanford to curry favor with employees of the future-- (p. 33) and then the pair would ask the recipients if they could share some of the bounty.

That still wasn't enough. To store the millions of pages they had crawled, the pair had to buy their own high-capacity disk drives. Page, who had a talent for squeezing the most out of a buck, found a place that sold refurbished disks at prices so low-- a tenth of the original cost-- that something was clearly wrong with them. "I did the research and figured out that they were okay as long as you replaced the [disk] operating system," he says. "We got 120 drives, about nine gigs each. So it was about a terabyte of space." It was an approach that Google would later adopt in building infrastructure at low cost.

Larry and Sergey would be sitting by the monitor, watching the queries-- at peak times, there would be a new one every second-- and it would be clear that they'd need even more equipment. What next? they'd ask themselves. Maybe this is real.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






August 18, 2013

Excite Rejected Google Because It Was too Good



(p. 28) Maybe the closest Page and Brin came to a deal was with Excite, a search-based company that had begun-- just like Yahoo-- with a bunch of sharp Stanford kids whose company was called Architext before the venture capitalists (VCs) got their hands on it and degeekified the name. Terry Winograd, Sergey's adviser, accompanied them to a meeting with Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who had funded Excite.


. . .


(p. 29) Khosla made a tentative counteroffer of $ 750,000 total. But the deal never happened. Hassan recalls a key meeting that might have sunk it. Though Excite had been started by a group of Stanford geeks very much like Larry and Sergey, its venture capital funders had demanded they hire "adult supervision," the condescending term used when brainy geeks are pushed aside as top executives and replaced by someone more experienced and mature, someone who could wear a suit without looking as though he were attending his Bar Mitzvah. The new CEO was George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive. Years later, Hassan would still laugh when he described the meeting between the BackRub team and Bell. When the team got to Bell's office, it fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in the other for a bake-off.

The first query they tested was "Internet." According to Hassan, Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that told you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site--" stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time-- using BackRub's technology would be (p. 30) counterproductive. "He told us he wanted Excite's search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines," says Hassan. And we were like, "Wow, these guys don't know what they're talking about."

Hassan says that he urged Larry and Sergey right then, in early 1997, to leave Stanford and start a company. "Everybody else was doing it," he says. "I saw Hotmail and Netscape doing really well. Money was flowing into the Valley. So I said to them, 'The search engine is the idea. We should do this.' They didn't think so. Larry and Sergey were both very adamant that they could build this search engine at Stanford."

"We weren't ... in an entrepreneurial frame of mind back then," Sergey later said.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis in last sentence, in original.)






July 21, 2013

Students Learn More in Air Conditioning



(p. 5) My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan's P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June's end -- roughly 17 percent of the school year -- the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.

Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day's end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.

It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It's absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.


. . .


Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. . . . A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.


. . .


It isn't just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can't seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.

Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.

We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won't be effective if schools are ovens.



For the full commentary, see:

SARA MOSLE. "SCHOOLING; Schools Are Not Cool." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 2, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2013.)






June 23, 2013

Remedial Ed Does Not Remediate



(p. C4) Two economists looked at the achievements of 453,000 students who took a basic-skills test upon entering both two- and four-year public colleges in Texas in the 1990s. . . .

. . . the authors focused on the 93,000 students who either barely passed or barely failed the test. Those students, with nearly identical skills, got treated very differently: Most who barely failed took remedial courses; most who barely passed took college-level courses.

But there was no difference in subsequent achievement between those two groups. In fact, students who got remedial help were slightly less likely to finish one year of college. The study found no effects of remediation on income seven years after starting college.



For the full story, see:

CHRISTOPHER SHEA. "Week in Ideas; Education; Remedial Ed Needs Help." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The article summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Martorell, Paco, and Isaac McFarlin, Jr. "Help or Hindrance? The Effects of College Remediation on Academic and Labor Market Outcomes." Review of Economics and Statistics 93, no. 2 (May 2011): 436-54.






June 22, 2013

Self-Taught Ovshinsky Created New Field in Physics and Licensed His Patents



OvshinskyStanfordSelfTaughtInventorPhysicist2013-06-21.jpg














"Stanford Ovshinsky helped to establish a new field of physics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.



(p. B5) Inspired by the structure of the brain, Stanford Ovshinsky created a new class of semiconductors that helped lead to flat-panel displays, solar cells and nickel-metal hydride batteries for cars, laptops and cameras.

Mr. Ovshinsky, who died Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at age 89, was an industrialist and self-taught scientific prodigy who helped found a new field of physics that studies the electronics of amorphous materials resembling glass.


. . .


"It was like discovering a new continent, like discovering America," said Hellmut Fritzsche, former chairman of physics department at the University of Chicago who worked with Mr. Ovshinsky. "Nobody in the past 50-60 years has created such a revolution in science."

The new materials--dubbed ovonics--were switches like transistors but worked better for many applications.

Mr. Ovshinsky used his discovery to fund a publicly traded research laboratory that teamed up with companies such as 3M Co., Atlantic Richfield Oil Corp. and General Motors, for which he developed the battery that powered the EV1, GM's electric car.

Companies around the world license his patents.

What made Mr. Ovshinsky's work particularly remarkable was that he had little connection to mainstream physics.

His education stopped after high school, . . .



For the full obituary, see:

STEPHEN MILLER. "Stanford Ovshinsky 1922-2012; An Inventor of Chips and Batteries." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., October 19, 2012): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date October 18, 2012.)






June 14, 2013

Federal Food Regs Drive Sharon Penner to Stop Baking for Nebraska Children



PennerSharonSlicesHerBakedBread2013-06-11.jpg "Sharon Penner slices fresh bread, which she bakes a few times a week for Hampton, Neb., students. Penner, who has fed the town's schoolchildren for 43 years, saw new school nutrition rules that cut many of her goodies as a sign it was time to retire. With her in the school kitchen is assistant Judy Hitzemann." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Have we gone too far when the preferences of Michelle Obama rule over the preferences of the parents of Hampton, Nebraska? And is it clear that the parents are wrong in thinking that fresh-baked bread (see photo above) and a timely pat on the shoulder (see photo below), are worth some extra calories?



(p. 1A) HAMPTON, Neb. -- Blame the broccoli. Blame the mandarin oranges. Blame all their cousins, from apples to yams, for removing Mrs. Penner's butter bars from the school lunch counter.

Then blame Mrs. Obama for removing Mrs. Penner.

So goes the thinking in this no-stoplight village of 423 people about 20 minutes northwest of York.

When the new federal school nutrition mandates went into effect this year, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, fresh-baked brownies, cookies and other sugary goodies disappeared from the school menu. And Sharon Penner, who has been feeding schoolchildren here for 43 years, decided it was a sign from above to retire.

Friday [May 17, 2013] will be the last school lunch the 70-year-old prepares for the Hampton Hawks.

Mrs. Penner is hanging up her apron.

"She is?" asked an incredulous sixth-grader named Treavar Pekar. (p. 2A) He stopped cold from scrubbing some of the six tables in the small cafeteria when I broke the news after lunch.

"NOOOOO!!!!!"

That about sums up the community response.



For the full story, see:

Grace, Erin. "Time to Hang Up Her Purple Apron." Omaha World-Herald (FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2013): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Grace: Hampton lunch lady ready to hang up apron.")




PennerSharonComfortsBryceJoseph2013-06-11.jpg "Sharon Penner with Bryce Joseph, who needed some help after dropping his breakfast tray." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.






June 6, 2013

Faculty Unions Oppose MOOCs that Might Cost Them Their Jobs in Five to Seven Years



ThrunSabastianUdacityCEO2013-05-14.jpg "Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford, is Udacity's chief executive officer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education: giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.


. . .


Here at San Jose State, . . . , two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

"We're in Silicon Valley, we (p. A3) breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this," said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president. "In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn't work the first time, we'll figure out what went wrong and do better."


. . .


Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity's for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.

"There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls," he said. "And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include."


. . .


Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes.


. . .


"Our ego always runs ahead of us, making us think we can do it better than anyone else in the world," Dr. Ghadiri said. "But why should we invent the wheel 10,000 times? This is M.I.T., No. 1 school in the nation -- why would we not want to use their material?"

There are, he said, two ways of thinking about what the MOOC revolution portends: "One is me, me, me -- me comes first. The other is, we are not in this business for ourselves, we are here to educate students."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden." The New York Times (Tues., April 30, 2013): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 29, 2013.)



KormanikKatieUdacityStudent2013-05-14.jpg "Katie Kormanik preparing to record a statistics course at Udacity, an online classroom instruction provider in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 30, 2013

MOOCs "Will Really Scale" Once Credible Credentialing Process Is Mastered




A "MOOC" is a "massive open online course."


(p. 1) Last May I wrote about Coursera -- co-founded by the Stanford computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng -- just after it opened. Two weeks ago, I went back out to Palo Alto to check in on them. When I visited last May, about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. Today, they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.

Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.'s artificial intelligence lab, is now president of edX, a nonprofit MOOC that M.I.T. and Harvard are jointly building. Agarwal told me that since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX's first course: an M.I.T. intro class on circuits. "That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history," he said.


. . .


(p. 11) As we look to the future of higher education, said the M.I.T. president, L. Rafael Reif, something that we now call a "degree" will be a concept "connected with bricks and mortar" -- and traditional on-campus experiences that will increasingly leverage technology and the Internet to enhance classroom and laboratory work. Alongside that, though, said Reif, many universities will offer online courses to students anywhere in the world, in which they will earn "credentials" -- certificates that testify that they have done the work and passed all the exams. The process of developing credible credentials that verify that the student has adequately mastered the subject -- and did not cheat -- and can be counted on by employers is still being perfected by all the MOOCs. But once it is, this phenomenon will really scale.

I can see a day soon where you'll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world -- some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh -- paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment. "There is a new world unfolding," said Reif, "and everyone will have to adapt."



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "Revolution Hits the Universities." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., January 27, 2013): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 26, 2013.)






April 27, 2013

Missouri Teachers Trained to Defend School with Guns



SydowAaronPrincipalFaiviewSchool2013-04-26.jpg "Aaron Sydow, the principal of Fairview School in West Plains, Mo., monitoring the halls. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the Fairview school board authorized paid training for staff members so that they could be armed." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) WEST PLAINS, Mo. -- At 8:30 on a cloudy, frigid morning late last month in this folksy Ozark town, the superintendent of an area school strolled through the glass doors of the local newspaper office to deliver a news release.

Hours later, the content of that release produced a front-page headline in The West Plains Daily Quill that caught residents off guard: "At Fairview School Some Employees Now Carry Concealed Weapons."

That was how most parents of Fairview students learned that the school had trained some of its staff members to carry weapons, and the reaction was loud -- and mostly gleeful.

"Sooo very glad to hear this," a woman whose grandchildren attend Fairview posted on the Facebook page of The Quill, adding, "All schools in America should do this."




For the full story, see:

JOHN ELIGON. "Rat Kidneys Made in Lab Point to Aid for Humans." The New York Times (Mon., April 15, 2013): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 14, 2013.)






April 17, 2013

Chagnon Enraged Cultural Anthropologists By Showing Tribal Violence



NobleSavagesBK2013-04-05.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/n/noble-savages/9780684855103_custom-4deac679a847f1d6e7d64424b01d0be54b54e3a7-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C) In the 1960s, cultural anthropologists led by Marvin Harris argued that conflict among prestate people was mostly over access to scarce protein. Dr. Chagnon disputed this, arguing that Yanomamo Indians' chief motive for raiding and fighting--which they did a great deal--seemed to be to abduct, recover or avenge the abduction of women. He even claimed that Indian men who had killed people ("unokais") had more wives and more children than men who had not killed, thus gaining a Darwinian advantage.

Such claims could not have been more calculated to enrage the presiding high priests of cultural anthropology, slaughtering as it did at least three sacred cows of the discipline: that uncontacted tribal people were peaceful, that Darwinism had nothing to say about human behavior and culture, and that material resources were the cause of conflict.


. . .


Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon's way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes's "war of each against all" looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage," though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 26, 2013): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 25, 2013.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Chagnon book that Ridley is discussing:

Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






April 13, 2013

Academia Rejected Maslow's Humanistic Psychology



EncounteringAmericaBK2013-04-05.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/9/9780061834769.jpg


(p. 23) Abraham Maslow, humanistic psychology's founding father, rejected the atomistic approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism that dominated the first half of the 20th century. He strove to develop a psychology that provided "a fuller, though still scientific, treatment of the individual" and understood the potential for growth as innate. His ideas got their most welcome reception from industrial management, to which Maslow retreated when academia failed to roll out the red carpet. But Grogan eloquently insists that humanistic psychology subtly revolutionized Americans' conception of the self and the role of therapy, and asserts that current trends in the field, like positive psychology, owe the theory a debt they have been reluctant to pay.


For the full review, see:

MEGAN BUSKEY. "Nonfiction Chronicle." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Grogan, Jessica. Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.






April 4, 2013

Scientists May Be Double-Dipping in Multiple Grants for Same Project



(p. D) The government may be wasting millions of dollars by paying for the same research projects twice, according to a new analysis of grant and contract records.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and Duke University compared more than 600,000 grant summaries issued to federal agencies since 1985. What they found was almost $70 million that might have been spent on projects that were already at least partly financed. The results were published in the journal Nature.



For the full story, see:

DOUGLAS QUENQUA. "Study Flags Duplicate Financing." The New York Times (Sat., February 5, 2013): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)



The research summarized above, can be found in:

Garner, Harold R., Lauren J. McIver, and Michael B. Waitzkin. "Research Funding: Same Work, Twice the Money?" Nature 493, no. 7434 (Jan. 31, 2013): 599-601.






February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education



(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






February 14, 2013

Arne Duncan Endorses Christensen's Disruption of All Levels of Education



DisruptingClassAndChristensen2013-01-11.jpg

Source of book image and photo of Christensen: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/12/1215_best_design_books/image/disruptingclass.jpg



(p. C6) Clayton Christensen is a provocative thinker, and I have been greatly influenced by his work on disruptive innovation and how it can transform education.


For the full review essay, see:

Arne Duncan (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Duncan's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



Christensen's books suggesting disruptive innovations for education are:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. updated ed. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.






February 9, 2013

Ending College Affirmative Action Would Only Cause Minor Lowering in Black Admissions



(p. 113) This research examines the determinants of the match between high school seniors and postsecondary institutions in the United States. I model college application decisions as a nonsequential search problem and specify a unified structural model of college application, admission, and matriculation decisions that are all functions of unobservable individual heterogeneity. The results indicate that black and Hispanic representation at all 4-year colleges is predicted to decline modestly--by 2%--if race-neutral college admissions policies are mandated nationwide. However, race-neutral admissions are predicted to decrease minority representation at the most selective 4-year institutions by 10%.


Source of abstract:

Howell, Jessica S. "Assessing the Impact of Eliminating Affirmative Action in Higher Education." Journal of Labor Economics 28, no. 1 (January 2010): 113-66.





January 9, 2013

UnCollege Seeks "to Open People's Minds to a Different Set of Opportunities"



StephensDaleUnCollegeFounder2013-01-01.jpg











"Dale J. Stephens, who founded UnCollege." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) BENJAMIN GOERING does not look like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, talk like him or inspire the same controversy. But he does apparently think like him.

Two years ago, Mr. Goering was a sophomore at the University of Kansas, studying computer science and philosophy and feeling frustrated in crowded lecture halls where the professors did not even know his name.

"I wanted to make Web experiences," said Mr. Goering, now 22, and create "tools that make the lives of others better."

So in the spring of 2010, Mr. Goering took the same leap as Mr. Zuckerberg: he dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco to make his mark. He got a job as a software engineer at a social-software company, Livefyre, run by a college dropout, where the chief technology officer at the time and a lead engineer were also dropouts. None were sheepish about their lack of a diploma. Rather, they were proud of their real-life lessons on the job.

"Education isn't a four-year program," Mr. Goering said. "It's a mind-set."

The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated (p. 16) to "hacking" higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Risky? Perhaps. But it worked for the founders of Twitter, Tumblr and a little company known as Apple.

When Mr. Goering was wrestling with his decision, he woke up every morning to a ringtone mash-up that blended electronic tones with snippets of Steve Jobs's 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, in which he advised, "love what you do," "don't settle." Mr. Goering took that as a sign.

"It's inspiring that his dropping out basically had no effect, positive or negative, on the work and company and values he could create," he said of the late Apple co-founder.

In that oft-quoted address, Mr. Jobs called his decision to drop out of Reed College "one of the best decisions I ever made." Mr. Jobs's "think different" approach to education (backpacking through India, dining with Hare Krishnas) is portrayed in countless hagiographies as evidence of his iconoclastic genius.


. . .


. . . Dale J. Stephens, [is] the founder of a group called UnCollege that champions "more meaningful" alternatives to college. . . .


. . .


UnCollege advocates a D.I.Y. approach to higher education and spreads the message through informational "hackademic camps." "Hacking," in the group's parlance, can involve any manner of self-directed learning: travel, volunteer work, organizing collaborative learning groups with friends. Students who want to avoid $200,000 in student-loan debt might consider enrolling in a technology boot camp, where you can learn to write code in 8 to 10 weeks for about $10,000, Mr. Stephens said.

THEY can also nourish their minds from a growing menu of Internet classrooms, including the massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which stream classes from elite universities like Princeton. This guerrilla approach hits home with young people who came of age seeking out valuable content free on Napster and BitTorrent.

Mr. Stephens, a dropout from Hendrix College in Arkansas (he later earned a Thiel Fellowship), started UnCollege less than two years ago, and already its Web site attracts 20,000 unique visitors a month. "I get on scale of 10 to 15 e-mails a day from people who say something along lines of, 'I thought I was the only one out there who thought about education like this, I don't feel crazy anymore,' " he said.


. . .


The goal is not to foment for a mass exodus from the ivy halls, Mr. Stephens said, but to open people's minds to a different set of opportunities.



For the full story, see:

ALEX WILLIAMS. "The Old College Try? No Way." The New York Times (Sun., December 2, 2012): 1 & 16.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "is" were added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 30, 2012, and has the title "Saying No to College.")






January 8, 2013

When Professors "Are Fearful, Hesitant, and Foolish" and When They "Screech, Snarl, and Spit"



(p. 243) "It is hardly possible to take very seriously any of the professoriate all of the time or most of them most of the time. They commonly are fearful, hesitant, and foolish when confronted by complex real issues and aggressive enemies, but they tend to screech, snarl, and spit when they perceive their territory, reputation, and perquisites to be threatened. They can pose as being valiant and principled, but they are inclined to disperse and camouflage themselves upon hearing the first volleys of significant battle."


Source:

Distinguished UCLA economist William R. Allen from an interview with Daniel B. Klein as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 25, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 239-46.


For the full article/interview, see:

Allen, William R. "A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA." Econ Journal Watch 7, no. 3 (September 2010): 205-34.






December 29, 2012

Debating Grammar: "Think Different" or "Think Differently"



(p. 329) They debated the grammatical issue: If "different" was supposed to modify the verb "think," it should be an adverb, as in "think dif-(p. 330)ferently." But Jobs insisted that he wanted "different" to be used as a noun, as in "think victory" or "think beauty." Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in "think big." Jobs later explained, "We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It's grammatical, if you think about what we're trying to say. It's not think the same, it's think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. 'Think differently' wouldn't hit the meaning for me."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 26, 2012

Students Protest (and Toss) Federally Mandated "Healthy" ("Gross") Food



GarbageCanVegetables2012-12-18.jpg "Lunch hour at Middle School 104 in Manhattan, where, on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Outside Pittsburgh, they are proclaiming a strike, taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In a village near Milwaukee, hundreds staged a boycott. In a small farming and ranching community in western Kansas, they have produced a parody video. And in Parsippany, N.J., the protest is six days old and counting.

They are high school students, and their complaint is about lunch -- healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

Because the lunches must now include fruits and vegetables, those who clamor for more cheese-laden nachos may find string beans and a peach cup instead. Because of limits on fat and sodium, some of those who crave French fries get baked sweet-potato wedges. Because of calorie restrictions, meat and carbohydrate portions are smaller. Gone is 2-percent chocolate milk, replaced by skim.

"Before, there was no taste and no flavor," said Malik Barrows, a senior at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, who likes fruit but said his classmates threw away their mandatory helpings on the cafeteria floor. "Now there's no taste, no flavor and it's healthy, which makes it taste even worse."

Students organized lunch strikes in a suburb of Pittsburgh, where in late August the hashtag "brownbagginit" was trending on Twitter, and outside Milwaukee, where the Mukwonago High School principal, Shawn McNulty, said participation in the lunch program had fallen 70 percent.


. . .


(p. A3) In Sharon Springs, Kan., lunch protesters at Wallace County High School posted a video on YouTube, "We Are Hungry"; in it, students faint in the hallways and during physical education class, acting as if they had been done in by meager helpings of potato puff casserole and chicken nuggets. To the tune of the song "We Are Young" by Fun, one student on the video sings, "My friends are at the corner store, getting junk so they don't waste away."

Since it was uploaded three weeks ago, "We Are Hungry" has had nearly 900,000 views.

Callahan Grund, a junior who stars in the video, said, "My opinion as a young farmer and rancher is that we produced this protein and it's not being used to its full advantage." He wakes up early every morning to do chores, stays after school for two hours of football practice and returns home for another round of chores. If it were not for the lunches his mother now packs him, he said, he would be hungry again just two hours after lunch.

In New York City, where school officials introduced whole-wheat breads, low-fat milk and other changes several years ago, the most noticeable change this year is the fruit and vegetable requirement, which has resulted in some waste, according to Eric Goldstein, the Education Department official who oversees food services. It is not hard to see why. At Middle School 104 in Gramercy Park on Friday, several seventh graders pronounced vegetables "gross."

"I just throw them out," said Danielson Gutierrez, 12, carrying a slice of pizza, which he had liberally sprinkled with seasonings, and a pear. He also offered his opinion on fruit: "I throw them out, too. I only like apples."



For the full story, see:

VIVIAN YEE. "No Appetite for Good-for-You School Lunches." The New York Times (Sat., October 6, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 5, 2012.)


LunchYouTubeParody2012-12-18.jpg "Dissatisfied with healthier school lunches, some Kansas students made a video parody." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 23, 2012

Internet Posting May Be Replacing Peer Reviewed Publishing



The article quoted below provides additional signs that institutions of knowledge production and dissemination may be changing in important ways. (Wikipedia is another, even bigger, sign.)


(p. 635) Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the fraction of papers in top economics journals written by economists from the highest-ranked economics departments. This paper documents this fact and uses additional data on publications and citations to assess various potential explanations. Several observations are consistent with the hypothesis that the Internet improves the ability of high-profile authors to disseminate their research without going through the traditional peer-review process.


Source:

Ellison, Glenn. "Is Peer Review in Decline?" Economic Inquiry 49, no. 3 (July 2011): 635-57.






December 10, 2012

With Scorned Ideas, and Without College, Inventor and Entrepreneur "Ovshinsky Prevailed"



OvshinskyStanfordAndiris2012-12-01.jpg









"Stanford R. Ovshinsky and Iris M. Ovshinsky founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in 1960." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.




(p. A23) Stanford R. Ovshinsky, an iconoclastic, largely self-taught and commercially successful scientist who invented the nickel-metal hydride battery and contributed to the development of a host of devices, including solar energy panels, flat-panel displays and rewritable compact discs, died on Wednesday [October 17, 2012] at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 89.


. . .


His ideas drew only scorn and skepticism at first. He was an unknown inventor with unconventional ideas, a man without a college education who made his living designing automation equipment for the automobile industry in Detroit, far from the hotbeds of electronics research like Silicon Valley and Boston.

But Mr. Ovshinsky prevailed. Industry eventually credited him for the principle that small quantities or thin films of amorphous materials exposed to a charge can instantly reorganize their structures into semicrystalline forms capable of carrying significant current.


. . .


In 1960, he and his second wife, the former Iris L. Miroy, founded Energy Conversion Laboratories in Rochester Hills, Mich., to develop practical products from the discovery. It was renamed Energy Conversion Devices four years later.

Energy Conversion Devices and its subsidiaries, spinoff companies and licensees began translating Mr. Ovshinsky's insights into mechanical, electronic and energy devices, among them solar-powered calculators. His nickel-metal battery is used to power hybrid cars and portable electronics, among other things.

He holds patents relating to rewritable optical discs, flat-panel displays and electronic-memory technology. His thin-film solar cells are produced in sheets "by the mile," as he once put it.


. . .


"His incredible curiosity and unbelievable ability to learn sets him apart," Hellmut T. Fritzsche, a longtime friend and consultant, said in an interview in 2005.



For the full obituary, see:

BARNABY J. FEDER. "Stanford R. Ovshinsky Dies at 89, a Self-Taught Maverick in Electronics." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2012): A23.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated October 18, 2012.)

(Note: in the first sentence of the print version, "hybrid" was used instead of the correct "hydride.")






November 11, 2012

The Economics of Intercollegiate Athletics



Here is more evidence that the role of athletics in higher education should be reconsidered. Another useful discussion occurs in the book by Christensen and Eyring. An earlier entry on this blog is also relevant.


(p. 230) The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics offers "College Sports 101: A Primer on Money, Athletics, and Higher Education in the 21st Century." "In fact, the vast majority of athletics programs reap far less money from external sources than they need to function. Virtually all universities subsidize athletics departments through general fund allocations, student fees, and state appropriations, and the NCAA estimates in a given year that only 20 to 30 athletics programs actually generate enough external revenue to cover operating expenses. Institutional subsidies to athletics can exceed $11 million, according to data provided by the NCAA. With costs in athletics rising faster than in other areas of university operations, it is not clear how many institutions can continue to underwrite athletics at their current level . . . Rigorous studies of the subject, however, suggest that there is no significant institutional benefit to athletic success. . . . Indeed, donations to athletics departments may cannibalize contributions to academic programs. . . . There are two other myths to be dispelled. First, there is no correlation between spending more on athletics and winning more . . . Second, increased spending on coaches' salaries has no significant relationship to success or increased revenue . . . October 2009, at 〈http://collegesports101.knightcommission.org〉.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The Knight Commission report can be downloaded at:

Weiner, Jay. "College Sports 101: A Primer on Money, Athletics, and Higher Education in the 21st Century." Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2009.


The Christensen and Eyring book is:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.






November 8, 2012

Coase: "Firms Never Calculate Marginal Costs"







Source of YouTube video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZAq06n79QIs#!




(p. 257) You can watch a 99 year-old Ronald Coase speaking in December 2009 for 25 minutes on the subjects of "Markets, Firms and Property Rights." "One of the things that people don't understand is that markets are creations. . . . In fact, it's very difficult to imagine that firms act in the way that is described in the textbooks, where you maximize profits by equating marginal costs and marginal revenues. One of the reasons one can feel doubtful about this particular way of looking at things is that firms never calculate marginal costs . . . I think we ought to study directly how firms operate and develop our theory accordingly." From the conference "Markets, Firms and Property Rights: A Celebration of the Research of Ronald Coase," held at the University of Chicago Law School by the Information Economy Project at George Mason University School of Law. The webpage also includes video of seven panels of prominent speakers, along with PDF files of a dozen or so papers given at the conference. Available at 〈http://iep.gmu.edu/CoaseConference.php〉.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 251-58.

(Note: ellipses in original.)






October 31, 2012

Thiel Fellows Avoid Formal Education to Pursue Entrepreneurial Projects



FullEdenTh ielFellowSolarPanel2012-10-12.jpg












"Eden Full, 20, tested her rotating solar panel in Kenya in 2010." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p.1) EDEN FULL should be back at Princeton by now. She should be hustling to class, hitting the books, acing tests. In short, she should be climbing that old-school ladder toward a coveted spot among America's future elite.

She isn't doing any of that. Instead, Ms. Full, as bright and poised and ambitious as the next Ivy Leaguer, has done something extraordinary for a Princetonian: she has dropped out.

It wasn't the exorbitant cost of college. (Princeton, all told, runs nearly $55,000 a year.) She says she simply received a better offer -- and, perhaps, a shot at a better education.

Ms. Full, 20, is part of one of the most unusual experiments in higher education today. It rewards smart young people for not going to college and, instead, diving into the real world of science, technology and business.

The idea isn't nuts. After all, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out, and they did O.K.

Of course, their kind of success is rare, degree or no degree. Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs changed the world. Ms. Full wants to, as well, and she's in a hurry. She has built a low-cost solar panel and is starting to test it in Africa.

"I was antsy to get out into the world and execute on my ideas," she says.

At a time when the value of a college degree is being called into question, and when job prospects for many new graduates are grimmer than they've been in years, perhaps it's no surprise to see a not-back-to-school movement spring up. What is surprising is where it's springing up, and who's behind it.

The push, which is luring a handful of select students away from the likes of Princeton, Harvard and M.I.T., is the brainchild of Peter A. Thiel, 44, a billionaire and freethinker with a remarkable record in Sil-(p. 7)icon Valley. Back in 1998, during the dot-com boom, Mr. Thiel gambled on a company that eventually became PayPal, the giant of online payments. More recently, he got in early on a little start-up called Facebook.

Since 2010, he has been bankrolling people under the age of 20 who want to find the next big thing -- provided that they don't look for it in a college classroom. His offer is this: $50,000 a year for two years, few questions asked. Just no college, unless a class is helpful for their Thiel projects.


. . .


Ms. Full is friends with another Thiel fellow, Laura Deming, 18. Ms. Deming is clearly brilliant. When she was 12, her family moved to San Francisco from New Zealand so she could work with Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist who studies aging. When Ms. Deming was 14, the family moved again, this time to the Boston area, so she could study at M.I.T.

"Families of Olympic-caliber athletes make these kinds of sacrifices all the time," says Tabitha Deming, Laura's mother. "When we lived nearby in Boston, we were lucky to see her once a month. She never came home for weekends."

John Deming, Laura's father, graduated from Brandeis University at the age of 35 but says he disdains formal education at every level. His daughter was home-schooled.

"I can't think of a worse environment than school if you want your kids to learn how to make decisions, manage risk and take responsibility for their choices," Mr. Deming, an investor, wrote in an e-mail. "Rather than sending them to school, turn your kids loose on the world. Introduce them to the rigors of reality, the most important of which is earning your own way." He added, "I detest American so-called 'education.' "

His daughter's quest to slow aging was spurred by her maternal grandmother, Bertie Deming, 85, who began having neuromuscular problems a decade ago. Laura, a first-year fellow, now spends her days combing medical journals, seeking a handful of researchers worth venture capital funding, which is a continuation of her earlier work.

"I'm looking for therapies that target aging damage and slow or reverse it," she says. "I've already spent six years on this stuff. So far I've found only a few companies, two or three I'm really bullish on."



For the full story, see:

CAITLIN KELLY. "Drop Out, Dive In, Start Up.." The New York Times, SundayBusiness (Sun., September 16, 2012): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 15, 2012, and had he title "Forgoing College to Pursue Dreams.")



DemingLauraThielFellow2012-10-12.jpg "Laura Deming, left, at age 6 with her grandmother, whose neuromuscular problems have now inspired Laura to work on anti-aging technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






October 27, 2012

Instead of Fixing "Inadequate Schools," Adderall Is Prescribed to "Struggling" Students



RocafortAmandaAndSonQuintn2012-10-12.jpg "Amanda Rocafort and her son Quintn in Woodstock, Ga. Quintn takes the medication Risperdal." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) CANTON, Ga. -- When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder "made up" and "an excuse" to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children's true ill -- poor academic performance in inadequate schools.



For the full story, see:

ALAN SCHWARZ. "Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School." The New York Times (Tues., October 9, 2012): A1 & A18.






October 23, 2012

Abigail Fisher "Devastated" by "Holistic Review"



FisherAbigailAffirmativeAction2012-10-12.jpg "Abigail Fisher, 22, at the Supreme Court last month. "I probably would have gotten a better job offer had I gone to U.T.," Ms. Fisher said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Abigail Fisher is a slight young woman with strawberry blond hair, a smile that needs little prompting, a determined manner and a good academic record. She played soccer in high school, and she is an accomplished cellist.

But the university she had her heart set on, the one her father and sister had attended, rejected her. "I was devastated," she said, in her first news interview since she was turned down by the University of Texas at Austin four years ago.

Ms. Fisher, 22, who is white and recently graduated from Louisiana State University, says that her race was held against her, and the Supreme Court is to hear her case on Wednesday, bringing new attention to the combustible issue of the constitutionality of racial preferences in admissions decisions by public universities.

"I'm hoping," she said, "that they'll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it."


. . .


(p. A17) The majority opinion in the Grutter case, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, rejected the use of racial quotas in admissions decisions but said that race could be used as one factor among many, as part of a "holistic review." Justice O'Connor retired in 2006, and her replacement by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. may open the way for a ruling cutting back on such race-conscious admissions policies, or eliminating them.


. . .


She said she was trying to come to terms with her role in a case that could reshape American higher education. Asked if she found it interesting or exciting or scary, she said, "All of the above."

But she did not hesitate to say how she would run an admission system. "I don't think," she said, "that we even need to have a race box on the application."



For the full story, see:

ADAM LIPTAK. "Race and College Admissions, Facing a New Test by Justices." The New York Times (Tues., October 9, 2012): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 8, 2012.)






October 17, 2012

The Entrepreneurial Resilience of a Business School Dean



ZupanMarkRochesterDean2012-10-11.jpg














"Mark Zupan is the dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. Baggage carts once were his salvation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B4) Once I landed in Boston without my wallet or any money, I was able to put into practice what I learned from watching the wonderful movie "The Terminal" featuring Tom Hanks.

Like the character he portrayed, Viktor Navorski, I wandered through the airport and rounded up and returned six baggage carts. I was refunded enough change to be able to afford the subway fare to get to my first meeting. Then, I was able to borrow enough cash from the amused alum I was meeting with to get through the rest of the day and back home to Rochester that night after my assistant faxed a copy of my driver's license and passport to me.

I have to admit I felt a little idiotic rounding up the carts, but it was one of my finest entrepreneurial ventures.



For the full story, see:

MARK ZUPAN. "FREQUENT FLIER; How to Cope at the Airport Without a Wallet." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2012): B4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 3, 2012.)






October 12, 2012

School Competition Benefits Students



(p. 150) We study competition between two publicly funded school systems in Ontario, Canada: one that is open to all students, and one that is restricted to children of Catholic backgrounds. A simple model of competition between the competing systems predicts greater effort by school managers in areas with more Catholic families who are willing to switch systems. Consistent with this insight, we find significant effects of competitive pressure on test score gains between third and sixth grade. Our estimates imply that extending competition to all students would raise average test scores in sixth grade by 6 percent to 8 percent of a standard deviation.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Card, David, Martin D. Dooley, and A. Abigail Payne. "School Competition and Efficiency with Publicly Funded Catholic Schools." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2, no. 4 (Oct. 2010): 150-76.






October 8, 2012

Ban of Affirmative Action Does Not Reduce Overall Black Enrollment



(p. 435) Using institutional data on race-specific college enrollment and completion, I examine whether minority students were less likely to enroll in a four-year public college or receive a degree following a statewide affirmative action ban. As in previous studies, I find that black and Hispanic enrollment dropped at the top institutions; however, there is little evidence that overall black enrollment at public universities fell. Finally, despite evidence that fewer blacks and Hispanics graduated from college following a ban, the effects on graduation rates are very noisy.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Backes, Ben. "Do Affirmative Action Bans Lower Minority College Enrollment and Attainment?" Journal of Human Resources 47, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 435-55.







October 7, 2012

"Education Bubble": "A Spurious Inflation of the Credentials Required for Many Jobs"



InTheBasementofIvoryTowerBK2012-09-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-N1hV093ckVc/T8YmCXE2sQI/AAAAAAAAAYc/1B5hWDeXbzQ/s1600/basement.jpg



(p. 17) In June 2008, The Atlantic published an essay by an adjunct instructor of English, identified only as "Professor X," whose job filled him with despair. Although the courses he taught were introductory, success was beyond many of his students, who, he wrote, were "in some cases barely literate." X found giving F's to be excruciating -- "I am the man who has to lower the hammer," he lamented -- in part because he identified with his older students, who seemed to have lost their way in their careers much as X himself had.


. . .


. . . X's function, in the ecology of the colleges where he teaches, is gatekeeper -- most students who fail his classes will drop out -- and he articulates the ethical challenge before him this way: "What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th- to a 10th-grade level of achievement?" X gives F's.


. . .


X and his wife got snookered in the housing bubble, and he wonders if the misery in his classroom might result from a similar education bubble. In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X's opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige. To him, the human cost is more conspicuous.


. . .


Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students' unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.



For the full review, see:

CALEB CRAIN. "Lost in the Meritocracy." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 1, 2011): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 29, 2011.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.






September 24, 2012

Kahneman Grants that "the Basic Concepts of Economics Are Essential Intellectual Tools"



(p. 286) Most graduate students in economics have heard about prospect theory and loss aversion, but you are unlikely to find these terms in the index of an introductory text in economics. I am sometimes pained by this omission, but in fact it is quite reasonable, because of the central role of rationality in basic economic theory. The standard concepts and results that undergraduates are taught are most easily explained by assuming that Econs do not make foolish mistakes. This assumption is truly necessary, and it would be undermined by introducing the Humans of prospect theory, whose evaluations of outcomes are unreasonably short-sighted.

There are good reasons for keeping prospect theory out of introductory texts. The basic concepts of economics are essential intellectual tools, which are not easy to grasp even with simplified and unrealistic assumptions about the nature of the economic agents who interact in markets. Raising questions about these assumptions even as they are introduced would be confusing, and perhaps demoralizing. It is reasonable to put priority on helping students acquire the basic tools of the discipline. Furthermore, the failure of rationality that is built into prospect theory is often irrelevant to the predictions of economic theory, which work out with great precision in some situations and provide good approximations in many others. In some contexts, however, the difference becomes significant: the Humans described by prospect theory are (p. 287) guided by the immediate emotional impact of gains and losses, not by long-term prospects of wealth and global utility.

I emphasized theory-induced blindness in my discussion of flaws in Bernoulli's model that remained unquestioned for more than two centuries. But of course theory-induced blindness is not restricted to expected utility theory. Prospect theory has flaws of its own, and theory-induced blindness to these flaws has contributed to its acceptance as the main alternative to utility theory.



Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.





September 22, 2012

Incentives Matter, Even in Refereeing Articles for Journals



(p. 678) A natural experiment in an economics fleld journal afforded time-series observations on payments to referees for on-time reviews. The natural experiment yielded 15 months' worth of data with no payments and about two subsequent years of data with payments. Using referee and manuscript-specific measures as covariates, hazard models were used to gauge the effects of payments on individual referee's review times. All models indicate statistically significant reductions in review times owing to referee payments. Reductions in review times translate into significant reductions in first-response time (FRT). Median FRT was reduced from 90 to 70 days, a 22% reduction in the presence of payments. With payments, only 1% of the FRTs exceeded six months; without payments, 16% of the FRTs exceeded six months.


For the full article, from which the above abstract is quoted, see:

Thompson, Gary D., Satheesh V. Aradhyula, George Frisvold, and Russell Tronstad. "Does Paying Referees Expedite Reviews?: Results of a Natural Experiment." Southern Economic Journal 76, no. 3 (Jan. 2010): 678-92.






September 13, 2012

"A Place of Hypocrisy and Fear, Where Tenured Professors Proclaim Empty Solidarity with Exploited Workers"



VictimsRevolutionBK2012-08-31.jpg














Source of book image: http://c481901.r1.cf2.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/victims.jpg





(p. 20) A couple of years ago, Bawer made a trip home to see what's happened to the academic world he left behind. He attended a few conferences for women's studies, black studies, queer studies and Chicano studies, where he heard plenty of cant, as when a participant at a "Fat Studies" conference explained her veganism by declaring: "Dairy is a feminist issue. Milk comes from a grieving mother." He found, in abundance, what he's looking for: ­jargon-spewing careerists posing as radicals, semiliterate professors of literature and widespread condemnation of reason itself as a hoax perpetrated by the powerful on the powerless. Based on this sample, he concludes that the contemporary American academy is a place of hypocrisy and fear, where tenured professors proclaim empty solidarity with exploited workers, and Take Back the Night rallies promote the idea that "male students metamorphose, werewolf-like, into potential rapists" every night.


. . .


The humanities and "soft" social science departments that Bawer mocks are sinking into insignificance -- partly, to be sure, because they have purveyed the kind of buffoonery he decries.



For the full review, see:

ANDREW DELBANCO. "Back to School." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., August 26, 2012): 1 & 20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 23, 2012 and had the title "Academic Battleground; 'The Victims' Revolution,' by Bruce Bawer.")

(Note: in the print version, the review started in the left column of the first page under the title "Back to School." The title was shared by a review of another book, that started in the right column of the first page.)


The full reference for the book under review, is:

Bawer, Bruce. The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind. New York: Broadside Books, 2012.






August 26, 2012

Decouple Learning from Credentialing



HennessyKhan2012-08-20.jpg



"JOHN HENNESSY: 'There's a tsunami coming.' [At left] . . . , John Hennessy & Salman Khan." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. R8) Is there anything to be done about the rising price of higher education? That was the question posed to John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, and Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, a nonprofit online-learning organization. They sat down with The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg to discuss how technology might be part of the solution.

Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.


. . .


MR. MOSSBERG: You have a lot of money at Stanford. I've been, until recently, a trustee of Brandeis University. It's a very good university. It charges about what you do. But it doesn't have your money, and there are a lot of colleges like that.

MR. HENNESSY: Agreed, and if you look at the vast majority of colleges in the U.S., there are way too many that are [dependent on tuition to fund their budgets]. That is not sustainable. We have to do something to bend the cost curve, and this is where technology comes in.

MR. KHAN: On the sustainability question, I agree. I think the elites will probably do just fine, but for the bulk of universities, nothing can grow 5% faster than inflation forever. It will just take over the world, and that's what's happening now.

There is a fundamental disconnect happening between the providers of education and the consumers of education. If you ask universities what they are charging the $60,000 for, they'll say, "Look at our research facilities. Look at our faculty. Look at the labs and everything else." And then if you ask the parents and the students why they are taking on $60,000 of debt, they'll say, "Well, I need the credential. I need a job."

So one party thinks they're selling a very kind of an enriching experience, and the other one thinks that they're buying a credential. And if you ask the universities what percentages of your costs are "credentialing," they say oh, maybe 5% to 10%. And so I think there's an opportunity if we could decouple those things--if the credentialing part could happen for significantly less.

MR. MOSSBERG: What do you mean by the credentialing part?

MR. KHAN: If you think about what education is, it's a combination. There's a learning part. You learn accounting, you learn to write better, to think, whatever. Then there is a credentialing part, where I'm going to hand you something that you can go take into the market and signal to people that you know what you're doing.

Right now they're very muddled, but this whole online debate or what's happening now is actually starting to clarify things. At Khan Academy we're 100% focused on the learning side of things. And I think it would be interesting [if credentials could be earned based on what you know and not on where you acquired that knowledge].



For the full interview, see:

Walt Mossberg, interviewer. "Changing the Economics of Education; John Hennessy and Salman Khan on how technology can make the college numbers add up." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 4, 2012): R8.

(Note: bracketed words in caption, and ellipses, added; bold and italics in original.)






July 30, 2012

Simple Algorithms Predict Better than Trained Experts



(p. 222) I never met Meehl, but he was one of my heroes from the time I read his Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence.

In the slim volume that he later called "my disturbing little book," Meehl reviewed the results of 20 studies that had analyzed whether clinical predictions based on the subjective impressions of trained professionals were more accurate than statistical predictions made by combining a few scores or ratings according to a rule. In a typical study, trained counselors predicted the grades of freshmen at the end of the school year. The counselors interviewed each student for forty-five minutes. They also had access to high school grades, several aptitude tests, and a four-page personal statement. The statistical algorithm used only a fraction of this information: high school grades and one aptitude test. Nevertheless, the formula was more accurate than 11 of the 14 counselors. Meehl reported generally sim-(p. 223)ilar results across a variety of other forecast outcomes, including violations of parole, success in pilot training, and criminal recidivism.

Not surprisingly, Meehl's book provoked shock and disbelief among clinical psychologists, and the controversy it started has engendered a stream of research that is still flowing today, more than fifty years after its publication. The number of studies reporting comparisons of clinical and statistical predictions has increased to roughly two hundred, but the score in the contest between algorithms and humans has not changed. About 60% of the studies have shown significantly better accuracy for the algorithms. The other comparisons scored a draw in accuracy, but a tie is tantamount to a win for the statistical rules, which are normally much less expensive to use than expert judgment. No exception has been convincingly documented.



Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)





July 8, 2012

Dyslexics Better at Processing Some Visual Data



(p. 5) Gadi Geiger and Jerome Lettvin, cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used a mechanical shutter, called a tachistoscope, to briefly flash a row of letters extending from the center of a subject's field of vision out to its perimeter. Typical readers identified the letters in the middle of the row with greater accuracy. Those with dyslexia triumphed, however, when asked to identify letters located in the row's outer reaches.


. . .


Dr. Catya von Károlyi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, found that people with dyslexia identified simplified Escher-like pictures as impossible or possible in an average of 2.26 seconds; typical viewers tend to take a third longer. "The compelling implication of this finding," wrote Dr. Von Károlyi and her co-authors in the journal Brain and Language, "is that dyslexia should not be characterized only by deficit, but also by talent."


. . .


Five years ago, the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity was founded to investigate and illuminate the strengths of those with dyslexia, while the seven-year-old Laboratory for Visual Learning, located within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is exploring the advantages conferred by dyslexia in visually intensive branches of science. The director of the laboratory, the astrophysicist Matthew Schneps, notes that scientists in his line of work must make sense of enormous quantities of visual data and accurately detect patterns that signal the presence of entities like black holes.

A pair of experiments conducted by Mr. Schneps and his colleagues, published in the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society in 2011, suggests that dyslexia may enhance the ability to carry out such tasks. In the first study, Mr. Schneps reported that when shown radio signatures -- graphs of radio-wave emissions from outer space -- astrophysicists with dyslexia at times outperformed their nondyslexic colleagues in identifying the distinctive characteristics of black holes.

In the second study, Mr. Schneps deliberately blurred a set of photographs, reducing high-frequency detail in a manner that made them resemble astronomical images. He then presented these pictures to groups of dyslexic and nondyslexic undergraduates. The students with dyslexia were able to learn and make use of the information in the images, while the typical readers failed to catch on.


. . .


Mr. Schneps's study is not the only one of its kind. In 2006, James Howard Jr., a professor of psychology at the Catholic University of America, described in the journal Neuropsychologia an experiment in which participants were asked to pick out the letter T from a sea of L's floating on a computer screen. Those with dyslexia learned to identify the letter more quickly.

Whatever special abilities dyslexia may bestow, difficulty with reading still imposes a handicap.



For the full commentary, see:

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL. "The Upside of Dyslexia." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., February 5, 2012): 5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the commentary is dated February 4, 2012.)





May 13, 2012

A "Boring" and "Excellent" Business Education



(p. 34) Most of what they taught us in those days was functional. This was before they added "entrepreneurship" to business courses. It was all about manufacturing, marketing, and personnel. I found that somewhat boring. I had two favorite courses. The first was Small Business. It was the only course where all the pieces carne together. The other was Computing, which was the first computer course that the Michigan Business School had ever taught. I had a feeling that this was the big new thing. But, more important, it was what IBM did. I had never seen a computer lab before. This was soon after Remington Rand made headlines with its UNIVAC I, the world's first commercial computer.


. . .


(p. 59) The University of Michigan is an excellent school. I loved being there and I am proud to have earned an MBA. When I was there, I noticed that the fìve-and--ten-cents-store founder, Sebastian S. Kresge--the man who invented the Kmart chain--had given them Kresge Hall. When I could afford to, I figured, why not do the same? I have always been so grateful for what I learned there. In 1997 I gave the school funding for a Sam Wyly Hall. (A few years earlier, Charles and I had helped to build Louisiana Tech's 16-story Wyly Tower of Learning.) It's fulfilling to me that today Paton Scholars study at Sam Wyly Hall on the Ann Arbor campus.



Source of both quotes:

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 11, 2012

Harvard and M.I.T. Free Online Courses May Disrupt Mid-Tier Universities



(p. A17) In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans -- one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world -- Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.

Harvard's involvement follows M.I.T.'s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival -- they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.


. . .


Education experts say that while the new online classes offer opportunities for students and researchers, they pose some threat to low-ranked colleges.

"Projects like this can impact lives around the world, for the next billion students from China and India," said George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who teaches at Athabasca University, a publicly supported online Canadian university. "But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a circuits course."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Harvard and M.I.T. Join to Offer Web Courses." The New York Times (Thurs., May 3, 2012): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 2, 2012, and has the title "Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses.")






April 27, 2012

Climate Scientists "Conspiring to Bully and Silence Opponents"



(p. A15) [In November 2011], 5,000 files of private email correspondence among several of the world's top climate scientists were anonymously leaked onto the Internet. Like the first "climategate" leak of 2009, the latest release shows top scientists in the field fudging data, conspiring to bully and silence opponents, and displaying far less certainty about the reliability of anthropogenic global warming theory in private than they ever admit in public.

The scientists include men like Michael Mann of Penn State University and Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia, both of whose reports inform what President Obama has called "the gold standard" of international climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


. . .


Consider an email written by Mr. Mann in August 2007. "I have been talking w/ folks in the states about finding an investigative journalist to investigate and expose McIntyre, and his thus far unexplored connections with fossil fuel interests. Perhaps the same needs to be done w/ this Keenan guy." Doug Keenan is a skeptic and gadfly of the climate-change establishment. Steve McIntyre is the tenacious Canadian ex-mining engineer whose dogged research helped expose flaws in Mr. Mann's "hockey stick" graph of global temperatures.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES DELINGPOLE. "OPINION; Climategate 2.0; A new batch of leaked emails again shows some leading scientists trying to smear opponents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 28, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 23, 2012

Wilson's Advice to Conservative Academics: "Be Twice as Productive and Four Times as NIce"



(p. A13) Pat Moynihan once reportedly told Richard Nixon (who was known for his disdain for intellectuals), "Mr. President, James Q. Wilson is the smartest man in the United States. The president of the United States should pay attention to what he has to say."


. . .


At one point in my academic career, I called Jim for advice about how best to navigate the waters of liberal academia when one is openly conservative. "Simple," he told me lightheartedly, "Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues." It was a formula he himself had followed.



For the full commentary, see:

ARTHUR C. BROOKS. "OPINION; Social Science With a Soul; Life for James Q. Wilson was like a roadside curio shop, full of hidden and unrecognized intellectual treasures.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 3, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 18, 2012

"Scratch a White Liberal and You'll Find a Bigot"



My-long-trip-homeBK2012-04-04.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc/files/2011/10/my-long-trip-home.jpg



(p. C1) As a social studies major in his junior year at Harvard, Mark Whitaker attended a debate on the subject of ethnicity. One participant was the chairman of the department. Mr. Whitaker stood up to raise some questions.

"What would you tell someone who didn't have a clear ethnic identity?" he asked. "For example, what would you tell someone who had one parent who was black and another who was white? Who had one parent who was American and another who was European? Who had moved dozens of times as a child and didn't have a specific place to call home?" Everyone in the room knew that Mr. Whitaker was talking about himself.

"I guess I would say that that's too bad," the professor answered. "In the future I hope we don't have too many more people like you."

Mr. Whitaker recounts this story in "My Long Trip Home," a book filled with as much family tumult as Jeannette Walls described in "The Glass Castle" and a racial factor to boot. It's a story that registers not only for its shock value but also for the perspective and wisdom with which it can now be told.

The episode did not anger him, he said. He saw it as his professor's Freudian slip, "exposing a wish to hold on to a sense of certainty about his roots in the face of a gathering demographic storm that threatened to wash them away." But Mr. Whitaker's troubled and combative black father, who is the book's central figure through sheer force of personality, had a more heated reaction. "As I always say, scratch a white liberal and you'll find a bigot," Cleophaus Sylvester Whitaker Jr. told his son.



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Born Along the Racial Fault Line." The New York Times (Mon., November 7, 2011): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated November 6, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Whitaker, Mark. My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.




WhitakerMark2012-04-04.jpg











"Mark Whitaker" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.









April 14, 2012

Libertarian Law Professor Defends Free Choice in Health Care



BarnettRandyLibertarianLawProfessor2012-03-31.jpg





"Randy E. Barnett has argued against the health care law." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- When Congress passed legislation requiring nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance, Randy E. Barnett, a passionate libertarian who teaches law at Georgetown, argued that the bill was unconstitutional.


. . .


. . . over the past two years, through his prolific writings, speaking engagements and television appearances, Professor Barnett has helped drive the question of the health care law's constitutionality from the fringes of academia into the mainstream of American legal debate and right onto the agenda of the United States Supreme Court.


. . .


. . . the challenge championed by Professor Barnett: that Congress's power to set rules for commerce does not extend to regulating "inactivity," like choosing not to be insured.


. . .


(p. A14) He is a fierce advocate of economic freedom who is accustomed to being a legal underdog. In 2004, in his first (and, he says, probably his last) appearance before the Supreme Court, he argued that Congress could not criminalize the production of home-grown marijuana for personal medical use. There again, critics said he would lose 8 to 1. He did lose, but took satisfaction in the actual vote, 6 to 3.


. . .


Professor Barnett's work on the health care law fits into a much broader intellectual project, his defense of economic freedom. He has long argued that the Supreme Court went too far in upholding New Deal economic laws -- a position that concerns his liberal critics.

Even a close friend and fellow Georgetown law professor, Lawrence B. Solum, says that Professor Barnett is aware of the "big divide between his views and the views of lots of other people," and that his political philosophy is "much more radical" than his legal argument in the health care case. Professor Barnett, for his part, insists that if the health law is struck down, it will not "threaten the foundation of the New Deal." But, he allowed, it would be "a huge symbolic victory for limited government."



For the full story, see:

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and CHARLIE SAVAGE. "Libertarian's Pet Cause Reaches Supreme Court." The New York Times (Tues., March 27, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 26, 2012 and has the title "Vindication for Challenger of Health Care Law.")





April 13, 2012

Myhrvold Left Work with Hawking for the Excitement of Entrepreneurship



(p. 139) Microsoft was represented ¡n the discussion by its senior vice president for advanced technology, a thirty-five-year-old Nathan Myhrvold. After finishing his Ph.D. at Princeton at age twenty-three, Myhrvold had worked for a year as a postdoctoral fellow with the physicist Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, tackling theories of (p. 140) gravitation and curved space-time, before taking a three-month leave of absence to help some friends in the Bay Area with a software project. He became caught up in the excitement of personal computer software and entrepreneurship and never went back. In Berkeley, he co-founded a company called Dynamical Systems to develop operating system for personal computers, which struggled for two years until Microsoft bought it in 1986. At Microsoft, he persuaded Bill Gates to let him establish a corporate research center, Microsoft Research, with Myhrvold himself in charge.


Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)






April 7, 2012

Most Articles in Top Two Economics Journals Receive Zero Citations in First Five Years




Journal quality is often used, or suggested, as a proxy for the quality of articles. It is a very poor proxy.

Economist Robert H. Frank writes that:


(p. 3) The economist Philip Cook and I found, . . . , that in the first five years after publication, many fewer than half of all papers in the two most selective economics journals had ever been cited by other scholars.


For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT H. FRANK. "ECONOMIC VIEW; The Prestige Chase Is Raising College Costs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 11, 2012): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated March 10, 2012.)


I assume, but have not verified, that the above finding is reported in:

Frank, Robert, and Philip J. Cook. The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us. New York: The Free Press, 1995.






April 6, 2012

Diamond to Teach Economics of Entrepreneurship in Fall 2012


EntrepreneurshipPoster2012PortraitTopHalfCropped.jpg






















Some Questions to Be Discussed:


• How can policies encouraging innovative entrepreneurship help us recover from the current economic stagnation?


• Are innovative entrepreneurs smarter, or less risk-averse, or more intuitive, or more determined, or more frugal, or nobler, or greedier, than the rest of us?


• Can economic historian John Nye defend his claim that successful entrepreneurs are "lucky fools?"


• What is the role of entrepreneurship in the process of creative destruction, and what is the role of creative destruction in making our lives longer and better?


• Would labor be better off in an economy in which innovative entrepreneurship is encouraged?


• Why does economist Will Baumol believe that too much higher education can discourage successful innovative entrepreneurship?


• What are the most promising sources of financing for successful innovative entrepreneurship?






March 27, 2012

Diamond to Teach Creative Destruction Colloquium in Fall 2012





CreativeDestructionColloquiumPoster2012PortraitTopHalfCropped.jpg

Colloquium Rationale:

Creative destruction is the process through which innovative new products are created, and older obsolete products are destroyed. In transportation, for example, cars creatively destroyed the horse and buggy, trains creatively destroyed horse-drawn wagons. Such innovations contribute to longer and richer lives, but may come at the cost of greater uncertainty in the labor market. Schumpeter claimed that the process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. Although Nobel-prize-winner George Stigler has described creative destruction as "heresy," a growing number of economists and non-economists have found the concept useful in understanding the world. While most of the emphasis will be on the implications of creative destruction for business and the economy, the discussion will sometimes involve issues related to information science, sociology, medicine, law, engineering, psychology, literature, political science, architecture, and history.





You can hear me talking about last year's version of the Creative Destruction Colloquium (which was offered last year under a different course number and a slightly different title) in the following YouTube video:











March 22, 2012

Lower Grades for Male Spectators When Their Team Wins



(p. C4) Big-time college-football teams may build school spirit, but they also hurt the grades of male students in the bleachers--at least when the teams are winning, a study suggests.

Economists at the University of Oregon tracked the grades of students there (athletes on all teams excluded) from 1999 through 2007, mapping them against the record of the Ducks, whose fortunes varied from season to season.



For the full story, see:

Christopher Shea. "Week in Ideas: Education Dumbed Down by Football." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 24, 2011): C4.


Paper summarized:

Lindo, Jason M., Isaac D. Swensen, and Glen R. Waddell. "Are Big-Time Sports a Threat to Student Achievement?" NBER Working Paper # 17677, December 2011.






March 19, 2012

"No Street Protester Has Yet Endowed a University Department"



AmericanEgyptologistBK2012-03-08.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) Over the next three decades, Breasted would excavate a series of sites in Egypt, the Sudan and the Near East. He would also develop an important ability to identify rich and influential benefactors and to gain their confidence without resorting to sycophancy. . . . Notable among the Maecenas figures he cultivated was John D. Rockefeller.

Rockefeller had been an early patron of the University of Chicago; he might have done something for Near Eastern studies in any case, but it is clear that without Breasted's energy and enthusiasm, Rockefeller's scholarly philanthropy would never have taken the course it did. Eventually, he provided the funding for an entire Oriental Institute in 1931. (The OI, as it is affectionately known, had existed from 1919 but essentially as a concept between academic committees.) Together with its Egyptian offshoot, Chicago House, the OI is perhaps the leading center of Egyptology and Assyriology in the world. At the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic, we are hearing a lot about the evils of bankers and capitalism, but as far as I know no street protester has yet endowed a university department.



For the full review, see:

JOHN RAY. "BOOKSHELF; From Illinois To Mesopotamia; Excavating sites in Egypt and the Near East, writing groundbreaking books and developing a talent for courting wealthy donors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 23, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Book under review:

Abt, Jeffrey. American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.






March 12, 2012

CalArts Was One of Walt Disney's Last Projects




It is a nice minor coda to Walt Disney's life that the CalArts school that he founded provided a starting point for many of the next generation of great innovative animators, including John Lasseter.


(p. 47) CalArts was Walt Disney's brainchild; he had started the planning of the school in the late 1950s and provided generously for it in his will. Walt and his brother Roy formed it in 1961 through a merger of two struggling Los Angeles institutions, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute. The doors opened at the school's consolidated campus in Valencia in 1971, five years after Walt's death.


. . .


(p. 48) The storms of the 1960s had mostly receded by the time Lasseter arrived. At CalArts, he found his own kind of liberation: Here, he no longer needed to conceal his passion for cartoons. His twenty classmates from across the country were animation geeks like him. Others had been corresponding with the Disney studio just as he had, and even making their own short films. Many would go on from CalArts to perform significant work at Disney or elsewhere; among them were future stars John Musker (co-director of Aladdin, Hercules, and The Little Mermaid) and Brad Bird.

First-year classes took place in room A113, a windowless space with white walls, floor, and ceiling, and buzzing fluorescent lights. The teachers made up tor the setting, however: Almost all of them were longtime Disney artists with awe-inspiring animation credits. Kendall O'Connor, an art director on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, taught layout; Elmer Plummer, a character designer on Dumbo, taught life drawing; T. Hee, a sequence director on Pinocchio, taught caricature. The program was rigorous and the hours long; the fact that the campus was in the middle of nowhere made it easier to focus on work. Tim Burton, who entered the program the following year, remembered the experience: . . .



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)





January 4, 2012

Colleges Not Good at Producing Innovative Start-Up Entrepreneurs



(p. 5) I typed these words on a computer designed by Apple, co-founded by the college dropout Steve Jobs. The program I used to write it was created by Microsoft, started by the college dropouts Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

And as soon as it is published, I will share it with my friends via Twitter, co-founded by the college dropouts Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and Facebook -- invented, among others, by the college dropouts Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, and nurtured by the degreeless Sean Parker.

American academia is good at producing writers, literary critics and historians. It is also good at producing professionals with degrees. But we don't have a shortage of lawyers and professors. America has a shortage of job creators. And the people who create jobs aren't traditional professionals, but start-up entrepreneurs.

In a recent speech promoting a jobs bill, President Obama told Congress, "Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin."

Close, but not quite. In a detailed analysis, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that nearly all net job creation in America comes from start-up businesses, not small businesses per se. (Since most start-ups start small, we tend to conflate two variables -- the size of a business and its age -- and incorrectly assume the former was the relevant one, when in fact the latter is.)

If start-up activity is the true engine of job creation in America, one thing is clear: our current educational system is acting as the brakes. Simply put, from kindergarten through undergraduate and grad school, you learn very few skills or attitudes that would ever help you start a business. Skills like sales, networking, creativity and comfort with failure.


. . .


If I were betting on the engines of future job creation, I wouldn't put my money on college students cramming for tests and writing papers with properly formatted M.L.A.-style citations in order to bolster their résumés for careers in traditional professions and middle-management jobs in large corporate and government bureaucracies.

I'd put my money on the kids who are dropping out of college to start new businesses. If we want to get out of the jobs mess we're in, we should hope that more will follow in their footsteps.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL ELLSBERG. "Will Dropouts Save America?." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., October 23, 2011): 5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 22, 2011.)


The commentary above is in a spirit similar to Ellsberg's book:

Ellsberg, Michael. The Education of Millionaires: It's Not What You Think and It's Not Too Late. New York: Portfolio Hardcover, 2011.






December 13, 2011

Steve Jobs on Public School System Monopoly



(p. A15) These days everyone is for education reform. The question is which approach is best. I favor the Steve Jobs model.

In 1984 Steve introduced the Mac with a Super Bowl ad. It ran only once. It ran for only one minute. And it shows a female athlete being chased by the helmeted police of some totalitarian regime.

At the climax, the woman rushes up to a large screen where Big Brother is giving a speech. Just as he announces, "We shall prevail," she hurls her hammer through the screen.

If you ask me what we need to do in education, I would point you to that ad.


. . .


Steve Jobs knew all about competitive markets. He once likened our school system to the old phone monopoly. "I remember," he said in a 1995 interview, "seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said 'We don't care. We don't have to.' And that's what a monopoly is. That's what IBM was in their day. And that's certainly what the public school system is. They don't have to care."

We have to care. In this new century, good is not good enough. Put simply, we must approach education the way Steve Jobs approached every industry he touched. To be willing to blow up what doesn't work or gets in the way. And to make our bet that if we can engage a child's imagination, there's no limit to what he or she can learn.



For the full commentary, see:

RUPERT MURDOCH. "OPINION; The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform; If we can engage a child's imagination, there's no limit to what he or she can learn.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 15, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 8, 2011

Berkeley Environmentalist Sticks to Her Knitting



StofleShelbyGathersWool2011-11-10.jpg "Avid knitter Shelby Stofle, gathering wool from sheep in Vacaville Calif., hopes to set up a business making scarves and selling them at craft fairs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) Shelby Stofle graduated in December from the University of California at Berkeley with $10,250 in student-loan debt--and no job offers from a dozen applications.

The 24-year-old had hoped to work in environmental conservation or sustainable agriculture but struck out even at a grocery store near her rural hometown of Suisun City, Calif.


. . .


With many employment options exhausted, she said she feels her best shot is to set up her own business, selling her hand-made scarves at craft fairs and farmers' markets.



For the full story, see:

VAUHINI VARA. "As Jobs Vanish, Sticking to Knitting." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 31, 2011): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)







November 13, 2011

Haiku Economist Ziliak Praises and Analyzes Jobs Haiku




On 11/8/11 I received a gracious and interesting email from Steve Ziliak praising and analyzing my recent Jobs haiku. Economist Ziliak has written haiku and written about haiku.

He gave me his permission to share his email:


Dear Art,

Congratulations on your prize-winning haiku about the economy! I read all of the haiku selected by the Kauffman Foundation and posted by The Economist. Meaning no disrespect for the hard-working others, Steve Ziliak aka The Haiku Economist agrees that your haiku was the best of the bunch. Pairing jobs-with-Jobs is potentially hazardous to poetry to the point of being country-newspaper corny. But you've pulled it off well in a "senryu" thanks to the dead-serious yet softly spoken third line, "innovate to grow". Thus "jobs" and "Jobs" serve as "cut words" (kiru or kireji), taking us from the literal to the figurative and back again (that is, to innovation, output, and employment). Well done.

Here are a few articles on the theory, Art, and history of haiku economics, which I first developed ten years ago (in 2001) when I was teaching at Georgia Tech:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/240970

http://stephentziliak.com/doc/IJPEE0101-0209%20ZILIAK.pdf

http://stephentziliak.com/doc/Ziliak%20Verses%20of%20Economy%201.pdf

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2011/01/poetry_and_economics

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08935690500241501#preview
(In 2002 I published "Haiku Economics" in Rethinking Marxism;
this link here is to "Haiku Economics, No. 2", published in 2005).

And here is a link to my students' achievements with haiku economics:

http://sites.roosevelt.edu/sziliak/haiku-economics-by-roosevelt-students/


Congrats again, Art, and keep writing!

Things beyond number
all somehow brought to mind by
blossoming cherries.

- Basho


All the best,

Steve aka The Haiku Economist

Stephen T. Ziliak
Trustee and Professor of Economics
Roosevelt University
430 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605
http://sites.roosevelt.edu/sziliak
http://stephentziliak.com





September 16, 2011

Art Diamond Describes Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction







The clip above is embedded from You Tube. It was recorded on July 6, 2011 in Mammel Hall, the location of the College of Business at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I am grateful to Charley Reed of UNO University Relations for doing a great job of shooting and editing the clip.





September 13, 2011

Chinese Emphasis on Rote Learning Produces Passive Researchers



(p. A15) Hardly a week goes by without a headline pronouncing that China is about to overtake the U.S. and other advanced economies in the innovation game. Patent filings are up, China is exporting high-tech goods, the West is doomed. Or so goes the story line. The reality is very different.


. . .


But more than 95% of the Chinese applications were filed domestically with the State Intellectual Property Office--and the vast majority cover "innovations" that make only tiny changes on existing designs. A better measure is to look at innovations that are recognized outside China--at patent filings or grants to China-origin inventions by the world's leading patent offices, the U.S., the EU and Japan. On this score, China is way behind.


. . .


China's educational system is another serious challenge because it emphasizes rote learning rather than creative problem solving. When Microsoft opened its second-largest research lab (after Redmond, Wash.) in Beijing, it realized that while the graduates it hired were brilliant, they were too passive when it came to research inquiry.

The research directors attacked this problem by effectively requiring each new hire to come up with a project he or she wanted to work on. Microsoft's approach is more the exception than the rule among R&D labs in China, which tend to be more top-down.



For the full commentary, see:

ANIL K. GUPTA AND HAIYAN WANG. "Chinese Innovation Is a Paper Tiger; A closer look at China's patent filings and R&D spending reveals a country that has a long way to go." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 5, 2011

"Credentialing Gone Amok---In 20 Years, You'll Need a Ph.D. to Be a Janitor"



(p. 17) Call it credential inflation. Once derided as the consolation prize for failing to finish a Ph.D. or just a way to kill time waiting out economic downturns, the master's is now the fastest-growing degree.


. . .


"There is definitely some devaluing of the college degree going on," says Eric A. Hanushek, an education economist at the Hoover Institution, and that gives the master's extra signaling power. "We are going deeper into the pool of high school graduates for college attendance," making a bachelor's no longer an adequate screening measure of achievement for employers.

Colleges are turning out more graduates than the market can bear, and a master's is essential for job seekers to stand out -- that, or a diploma from an elite undergraduate college, says Richard K. Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Not only are we developing "the overeducated American," he says, but the cost is borne by the students getting those degrees. "The beneficiaries are the colleges and the employers," he says. Employers get employees with more training (that they don't pay for), and universities fill seats. In his own department, he says, a master's in financial economics can be a "cash cow" because it draws on existing faculty ("we give them a little extra money to do an overload") and they charge higher tuition than for undergraduate work. "We have incentives to want to do this," he says. He calls the proliferation of master's degrees evidence of "credentialing gone amok." He says, "In 20 years, you'll need a Ph.D. to be a janitor."



For the full story, see:

LAURA PAPPANO. "The Master's as the New Bachelor's." The New York Times, EducationLife Section (Sun., July 24, 2011): 16-17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 22, 2011.)





September 4, 2011

Political Ideology Matters in Hiring and Tenure



compromising-scholarship-religious-and-political-bias-in-american-higher-educationBK.jpg
















Source of book image:
http://images.borders.com.au/images/bau/97816025/9781602582682/0/0/plain/compromising-scholarship-religious-and-political-bias-in-american-higher-education.jpg




(p. 34) . . . when a faculty committee is looking to hire or award tenure, political ideology seems to make a difference, according to a "collegiality survey" conducted by George Yancey.

Dr. Yancey, a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, asked more than 400 sociologists which nonacademic factors might influence their willingness to vote for hiring a new colleague. You might expect professors to at least claim to be immune to bias in academic hiring decisions.

But as Dr. Yancey reports in his new book, "Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education," more than a quarter of the sociologists said they would be swayed favorably toward a Democrat or an A.C.L.U. member and unfavorably toward a Republican. About 40 percent said they would be less inclined to vote for hiring someone who belonged to the National Rifle Association or who was an evangelical. Similar results were obtained in a subsequent survey of professors in other social sciences and the humanities.



For the full commentary, see:

LAURA PAPPANO. "The Master's as the New Bachelor's." The New York Times, EducationLife Section (Sun., July 24, 2011): 34.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated July 22, 2011.)


Book mentioned:

Yancey, George. Compromising Scholarship; Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011.






July 23, 2011

$130,000 Federal Stimulus Used by Omaha Public Schools for Manual Attacking American Institutions



(p. 1A) The Omaha Public Schools used more than $130,000 in federal stimulus dollars to buy each teacher, administrator and staff member a manual on how to become more culturally sensitive.

The book by Virginia education consultants could raise some eyebrows with its viewpoints.

The authors assert that American government and institutions create advantages that "channel wealth and power to white people," that color-blindness will not end racism and that educators should "take action for social justice."

The book says that teachers should acknowledge historical systemic oppression in schools, including racism, sexism, homophobia and "ableism," defined by the authors as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.

The authors argue that public school teachers must raise their cultural awareness to better serve minority students and improve academic achievement.



For the full story, see:

Joe Dejka. "OPS Says It Won't Go totally by the Book." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, July 10, 2011): 1A & 2A.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "OPS buys 8,000 diversity manuals.")





July 22, 2011

Entrepreneurs Stanley and Wood Apply Econometrics to Business Data Analysis



StanleyWoodEntrepreneurs2011-07-16.jpg "Grant Stanley, left, and Tadd Wood founded Contemporary Analysis, which uses data to solve sales, marketing, customer retention, employee management and planning problems." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


The entrepreneurs celebrated in the article quoted below are former students of mine. Grant Stanley was in my Economics of Entrepreneurship and Economics of Technology seminars and Tadd Wood was in my Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction. I wish them well.


(p. 1D) A half-dozen 20-something math, economics and neuroscience whizzes form Contemporary Analysis, an Omaha-based firm that is making predictive analytics available to a wider array of firms faster and for less money.

The team, which has a penchant for roaming around its Old Market office shoeless, is led by Grant Stanley, 23, the company's chief executive. He founded the firm in March 2008 with Tadd Wood, 23, who is now a senior analyst.

For nearly three years, Contemporary Analysis has built a customer base mostly of companies and businesses with lean budgets, meaning they didn't have a lot of cash to spend on analytics products. Traditionally, analytics firms lock clients into expensive, long-term contracts.

Not Contemporary Analysis.

Their products are designed to yield results in about a month, and average contracts are about $5,000, Stanley said. The company's analytics tools use data to solve sales, marketing, customer retention, employee management and planning problems.


. . .


(p. 2D) A . . . report from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that top-performing organizations use analytics five times more than lower performers.

Of the 3,000 executives, managers and analysts polled for the IBM report, those who came from high-performing companies said they used analytics to guide future strategies 45 percent of the time and day-to-day operations 53 percent of the time. By comparison, lower-performing firms used analytics 20 percent when addressing future business matters and 27 percent on a daily basis.



For the full story, see:

Ross Boettcher. "Omaha Whizzes Bring Analytics to More Companies." Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, July 14, 2011): 1D & 2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Making analytics affordable.")





July 7, 2011

Few Good Jobs for China's College Graduates



(p. A13) BEIJING--Young people calling themselves the "ant tribe" and living in Beijing's outskirts have prompted a national discussion about the tough job market for college graduates in China.

The term "ants"--referring to the graduates' industriousness as well as their crowded, modest living conditions--was coined in a book by Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, who in a 2007-09 survey of 600 Beijing-area college graduates found their average monthly income was the equivalent of $300.

The book touched a nerve in China, inspiring both admiration for the young people's striving and indignation at their living conditions. Earlier this year, several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, said they were moved to tears on a visit to the village of Tangjialing when they heard two young men who shared a 50-square-foot room sing a song they composed about their tough lives.


. . .


The "Song of the Ants" is a favorite. Its refrain: "Though we have nothing, we are tough in spirit; though we have nothing, we are still dreaming; though we have nothing, we still have power; though we have nothing, we are not afraid of being deserted."



For the full story, see:

Sue Feng and Ian Johnson. "Job Squeeze in China Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 4, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 3, 2010 and has the title "China Job Squeeze Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.")






June 26, 2011

Diamond to Teach Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction in Fall 2011



HONR300CreativeDestructionPoster2011-06-22.jpg


As of 6/22/11, space is still available in the honors colloquium.






June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."


. . .


Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.


. . .


A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.


. . .


Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")





June 24, 2011

Diamond to Teach Economics of Entrepreneurship Seminar in Fall 2011




EntrepreneurshipPoster2011A.jpg


As of 6/22/11, space is still available in the graduate economics, MBA, and upper level undergraduate economics sections of the seminar.





June 22, 2011

Some New York Public School Teachers Still Well Paid to Do Busy Work



(p. A1) For her first assignment of the school year, Verona Gill, a $100,000-a-year special education teacher whom the city is trying to fire, sat around education offices in Lower Manhattan for two weeks, waiting to be told what to do.

For her second assignment, she was sent to a district office in the Bronx and told to hand out language exams to anyone who came to pick them up. Few did.

Now, Ms. Gill reports to a cubicle in Downtown Brooklyn with a broken computer and waits for it to be fixed. Periodically, her supervisor comes by to tell her she is still working on the problem. It has been this way since Oct. 8.

"I have no projects to do, so I sit there until 2:50 p.m. -- that's six hours and 50 minutes," the official length of the teacher workday, she said. "And then I swipe out."

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg closed the notorious reassignment centers known as rubber rooms this year, he and the city's teachers' union announced triumphantly that one of the most obvious sources of (p. A3) waste in the school system -- $30 million a year in salaries being paid to educators caught up in the glacial legal process required to fire them -- was no more.

No longer would hundreds of teachers accused of wrongdoing or incompetence, like Ms. Gill, clock in and out of trailers or windowless rooms for years, doing nothing more than snoozing or reading newspapers, griping or teaching one another tai chi. Instead, their cases would be sped up, and in the meantime they would be put to work.

While hundreds of teachers have had their cases resolved, for many of those still waiting, the definition of "work" has turned out to be a loose one. Some are now doing basic tasks, like light filing, paper-clipping, tracking down student information on a computer or using 25-foot tape measures to determine the dimensions of entire school buildings. Others sit without work in unadorned cubicles or at out-of-the-way conference tables.



For the full story, see:

SHARON OTTERMAN. "For New York, Teachers Still in Idle Limbo." The New York Times (Weds., December 8, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 7, 2010 and has the title "New York Teachers Still in Idle Limbo.")





June 19, 2011

Study Hard to Study Well



(p. D6) In a recent study published in the journal Cognition, psychologists at Princeton and Indiana University had 28 men and women read about three species of aliens, each of which had seven characteristics, like "has blue eyes," and "eats flower petals and pollen." Half the participants studied the text in 16-point Arial font, and the other half in 12-point Comic Sans MS or 12-point Bodoni MT, both of which are relatively unfamiliar and harder for the brain to process.

After a short break, the participants took an exam, and those who had studied in the harder-to-read fonts outperformed the others on the test, 85.5 percent to 72.8 percent, on average.

To test the approach in the classroom, the researchers conducted a large experiment involving 222 students at a public school in Chesterland, Ohio. One group had all its supplementary study materials, in English, history and science courses, reset in an unusual font, like Monotype Corsiva. The others studied as before. After the lessons were completed, the researchers evaluated the classes' relevant tests and found that those students who'd been squinting at the stranger typefaces did significantly better than the others in all the classes -- particularly in physics.

"The reason that the unusual fonts are effective is that it causes us to think more deeply about the material," a co-author of the study, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton, wrote in an e-mail. "But we are capable of thinking deeply without being subjected to unusual fonts. Think of it this way, you can't skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully."

Then again, so will raw effort, he and other researchers said. Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another.



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "MIND; Come On, I Thought I Knew That!" The New York Times (Tues., April 19, 2011): D5-D6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 18, 2011.)


The forthcoming article that is discussed in the quotes above, is:

Diemand-Yauman, Connor, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, and Erikka B. Vaughan. "Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes." Cognition (2010).






June 12, 2011

To Burst Higher Ed Bubble, Peter Thiel Pays Students to Drop Out



ThielPeterPayPal2011-06-02.jpg













"Peter Thiel." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B4) Parents, do you hope that your children have the chance to become like Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and hedge fund manager? If so, Mr. Thiel suggests that you encourage them to drop out of school. In fact, he will help by paying them to do it.

On Wednesday, the Thiel Foundation, funded by Mr. Thiel, announced the first group of Thiel Fellows, 24 people under 20 who have agreed to drop out of school in exchange for a $100,000 grant and mentorship to start a tech company.

More than 400 people applied. The winners include Laura Deming, 17, who is developing antiaging therapies; Faheem Zaman, 18, who is building mobile payment systems for developing countries; and John Burnham, 18, who is working on extracting minerals from asteroids and comets.


. . .


Mr. Thiel, a contrarian investor and libertarian known for his controversial views, knows that suggesting that education is not always worth it strikes at the core of many Americans' beliefs. But that is exactly why is he doing it.

"We're not saying that everybody should drop out of college," he said. The fellows agree to stop getting a formal education for two years but can always go back to school. The problem, he said, is that "in our society the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college."

"I believe you have a bubble whenever you have something that's overvalued and intensely believed," Mr. Thiel said. "In education, you have this clear price escalation without incredible improvement in the product. At the same time you have this incredible intensity of belief that this is what people have to do. In that way it seems very similar in some ways to the housing bubble and the tech bubble."


. . .


"What I really liked about this program is it's giving a lot of people who maybe wouldn't get into Harvard an opportunity to participate in something just as selective and just as valuable and just as educational," Mr. Burnham said. "It's giving them that opportunity even though their personalities and characters don't quite fit the academic mold."

His father, Stephen Burnham, said the decision for his son to skip college, at least for now, was uncontroversial.

"There's a lot of other stuff that you get in college and I would say that would be useful for John," he said. "But I would say in four years there's a big opportunity cost there if you could be out starting your career doing something that could change the world."



For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Changing the World by Dropping Out." The New York Times (Mon., May 30, 2011): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25 (sic), 2011, has the title "Want Success in Silicon Valley? Drop Out of School," and is longer than the published version. Most of what is quoted above appears in both the published and online versions, but some (most notably the paragraph on the education bubble and the quotes from Stephen Burnham) appear only in the online verison.)





June 4, 2011

To Teach the Truth, the Best Teachers Must Become "Canny Outlaws"



PracticalWisdomBK2.jpg

















Source of book image: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Images/news/practical_wisdom.jpg




(p. 170) Walking into Mr. Drew's economics class, researchers might have interrupted a board meeting of the student-run start-up company that was at the heart of his course. Drawing on his own experience in industry, Mr. Drew taught students economic principles in a way that made sense to them because they were researching potential products they would actually sell (a mug with the school logo; a T-shirt designed by a student graphics team). They were conducting market surveys, accumulating capital, making decisions about the scale of investment, the risk, the profits.


. . .


In Houston. the magnet schools were forced to reorganize to prepare for the coming White-Perot reforms. McNeil changed her study. The new question was: How would these teachers cope with a curriculum that was test-driven?


. . .


Mr. Drew's economics class did not conform to the proficiency sequence and he had to drop the course, except as an elective.


. . .


The paperwork required by such new requirements--to assure the bureaucracy that teachers were teaching by the rules--discouraged individualized time spent with students and robbed time previously devoted to planning and assessing lessons. The requirements created the same kind of time bind Wong observed when such requirements were imposed on military trainers. (p. 171) And, as in the case of the new military training model, the new requirements discouraged flexibility, adaptability, and creativity.

McNeil found that many of the experienced teachers fought back. They became canny outlaws, or creative saboteurs, dodging the "law," finding ways to cover the "proficiencies" with great efficiency and squirreling away time to sneak real education back in at the margins of the standardized system, sometimes even conspiring with their students or teaching them how to "game" the system. Mr. Drew taught his students that economic cycles vary in length and intensity, but in the test prep period, he told them to forget this because the official answer was that each cycle lasts eighteen months. There was a danger that students who learned to look beyond the obvious, to ask "what if," to look for the exceptions to the rules, would do badly on the tests.


. . .


The ability of wise teachers to operate as canny outlaws is most seriously constrained when a highly scripted curriculum comes riding into town on the heels of high-stakes standardized tests. By prescribing, step by step, what to say and do each day to prepare students for these tests, such lockstep curricula pose a serious challenge to professional discretion. Yet even under these adverse conditions, in many schools there are canny
outlaws who find ways to avoid being channeled.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The McNeil book mentioned above is:

Linda, McNeil. Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing, Critical Social Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000.


The Wong report mentioned above is:

Wong, Leonard. "Stifled Innovation? Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today." Strategic Studies Institute Monograph, April 1, 2002.



contradictions-school-reform-educational-costs-standardized-testing-linda-m-mcneil-paperback-cover-art.jpg

















Source of book image: http://i43.tower.com/images/mm101682007/contradictions-school-reform-educational-costs-standardized-testing-linda-m-mcneil-paperback-cover-art.jpg





May 22, 2011

College Does Not Improve Thinking or Writing for 36% of Graduates



(p. 10) In a typical semester, . . . , 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying -- about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.


. . .


Too many institutions, . . . , rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good grades. (Indeed, the 36 percent of students in our study who reported spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone still had an average G.P.A. of 3.16.) On those commendable occasions when professors and academic departments do maintain rigor, they risk declines in student enrollments. And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk.



For the full commentary, see:

RICHARD ARUM and JOSIPA ROKSA. "Your So-Called Education." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., May 15, 2011): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 14, 2011.)


Arum and Roska's book is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





May 15, 2011

"A Dart-Throwing Chimpanzee" Predicts as Well as "Experts"

FutureBabble BK.jpg

















The image is of the Canadian edition, which has a different subtitle than the American edition cited below. Source of book image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_qGSiMLu6NXM/TTWIQkcllmI/AAAAAAAADEI/qD2yo1rxnL0/s1600/Future%2BBabble.jpg



(p. C6) How bad are expert predictions? Almost predictably bad. In 2005, Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, published the results of a magisterial 20-year analysis of 27,450 judgments about the future from 284 experts. He discovered that the experts, in aggregate, did little better, and sometimes considerably worse, than "a dart-throwing chimpanzee."

While Mr. Tetlock guaranteed anonymity to get his experts to reveal how useless they were, Mr. Gardner names names. In the late 1960s, he notes, the political scientist Andrew Hacker predicted that race relations in America would soon get so bad that they would lead to the "dynamiting of bridges and water mains" and the "assassinating of public officials and private luminaries." In the early 1970s, Richard Falk, at Princeton, imagined that by the 1990s we would be living in a world dominated by "the politics of catastrophe." In the mid-1970s, Daniel Bell and other analysts assumed that high levels of inflation were, as Mr. Gardner puts it, "here to stay." (In fact, inflation cooled off in the early 1980s and has stayed low for decades.) In the early 1990s, Lester Thurow, the MIT economist, was one of the experts who predicted that Japan would dominate the 21st century, though he noted that Europe had a chance, too.

The high priest of erroneous prediction is, of course, Paul Ehrlich, who, though a respected entomologist, turned into an end-of-the-worlder with "The Population Bomb" (1968) and "The End of Affluence" (1974). In the latter book he wrote: "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Now 77, Mr. Ehrlich is "a gregarious and delightful man, a natural performer," Mr. Gardner reports, thereby tapping into the sources of his success in the face of repeated failure: Never admit mistakes, never sound doubtful. As Mr. Gardner shows in his survey of expert prediction-making, the more you sound like you know what you are talking about, the more people will believe you.



For the full review, see:

TREVOR BUTTERWORTH. "Prophets of Error." Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 30, 2011): C6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated APRIL 30, 2011.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Gardner, Dan. Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better. New York: Dutton Adult, 2011.


The important Tetlock book mentioned, is:

Tetlock, Philip E. Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.





May 11, 2011

Nearly Half of College Students Learn Nothing in First Two Years



Academically-AdriftBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/academically-adrift.jpg




(p. D9) Andrew Carnegie didn't think much of college. More than a century ago, he looked around at the men commanding the industries of the day and found that few had wasted their time lollygagging on a campus quad. "The almost total absence of the graduate from high positions in the business world," he wrote in "The Empire of Business," "seems to justify the conclusion that college education, as it exists, is fatal to success in that domain."


. . .


. . . , as the reward for the collegiate credential has been going up, what goes into getting that degree has been going down. So find sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in their book "Academically Adrift" (University of Chicago Press). Institutions of higher learning are "focused more on social than academic experiences," they write. "Students spend very little time studying, and professors rarely demand much from them in terms of reading and writing." More than a third of students do less than five hours of studying a week--and these shirkers end up, on average, earning B's.

Ms. Roksa, who teaches at University of Virginia, and Mr. Arum, a professor at New York University, mined data from thousands of sophomores who retook a learning assessment test they had first been given when they arrived at college. Nearly half the students showed no sign of intellectual progress after two years of undergraduate endeavor.


. . .


What would Mr. Carnegie have thought of it? "While the college student has been learning a little about the barbarous and petty squabbles of a far-distant past," he wrote, "or trying to master languages which are dead...the future captain of industry is hotly engaged in the school of experience, obtaining the very knowledge required for his future triumphs." Mr. Carnegie may have thought the knowledge gained at college was "adapted for life upon another planet," but he did expect that the students were gathering some sort of knowledge. Shouldn't parents footing the massive tab for tuition be able to expect the same?



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC FELTEN. "POSTMODERN TIMES; Now College is the Break." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 11, 2011): D9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under discussion is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





May 9, 2011

Bank Clerks, Cops and Nurses' Aides Do Not Need a College Degree to Do Their Jobs Well



InTheBasementOfTheIvoryTowerBK2011-04-25.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review cited, but not quoted, far below.






Reviewer P. Chrzanowski on Amazon says that Professor X uses the phrase "creeping credentialism." That sounds like a useful phrase, and an unfortunate phenomenon.


(p. C3) He is a bit wicked, this Professor X. His book-length expansion of the article, "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," is rippled with mellow sarcasm. Reading one student's terrible paper about Sylvia Plath, he says: "I pictured her writing it in a bar, or while driving to class or skydiving. Maybe she composed it as one long text message to herself."


. . .


The tone of his essay, and of this impertinent book, however, is as plaintive as it is lemony. The author is delivering unhappy news, and he knows it. It's as if he's proposing to paste an asterisk on the American dream. "Telling someone that college is not right for him seems harsh and classist, vaguely Dickensian," Professor X writes, "as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines."

Yet why is it so important to Barack Obama (a champion of community colleges) and those doing America's hiring, he asks, that "our bank tellers be college educated, and our medical billing techs, our county tax clerks"? College -- even community college -- drives many young people into debt. Many others lack rudimentary study skills or any scholarly inclination. They want to get on with their lives, not be forced to analyze the meter in "King Lear" in night school in order to become a cop or a nurse's aide.

"No one is thinking about the larger implications, or even the morality," Professor X says, "of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; An Academic Hit Man Brings More Bad News." The New York Times (Weds., April 6, 2011): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 5, 2011.)


For a somewhat less friendly review, see:

ERIC FELTEN. "BOOKSHELF; A Little Learning; Do you have to read 'King Lear' to write a speeding ticket?." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MARCH 30, 2011): A17.


Book under review:

X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.





May 3, 2011

Business Students Study Fewest Hours and Improve Least in Writing and Reasoning



BusinessMajorsStudyLessAndLearnLessGraphs.jpgThe above table shows that business is a popular major, but that students who major in business tend to spend less time studying than other majors, and also tend to learn less than other majors.


(p. 16) PAUL M. MASON does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. "Not many of them would pass," he says.

Dr. Mason, who teaches economics at the University of North Florida, believes his students are just as intelligent as they've always been. But many of them don't read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying. "We used to complain that K-12 schools didn't hold students to high standards," he says with a sigh. "And here we are doing the same thing ourselves."

That might sound like a kids-these-days lament, but all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in Dr. Mason's domain: undergraduate business education.

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.


. . .


(p. 17) IN "Academically Adrift," Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa looked at the performance of students at 24 colleges and universities. At the beginning of freshman year and end of sophomore year, students in the study took the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a national essay test that assesses students' writing and reasoning skills. During those first two years of college, business students' scores improved less than any other group's. Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.

What accounts for those gaps? Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa point to sheer time on task. Gains on the C.L.A. closely parallel the amount of time students reported spending on homework. Another explanation is the heavy prevalence of group assignments in business courses: the more time students spent studying in groups, the weaker their gains in the kinds of skills the C.L.A. measures.

Group assignments are a staple of management and marketing education.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GLENN. "The Default Major: Skating The B-School Blahs; Where's the Rigor? Undergraduate Business Has an Image Problem." The New York Times, Educational Life Section (Sun., April 17, 2011): 16-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 14, 2011 and has the title "The Default Major: Skating Through B-School.")


The book mentioned above is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





April 13, 2011

Some "Professors Are Oblivious to the Costs of Complex Procedures"



MarketplaceOfIdeasBK2011-03-12.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/ED-AK828_book01_DV_20100114190709.jpg






(p. 30) Champions of the market can turn up in the oddest places. At the same time that bankers and businessmen are acknowledging the downsides of unregulated capitalism, college and university reformers are urging the academy to more closely embrace the marketplace.

Amid the raft of new books on the failings of higher education, some challenge the longtime separation between ivy-covered idealists and real-world demands. Scholarly disdain for getting and spending, they argue, has caused serious trouble both in the classroom and in the budget office.

In his slim book "The Marketplace of Ideas," Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, offers to answer a few questions about the humanities, like why professors all seem to have similar politics and why it is so difficult to implement a core curriculum.


. . .


Mr. Garland also wants to bring some market discipline to the culture of academia. While professors tend to be progressives, they are stubbornly conservative when it comes to change. Indeed, as Mr. Menand points out, early reformers argued that the only way to elevate excellence above profits in a capitalist society was by protecting the profession from the market's insistence on cash rewards.

The result, Mr. Garland maintains, is that professors are oblivious to the costs of complex procedures, drawn-out debates and layers of committees; appeals to increase efficiency and productivity are routinely scorned.



For the full review, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Books; Reform; Embracing the Marketplace." The New York Times, Education Life Section (Sun., January 3, 2010): 30.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 29, 2009.)


First book discussed in review:

Menand, Louis. The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Issues of Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.


Second book discussed in review:

Garland, James C. Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America's Public Universities. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009.



SavingAlmaMaterBK2011-03-12.jpg















Source of book image: https://www.stanford.edu/group/cubberley/files/images/SavingAlmaMater.preview.jpg






March 31, 2011

Academic Psychologists Create Hostile Climate for Non-Liberals



(p. D1) SAN ANTONIO -- Some of the world's pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology's conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year's meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new "outgroup."

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

"This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity," Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a "tribal-moral community" united by "sacred values" that hinder research and damage their credibility -- and blind them to the hostile climate they've created for non-liberals.


. . .


(p. D3) The politics of the professoriate has been studied by the economists Christopher Cardiff and Daniel Klein and the sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons. They've independently found that Democrats typically outnumber Republicans at elite universities by at least six to one among the general faculty, and by higher ratios in the humanities and social sciences. In a 2007 study of both elite and non-elite universities, Dr. Gross and Dr. Simmons reported that nearly 80 percent of psychology professors are Democrats, outnumbering Republicans by nearly 12 to 1.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "Findings; Social Scientist Sees Bias Within." The New York Times (Tues., February 8, 2011): D1 & D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 7, 2011.)


To listen to Prof. Haidt's speech and view his PowerPoints, follow this link:

Haidt, Jonathan. "The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology." Presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Antonio, TX on Jan. 27, 2011.


The Cardiff and Klein research mentioned in the commentary:

Cardiff, Christopher F., and Daniel B. Klein. "Faculty Partisan Affiliations in All Disciplines: A Voter Registration Study." Critical Review 17, no. 3-4 (Dec. 2005): 237-55.





March 27, 2011

One in Three Students Lie on Professor Evaluations Mainly "to Punish Professors They Don't Like"



(p. 6B) CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) -- Students aren't always truthful on teacher evaluations, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Northern Iowa and Oklahoma State University.

About one-third of students surveyed at both schools said they stretched the truth on anonymous teacher assessments distributed at the end of a semester, The Des Moines Register reported. Fifty-six percent said they know other students who have done the same.

In some cases, students stretch the truth to make their instructors look good. But more often than not they lie to punish professors they don't like.

. . . the study . . . will be published next year in the education journal, Marketing Education Review.


. . .


Clayson spent several years evaluating teacher evaluations, which ask students to grade their instructor on a number of topics, such as how much they learned in class to how accessible the instructor was. The evaluations can play a role in pay raises, promotions and tenure decisions.

Some instructors dumb down their classes or inflate grades to increase the odds students will like them -- a practice widely known among professors and studied by researchers, including at Duke University, where researchers found professors who gave higher grades received better evaluations.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Professor Evaluations Can Be Tool or Weapon." Omaha World-Herald (Tues., December 14, 2010): 6B.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 25, 2011

State Universities Are "Byzantine Mazes, Sometimes with No Obvious Exit"



(p. A20) . . . in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker proposed on Tuesday to separate the main Madison campus from the rest of the state university system, and make it a public authority. Last week, Madison's chancellor, Carolyn A. Martin, told the Wisconsin Board of Regents that she was hamstrung by state control.

"The accumulated layers of bureaucracy and the control of our mission from a distance make our institutions byzantine mazes, sometimes with no obvious exit," she said. "It's hard to be more responsible or more responsive if we spend all our time trying to comprehend and then follow 25 steps to get approval for one purchase."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Public Universities Seek More Autonomy as Financing From States Shrinks." The New York Times (Thurs., March 3, 2011): A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 2, 2011.)





March 13, 2011

Defending the Right to Bear Arms



(p. 20) State Representative Jack Harper, who introduced a bill allowing professors to carry guns, said an Arizona State University professor, whom he has refused to identify, first raised the issue with him. "When law-abiding, responsible adults are able to defend themselves, crime is deterred," Mr. Harper said in a statement.

That is the philosophy in Arizona as a whole, where gun laws are among the least restrictive in the country. If law-abiding people can carry guns one step outside the campus to keep criminals at bay, supporters ask, why not allow them to enter a university with their firearms? That is already permitted in Utah, alone so far in allowing guns to be carried on all state campuses.

"I think that every person has the right to bear arms no matter what the circumstances," said Ashlyn Lucero, a political science student at Arizona State University who has served in the Marine Corps, is the daughter of a sheriff and grew up hunting.

Ms. Lucero carries her Glock pistol whenever possible and would carry it on campus if she could. "If I'm going out to eat somewhere, I usually have a gun with me always," she said. "It's just one of those things that you never know what's going to happen."

Thor Mikesell, a senior majoring in music who grew up hunting, is also a backer of allowing guns on campus. "There's no magic line, there's no magic barrier that makes me more safe on the campus than it is when I'm being a real person in the real world outside of the school," he said.


. . .


"This is not the 1890s' O.K. Corral shoot 'em up, bang 'em up," he said. "These are not vigilante kind of people. Their interest is their personal security and the security of their family."

The State Senate president, Russell Pearce, who recently said he would not prevent senators from taking guns into the Senate chamber despite rules against it, is an advocate for loosening as many gun restrictions as possible.


. . .


"Guns save lives, and it's a constitutional right of our citizens," Mr. Pearce said of the guns-on-campus proposal. Speaking of the Tucson shooting, which took place at a shopping center and not on a university campus, Mr. Pearce, a former sheriff's deputy, said, "If somebody had been there prepared to take action, they could have saved lives."



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Lawmakers Debate Effect of Weapons on Campus." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., February 27, 2011): 14 & 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 24, 2011

Grammar Mavens Are "Guilty of Turning Superstitions into Rules"



LexicographersDdilemmaBK2011-02-06.jpeg













Source of book image: http://static.letsbuyit.com/filer/images/uk/products/original/132/76/the-lexicographer-s-dilemma-the-evolution-of-proper-english-from-shakespeare-to-south-park-13276063.jpeg




(p. C29) It's getting harder to make a living as an editor of the printed word, what with newspapers and other publications cutting staff. And it will be harder still now that Jack Lynch has published "The Lexicographer's Dilemma," an entertaining tour of the English language in which he shows that many of the rules that editors and other grammatical zealots wave about like cudgels are arbitrary and destined to be swept aside as words and usage evolve.


. . .


"Too often," he writes, "the mavens and pundits are talking through their hats. They're guilty of turning superstitions into rules, and often their proclamations are nothing more than prejudice representing itself as principle."

And, as he notes in his final chapter, the grammatical doomsayers had better find themselves some chill pills fast, because the crimes-against-the-language rate is going to skyrocket here in the electronic age. There is already much whining about the goofy truncated vocabulary of e-mail and text messaging (a phenomenon Mr. Lynch sees as good news, not bad; to mangle the rules of grammar, you first have to know the rules). And the Internet means that English is increasingly a global language.



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; This Is English, Rules Are Optional." The New York Times (Mon., May 4, 2009): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 3, 2009.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Lynch, Jack W. The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.





February 16, 2011

UFT "Trying to Deny Poor Parents Choice for Their Children"



SacklerMadeleine2011-02-05.jpg
















Madeleine Sackler. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A13) 'What's funny," says Madeleine Sackler, "is that I'm not really a political person." Yet the petite 27-year-old is the force behind "The Lottery"--an explosive new documentary about the battle over the future of public education opening nationwide this Tuesday.

In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York's biggest lottery. It wasn't the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city's best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren't subject to union rules).

"I was blown away by the number of parents that were there," Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. "I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them." And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.


. . .


But on the way to making the film she imagined, she "stumbled on this political mayhem--really like a turf war about the future of public education." Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.

"We drove by that protest," Ms. Sackler recalls. "We were on our way to another interview and we jumped out of the van and started filming." There she discovered that the majority of those protesting the proliferation of charter schools were not even from the neighborhood. They'd come from the Bronx and Queens.

"They all said 'We're not allowed to talk to you. We're just here to support the parents.'" But there were only two parents there, says Ms. Sackler, and both were members of Acorn. And so, "after not a lot of digging," she discovered that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had paid Acorn, the controversial community organizing group, "half a million dollars for the year." (It cost less to make the film.)

Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was "the turn for us in the process." That story--of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children--provided an answer to Ms. Sackler's fundamental question: "If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren't there more of them?"



For the full interview, see:

BARI WEISS. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Storming the School Barricades; A new documentary by a 27-year-old filmmaker could change the national debate about public education." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 5, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph quoted above has slightly different wording in the online version than the print version; the second paragraph quoted is the same in both.)





January 31, 2011

Feds Protect Us from Freshly Baked Cookies



MastersElementaryBakeSale2011-01-30.jpg
"Schools like Omaha's Masters Elementary, which held a recent holiday bake sale, count on the profits from selling cupcakes, caramel corn and other goodies to raise money for field trips and other activities." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



(p. 1A) A business club at Millard West High School peddles freshly baked cookies, raking in $15,000 annually to help send students to national conferences.

At Omaha's Masters Elementary, cupcakes, fudge and other bake-sale treats raise $500 for field trips, rain jackets for the safety patrol and playground equipment.

But the federal government could slam the brakes on those brownies and lower the boom on the lemon bars.

A child nutrition bill passed recently by Congress gives a fed­eral agency the power to limit the frequency of school bake sales and other school-sponsored fundraisers that sell unhealthy food.

To some, the bake sale provision makes about as much sense as leav­ing the marshmallows out of Rice Krispies treats.

It maybe makes sense for the fed­eral government to monitor the qual­ity of ground beef, eggs and milk sold in grocery stores. But caramel corn and snicker doodles whipped up by parents for school bake sales?

"Aren't there more important (p. 2A) things for them to be wor­ried about?" Sandy Hatcher, president of Masters' parent organization, said of the fed­eral government.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL O'CONNOR. "Putting the brakes on bake sales; New federal rules on frequency during school day may affect fundraising." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., December 12, 2010): 1A-2A.






January 1, 2011

Peer Review Versus Open Review (As Inspired by Wikipedia)



CohenDan2010-12-21.jpg "Dan Cohen, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, is among the academics who advocate a more open, Web-based approach to reviewing scholarly works." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) For professors, publishing in elite journals is an unavoidable part of university life. The grueling process of subjecting work to the up-or-down judgment of credentialed scholarly peers has been a cornerstone of academic culture since at least the mid-20th century.


. . .


"What we're experiencing now is the most important transformation in our reading and writing tools since the invention of movable type," said Katherine Rowe, a Renaissance specialist and media historian at Bryn Mawr College. "The way scholarly exchange is moving is radical, and we need to think about what it means for our fields."


. . .


(p. A3) Today a small vanguard of digitally adept scholars is rethinking how knowledge is understood and judged by inviting online readers to comment on books in progress, compiling journals from blog posts and sometimes successfully petitioning their universities to grant promotions and tenure on the basis of non-peer-reviewed projects.


. . .


Each type of review has benefits and drawbacks.

The traditional method, in which independent experts evaluate a submission, often under a veil of anonymity, can take months, even years.

Clubby exclusiveness, sloppy editing and fraud have all marred peer review on occasion. Anonymity can help prevent personal bias, but it can also make reviewers less accountable; exclusiveness can help ensure quality control but can also narrow the range of feedback and participants. Open review more closely resembles Wikipedia behind the scenes, where anyone with an interest can post a comment. This open-door policy has made Wikipedia, on balance, a crucial reference resource.

Ms. Rowe said the goal is not necessarily to replace peer review but to use other, more open methods as well.

In some respects scientists and economists who have created online repositories for unpublished working papers, like repec.org, have more quickly adapted to digital life. Just this month, mathematicians used blogs and wikis to evaluate a supposed mathematical proof in the space of a week -- the scholarly equivalent of warp speed.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Scholars Test Web Alternative to the Venerable Peer Review." The New York Times (Tues., August 24, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 23, 2010, and had the slightly shorter title "Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review.")






November 29, 2010

School Choice "Makes Parents and Students Happier with Their Schools"




Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for 'Superman'" movie has brought renewed attention to the case for school choice. New York Times commentator Ross Douthat reasonably discusses that case:


(p. A21) Guggenheim's movie, which follows five families through the brutal charter school lotteries that determine whether their kids will escape from public "dropout factories," stirs an entirely justified outrage at the system's unfairnesses and cruelties. This outrage needs to be supplemented, though, with a dose of realism about what education reformers can reasonably hope to accomplish, and what real choice and competition would ultimately involve.

With that in mind, I have a modest proposal: Copies of Frederick Hess's recent National Affairs essay, "Does School Choice 'Work'?" should be handed out at every "Waiting for 'Superman' " showing, as a sober-minded complement to Guggenheim's cinematic call to arms.


. . .


A real marketplace in education, he suggests, probably wouldn't fund schools directly at all. It would only fund students, tying a school's budget to the number of children seeking to enroll. If there are 150 applicants for a charter school, they should all bring their funding with them -- and take it away from the failing schools they're trying to escape.

This is a radical idea, guaranteed to meet intense resistance from just about every educational interest group. But Hess makes a compelling case that it needs to be the school choice movement's long-term goal, if reformers hope to do more than just tinker around the edges of the system.

In the shorter term, meanwhile, he suggests that school choice advocates need to make a case for greater competition that doesn't depend on test scores alone. Maybe charter schools, merit pay and vouchers won't instantly turn every American child into a test-acing dynamo. But if they "only" create a more cost-effective system that makes parents and students happier with their schools -- well, that would be no small feat, and well worth fighting for.



For the full commentary, see:

ROSS DOUTHAT. "Grading School Choice." The New York Times (Mon., October 11, 2010): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 10, 2010.)


The Hess article is:

Hess, Frederick M. "Does School Choice "Work"?" National Affairs, Issue 5, FALL 2010.





November 16, 2010

"The Roiling World of Opera More Appealingly Straightforward than the Roiling World of Academe"



GillRichardEconomist2010-11-13.jpgGillRichardOperaSinger2010-11-13.jpg



















At left, Richard Gill as Harvard economist. At right, Richard "Gill as Frère Laurent, one of his numerous singing roles he preformed at the Met." Source of part of caption, and of photos: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. B19) Richard T. Gill, in all statistical probability the only Harvard economist to sing 86 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Monday in Providence, R.I. He was 82.


. . .


Mr. Gill, a longtime Harvard faculty member who wrote many widely used economics textbooks, did not undertake serious vocal training (which he began as an anti-smoking regimen) until he was nearly 40. At the time, he had seen perhaps 10 operas and rarely listened to classical music.


. . .


In some respects, he later said, Mr. Gill found the roiling world of opera more appealingly straightforward than the roiling world of academe.

"Performing is a great reality test," he told Newsweek in 1975. "There's no tenure in it and the feedback is much less complicated than you get in academia. When you go out on that stage, you put your life on the line."



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Richard T. Gill, Economist and Opera Singer, Dies at 82." The New York Times (Thurs., October 28, 2010): B19.

(Note: ellipses added.)





November 15, 2010

If the Uncredentialed Succeed, It Must Be Luck



(p. 33) Newcomen and Calley had, in broad strokes, the design for a working engine. They had enjoyed some luck, though it was anything but dumb luck. This didn't seem to convince the self-named (p. 34) experimental philosopher J. T. Desaguliers, a Huguenot refugee Like Papin, who became one of Isaac Newton's assistants and (later) a priest in the Church of England. Desaguliers wrote, just before his death in 1744, that the two men had made their engine work, but "not being either philosophers to understand the reason, or mathematicians enough to calculate the powers and to proportion the parts, very luckily by accident found what they sought for."

The notion of' Newcomen's scientific ignorance persists to this day. One of its expressions is the legend that the original engine was made to cycle automatically by the insight of a boy named Humphrey Potter, who built a mazelike network of catches and strings from the plug rod to open the valves and close them. It is almost as if a Dartmouth ironmonger simply had to have an inordinate amount of luck to succeed where so many had failed.

The discovery of the power of injected water was luck; understanding and exploiting it was anything but. Newcomen and CalIey replaced the accidental hole in the cylinder with an injection valve, and, ingeniously, attached it to the piston itself. When the piston reached the bottom of the cylinder, it automatically closed the injection valve and opened another valve, permitting the water to flow out.



Source:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)





October 23, 2010

Arne Duncan on "Waiting for Superman" and Teachers' Unions



DuncanArne2010-10-02.jpg




Arne Duncan. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 26) Have you seen the new film "Waiting for Superman," a documentary opening this week that makes public education in this country seem totally dysfunctional?
I did. I think it's going to help the country to understand the tremendous sense of urgency that I feel. We have parents who know their child is getting a subpar education. That is devastating to them and ultimately it's devastating to our country.

The film blames teachers' unions for the failure of public schools because the unions have made it almost impossible to fire lazy teachers. Are you against teachers' unions?
Of course not. I'm a big fan of Randi's.



Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers? The film depicts her as a villain.
I think Randi is providing some courageous leadership and is actually taking some heat internally in the union because she said publicly that the union shouldn't be protecting bad teachers.


For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "Questions for Arne Duncan; The School of Hard Drives." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., September 17, 2010): 26.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 16, 2010.)





August 18, 2010

Carbon Dioxide Increased After the Globe Warmed, Not Before



The passages quoted below are from an opinion piece by retired physicist Jack Kasher who was a colleague of mine at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


I was pleased to see that the Millard school district pulled Laurie David's book, "The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming," due to "a major factual error" in a chart that shows rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels dating back 650,000 years. The chart claims to show that global warming is caused by increases in carbon dioxide levels, but the facts show that this is not the case.

In May, I attended an international conference on global warming in Chicago, with 73 speakers from 23 countries. The book and its erroneous chart were discussed there. (Go online to http://www.heartland.org/events/2010Chicago/index.html and click on "proceedings" to see most of the talks and PowerPoint presentations.)

When the error is corrected, the chart will show that in every single case over this time span the Earth warmed up first, followed by a later increase in carbon dioxide. This is clear proof that in the past global warming was not caused by an increase in CO2. If anything, it is the other way around. In each instance, something other than CO2 caused the temperature increase, which then might have made the CO2 rise. This chart shows that past history actually contradicts David's main assumption in her book -- namely that man-made carbon dioxide is causing global warming.



For the full commentary, see:


Dr. Jack Kasher. "Midlands Voices: Let's include uncertainties in global-warming lessons." Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday June 30, 2010): ??.






July 21, 2010

Defenders of Climategate Benefit from Global Warming Fears



(p. A15) Last November there was a world-wide outcry when a trove of emails were released suggesting some of the world's leading climate scientists engaged in professional misconduct, data manipulation and jiggering of both the scientific literature and climatic data to paint what scientist Keith Briffa called "a nice, tidy story" of climate history. The scandal became known as Climategate.

Now a supposedly independent review of the evidence says, in effect, "nothing to see here."


. . .


One of the panel's four members, Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, was on the faculty of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences for 18 years. At the beginning of his tenure, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)--the source of the Climategate emails--was established in Mr. Boulton's school at East Anglia. Last December, Mr. Boulton signed a petition declaring that the scientists who established the global climate records at East Anglia "adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity."

This purportedly independent review comes on the heels of two others--one by the University of East Anglia itself and the other by Penn State University, both completed in the spring, concerning its own employee, Prof. Michael Mann. Mr. Mann was one of the Climategate principals who proposed a plan, which was clearly laid out in emails whose veracity Mr. Mann has not challenged, to destroy a scientific journal that dared to publish three papers with which he and his East Anglia friends disagreed. These two reviews also saw no evil. For example, Penn State "determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community."

Readers of both earlier reports need to know that both institutions receive tens of millions in federal global warming research funding (which can be confirmed by perusing the grant histories of Messrs. Jones or Mann, compiled from public sources, that are available online at freerepublic.com). Any admission of substantial scientific misbehavior would likely result in a significant loss of funding.

It's impossible to find anything wrong if you really aren't looking.



For the full commentary, see

PATRICK J. MICHAELS. "The Climategate Whitewash Continues; Global warming alarmists claim vindication after last year's data manipulation scandal. Don't believe the 'independent' reviews.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 12, 2010): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated JULY 10, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 13, 2010

In the Age of Vacuum Tubes, 6th Grader's Dad Showed Him How Transistors Work



Wozniak went on to invent the personal computer.

This example would probably fit with some of what Malcolm Gladwell claims in his bestseller Outliers.


(p. 15) I have to point out here that at no time did my dad make a big deal about my progress in electronics. He taught me stuff, sure, but he always acted as if it was just normal for me. By the sixth grade, I was really advanced in math and science, everyone knew it, and I'd been tested for IQ and they told us it was 200-plus. But my dad never acted like this was something he should push me along with. He pulled out a blackboard from time to time, a tiny little blackboard we had in our house on Edmonton Avenue, and when I asked, he would answer anything and make diagrams for it. I remember how he showed me what happened if you put a plus voltage into a transistor and got a minus voltage out the other end of the transistor. There must have been an inverter, a type of logic gate. And he even physically taught me how to make an AND gate and an OR gate out of parts he got--parts called diodes and resistors. And he showed me how they needed a transistor in between to amplify the signal and connect the output of one gate to the input of the other.

(p. 16) To this very moment, that is the way every single digital device on the planet works at its most basic level.

He took the time--a lot of time--to show me those few little things. They were little things to him, even though Fairchild and Texas Instruments had just developed the transistor only a decade earlier.

It's amazing, really, to think that my dad taught me about transistors back when almost no one saw anything but vacuum tubes. So he was at the top of the state of the art, probably because his secret job put him in touch with such advanced technology. So I ended up being at the state of the art, too.

The way my dad taught me, though, was not to rote-memorize how parts are connected to form a gate, but to learn where the electrons flowed to make the gate do its job. To truly internalize and understand what is going on, not just read stuff off some blueprint or out of some book.

Those lessons he taught me still drive my intelligence and my methods for all the computer designs I do today.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.


The reference to the Gladwell book is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





June 9, 2010

Wozniak's Dad Taught Him the Power of Technology



(p. 12) . . . my dad taught me . . . a lot about electronics. Boy, do I owe a lot to him for this. He first started telling me things and explaining things about electronics when I was really, really young--before I was even four years old. This is before he had that top secret job at Lockheed, when he worked at Electronic Data Systems in the Los Angeles area. One of my first memories is his taking me to his workplace on a weekend and showing me a few electronic parts, putting them on a table with me so I got to play with them and look at them. I can still picture him standing there working on some kind of equipment. I don't know if he was soldering or what, but I do remember him hooking something up to something else that looked like a little TV set. I now know it was an oscilloscope. And he told me he was trying to get something done, trying to get the picture on the screen with a line (it was a waveform) stable-looking so he could show his boss that his design worked.

And I remember sitting there and being so little, and thinking: Wow, what a great, great world he's living in. I mean, that's all I (p. 13) thought: Wow. For people who know how to do this stuff--how to take these little parts and make them work together to do something--well, these people must be the smartest people hi the world. That was really what went through my head, way back then.

Now, I was, of course, too young at that point to decide that I wanted to be an engineer. That came a few years later. I hadn't even been exposed to science fiction or books about inventors yet, but just then, at that moment, I could see right before my eyes that whatever my dad was doing, whatever it was, it was important and good.



Source:

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 14, 2010

"Empower Parents to Choose the School that's Best for Their Children"



The author of the commentary quoted below is an African-American Democratic State Senator in Pennsylvania, and is running for Governor in that state's Democratic primary which will be held on May 18, 2010.


(p. A17) As an African-American legislator, I've seen children in inner-city schools trapped, and I've seen kids in rural areas with no choice but to stay in underperforming schools. Changing the status quo is a big reason why I'm running for governor.

My mom was also a public school teacher, so make no mistake, I know how hard they work. At the same time, schools must also be able to terminate, not just reassign, poor performing teachers. And when we empower parents to choose the school that's best for their children, it serves as a constant audit of a school's quality because parents are able to leave bad schools and enroll their children in better performing schools.

I hope that Pennsylvania receives a Race to the Top grant. But unless we're willing to fundamentally change the system, the money's impact will be minimal. Children in our state can't wait any longer: Now is the time for school choice.



For the full commentary, see:

ANTHONY HARDY WILLIAMS. "Pennsylvania Kids Deserve School Choice; Bad public schools hurt poor and rural children the most." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MAY 12, 2010): A17.






May 13, 2010

PowerPoint Useful for Graphs and for "Hypnotizing Chickens"



PowerpointChartAfganStrategy2010-05-12.jpg"A PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan certainly succeeded in that aim." Source of caption and graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

"When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war," General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

"It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. "Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable."


. . .


(p. A8) Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is "just agony," nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.


. . .


Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as "hypnotizing chickens."



For the full story, see:

COREY ELISABETH BUMILLER. "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint." The New York Times (Thurs., April 27, 2010): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 26, 2010.)


An interesting, but overdone critique of PowerPoint by an intelligent expert on graphics is:

Tufte, Edward R. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2003.





May 6, 2010

School Choice "Lifts the Performance of Public-School Students"



(p. A15) There is . . . clear evidence that many private schools outperform public schools academically. The first children to enter the Washington, D.C., voucher program, for example, now read more than two grade levels above students who applied for the program but didn't win the voucher lottery.

Researchers from Northwestern University will soon release a study on how competition from Florida's education tax-credit program is impacting the performance of children who remain in public schools. The preliminary evidence is that school choice lifts the performance of public-school students significantly.

Florida's scholarship program appears to be the first statewide private school choice program to reach a critical mass of funding, functionality and political support. As an ever increasing number of students in Florida take advantage of the scholarship program, other states will find it hard to resist enacting broad-based school choice.



For the full commentary, see:

ADAM B. SCHAEFFER. "Florida's Unheralded School Revolution; A scholarship program could produce a new era of choice." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 30, 2010): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 24, 2010

Liberal Democrat Hesburgh Condems Obama Administration's Killing School Vouchers



My Chicago professor Milton Friedman proposed educational vouchers in Capitalism and Freedom, a great book based on lectures that Friedman delivered several decades ago at Wabash College at the invitation of my first economics professor, Ben Rogge.

Friedman's belief was that parents generally care about their children, and will seek a good education for them, if provided the means to choose among credible alternatives.

Special interests are arrayed against this idea, but that does not mean that Friedman was wrong.

Another distinguished educator who supports vouchers (see below) is Father Hesburgh, who for many years was President of Notre Dame in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.


(p. A19) If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country's race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the "civil rights issue of our generation." Millions of our children--disproportionately poor and minority--remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.


. . .


. . . , I was deeply disappointed when Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) successfully inserted a provision in last year's omnibus spending bill that ended one of the best efforts to give these struggling children the chance to attend a safe and decent school.

That effort is called the Opportunity Scholarship program. Since 2004 it has allowed thousands of children in Washington, D.C., to escape one of the worst public school systems in the nation by providing them with scholarships of up to $7,500.

Despite its successes, it is now closing down. On Tuesday the Senate voted against a measure introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) that would have extended the program. Throughout this process Mr. Duncan's Education Department and the White House raised no protest.


. . .


I know that some consider voucher programs such as the Opportunity Scholarships a right-wing affair. I do not accept that label. This program was passed with the bipartisan support of a Republican president and Democratic mayor. The children it serves are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They are the future of our nation, and they deserve better from our nation's leaders.

I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don't pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn't have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice stand.




For the full commentary, see:

THEODORE M. HESBURGH. "A Setback for Educational Civil Rights; I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice of killing D.C. vouchers stand." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 18, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated MARCH 17, 2010.)


Reference to the Friedman book mentioned above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.





April 13, 2010

Warren Buffett and Ted Turner Did OK After Harvard Rejections



TurnerTedRejected2010-04-04.jpg






"Ted Turner, Entrepreneur. Rejected by Princeton and Harvard. 'I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree.'" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. D1) Few events arouse more teenage angst than the springtime arrival of college rejection letters. With next fall's college freshman class expected to approach a record 2.9 million students, hundreds of thousands of applicants will soon be receiving the dreaded letters.

Teenagers who face rejection will be joining good company, including Nobel laureates, billionaire philanthropists, university presidents, constitutional scholars, best-selling authors and other leaders of business, media and the arts who once received college or graduate-school rejection letters of their own.


. . .


Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn't have (p. D2) been a good fit. But at the time, he "had this feeling of dread" after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

As it turned out, his father responded with "only this unconditional love...an unconditional belief in me," Mr. Buffett says. Exploring other options, he realized that two investing experts he admired, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, were teaching at Columbia's graduate business school. He dashed off a late application, where by a stroke of luck it was fielded and accepted by Mr. Dodd. From these mentors, Mr. Buffett says he learned core principles that guided his investing. The Harvard rejection also benefited his alma mater; the family gave more than $12 million to Columbia in 2008 through the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, based on tax filings.


. . .


Rejected once, and then again, by business schools at Stanford and Harvard, Scott McNealy practiced the perseverance that would characterize his career. A brash economics graduate of Harvard, he was annoyed that "they wouldn't take a chance on me right out of college," he says. He kept trying, taking a job as a plant foreman for a manufacturer and working his way up in sales. "By my third year out of school, it was clear I was going to be a successful executive. I blew the doors off my numbers," he says. Granted admission to Stanford's business school, he met Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla and went on to head Sun for 22 years.


. . .


Time puts rejection letters in perspective, says Ted Turner. He received dual rejections as a teenager, by Princeton and Harvard, he says in an interview. The future America's Cup winner attended Brown University, where he became captain of the sailing team. He left college after his father cut off financial support, and joined his father's billboard company, which he built into the media empire that spawned CNN. Brown has since awarded him a bachelor's degree.

Tragedies later had a greater impact on his life, he says, including the loss of his father to suicide and his teenage sister to illness. "A rejection letter doesn't even come close to losing loved ones in your family. That is the hard stuff to survive," Mr. Turner says. "I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree," he says. While it is better to have one, "you can be successful without it."




For the full story, see:

SUE SHELLENBARGER. "Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were . . . Rejected; At College Admission Time, Lessons in Thin Envelopes." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MARCH 24, 2010): D1 & D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)



RejectedFamous2010-04-04.jpg







"Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. After Harvard Business School said no, everything 'I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.'" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






March 25, 2010

At Odds with Academic Culture, Wiki Programmer Adams Released Early and Released Often



(p. 67) Adams did something unexpected for the academic community, but common in open source culture--release early and release often. Within weeks of its launch, one of the biggest annoyances of Wikipedia was resolved directly by the software's author. It was not because of monetary compensation or any formal request, but simply because the author was interested in solving it on his own time, and sharing it with others. It was the hacker ethos, and it had crossed from the domain of tech programmers into the world of encyclopedias.


Source:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.





March 17, 2010

Wikipedia Works in Practice, Not in Theory



(p. 20) Jimmy walked into the offices of Chicago Options Associates in 1994 and met the CEO Michael Davis for a job interview. Davis had looked over Wales's academic publication about options pricing.

"It was impressive looking," says Wales wryly about the paper. "It was a very theoretical paper but it wasn't very practical." But Davis was sufficiently intrigued, as he wanted someone like Wales to pore over the firm's financial models and help improve them. So he took on young Wales, who seemed to be sharp and had acumen for numbers. Little did either of them know they would have a long road ahead together, with Wikipedia in the future.

Wales's first job was to go over the firm's current pricing models. "What was really fascinating was that it was truly a step beyond what I'd seen in academia," he recalls. "It was very practical, and didn't have a real theoretical foundation." Wales was intrigued that the firm traded on principles that worked in practice, not in theory. (This is something he would say about his future endeavor Wikipedia.) "Basically they just knew in the marketplace that the existing models were wrong."



Source:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.

(Note: italics in original.)





March 12, 2010

The Entrepreneurial Epistemology of Wikipedia



Wikipedia-RrevolutionBK2010-02-08.jpg















Source of book image: http://kellylowenstein.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/wikipedia-revolution1.jpg



Wikipedia is a very unexpected and disruptive institution. Amateurs have produced an encyclopedia that is bigger, deeper, more up-to-date, and arguably of at least equal accuracy, with the best professional encyclopedias, such as Britannica.

I learned a lot from Lih's book. For instance I did not know that the founders of Wikipedia were admirers of Ayn Rand. And I did not know that the Oxford English Dictionary was constructed mainly by volunteer amateurs.

I also did not know anything about the information technology precursors and the back-history of the institutions that helped Wikipedia to work.

I learned much about the background, values, and choices of Wikipedia entrepreneur "Jimbo" Wales. (Jimbo Wales seems not to be perfect, but on balance to be one of the 'good guys' in the world---one of those entrepreneurs who can be admired for something beyond their particular entrepreneurial innovation.)

Lih's book also does a good job of sketching the problems and tensions within Wikipedia.

I believe that Wikipedia is a key step in the development of faster and better institutions of knowledge generation and communication. I also believe that substantial further improvements can and will be made.

Most importantly, I think that you can only go so far with volunteers--ways must be found to reward and compensate.

In the meantime, much can be learned from Lih. In the next few weeks, I will be quoting a few passages that I found especially illuminating.


Book discussed:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.





March 7, 2010

Determination, Not Education, Is Key to Success at McDonald's



(p. 189) McDonald's is a real melting pot.

The key element in these individual success stories and of McDonald's itself, is not knack or education, it's determination. This is expressed very well in my favorite homily:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."


Source:

Kroc, Ray. Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's. Chicago: Henry Regnary Company, 1977.





January 17, 2010

Paul Johnson's Defense of Winston Churchill



JohnsonPaul2010-01-16.jpg













British historian Paul Johnson. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ conversation quoted and cited below.




(p. D6) Now, at 81 and after years of producing enormous, compulsively readable history books, Mr. Johnson has just written what, at 192 pages, is probably the shortest biography of Winston Churchill ever published.


. . .


He gives credit to his success as a historian to his simultaneous and successful career in journalism. "You learn all sorts of tools as a journalist that come in extremely useful when you're writing history," he tells me as we sit in the drawing room of the West London house he shares with his wife, Marigold, "and one is the ability to condense quite complicated events into a few short sentences without being either inaccurate or boring. And of course a lot of the best historians were also journalists."


. . .


The book includes refutations of many of the negative myths that have grown up around Churchill. For instance, that he was drunk for much of World War II. "He appeared to drink much more than he did," Mr. Johnson insists. "He used to sip his drinks very, very slowly, and he always watered his whisky and brandy."

Mr. Johnson certainly does not agree with the often-echoed criticism made by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Churchill had every gift except judgment: "He made occasional errors of judgment because he made so many judgments--some of them were bound to be wrong! . . . On the whole, his judgment was proved to be right. He was right before the First World War in backing a more decent civilized society when he and Lloyd George created the elements of old-age pensions and things like that. He was right about the need to face up to Hitler and he was right about the Cold War that the Russians had to be resisted and we had to rearm."

He is convinced that "Churchill was more than half American . . . all of his real qualities generally come from his mother's side." And despite Mr. Johnson's own Oxford education (he was there with Margaret Thatcher), he believes that Churchill benefited from never having gone to college: "He never learned any of the bad intellectual habits you can pick up at university, and it explains the extraordinary freshness with which he came to all sorts of things, especially English literature."




For the full conversation, see:

JONATHAN FOREMAN. "A Cultural Conversation with Paul Johnson; Winston Churchill, Distilled." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., DECEMBER 10, 2009): D6.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated DECEMBER 11, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses within paragraphs were in the original; ellipses between paragraphs were added.)



The reference to Johnson's biography of Churchill, is:

Johnson, Paul M. Churchill. New York: Viking Adult, 2009.





December 20, 2009

Steve Perry's Passion for Better Education




ManUpBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.renegadebook.com/Man%20Up!.jpg



I have seen Steve Perry interviewed on education issues a couple of times on CNN, and have been impressed. He makes a credible case for vouchers.

I have not read either of the books pictured in this entry, but have put them on my "to read" list.


The books are:

Perry, Steve. Man Up! Nobody Is Coming to Save Us. Renegade Books, 2006.

Perry, Steve. Raggedy Schools: The Untold Truth. Renegade Books, 2009.


RaggedySchoolsBK2.jpg









Source of book image: http://www.raggedyschools.com/images/bookstore_photo.jpg





December 2, 2009

Despite Importance of Economic Historians, History Departments Hire Fewer Economic Historians



HistoryFieldFacultyGraph2009-10-29.jpg



















Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. C7) Over the last three decades the number of history faculty members at four-year institutions has more than doubled to 20,000-plus, said Robert B. Townsend, assistant director for research at the American Historical Association. Yet the growth has been predominantly in the newer specializations, spurring those in diplomatic, military, legal and economic history to complain they are being squeezed out.

In 1975, for example, three-quarters of college history departments employed at least one diplomatic historian; in 2005 fewer than half did. The number of departments with an economic historian fell to 31.7 percent from 54.7 percent. By contrast the biggest gains were in women's history, which now has a representative in four out of five history departments.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Great Caesar's Ghost! Are Traditional History Courses Vanishing?" The New York Times (Thurs., June 11, 2009): C1 & C7.

(Note: the online version is dated Weds., June 10.)





November 29, 2009

Walt Disney: "I Don't Care About Critics"



(p. 286) "He is shy with reporters." Edith Efron wrote for TV Guide in 1965. "His eyes are dull and preoccupied, his affability mechanical and heavy-handed. He gabs away slowly and randomly in inarticulate, Midwestern speech that would be appropriate to a rural general store. His shirt is open, his tie crooked. One almost expects to see over-all straps on his shoulders and wisps of hay in his hair. . . . If one has the patience to persist, however, tossing questions like yellow flares into the folksy fog, the fog lifts, a remote twinkle appears in the preoccupied eves, and the man emerges."

Here again, as in other interviews from the 1960s, Disney permitted himself to sound bitter and resentful when he said anything of substance: "These avant-garde artists are adolescents. It's only a little noisy element that's going that way, that's creating this sick art. . . . There is no cynicism in me and there is none allowed in our work. . . . I don't like snobs. You find some of intelligentsia, they become snobs. They think they're above everybody else. They're not. More education doesn't mean more common sense. These ideas they have about art are crazy. . . . I don't care about critics. Critics take themselves too seriously. They think the only way to be noticed and to be the smart guy is to pick and find fault with things. It's the public I'm making pictures for."




Source:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses and italics in original.)





November 25, 2009

Disney Learned Quickly (Despite Lack of Formal Education), and Impatiently Expected Others to Learn Quickly Too



The story below is very reminiscent of a story that Michael Lewis tells in The New, New Thing about how entrepreneur Jim Clark learned to fly.

Possible lesson: impatience and quick learning may not be traits of all high level entrepreneurs, but they appear to have been traits of at least two.


(p. 213) Seventeen years later, Broggie told Richard Hubler that teaching Disney how to run a lathe and drill press and other machinery was difficult "because he was impatient. So I'd make what we call a set-up in a lathe and turn out a piece and say, 'Well, that's how you do it.' He would see part of it and he was impatient, so he would want to turn the wheels--and then something would happen. A piece might fly out of the chuck and he'd say, 'God-damn it. why didn't you tell me it was going to do this?' Well, you don't tell him, you know? It was a thing of--well--you learn it. He said one day, . . . 'You know, it does me some good sometimes to come down here to find out I don't know all about everything.' . . . How would you sharpen the drill if it was going to drill brass or steel? There's a difference. And he learned it. You only had to show him once and he got the picture."

This was a characteristic that other people in the studio noticed. "He had a terrific memory," Marc Davis said. "He learned very quickly. . . . You only had to explain a thing once to him and he knew how to do it. Other people are not the same. I think this is a problem he had in respect to everybody . . . his tremendous memory and his tremendous capacity for learning. He wasn't book learned but he was the most fantastically well educated man in his own way. . . . He understood the mechanics of everything. . . . Everything was a new toy. And this also made him a very impatient man. He was as impatient as could be with whoever he worked with."

Disney's lack of formal education manifested itself sometimes in jibes at his college-educated employees, but more often in the odd lapses--the mispronounced words, the grammatical slips--that can mark an autodidact. "For a guy who only went to the eighth grade," Ollie Johnston said, "Walt educated himself beautifully. His vocabulary was good. I only heard him get sore (p. 214) about a big word once in a story meeting. Everyone was sitting around talking and Ted Sears said, 'Well, I think that's a little too strident.' Walt said, 'What the hell are you trying to say, Ted?' He hadn't heard that word before.




Source:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


For a similar story about Jim Clark, see:

Lewis, Michael. The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.





November 24, 2009

Support Grows for School Vouchers in D.C.



VoucherRallyDC2009-10-29.jpg "Students from Bridges Academy in Washington, D.C., at a Capitol Hill rally last month in support of the city's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives students from low-income families scholarships for private schools." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A2) The District of Columbia's embattled school-voucher program, which lawmakers appeared to have killed earlier this year, looks like it could still survive.

Congress voted in March not to fund the program, which provides certificates to pay for recipients' private-school tuition, after the current school year. But after months of pro-voucher rallies, a television-advertising campaign and statements of support by local political leaders, backers say they are more confident about its prospects. Even some Democrats, many of whom have opposed voucher efforts, have been supportive.


. . .


Many parents whose children receive vouchers say they are satisfied with the private schools they attend. During the 2008-2009 school year, about 61,700 students nationwide received vouchers, up 9% from the previous school year, according to the Alliance for School Choice, a pro-voucher advocacy group.


. . .


Created as a five-year pilot project by a Republican-controlled Congress in early 2004, the Opportunity Scholarship Program is the nation's only federally funded voucher program. It is open to students who live in the long-struggling Washington school district and whose families have incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level -- about $40,000 for a family of four. Recipients are chosen by lottery, although preference is given to those attending traditional schools deemed to be in need of improvement under federal law.

Joe Kelley entered his oldest son, Rashawn, in the first Opportunity Scholarship Program lottery in 2004, fearful about violence at the public middle school. Rashawn, now 17, received a voucher, and so have his three sisters. All attend a small, private Christian academy where they have been earning A's and B's. "It's a lot of worry off of me," said Mr. Kelley, a retired cook and youth counselor.

In an evaluation released in March, researchers found that in reading skills, voucher recipients overall were approximately 3.1 months ahead of eligible students who didn't receive scholarships. But there was no difference in math skills, and voucher recipients from the worst-performing public schools got no boost in either subject.




For the full story, see:

ROBERT TOMSHO. "D.C. School Vouchers Have a Brighter Outlook in Congress." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)





October 4, 2009

55% of Nebraskans Favor School Vouchers



The Friedman Foundation mentioned in the passage below, was founded by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman who is often credited with creating the idea of education vouchers in his classic book Capitalism and Freedom.

Capitalism and Freedom was based on a series of lectures that Friedman delivered at Wabash College at the invitation of my much-missed mentor Ben Rogge. (Before teaching me economics in Indiana, Rogge was a native Nebraskan who earned his bachelor's degree from Hastings College.)


(p. 4B) A majority of Nebraskans are open to school-choice reforms such as school vouchers and tax­-credit scholarships, according to a survey made public Thurs­day by a national school-choice group.

"It really appears Nebraska is ready to start talking about school-choice reform options," said Paul DiPerna, director of partner services for the Fried­man Foundation for Educational Choice, which commissioned the survey.

The group partnered with the Nebraska Catholic Conference and other state and national groups to conduct the telephone survey of 1,200 likely voters.

Fifty-five percent of those sur­veyed said they favored school vouchers and supported a tax­-credit scholarship system, which would give tax credits to indi­viduals and businesses that con­tribute money to nonprofit orga­nizations that distribute private school scholarships.



For the full story, see:

Dejka, Joe. "Support for school choice tax plan seen; An Indianapolis organization says its survey shows Nebraskans would back a pending bill." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., Sept. 18, 2009): 4B.





August 14, 2009

Trinity College Tries to Renege on Deal with Donor



Gunderson_Gerald.jpg









Gerald Gunderson. Source of photo: http://www.yorktownuniversity.com/faculty/gunderson.html



Gerald Gunderson, highlighted in the story quoted below, gave me some useful comments on my book project Openness to Creative Destruction at the April 2009 meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.

Battles such as the one described below are easier to forgo than to fight. Gunderson has guts.


(p. A1) In one previously undisclosed fight, Trinity College in Connecticut is facing government scrutiny for its plan to spend part of a $9 million endowment from Wall Street investing legend Shelby Cullom Davis.

Trinity's Davis professor of business, Gerald Gunderson, says he believed the plan, which would have funded scholarships for international students, violated the wishes of the late Mr. Davis. He alerted the Connecticut attorney general's office. Then, Mr. Gunderson said in notes submitted to the agency, Trinity's president summoned him to the school's cavernous Gothic conference room, where he called the professor a "scoundrel" and threatened not to reappoint him.

Trinity said some of Mr. Davis's family approved of the plan but it is now coming up with a new one, and declined to discuss the meeting.


. . .


(p. A14) The clash over the Davis gift has simmered on Trinity's quiet campus of 2,200 students. Founded in 1823, the liberal-arts college has Episcopalian roots and Gothic architecture patterned after British universities.

In 1976, the school accepted a $750,000 gift from Mr. Davis, founder of a New York money-management firm who made a $900 million fortune investing in insurance stocks. Mr. Davis was a major benefactor to Wellesley College, Columbia University, Tufts University and his own alma mater, Princeton. But he had a personal connection to Trinity: His son-in-law was a graduate of the school and its campus overlooks downtown Hartford, an insurance hub.

In 1981, Trinity President Theodore D. Lockwood wrote to Mr. Davis that the fund, by then $1.6 million, was big enough to be tapped to create a Shelby Cullom Davis Professorship of American Business and Economic Enterprise. The letter listed several related activities, such as campus visits from business leaders. Mr. Lockwood also sought flexibility to use the money as the school saw fit "as conditions evolved and opportunities arose."

In a return letter, Mr. Davis approved the professorship and activities Mr. Lockwood specified. But he rejected any other leeway. "It is my wish that the funds and income from the Endowment be used for the various purposes you have described...and for no other purposes."

Trinity tapped Mr. Gunderson, an economic historian who shared Mr. Davis's conservative political philosophy, to be the Davis professor.

The Davis fund grew beyond the needs of meeting Mr. Gunderson's $155,000-a-year salary. By 2007, it reached $13.5 million, or 3% of Trinity's total endowment, and generated more than $500,000 a year in income. After recent market declines, the fund is now estimated at $9 million.

Mr. Gunderson, 68 years old, says he complained for years that the school was starving the program and had rejected his frequent requests to add another full-time professor and a business-executive-in-residence program. The letter from Mr. Lockwood provides for the creation of a single professorship, but it doesn't explicitly rule out adding another.

Mr. Gunderson says he suspects that liberal academics at Trinity have blocked these plans and have little interest in Mr. Davis's vision. Mr. Gunderson, who is treasurer of the free-market nonprofit Yankee Institute, says some professors opposed his position in the 1970s in an economics department whose courses often stressed the downside of capitalism.


. . .


Last April, Trinity's current president, James F. Jones Jr., sent Mr. Gunderson an email saying he had been looking for ways to use the "enormous" Davis fund to "benefit the College in ways different from merely watching the endowment continue to balloon because of the original strictures." Mr. Jones said he had approached some Davis family members about using the money for financial aid for foreign students through another program the family had helped fund.

Mr. Gunderson replied that the college had entered into a binding contract with Shelby Cullom Davis, not his family. "Simply wishing things were different or saying that someone thinks it is a good idea is not sufficient and will not stand a legal challenge," he wrote.

Following that exchange, Kathryn W. Davis, the donor's 102-year-old widow, signed a document endorsing the use of her husband's gift for the scholarships. But in an interview, she said the school hadn't explained the restrictions her husband had outlined in his 1981 letter to the school, and said the endowment "should be used as my husband wished."

The couple's son, Shelby M.C. Davis, and grandson, Christopher C. Davis, both successful money managers, signed off on the fund's use for scholarships.

Diana Davis Spencer, the donor's daughter, says she only recently heard about the plan from Mr. Gunderson and is angry that Trinity didn't contact her. Ms. Spencer, whose own philanthropy focuses on entrepreneurship, says her father would have opposed any change to the endowment's mission. The university is "morally incorrect" and its plan "undermines donors' confidence," she says.

Trinity's Mr. Joyce says the school believed key members of the family had been briefed.

After the April email exchange, Mr. Gunderson's lawyer contacted the Connecticut attorney general's office, which began its review. In the fall, Mr. Gunderson looked through financial data that the school had filed with the attorney general and noticed that about $200,000 of endowment money had been used to fund an internship program for college students over the past five years.

Mr. Gunderson says he was concerned in part because the school, facing a budget crunch, had tapped other restricted endowment money in 2004 but returned it after a faculty revolt. Trinity confirms this episode.

Mr. Joyce said Trinity this month reimbursed the Davis endowment for $191,337 spent on the internship program, though he said the original agreement still permits the school to spend a small amount annually on the initiative.

On Oct. 20, Mr. Jones, Trinity's president, called Mr. Gunderson to the conference-room meeting. According to the professor's notes, submitted to the attorney general, Mr. Jones called him "a liar and a bully," threatened not to reappoint him and told him not speak to any other administrators. The notes said the president insisted on approving future spending from the Davis fund "down to a box of paperclips."

Mr. Joyce, who said Mr. Jones wouldn't be available for comment, declined to discuss the meeting. Mr. Joyce says he would be "very surprised" if Mr. Gunderson's contract weren't renewed when it comes up in July 2010.

In a February letter, the attorney general's office told Trinity it could find no evidence that Mr. Davis intended the college or his family to have discretion to direct income from the endowment to purposes "other than the study and promotion of the economic theories of the free enterprise system."

Mr. Joyce says Trinity scuttled its scholarship plan. The school intends to submit a new proposal to the attorney general and the Davis family on how it would spend excess Davis funds.

The attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, says he will consider the proposal. But he cautioned that colleges, despite financial pressures, can't stray from donors' intent: "There's a vastly increasing temptation for schools to fill gaps or even launch new initiatives using money that was meant for another purpose."



For the full story, see:

JOHN HECHINGER. "New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 23, 2009): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Among Professor Gunderson's publications is:

Gunderson, Gerald A. Wealth Creators: An Entrepreneurial History of the United States. 1st ed. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989.





July 29, 2009

"No Amount of Dancing Will Help You Learn More Algebra"



WhyDontStudentsLikeSchoolBK.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) . . . , Mr. Willingham shows how experiments support his claims.

The trendy notion that each person has a unique learning style comes under an especially withering assault. "How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?" asks Mr. Willingham's hypothetical teacher. The disillusioning reply: "No one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference. . . . Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn."

It turns out that while education gurus were promoting the uplifting vision of all students being equal in ability but unique in "style," researchers were testing the theory behind it. In one experiment, they presented vocabulary words to students classified as "auditory learners" and "visual learners." Half the words came in sound form, half in print. According to the learning-styles theory, the auditory learners should remember the words presented in sound better than the words presented in print, and vice-versa for the visual learners.

But this is not what happened: Each type of learner did just as well with each type of presentation. Why? Because what is being taught in most of the curriculum -- at all levels of schooling -- is information about meaning, and meaning is independent of form. "Specious," for instance, means "seemingly logical, but actually fallacious" whether you hear it, see it or feel it out in Braille. Mr. Willingham makes a convincing case that the distinction between visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners (who supposedly learn best when body movement is involved) is a specious one. At some point, no amount of dancing will help you learn more algebra.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Bookshelf; How to Wake Up Slumbering Minds
Will the discoveries of neuroscientists help us to think, learn and remember?." Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 27, 2009): A13.

(Note: the initial ellipsis was added; the ellipsis internal to the first full paragraph, was in the original.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.





July 25, 2009

The Epistemological Implications of Wikipedia



WikipediaRevolutionBK.jpg














Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.




I think the crucial feature of Wikipedia is in its being quick (what "wiki" means in Hawaiian), rather than in its current open source model. Academic knowledge arises in a slow, vetted process. Publication depends on refereeing and revision. On Wikipedia (and the web more generally) knowledge is posted first, and corrected later.

In the actual fact, Wikipedia's coverage is vast, and its accuracy is high.

I speculate that Wikipedia provides clues to developing new, faster, more efficient knowledge generating institutions.

(Chris Anderson has a nice discussion of Wikipedia in The Long Tail, starting on p. 65.)


(p. A13) Until just a couple of years ago, the largest reference work ever published was something called the Yongle Encyclopedia. A vast project consisting of thousands of volumes, it brought together the knowledge of some 2,000 scholars and was published, in China, in 1408. Roughly 600 years later, Wikipedia surpassed its size and scope with fewer than 25 employees and no official editor.

In "The Wikipedia Revolution," Andrew Lih, a new-media academic and former Wikipedia insider, tells the story of how a free, Web-based encyclopedia -- edited by its user base and overseen by a small group of dedicated volunteers -- came to be so large and so popular, to the point of overshadowing the Encyclopedia Britannica and many other classic reference works. As Mr. Lih makes clear, it wasn't Wikipedia that finished off print encyclopedias; it was the proliferation of the personal computer itself.


. . .


By 2000, both Britannica and Microsoft had subscription-based online encyclopedias. But by then Jimmy Wales, a former options trader in Chicago, was already at work on what he called "Nupedia" -- an "open source, collaborative encyclopedia, using volunteers on the Internet." Mr. Wales hoped that his project, without subscribers, would generate its revenue by selling advertising. Nupedia was not an immediate success. What turned it around was its conversion from a conventionally edited document into a wiki (Hawaiian for "fast") -- that is, a site that allowed anyone browsing it to edit its pages or contribute to its content. Wikipedia was born.

The site grew quickly. By 2003, according to Mr. Lih, "the English edition had more than 100,000 articles, putting it on par with commercial online encyclopedias. It was clear Wikipedia had joined the big leagues." Plans to sell advertising, though, fell through: The user community -- Wikipedia's core constituency -- objected to the whole idea of the site being used for commercial purposes. Thus Wikipedia came to be run as a not-for-profit foundation, funded through donations.


. . .


It is clear by the end of "The Wikipedia Revolution" that the site, for all its faults, stands as an extraordinary demonstration of the power of the open-source content model and of the supremacy of search traffic. Mr. Lih observes that when "dominant encyclopedias" were still hiding behind "paid fire walls" -- and some still are -- Wikipedia was freely available and thus easily crawled by search engines. Not surprisingly, more than half of Wikipedia's traffic comes from Google.



For the full review, see:

JEREMY PHILIPS. "Business Bookshelf; Everybody Knows Everything." Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 18, 2009): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.





July 4, 2009

Entrepreneurs Learn "Not in the Classroom Where Old Ways are Taught, But in the Factories and Labs, Where New Ways Are Wrought"



Gilder's rhyme about the classroom is cute, and maybe mainly true. In an important paper, Baumol has more prosaically (in the literal sense) expressed a similar view.

But there are counterexamples. Gilder himself, in his Microcosm, notes how what was taught in some classrooms was crucial to progress in information technology.


(p. 296) Entrepreneurs can be pompous and vain where it doesn't count; but in their own enterprise, the first law is to listen. They must be men meek enough--and shrewd enough--to endure the humbling eclipse of self that comes in the process of profound learning from others. In all the history of enterprise, most of the protagonists of major new products and companies began their education--and (p. 297) discovered the secrets of their later breakthroughs--not in the classroom, where the old ways are taught, but in the factories and labs, where new ways are wrought.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.



The important Baumol paper mentioned above, is:

Baumol, William J. "Education for Innovation: Entrepreneurial Breakthroughs Versus Corporate Incremental Improvements." In Innovation Policy and the Economy, edited by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, 33-56. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005.





June 26, 2009

There's Still Space in Diamond's Fall Seminar on the Economics of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha



EntrepreneurshipPosterRevised.jpg




June 19, 2009

Ukrainian Memorial to the Millions Starved by Stalin's Communism



FamineMemorialKievUkraine.jpg "A memorial to the famine, right, opposite a revered cathedral, was dedicated last November in Kiev. A museum is planned there." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) KIEV, Ukraine -- A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.

Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.

The other day, as he stood before a new memorial to the victims of the famine, he recalled his decision as one turning point in a movement lasting decades to unearth the truth about that period. And the memorial itself, shaped like a towering candle with a golden eternal flame, seemed to him in some sense a culmination of this effort.

"It is a sign of our respect for the past," Professor Kulchytsky said. "Because everyone was silent about the famine for many years. And when it became possible to talk about it, nothing was said. Three generations on."


. . .


The pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power after the Orange Revolution of 2004, calls the famine a genocide that Stalin ordered because he wanted to decimate the Ukrainian citizenry and snuff out aspirations for independence from Moscow.

The archives make plain that no other conclusion is possible, said Professor Kulchytsky, who is deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History in Kiev.

Professor Kulchytsky is 72, though he looks younger, as if he has somehow withstood the draining effect of so much research into the horrors of that time.

"It is difficult to bear," he acknowledged. "The documents about cannibalism are especially difficult to read."

Professor Kulchytsky said it was undeniable that people all over the Soviet Union died from hunger in 1932 and 1933 as the Communists waged war on the peasantry to create farming collectives. But he contended that in Ukraine the authorities went much further, essentially quarantining and starving many villages.

"If in other regions, people were hungry and died from famine, then here people were killed by hunger," Professor Kulchytsky said. "That is the absolute difference."



For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD J. LEVY. "Kiev Journal - A New View of a Famine That Killed Millions." The New York Times (Mon., March 16, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 26, 2009

Rhee Offers DC Teachers Higher Pay If They Give Up Tenure



RheeMichelle2009-02-15.jpg








"Michelle Rhee, second from left, with faculty and staff members of Washington schools last month at an awards ceremony." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the Washington public schools, thinks teacher tenure may be great for adults, those who go into teaching to get summer vacations and great health insurance, for instance. But it hurts children, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire.

So Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.

Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Ms. Rhee's bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers' Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing.

. . .

Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal's recommendation or face dismissal.



For the full story, see:

SAM DILLON. "A School Chief Takes On Tenure, Stirring a Fight." The New York Times (Thurs., November 13, 2008): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 7, 2009

Entrepreneurs Are the Main Source of Economic Growth


(p. 144) The reason the system of capitalism without capitalists is failing throughout most of Europe is that it misconceives the essential nature of growth. Poring over huge aggregations of economic data, economists see the rise to wealth as a slow upward climb achieved through the marginal productivity gains of millions of workers, through the slow accumulation of plant and machinery, and through the continued improvement of "human capital" by advances in education, training, and health. But, in fact, all these sources of growth are dwarfed by the role of entrepreneurs launching new companies based on new concepts or technologies. These gains generate the wealth that finances the welfare state, that makes possible the long-term investments in human capital that are often seen as the primary source of growth.


Source:

Gilder, George. The Spirit of Enterprise. 1 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.





March 12, 2009

Hugh Laurie SNL Protest Song Lyrics


At a "Workshop on Creative Ideas to Teach Principles," organized by Jim Gwartney at the Stavros Center in Tampa, I presented some brief video clips that I use to make various points in my principles classes. The first was Hugh Laurie's Protest Song.

After playing the song, I tell my students that to make the world better, you need more than a guitar and good intentions---you also need to know something about how the world works (in particular, you need to know some economics).

After my presentation, one of the participants asked if I knew where he could find the lyrics. In response, I found the lyrics posted online, and re-post them here in case they may be of use to other economic educators.

Hugh Laurie's Saturday Night Live Protest Song

[ open on Hugh Laurie standing at Home Base strumming a guitar ]

Hugh Laurie: This is a protest song. [ blows on a harmonica attached to his neck ]

[ singing ]

"Well, the poor keep getting hungry, and the rich keep getting fat
Politicians change, but they're never gonna change that.
Girl, we got the answer, it's so easy you won't believe
All we gotta do is.. [ mumbles incoherently ]

Well, the winds of war are blowin', and the tide is comin' in
Don't you be hopin' for the good times, because the good times have already been.
But, girl, we got the answer, it's so easy you won't believe
All we gotta do is.. [ mumbles incoherently ]

It's so easy, to see
If only they'd listen, to you and me.
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] as fast as we can
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] every woman, every man
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] time after time
We got to.. [ mumbles incoherently ] vodka and lime.

Well, the world is gettin' weary, and it wants to go to bed
Everybody's dyin', except the ones who are already dead.
Girl, we got the answer, starin' us right in the face
All we gotta do is
All we gotta do is
All we gotta do is."

[ pauses, then blows on the harmonica and finishes ]

[ the audience cheers wildly ]

Hugh Laurie: Thank you.



Source of lyrics:

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/06/06dprotest.phtml




February 23, 2009

UNO Economics Students Embrace Entrepreneurship



SstanleyGrant.jpg






"The company was founded with the thought that a recession would happen," said Grant Stanley, founder of marketing analytics firm Contemporary Analysis." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.



Grant was a student in my Economics of Technology and Economics of Entrepreneurship classes; Tadd was a student in my Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction; Luis was a student in my Principle of Economics--Micro class. They have chosen an exciting path, and I wish them well!


(p. 1D) Grant Stanley was studying economics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha last year when he identified a business opportunity in the deteriorating economy.

A company making use of econometrics - a field that combines math, statistics and economics - could help small and midsize businesses make decisions in areas such as hiring, and sales and marketing techniques. Econometrics is widely used in education, government and large companies, Stanley said, but usually isn't applied to smaller businesses.

Stanley thought the need for business forecasting and marketing analytics firms would grow as companies looked for help developing long-term strategies in order to survive an economic downturn.

So Stanley, who was only 20 years old at the time, started Contemporary Analysis, a marketing analytics firm, in March 2008.

"The company was founded with the thought that a recession would happen."

Stanley courted classmate Tadd Wood, who also was 20 and studying economics, to help start the business, but it wasn't an easy task. Wood already had a part-time job and was helping out in his family's business.

"Tadd took months of, 'Hey, want to hang out?'" before he agreed, Stanley said.

The young men met their third partner - Luis Lopez, 20 - through a friend over the summer, and the trio hit the ground running.



For the full story, see:

STEFANIE MONGE. "Pitching a startup in a downturn." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, February 2, 2009): 1D & 3D.


StanleyGrantStartupGroup.jpg "Members of the Contemporary Analysis team at a conference table in the home of Paddy Tarlton. From left are Luis Lopez, Nancy Jimenez, Grant Stanley, Tarlton and Tadd Wood." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.





January 26, 2009

"Black Parents Favor Vouchers By Larger Majorities than White Parents Do"


PageClarence.jpg



Pulitzer-Prize-winning Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. Source of photo: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~montfell/biographies/o_z/page.html

(p. 7B) The question of vouchers as an alternative to public schools crosses color lines. But it is particularly appropriate for the nation's first black president.

African-American students disproportionately find themselves in underperforming schools. In fact, opinion polls by think tanks like the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies have found that black parents favor vouchers by larger majorities than white parents do.

Yet teachers unions fight such alternatives, even though studies like a 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute report find that big-city public-school teachers are more likely than the general population they serve to have their own children in private schools.

In Obama's Chicago, for example, 38.7 percent of public-school teachers sent their children to private schools, the Fordham study found, compared with 22.6 percent of the general public.

In Washington, D.C., 26.8 percent of public-school teachers did so, versus 19.8 percent of the public.

. . .


As a parent who reluctantly moved my own child to private school after the fifth grade, I appreciate the value of school choice. But what about the kids left behind in failing schools?

Michelle Obama offered a clue to what her family's choice will be. She flew to Washington Monday, ahead of her husband, and toured the private Georgetown Day School. Another clue: Their daughters currently attend a private school in Chicago.

Private school also was the choice of Bill and Hillary Clinton for their daughter, Chelsea. The most recent presidential child to attend a D.C. public school was Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy, in the late 1970s.



For the full commentary, see:

Page, Clarence. "Vouchers and Obama Daughters." Omaha World-Herald (Sat., Nov. 15, 2008): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




October 20, 2008

Women Earn More than Men, in New York City

 

WomenMenNYCearningsOverTime.jpg   Source of the graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  Young women in New York and several of the nation’s other largest cities who work full time have forged ahead of men in wages, according to an analysis of recent census data.

The shift has occurred in New York since 2000 and even earlier in Los Angeles, Dallas and a few other cities.

Economists consider it striking because the wage gap between men and women nationally has narrowed more slowly and has even widened in recent years among one part of that group: college-educated women in their 20s. But in New York, young college-educated women’s wages as a percentage of men’s rose slightly between 2000 and 2005.

The analysis was prepared by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, who first reported his findings in Gotham Gazette, published online by the Citizens Union Foundation. It shows that women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men.

Just why young women at all educational levels in New York and other big cities have fared better than their peers elsewhere is a matter of some debate. But a major reason, experts say, is that women have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, and that many of those women seem to be gravitating toward major urban areas.

 

For the full story, see: 

SAM ROBERTS.  "For Young Earners in Big City, a Gap in Women’s Favor."  The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007):  A1 & A16.

 

   Source of the graph:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




October 9, 2008

SNL CSPAN Pelosi, Frank Bailout Skit


SNLcspanBailout2008-10-04.jpg Source: screen capture from the NBC video clip mentioned, and linked to below.

Most Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits support liberal causes and politicians, and are critical of those with sympathies for free markets.

There was a wonderful, rare exception aired as the second skit on the 10/04/08 show. The skit pokes fun at the Democrats for their responsibility in creating the mortgage meltdown crisis. Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank are shown expressing sympathy for various miscreants who expect the taxpayer to bail them out of their financial responsibilites.

(An interesting sidenote is that NBC pulled the clip from their web site for a about a full day, even though they left up other clips from the same show. Some bloggers suggested that employees of NBC had political motivations for their act of quasi-censorshp.)

The skit was entitled "C-span Bailout" and as of 10/08/08, could be found at:

http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/video/clips/c-span-bailout/727521/





September 21, 2008

Among Academic Economists Interest in Entrepreneurship is "A Quick Ticket Out of a Job"


From McCraw's discussion of Schumpeter's "legacy":

(p. 500) In the new world of academic economics, neither the Schumpeterian entrepreneur as an individual nor entrepreneurship as a phenomenon attracts much attention. For professors in economics departments at most major universities, particularly in the United States and Britain, a focus on these favorite issues of Schumpeter's has become a quick ticket out of a job. This development arose from a self-generated isolation of academic economics from history, sociology, and the other social sciences. It represented a trend that Schumpeter himself had glimpsed and lamented but that accelerated rapidly during the two generations after his death.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




September 19, 2008

Obama Has Doubts About Justice of Current 'Affirmative Action' Laws


ObamaHarvardLaw.jpg "Barack Obama at Harvard, where he was the first black president of The Harvard Law Review." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Mr. Obama, a Democrat, has continued to support race-based affirmative action, calling it "absolutely necessary" when he was a state senator in Illinois and criticizing the Supreme Court for curtailing it in his time in the United States Senate. But in his presidential campaign, he has unsettled some black supporters by focusing increasingly on class and suggesting that poor whites should at times be given preference over more privileged blacks.

His ruminations about shifting the balance between race and class in some affirmative action programs raise the possibility that, if elected in November, he might foster a deeper national (p. 16) conversation about an issue that has been fiercely debated for decades. He declined to comment for this article.

"We have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren't getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more," Mr. Obama said last week in a question-and-answer session at a convention of minority journalists in Chicago.

During a presidential debate in April, Mr. Obama said his two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, "who have had a pretty good deal" in life, should not benefit from affirmative action when they apply to college, particularly if they were competing for admission with poor white students.

. . .

Ward Connerly, a crusader against affirmative action, said he believed that Mr. Obama's remarks would buoy support for his ballot initiatives in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska in November that would ban preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity and sex in government hiring and public education.

Last week, Mr. Obama's Republican rival, Senator John McCain, announced his support for those measures. . . .

Mr. Obama opposes the ballot initiatives, saying they would derail efforts to break down barriers for women and members of minorities. But Mr. Connerly said Mr. Obama had already helped the cause. "He's advanced the debate," Mr. Connerly said. "He's brought it to a new level."

. . .

A federal judge once asked a friend of Mr. Obama's whether he had been "elected on the merits" as law review president, Mr. Obama told The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2001. He said the question came up again when he applied for a job as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

Mr. Obama has not described how he felt then. But as a state senator, he spoke with empathy about accomplished minority students at elite universities who sometimes lived "under a cloud they could not erase."

Over the past few years, Mr. Obama has also voiced sympathy for whites who feel resentful of race-based affirmative action and questioned how long such programs need to continue.

Even as he argued that timetables for minority hiring may be necessary where there is evidence of systemic discrimination, he also warned in his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," that "white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America."

It was 2006 then, and Mr. Obama was a wealthy senator considering a bid for the presidency. He worried that race-based preferences, while necessary, might undermine efforts at building cross-racial coalitions.

Presaging his recent focus on class, Mr. Obama argued that whites were more likely to join blacks in supporting programs that were not racially based.

"An emphasis on universal, as opposed to race-specific programs isn't just good policy," Mr. Obama said in his book. "It's good politics."



For the full story, see:

RACHEL L. SWARNS. "Obama's Path on Preferences, Race and Class ." The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., August 3, 2008): 1 & 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version has minor differences with the print version; the online version is quoted here, except for the article title. The online article title was: "If Elected ... Delicate Obama Path on Class and Race Preferences." The ellipisis in the online title was in the original.)




September 8, 2008

New Entrepreneurs Are Encouraged by Good Examples


HarvardRecentCompaniesTable.gif



Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B7) One day during Trip Adler's sophomore year at Harvard University, he saw fellow undergraduates Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz outside their dormitory with suitcases and boxes. When Mr. Adler asked what the two -- who happened to be Facebook Inc.'s co-founders -- were doing, Mr. Moskovitz lightly replied that they were moving from Cambridge, Mass., to Silicon Valley "to make Facebook big."

"I was so jealous," recalls Mr.Adler, now 23 years old. "I thought, 'I've got to find an idea and drop out of Harvard.'"

Mr. Adler didn't leave school, but after graduating in 2006, he did start an online document-sharing company. San Francisco-based Scribd Inc., employs 12 people and attracts 11.1 million monthly visitors, according to Web-tracking company comScore Inc. It has raised nearly $3.9 million from Redpoint Ventures and other venture-capital and individual investors.

Mr. Adler is just one of the Harvard students who have caught start-up fever since Facebook, founded when Mr. Zuckerberg was at Harvard in 2004, exploded in popularity. Other recent Harvard-born start-ups include Internet companies Kirkland North Inc., Drop.io Inc. and Labmeeting Inc. And Facebook has become a model for these start-ups on many fronts, from the look of company Web sites to their corporate strategies.



For the full story, see:

VAUHINI VARA. "ENTERPRISE; Facebook Ignites Entrepreneurial Spirit at Harvard Students, Graduates Start Firms, Using The Site as a Model." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): B7.




September 1, 2008

Schumpeter Saw that the "Demand for Teaching Produces Teaching and Not Necessarily Scientific Achievement"


From McCraw's summary of Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis:

(p. 453) During the mid-nineteenth century, universities were beginning to teach economics, but "the demand for courses and textbooks produced courses and textbooks and not much else. Does this not show that there is something to one of the theses of this book, namely, that need is not the necessary and sufficient condition of analytic advance and that demand for teaching produces teaching and not necessarily scientific achievement?"


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 12, 2008

Schumpeter on Fools, Asses, and Academic Committees


(p. 225) The longer Schumpeter taught at Harvard, the more he came to resent the bureaucratic routines of academic life that impinged on his research and writing. He especially disliked departmental meetings, and after several years he began to refer to his colleagues as the "fools" (full professors, a play on the German pronunciation of "full") and "asses" (associate and assistant professors). "These committees!" he wrote a friend, "This mentality, that believes that the core of the world is that one committee dines and makes a report for another committee, which in turn dines."


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 10, 2008

"We Educate Them and Then Tell them to Go Home"


(p. C3) The United States may be synonymous with the high-tech revolution, but it is in danger of losing its high-tech edge, according to Cybercities 2008, a report released Tuesday by AeA, a technology industry trade association.

Because the federal government does not issue a sufficient number of green cards or work visas to talented foreign students studying here, there are a "tremendous number of unfilled jobs," said Christopher Hansen, AeA's chief executive.

"We educate them and then tell them to go home. This is absurd," said Mr. Hansen, whose group has lobbied to increase the number of visas for foreign technology industry workers.



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "U.S. High Tech Said to Slip." The New York Times (Weds., June 25, 2008): C3.




August 9, 2008

Blacklisting of Voight Urged in Display of Liberal Hollywood McCarthyism


VoightBlackListedByLiberals.jpg
VoightBlacklistedByLiberals2.jpg
















Source of the images: screen captures from the CNN report cited below.

With self-righteous indignation, the left often accuses the right of "McCarthyism."

But many on the left are happy to limit free speech when what is spoken is not to their liking.

Jon Voight's column in the Washington Times has ignited a firestorm, and caused at least one Hollywood insider to openly advocate blacklisting Voight from the movie business. The CNN story cited and linked below, gives some of the details.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example.

On our campuses, free speech is often violated if the speaker speaks what is not politically correct. For many examples, see some of the cases discussed on the web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Another example is from my own personal experience as a young scholar many decades ago. I had applied to three or four top PhD programs in philosophy and was initially rejected from every one of them, even though I had a nearly perfect GPA, and very high test scores.

I was especially surprised by the rejection from Chicago, because an Associate Dean had visited the Wabash campus the year before and talked with me about applying to Chicago. He had looked at my record and said, 'with your record, if you score X, or above on the GREs, it is almost certain that you will be accepted.' (I don't remember the exact number he said.) Well I scored above X, but was rejected. So I wrote to the Associate Dean, saying I was disappointed and asking if he had any insight about the rejection. He told me that he was dumbfounded and that he would look into it.

Awhile later, I received a letter reversing the decision of the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy. I never learned all the details, but apparently the Dean of Humanities had over-ruled the Department of Philosophy. (This is fairly unusual in academics, and though I do not remember her name, I salute that Dean for taking a stand.)

Years later, the episode came up in a conversation with a member of the philosophy faculty. He said that he had been on the admissions committee the year that I had applied, and that I had been rejected because I had mentioned Ayn Rand in my essay about how I had become interested in philosophy.

For some of the details of the Voight story, see:

Wynter, Kareen. "Bloggers Fire Back at Voight." CNN Feature, broadcast on CNN, and posted on CNN.com on 8/8/08. Downloaded on 8/8/08 from: http://www.cnn.com/video/?iref=videoglobal

(Note: the clip runs 2 minutes and 27 seconds.)

Voight's op-ed piece ran in the Washington Times on July 28, 2008 under the title "My Concerns for America" and can be viewed at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/





July 11, 2008

University of Nebraska Foundation Contributes to Racial Discrimination


Some of us believe that the government should not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or religion. Unfortunately, governments in the past and present have sometimes mandated or practiced discrimination. Examples from the past would include the Jim Crow laws that mandated racial discrimination against Afro-Americans.

A present example would be the mis-named "affirmative action" laws that mandate racial discrimination against whites.

In the article quoted below, note who has taken a stand on which side of this issue.

Is it appropriate for the University of Nebraska Foundation to be donating $25,000 to support the continuation of racial discrimination?

Note also the opposing positions of two 2006 Republican candidates for Senate: David Kramer is leading the drive to continue racial discrimination, while Pete Ricketts is contributing to ending racial discrimination.

(p. 1A) LINCOLN -- Leaders of the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative called their anti-affirmative-action push one of the most successful petition drives in recent state history. But it's not yet known whether their proposed ban will go before voters in November.

"The citizens demand the opportunity to vote on the use of race and gender preferences and discrimination in state hiring, state contracts and state education," said Marc Schniederjans, treasurer of the group that said it submitted more than 167,000 signatures Thursday.

. . .

David Kramer, spokesman for the opposition group Nebraskans United, said he wasn't disheartened by the number of petition signatures or over the prospect that petition organizers said they planned to submit more signatures today.

. . .

(p. 2A) Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition provided $370,750 of the $467,250 raised by the Nebraska petition group as of June 25. According to state records, the next largest donors were Paul Singer, a New York businessman, $50,000; William Grewcock, a former executive with Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., $25,000; and failed GOP U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ricketts, $25,000.

For Nebraskans United, the largest donations toward that group's $308,167 war chest have come from Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett, $50,000; philanthropist Richard Holland, $50,000; Dianne Lozier, Lozier corporate counsel, $50,000; Wallace Weitz, president of an Omaha-based mutual fund management company, $50,000; the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, $36,250; the University of Nebraska Foundation, $25,000; and the Nebraska State Education Association, $25,000.



For the full story, see:

MARTHA STODDARD. "Petitions Turned In; Fight Far from Over." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., July 4, 2008): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online title of the article is "Anti-affirmative-action petitions turned in; verifying to begin.")




June 24, 2008

Private Athenaeum Libraries Where Members Are "Proprietors"


AthenaeumRedwood.jpg
"TRADITION; Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, R.I., dates back to 1747." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) A GROUP of first-time visitors to the Providence Athenaeum climbed the steep stones steps to the imposing front door. One pried open the door tentatively, peered inside and exclaimed, "Oh, this is what a library is supposed to look like!"

This scene was observed by Alison Maxell, executive director of the athenaeum, who said that time and again, she has seen this same reaction: curiosity followed by wonderment.

. . .

(p. D4) THE New England athenaeums I visited on a recent trip maintain not only active memberships, but also some peculiar terminology. Members are commonly called proprietors; some athenaeums distinguish share-holding proprietors from a second tier of members, called subscribers. At the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the director is called the keeper.

Many athenaeums maintain lists of rules that spell out consequences for offenses like writing in books. Some prohibit pens and provide pencils for notation, as well as cotton gloves for handling aged materials. Large or old books often must be rested on wedge-shaped foam cradles to protect brittle spines.

Surprisingly, the Boston Athenaeum permits dogs -- those that behave, a staff member was quick to add.

These athenaeums also provide, in those areas where talking aloud is encouraged, lively opportunities for exchanging ideas with other devotees of literature, arts and sciences.

"In addition to having access to our book stock, members find intellectual stimulation in our exhibitions and by being part of discussion groups," said Richard Wendorf, director and librarian of the Boston Athenaeum and the editor of "America's Membership Libraries" (Oak Knoll Press, 2007), which details histories of 16 of the largest membership libraries.


For the full story, see:

ROGER MUMMERT. "Where Greek Ideals Meet New England Charm." The New York Times (Fri., March 7, 2008): D1 & D4-D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


AthenaeumBoston.jpg "While roaming through stacks of the Boston Athenaeum, one encounters books from completely different eras, making for random discoveries." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




June 4, 2008

Which Economic System Protects Us from 'Natural' Disasters?


CommunistPartyBossOnKnees.jpg "Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) One man shouted, "Was this a natural disaster or a man-made disaster?" In unison, the parents shouted back: "Man-made!"

For the full story, see:

JAMES T. AREDDY. "Reporter's Notebook; Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children's Deaths." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A10.


(p. A1) DUJIANGYAN, China -- Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.

On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.

"We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building," he shouted. "Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth."

The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.

Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school's 900 students came out alive, parents said. "The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head," said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.

Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.

The next day, the Communist (p. A10) Party's top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.

Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.

The protests threaten to undermine the government's attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People's Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident.

. . .

. . . all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China's population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.


For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "Parents' Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials." The New York Times (Weds., May 28, 2008): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)


ChinaMotherSon.jpg
"A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




May 23, 2008

Prices of Education and Medical Care Increase Dramatically Over Decade


InflationGraphic.jpg











Source of the graphic: online version of the NYT article cited below.

The most interesting part of a recent David Leonhardt column, was not what he wrote, but the graphs that were included with the article, especially the one at the top of this entry. Notice that the price of education and medical care have increased much more dramatically than other categories of consumer spending. (And remember how heavily government is involved in those two sectors, both directly through government run institutions, and indirectly through regulations and subsidies.)

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Seeing Inflation Only in the Prices That Go Up." The New York Times (Weds., May 7, 2008): C1 and C11.


ConsumerSpendingGraphic.jpgSource of the graphic: online version of the NYT article cited above.




April 23, 2008

The Inefficiency of Zoning Laws


CasinoVegasTrailerZoning.jpg "It may not look like much, but the opening of this casino, for one day only, let its owner keep a crucial zoning designation." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) For eight hours on Tuesday, Station Casinos opened a nondescript 40-by-10-foot trailer on a vacant 26-acre plot about six miles east of the Strip with just 16 slot machines. The sole purpose was to comply with a state law that requires public gambling to occur on a property for at least one shift every two years in order for the landowner to retain the valuable zoning designation needed to conduct wagering.

. . .

As of midday, nobody but reporters had turned out for the event, which had been publicized by only a few bloggers on the Internet. The biggest payout on the bank of video poker and blackjack machines was $2.50.

. . .

The opening of the nameless temporary casino, which the local newspaper dubbed Trailer Station, was rich in red tape, including seven permits, approvals from the City Council and the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and a certificate of occupancy.

As required by the city code, the trailer, brought onto the land just for the day, came complete with a portable toilet outside and, to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a wheelchair-accessible entrance. A casino floor manager sat at one end of the narrow room ready to pay out winnings should there be any, a security guard patrolled outside, and two city zoning officers visited for 20 minutes to inspect and fill out paperwork.


For the full story, see:

STEVE FRIESS. "If This Happens in Vegas, It Can Sure Stay in Vegas." The New York Times (Weds., January 9, 2008): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


CasinoVegasSlotsZoning.jpg "A floor manager watched over 16 slot machines Tuesday, but there was hardly a rush on them." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




April 17, 2008

"Frustration Opens the Door to Religiosity"


SayyidPrayingCairoMosque.jpg "Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid, center, praying at a Cairo mosque, has drawn religion closer after many disappointments." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government's failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

"I can't get a job, I have no money, I can't get married, what can I say?" Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend's apartment.

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

. . .

The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion.

. . .

(p. 11) Depression and despair tormented dozens of men and women in their 20s interviewed across Egypt, from urban men like Mr. Sayyid to frustrated village residents like Walid Faragallah, who once hoped education would guarantee him social mobility. Their stifled dreams stoke anger toward the government.

"Nobody cares about the people," Mr. Sayyid said, slapping his hands against the air, echoing sentiment repeated in many interviews with young people across Egypt. "Nobody cares. What is holding me back is the system. Find a general with children and he will have an apartment for each of them. My government is only close to those close to the government."

. . .

Mr. Sayyid's path to stalemate began years ago, in school.

Like most Egyptians educated in public schools, his course of study was determined entirely by grades on standardized tests. He was not a serious student, often skipping school, but scored well enough to go on to an academy, something between high school and a university. He was put in a five-year program to study tourism and hotel operations.

His diploma qualified him for little but unemployment. Education experts say that while Egypt has lifted many citizens out of il-(p. 12)literacy, its education system does not prepare young people for work in the modern world. Nor, according to a recent Population Council report issued in Cairo, does its economy provide enough well-paying jobs to allow many young people to afford marriage.

Egypt's education system was originally devised to produce government workers under a compact with society forged in the heady early days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's administration in the late 1950s and '60s.

Every graduate was guaranteed a government job, and peasant families for the first time were offered the prospect of social mobility through education. Now children of illiterate peasant farmers have degrees in engineering, law or business. The dream of mobility survives, but there are not enough government jobs for the floods of graduates. And many are not qualified for the private sector jobs that do exist, government and business officials said, because of their poor schooling. Business students often never touch a computer, for example.

On average, it takes several years for graduates to find their first job, in part because they would rather remain unemployed than work in a blue-collar factory position. It is considered a blow to family honor for a college graduate to take a blue-collar job, leaving large numbers of young people with nothing to do.

"O.K., he's a college graduate," said Muhammad el-Seweedy, who runs a government council that has tried with television commercials to persuade college graduates to take factory jobs and has provided training to help improve their skills. "It's done. Now forget it. This is a reality."

But more widespread access to education has raised expectations. "Life was much more bearable for the poor when they did accept their social status," said Galal Amin, an economist and the author of "Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?" "But it is unimaginable when you have an education, to have this thought accepted. Frustration opens the door to religiosity."


For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SLACKMAN. "Generation Faithful; Dreams Stifled, Egypt's Young Turn to Islamic Fervor." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., February 17, 2008): 1 & 11-12.

(Note: ellipses added.)


YoungAndJoblessMapGraph.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





April 5, 2008

Blindly Imitating a False Vision of Ancient Sculpture


TrojanArcher.jpg "Trojan Archer from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Ayn Rand's Howard Roark in The Fountainhead railed against the mindless imitation of the classics, as embodied for instance in the Parthenon. In sculpture there has also been blind imitation of white classical figures, such as one that has recently been installed next to the Arts and Sciences Building on my campus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

One imagines that Rand and Roark would have been amused by the article quoted below, that shows that the classical sculptures were actually rich in color.


(p. D8) The Venus de Milo: white. The Apollo Belvedere: white. The Barberini Faun: white. The passing centuries may have cast their pall of grime, yet ever since the Renaissance rediscovered antiquity, our Platonic ideal of classical statuary has been bare marble: bleached, bone white.

The Greeks and Romans did not see it that way. The current show "Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity" -- through Jan. 20 at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum on Harvard University's campus -- makes a bold attempt to set the record straight. On view are replicas painted in the same mineral and organic pigments used by the ancients: pulverized malachite (green), azurite (blue), arsenic compounds (yellow, orange), cinnabar or "dragon's blood" (red), as well as charred bone and vine (black). At first glance and quite a while after, the unaccustomed palette strikes most viewers as way over the top. But few would deny that these novelties -- archers, goddesses, mythic beasts -- look you straight in the eye.

. . .

By the 18th century, practitioners of the then-new science of archaeology were aware that the ancients had used color. But Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German prefect of antiquities at the Vatican, preferred white. His personal taste was enshrined by fiat as the "classical" standard. And so it remained, unchallenged except by the occasional eccentric until the late 20th century.


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW GUREWITSCH. "CULTURAL CONVERSATION With Vinzenz Brinkman; Setting the Record Straight About Classical Statues' Hues." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 4, 2007): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




April 4, 2008

For-Profit Schools Teach Math Better than Non-Profit or Government Schools


(p. A23) When for-profit management of public schools was first proposed in Philadelphia six years ago, many in that city were extremely skeptical, if not aggressively hostile. So the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the entity responsible for the innovation, gave only the 30 lowest performing schools to for-profit companies, while another 16 were given to nonprofit organizations, including two of the city's major universities (Temple and the University of Pennsylvania). Others were reorganized by the school district itself.

In effect, a competition was run among the three types of management -- for-profit, nonprofit, and government-run. Four years into the race, here are the results: Students at schools managed by for-profit firms were roughly six months ahead in math than would be expected had the schools remained in the hands of the school district. In reading, students in schools managed by for-profit firms were two months further along than they would have been if the schools had been under district control, though that difference was not large enough to give us statistical certainty. Meanwhile the nonprofits -- and the school district's own reorganized schools -- did no better than expected.

. . .

Though we believe our methodology to be state of the art, our findings will nonetheless be controversial, because they contradict a prior study by the RAND Corp. in February, which found no impact of private management on student performance. The RAND study, however, failed to separate out the schools managed by the for-profit firms from those managed by the nonprofit organizations. In our study, too, management effects are nil when the two are mixed together, as the positive impacts of for-profit firms are canceled out by the negative impacts of nonprofit organizations.


For the full commentary, see:

Paul E. Peterson and Matthew M. Chingos. "Educational Rewards." Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 7, 2007): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 29, 2008

"I Intend to Be Visible, But Only in Ways I Wish to Be Seen"


The passages below are from a WSJ summary of an October 12, 2007 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

(p. A7) After feeling increasingly alienated by college celebrations of black heritage, English Prof. Jerald Walker opted to redefine his role on campus.

. . .

Prof. Walker decided he had had enough during a commencement ceremony for black students. He had misgivings over the concept itself: "After so recently celebrating our country's staunchest promoter of integration, I was being asked to celebrate segregation."

Afterward, he made the decision that he would no longer participate in events simply because of the color of his skin. "I intend to be visible," he says, "but only in ways I wish to be seen."


For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Universities; Black Professor Rebels Against Expected Campus Role." Wall Street Journal (Oct. 13, 2007): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 21, 2008

"The Chronically Apalled Must Not Have the Last Word"


(p. A20) Unfortunately, the deniers of differences between the sexes are on the march with powerful allies. In the fall of 2006, the National Academy of Sciences released a recklessly one-sided study, now widely referred to as authoritative, titled "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering." According to the report, differences in cognition between the sexes have no bearing on the dearth of women in academic math, physics and engineering. It is all due to bias. Case closed. The report calls on Congress to hold hearings on gender bias in the sciences and on federal agencies to "move immediately" (emphasis in original) to apply anti-discrimination laws such as Title IX to academic science (but not English) departments. "The time for action is now."

No it is not. Now is the time for scholars in our universities and in the National Academy of Sciences to defend and support principles of free and objective inquiry. The chronically appalled must not have the last word.


For the full commentary, see:

Christina Hoff Sommers. "Academic Inquisitors." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 16, 2007): A.20.




February 15, 2008

Private Money Supports Quest for Dinosaur DNA

 

   Source of graphic: the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  JORDAN, Mont. -- Prospecting in Montana's badlands, rock ax in hand, paleontologist Jack Horner picks up a piece of the jawbone of a dinosaur. He examines the splinter, then puts it back and moves on. It isn't the kind of bone he is looking for.

Prof. Horner is searching for something that many scientists believe no longer exists: dinosaur bones that harbor blood cells, protein and, perhaps, even DNA.

"Most people looking for dinosaurs are looking for beautiful skeletons," he says. "We are looking for information."

. . .  

Prof. Horner, a curator at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, is among the world's most influential and offbeat paleontologists. He pioneered studies of dinosaur parent-(p. A12)ing behavior, species variation and bone cells. He is dyslexic, a former Special Forces operative of the Vietnam War era, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow, and a chaired professor of Montana State University who never finished a formal college degree.

"The lenses that people normally use to look at stuff are broken in Jack," says Mary Schweitzer, an assistant professor of paleontology at North Carolina State University, who has worked with him for years. "That's what makes Jack such a good scientist. Every now and then, every field should get a renegade weirdo in it who challenges assumptions."

. . .  

"The chances of finding any [dinosaur] DNA are pretty low," Prof. Horner acknowledges. "I am still hopeful."

In a field mostly outside the mainstream of federal research funding, Prof. Horner has a knack for attracting private grants. Star Wars producer George Lucas, Qualcomm co-founder Klein Gilhousen and Wade Dokken, a developer of Montana real estate, have contributed toward his research, the university says. Nathan Myhrvold, formerly chief technology officer at Microsoft Corp. and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures LLC, is helping to underwrite this season's fieldwork.

This summer, in Montana's Hell Creek Formation, Prof. Horner is searching the last landscape inhabited by dinosaurs. More than 65 million years ago, this plain was a wetland where herds of horned Triceratops watered. Today, it is an arid outwash of boulders, cactus and sage. The red and gray soil is littered with white shards of petrified wood that ring like bone china when tapped together and countless crumbs of dinosaur bone.

. . .

"As long as you are not bound by preconceived ideas of what you can find," Prof. Horner says, "there are an awful lot of things you can discover."

 

For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Dinosaur Hunter Seeks More Than Just Bare Bones; Prof. Horner Searches For Traces of Blood, DNA; Lucky Break From T. Rex."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  A1 & A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

  

     At top, Prof. Horner; at bottom: "Sarah Keenan, 21, an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who is working this summer for Prof. Horner, covers the fossilized triceratops frill in a protective jacket of plaster."  Source of caption and photos: the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




January 19, 2008

"Freedom and Prosperity Are Highly Correlated"

 

    Source of graph:  http://www.heritage.org/Press/ALAChart/images/ALC_017_index_econ_freedom_3col_c.jpg

 

(p. A13)  . . .  the evidence is piling up that neither government nor multilateral spending on education and infrastructure are key to development. To move out of poverty, countries instead need fast growth; and to get that they need to unleash the animal spirits of entrepreneurs.

Empirical support for this view is presented again this year in The Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, released today. In its 14th edition, the annual survey grades countries on a combination of factors including property rights protection, tax rates, government intervention in the economy, monetary, fiscal and trade policy, and business freedom.

The nearby table shows the 2008 rankings but doesn't tell the whole story. The Index also reports that the freest 20% of the world's economies have twice the per capita income of those in the second quintile and five times that of the least-free 20%. In other words, freedom and prosperity are highly correlated.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY.  "The Real Key to Development."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 15, 2008):  A13. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

IndexOfEconomicFreedom2008.gif     Source of table:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




January 18, 2008

"More Effective Economics Training Would Yield Enormous Dividends"

 

Economics101cartoon.jpg   Source of the cartoon:  online version of the NYT commentary cited below.

 

I agree with Franks, in the commentary excerpted below, that there is much room for improvement in the teaching of principles of economics.  But I doubt that economics is alone in the dismal performance of students, six months after having completed the course.

My own views on improving the principles course, by including more content related to innovation and entrepreneurship, can be found in my article referenced at the end of this entry. 

 

WHEN I began teaching economics in the 1970s, I noticed that people were generally disappointed when they learned what I did for a living. When I began asking why, many said something like this: “I took Econ 101 years ago, and there were all those horrible equations and graphs.”

Their unpleasant memories were apparently justified. Studies have shown that when students are tested about their knowledge of basic economic principles six months after completing an introductory economics course, they score no better, on average, than those who never took the course.

In other sectors of the economy, such dismal performance might provoke malpractice suits. But in the university system, students and their parents put up with this situation year after year.

. . .

Given the importance of the economic choices we confront, both as individuals and as a society, more effective economics training would yield enormous dividends. And in light of the low bar established by traditional courses, there seems little risk in trying something different.  

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ROBERT H. FRANK.  "Economic View; The Dismal Science, Dismally Taught."  The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section  (Sun., August 12, 2007):  4.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

For my article on how to improve the principles course, see:

"The Neglect of Creative Destruction in Micro-principles Texts."  History of Economic Ideas 15, no. 1 (2007):  197-210.

 




January 10, 2008

Putin's Russia Portrays Stalin, Not as Monster, But as Strong Ruler

(p. 5)  STALIN has undergone a number of transformations of his historical image in Russia, interpretations that say as much about the country’s current leaders as about the dictator himself.

In the West, Stalin is remembered for the numbers of his victims, about 20 million, largely his own citizens, executed or allowed to die in famines or the gulag. They included a generation of peasant farmers in Ukraine, former Bolsheviks and other political figures who were purged in the show trials of the 1930s, Polish officers executed at Katyn Forest, and Russians who died in the slave labor economy. Stalin’s crimes have been tied to his personality, cruelty and paranoia as well as to the circumstances of Russian and Soviet history.

While not denying that Stalin committed the crimes, a new study guide in Russia for high school teachers views his cruelty through a particular, if familiar, lens. It portrays Stalin not as an extraordinary monster who came to power because of the unique evil of Communism, but as a strong ruler in a long line of autocrats going back to the czars. Russian history, in this view, at times demands tyranny to build a great nation.

The text reinforces this idea by comparing Stalin to Bismarck, who united Germany, and comparing Russia in the 1930s under the threat of Nazism to the United States after 9/11 in attitudes toward liberties.

The history guide — titled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006” — was presented at a conference for high school teachers where President Vladimir V. Putin spoke; the author, Aleksandr Filippov, is a deputy director of a Kremlin-connected think tank.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "WORD FOR WORD | NEW RUSSIAN HISTORY; Yes, a Lot of People Died, but ..."  The New York Times , Week in Review section  (Sun., August 12, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipsis in title in original.)

 




December 19, 2007

Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




December 14, 2007

Professor Dowling's Defense of the University Against Big-Time Spectator Sports

 

  Professor William C. Dowling.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C15)  For more than a decade at Rutgers, Dr. Dowling has stood as an idealistic absolutist, an intellectual convinced that the thunder of big-time athletics was crumbling the ivory tower of academe.

He has been the conscience, the Cassandra, the crank, the nag, the pain, infuriating opponents and, at times, exasperating allies. Enough years of being the whistle-blower, after all, can make even a tuneful musician sound shrill.

But now, just as Rutgers’s recent triumphs in football and basketball might seem to have justified the university’s investment of tens of millions of dollars, Dr. Dowling has answered in his own subversive way. His memoir of the decade-long campaign against high-stakes athletics at Rutgers, “Confessions of a Spoilsport,” has just been published by Penn State University Press. It is his valediction, and its tone, far from mournful, is defiant.

“I wanted this book to be a monument,” Dr. Dowling, 62, said after class. “I wanted it to be a monument to the kids and the faculty who rallied around this issue. We tried to take on the monster of commercialized sports, even if it swallowed us up and passed us out the other end. Someone should know that we fought the good fight. And because I believe in literature as a form of symbolic action, I want readers to see the possibility of another way. Think about the impact of a book like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ on slavery.”

. . .  

Dartmouth . . . instilled in Dr. Dowling an appreciation for what he calls now “participatory sports” — sports without scholarships, separate dorms, team tutors, product endorsements, television contracts, reduced admissions standards, easy classes and so many other tropes of Division I-A sports.

Rutgers, in turn, provided a striking example of before and after. For more than 100 years after playing Princeton in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869, Rutgers had competed against schools like Lafayette and Colgate with which it shared academic standards. Then, in 1991, Rutgers joined the Big East Conference, making it a peer of ethically challenged football factories like Miami.

Dr. Dowling grew convinced that the shift was degrading the caliber of students, indeed the entire communal culture.  . . .   And while he enjoyed teaching many members of the track, swimming and crew teams in his courses, he vociferously resisted the notion that athletic scholarships offered opportunity to low-income, minority students.

“If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine,” he said. “But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN.  "EDUCATION; To the Victors at Rutgers Also Goes the 'Spoilsport'."  The New York Times  (Weds., September 26, 2007):  C15. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Here is the description of Dowling's book that appears on Amazon

"Universities exist to transmit understanding and ideals and values to students . . . not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes. . . . When I entered a much smaller Rutgers sixty years ago, athletics were an important but strictly minor aspect of Rutgers education. I trust that today's much larger Rutgers will honor this tradition from which I benefited so much." --Milton Friedman, Rutgers '32, Nobel Prize in Economics, 1976

In 1998, Milton Friedman's statement drew national attention to Rutgers 1000, a campaign in which students, faculty, and alumni were resisting the takeover of their university by commercialized Division IA athletics. Subsequently, the movement received extensive coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sports Illustrated, and other publications.

Today, "big-time" college athletics remains a hotly debated issue at Rutgers. Why did an old eastern university that had long competed against such institutions as Colgate, Columbia, Lafayette, and Princeton, choose, by joining the Big East conference in 1994, to plunge into the world of such TV-revenue-driven extravaganzas as "March Madness" and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? What is the moral for universities where big-time college sports have already become the primary source of institutional identity?

Confessions of a Spoilsport is the story of an English professor who, having seen the University of New Mexico sink academically in the period of a major basketball scandal, was galvanized into action when Rutgers joined the Big East. It is also the story of the Rutgers 1000 students and alumni who set out against enormous odds to resist the decline of their university--eviscerated academic programs, cancellation of minor sports, loss of the "best and brightest" in-state students to the nearby College of New Jersey--while tens of millions of dollars were being lavished on Division IA athletics. Ultimately, however, the story of Rutgers 1000 is what the New York Times called it when Milton Friedman issued his ringing statement: a struggle for the soul of a major university.

 

The reference to Dowling's book, is: 

Dowling, William C. Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

 

  Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Spoilsport-Fighting-Corruption-University/dp/0271032936/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196229303&sr=1-1

 




October 31, 2007

Testing Incentives

 

When W. became president, he had two major education initiatives:  vouchers, and "no child left behind."  It is unfortunate that in the face of formidable Democratic opposition, he abandoned vouchers, and stuck with "no child left behind."  The latter policy's intent is noble, but some of its unintended consequences are perverse. 

Mandatory testing results in educational inefficiency:  teachers teach to the tests, and as the commentary quoted below reports, tests get jiggered to show good results.

The main harm though, is that some of the most important results of good education, like resilience, self-discipline, and creativity, are not readily measured in standardized multiple choice tests.  So programs, such as Montessori, that encourage such results, end up under-appreciated and under-rewarded.

What we most need is for parents to be free to choose in education.  That would result in far greater innovation and improvement in education than the current "no child left behind" standardized testing.

 

(p. A31) If teachers, administrators, politicians and others have a stake in raising the test scores of students — as opposed to improving student learning, which is not the same thing — there are all kinds of incentives to raise those scores by any means necessary.

. . .

A study released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association found that “improvements in passing rates on state tests can largely be explained by declines in the difficulty of those tests.”

The people in charge of most school districts would rather jump from the roof of a tall building than allow an unfettered study of their test practices. But that kind of analysis is exactly what’s needed if we’re to get any real sense of how well students are doing.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

BOB HERBERT.    " High-Stakes Flimflam."  The New York Times   (Tues.,  October 9, 2007):  A31.

 

 HerbertBob.jpg  Columnist Bob Herbert.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT column quoted and cited above.

 




October 17, 2007

UNO Protects Students from Cupcakes (Whether They Want to Be Protected, or Not)

 

Many years ago, I went along with a group of Exec MBA students to Germany.  Among them was Bill Swanson.  Bill had a sense of humor.

At some point in the trip, I spilled ketchup on my tie.  Bill's response was that normally a ruined tie would be sad, but given my tie, the ketchup was an improvement.

Yes, Bill has a sense of humor; so I'm hoping the story below is a joke.

That's what I hope, but what I fear is that the story below is one more example of the inefficient, sometimes painful (like when an 8th grader can't take aspirin to middle school), and sometimes funny, things that we are driven to do to protect ourselves from being sued, in an economy where congress has empowered personal injury lawyers to frequently sue for huge and unpredictable compensatory and punitive damages.  (When Joe Ricketts, Ameritrade founder, spoke to my Exec MBA class a few years ago, he said that the biggest threat facing the U.S. economy was the proliferation of tort law suits.)

So it's either a bad joke; or (most likely) it's UNO protecting itself against every potential law suit; or it's a third, and worse, alternative---which would be if the story below is to be taken at face value. 

In that case we would have to conclude that some UNO staff have nothing better to do with their time than to paternalistically 'protect' young adults from a minuscule risk of illness from freely choosing to purchase and eat cupcakes being sold by fellow students to raise money for good causes.

 

Here is an excerpt from the page one, lead story, of the Sat., Oct. 6, 2007, Omaha World-Herald:

 

(p. 1A)  Guns. Drugs. Bake sales.

What do these things have in common?

All have been banned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.

Citing safety and health concerns, UNO last week prohibited selling homemade food items at campus fundraisers.

Officials said the prevalence of serious food allergies and the potential for contaminated food — either by accident or deliberately — led UNO to adopt the policy, which then drew complaints from student groups.

"The primary issue is the health of the students and the safety of the students," said Bill Swanson, assistant to the vice chancellor in the Career Exploration and Outreach Office.

No one on the UNO campus has reported problems with contaminated food purchased at a bake sale, Swanson said.

But there have been incidents around the country, he said, and those were enough to prompt a discussion among officials.

The decision has come under fire from students who say the restriction cuts off small student (p. 2A) groups from their primary fundraising source.

The Public Relations Student Society of America traditionally held bake sales once a month to raise money for national conferences, local business luncheons and volunteer work, said the group's president, Katie Dowd.

The group raised about $1,500 a year hawking homemade baked goods donated by members.

"It's a big blow to us," said Dowd, who called the potential for food contamination from her group's offerings "very unlikely."

 

For the full story, see: 

ELIZABETH AHLIN.  "Goodies ban half-baked, UNO students say." Omaha World-Herald  (Saturday, October 6, 2007):  1A & 2A.

 




August 31, 2007

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent's solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:


Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 30, 2007

The Liberal Attack on Free Speech at Antioch

 

THIS is an obituary for a great American institution whose death was announced this week. After 155 years, Antioch College is closing.

. . .

With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the college increased African-American enrollment to 25 percent in 1968, from virtually nil in previous years. The new students were recruited from the inner city. At around the same time, Antioch created coeducational residence halls, with no adult supervision. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll became the rule, as you might imagine, and there was enormous peer pressure to be involved in all of them. No member of the faculty or administration, and certainly none of the students, could guess what these sudden changes would mean. They were simply embraced in the spirit of the time.

I moved into this sociological petri dish from a well-to-do suburb. Within my first week I twice had guns drawn on me, once in fun and once in a state of drunken for real by a couple of ex-cons whom one of my classmates, in the interest of breaking down class barriers, had invited to live with her.

My roommate began the tortured process of coming out of the closet, first by pursuing women relentlessly and then accepting the truth and allowing himself to be pursued by men. He needed to talk all this out with himself when he came in each morning at 4 a.m., and in the face of his personal crisis, there was little I could do to assert my right to sleep.

. . .

Antioch College became a rump where the most illiberal trends in education became entrenched. Since it is always easier to impose a conformist ethos on a small group than a large one, as the student body dwindled, free expression and freedom of thought were crushed under the weight of ultraliberal orthodoxy. By the 1990s the breadth of challenging ideas a student might encounter at Antioch had narrowed, and the college became a place not for education, but for indoctrination. Everyone was on the same page, a little to the left of The Nation in worldview.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

Michael Goldfarb.  "Where the Arts Were Too Liberal."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., June 17, 2007):  13.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




August 20, 2007

Professors Have Lost the Skills to Write Lively Prose and Choose Interesting Topics

 

The excerpt below is from a WSJ summary of an article by Maureen Ogle in the March-April 2007 issue of HISTORICALLY SPEAKING.

 

History professors, writes Ms. Ogle in the History Society's bimonthly bulletin, don't make enough effort to connect with students who view the world through a lens shaped by iPods and instant messaging. Worse, professors have lost the skills needed to engage a general audience like writing lively prose or choosing interesting topics. Their careers depend on getting articles into tiny journals on abstruse topics, not conveying the importance of that research to the public.  . . .

. . .

She resigned from her university post in 1999 and began a mission to provide nonacademic readers with "well-researched, well-documented, well-reasoned history." On the way, she discovered the perils, and pleasures, of writing for an audience "larger than six."

 

For the full summary, see: 

"Informed Reader; ACADEMIA; Historians Belong on the Street, Not in the Tower."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., May 31, 2007):  B6.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




June 21, 2007

Even France Recognizes English as the Language of Business

 

The story below provides further evidence that those who are working hard to make English the mandatory language of the United States, should find themselves a real problem to worry about.

 

PARIS, April 7 — When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

“We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately was not re-elected to his post in December.

In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading business schools that is based in McLean, Va.

“We are shifting to English. Why?” said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief executives.

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students — the French ones — to go everywhere.”

 

For the full story, see: 

DOREEN CARVAJAL.  "English as Language of Global Education."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 11, 2007):  A21.

 




June 5, 2007

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin "Really Enjoyed the Montessori Method"

 

MOM-Web-Cover-2007-02.png MOM-Web-Brin-2007-02.png   Source for the image of the Moment issue cover, on left: http://www.momentmag.com/issue/index.html   Source for the image of the first page of the article, on right:  online version of the Moment article cited below.

 

Sergey, who turned six that summer, remembers what followed as simply “unsettling”—literally so. “We were in different places from day to day,” he says. The journey was a blur. First Vienna, where the family was met by representatives of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped thousands of Eastern European Jews establish new lives in the free world. Then, on to the suburbs of Paris, where Michael’s “unofficial” Jewish Ph.D. advisor, Anatole Katok, had arranged a temporary research position for him at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques. Katok, who had emigrated the year before with his family, looked after the Brins and paved the way for Michael to teach at Maryland.

When the family finally landed in America on October 25, they were met at New York’s Kennedy Airport by friends from Moscow. Sergey’s first memory of the United States was of sitting in the backseat of the car, amazed at all the giant automobiles on the highway as their hosts drove them home to Long Island.

The Brins found a house to rent in Maryland—a simple, cinder-block structure in a lower-middle-class neighborhood not far from the university campus. With a $2,000 loan from the Jewish community, they bought a 1973 Ford Maverick. And, at Katok’s suggestion, they enrolled Sergey in Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland.

He struggled to adjust. Bright-eyed and bashful, with only a rudimentary knowledge of English, Sergey spoke with a heavy accent when he started school. “It was a difficult year for him, the first year,” recalls Genia. “We were constantly discussing the fact we had been told that children are like sponges, that they immediately grasp the language and have no problem, and that wasn’t the case.”

Patty Barshay, the school’s director, became a friend and mentor to Sergey and his parents. She invited them to a party at her house that first December (“a bunch of Jewish people with nothing to do on Christmas Day”) and wound up teaching Genia how to drive. Everywhere they turned, there was so much to take in. “I remember them inviting me over for dinner one day,” Barshay says, “and I asked Genia, ‘What kind of meat is this?’ She had no idea. They had never seen so much meat” as American supermarkets offer.

When I ask about her former pupil, Barshay lights up, obviously proud of Sergey’s achievements. “Sergey wasn’t a particularly outgoing child,” she says, “but he always had the self-confidence to pursue what he had his mind set on.”

He gravitated toward puzzles, maps and math games that taught multiplication. “I really enjoyed the Montessori method,” he tells me. “I could grow at my own pace.” He adds that the Montessori environment—which gives students the freedom to choose activities that suit their interests—helped foster his creativity.

“He was interested in everything,” Barshay says, but adds, “I never thought he was any brighter than anyone else.”

 

For the full story, see:

Mark Malseed.  "The Story of Sergey Brin; How the Moscow-born entrepreneur cofounded and changed the way the world searches."  Moment Magazine  (February 2007).

 




May 28, 2007

"The Odor of Stagnation"

 

(p. 244)  Whenever I walk into a public school, I stagger a bit at the entrance.  The moment I step across the threshold, I'm nearly toppled by a wave of nostalgia.  Most schools I've visited in the twenty-first century look and feel exactly like the central Ohio, public schools I attended in the 1970s.  The classrooms are the same size.  The desks stand in those same rows.  Bulletin boards preview the next national holiday.  The hallways even smell the same.  Sure, some classrooms might have a computer or two.  But in most respects, the schools American children attend today seem indistinguishable from the ones their parents and grandparents attended generations earlier.

At first such deja vu warmed my soul.  But then I thought about it.  How many other places look and feel exactly as they did twenty, thirty, or forty years ago?  Banks don't.  Hospitals don't.  Grocery stores don't.  Maybe the sweet nostalgia I sniffed on those classroom visits was really the odor of stagnation.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H.  Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

(Note:  italics in original.)

 




April 27, 2007

Aaron Brown Asks UNL Tough Questions on Students' Right to Defend Themselves

 

  Source of image is screen capture from KETV web page:  http://www.ketv.com/news/13120432/detail.html

 

Aaron Brown was an excellent student in my micro-principles course several years ago, and now he is a law student at UNL.  You may also remember him as a frequent contributor of comments to entries on this blog.

He's gotten some attention today (4/26/07) by speaking out for the right of college students to defend themselves by bearing arms.

For the KETV (Omaha ABC channel 7) story, see:  http://www.ketv.com/news/13120432/detail.html

For the KOLN (Omaha Fox channel 10) story, see:  http://www.kolnkgin.com/news/headlines/7209236.html

 




April 20, 2007

Obama Should Support School Vouchers Experiment

 

There's something about our nation's capital that converts many leading Democrats to school choice. Perhaps it's the glimpse that Washington, D.C. affords into inner-city public schools.

But in most cases this appreciation of school choice extends only to their own children -- and not to the millions of children in failing public schools. Indeed, a nearly perfect correlation exists among Democratic presidential candidates who have exercised school choice for their own children and those who would deny such choices to the parents of other children.

. . .

The mystery man is Sen. Barack Obama, who sends his child to a private school in Chicago yet once referred to school vouchers as "social Darwinism." Still, he says that on education reform, "I think a good place to start would be for both Democrats and Republicans to say . . . we are willing to experiment and invest in anything that works."

Well, school choice works. Every study that compares children who applied for school choice scholarships and received them with those who applied but did not shows improved academic performance. More important, every study that has examined the effect of school choice competition has found significantly improved performance by public schools.

Given their track records it is doubtful how many candidates will agree with Sen. Obama's professed openness to experiment. But as he might say, we can always have the audacity to hope.

 

For the full commentary, see:

CLINT BOLICK.  "Selective School Choice."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., March 2, 2007):  A11.

(Note:  ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis within Obama quote was in the original.)

 

 




April 3, 2007

For Better Jobs, Immigrants Voluntarily Line Up to Learn English


          In Mount Vernon, New York, Maria de Oliveira (center) waited three months for an opening in this English class.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

In the United States, other things equal, those who speak English earn more than those who do not.  So there is a substantial incentive for immigrants to learn English, even in the absence of the much-debated proposed laws to mandate English in various ways.  Consider the evidence in the article excerpted below: 

 

(p. A1)  MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — Two weeks after she moved here from her native Brazil, Maria de Oliveira signed up for free English classes at a squat storefront in this working-class suburb, figuring that with an associate’s degree and three years as an administrative assistant, she could find a good job in America so long as she spoke the language.

The woman who runs the classes at Mount Vernon’s Workforce and Career Preparation Center added Ms. Oliveira’s name to her pink binder, at the bottom of a 90-person waiting list that stretched across seven pages. That was in October. Ms. Oliveira, 26, finally got a seat in the class on Jan. 16.

“I keep wondering how much more I’d know if I hadn’t had to wait so long,” she said in Portuguese.

. . .

Luis Sanchez, 47, a Peruvian truck driver for a beer distributor in New Brunswick, has been in this country (p. C14) 10 years — and on the waiting list for English classes in Perth Amboy five months. “You live from day to day, waiting to get the call that you can come to class,” Mr. Sanchez said in Spanish, explaining that he knew a little English but wanted to improve his writing skills so he could apply for better jobs. “I keep on waiting.”

. . .

In Newburgh, N.Y., an Orange County town where one in five of the 29,000 residents are immigrants, Blanca Saravia has amassed an impressive portfolio of odd jobs since arriving from Honduras in 2004: gas station attendant, office janitor, cook’s helper, and, for the last 14 months, packager at a local nail-polish factory. Speaking in her native Spanish, Ms. Saravia said that she has been able to get by with co-workers’ translating, but that “when the boss gives orders, I don’t understand.”

. . .

. . .   Ahmed Al Saidi, 49, who works at a gas station and moved from Yemen in 1994, said in halting English that he wants to learn the language “for better work and to talk to people when I go to the store.”

Ms. Oliveira, the immigrant from Brazil, said she still knows too little English to venture into the marketplace; her husband, who is American born and supports the couple financially, encouraged her to enroll in the classes, held five mornings a week.

“I hope that when I’m speaking a little better, I’ll be able to find a job where I can use the English I learned here and the skills I have from back home,” she said in Portuguese. “When I was on the waiting list, there were times I thought this time would never come.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

FERNANDA SANTOS.  "Demand for English Lessons Outstrips Supply."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 27, 2007):  A1 & C14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





March 31, 2007

UNO Economics RA Talks Personal Finance

McGrathMollyPersonalFinance.jpg   Molly McGrath.  Soure of photo:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.

 

Molly was one of our Research Assistants last year in the UNO economics department: 

 

(p. 1D)  Miss Nebraska Molly McGrath has driven more than 25,000 miles since being crowned in June, mostly to schools as she talks about personal finance issues like avoiding debt and using money as a tool to realize dreams.

"There is a drastic need for economic and financial education with all people, but especially in low-income communities and especially among our youth," McGrath told about a dozen people at a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Omaha-North.

McGrath knows about making ends meet. Her parents could not help her pay for college, so she has used more than $20,000 in scholarships won through the Miss America program. She also cleaned toilets, dorm rooms and apartments as she earned her undergraduate degree at New York University in New York.

"I was known right away at NYU as the girl from Nebraska," McGrath said. "And after I started this cleaning business I was known as the girl from Nebraska who cleans toilets."

 

For the full story, see: 

JOE RUFF.  "Miss Nebraska teaches dollars and sense."  Omaha World-Herald  (Monday, February 26, 2007):  1D & 2D.

 




March 9, 2007

Omaha Public Schools' Attack on Other Districts Costs $12 Million in Lawyer Fees

Source of graphic:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.

 

(p. 1A)  Who's winning in the Omaha-area disputes about school finances and boundaries?.

So far, it looks like the lawyers.

Taxpayers have shelled out $12 million to private lawyers hired to handle those matters for Omaha-area school districts and the State of Nebraska, a World-Herald study found.

Nearly all of that has been paid during the past 31/2 years to two Omaha firms: Baird Holm, hired by the Omaha Public Schools, and Fraser Stryker, which was hired by the state and separately by the suburban districts.

The money has been spent on three interconnected items:

• The OPS lawsuit against the state's school funding system, which accounts for most of the $12 million.

• The Omaha district's effort, now on hold, to take over its suburban neighbors.

• And fallout from the Legislature's 2006 law that would break apart OPS and create a two-county "learning community" for the Omaha metro area.

The $12 million doesn't include lobbying costs or staff time for the three matters. And it doesn't include millions of dollars the districts paid lawyers during the same period for routine legal work.

The three items have fueled a stunning increase in OPS payments to lawyers. The district now pays about $400,000 a month in legal fees - four times what it (p. 2A) paid five years ago.

"This seems to me to be crazy," said State Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, who introduced a bill this year aimed at curbing school districts' spending on legal fees.

"These are legal fees, paid pretty much by taxpayers, for a school district to conduct a legal war against another school district or against the state," said Raikes, who heads the Legislature's education committee.

 

For the full story, see:

PAUL GOODSELL.  "Lawyers reap OPS windfall; District, state actions cost taxpayers $12 million, so far."   OMAHA WORLD-HERALD  (Sunday, March 4, 2007):  1A & 2A.

(Note:  the online version had the somewhat different title:  "OPS legal fees cost taxpayers $12 million, so far.")

 




February 10, 2007

Milton Friedman's School Vouchers Pass Utah Senate

I received an email mailing yesterday (2/9/07) from Robert Fanger, who is the Communications Director of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation.  He wrote:  "By a vote of 19 to 10, the Utah Senate passed the universal school voucher bill this afternoon."

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial on the issue that is excerpted below:

 

Proving that the best reforms often pass by the slimmest of margins, Utah's house voted 38-37 late last week to create a state-wide voucher program that will allow students to escape failing public schools.

Union opponents can be expected to mount a furious assault in the state senate, and then head to court. But the senate is likely to pass the reform supported by GOP Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., so Utah may soon become the first state with a universal school choice plan. It would offer students who attend private K-12 schools from $500 to $3,000 in tuition reimbursement based on family income.

Meanwhile, South Carolina could be next. Legislation is now being drafted to allow nearly 200,000 poor students to opt out of failing public schools by giving them up to $4,500 a year to spend on private school tuition. Middle class parents would be eligible for a $1,000 tax credit.

 

Reference for editorial:

"Choice Advances."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., February 7, 2007):  A14.

 




February 1, 2007

The Difference Between Being a University President and Being a Cabinet Officer

 

At a dinner last week to announce the winner of the business book of the year award, Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, poked fun at his tenure as the president of Harvard.  . . .

Specifically, he said he was woefully naïve when he had been first asked to describe the difference between being a university president and being a cabinet officer. ''I guess I didn't get it right in the answer I gave in my first year or two,'' he said, ''because I used to say, 'Well, in Washington, it's so political; there's organized opposition to everything.' ''

 

For the full story, see: 

JANE L. LEVERE.  "OPENERS: SUITS; HARVARD EDUCATION."  The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., October 29, 2006):  2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




November 5, 2006

Closing the Alleged 'Digital Divide'

 One version of the laptops produced by One Laptop Per Child for roughly $100 a piece.  Source of image:  http://www.laptop.org/OLPC_files/nigeria.jpg

 

Simply giving each child a laptop, won't much improve their standard of living.  (See Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth.)  But maybe a few of the children will obtain access to information about what is possible in the outside world, and maybe that will lead them to fight for more freedom?

But at least, if they remain poor, it will not be possible to lay the blame on some sort of 'digital divide.'  Lay the blame, instead on government economic planning. 

Note the aside buried in the article:  'competitive advantage' economist Michael Porter is telling the Libyans how to develop a "national economic plan"??  (Say it ain't so, Michael!)

 

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 10 — The government of Libya reached an agreement on Tuesday with One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit United States group developing an inexpensive, educational laptop computer, with the goal of supplying machines to all 1.2 million Libyan schoolchildren by June 2008.

The project, which is intended to supply computers broadly to children in developing nations, was conceived in 2005 by a computer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nicholas Negroponte.  His goal is to design a wireless-connected laptop that will cost about $100 after the machines go into mass production next year.

. . .

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, suggested that the next generation of cellphones might be a better way to reach across the so-called digital divide.

Mr. Negroponte said Microsoft refused to sell its Windows software to the project at a price that would make it possible to include in his system.  As a result, his laptops will come with the freely available Linux operating system, which is becoming increasingly popular in the developing world.

The idea of a laptop for every schoolchild grew out of Mr. Negroponte’s experience in giving children Internet-connected laptops in rural Cambodia.  He said the first English word out of the mouths of the Cambodian students was “Google.”

Discussions between the One Laptop project and the Libyan government began as part of work being done by the Monitor Group, an international consulting firm co-founded by the economist Michael E. Porter.  It is now helping the Libyans develop a national economic plan.

. . .  

The first test models will be distributed to the five participating countries companies at the end of this November, according to Mr. Negroponte, and mass production is planned for June or July of 2007.

The computers come with a wireless connection, a built-in video camera, an eight-hour battery and a hand crank for recharging batteries.  They will initially be priced below $150, and the price is expected to decline when they are manufactured in large numbers.

 

For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF.  "U.S. Group Reaches Deal to Provide Laptops to All Libyan Schoolchildren."  The New York Times  (Weds., October 11, 2006):  A14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  MIT's Nicholas Negroponte.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.



September 25, 2006

Gym Classes Promote Sports, Not Healthy Exercise

 

Here is more evidence that public school physical education classes should be turned over to private sector firms like "24 Hour Fitness."  

Ms. Jackie Lund, who is quoted below, is the President of NASPE, which the article identifies as "an association of fitness educators and professionals.  Note well that she as much as admits that fitness is not the purpose of gym classes.

 

Researchers report that in the typical high-school gym class students are active for an average of 16 minutes.

The report by Cornell University researchers also found that adding 200 minutes more of physical-education time a week had little effect. (See the report.)

"What's actually going on in gym classes?  Is it a joke?" asked John Cawley, lead author of the study and a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

. . .

The rest of the extra gym time is likely spent being idle -- most likely standing around while playing sports like softball or volleyball that don't require constant movement, Mr. Cawley said.

. . .

. . . , Ms. Lund says merely counting how many minutes students are moving may not be a fair measure of a gym class.  "It's not supposed to be aerobics class.  The activity level is going to vary depending on the sport they're learning," she said.

 

For the full story, see: 

"High-Schoolers Get Scant Exercise in Gym Class."   Wall Street Journal  (Weds., September 20, 2006):  D4.

(Note:  the online version of the article has the title:  "Is High-School Gym Class An Exercise in Futility?")

(Note:  ellipses are added.)

 




September 1, 2006

Internet Reduces Elite Universities' Competitive Edge

With professors spending so much time blogging for no payment, universities might wonder whether this detracts from their value.  Although there is no evidence of a direct link between blogging and publishing productivity, a new study* by E. Han Kim and Adair Morse, of the University of Michigan, and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, shows that the internet's ability to spread knowledge beyond university classrooms has diminished the competitive edge that elite schools once held.

Top universities once benefited from having clusters of star professors.  The study showed that during the 1970s, an economics professor from a random university, outside the top 25 programmes, would double his research productivity by moving to Harvard.  The strong relationship between individual output and that of one's colleagues weakened in the 1980s, and vanished by the end of the 1990s.

The faster flow of information and the waning importance of location—which blogs exemplify—have made it easier for economists from any university to have access to the best brains in their field.  That anyone with an internet connection can sit in on a virtual lecture from Mr DeLong means that his ideas move freely beyond the boundaries of Berkeley, creating a welfare gain for professors and the public.  

For the full story, see:

"FINANCE & ECONOMICS: Economists' blogs; The invisible hand on the keyboard; Why do economists spend valuable time blogging?"  The Economist 380, no. 8489 (Aug. 3, 2006):  67. 

 

The full reference to the paper by Kim et al, is:

* “Are Elite Universities Losing Their Competitive Edge?” by E. Han Kim, Adair Morse and Luigi Zingales. NBER working paper 12245, May 2006.

(Thanks to Carolyn Diamond for giving me a copy of the article from The Economist.) 

 




July 22, 2006

Exercising to Win, Hurts Lifetime Fitness

Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. E1)  The dirty secret among former high school and college jocks is that many don't remain active as adults.  In their glory days they were the fittest among their peers.  But as adults many are overtaken by nonjocks who embrace fitness as a commitment to health, forget the varsity letter.

Onetime elite athletes often languish once organized competition is over and a coach isn't hounding them, sports scientists and exercise physiologists say.  Many are burned out.  Others become discouraged when their lackluster fitness can't compare to their highlight reels.  Running on a treadmill in a sea of anonymous gym-goers doesn't compare to the thrill of being an m.v.p. on campus.

"Basically, they've been to the mountaintop and now they're on these little hills, and that is difficult to deal with," said Dan Gould, the director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in Lansing.

Extrinsic motivation is tricky business, said Dr. Gould, a professor of kinesiology.  He said he has found that athletes who played for trophies (p. E8) or attention are more at risk of becoming sedentary as adults than people who have taught themselves to get off the sofa and exercise, those with "intrinsic motivation."

 

For the full story, see:

JILL AGOSTINO.  "Once an Athletic Star, Now an Unheavenly Body."   The New York Times  (Thurs.,  July 6, 2006):  E1 & E8.




July 19, 2006

Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com

Source of graphic: online version of The Gateway article cited below.

 

The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, ran a nice feature article on artdiamondblog.com on July 18, 2006, as the first installment of a projected series on blogs created by members of the campus community.

 

If you click the citation below, you will arrive at the online version of the feature:

Reed, Charley. "Meet the Blogger: UNO Professor Art Diamond." The Gateway (Tues., July 18, 2006):  3.

 

For your convenience, the text of the feature also appears below.

Continue reading "Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com" »




July 13, 2006

When Public Schools Fail, Give Parents a Refund

Writing on Weds., July 12th, libertarian litigator Clint Bolick, seeks to improve failing schools by using the courts to increase parental choice:

 

A world of education reform will change tomorrow when a group of families files a class action lawsuit in Chancery Court in Newark, N.J.  They are asking for an immediate and meaningful remedy for 60,000 children trapped in failing schools -- by transferring control over education funds from bureaucrats to parents.

Seeking to vindicate the state constitutional guarantee of a "thorough and efficient" education, the plaintiffs in Crawford v. Davy ask that children be allowed to leave public schools where fewer than half of the students pass the state math and language literacy assessments that measure educational proficiency; and that the parents of these children be permitted to take the pro rata share of the public money spent on their children, to seek better opportunities in other public or private schools.  Supporting the families are three prominent New Jersey groups:  the Black Ministers Council, the Latino Leadership Alliance, and Excellent Education for Everyone.

The remedy these parents seek is fundamentally different from the one established by more than three decades of litigation across the country.  Courts in states like New York, Texas and California have ordered massive increases in school funding to fulfill state constitutional mandates for educational "equity" or "adequacy," all on the belief that more money will boost school quality and student performance.  The funds have produced new programs and bureaucracies, but too often they fail to trickle down to the students by way of improved educational quality.

In any area other than education such a remedy would be considered bizarre.  Suppose you purchased a car whose warranty promised "thorough and efficient" transportation, and it turned out to be a lemon.  If you sued to enforce the warranty, would a court order a multibillion dollar payment to the auto maker in the hope that someday it would produce a better product?  Of course not:  It would order the company to give your money back so you could buy a different car.

 

For the full commentary, see:

CLINT BOLICK. "Remedial Education." The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., July 12, 2006):  A16.




June 19, 2006

"giving individual schools more autonomy"

(p. A1)  SAN DIEGO -- When San Diego's school district began overhauling its science-education curriculum five years ago, it wanted to raise the performance of minority, low-income and immigrant students.

But parents in middle- and upper-income areas, where many students were already doing well, rebelled against the new curriculum, and a course called Active Physics in particular.  They called it watered-down science, too skimpy on math.

A resistance movement took hold.  Some teachers refused to use the new textbooks, which are peppered with cartoons.  They gathered up phased-out texts to use on the sly.  As controversy over the issue escalated, it played a part in an election in which the majority of the school board was replaced.  Now, further curriculum changes are under consideration.

. . .

(p. A11)  Mitz Lee, a parent activist at Scripps Ranch High, also a high-achieving school, continued quietly organizing opposition and eventually made it a cornerstone of her 2004 campaign for a seat on the school board.

Opposition to the program remained sharp among some veteran science teachers.  Tom Deets, who teaches at Patrick Henry High, argued that freshman who hadn't passed eighth-grade algebra weren't ready for physics.  Rather than teach the new course, he switched to math until the district offered him an administrative job.

Aiming to keep their hands on alternative teaching materials, an active underground sprang up, with teachers squirreling away old physics textbooks to make sure the district couldn't collect them.  "At one time, I probably had 400 books," says Hal Cox, a retired submarine commander who teaches physics at Hoover High School.  "I put them in lockers, everywhere I could find."

The opposition came to a head with the school-board elections of 2004, when three critics of the district's overall curriculum changes, including those in math and reading, were elected to its five-member school board.  The winners included Ms. Lee, who had campaigned for an end to "fuzzy" science and was elected by the widest margin of the new board members.  She has lately been pushing for giving individual schools more autonomy on course choice.  "I don't want any more central mandates," Ms. Lee says.

  

For the full story, see:

ROBERT TOMSHO.  "Textbook Battle; Top High Schools Fight New Science As Overly Simple; San Diego's Physics Overhaul Makes Classes Accessible, Spurs Parental Backlash; Test Scores Barely Budge."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., April 13, 2006):   A1 & A11.




June 10, 2006

"My Merit Is My Caste; What Is Yours?"

NEW DELHI, May 22 — The problem of caste prejudice here is as ancient as the Hindu texts. The efforts to redress it date from the formation of modern India nearly 59 years ago. Today — as India enjoys awesome rates of economic progress and confronts the challenge of spreading the benefits to its needy majority — the nation faces a polarizing totem of public policy: a government plan to extend college admission quotas to certain "backward" castes.

Affirmative action is in some ways an even more emotional issue in India than in the United States. In recent weeks, a proposal to extend quotas for admission to some of the country's flagship, federally financed universities has caused fresh turmoil.

Protests — particularly by medical students who say merit should be the only basis for admission to India's intensely competitive medical schools — have spread across the country and, here in the capital, hobbled public health services. Advocates and opponents of the measure have exchanged often ugly rants.

. . .

Medical students have been particularly outraged because the plan would further restrict the limited number of seats. Medical education in India begins with a five-year undergraduate program, and the proposal could affect students' chances of completing their training.

The central lawn of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the pre-eminent public hospital, was occupied Friday by medical students on the fifth day of a strike that began last week and continued on Monday. "My merit is my caste. What is yours?" read one T-shirt.

. . .

The opponents say set-asides would diminish the quality of India's best universities and divide students along caste lines.

"Why after 55 years are we still thinking in terms of caste-based reservation?" demanded Poojan Aggarwal, a third-year student at Safdarjung Medical College here. "We should talk now of total meritocracy. We know on this issue none of the political parties will support us."

 

For the full story, see:

SOMINI SENGUPTA. "Quotas to Aid India's Poor vs. Push for Meritocracy."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 23, 2006):  A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)





June 5, 2006

Leonard Read's Comparative Advantage


When I was a student at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Liberty Fund to finance my attendance at a couple of weekend seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education in New York.  The seminars were taught by Rogge, Edmund Opitz, and Leonard Read.  I remember upon returning to Wabash after one of the seminars, Rogge asking me what I thought of Read.  I said something along the lines that I didn't much like his presentation style.  I remember saying that he expressed himself in a way that I associated with used car salesmen.  (So unlike Rogge's low-key, witty, intensity.)

My memory is that Rogge did not respond directly to my comment, but (perhaps with a hint of a smile) mentioned that among many audiences, especially in business, Leonard Read was an extremely effective speaker. 

I do not doubt that, and I also do not doubt that Read belongs in the pantheon of free market defenders.  His essay "I, Pencil" is by itself sufficient for admission.  But he did more than write and speak; he nurtured and called attention to others who had wisdom to offer.  For one small example, many of us learned about Albert Jay Nock's "The Remnant" through Leonard Read's The Freeman.

I believe that the last time I saw Read was at the memorial service at Wabash College for Ben Rogge.  I ended up sitting near Read and Opitz, who had flown in from New York.  I introduced myself as a Rogge student who had attended FEE seminars. 

I remember Read looking very sad, and depressed, and almost lost.  I also remember that he expressed some mild indignation that more of Rogge's students hadn't made it back for the memorial service. 

But as a serious reader of "The Remnant," Read on further reflection probably realized that the attendance at a memorial service is not a good measure of a teacher's influence on his students.

Apparently one student, whom Read himself influenced, was Charles Koch:


(p. A8) Whereas the bookshelves of most of America's leading CEOs are stocked with pop corporate management and "how to succeed" books, Mr. Koch's office is a wall-to-wall shrine to writings in classical economics, or, as he calls it, "the science of liberty." The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray.  Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Read.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006):  A8.

(Note:  In the quotation above, I have corrected the WSJ's misspelling of Read's last name.)





June 2, 2006

Free Market Philanthropy

KochClharles.gif Charles Koch.  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

 

Mr. Koch's latest crusade to spread the ideas of liberty has been his sponsorship of a twice-yearly conference that gathers together many of the most successful American entrepreneurs, from T. Boone Pickens to former Circuit City CEO Rick Sharp.  The objective is to encourage these captains of industry to help fund free-market groups devoted to protecting the fragile infrastructure of liberty.  That task seems especially critical given that so many of the global superrich, like George Soros and Warren Buffett, finance institutions that undermine the very system of capitalism that made their success possible.  Isn't this just the usual rich liberal guilt, I ask.  "No," he says, "I think they simply haven't been sufficiently exposed to the ideas of liberty."

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE.  "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise."  The Wall Street Journal   (Sat.,  May 6, 2006):  A8.




May 17, 2006

Incentives and Constraints Matter, But Sometimes Values Do, Too


 Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson.  Source of image:
http://www.iadb.org/idbamerica/index.cfm?thisid=681

 

Cambridge, Mass. - Several recent studies have garnered wide attention for reconfirming the tragic disconnection of millions of black youths from the American mainstream. But they also highlighted another crisis: the failure of social scientists to adequately explain the problem, and their inability to come up with any effective strategy to deal with it.

The main cause for this shortcoming is a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960's: the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes -- its distinctive attitudes, values and predispositions, and the resulting behavior of its members -- and the relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing.

Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and a co-author of one of the recent studies, typifies this attitude. Joblessness, he feels, is due to largely weak schooling, a lack of reading and math skills at a time when such skills are increasingly required even for blue-collar jobs, and the poverty of black neighborhoods. Unable to find jobs, he claims, black males turn to illegal activities, especially the drug trade and chronic drug use, and often end up in prison. He also criticizes the practice of withholding child-support payments from the wages of absentee fathers who do find jobs, telling The Times that to these men, such levies ''amount to a tax on earnings.''

His conclusions are shared by scholars like Ronald B. Mincy of Columbia, the author of a study called ''Black Males Left Behind,'' and Gary Orfield of Harvard, who asserts that America is ''pumping out boys with no honest alternative.''

This is all standard explanatory fare. And, as usual, it fails to answer the important questions. Why are young black men doing so poorly in school that they lack basic literacy and math skills? These scholars must know that countless studies by educational experts, going all the way back to the landmark report by James Coleman of Johns Hopkins University in 1966, have found that poor schools, per se, do not explain why after 10 years of education a young man remains illiterate.

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children -- several of them -- which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

. . .  

So what are some of the cultural factors that explain the sorry state of young black men? They aren't always obvious. Sociological investigation has found, in fact, that one popular explanation -- that black children who do well are derided by fellow blacks for ''acting white'' -- turns out to be largely false, except for those attending a minority of mixed-race schools.

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college (''We're not stupid!'' they told her indignantly).

So why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the ''cool-pose culture'' of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is -- or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.

 

For the full commentary, see:

ORLANDO PATTERSON. "A Poverty of the Mind."  The New York Times, Section 4 (Sunday, March 26, 2006):  13.  






May 2, 2006

Doctors Erect Barriers to Keep Out Competition

RadiologistBangalore.jpg A Bangalore radiologist.  One of three radiologists in India known to be reading U.S. scans.  Each of the three has a U.S. degree, as required by U.S. law.  Source of image:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/19/business/19leonhardt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

(p. C1) Radiologists seem like just the sort of workers who should be scared.  Computer networks can now send an electronic image to India faster than a messenger can take it from one hospital floor to another.  Often, those images are taken during emergencies at night, when radiologists here are sleeping and radiologists in India are not.

There also happens to be a shortage of radiologists in the United States.  Sophisticated new M.R.I. and CT machines can detect tiny tumors that once would have gone unnoticed, and doctors are ordering a lot more scans as a result.

When I talked this week to E. Stephen Amis Jr., the head of the radiology department at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he had just finished looking at some of the 700 images that had been produced by a single abdominal CT exam.  "We were just taking pictures of big, thick slabs of the body 20 years ago," Dr. Amis said.  "Now we're taking thinner and thinner slices."

Economically, in other words, ra-(p. C6)diology has a lot in common with industries that are outsourcing jobs.  It has high labor costs, it's growing rapidly and it's portable.

Politically, though, radiology could not be more different.  Unlike software engineers, textile workers or credit card customer service employees, doctors have enough political power to erect trade barriers, and they have built some very effective ones.

To practice medicine in this country, doctors are generally required to have done their training here.  Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to be certified by a board of other doctors or be licensed by a state government.  The three radiologists Mr. Levy found in Bangalore did their residencies at Baylor, Yale and the University of Massachusetts before returning home to India.

"No profession I know of has as much power to self-regulate as doctors do," Mr. Levy said.

So even if the world's most talented radiologist happened to have trained in India, there would be no test he could take to prove his mettle here.  It's as if the law required cars sold here to have been made by the graduates of an American high school.

Much as the United Automobile Workers might love such a law, Americans would never tolerate it, because it would drive up the price of cars and keep us from enjoying innovations that happened to come from overseas.  But isn't that precisely what health care protectionism does?  It keeps out competition.

 

For the full story, see:

Leonhardt, David.   "Political Clout in the Age of Outsourcing."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 19, 2006):  C1 & C4.




April 24, 2006

State Colleges and Universities "suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories"

In its public meetings, panelists from Wall Street and elsewhere in the business world have criticized academia as failing to meet the educational needs of working adults, stem a slide in the literacy of college graduates and rein in rising costs.

During a February meeting in San Diego, Trace Urdan, a senior research analyst for the investment banking firm Robert W. Baird & Company, said state colleges and universities "amount to state-run enterprises and suffer from all the inefficiency and poor decision-making of Soviet-style factories."


For the full story, see:

SAM DILLON. "Panel Considers Revamping College Aid and Accrediting." The New York Times (Weds., April 12, 2006): A14.




April 21, 2006

Teachers' Unions Fight Innovation, Customization, and Variety



(p. A27) Washington - A Wisconsin court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state's largest teachers' union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers' unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

. . .

There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.

. . .

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers' unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.

An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.




For the full commentary, see:

Andrew J. Rotherham. "Virtual Schools, Real Innovation." The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A27.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 15, 2006

Jhontelle Johnson on public schools: "you can't make me go"

FransoirWilliamLarge.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage


(p. A1) WASHINGTON, April 5 - As a student at Shaw Junior High School here, Amie Fuwa strained to shut out the distractions of friends cutting up. She struggled through math, and used photocopies or the library when textbooks were scarce.

Now Amie, 14, a child of immigrants from Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, attends Archbishop Carroll High School, a Catholic school near a verdant hill of churches nicknamed the Little Vatican. When algebra confounds Amie, her teacher stays with her after school to help, and a mentor keeps her on course.

''It's a lot of people behind my back now,'' Amie said.

Before, she said, she ''felt like it didn't really matter to different people I know, like my teachers, if I failed.''

Amie is one of about 1,700 low-income, mostly minority students in Washington who at taxpayer expense are attending 58 private and parochial schools through the nation's first federal voucher program, now in its second year.

Last year, parents appeared lukewarm toward the program, which was put in place by Congressional Republicans as a five-year pilot program, But this year, it is attracting more participation, illustrating how school-choice programs are winning over minority parents, traditionally a Democratic constituency.

Washington's African-American mayor, Anthony A. Williams, joined Republicans in supporting the program, prompted in part by a concession from Congress that pumped more money into public and charter schools. In doing so, Mr. Williams ig- (p. A16) nored the ire of fellow Democrats, labor unions and advocates of public schools.

. . .

Like many other voucher students, Breanna Walton, 8, rises before dawn for the long bus ride from Northeast Washington, ''amongst the crime and drugs and all that,'' in the words of her mother, April Cole Walton, to Rock Creek International, near Georgetown University. There, she learns Spanish with the children of lawyers and diplomats.

Ms. Walton said that her neighborhood school ''has broken down,'' and that she would have done just about anything to keep Breanna from going there. ''Every child here should be able to say I'm going to set my sights high,'' she said. ''I refuse to let my child be cheated.''

Patricia William, a single mother, said that at first she liked her son Fransoir's public school, John Quincy Adams Elementary School, a tall sprawling building in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Teachers seemed good, but overwhelmed. It was other parents, not teachers, Ms. William said, who told her that Fransoir was hyperactive. ''I was not getting quality information from them on time,'' she said. ''For some reason, it was not working.''

Fransoir is one of 62 students with vouchers attending Sacred Heart Elementary, a Catholic school of 210 students, where he learns prayers along with five-digit multiplication and long division. He takes medication for his hyperactivity. Last year, he teamed up with another child to research the sinking of the Titanic. This year, he is interested in reptiles. Ms. William said her son today has nothing in common with the boy who once lay on the floor, turning in circles like a clock wound too tight. Now she is learning from him, about more than just math or reading or a sinking ship.

''All the effort he's making every night makes me want to sit with him and study,'' said Ms. William, a high-school dropout. ''I'm learning academically, but also about making an effort.''

. . .

. . . the pressure of competition is inescapable. In one sixth-grade classroom, two of six students said they would probably go to charter schools next year, unless Adams could get its seventh grade started.

''I'll probably go to Washington Latin,'' said Jhontelle Johnson, setting her sights on a new charter school opening in August. If not, she said, ''I'd probably be home-schooled.''

A teacher's aide, Sheonna Griffin, looked askance. ''You don't like public schools?'' she asked the child.

Jhontelle turned back, her young eyes flashing. ''You can't make me go,'' she said.


For the full story, see:

DIANA JEAN SCHEMO. "Federal Program on Vouchers Draws Strong Minority Support." The New York Times (Thurs., April 6, 2006): A1 & A16.


FransoirWilliam2Large.jpg
Fransoir William. Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/education/06voucher.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=d2a47406ed1f9127&hp&ex=1144382400&partner=homepage




April 10, 2006

Ernie Chambers Right in Supporting Parents' Role in Education


For several months, the Omaha community has been roiled by the hostile efforts of the Omaha Public School (OPS) district to seize the schools and territory of long-established suburban school districts. Here ia an email that I sent to my representative in the Nebraska unicam on Sun., 4/9/06:

Dear Mr. Brashear:

I have appreciated your hard work as my representative in the legislature, and I have always voted for your re-election.

We believe strongly in giving our 11 year-old daughter a Montessori education. The Millard School District is the only area district that has had the entrepreneurial initiative to offer such a program, so we filled out the paperwork to option Jenny into the Millard District.

I strongly resent the implication of OPS that those who choose other school districts necessarily do so for racial reasons. We would have been very happy to stay in OPS (and it would have been more logistically convenient), but OPS does not support the diversity of educational options that Millard does.

Ernie Chambers is often wrong, but he is not always wrong. Dividing OPS into three districts would be a modest step toward increasing parental choice. Parents of all races want to be free to choose.

Tomorrow, I hope your vote will be to support freedom and competition.

Thank you for considering my views.

Sincerely,

Art Diamond






April 6, 2006

Solution to Problems in Health Care and Higher Education: Change the Incentive Structures


Vernon Smith, one of the 2002 recipients of the Nobel Prize in economics, advocates fundamental institutional reform:

Physicians and medical organizations face escalating administrative costs of complying with ever more detailed regulations. The system is overwhelmed by the administrative cost of attempting to control the cost of medical service delivery. In education, university budget requests are denied by the states who also limit the freedom of universities to raise tuition.

If there is a solution to this problem, it will take the form of changing the incentive structure: empowering the consumer by channeling third-party payment allowances through the patients or students who are choosing and consuming the service. Each pays the difference between the price of the service and the insurance or subsidy allowance. Since he who pays the physician or college calls the tune, we have a better chance of disciplining cost and tailoring services to the customer's willingness to pay.

Many will say that neither the patients nor the students are competent to make choices. If that is true today, it is mostly due to the fact that they cannot choose and have no reason to become competent! Service providers are oriented to whoever pays: physicians to the insurance companies and the government; universities to their legislatures. Both should pay more heed to their customers -- which they will if that is where they collect their fees.


For the full commentary, see:

VERNON L. SMITH. "Trust the Customer!" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 8, 2006): A20.




April 1, 2006

86% Agree that Government Should Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide

A junior high school student in Idaho, Nathan Zohner, demonstrated in a 1997 science fair project how easy it was to hoodwink a scientifically uninformed public. As described in "The Frankenfood Myth," 86 percent of the 50 students he surveyed thought dihydrogen monoxide should be banned after they were told that prolonged exposure to its solid form caused severe tissue damage, that exposure to its gaseous form caused severe burns and that it had been found in tumors from terminal cancer patients. Only one student recognized the substance as water, H2O.


For the full commentary, see:

JANE E. BRODY. " PERSONAL HEALTH; Facing Biotech Foods Without the Fear Factor." The New York Times (Tues., January 11, 2005): D7.




March 23, 2006

Jefferson Believed: "redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment"

Source of book image: http://images-eu.amazon.com/images/P/0060598964.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

(p. 43) Jefferson was not a man of the Enlightenment only in the ordinary sense that he believed in reason or perhaps in rationality. He was very specifically one of those who believed that human redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment. There were many such in the American Revolution. Thomas Paine spent much of his career designing a new form of iron bridge to aid transportation and communication. Dr. Joseph Priestley, another man who fled royalist and Anglican persecution and who removed himself from England to Philadephia after a "Church and King" mob had smashed his laboratory, was a chemist and physician of great renown. Benjamin Franklin would be remembered for his de- (p. 44) ductions about the practical use of electricity if he had done nothing else. Jefferson, too, considered himself a scientist. He studied botany, fossils, crop cycles, and animals. He made copious notes on what he saw. He designed a new kind of plow, which would cut a deeper furrow in soil exhausted by the false economy of tobacco farming. He was fascinated by the invention of air balloons, which he instantly saw might provide a new form of transport as well as a new form of warfare. He enjoyed surveying and prospecting and, when whaling became an important matter in the negotiation of a commercial treaty, wrote a treatise on the subject himself. He sent horticultural clippings from Virginia to the brilliant French consul Crevecoeur in New York, comparing notes on everything from potatoes to cedars. As president, he did much to further Dr. Edward Jenner's novel idea of cowpox vaccination as an insurance against the nightmare of smallpox, helping Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse of Boston---the initiator of the scheme in America---to overcome early difficulties in transporting the vaccine by suggesting that it lost its potency when exposed to wamth. Henceforward carried in water-cooled vials, the marvelous new prophylactic was administred to all at Monticello. (Not everything that Jeffrson did on his estate was exploitation.) For a comparison in context, we might note that Dr. Timothy Dwight, then president of Yale and to this day celebrated as an American Divine, was sternly opposed to vaccination as a profane interference with God's beneficent design.


Christopher Hitchens. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 0060598964




March 9, 2006

Vouchers Enable Choice, Competition, and Learning

TierneyJohn.jpg
John Tierney. Source of image: online version of NYT article cited below.


The New York Times Op-Ed education columnist offers a provocative evaluation of how Milton Friedman's educational voucher proposal is working in Milwuakee:

The Journal Sentinel, which endorsed John Kerry in 2004, has parted company with the Democratic Party on the voucher issue. It backed Republican efforts this year to expand the program, which has led to the creation of dozens of new private schools in Milwaukee.

"We've seen what school choice can do," said Gregory Stanford, an editorial writer and a columnist at the paper. "It's impressive to go around to the voucher schools and see kids learning. Their parents are much more satisfied with these schools. And the fears that the public schools would be hurt have turned out to be wrong."

In fact, the students in public schools have benefited from the competition. Two studies by Harvard researchers, one by Caroline Hoxby and another by Rajashri Chakrabarti, have shown that as the voucher program expanded in Milwaukee, there was a marked improvement in test scores at the public schools most threatened by the program (the ones with large numbers of low-income students eligible for the vouchers).

The competition spurred the public system to shift power from the central administration to individual schools, allowing councils of parents and teachers to decide who should teach there, instead of forcing the schools to accept incompetent teachers just because they had seniority.

"Poor teachers used to shuffle from one school on to another in what we called the dance of the lemons," says Ken Johnson, the head of the school board. "But we couldn't let that continue once our students had the option to go somewhere else. We had to react to students' needs. We had to start seeing them as customers, not just seat-fillers."

Some of the new voucher schools have flopped — but the advantage of a voucher program is that a bad private school can be shut down a lot faster than a bad public school. And while critics complain that there still isn't definitive evidence that voucher students are doing better over all in their new schools, the results so far in Milwaukee and other cities are more than enough to declare vouchers a success.

"All the good research, including the voucher opponents' work, shows that kids who accept vouchers are doing at least as well as their public school peers," says Joseph Viteritti of Hunter College. "That's remarkable, considering how much less money is being spent on the voucher students."

In Milwaukee, where the public system spends more than $10,000 per student, private schools get less than $6,400 for each voucher student. But when you see what can be done for that money, you realize what's wrong with Democrats' favorite solution for education: more money for the public-school monopoly.

. . .

The school principal, Denise Pitchford, worked in the public schools, but she took a pay cut in exchange for less red tape. "I wanted the flexibility to give immediate personal attention to every student," she said. "To me, it represented less money but a better opportunity." Just like the whole voucher program.


For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "City Schools That Work." The New York Times (Tues., March 7, 2006): A25.


Note: This article was reprinted under the title "Vouchers Offer Many Positives." in: Omaha World-Herald (Weds., March 8, 2006): 7B.




March 4, 2006

Mary K. Fox

Jenny's fourth and fifth grade teacher, Mary K. Fox, ended a long battle with cancer on January 30, 2006. Here are our "Guest Book" entries:


February 1, 2006

You were a great teacher. I will miss you very much. I remember the first day you met Willy (my dog). You liked him very much. Willy will always remember you, and think of you as Jenny's teacher.

Love, Jenny (and Willy)
Jenny Diamond (Omaha, NE )


February 1, 2006

We admired Mary's strength and determination; her patience and good will.

Art & Jeanette Diamond (Omaha, NE )




February 4, 2006

"If you're giving while you're living, you're knowing where it's going"

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has published a short book, "The Intelligent Donor's Guide to College Giving," that lays out some basic ground rules for donating to higher education. These include placing clear restrictions on gifts, working with a particular professor (and, if possible, bypassing the development office) and avoiding endowments in perpetuity. As Sir John Templeton wisely said: "If you're giving while you're living, you're knowing where it's going."

Obviously, this sort of due diligence does require time and effort on the part of the donor, But if even a few more philanthropists were watching where their funds ended up, college officials would surely monitor their programs more carefully. There have been a few celebrated cases in recent years in which donors have asked for their funds to be returned after discovering that they were misused, and these cases have sent a shudder through the academic community.


For the full commentary, see:

JAMES PIERESON. "Only Encouraging Them." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., November 18, 2005): W13.




January 18, 2006

Thomas Sowell on Ben Rogge as Teacher

The classic small liberal arts college is more than a pleasant place where other people know you, though that is not a small consideration for a student living away from home for the first time—especially a shy student.  Academically, the learning process can be far more manageable where professors are teachers first and foremost.  One of the best taught introductory economics classes I ever saw was taught by the late Ben Rogge at Wabash College in Indiana.  Few students at Harvard would ever get such a good foundation in the subject.  Ben, rest his soul, had obviously thought through all the pitfalls of the subject and led the student safely around them.


Source: online version of Thomas Sowell. Choosing a College: A Guide for Students & Parents. 1989.
http://www.amatecon.com/etext/cac/cac-ch03.html




January 1, 2006

Free to Choose in Education

Here is the text of my brief letter-to-the-editor that was published several months ago. "OPS" stands for Omaha Public Schools.

Competing school districts within the Omaha area permit parents some freedom of choice in the education of their children.

If OPS succeeds in ending that freedom, the Legislature should restore freedom of choice by adopting Milton Friedman’s proposal to issue vouchers to parents, to be spent at the public or private school of their choice.


Art Diamond. "Try Vouchers." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., June 16, 2005): 6B.




December 5, 2005

Never Say Die: Milton Friedman on Vouchers, Again

From an opinion-piece by Milton Friedman, at age 93, in today's Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the promise of vouchers for the education of New Orleans children, the reform will be opposed by the teachers unions and the educational administrators. They now control a monopoly school system. They are determined to preserve that control, and will go to almost any lengths to do so.

Unions to the contrary, the reform would achieve the purposes of Louisiana far better than the present system. The state's objective is the education of its children, not the construction of buildings or the running of schools. Those are means not ends. The state's objective would be better served by a competitive educational market than by a government monopoly. Producers of educational services would compete to attract students. Parents, empowered by the voucher, would have a wide range to choose from. As in other industries, such a competitive free market would lead to improvements in quality and reductions in cost.

If, by a political miracle, Louisiana could overcome the opposition of the unions and enact universal vouchers, it would not only serve itself, it would also render a service to the rest of the country by providing a large scale example of what the market can do for education when permitted to operate.

MILTON FRIEDMAN. "The Promise of Vouchers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 5, 2005): A20.





December 3, 2005

Drucker Predicted "Universities Won't Survive"

Mr. Drucker also told us to expect enormous changes that will come in higher education, thanks to the rise of satellites and the Internet. "Thirty years from now big universities will be relics. Universities won't survive. It is as large a change as when we first got the printed book." He believed "High school graduates should work for at least five years before going on to college." It will be news to most college presidents and a lot of alumni that "higher education is in deep crisis. Colleges won't survive as residential institutions. Today's buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded." All this from a life-long academic.

. . .

How higher education is managed did not impress Mr. Drucker; but what did is our continuing education system, whether in community colleges or by computers. Also: "Our most important education system is in the employees' own organization." That is where most Americans learn the most.

STEVE FORBES. "A Tribute to Peter Drucker." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 15, 2005): A22.




November 13, 2005

In Millard, Parents Can Choose Montessori; In OPS, They Cannot

[p. 1B] The district contends that taking over dozens of suburban schools and thousands of students would minimize the impact of the option program and give OPS a better chance at integration.

But if OPS succeeds, it also could undermine the ability parents now have to choose the school that fits best for their children.

That's important to Art Diamond, who lives within the OPS district but sends his 11-year-old daughter, Jenny, to Millard's Montclair Elementary [p. 3B] because of its Montessori program.

"It seems to me the main issue is who is offering the best educational program," Diamond said. "If they (OPS) had offered a Montessori program, we would have stayed in OPS."

. . .

As Mackiel sees it, that departure causes problems for the Omaha district by altering its racial and economic makeup. But parents of option students don't view their decisions through the same lens.

"It frustrates me when I hear OPS saying people live in Millard to get away from diversity," said Diamond, the OPS resident whose daughter attends a Montessori program in Millard.

"I believe strongly in diversity, but I also believe strongly in Montessori."


MICHAELA SAUNDERS and PAUL GOODSELL. "OPS Has No Option But to Let Whites Go." The Omaha
World-Herald
(Sunday, November 13, 2005): 1B & 3B.


Jenny is actually currently a sixth grader in Millard's Montessori program at Central Middle School. But Ms. Saunders was mainly asking me questions about our original decision to option into the Montclair Elementary Montessori program. So maybe I was unclear that Jenny had moved on to the next stage of the Millard Montessori program. In any event, the story was essentially accurate in capturing the main point of my comments: we chose Millard because, unlike OPS, MIllard has the entrepreneurial initiative to offer the Montessori educational program.




September 27, 2005

Courage and Cunning in the Defense of Freedom

LiAo9-19-05picNYT.jpg
(Li Ao on 9/19/05. Source: NYT online, see below)


BEIJING, Sept. 22 - China's leaders may have felt they had no better friend in Taiwan than Li Ao, a defiant and outspoken politician and author who says that Taiwan should unify with Communist China.

But when China invited Mr. Li to tour the mainland this week, the Communist Party got a taste of its rival's pungent democracy.

During an address at Beijing University on Wednesday evening, broadcast live on a cable television network, Mr. Li chided China's leaders for suppressing free speech, ridiculed the university administration's fear of academic debate and advised students how to fight for freedom against official repression.

"All over the world leaders have machine guns and tanks," Mr. Li told the students and professors in the packed auditorium. "So I'm telling you that in the pursuit of freedom, you have to be smart. You have to use your cunning."

. . .

Though Mr. Li did not criticize President Hu directly, he made pointed references to the lack of freedoms in China and suggested that the "poker-faced" bureaucrats of the Communist Party did not have enough faith in their legitimacy to allow normal intellectual discussion.

With several top university officials sitting by his side, he called the administrators "cowardly" for ferreting out professors at the school who were suspected of opposing Communism.

JOSEPH KAHN. "China's Best Friend in Taiwan Lectures in Beijing About Freedom." New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2005): A7.




September 25, 2005

Management in Private Sector, Public Sector, and Academe

Paul Wolfowitz, new World Bank President, remembering a joke told by his former boss, George Shultz:

"I remember George Shultz," whom he once worked for, "was once asked how he would compare management in the private sector, public sector, and academics," Mr. Wolfowitz says. "In the private sector you better be careful what you ask for because people are going to go out and do it. . . . The government, you don't have to worry about that. You tell people (to) do something and you check back two months later and nothing's happened. But in the academic world, you tell people to do something and they look at you strangely and they say, 'Who the heck do you think you are giving us orders?'" (p. A10; "to" added; ". . . " in original)

PAUL A. GIGOT. "Dr. Wolfowitz, I Presume." Wall Street Journal (September 24, 2005): A10.





August 2, 2005

Tenure and the Market as Protectors of Free Thought



Mark Blaug as a young tutor at Queens College in New York, endorsed a student petition protesting the firing of a left-wing tenured professor for having refused to co-operate with the Un-American Activities Committee. Less than a day later, Blaug received a note from the President of Queens College, telling Blaug that his choice was either to resign or be fired. He resigned.

Fortunately, he received a grant from the Social Science Research Council to complete his dissertation, after which, again seeking employment, he obtained a job interview at Yale:


(p. 77) In the course of the interview, I felt impelled to explain how I had lost my previous teaching position at Queens College. I always remember how Fellner cut me off, saying: 'We don't want to hear about that. This is a private college and what transpired at a public university a few years ago is of no concern to us.' I never had a better demonstration of Milton Friedman's thesis that a free market, by multiplying the number of probable employers, is more likely to secure liberty for the individual than a socialist system in which the state is a monopsonist.


Source:

Blaug, Mark. "Not Only an Economist: Autobiographical Reflections of a Historian of Economic Thought." In Reflections of Eminent Economists, edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan, 71-94. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.






July 24, 2005

A Case For School Vouchers in Nebraska


Create a marketplace

The solution to the impasse between Omaha Public Schools and the coalition of suburban school districts is to dissolve all school districts and declare each school an independent entity. Then issue vouchers to students and let them and their parents pick the schools of their choice.

There would be another round of consolidation, just as there was with the Baby Bell telephone companies. But it would be market-driven instead of being dictated by political boundaries.

The beneficiaries would be students and parents who would be free to pick schools offering the best educational value with no restrictions due to place of residence.

That's real school choice.

Robert Ranney, Omaha



Source: Omaha-World Herald Public Pulse section, July 17, 2005.





HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg


















The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats