Are Test Scores as Meaningless as “Height Effects”? No, but Technocratic Misuse of Scores Is

November 25, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m already seeing this study being discussed as if it debunked all use of test scores. Four researchers used statistical methods usually associated with measuring teacher effect on year-to-year test score gains, and used them to measure teacher effect on student height. They found a substantial apparent teacher effect on year-to-year changes in height, which is obviously a false positive.

This definitely debunks one way of using test scores – the way commonly used by technocrats and central controllers of the Common Core type. If you use only one year’s worth of data (or, technically, use two years of data to track one year’s worth of change in the data) you are getting a lot of noise along with your signal. Multiple years of change must be tracked before you can sort out signal from noise to measure a teacher’s effectiveness.

But serious scholarship had already long since debunked the one-year way of using test scores. This particular way of showing that technocratic abuse of test scores is absurd gains points for cleverness. However, the finding itself isn’t new. People who really care about measuring effective teaching have been complaining for years about technocratic abuse of test score data!

The technocrats and central controllers have done a lot to make the use of test scores look worthless and even counterproductive. If they don’t want look ridiculous in the way this study makes them look ridiculous, maybe they should start listening to serious scholars about the responsible use of data. Of course, if they did, they’d have to give up being technocrats entirely because technocracy always abuses data.

My thanks to Jay for helping me think this through before posting; thoughts here are my own.

Why Ed Reform Needs Republicans

November 5, 2019

Rick Hess and I have a piece on National Review making the case, once again, that an ed reform movement that consists almost entirely of Democrats is doomed to fail and may help explain our lost decade of progress on NAEP results.

Some points to emphasize:

— We repeat our observation that the ed reform movement consists almost entirely of Democrats these days, but we note that this is dramatically different from 20 years ago. Back then, when we look at a similar sample of campaign contributions from employees at ed reform organizations, we see a partisan split that is closer to 50-50.

— We do not know and do not really care about who is to blame for this severe partisan imbalance. Our main goal in this piece is to get people to recognize how the current absence of Republicans in the movement is harming its political success.

— If you are not willing to set aside some tangential issues and compromise on others, you aren’t really seeking to advance education reform policy — you are choosing to lose politically for virtue-signaling. That’s a fine choice and some compromises may be too unpalatable to make, but be aware of what you are sacrificing when you do this.

Pass the Clicker: Joe Pera is the Greatest Thing on TV

November 3, 2019

I just discovered Joe Pera Talks With You, a series of short films appearing on Adult Swim, and I can already declare that it is the best thing currently on TV. As Joe himself says, “It’s not the Sopranos,” which I think is the whole point.  Instead, it is sweet and amazingly funny in a dry, northern Midwest style. Watching these shorts fits perfectly with our recent theme on JPGB of trying to find and emphasize the good, like Rice Krispie Treats or the publication of Blood Heir.

Since today is the Sunday after Halloween and the perfect time to go for a fall drive, I urge you to watch Joe Pera Takes You on a Fall Drive. After extolling the virtues of his 2001 Buick Park Avenue automobile, Joe learns that you place 1/16 of your soul in a Jack-O-Lantern when you carve it. To regenerate that portion of his soul, he goes for a fall drive to give his pumpkin a proper Michigan UP final resting place. Since WordPress will not let me embed videos from Adult Swim, I urge you to click on the hyperlink above to watch the entire episode, But if you need to see a clip of it right now, here you go:

In the episode, Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements, Joe can’t help but tell his Church about the wonder of hearing The Who’s Baba O’Riley. Despite being the choir teacher at the local school, Joe heard The Who for the first time Thursday night and hasn’t slept since. If this doesn’t capture the joy of discovering and sharing a song you love, I don’t know what does.  Again, I can’t embed the whole episode, but you can see it by clicking on the link above.  And here’s a taste:

Well, we are headed off on a drive for this beautiful fall Sunday after Halloween.  Enjoy Joe Pera.  And if you have any trouble falling asleep, watch Joe Pera Talks You to Sleep.

Blood Heir Triumphs

November 2, 2019

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jay suggested in his Al award post we might be in need of some positive vibes. So check out this trailer for Blood Heir, which is about to be published in spite of the best efforts of Higgy winner Kosoko Jackson. (Meanwhile, no sign of Jackson’s own book, cancelled by the same kind of dishonest wokescold mob that Jackson tried to help against Blood Heir; Amazon’s review of Jackson’s book: “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”)

It’s not as good as Autumn Thomasson’s trailer, but then again, nothing is.

So what did Jackson and his woke vigilantes accomplish in the end? They put “the most talked-about fantasy of 2019” on the front of that trailer. 

I hope the publisher makes One Billion Dollars and buys a Blood Heir billboard across the street from Jackson’s house.

And the Winner of the 2019 “Al” is… Mildred Day

November 1, 2019

We had a thin set of nominees for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian AwardI nominated Chad Kroeger and JT Parr, who speak during public input periods during local government meetings to reveal the impotence of public input — whether as part of government fora or on social media. Greg nominated Bob Fletcher, who heroically saved farms for Japanese Americans who had been sent to internment camps during World War II.  Sensing that the field was small, Greg added at the last minute Mildred Day, the inventor of the Rice Krispie Treat.

Perhaps our shortage of Al Award nominees is a reflection of a glum mood that has gripped public discourse of late, making it difficult to think of how the human condition is being improved. This is precisely why Mildred Day is the person we need to recognize with this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  In the fine tradition of Al Copeland himself, Day made the human condition better by giving us a delicious treat, the Rice Krispie Treat.  Those treats aren’t just wonderful because of their gooey while also crunchy sweetness. Rice Krispie Treats are also so easy to make that they are often among the first cooking projects that parents do with their children. Parents connecting with their children over something yummy is just about the best thing.

Chad and JT are amusing in the fine tradition of Al honorees Ken M, Fasi Zaka, and Lazlo Toth. But their goal is to mock, which while necessary, may contribute further to the sour popular mood.  Bob Fletcher is certainly admirable in the fine tradition of Al recipient, Wim Nottroth.  But right now we could use more of a sweet reward than a harsh reminder of the need to stand up to evil, as important as that reminder is.

So thank you, Mildred Day. As you celebrate her selection as the Al Copeland Humanitarian, I hope you are enjoying some candy from yesterday’s haul and perhaps adding a Rice Krispie Treat or two.

For the Al: Mildred Day

October 31, 2019

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Food is one of the most basic human experiences, so improving food has huge leverage for serving humanity. Even the act of eating, while it can be done alone, is better when done together – expressing the same basic harmony of human flourishing reflected in The Al’s commitment to the idea that one can benefit oneself and others at the same time.

The very first person ever nominated for The Al after Copeland himself was Steve Henson, inventor of ranch dressing. In the ten years since then, we’ve nominated people who invented ways to make wine more efficiently, invented ways to experience the magic of great food and great movies together, and invented ways to protect kids who sell lemonade. Yet somehow, we have never again nominated another person who invented a food item – which would seem to be a pretty basic prerequisite for all the other stuff.

Why not give The Al to the woman who invented the single greatest food of all time?

Rice Krispies were introduced in 1928. But the apotheosis of the Rice Krispie – the apotheosis of food itself – did not emerge for over ten years. Then in 1939, Mildred Day (with an assist from Kellogg’s coworker Malitta Jensen) cooked up the enchanted confection now known as Rice Krispie Treats.


Day first worked at Pillsbury under noted chef Mary Ellis Ames (in the picture of Ames’ kitchen above, Day is the woman standing on the left). Day was then employed by Kellogg’s as a recipe tester (doesn’t that sound like a nice gig?) and a traveling cooking instructor who trained chefs in Kellogg’s kitchens as well as giving demonstrations to customers. She and Jensen cooked up the idea in the mad science lab of the Kellogg’s mothership (I’m picturing lots of oddly colored liquids bubbling in cauldrons and test tubes).

Curiously, the invention of Rice Krispies was not the main contributing factor in the invention of Rice Krispies Treats. Earlier recipes for similar kinds of treat squares had used puffed rice or puffed wheat. But they had never used marshmallow, relying instead on other sticky confections such as molasses. Day’s main contribution was to realize that marshmallow would work much better.

Six months after the first treats were baked (“Live! Live, my creation!” I envision Day crying out, as a bolt of lightning activates the oven), Day got a request from a Camp Fire Girls chapter in Kansas City looking for a baking idea for a fundraiser. Day headed to Kansas City, and thus the greatest food ever known to humanity became . . . known to humanity.


Newspaper ad, 1941; newspaper recipe, 1940

Kellogg’s did not sell premade treats until the 1990s, but that doesn’t mean Kellogg’s didn’t profit hugely from Day’s invention. They hawked the dickens out of the recipe from the beginning, offering the irresistible Krispie Treats as a primary selling point for the cereal. The recipe first appeared on boxes of Rice Krispies in 1941. Back in those days, cooking the magic confections at home was part of the charm.

Well, it was for most people. Day herself never made them for her daughter Sandra; Sandra didn’t even find out about Rice Krispie Treats until she was an adult. She asked her mother why (I mean, wouldn’t you?) and Day replied: “If you’d made them for two weeks from 6:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night, you wouldn’t want to make them again, either!”

Okay, that’s fair enough. Day’s contribution can’t be contested.


Newspaper ads, 1942 & 1941

For contributing the greatest treat, and therefore the greatest food, ever invented by human ingenuity, while making untold millions for Kellogg’s, I nominate Mildred Day for Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year.

Image HTs: Mildred Day images, Des Moines Register; Krispie Treat image, Kellogg’s; newspaper images, Cook’s Info.

Bob Fletcher for Al Copeland Humanitarian

October 25, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Al is no stranger to grape-growers, having nominated innovative winemakers Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen in 2014. But Bob Fletcher grew grapes in a way more reminiscent of Wim Nottroth or Roddie Edmonds.

A lot of Japanese-Americans in California during World War II were farmers. Most of them lost their farms to foreclosure when they found themselves interned in camps in 1942 because Franklin Roosevelt was a bonkers-racist-pseudoscience-freakazoid-weirdo who thought Japanese people were inherently violent because of the shape of their skulls. (“The president wrote back asking whether the ‘Japanese problem’ could be solved through mass interbreeding.”)

Bill Taketa’s mother had paid off 85% of the mortgage on her 32-acre farm, and lost it all. “She didn’t have anywhere to come back to because they took it,” he recalls.

Bill Taketa even joined the U.S. Army and served in the Pacific theater, fighting Japanese forces on behalf of the stars and stripes. But that didn’t get him his family farm back.

Bill’s wife Doris Taketa, however, can tell a better story. She was 12 when she was shipped off to a camp in Arkansas with her parents and two sisters. But when she came back, the farm was still there for them. And two other families in her hometown of Florin, California had farms waiting for them, too.

Thanks to Bob Fletcher.

Fletcher, himself the only child of a walnut-farming family, watched the disastrous injustices being inflicted on California’s Japanese-American farm owners from his perch as a state agricultural inspector. He knew from the start that the whole thing was crazy, and that Japanese-Americans “were the same as everybody else – it was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor.”

So he decided not to remain a California agricultural inspector. The time had come to try his hand at grape-growing.


Fletcher quit his job and took over operating three grape farms – a total of 90 acres of Tokay grapes – belonging to three interned families in danger of foreclosure: the Tsukamotos, Okamotos and Nittas. For three years, he was able to do just enough work to keep up the mortgage payments on all three farms. By agreement with the families, after paying the mortgage bills he kept half the remaining farm income to live off of, and stored the other half away to hand over to the families when they returned.

“I was born on that land. He took really good care of it,” Doris Taketa would later say.

Many Florin residents were less appreciative. He was jeered in Florin, and called a “Jap lover.” At one point some fine specimen of American bravery actually came out and shot a gun at Fletcher while he was working the Tsukamotos’ property.

There were about 2,000 Japanese-Americans living around Florin before the war. Doris Taketa estimates about 80% of them chose not to return. And who can blame them?

“Few people in history exemplify the best ideals the way that Bob did,” said Marielle Tsukamoto, who was five when she was interned. “He was honest and hard working and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’ ”

After returning, Doris said to Fletcher: “We owe you everything.”

The rest of us owe him a debt as well. In partial repayment, I’m proud to nominate Bob Fletcher for 2019 Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year.

Photo HTs: Top photo, Florin, Ca. historical society, via the California Sun; middle photo, AARP.