Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!: When public schools get more money, students do better

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Not exactly astonishing, but oddly reassuring: we can control the quality of our children’s education, we just have to pay more for better results. This is amazingly similar to what we find in every aspect of human culture: better quality costs more. So the fact that the rule holds for education as well suggests it’s quite a general rule.

This does obviously required that the expenditures be closely monitored. Private corporations slaver at the idea of building a tunnel into the public’s treasury to siphon the money more easily—i.e., without doing the job. Some charter schools present egregious examples of outright fraud.

But with good monitoring and good transparency about where the money is going and to whom, the law of better quality costing more does seem to hold. It follows naturally from the second law of thermodynamics, so it’s good that it’s true. It should be true.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2015 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Education, Science

My life was changed when I began caring about the people I did not hire

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Fascinating post by Brooke Allen:

Ask yourself this question, “What do employers owe the people they do not hire?” I asked myself that question more than a decade ago and it changed my life forever.

On Sunday, January 18, 2004, I ran a help-wanted ad in the New York Times that read in its entirety, “Programmer – Will train, enjoyment of mathematics a plus” followed by an email address. I was heading a statistical arbitrage trading desk and I needed help maintaining all the code I’d written.

I was surprised to get more than 300 resumes and because nobody had experience in the language we use (APL), and I could not gauge learning potential from a resume, I sent everyone a link to a 500-page manual (latest version available here), and I suggested applicants try their hand at a half-dozen puzzle questions they could easily answer in this language.

Thirty-eight people answered the questions so I invited them in for an open house. I had them sit on our trading floor for a bit where they played a game I’d written called BF Game that simulated an information market. We talked about the technology and the nature of our work and then I asked them what they thought I should do next.

Twenty-seven of the applicants suggested I teach them all first and then make a hiring decision, so I ordered tables and chairs that arrived the next day. And the day after that we built a classroom.

A friend  gave them two days of formal training in APL and then I left them alone for three weeks with some pretty difficult problems. These included the  automation of investment, liquidation, and index arbitrage strategies in BF Game, and the creation of a Bayesian statistical technique for analyzing the words in Tom Sawyer so as to calculate a probability that a given passage comes from Huckleberry Finn.

Within a week they’d created an on-line community on Yahoo with 73 members who volunteered to help them with their project including an out-sourcing company in St. Petersburg, Russia, that sent all their training materials (in English), an author in England who sent a draft of a forthcoming textbook, and numerous trading experts who helped them develop strategies. These eager students opened my eyes to a new way of collaboratively solving problems.

Three weeks later the class had met all my challenges and now I had two problems:

  1. How do I pick someone to hire?
  2. How do I help the people I don’t  hire?

I brought my candidates in asked one question, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2015 at 12:39 pm

Good resolutions via The Eldest

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12 resolutions


Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2015 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Social Programs That Work

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Ron Haskins at the NY Times has an interesting observation:

HARDLY anyone knows it, but since its earliest days the Obama administration has been pursuing the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs.

Despite decades of efforts and trillions of dollars in spending, rigorous evaluations typically find that around 75 percent of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect. Studies of the early childhood education program Head Start and the substance-abuse prevention program D.A.R.E. show that even when there are benefits, they are often modest and not enduring.

As a policy analyst who helped House Republicans design the 1996 welfare overhaul and who later advised President George W. Bush on social policy, I am committed to the principle that the government should fund only social welfare programs that work. That’s why it’s imperative that the new Congress reject efforts by some Republicans to cut the Obama administration’s evidence-based programs. Especially in a time of austerity, policy makers must know which programs work, and which don’t.

A growing body of evidence shows that a few model social programs — home visits to vulnerable families, K-12 education, pregnancy prevention, community college and employment training — produce solid impacts that can last for many years. Here are some examples.

At 24 mostly rural locations in Florida, Wyman’s Teen Outreach Programworks with 6,000 ninth graders a year to promote healthy behaviors, life skills and a sense of purpose. Evaluations of the program, which is based on a nine-month curriculum, show that it helped reduce teen pregnancies and lowered the risk of school suspension and dropout.

At 160 elementary schools in low-income communities in California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia, a program called Reading Partners pairs volunteer tutors with children for twice-weekly 45-minute sessions. An evaluation of the program in 19 schools across three states by the research firm M.D.R.C. found substantial improvements in reading skills.

In Lancaster County, Pa., . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 10:36 am

An interesting look at the result of home-schooling a very bright kid

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The article (original title “King of Clickbait”) by Andrew Marantz in the New Yorker describes an obviously intelligent young man whose education, such as it was, seems to have left him drifting in pretty shallow seas. My thought is that this man is going to have one hell of a mid-life crisis, but I may well be wrong

The writer simply reports, but some details are telling:

Spartz took the stage, wearing a cordless microphone. People who achieve success at an early age often retain a childlike aspect into adulthood, and Spartz has the saucer eyes and cuspidated chin of a cartoon fawn. His hair style (a tidy mop top) and clothing preferences (heathered T-shirt, dark jeans, black sneakers) have not changed much since his tween years. A screen in front of a velvet curtain displayed, in jaunty type, “Hi! I’m Emerson Spartz. I want to change the world.”

When he was growing up, Spartz said, his parents made him read “four short biographies of successful people every single day. Imagine for a second what happens to your brain when you’re twelve and this is how you’re spending your time.” He used his hands to pantomime his mind being blown. “I realized that influence was inextricably linked to impact—the more influence you had, the more impact you could create. . . . The ability to make things go viral felt like the closest that we could get to having a human superpower.”

As it turns out, “changing the world” means, in this context, writing headlines that generate the most clicks: churning click-bait, in short. The content seems mostly (entirely) to be stolen from other sites: the focus is purely on headlines and click tallies.

Here’s how he describes his operation and ambitions:

ad met Spartz a few weeks earlier, at a dinner during a tech-industry conference in Manhattan. When I asked him what he did for a living, he replied, “I’m passionate about virality.” I must have looked confused, because he said, “Let me bring that down from the thirty-thousand-foot level.” The appetizer course had not yet arrived. He checked the time on his cell phone and cleared his throat. “Every day, when I was a kid, my parents made me read four short biographies of very successful people,” he began.

On this occasion, I was the only person listening to his speech, but he spoke in a distant and deliberate tone, using studied pauses and facial expressions, as if I were a video camera’s lens. When he got to the part about virality being a superpower—“I realized that if you could make ideas go viral, you could tip elections, start movements, revolutionize industries”—I asked whether that was really true.

“Can you rephrase your question in a more concrete way?” he said.

I mentioned “Kony 2012,” a thirty-minute film about the Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony. It has been viewed on YouTube more than a hundred million times, but it did not achieve its ultimate goal: Kony remains at large, as does his militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

“To be honest, I didn’t follow too closely after the whole thing died down,” Spartz said. “Even though I’m one of the most avid readers I know, I don’t usually read straight news. It’s conveyed in a very boring way, and you tend to see the same patterns repeated again and again.”

He went on, “If I were running a more hard-news-oriented media company and I wanted to inform people about Uganda, first, I would look it up and find out exactly what’s going on there. Then I would find a few really poignant images or story lines, ones that create a lot of resonant emotion, and I would make those into a short video—under three minutes—with clear, simple words and statistics. Short, declarative sentences. And at the end I’d give people something they can do, something to feel hopeful about.”

And those biographies?

Tom had arranged a two-foot stack of the “short biographies of successful people” that I had heard about from Emerson. They turned out to be extremely short: a single-sided page each, photocopied from a newspaper called Investor’s Business Daily. Each distilled a life of accomplishment into a moral. (Karl Malone: “Practice makes perfect.” Mel Blanc: “Never give up.”) Tom shuffled through the pile and picked out a page about the novelist Pearl S. Buck. “It shows that she was away from her normal world, and all of a sudden she’s writing about the East,” he said. “It’s like, Wow, can you imagine?”


Written by LeisureGuy

1 January 2015 at 10:22 am

The tragedies of school shootings drive a breakthrough in protective glass technology

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Claire Martin reports in the NY Times:

In the two years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., schools across the country have become more serious about safety.

They have bought familiar items like surveillance cameras, panic buttons and key-card entry systems. More recent innovations include bulletproof whiteboards to help teachers shield students inside classrooms and a smartphone app that starts a school lockdown with the swipe of a finger. By 2017, the market for school security systems is expected to hit $4.9 billion, up from $2.7 billion in 2012, according to the market research firm IHS Technology.

One suggested strategy for preventing school tragedies is to delay attackers outside school buildings until law enforcement officers arrive at the scene. To that end, a start-up company in Adams, Mass., called School Guard Glasshas invented a strong glass intended to thwart intruders for a minimum of four to six minutes.

For context, it took the first police officer about three minutes to get to Sandy Hook Elementary School after the initial 911 call, and, within the next minute, several more officers arrived. Once there, they discovered a gaping hole, created by gunfire, in a window next to the front door.

The idea for School Guard Glass came just two weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. Christopher Kapiloff, a co-owner of his family’s business, Kapiloff’s Glass, couldn’t shake his lingering fears about the dangers to other schoolchildren, not least his own.

“For three days, I couldn’t sleep,” Mr. Kapiloff says of his reaction to the shooting. “I internalized it to a degree I’ve never internalized an event like that before.”

Because he was in the glass-installation business, it didn’t escape him that the Newtown killer had entered Sandy Hook by shooting through a window. A majority of the clients of Kapiloff’s Glass are businesses and schools, but for the last decade it has also teamed up with a materials lamination company, the LTI Group, which makes a variety of products, including a polycarbonate plastic coated with glass that is resistant to bullets and bomb blasts. Among their clients are federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration.

“Our company has installed doors for the federal government that you could stand five feet away from with an AK-47,” Mr. Kapiloff says. “You could put 30 rounds right into the center of the glass and not one would penetrate the door.”

Given his experience with schools and high-security buildings, Mr. Kapiloff took on the challenge he couldn’t shake from his mind: finding an affordable way to keep violent intruders out of schools for those crucial first few minutes.

Working with the LTI Group, he began developing a thin glass that, while it can crack, stays intact when bullets or blunt objects like bats or sledgehammers strike it. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article, which explains why traditional bulletproof glass doesn’t work for schools:

Several months ago, School Guard Glass hired an independent agency that specializes in testing ballistics resistance in glass. Mr. Santore observed the session, during which testers shot at the glass with an assault rifle, then threw bricks at it and struck it with various other weapons, including a two-by-four, hammers, tire irons, a sledgehammer, an aluminum baseball bat and steel-toe boots.

The glass held up for more than 10 minutes, according to Mr. Santore.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2014 at 8:16 am

Posted in Education, Technology

Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science

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An interesting article by Richard Pérez-Peña in the NY Times:

Continue reading.

Now note that these are scientists teaching introductory science classes. So the findings that students in the transformed classes learn significantly better than students in traditional classes—solid evidence—will convince these teachers that they must change their classes. Well, no. Once again the Old Guard refuses to change its ways, and shows itself utterly uninterested in evidence. (So much for science: it’s unconvincing even to scientists.)

Later in the article:

Given the strength of the research findings, it seems that universities would be desperately trying to get into the act. They are not. The norm in college classes — especially big introductory science and math classes, which have high failure rates — remains a lecture by a faculty member, often duplicating what is in the assigned reading.

There are many explanations, educators say, including the low value placed on teaching, tradition, pride and the belief that science should be the province of a select few.

“What drives advancement at universities is publishing research and winning grants,” said Marc T. Facciotti, an associate professor who will teach a revamped biology course here in the winter quarter. “Teaching isn’t a very high priority.”

Noah Finkelstein, a physics professor and the director of Colorado’s overhaul efforts, added: “Faculty don’t like being told what to do, and there are people who push back and say they can figure it out on their own and they know what works for them. There’s plenty of data that says they’re mistaken.”

The fact is that these teachers really don’t care that much about evidence or even about teaching. They want to do what is easiest for them, not what is most helpful to students. And college and universitye leadership being what it is, no one will press for the change: there are bigger fish to fry, such as fundraising and the intercollegiate sports programs. That’s what’s important in American colleges and universities, not the education provided to the students.


Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2014 at 8:08 am

Posted in Education, Science


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