30.12.13

TENURE CONFERS PRIVILEGES AND DUTIES.

I'm not sure whether saying No and uphold standards is duty or privilege.  The Wall Street Journal recently gave South Carolina State's Geoffrey L. Collier, a utility infielder sociologist cum psychologist the opportunity to riff an old Soviet joke with a lengthy op-ed, "We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn."
The parlous state of American higher education has been widely noted, but the view from the trenches is far more troubling than can be characterized by measured prose. With most students on winter break and colleges largely shut down, the lull presents an opportunity for damage assessment.

The flood of books detailing the problems includes the representative titles "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools" and "The Five Year Party." To list only the principal faults: Students arrive woefully academically unprepared; students study little, party much and lack any semblance of internalized discipline; pride in work is supplanted by expediency; and the whole enterprise is treated as a system to be gamed in which plagiarism and cheating abound.
Bad Students is in the stack of works to be read and reviewed, a task that is currently preempted by work on the railroad.  I reviewed Five Year Party three years ago and found it wanting, although I there noted faculty complicity in creating subprime party schools, perhaps motivated by egalitarian sentiments.
The faculty is complicit in the failure. Mr Brandon suggests that sub-prime party schools have fallen into what I call the Wayne State trap: the presence of non-traditional or first-generation or commuting students becomes an excuse to lower standards. (That attitude is a libel on non-traditional or first-generation or commuting students, but it persists.)
Professor Collier's argument appears to build on the non-aggression pact Indiana's Murray Sperber introduced in his Beer-'n Circus years ago.
Education thus has degenerated into a game of "trap the rat," whereby the student and instructor view each other as adversaries. Winning or losing is determined by how much the students can be forced to study. This will never be a formula for excellence, which requires intense focus, discipline and diligence that are utterly lacking among our distracted, indifferent students. Such diligence requires emotional engagement. Engagement could be with the material, the professors, or even a competitive goal, but the idea that students can obtain a serious education even with their disengaged, credentialist attitudes is a delusion.
That's a difficult passage to parse, in the absence of an actor responsible for instilling, or for reinforcing, the "disengaged, credentialist attitude" among students. I'm not sure I could even identify that attitude in a student, despite 35 years in the trenches.
The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates. The result is an implicit mutually assured nondestruction pact in which the students and faculty ignore each other to the best of their abilities. This disengagement guarantees poor outcomes, as well as the eventual replacement of the professoriate by technology. When professors don't even know your name, they become remote figures of ridicule and tedium and are viewed as part of a system to be played rather than a useful resource.
Wow. Has South Carolina State invested heavily in mass lectures and videotaped (DVDed?) courses as a "productivity" measure? Is the real Soviet joke made life in the discontent of faculty with increased workloads, no pay raises, and legislative disrespect?
To be fair, cadres of indefatigable souls labor tirelessly in thankless ignominy in the bowels of sundry ivory dungeons. Jokers in a deck stacked against them, they are ensnared in a classic reward system from hell.

All parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards. It is well known that friendly, entertaining professors make for a pleasant classroom, good reviews and minimal complaints. Contrarily, faculty have no incentives to punish plagiarism and cheating, to flunk students or to write negative letters of reference, to assiduously mark up illiterate prose in lieu of merely adding a grade and a few comments, or to enforce standards generally. Indeed, these acts are rarely rewarded but frequently punished, even litigated. Mass failure, always a temptation, is not an option. Under this regimen, it is a testament to the faculty that any standards remain at all.
And it is a dereliction of duty for the tenured faculty to not push back, to go-along-to-get-along, to let the deanlets and deanlings and assessment weenies preempt the curriculum.
As tuition has skyrocketed, education has shifted from being a public good to a private, consumer product. Students are induced into debt because they are repeatedly bludgeoned with news about the average-income increments that accrue to additional education. This is exacerbated by the ready availability of student loans, obligations that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Let's at least stay on topic, rather than engaging in dubious economics. An instrumentalist view of a credential implicitly suggests private benefits predominate. I'm inclined to agree, but for a different reason: the marginal spillover benefits of higher education are small, particularly if kindergarten and the elementary grades get the socialization right. Share your cookies. Take your nap.
In parallel, successive generations of students have become increasingly consumerist in their attitudes, and all but the most well-heeled institutions readily give the consumers what they want in order to generate tuition revenue. Competition for students forces universities to invest in and promote their recreational value. Perhaps the largest scam is that these institutions have an incentive to retain paying students who have little chance of graduating. This is presented as a kindness under the guise of "student retention." The student, or the taxpayer in the case of default, ends up holding the bag, whereas the institution gets off scot free. Withholding government funding from institutions with low graduation rates would only encourage the further abandonment of standards.

So students get what they want: a "five year party" eventuating in painlessly achieved "Wizard of Oz" diplomas. This creates a classic tragedy of the commons in which individuals overuse a shared resource—in this case the market value of the sheepskin. Students, implicitly following the screening theory that credentials are little more than signals of intelligence and personal qualities, follow a mini-max strategy: minimize the effort, maximize the probability of obtaining a degree. The decrement in the value of the sheepskin inflicted by each student is small, but the cumulative effect is that the resource will become valueless.
Just the opposite. U. S. News and the other providers of league tables make their money helping strivers, and their parents, identify universities that are not sub-prime party schools, and the test-prep and essay-counselor services dissipate some of the rents of the positional arms race.  To the disadvantage of students who wind up in the academic gulags (to use Charlie Sykes's expression from Profscam) where the disengaged, unmotivated, and unprepared adversely select into.  And the further abandonment of standards, or the valuelessness of subprime diplomas simply allows for a market test to work.
There is excess capacity in access-assessment-remediation-retention. The degrees produced from that capacity fail the market test. Perhaps consumer awareness of the nature of the excess capacity will speed the elimination of that capacity.
Professor Collier seems to recognize the dynamic, but with a different inference.
The body politic lately has become aware of the cracks in this game. With about half of college graduates under 25 currently unemployed or underemployed, the income advantage of a four-year degree may be on the decline. Employers are justifiably fed up with college graduates lacking basic knowledge, to say nothing of good work habits and intellectual discipline. Yet the perennial impulse toward bureaucratic command-and-control solutions, such as universal standardized testing or standardized grade-point averages, only leads in the direction of more credentialism.
No, the employers will only be more encouraged to recruit only at institutions that have the U. S. News imprimatur, or to insist on an exit examination administered by someone other than the university.
If the body politic desires this, so be it. However, these are essentially supply-side solutions, in that they attempt to staunch the supply of poorly prepared students or increase the supply of well-prepared students. Such approaches are notoriously problematic, as in the classic case of black markets.
I've learned to be skeptical of any argument that uses "problematic", as it's generally a tic that signifies "I don't like it but I can't articulate why." Besides, there's a simpler solution: let the faculty at South Carolina State resolve that they are in the same business as Harvard or Northwestern or Wisconsin and retake control of the curriculum so as to offer their students the same intellectual challenges as their future competitors face, or to weed them out.
Better to address the demand side. To be sure, there is plenty of student demand for credentials, but there is little demand for the rigor that the credentials putatively represent. Rather than more attempts at controlling output quality through standardization, what are needed are input changes provided by creative alternative routes to adulthood that young people find attractive; a "pull" rather than a "push." It would be helpful, too, if faculty started viewing undergraduates less as whining boors and more as lost souls who have been scandalously misguided by a feel-good "everyone's a star" culture.
Put another way, view undergraduates at South Carolina State or Northern Illinois or what have you as strivers who deserve the same challenges as their counterparts elsewhere. It begins, though, with faculty who view their work, wherever that might be, as a calling worthy of their best efforts, and with the privilege and high honor of upholding standards, and saying No when that is the proper response.

EXPLAINING AWAY THE COVERAGE GAP.

Dr Strangelove, too intellectual for Chicago?



The disappointing finish casts a more critical light on [current Bear coach Marc] Trestman, whose intellect, demeanor, straightforward approach with the media and apparent impact on his players seemed like a breath of fresh air at Halas Hall. [Despite the Dr. Strangelove spectacles and the prole cap.] Now, his choice of Mel Tucker as defensive coordinator appears dubious; his curious decision to have Robbie Gould attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down in overtime against the Vikings looks like an even more disastrous move; and all those one-hour practices and extra days off make him look too much like Lovie Smith.

With an offense that figures to get better and a defense that can’t get any worse, the Bears are likely to improve from here. But the way this season ended, Trestman has even more to prove now than when he arrived. The Bears wouldn’t have done any better if they had kept Lovie Smith. But with Bruce Arians — Phil Emery’s runner-up to Trestman who just went 10-6 with the Arizona Cardinals and nearly beat the 49ers at home on Sunday? After Sunday’s loss to the Packers, that is a question worth asking. After a disappointing 8-8 season that left them out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, the Bears certainly could have done better. And they’ll have to next season.
Lose the play-in game and the loyalists gripe.  Fail to qualify?  The purges are already underway in Detroit and Minneapolis.  Packer loyalists celebrate.
Gary Greicar, a Cudahy native who lives in Texas, called this a "bucket list game." He paid $2,600 for four seats in the first level near the 50-yard line behind the Packers' bench and was overcome with emotion after the last touchdown.

So was his daughter Crystal Greicar.

"You can't doubt the Pack," she said.

Elizabeth Johnson, a Tomahawk native who lives in the Chicago area, said the game was "an epic."

"An awesome win," she said. "There was divine intervention, and the Bears stink."

Rich Scholwin, who grew up in northern Wisconsin and lives in Illinois, gave high fives and bear hugs to Packers fans and Bears fans after the game.

"I'm speechless, absolutely speechless," he shouted. "Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL."

It sure felt that way Sunday.
Next up: San Francisco at Green Bay late on a Sunday afternoon.

THE ORDERS OF THE DAY:

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

THE HARD WAY.

29.12.13

THOSE VAUNTED CHINESE SCHOOLS.

Here's a dissenting view.
A major reason why certain students do poorly in China is that their skills are ignored. Creativity and critical thinking are seen as objects of western frivolousness. Although Chinese students analyze literature, they never write essays and instead they simply memorize the texts. I have never memorized so much in my life as I did in Shanghai. The ideal Shanghainese student is like a sea sponge blindly absorbing any and all information and spewing it all out during the tests.
Don't get me started on the absence of explanation of mathematical answers Chinese schools enable.

THE QUINTESSENTIAL FIRST WORLD PROBLEM.

Outside the Beltway's James Joyner suggests UPS and FedEx Ruin Christmas for Late Shoppers.  And yes, the local television stations had their coverage of unhappy people who had to arrive at parties empty-handed, or have empty space under the trees.

I years ago learned an expression, "crying with your mouth full," that fits the situation.
We’re so accustomed to being able to order something and have it arrive, like clockwork, at our doorsteps two days later that it’s completely shocking when it fails. They could, of course, reset expectations by not absolutely, positively promising to meet that deadline during the Christmas season, given that the number of orders not only surges but does so at an unknowable volume. If Amazon had a banner atop their site all month proclaiming, say, a December 19 deadline for absolutely guaranteed before-Christmas delivery, many of us would have changed our behavior accordingly.
Yes, and if your biggest gripe is late-running presents, you might pause to count your blessings.

THE ORDERS OF THE DAY:

Despite a set-back last week, they remain in effect:

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

THE HARD WAY.

The Packers fulfilled them both.
The Green Bay Packers couldn’t have asked for anything else. The game, the season came down to one drive with the ball in Aaron Rodgers’ hands.

And on fourth and 8, Rodgers lofted a 48-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Randall Cobb.

Sam Shields picked off Chicago’s Hail Mary attempt. And the Packers are heading to the playoffs — momentum in hand — with this 33-28 instant classic of a win.
The second-guessing has already begun in Corruptistan.

Chicago is a Democrat stronghold.  In the words of Nancy Pelosi, embrace the suck.  Along with your overcooked pizza cut into pathetic little squares.


The Black and Blue Division has resembled a sheepshead game played for leaster all year, or certainly since Aaron Rodgers was injured in November.  In the other game, it doesn't matter whether Minnesota or Detroit ended up holding the blind.
Jay Glazer, the NFL reporter for Fox, said on "Fox NFL Sunday" that two head coaches in the NFC North, Leslie Frazier of the Vikings and Jim Schwartz of the Lions, will be fired by their teams on Monday.

"Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings - we told you last week that the window was slightly open," Glazer said. "Well, boom, that window is closed. Tomorrow morning ownership will meet with GM Rick Spielman. Leslie Frazier will be out.

"Jim Schwartz, we knew it was playoffs or bust," Glazer said. "They did not make the playoffs. Ownership will meet about him tomorrow morning. Jim Schwartz will be out."

Coach Joe Philbin of the Dolphins, the former Packers' offensive coordinator, will not be fired, according to Glazer.

Meanwhile, NFL Media reporter Ian Rapoport also said Schwartz will be fired.

“The expectation from inside the building, including from Jim Schwartz I’m told, is that they will be fired," Rapaport said. "I am also told it’s a strong possibility the entire front office could be cleared out there. Some serious dysfunction with the Lions, including the front office bringing in players (and) the coaches simply not using them. By the end of the year, the two sides they weren’t really talking to each other.
For Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Schwartz cannot erase the stain of the last two months. Blowing a gift-wrapped divisional title by blowing six fourth-quarter leads in the last seven games is a bigger organizational embarrassment than going 0-16 five years ago.

That’s the Schwartz legacy.

It’s no longer a question of whether he should be fired, but whether the line at the guillotine should stop at him.

The prevailing wisdom is that Bill Ford Jr. will make the final call. If so, he might sweep a massive broom through the entire front office that could claim president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew as well.

“We can’t worry about decisions that we don’t make,” Schwartz said. “I’d certainly like to be back. I think we have some unfinished business here. We’ve come a long way in these years, but we still have some ground that we can make and I’m anxious to have a chance to be able to do that.”

I asked Schwartz what would be his argument to the Fords for returning for the next-to-last year of his contract, believed to be worth about $12 million. He declined to answer my question, saying he would rather keep that private. But if his case for coming back was the closeness of the losses over the last two months, then that speaks quite loudly about why he should get axed.

Close losses aren’t a badge of honor in the NFL. The games are deliberately engineered toward consistent single-score outcomes. When the inability to finish games turns chronic — as it did with the Lions the last two months — it’s a combination of a team neither talented nor tough enough to make the half-dozen plays every game that distinguish victory from defeat.
That's more analysis than the Free Press ever devoted to the death of Yuri Andropov under somewhat suspicious circumstances. But Mr Andropov departed this life the same day Billy Sims took a contract to arbitration, and that's what sells newspapers in Detroit.

That's another Democrat city. Embrace the suck.


In Minnesota, the underachievement of the Vikings is overshadowed by the closure of the Rollerdome, which prompts veteran Minneapolis Star-Tribune pundit Patrick Reusse to have an E-T-T-S moment.
There were empty seats to be found in the Metrodome through the 1990s, even as Dennis Green was coaching the Vikings into the playoffs on a regular basis. Then, in 1998, Randy Moss was drafted. A younger crowd adopted this football outlaw immediately and started to fill the building all the way to its Teflon sky.

The Moss crowd proved to be rowdier, fueled by what seemed to be an even greater fondness for mood-altering beverages than their Purple predecessors.

Surprisingly, they also have seemed to enter new seasons with a higher degree of optimism than did we earlier generations of Vikings followers made cynical by four Super Bowl losses.

It is sad to report that those randy fans brought to Vikings' zealotry by Randy are now getting age on them and becoming sedentary.
Yes, a thug team better known for its extracurricular activities on Lake Minnetonka than for any titles, a team which in its later years was a Brett Favre interception at New Orleans away from a Super Bowl, is a team that is going to make even the most committed fan prefer the quiet life.
This was a shameful way for the generations raised in the Metrodome to say goodbye to their stadium. My generation, the Met's generation ... we did ourselves proud on our stadium's last day. We took away everything, including items that had been bolted down.
Mr Reusse began his career when Hubert Humphrey carried the Democrat standard in Minnesota. Senator Humphrey gave way to Senator Wellstone who gave way to Senator Franken.

Embrace the suck.

27.12.13

RISING UP ANGRY.

Book Review No. 28 features Charles Ferguson's Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America.  The title summarizes the message.  Although the book occasionally provides intuitive and insightful explanations of some of the more complex financial instruments, its angry tone detracts from that message.  It's difficult to take seriously an author who continues to push the fiction that the U.S. Supreme Court somehow stole Florida for George W. Bush, and E-T-T-S followed.  People of modest or no means do have reason to be angry with the machinations of the financial sector.  Perhaps a book about the machinations of the financial sector can limit itself to that.  But people of modest or no means also have reason to be angry with the common schools and the conceits of government expertise.  Whether the financial crisis will inspire those other sources of anger remains to be seen.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

SELECTIVITY, PLUS RIGOR?

Universities are failing at their mission. At Inside Higher Education, Brooks Kohler suggests professors have good reasons to resist recent curricular and pedagogical fads.
In America, after the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the creation of the National Defense Education Act of 1958, emphasis was placed on math, science, and foreign language studies, as these three disciplines were deemed crucial to national security. Move forward 10 years and by the late 1960s one out of seven Americans was employed in the defense industry, military spending had risen from 1 percent to 10 percent of the gross domestic product, and corporations were increasingly profiting from an infusion of money from government contracts.
Perhaps so. On the other hand, in those days, the focus of college preparation was to identify gifted students to enroll in the lab sciences and calculus. Today, the gifted are on their own. Deal with the consequences.
America had slipped into post-industrialism as jobs moved away from manufacturing toward more office based and service type employment opportunities.

The end result of shifting from assembly line to office tech, resulted in a college degree becoming a necessary component to a career, and as universities and community colleges began to accept more and more applicants, higher education began to trend course loads to part-time instructors.
It's wrecking faculty morale. Not everyone is as well-positioned to walk away from it as I am, but everyone is free to gripe.
At worst, more than a few professors feel they are becoming little more than a retention tool, a gimmick or novelty act whose entire future depends on whether or not one can “get with the program” of algorithmic evaluation, spreadsheet printouts, and constant barrage of software programs designed to make keeping track of grades easier, as if a pen and pad were inherently inferior, and all the while the academic is asked to maintain a classroom atmosphere that is not only educational but also so entertaining that even the most mind-numbing of subjects can compete against the fixative trance of the portable handheld device.

Ironically, the analog education one received before the Digital Age, an educational model that emphasized literature and writing, is admired for its fine attention to detail, as detail is considered to be hallmark of success. Yet that style of learning, though suitable for Fitzgerald and Stein, will not work in world where students are groomed as future customers and national security is commingled with corporate wants that drive the areas of study that schools find most lucrative.
Perhaps, though, the second thoughts of UNLV president Neal Smatresk, headed for Northern Texas, might be a harbinger of better things to come.
Smatresk's biggest regret remains the years of delays and false starts on the UNLV stadium project. His greatest achievement, in his eyes, is convincing state education officials of the need to build a four-year medical school at UNLV. However, it will be his successor that will need to convince Carson City to fork over the cash.

Smatresk says his greatest surprise is the attention given to coaches instead of academic deans.

"If we had paid as much attention to what the quality of the incoming deans were, as we were for a football or a basketball coach, I know this institution would already be at least on a peer with Harvard or anybody else. The level of scrutiny over athletics is a conundrum," the out-going president said.
I fear that a serious effort at UNLV, or at most of the mid-majors, and at more than a few land-grants to become more like Michigan or Wisconsin or Northwestern would produce only legislative scrutiny. "What, you want to pay that economist $400K a year to teach two Ph.D. seminars?" It's worth doing, though, as the current dispensation leaves many people ill-served.
There are two types of workers in the finance world. There are the polished Ivy League guys (and they are mostly guys). They tend to have the big money jobs and interact directly with clients. Blond WASPs with the house in Connecticut.

The other type is the crazy smart person (more women in this group), who came from working class or immigrant backgrounds. The Italian guy from Brooklyn who, by an unholy amount of  brains and determination, got himself into Cooper Union and now creates the computer systems that run the company. The Irish dude from Staten Island. The Jamaican woman who worked too hard to ever get married. They tend to work in the back office in operations or IT or documentation. They don’t have the pedigree to interact with clients. They always hit a glass ceiling after a while.

Because Steve and I love the underdogs, we admire the crazy smart, ambitious people in the back office and refer to the others as “Third Basemen,” as in “Born on Third Base.” The backroom types aren’t perfect. Many have chips on their shoulders. A few aren’t exactly nice people. But you have to admire them for their grit. Scrappy fighters all of them.
Yes, and the scrappy fighters deserve better, or better preparation. The current academic caste system has failed to deliver where it matters most.
The growth of educational credentialism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people who believe that their college degrees…entirely irrespective of any actual accomplishments that they have made or actual knowledge that they possess…have given them preternatural wisdom and hence they right and duty to control the lives of their less-enlightened countrymen.
We could be reading about Obamacare, or about the financial bubble, or about any of the business fads that have laid many a firm and more than a few non-profits low over the past forty years.

IF YOU LIKE YOUR INSURANCE PLAN, YOU CAN KEEP IT(*)

The campaign promise neglected to mention that only insurance that meets some sort of minimum standard of coverage can be put on sale.   Henry Aaron of Brookings suggested that ruling some policies off the market is akin to banning unsafe food under pure food and drug legislation, or prohibiting the sale of dangerous toys to children.  A number of articles appeared at about the same time, either extending or questioning the analogy.  In The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn argues that outlawing sub-prime policies is desirable:
If you buy your own insurance now, it probably doesn't live up to these standards. For starters, it probably isn’t as comprehensive as you think. It may not cover prescription drugs, for example, or it might leave out rehabilitative services and mental health. It might expose you to out-of-pocket expenses greater than $6,350 (if you have a single person’s policy) or a $12,700 (if you have a family policy). Until three years ago, when Obamacare’s first regulations went into effect, it was even possible the insurer could yank it retroactively—a process known as “rescission”—if you got sick and the carrier scrubbed your medical records for some previous sign of illness, maybe even one you didn’t know you had.

In addition, unless you live in a handful of states, the premiums you are paying come from insurers who knew, going in, they wouldn’t have to cover people who represent high medical risks. If the policy is affordable, that’s because the insurer figured you were pretty healthy and unlikely to have big medical bills. If you’ve had the policy for a while, and prices haven’t gone way up, that’s because the insurer is still making money from this arrangement—which means, overall, the people in this plan aren’t very sick. Until now, insurers have been able to hike premiums on plans that start to lose healthy customers, and they keep doing so until they become unaffordable—leaving those remaining subscribers unable to find new policies at affordable rates.
Read on, though,and discover the limitations of making policy by anecdote.
But there are real people who must pay more and, in some cases, put up with less. Some of them are people walking around with junk insurance, the kind are practically worthless because they pay out so little. Some of them are young people, particularly young men, whom insurers have coveted and wooed with absurdly low premiums—and make too much money to qualify for substantial subsidies. And some of them arereasonably affluent, healthy people with generous, open-ended policies that are hard to find even through employers. Insurers kept selling them because they could restrict enrollment to healthy people. Absent that ability, insurers are canceling them or raising premiums so high only the truly rich can pay for them.

Those people are the ones everybody is hearing about now, partly because they are a compelling, sometimes well-connected group—and partly because, absent a well-functioning website, stories of people benefitting from the law’s changes aren’t competing for attention. It’s impossible to know how big this group is.
That's how it always seems to be with the implementation of public policy. The people adversely affected by a change are the most vocal, and detailed analysis of the tradeoffs, and the gains and losses, take a long time to produce, to publish, to debate, let alone to be put to use in changing policies. (And in some cases, the change may be seriously mis-timed: that's a common argument critics of the financial sector make about repealing Glass-Steagall just in time for the popping of a major bubble).

Mr Cohn goes on to suggest, however, that the old rules allowed insurers to evade their common-carrier obligation to serve.
But the principle of broad risk-sharing — of the healthy subsidizing the sick, of the young subsidizing the old, and everybody paying for services like pediatrics and maternity care—is one built into the insurance most Americans already have. Employers, after all, don’t charge employees different premiums because of their age or gender. What’s more, the people with good, affordable coverage in the old non-group market were the beneficiaries of a system that marginalized many more. They were paying relatively cheap rates for insurance only because insurers trusted they were unlikely to get sick. Of course, some of them did get sick. And when it happened, many made an unpleasant discovery: The policies they carried left them exposed to huge bills. Giving up these plans isn’t merely an act of altruism. It’s also an act of enlightened self-interest.
Yes, provided the new Government Approved or Government Issue policies indeed offer improved coverage to purchasers. Megan McArdle suggests that reality is less pleasant.
People who bought exchange policies realize that the restricted networks insurers created to keep the premium costs low cut out the best hospitals and doctors. A newly insured child with cancer cannot get into a top pediatric hospital because her insurance has zero coverage for out-of-network emergency care.
The heart of the matter, though, is that efficient risk-sharing involves cross-subsidies. Low-risk people pay a price that exceeds the expected cost of their care in order that high-risk people get to pay a price less than the expected cost of their care. Perhaps over a life-cycle it all averages out, but The Washington Post's Ezra Klein notes the obvious incentive to opt out.
Put simply, the Landrieu bill solves one of Obamacare's political problems at the cost of worsening its most serious policy problem: Adverse selection. Right now, the difficulty of signing up is deterring all but the most grimly determined enrollees. The most determined enrollees are, by and large, sicker and older. So the Web site's problems are leading to a sicker, older risk pool. [Louisiana senator Mary] Landrieu's bill will lead to a sicker, older risk pool.

It's useful to think of this in terms of who, on the margin, should be paying higher premiums: The people who've benefited from the various kinds of discrimination that undergird the current system, or the people who've been victimized by that discrimination? Bills like Landrieu's lower premiums for people who have benefited from the system at the cost of raising them for the people who've been locked out of the current system.
Yes, and is it better to be served even at a higher price, than not to be served at all, at any price?

RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD.

In signalled territory, the timetable and the operating rules often stipulate a minimum time interval between trains following each other on the same track.

Recent plans by Naperville historians to build a memorial to the April 25, 1946, rear-end collision involving the Advance Exposition Flyer and the Exposition Flyer illustrate the value of the rule.  The trains departed Chicago Union Station simultaneously, with the Advance preceding the Flyer on the center track, under protection of automatic block signals.  A reprint of a contemporary story indicates that a trainman on the Advance was preparing to comply with the first two paragraphs of Rule 99.  The engineer of the Flyer might have been passing restrictive signals at track speed, a forbidden practice that train crews routinely engage in to keep time.  As long as the train ahead keeps moving, nobody is the wiser.  Should the train ahead stop, however, the result can be a broken train and 47 dead people.

This accident is not usually mentioned as one of the proximate causes of subsequent Interstate Commerce Commission mandates establishing maximum speeds on tracks protected by various levels of signalling, from none to cab signals with automatic train stop or train control.

STYMIED.

Northern Illinois encountered two good defensive teams in the post-season.  The Poinsettia Bowl went Utah State's way.
After halftime, the Huskies tallied only five first downs, 21 rushing yards on 13 attempts, and 60 passing yards on 6-of-17 passing. NIU went three-and-out on three of its five possessions in the half, with only a successful conversion on a fake punt preventing four consecutive three-and-outs.

"On offense, the errors started to snowball on us [in the second half] and we weren't able to move the ball the way we have," [coach Rod] Carey said. "We probably missed some throws in the second half."

[Quarterback Jordan] Lynch said Utah State grabbed the momentum after he threw an interception on the first play of the half and the Aggies did not allow the Huskies to get it back.

"They had all the momentum in the second half," Lynch said. "We looked for someone to make a play and get us going, and there wasn't anyone who could do it, including me. They played a straight cover one, packed the box and were well-coached and played smart football."
Those unsparing comments are from the university's release on the game's results.  No doubt, the national sports pundits will once again note the record (no wins, thus far) of Mid-American teams in Festive Season bowl games as a reflection, generally, on the weakness of the conference.  We will wait to see if they will take a page from the Washington press corps and investigate the misallocation implied in the widespread use of student fees to underwrite athletics in the conference.

26.12.13

WINTER CHALLENGES THE WIRE DEPARTMENT.

Ice and sleet can interfere with good operation, even if it doesn't bring down the catenary.


This photo, from mid-day Saturday last, shows a wire crew on the East Troy Electric Railroad at work near Army Lake siding.  Line car D-23 began service in 1907 as a flat-car work motor.  It was rebuilt at the Cold Spring Shops into its current form in 1929.

MATERIAL FOR THE CONSPIRACY BUFFS?

Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot notes, "We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent."  Thus, Book Review No. 27 suggests that readers keep their copy of Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History in mind, or close to hand, in tackling Killing Kennedy.  The story begins with President Kennedy about to be inaugurated, and Lee Oswald in Minsk, and follows them to the day their paths cross.  Along the way, though, President Kennedy confronts Cuba and the CIA and the Mob (and culture-warrior Mr O'Reilly has the president shagging Marilyn Monroe, and Mrs Kennedy on a cruise with Aristotle Onassis).  The book is careful not to twist any facts in ways that a conspiracy buff might seize upon, although it leaves the reader with sufficient material to think any of Cuba or the CIA or the Mob might have motive to remove a president.  The Camelot myth owes itself more to rueful statements by Mrs Kennedy than to any policy achievements of those days.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

WHY HISTORY RHYMES.

Thom Hartmann suggests the financial crisis of 2008 was the opening act, with worse to come.
When we forget the history, to paraphrase Sir Edmund Burke, we are doomed to repeat it. And it takes about 80 years for that to happen. Roughly 90 years ago we saw the election of Warren Harding on a platform, his slogan was, “More business in government, less government in business.” He dropped the tax rate, deregulated banks, deregulated pretty much everything. It was this huge bubble in the ’20s that crashed in 1929.

If you go back 80 years before that you see the big battles over regulation and deregulation of the 1840s and 1850s that led to the crash of 1857 that arguably led to the Civil War. And if you go back 80 years before that, you see there were somewhat similar economic debates.

Roughly every 80 years we kind of forget about economic bubbles, make the same mistakes, and those mistakes lead to economic disaster, which typically leads to a war. And I’m saying we’re 80 years out from the last one and we’re making the same mistakes.
Perhaps so. In Mr Hartmann's view, the shadow banking sector is where the trouble will restart.
I would say that the crash of 2008 wasn’t the housing bubble and the mortgage bubble, but it was the housing bubble and the mortgage bubble, which crashed the derivatives bubble, which is really what caused the crash of 2008. You had banks that had multitrillion-dollar liabilities, which we’d never seen before. In the late ’90s we had a derivatives market that was less than $80 billion, to, in 2008, having an unregulated derivatives market was over $800 trillion, according to the bank of international settlements. The entire GDP of the planet is $65 trillion and the entire GDP of our entire country is $15 trillion per year.

This is all funny money, and it dropped down to $400 trillion after the crash, but it’s back up to $700 trillion or $800 trillion now. Nobody knows for sure because it’s unregulated. So I’d say that the crash really begins back in ’99/2000 when Phil Gramm pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that allowed all that to happen. Of course he did that because [former Enron CEO] Ken Lay wanted it done.

There was an attempt to change [the law] with Dodd-Frank, but more than half of Dodd-Frank has not even been implemented. And I don’t think Dodd-Frank, even if it was fully implemented, would be strong enough to rein this stuff in. We need to go back to simple stuff like Glass-Steagall. Am I making sense?
I've been doing some reading on the shadow banking sector, and there may be less to it than meets the eye.  Note -- and Mr Hartmann is not the sole commentator to get confused over stocks and flows -- that for all the quantitative easing the Federal Reserve and other central banks have done, they lack the power to replace the assets that were destroyed in the crash.  That may be why the inflation some observers have feared has not yet materialized: those derivatives markets had credit expansion multipliers far in excess of anything the traditional banking system can produce.  That gets too technical for the Feast of Stephen.

BEYOND PARODY.

Pomo-babble, run amok.
I realized that object oriented programmed reifies normative subject object theory. This led me to wonder what a feminist programming language would look like, one that might allow you to create entanglements.
The people who set up the health insurance exchanges created enough entanglements using reified normative subject object theory (put simply: you have insurance, or you do not.)

There's much more at Ace of Spades, including the possibility it's all a Social Text hoax again.

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

After the events of last Sunday, fans might correctly surmise either that nobody wants to win the North Division of the NFC, or that the players and coaches are in an alternative universe, playing for leaster.

Aaron Rodgers will start as quarterback for the Green Bay Packers in Chicago.

It doesn't matter who the quarterback, or outside linebacker, or running back, or kicker is, if players lose their composure again, the way Sunday's game in the snow ended. "It was a classic case of the Packers beating themselves with head-scratching penalties, critical turnovers and mind-numbing game-management mistakes."  The line at the confessional in advance of Midnight Mass was long.
The critical penalties came during the final 2 minutes, beginning with outside linebacker Nick Perry being called for offside on what was going to be a Shawn Suisham field goal attempt on fourth-and-3 from the Packers’ 10.

The penalty gave the Steelers a first down. With the game tied at 31, they could’ve run the clock out with the Packers down to one timeout but scored two plays later to give Green Bay a minute to respond.

After Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards, the Packers got as far as the Pittsburgh 1 before T. J. Lang had a false start, which was incorrectly called on right tackle Don Barclay.

It caused a 10-second runoff and left the Packers with 10 seconds to work with. In a rush, quarterback Matt Flynn fired a pass high to receiver Jarrett Boykin as time expired.

“Penalties, that was not usually like us,” said defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty in the third quarter. “My penalty didn’t help, but we had some crucial penalties. It’s just how the game goes sometimes. You can’t blame anybody, the officials or anybody — you just have to look at yourself.

Josh Sitton drew a second-quarter penalty for a face mask, but most of the damage was done in the second half, beginning with tight end Jake Stoneburner being called for roughing the passer. It came on a fourth-and-2 fake punt pass from Steelers punter Mat McBriar, which he completed to tight end David Paulson for 30 yards off a flood route.
Winning "The Hard Way" is more fun than losing, but making it harder on yourself involves unnecessary exertion, and messes up the mental state of the fans.

LOOKISM.

That's a thoughtcrime constructed by the aesthetically challenged to secure themselves easier access to the mainstream.



The aesthetically challenged have allies among the Perpetually Aggrieved, who have constructed another thoughtcrime, "inappropriately directed laughter," in the hopes of banning any mockery other than the mockery they approve of.  For all the good it does.

The health care reforms will, ultimately, stand or fall on their own merits, or the emerging lack thereof.  That the self-styled progressives look douchey in the process is icing on the cake.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

Christmas Eve is occasion for a late-night or midnight Mass.

The Pontifex Maximus offered one.

The Archbishop of Chicago conducted one at Holy Name Cathedral, and another the next morning for prisoners.

The Bishop of Green Bay was principal celebrant at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

Pope, Cardinal, Archbishop, Bishop, Parish Priest: all responsible for preparing the homily, for serving communion, for hearing confessions, for providing spiritual counsel.

Higher education borrows much of its organizational structure from the ecclesiastical model.   The reader is invited to reflect on the extent to which presidents, chancellors, provosts, deans, not to mention the deanlets and deanlings, can serve for an academic year, or for years on end, without performing any of the duties of a professor.

20.12.13

MARKING OFF.

Lionel trains are a year's end tradition at Cold Spring Shops.


Good night and sweet dreams.

NOW IS NO TIME TO GO WOBBLY

Rachel Lu, a philosopher with the University of St. Thomas, contemplates the sad state of higher education.
To put the point in a nutshell: does anyone benefit from a traditional four-year college education? If it went away, or came to be seen as a luxury tailored to a wealthy elite, who would be worse off?

When I raise this question with my own undergraduate students, they generally emphasize the value of college as a coming-of-age experience. This strikes me as a poor justification for the four-year university. Before the mid-century expansion of higher ed, people came of age without taking on $80,000-worth of debt in the process. If college is valued primarily as a social experience, we should close down most of the four-year colleges and open more youth social clubs. People could come of age for the cost of a gym membership, not the cost of a house.

Nevertheless, my students’ instincts are not completely off base. They are right to suggest that our educational expenditures can be justified, if at all, only through the complete impact that a four-year education can have on the student’s character. Higher education should be a formative experience, both intellectually and morally, and should leave students better equipped to tackle a whole range of possible challenges that the future might bring.
Formative is not the same thing as prefigurative or transformative.
To a considerable degree, the university has become the victim of its own egalitarianism. Liberal progressivism has, to be sure, been poisoning the well for quite some time, and this alone would probably have prevented us from developing a fully satisfactory liberal arts education outside of a few select cultural enclaves. But the really insoluble problems date back to the mid-twentieth century, when the foundations of America’s great egalitarian experiment were laid.
Yes, and the damage is consequential.
Student retention is a critical goal for almost every college or university; after all, a student who drops out will no longer be paying tuition. And it turns out that the best way to keep everyone in the pack is to hike the pace of the slowest hiker. Student evaluations are an effective mechanism for ensuring that professors cooperate with this broader student-retention strategy. Anyone who doubts the seriousness of that institutional pressure should try telling an untenured professor that his evaluations from the previous semester included multiple complaints that the class made students “feel stupid.” Witness the hunted, desperate expression that passes over the instructor’s face.
The beginning of wisdom, however, is the recognition that some things are more challenging than they seem. The professor's calling is to create that beginning, uncomfortable though it might make some of the novices.

18.12.13

THE SYMBOLISM MATTERS.

Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews asserts "geniuses don't need gifted education."
Our schools have more than they can handle in helping other students become fully functioning adults. There may be something to the view that socially awkward geniuses need a safe place to be weird, but the better approach is to focus on stopping bullying of all kids. Public schools are mostly successful at finding people who know how to teach English, math, history and science, but we don’t know how to encourage creativity very well and might find it better to let the gifted do their own exploring.

Like any journalist, I have interviewed many bona fide geniuses, because they tend to make news. Their life stories suggest that such people are best left alone to educate themselves, as long as we make sure that they can get to all the riches of our culture and science and that we don’t require them to take grade-level courses that hold them back.
Yes, inculcating the habits of the middle class is probably the best public service the common schools can provide, and yes, there is plenty of room for improvement.

On the other hand, reverting to the old formula of skipping grades exacerbates the social isolation of the clever.  And emphasizing the teaching of calculus senior year, physics junior year, and proper literature beginning in the seventh grade, with a view to producing rocket scientists and medical researchers and creative writers, even if in the service of national goals such as landing on the moon or developing cancer drugs, lifts the tone for everybody.  We have to look no further than the failed rollout of the health exchanges, partial responsibility for which must be laid off on the common schools leaving the geniuses to their own devices, without structure or recognition.

ALL FAIL THE MESSIAH.

Barbara Walters speaks the truth.

The scales fall from Peggy Noonan's eyes.
I have begun to worry about the basic competency of the administration, its ability to perform the most fundamental duties of executive management. One reason I worry is that I frequently speak with people who interact with the White House, and when I say, “That place just doesn’t seem to work,” they don’t defend it, they offer off-the-record examples of how poorly the government is run. One thing that’s clear this holiday season: New York’s Democrats, to the degree they ever loved the president, don’t love him anymore, and have moved on. They are not thinking about what progress he might make in Washington next year, they’re talking about what Hillary might do the year after that.
The cult of the presidency still has its power, but ominous signs proliferate.
I’ve never worried about this with any previous administration, ever.

“They mistook the White House for the government,” said an experienced old friend, a journalist and Democratic sympathizer. We were having holiday dinner and the talk turned to White House management. His thesis was that Obama and his staffers thought they could run the government from there, from the White House campus, and make big decisions that would be executed. They thought the White House was the government, but the government is a vast web of executive agencies that have to be run under close scrutiny, and within their campuses, to produce even minimally competent work.

I have come to see this as “West Wing” Disease. Young staffers grew up watching that show and getting a very romantic and specific sense of how government works. “The West Wing” was White House-centric. It never took place at the Agriculture Department. But government takes place at the Agriculture Department.

Anyway, my friend made me think of a story about Harry Truman. On leaving the White House after the 1952 election of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman made a small prediction about the general and his presidency. From memory: Eisenhower, Truman said, will pick up the phone and say do this and do that, pull this lever, and he’ll be shocked when nothing happens.

Ike was a general used to giving orders within an organization that takes the order and executes. But a government has to be leaned on every day, through management talent earned by experience. Generals can issue orders but federal agencies must be gently guided and clubbed around the head, every day.
Yes, and generals have a clear set of objectives (occupy Baghdad, cross the Rhine, return to Luzon, cut the railroads into Petersburg). That government has become too intrusive fails to register. David Brooks, in fact, sees in the Failure of Presidential Power reason to Further Expand Presidential Power.
We don’t need bigger government. We need more unified authority. Take power away from the rentier groups who dominate the process. Allow people in those authorities to exercise discretion. Find a president who can both rally a majority, and execute a policy process.
Cato's Gene Healy is apparently so taken aback by the argument that he doesn't even note that rentier groups follow governmental power, and governmental power feeds off of rentiers, no matter who is in charge.  Christopher Johnson, however, nails it.
Barack Obama just rolled out DemocraticPartyCare, the single worst piece of American legislations since the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  But let’s give him morepower so even MORE harmful bills will be passed things will “get done.”

Here’s an idea, digusting little suck-up, er, Dave.  What say US presidents stop trying to be “historic?”  What say that they deal with the actual problems they have in front of them rather than inventing global “problems” and then ineptly “solving” those?
Once upon a time, John Maynard Keynes wished that economists might be regarded as dependable, humble practitioners, like dentists. We've seen how well that worked out.  Changing the expectation for presidents, nay for Washington politicians generally is a task several orders of magnitude tougher.  It might take even more serious government failure to change minds.

SAY NO AND UPHOLD STANDARDS.

The reputation of your university may depend on it.
One predictable result of years of grade inflation is the reaction of nonplussed prospective employers, who regularly complain that transcripts mean less and less. The deeper, more troubling result is described well by Rojstaczer and Healy: "When college students perceive that the average grade in a class will be an A, they do not try to excel. It is likely that the decline in student study hours [from an average of 24 hours a week in the '60s to 15 hours a week today, student engagement, and literacy are partly the result of diminished academic expectations."

How are students able to study less and yet receive nearly triple the percentage of A grades? Education researcher George Kuh cites the "disengagement compact" that he argues has been struck between professors and students: "'I'll leave you alone if you leave me alone.' That is, I won't make you work too hard (read a lot, write a lot) so that I won't have to grade as many papers or explain why you are not performing well. . . . There seems to be a breakdown of shared responsibility for learning--on the part of faculty members who allow students to get by with far less than maximum effort, and on the part of students who are not taking full advantage of the resources institutions provide."
I lose track of the times I've heard colleagues say the university has to implement some stupid assessment policy or insulting workload policy "before the Legislature (or an accrediting agency, or the Elasticity Fairy) imposes a worse one."

Grade inflation poses a similar opportunity, if a faculty have the courage to take it.
Will honest transcripts exercise a salutary effect? It's too soon to say, given the small number of schools that have adopted the reform to date. But things are always bigger in Texas, where there is a movement in the legislature to require all of the state's public universities (which enroll nearly 600,000 students) to adopt honest transcripts. Championed this year by first-term state representative and former NFL player, Scott Turner, Texas' Honest Transcript was approved nearly unanimously by the Texas House of Representatives. It did not receive a hearing in the Senate, but Turner has already begun efforts to bring it back next session. If passed, supporters expect that the "Texas Transcript" will come quickly to be regarded as the gold standard by prospective employers, heightening transparency and, with it, public awareness of and indignation over decades of lax university standards.

In one sense, Turner's work has already gone national. His bill was just adopted as model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose members include over 2,000 state legislators across the country. In addition to Turner's bringing the bill back in the 2015 Texas legislative session, other statehouses could soon pick up the grade-inflation ball and run with it.

Even so, will this transparency measure prove adequate to restoring sound grading standards? Academically Adrift's Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa offer reasons for doubt. Although they grant the "inadequate information on school performance being provided to students and parents" could be "remedied by greater institutional transparency," they find "no reason to expect that students and parents as consumers will prioritize undergraduate learning as an outcome. Rather, it is likely that other features of institutions will largely be focused on, including the quality of student residential and social life, as well as the ability with relatively modest investments of effort to earn a credential that can be subsequently exchanged for labor market--and potentially marriage market--success. . . ."

Arum and Roksa's acute critique takes us to the heart of democracy's perennial challenge. Defenders of the Honest Transcript bill rejoin that their faith in transparency springs from the same faith undergirding the defense of democratic self-government--that the people are capable of enlightened consent and that, in this case, the transparency wrought by honest transcripts will inform their consent and lead prospective students and their parents to be more discriminating in their choices of schools and majors, thereby reforming higher education from the ground up.
Ultimately, it will come down to market tests. What good does it do for Ashley to find some good catch at a prestige school, only to discover that all the cum laude in the world doesn't keep them both on Daddy's health insurance and in Mommy's basement well into their twenties?

MIKE ROYKO HAD IT RIGHT YEARS AGO.

He had written a column about the proliferation of beggars in the Loop, in which he suggested that closing the asylums and condemning the flophouses in the name of urban renewal provided the cause.  Now comes a columnist who, while not calling for a return to the days of the cuckoo's nest, suggests that people who required institutionalization required humane and helpful institutionalization.
It is no coincidence that this rise correlates with the closure of the mental health institutions in 1969. After they were shuttered, they were supposed to be replaced by community outreach programs. Sadly, these programs never took root and many parents who are dealing with severe mental illness feel they are out of options.
Read the whole thing. Guns are incidental, and imprisonment counterproductive.

STATUS ANXIETY.

There's ample evidence that Chicago State University is an expense-preference playground for diversity hustlers.

Sometimes, though, the lessons the dissident faculty draw generalize.
By now, most of us know some of the things Wayne Watson’s administration stands for: crony hiring, retentions and promotions, interference in matters that should be the province of faculty and turning a blind eye to lies by high-ranking administrators with personal ties to him or his friends. He likes to style himself an “educator,” a meaningless term when applied to someone with his meager teaching credentials. His admirers are always careful to refer to him as “Dr. Watson,” a title he earned in 1972. Since then his non-existent scholarly production has made a mockery of the “privileges and responsibilities” of the degree. His contempt for academics seeps through in various ways, most recently in the appointment of a completely unqualified interim Provost.

Angela Henderson recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Chicago. A brief glance at her dissertation reveals a couple of interesting things: first, in what can only be classified as a stunning example of cronyism, Wayne Watson, who clearly desired to promote Henderson to her current position, and who was represented in March 2013 by Henderson's husband, sat on her dissertation committee. Certainly, Henderson stood to benefit materially from Wayne Watson's presence as one of her examiners. Second, one portion of her dissertation proves that information she provided on official documents when she was hired in 2011 was a bald-faced lie.
In the past fifteen years, working with the common schools, I've discovered that "Outstanding Economic Educator" plays better than "Outstanding Economics Teacher" for some reason, and that "Doctor" this or that becomes the salutation rather than "Professor".  Make of those observations what you will.

MISSING THE POINT?

To the social constructivists, there's no idea so silly it can't merit a Serious Meditation.
While her friends dressed Barbie dolls, Lucy Sanders designed and constructed buildings with Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys and playing cards. She learned physics by playing with her Slinky, and chemistry through her chemistry set. Sanders says that the board games she played with her family taught her strategy, empathy and how to win and lose. Her parents did get her a Barbie, but she and her sister turned her into "gladiator Barbie," "medieval Barbie" and "superwoman Barbie."

Sanders became a researcher and earned the title of Bell Labs Fellow, the highest technical accomplishment bestowed by the legendary research lab. She now heads up the Boulder, Colo-based National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), which focuses on increasing women's participation in technology. Sanders says that children's toys greatly influence how they see themselves and what they become.
Whatever. But let's at least get our facts straight.
Years ago, for lack of sales of its products to girls, Lionel Trains produced a pink train set in an attempt to market their product to girls. It failed miserably. Marketing STEM-related toys to girls is not easy.

The Toy Industry Association is enthusiastically supporting an initiative by [Andrea] Guendelman, her friend Carrie Van Heyst and NCWIT to create a toy competition called PowerPlay Toy & Game Challenge. The goal is to encourage the development of toys that are educational and that girls actually want to play with.

I'm hopeful that we will one day see chess sets, robot constructors, and holographic simulators in the pink-colored aisles of toy stores. In the meantime, parents should do what Lucy Sanders's parents did: inspire their children to go beyond stereotypes and to build houses for their superwoman Barbies.
Such parents likely instilled enough awareness of reality in their girls that the girls understood a steam locomotive was black, not pink, which is the real reason the Lionel girl's train failed.  Besides, the independent girls wanted the Warbonnet F unit.

REALITY SINKS IN.

America's team defeats the pretend America's team.

First, reality dawns on the dance team.



J.R. Ewing, the Hunts, the Johnsons, and General Walker prefer that the coaches remain optimistic until the end.



THE ORDERS OF THE DAY:

WIN AND KEEP PLAYING.

THE HARD WAY.

IF THE HIGH SCHOOLS WON'T DO IT.

A professor of corporate and managerial finance discovers students discover gaps in more salient financial savvy.
Personal finance courses get short shrift for several reasons. The content is viewed as too “vocational” and lacking in rigor—even remedial. Hardly any institutional special interests champion its inclusion because there are few prestigious journals in personal finance, and research and professors who win grants focus on much grander finance topics. Since there is little prestige in teaching personal finance, many senior faculty avoid it, and the course is often delegated to adjuncts. In fact, many students enroll in personal finance as an elective and seemingly “discover” the course because of its absence from the required list.

From an instructor’s perspective, however, the experience of teaching personal finance is remarkably positive because students almost always express gratitude for having learned the material. In contrast, students rarely express such enthusiasm when I cover internal rates of return or net present value in my managerial finance courses. Students immediately see the value of learning personal finance material because it directly impacts their lives.
It's an opportunity, starting with elementary school.  Investors of the future are going to be better able to spot the traps in the more complicated financial instruments, including adjustable rate mortgages and credit card cash advances, if they understand checking and passbook accounts first.

15.12.13

CARDIAC PACK.

The young players are figuring out how to win.


You're looking at Monday's flag hoist.

13.12.13

WHILE I'M STUCK IN GRADING GULAG.

Let's hope that there are no nameless numbers on lists that are later misplaced.


YOUR JOB IS TO SAY NO AND UPHOLD STANDARDS.

It's examination season at most colleges and universities, and, with examination season, comes the special pleading.  Electronic mail has simply lowered the cost to students of revealing their lack of focus, and they exploit it.  Apparently, though, it is with the high schools that the expectation of automatic extensions and postponements originates.
Around here at the local HS, in an effort to keep graduation rates up, students are allowed to turn work in all the way up to the end of the term, and the teachers must accept it. They are allowed to retake tests.

This sets up an expectation on their end that college will be the same, and it's become my colleagues' and my aggravating job to become the brick wall they slam into their first semester in college. It sucks. I had a student tell me the first day of spring semester (as I was explaining my deadline policy) that they should be able to turn work in whenever. I kept my temper and said "Well, you can try that but you won't like the results." (The student flunked out of my class. Surprise.)
Within higher education, however, there are officials with the job description of antagonizing faculty by encouraging the placation of spoiled students.  Fortunately, the comments include encouragement of the faculty to push back.  "I tell [students] I am the brick wall (the first of many) they are going to run into if they don't get their shit together and take ownership of their education."

Now, if admissions officers would simply put some high schools on notice, "We will not admit any more students bearing your diploma until we have evidence that your graduates are competent."  Any contractor is going to stop doing business with a steel service center that keeps delivering Distressed Material that doesn't meet specifications.  The owner of such a steel service center doesn't have some lofty theory of oppression to enable his shortcomings.  Time to take those excuses away from the high schools.

11.12.13

SHAKING OUT THE EXCESS CAPACITY.

The Cold Spring Shops position is that there is excess capacity in higher education's subprime sector, where the model is access - assessment - remediation - retention.  An Inside Higher Ed lament by Ry Rivard suggests exactly that.

The dean at Pioneer Valley Community contemplates what comes next.
There’s no painless and elegant way to correct regional overcapacity.  That’s especially true in an industry like higher education that is both labor-intensive and built on the assumption of growth.

If you were the president of a small, struggling, not-terribly-prestigious liberal arts college in a region without much population growth, what would you do?  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you’ve hit the practical limits of tuition discounting (“presidential scholarships”) as a strategy, and let’s further assume that you’ve already done a decent job of marketing.  And let’s say that your budget is mostly tuition-driven, so you can’t rely on a hefty endowment to bail you out. The freebies have already been taken.  And keep in mind that presidents can’t act alone; they have to work with trustees, alumni, faculty, students, faculty, and staff, among others.  Each of those has its own interests, and if it perceives those interests as threatened, will respond accordingly.

You could try to cut your way out.  In the very short term, this is probably the path of least resistance, at least if it starts with cutting by attrition.  But over time, this strategy has natural limits.  Beyond a certain point, it threatens the ability of the college to compete.
That's been a Cold Spring Shops theme for some time, and I'm well-versed in the dynamics of decline, because that was the reality on the railroads for many years. "Something similar happened to the railroads in the late 1960s: there was simply insufficient money to handle the routine maintenance, and the payloads got heavier and the tracks deteriorated and the trains moved more slowly, if at all."

First, you notice that fewer passengers are riding the sleeping cars, so you reduce the number of sleeping cars.

Next, you effectively discontinue the high-class trains by adding the stops made and the baggage carried by the accommodation trains to the high-class trains.  Legally, you've discontinued an accommodation train, but the short-haul passengers are the bulk of your passenger load.

You notice that fewer passengers are riding the etiolated high-class trains over long distances, and, with the additional stops, that the expense of maintaining track and signals suitable for 100 mph operation yields a negative return on investment.  And you take out the cab signals and train control, and defer maintenance on the track.

That's a false economy, because the priority freight trains, carrying perishables and automobiles and piggyback trailers, can no longer get over the road as fast, and the truckers, public subsidies or no, eat your lunch on that traffic.

You're therefore able to retrench further, with a mostly single-speed 59 mph railroad being more than adequate to get the remaining Dead Freight, local passengers, and nursery stock over the road and on time about half the time.

The generalization is left to the reader as an exercise.

Quality people want to work with quality equipment, indeed.
The railroads discovered that in some ways they had to turn the clock back to 1945, replacing some second and third tracks, and replacing some main lines that had been taken out of service. Are any academic administrators sufficiently forward-looking today? Or will the current crop of administrators have to retire, as was the case with the old-line railroad administrators, before there is any change?
The evidence, nine years on, does not look good for higher education.

10.12.13

THE HARD BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS.

From my perspective, Chicago State University is an expense-preference playground for diversity hustlers.  In one post, I noted that the students were the primary victims of administrative follies. "As a special bonus, it ruins the lives of the most vulnerable students, claiming to offer second chances to all the underserved populations supposedly most in need of special care." I didn't know the half of it.
We experience racism at Chicago State as a thousand small slights, not mass shootings. Many things are inferior; these are racist conditions experienced by our students, mostly black: long lines for financial aid and at the bookstore, lost paperwork in the Cook building, chalkboards and whiteboards that have not been cleaned or maintained, broken concrete and stairs, bathrooms in need of repair. The need to focus on the racism of the oppression not the color of the oppressor applies to the struggle against the bookstore policy of excluding CSU students from the textbook aisles.
Excluding students from the textbook aisles?

I'd note that, Poinsettia Bowl and Heisman Trophy invitations or no, there's plenty of broken concrete, and restrooms that bring Penn Central passenger stations to mind, at Northern Illinois.

THE LIGHT IS BETTER UNDER THIS LAMP-POST.

That's an inside joke about the methodology of neoclassical economics, one that calls attention to the building of ever more precise models of worlds that exist only on the blackboard.

The model building now proliferates in public policy schools.
Sizable government initiatives in the postwar era created more demand for such institutions, which became “an expression of the Progressive idea that bigger government was better government,” [Pennsylvania's John] DiIulio explains. For example, he says, “no one had ever built an interstate highway system before,” and no one knew how to make the federal government work with state and local governments and for-profit contractors to make it happen. Enter public policy schools.

The mission of these institutions began to change in the 1970s, when the Ford Foundation issued multimillion-dollar grants to eight universities, including Yale, Duke and the University of Michigan. According to Graham Allison, writing in 2006 in the Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, the new cadre of students needed to be versed in not only “budgetary cost and efficacy” but also “social equity, civil rights, and quality of life.” People who were concerned with intragovernmental relations and American federalism began to seem “old and crusty,” DiIulio says. Now the goals of these schools were to dream up ways to “make the world a better place.”

Lofty goals have often produced research and teaching that is further and further removed from the day-to-day operations of government. While the field is so disparate that “it’s hard to talk about public policy schools as a whole,” Slaughter cautions, she and other school leaders identify certain trends, including a renewed zeal for quantitative analysis. When Georgetown President John J. DeGioia announced his university’s new policy school, he explained that “the availability of massive data to provide new analytic tools have resulted in an invaluable opportunity for our university.” The new emphasis on big data is reminiscent of the Progressive idea that if we just gather enough information, the policy conclusions will be obvious to all.
Yes, that sounds a lot like market-failure-warrants-government-intervention, complete with Pareto Optimality conditions and omniscient experts.

But policy analysis is only as good as the noisy information with which to test hypotheses.
James Wilburn, dean of Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, worries that too often, “what gets studied depends on whether there is an available database.” He accuses economists at policy schools of being “more interested in their models than in the people” whom public policy will affect.
Yes, that's an occupational hazard with economists.  Unfortunately, I don't get paid any more for uncovering my own data, let alone sharing it with others, or a bonus for pointing out that "things given" need not be modified by "on a government website."  And I've grown weary of applied economics workshops in which dueling specifications are more important than the conclusions.  Whether a minimum wage law overcomes monopsony power becomes a struggle over difference-in-difference as opposed to some other estimator, never mind that there's no attempt to calculate the Herfindahl index for employers within the labor market.
So, what should these schools be doing in terms of training and research? DiIulio suggests that maybe it’s time for them to return to their roots, teaching students to focus on implementing policy and making the government we have work better. “These seem like technical, boring matters, [but] someone has to get under the hood,” DiIulio says. For instance, he adds with a laugh, “How do you build an IT system for a new federally financed system of health care?”

Henry Brady, the dean at the University of California at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, told us in an e-mail that his school has been “quite successful with a real impact on bringing tough-minded economic and analytical methods into government and bringing evidence based research into the formulation of regulations and the appraisal of programs (although politicians often ignore the research).”

That last caveat may prove the most important. [New America Foundation's Anne-Marie] Slaughter notes that the research coming out of public policy schools is “less and less accessible to the lay reader. The jargon has become more and more specialized.” She says she “doesn’t know anyone in government who would read the academic journals that policy school professors get rewarded for publishing in,” and while the “need for translation [for lay readers] is ever greater, the rewards for translation in the academy are ever smaller.” Indeed, she says, “in many departments you will be less valued by your colleagues because you’re no longer doing ‘cutting edge’ research.”

If policymakers ignore policy school research or can’t understand it, what can policy professors and graduates possibly accomplish?
What, we have to worry about building a computer system for an insurance market?  Isn't the law of large numbers and mandatory risk pooling going to reduce everything else to second- or third-order smallness?  On the other hand, with grants becoming harder to get and merit money a memory, there might be opportunities for professors to supplement their income, or their pensions, assisting local governments with making sense of the research.