Reason Foundation: Will Regulation Ruin School Choice in the Big Easy?

December 11, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Well worth watching…similar tensions exist in all choice programs to some degree.


Party at the Moontower…err…I mean Texas Bowl

December 11, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the Razorbacks and the Longhorns are renewing their ancient gridiron hatred this year in the Texas Bowl in Houston. Two teams will enter and one team will leave with (insert drumroll) a winning record on the season!

Ah how the mighty have fallen-the records of both teams stand at a lowly 6 wins and 6 losses. Sigh. At least this provides 14 badly needed additional days of practice for the rebuilding from scratch Longhorns.

My prediction: Texas 6, Arkansas 3. University of Texas at Austin cultural ambassador at large Matthew McConaughey promises to close the windows before engaging in the traditional post-victory bongo naked ritual.

What is your prediction?


The Onion on HBO’s New Gritty Series about Wilmette

December 11, 2014

As usual, The Onion totally nails it.  Entertainment executives fall into such predictable and over-done patterns that you would think that they weren’t in a creative business.  If I have to see one more series or movie about the dark underbelly of [blank], I may fall asleep as I write to complain about it.

So, The Onion describes their vision of a new HBO series about perfectly happy and pleasant Wilmette, Illinois, where I happen to have grown up:

Speaking at an HBO press junket Monday, acclaimed writer-producer David Simon, creator of the gritty urban dramas The Wire and Treme, announced that his next project will be an epic, multilayered examination of the contented and comfortable streets of suburban Wilmette, IL….

According to Simon, the sprawling new series, tentatively titled The Township, will offer a searing and unsentimental glimpse into the happy social fabric of modern-day Wilmette, an area known for its deeply untroubled history and well-functioning political structure.

“As a writer, my mission is to tell a story that makes viewers think about how conditions in American cities are created,” Simon told reporters. “We can’t just turn our back on the staggering levels of happiness occurring in a place like Wilmette and say, ‘Well, that’s not my life.’ We have to confront this tranquility head-on and shine a light on the institutions that are responsible for it.”

Added Simon, “I want this show to be an unflinching dissection of how the system has in no way failed the people of this town.”

According to HBO sources, the novelistic series will chronicle the interconnected web of police officers, politicians, tradespeople, teachers, and ordinary families who are “all complicit” in perpetuating the cycle of institutional effectiveness that makes Wilmette the seventh best place in the country to raise children….

Of course, there are creative producers, writers, and actors out there who are trying new things and the market often rewards them for their fresh approaches.  If you are tried of the HBO formula for a series with random acts of shocking violence with a healthy sprinkling of naked breasts, you might try BYUtv’s critically acclaimed series, Granite Flats.  As the New York Times describes it, “In ‘Granite Flats,’ a Soviet spy satellite crashes into a Colorado town, a trio of teenagers become amateur sleuths, and a secret mind-control program called Mkultra is revealed.”  I’ve only read about it, but I’m excited to start watching it.

Yes, BYUtv is a Mormon network (which you can watch streaming if your cable provider does not carry it).  And yes, Granite Flats is set in a small town in the 1960s “to make modest language and conservative social mores feel intrinsic…. “

“Still,” the NYT observes, “’Granite Flats’ is not ‘Ozzie and Harriet.’ The characters include a father struggling with alcoholism and petty crime, a war veteran hospitalized for what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder, and an adopted Korean girl who comes to realize that her parents have lied about their lives and possibly hers.”

The lead writer for the show is my old friend and college house-mate, John Plummer, who the NYT describes as “an observant Buddhist.”

The Times further notes:

The success of “Granite Flats” became apparent not only as its audience grew — especially with online streaming — but through its ability to attract top talent. Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future”) and Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride”) signed up for recurring roles. The third season, which begins next March, includes Parker Posey, the doyenne of indie cinema.

For the most part, critical response was both positive and surprised. Glenn Garvin wrote in The Miami Herald, “ ‘Granite Flats’ is solid evidence that family entertainment need not be strait-laced or simple-minded.” David Hinckley in The Daily News called it “a cool little series from a spot where most New Yorkers might not look.”

I’d like to see more cool little series and I’m looking forward to watching this one.  Oh and also the one about Wilmette.


Fun With Peer Review

December 9, 2014

PHD Comics

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I may have to revise my opinion of Vox; they seem to have taken an interest in the weaknesses of the peer review system. Of course there are a lot of responsible peer-reviewed journals and, well, peers. But there a lot of the other kind as well, and we are long past the point where simply having gone through something called “peer review” ought to count for anything.

One story details how unscrupulous researchers can manipulate journals, including – amazingly – posing as their own reviewers. In highly specialized fields, journal editors may not know who the appropriate reviewers would be, so they rely – apparently uncritically in some cases – on the “recommended reviewers” supplied by the article authors. Who in some cases are simply the authors themselves using another email address. One scientist used 130 email accounts to create a vast, self-validating “peer review and citation ring”; 60 papers were recently retracted after a 14-month investigation uncovered the fraud. A total of at least 110 articles have been pulled in the last two years due to this type of fraud.

Get me off your email list

Figure 1 from the article “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List”

Accepted for publication by the highly reputable International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology

But the other story is a lot better. It details how some journals now survive not by selling subscriptions or getting institutional support, but by charging a fee to publish your paper. They are apparently known as “predatory journals” because they spam the email universe looking for gullible (or, presumably, unscrupulous) people looking to break into publication. “Article mills” (after the analogous “diploma mills”) would seem a more appropriate name.

As you can see above, the “peer review” process becomes somewhat lax in these cases. One pair of scientists slapped the above-referenced article and began submitting it to peer review spammers. They were amused to discover that one journal accepted their article for publication. Another journal not only accepted but published an article (consisting of nonsense text) by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel. It now sends the authors regular demands that they pay their $459 bill.

But it’s not just spam scammers – peer review controls are easy to get past even at some highly reputable publishers.


Growing Up Without Your Dad

December 9, 2014

It is the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report, which warned of the challenges single-parenthood posed to the success of children, especially in the Black community.  In recognition of the 50th anniversary, Education Next is running a series of articles on what we now know about the frequency and consequences for children of growing up without their married, biological parents.

The first in this series is an article by Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks asking “Was Moynihan Right?”  The answer is a pretty clear yes.  You should read the entire article but here is the heart of the argument:

Was Moynihan right in suggesting that children whose parents divorce or never marry have more than their share of problems? This question has been hotly debated ever since the publication of Moynihan’s report. On the one hand, growing up without both biological parents is clearly associated with worse average outcomes for children than growing up with them. Specifically, children growing up with a single mother are exposed to more family instability and complexity, they have more behavior problems, and they are less likely to finish high school or attend college than children raised by both of their parents. On the other hand, these differences in children’s behavior and success might well be traceable to differences that would exist even if the biological father were present.

In recent years, researchers have begun to use what they call “quasi-experimental” approaches to estimate the causal impact of growing up apart from one’s biological father. Some studies compare the outcomes of children living in states with liberal versus restrictive divorce laws. Others compare siblings who were different ages in the year when their father moved out. Still others compare the same child before and after the father left the child’s household. One important limitation of these studies is that while they all focus on children who are not living with both of their biological parents, they differ with respect to their comparison group, whether it is children raised by their mother alone, by their mother and a new spouse, or by their mother and a new partner to whom she is not married. Nonetheless, when taken together these studies are beginning to tell a consistent story. A recent review of 45 studies using quasi-experimental methods concluded that growing up apart from one’s father does reduce a child’s life chances in many domains.

The review’s authors examined the effects of a father’s absence on outcomes in four domains: educational attainment, mental health, labor market performance, and family formation. Growing up with only one biological parent reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent, which is similar to the effect of having a mother who did not finish high school rather than one who did. The absence of one’s biological father has not been shown to affect a child’s verbal and math test scores, however. The evidence for other indicators of educational performance, such as high school grades, skipping school, and college aspirations, is mixed, with some studies finding that father absence lowers school attendance and aspirations and others finding no effect. Most studies find larger effects on boys than on girls.

How might we reconcile the fact that a father’s absence affects high school graduation with the lack of evidence that it affects test scores? The answer appears to be that a father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. These antisocial behaviors affect high school completion independent of a child’s verbal and math scores. Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment not by altering their scores on cognitive tests but by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control. The effects of growing up without both parents on aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls. Since these traits predict both college attendance and graduation, the spread of single-parent families over the past few decades may have contributed to the growing gender gap in college attendance and graduation. The gender gap in college completion is much more pronounced among children raised by single mothers than among children raised in two-parent families.


Wanderers

December 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Really cool short film-more information here. All of this may come to pass, and if it does, I predict that it will be merchant-adventurers having all the fun. I’m jealous of the future.


Episode VII, Special Edition

December 4, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Ladies and gentlemen, humor is now concluded. We have a winner.

(You won’t get it if you haven’t seen this yet, but then, if so there’s no hope for you anyway.)


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