Some of my earlier thoughts on education

Here. With more to come.

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36 Responses to Some of my earlier thoughts on education

  1. ghazisiz says:

    Everything you said 10 years ago made sense. Of course, what you said had no effect on the last decade of education policy. That’s why all of us who made the same effort have dropped away. Education policy is in the hands of well-intentioned people lacking the curiosity that Samuel Johnson said was the sole sign of mental vitality. They just don’t pay attention to what is happening. Honestly, the only sound policy option is a voucher system.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There’s not much payoff for a voucher system.

      • Ursiform says:

        It would work if you had smart parents dependent on schools. But smart parents make sure their kids have opportunities to learn. And dumb parents can’t make good use of it. So you have a few in-betweens who help their kids a bit.

      • dearieme says:

        Wouldn’t that depend on what pay-off you seek?

        • Zimriel says:

          A voucher system would drain off the best students from “bad” (read: black) schools, and make those schools even more hopeless and unmanageable. They also would loose different-raced students onto other “good” schools, reducing the cohesion of their student bodies and leading to self-segregation and riots. Vouchers would probably not be used for religious schools (those will be Islamic in the cities) but they would absolutely be used for the Little Red Schoolhouse sort of secular Left indoctrination.

          The one advantage I see in vouchers is that it might hurt the teachers’ unions. But then I’m less sure that’s the union I want hurt, especially if the teachers’ job is made harder, as vouchers would.

          • dearieme says:

            “A voucher system would drain off the best students from “bad” … schools”: well that would be outrageous because clearly such schools own those students.

      • Irate eye rater says:

        They may well get the same quality of job done cheaper. Money isn’t nothing.

  2. ohwilleke says:

    One key point that you allude to in slightest passing, but that can matter quite a bit because we can do something about it, is that while perhaps the middle 90% of schools don’t have much of an impact on student outcomes, the schools in the bottom 5% are ruinous, and perhaps 5% of schools do consistently have significantly better than par outcomes although reproducing those successes is dreadfully hard. But, the ruinous schools are a thing.

    For example, in Denver’s worst high schools around the year 2000 or so, only about 10% of kids who has scored in the 98th percentile on an IQ test in elementary school graduated and attended college, and half of them needed remedial work upon entering college. A really bad school can destroy the potential of even an extremely promising child.

    From what we know about how parents and students in school choice systems chose schools, we know that they aren’t particularly expert at it. But, what any system of school choice, either among public schools, or with public and publicly-chartered schools, or with vouchers to attend private schools as well, does that makes a positive impact, is that parents and students are acute enough to avoid those schools in the harmful bottom 5% like the plague, causing those schools to see their enrollments plummet, which eventually makes the closure of those harmful schools inevitable. The main benefit of school choice systems of any kind is that they cause very bad schools which would otherwise remain open to close.

    In this respect, school choice systems of some kind aren’t all that different from the mechanism of capitalism generally. Contrary to the naive view of capitalism, top management in big businesses aren’t particularly talented at maximizing profits or productivity (indeed, their edge relative to executives in mid-sized businesses has steadily declined over the last few decades). Honestly, the most successful large Soviet enterprises (e.g. big defense contractors) gave their capitalist counterparts a run for their money. But, what the private sectors of capitalist economies are good at, which communist economies and even the government owned sectors of capitalist economies that lack a strong choice component are not, is mercilessly shuttering businesses as soon as their performance is mediocre and long before they are in truly dire straights.

    When this happens at the industrial level, it can be truly breathtaking to see. An intersection I drive home through every day had 3 Blockbusters out of four corners and there were hundreds of video rental stores of several brands in greater Denver about ten years ago. Last year, the very last video rental store (a specialty store focused on LGBT videos) in the entire city of Denver with more than 600,000 people, closed. The last general interest video rental store had closed the year before that. An entire sub-industry was completely purged from the economy over a span of about eight years.

    In contrast, one of my older estate planning clients came from a family who made their livelihood maintaining a reserve of cavalry horses for the military in Pueblo, Colorado under a Department of Defense contract, for pretty much the entire duration of the Cold War, despite the fact that the last cavalry deployment in modern military history, made at a time when it was already obsolete, took place in World War I, more than thirty years before this contract was first inked, and that contract continued for another forty years.

  3. GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

    I just re-read your “Size Matters” article from 2006. Your assurance that a caliphate would never conquer Iraq is darkly amusing in retrospect, especially since it happened partly because the US occupied the place, instead of being prevented by it. Reality managed to be even more clownish than anyone could have imagined.

  4. Yudi says:

    Excellent article. I’ll have to look more at your print writings. I’ll repost what I said earlier on this site about education:

    “Basic literacy and numeracy are surely the most important things students learn, as well as some softening of manners and a vague knowledge of the world outside their narrow area or career domain. A key concept educated people understand is uniformitarianism–no, there are not dragons or men with faces on their chests in faraway lands. Furthermore, both the laws of physics and human psychology largely apply elsewhere. Shit happens, as opposed to being caused by witches or elfshot.

    “Most likely, having a largely educated populace has caused us to forget how essential these basics are.”

    I work in the education system myself (in a private school, thank every listening deity) and I can also say that by far the most important things students learn are in the elementary years–teaching someone how to read and write is a considerably more worthwhile investment of time than going through the rules of comma usage for the umpteenth time.

    • another fred says:

      “Basic literacy and numeracy are surely the most important things students learn, as well as some softening of manners and a vague knowledge of the world outside their narrow area or career domain.”

      I believe that acculturation to social norms are more important, and, in fact, literacy and numeracy are virtually impossible to teach without the discipline that acculturation provides (or used to). What is going on with a significant segment of the population is a sort of widely dispersed version of “Lord of The Flies”. A spontaneous sui generis culture arising in the vacuum left by the abandonment of discipline.

      It is, as Charles Murray has described in “Coming Apart”, a bifurcation of the culture. Where parents provide acculturation discipline still has some meaning, but for those who are raising themselves the street rules.

  5. JW says:

    Reminds me of Feynman’s writings on highschool textbook selection.

  6. Damn. I hate PDFs. People invented web, html and then they make websites optimized for fixed resolution and insert PDF/flash.

    • MawBTS says:

      I hate PDFs as much as the next guy, but this one’s pretty nice.

      You can resize it, you can copy and paste the text, the links work, it’s not a cancerous 5mb blob of JPG compression, etc. PDF is probably the best format for weird and complicated magazine layouts, which don’t always translate well to HTML pages.

  7. Eli says:

    Regular articles from you over on Unz would be fantastic.

  8. New Hampshire and Vermont always congratulate themselves on their high test scores relative to the rest of the nation, for reasons identical to North Dakota’s. No one likes it when I point out why.

    The local high school scores better than it should, and after a conversation with the principal I think I know why. Getting ready for the testing days, the faculty divvies up the difficult students to teachers who they think have the best relationship with them. The stated plan is that this creates less distraction for the other students, but my guess is that they get more out of those lowest scores before they throw down their pencils and stop trying. There are lots more points to be gained among those than getting a few more for the kids at the 95th percentile. And it’s a good overall societal lesson as well. Getting more buy in and work out of the most difficult helps society greatly. Finnish children are told that scoring well is a matter of national honor. That does provide some focus for those who might otherwise blow the whole thing off.

  9. dearieme says:

    “No one likes it when I point out why.” Propinquity to Canada? (See, I have learnt something from American blogs.)

    • Smithie says:

      I recall an acquaintance saying Bush would be a bad president because students in Texas performed poorly while he was governor.

      • I don’t know about the 1990’s, but around 2010 Texas students were among the top in the country if you separated the scores by race. I think Steve Sailer did a post on it. That is, Hispanic students in TX were slightly better than Hispanic students elsewhere, etc. Those things don’t change quickly, so I’m betting that was similar under Bush, though he didn’t have much to do with it. Governors are not big influences on education in the short term, and probably not in the long term, either.

        • gcochran9 says:

          States are allowed to exclude some kids from NAEP tests, usually kids with disabilities or ELL ( English language learners) On average, states exclude something like 2% of students due to disabilities. Texas excluded 6% in 2011: other large states exclude 1-3%. The fraction of ELL excluded was 1/14 for Illinois, 1/32 for California, 1/6 for Illinois, 1/9 for Florida, 1/11 nationally. 5/22 for Texas.

          Texas lies.

          You might also check out Rod Paige.

  10. Offtopic: someone commented years ago in this blog: “””Tasmanian aboriginals became extinct, and left no known mixed breed descendents. All tasmanian “descendents” with documented ancestry are descended from an aboriginal that was very clearly mainland type.”””
    Is this really so?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Probably not. Easy enough to check if anyone was allowed. I understand there are a few hundred people that claim Tasmanian ancestry.

      I think the statement you’re quoting is fantasy designed to assuage some asshole’s feelings.

      • Zimriel says:

        Colonial-era Hobart had a STD problem. The Contagious Diseases Act was passed in 1879 for that reason.

        Also, earlier, when white (and, I assume, the occasional West-Indian black) sailors and sealers got at the Tasmanian women, they left them with infertility-causing diseases, not just STDs but also stuff like rubella and mumps. The Tasmanians couldn’t even breed with their own after that.

        Source – David Hunt, “True Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume 2”.

        There may have been exceptions. But I set the burden on the genealogists and geneticists to prove that the people calling themselves Tasmanians today are in fact Tasmanians rather than neoTasmanians lately imported from the mainland.

        • Cantman says:

          When I was in Australia I saw a lot of boomerangs and so forth marketed as having been made by Aboriginals which included photographs of the maker, and most of them were blonde women.

    • Smithie says:

      HG Wells said that they were. Both in “War of the Worlds” and in his history of the world. Of course, he also said that Lenin was a great guy who had to break a few eggs but had nothing to do with the execution of the Romanov family. And that Stalin was not the pure man Lenin was, but his Five Year Plan was proceeding nicely anyways.

  11. bob k. mando says:

    the curious thing about all of your standardized test data is … that practically all of it is from the 1940s on.

    which is well after universal schooling had been instituted.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There are of course places that started universal education later, like the South: they had lots of old-fashioned illiteracy, according to the census. You can also check general knowledge of older people: they knew lots less than the rising generation in, say, 1960.

  12. crew says:

    How do you teach people to look at the meta-joke and understand that life-history theory says we are mostly a bundle of reflexes at that age?

  13. Cantman says:

    I’m not sure I want people to know these things. My willingness to cheap out education seems like a major competitive advantage I have on other chimps in terms of how many kids I’m willing to have, and that the extra money I will accumulate over my life will eventually give those kids major advantages themselves.

  14. Douglas Knight says:

    This claims that SAT-Verbal really did decline 1963-1979. It claims that the percentage of takers did not go up much in this period. Moreover, it claims that the absolute number of 700+ scores decline from 17k in 1972 to 10k in 1993.

    On the other hand, it claims that SAT-V did not decline 1950-1963, despite massive expansion of takers, suggesting that ETS is cooking the books.

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