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.

Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: Chad Kroeger and JT Parr

October 24, 2019

For this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award I would like to nominate Chad Kroeger and JT Parr. Chad and JT take advantage of the public comment sessions that virtually all local governments offer to express their views.  And like the 2015 Al winner, Ken M, Chad and JT show us exactly how important those opportunities for public comment really are. In the video above they speak to the LA City Council in defense of house parties.  They note all of the ways that house parties had helped them, with JT observing: “I could play beer pong and compete with real integrity. In short, I fulfilled my potential.” And then sounding like an economist (with about the same level of influence over policy), JT warns that there are “externalities” associated with banning house parties, such as the loss of bonding, emphasizing, “America needs bonding.”

In this second video, Chad and JT ask the City Council of Laguna Beach to “boke” their “shmole.” As Chad explains, a shmole is “someone with a good heart who kinda sucks.” They claim that one of the members of their squad, Kevin, is a shmole and the city needs to help them boke him, or remove him from their crew. But they don’t wan’t Kevin to go “homie-less,” so they want the city to enact a shmole relocation program and adopt Kevin to rehabilitate him. Chad and JT estimate that this program would cost about $75,000 per shmole, which could be paid by increasing taxes on their parents’ houses.

In this third video, Chad and JT propose to the Manhattan Beach City Council that they rename their wastewater plant “The Britney Spears ‘Toxic’ Water Center.” Chad mentions that he almost went to a Britney Spears concert when he was 14 but his Dad said, “No. You have to do math.” JT then sings the song “Toxic” to the council.

In our modern age in which leading academics waste countless hours sending messages of 280 characters to each other in “an effort to democratize access to knowledge,” or boast about being a “subtweet aficionado,” Chad and JT reveal this activity for what it really is — a world in which everyone is on the stage and no one is in the audience and where all forms of expertise and authority are degraded.  People active in Edu-Twitter and Econ-Twitter may imagine that they are shaping the world because they have thousands or even tens of thousands of followers, but remember that Chad and JT’s videos have been viewed well over a million times. Chad and JT have no more influence over local government policy than academic Twitter has over public policy. And by wasting so much energy on social media, academics place themselves on the same level as people like Chad and JT who have no shortage of proposals, opinions, and even evidence such as a a large graph with “metrics” proving that Kevin is a shmole.

But Chad and JT don’t just reveal the silliness that has gripped much of academia, they also reveal the phoniness of democratic input in public policymaking.  Governments create public comment opportunities to give people the illusion that they have control over government policy.  In actuality, public influence over policymaking has always been indirect and mostly channeled through the activities of organized interests.  This is not a bad thing to be lamented.  It is simply a reality to be accepted. The Voice of the People as expressed on social media or in public comment times is more about catharsis than it is about control.

If people are going to waste their time on social media or in public comment periods, it might as well be amusing rather than the self-important and over-earnest stuff typically found in academic Twitter or local government meetings. For taking this useless activity and making it entertaining, Chad and JT have significantly improved the human condition and therefore are worthy of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

Don’t Overregulate Choice

October 24, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on the dangers of overregulating choice programs:

Recent proposals have suggested imposing new burdens on these programs in Oklahoma. One of the most common approaches is to demand that schools compile and turn over to the state extensive personal data on every participating student. This raises important student-privacy concerns. But lawmakers should also be asking what this or other proposed regulations has to do with helping parents hold their schools accountable. More power for regulators is less power for parents.

Your freedom to tell me what you think in the comments is regulated, but not overregulated, so fire away!